Author : Holly Lyn Walrath
In the tree world where I live, trees are not substantive. Instead, they are doorways, two oaken lines with a dark, sparkling maw between. When I step through, I’m in the tree world, my world.
I’ve been making the pilgrimage to see you, though you don’t know it. Your world is so gray to me, metal and crushing weight of concrete all round. You sit on the bench under my portal, its green leafy wonder spreading out above you, and I watch you. I want to touch your strange skin, run my fingers through your strange hair, ask you questions. But I don’t know your language. I know what the wind says, what the running brook whispers, but I can’t even ask you your name.
They say I should forget you.
When a tree grows into or over something else, like a bicycle or tire or bones, it seldom feels the wonder of the thing. It’s merely an object which is slowly swallowed whole, becoming a part of the tree world, where its pieces go wandering, a bicycle wheel rolling away, with no particular place in mind.
In the tree world, everything is seen as if through the eyes of a tree. So when limbs knock on window panes at night, they are not trying to be scary, nor merely blown by the wind, they are just asking “Why did you build this building so close to me?” Trees don’t mind being close, but they prefer being close to other trees, and sometimes to human skin, which feels like butter scraped on toast to them. They have memories of their dead friends, because where there is one tree in the human world there were once a thousand.
When people see us, it’s our choice. We can be invisible, like lizards blending into the greenery. People used to believe that I was the spirit of the tree. I’m not the tree, I’m only living within its world, where it is easy to get lost. The edges aren’t defined, things meld together, I can’t touch water and feel its surface tension. There is no surface, which is hard to define.
I know that this won’t last forever. That I won’t be able to see you when all the trees are gone. The others will be glad. They’ll encourage me to settle down. I’ll stop going to the surface. Maybe I’ll die away, my body decaying into the space of my world. My world closed in.
When you cut down a tree, you are merely shutting a door forever. Despite the loss of comradery, trees are okay with this. They don’t want you in their world. They don’t like you. They don’t mind another shut door.
Author : Roger Dale Trexler, for Karen Fiorino
The ship touched down on the barren planet. Tabitha Sandor piloted it alone, because the thing in her belly had killed everyone on the ship. It made her destroy the ship. There was no way for her to go home.
I’m not going home, she thought.
She looked down at the ever-growing lump of her belly. She knew that her sole purpose was to give birth to the thing at grew inside her.
Slowly, she reached down and stroked her stomach.
Yes, It thought. I am here.
She pulled her hand away, startled. She knew that the alien thing growing inside her could read her mind—knew, in fact, that it controlled her mind. It had made her get in the escape pod, made her eject the pod and drop to this war ravaged planet.
She stood and walked to the nearest port and looked out. The ground was flat and scorched black everywhere she looked. She wondered what sort of bomb could do such a thing.
A bomb more powerful than your kind have ever seen, the thing in her stomach replied.
A sharp pain coursed through her and she gasp. She staggered backward, grabbing a handrail.
Soon, It told her.
She returned to the pilot’s chair and sat. “What will happen to me?” She asked.
You’ll give birth, the thing replied. Just like human women have been doing since the dawn of mankind.
“Will I die?” she asked.
No, the thing replied. I need you.
You need me?
Another sharp pain ran through her and she doubled over, her hands going to her stomach. Through her clothing, she could feel the thing moving.
I should kill it, she thought. I can’t trust it.
You can trust me, Mommy, the thing told her. I love you.
Another volley of pain coursed through her.
I’ll be here soon, It told her. I’ll be here and we can be together.
As if to prove that, she felt a warm wetness between her legs.
Her water had broken.
I’m afraid, she thought.
Don’t be. It’ll be all right.
A contraction ripped through her and her scream filled the escape pod. She looked about her for something to stab into her stomach. But, there was nothing within her reach that would end her misery. Whether by design or sheer dumb luck, the thing in her stomach was protected from her.
Another contraction brought another scream.
You need to lie down, the thing told her. It’ll make it easier.
She wanted to protest, but the fight had gone out of her. She undid her safety harness and staggered out of her seat. She lay down on the platform between her and the escape hatch.
The pain dissipated.
She looked up at the controls to the escape hatch and realized that, if she opened the hatch, the toxic atmosphere outside would kill her. She tried, but the pain came back as she reached for the handle.
I’m coming, the creature told her.
A sliver of sheer agony ran down her spine and she screamed. Madness took her for a moment and she instinctively pushed.
Several other contractions and pushes later, she felt something slither from between her legs.
The agony of childbirth was gone and she slowly gained her breath.
When she looked down, she saw it.
And she screamed.
It rose above her, tentacled and hideous. Its fangs moved and, in her mind, she heard it say: I needed you, Mommy. To give me life.
And to give me nourishment.
It lunged forward and she screamed for the last time.
Author : Arielle Friedman
Lisa sat on the balcony of her apartment and gazed at the city glittering below in the evening light. She’d always loved this balcony.
She heard the door open behind her. Robert.
“We need to talk.”
“No we don’t. We’ve made our decision.”
“We made one decision. There are others.”
“Robert, we can barely afford the basic plan.”
“We’re talking about our child’s life, Lisa.”
“We’re paying a lot of money to make sure that our child has health. Good genes. A good heart. A strong immune system.”
“Yes, the basic plan, but what about our child’s mind? His talents?”
“’His.’ We agreed not to pay for the gender.”
“Lisa, I’m being serious! Are we really going to leave our child’s future up to chance?”
“Yes, we are. Our child will be a combination of you and me. How could that be bad?”
“The child will always be a combination of you and me, but this way it will be the best combination. If we leave things up to chance it could be the worst.”
“I don’t care. What does it matter what our baby’s good at?”
“Our child will be in school with kids whose parents paid for the full treatment. Without enhancement he’ll fall behind.”
“We might have a girl.”
“Christ, I know Lisa!”
The sun was well below the horizon, but left behind orange streaks marking its point of disappearance.
“Our kid will have strength of character.”
“Strength of character won’t get our kid into college.”
“Non-enhanced kids still get into college.”
“But will they in twenty years?”
Lisa dug through her purse and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
“Lisa, you’re going to be pregnant soon.”
“I won’t need them once I’m pregnant.”
“Then why do you need them now?”
“’Cuz we keep having this awful conversation.”
She lit up and took a drag.
“I don’t like enhanced kids.”
“How many have you met?”
“Two. My coworker’s kid and Matthew.”
“You don’t like my nephew?”
“There’s something off about him. Not him really, but his life.”
“What do you mean?”
“He just sits there doing his computer exercises. He doesn’t run around and explore.”
“He plays all those sports.”
“Because they paid for him to be athletic. They chose that for him.”
“So what? He’s a happy kid.”
“Hi parents picked out his life ahead of time so he doesn’t have to discover himself. They wrote up their dreams on his DNA.”
“He doesn’t have to become an athlete. He just has the option.”
“Whatever he does it’ll be connected to his enhancement. He’ll never be free.”
“He’ll be more free than most. Freedom is having options.”
“Freedom is making your own choices.”
“Our kid won’t have choices without enhancements.”
“What about the poor kids, then?”
Robert sighed. “When you start going on about the poor kids, it’s time for me to go to bed.”
He leaned forward and touched her chin. She turned her head and kissed him. He made a face at the cigarette taste but quickly hid it.
“Goodnight. I love you.”
She gazed at his face for a moment. He smirked in the way she always loved. She would miss his eyes the most, she decided.
“Goodnight Robert. I love you.”
He went inside and shut the door behind him. The sky was dark, a faint glow on the horizon marking the sun’s abandonment. Lisa lit another cigarette and touched her stomach. This would be her last cigarette. She shouldn’t be smoking – it was bad for the baby.
Author : Andrew James Woodyard
Space whales ain’t really whales like on Earth. They look like ’em, but whales ain’t as big as no asteroid, and they ain’t filled with blue sludge. We found one floatin’ ’bout ten Earth years back out by Gloombridge 1618 in deep sleep, and let me tell you that the last thing you ever wanna do is wake one up. My skiff was hooked on its starboard side with our imagin’ probes rooted in and drillin’ deep for embryonic fluid – the cure all for everythin’ all across the universe – blue gold some call it. Me and three other guys were squeezin’ through this slimy cavity, not unlike a vagina in a lot of ways, cuttin’ toward a growth sack when it happened.
“Did it wake up?”
Nope. Some other crew cut right into our cavity. They was hooked to the other side drillin’ their own tunnel and goin’ for the same sack. We didn’t detect them when we anchored and they didn’t detect us.
“Did you shoot ’em?”
We could have, but they got lasers on us before we could draw.
“Why didn’t you just share the find?”
Are you kiddin’ me? Findin’ a space whale in the middle of nothin’ is hittin’ the jackpot. You can retire and buy your own moon if you handle it right. Besides, they were corporates and we weren’t lookin’ to make some fat cat on Earth even richer. They wanted it for their bosses and we wanted it for us.
“You coulda’ still joined forces. Made a deal.”
We made an offer: two hands work better than one and all, but they refused. I told them not to shoot or they might wake the thing, but they just laughed through their coms.
“They shot at you?”
Yup. burned my co-pilot’s arm right off, and got another guy in the head, but they missed me and cut their laser through the wall.
“How’d you get out?”
I jabbed a nerve coil with my lasersaw and woke the thing up.
“Your lying. No one would do that.”
I didn’t do it on purpose. A sleepin’ space whale is a gold mine; but all Hell breaks loose if you wake one.
“Yet you got away.”
Barely. The cavity started seizin’ and squeezin’ shut. I fired my boot rockets and blasted out of the hole back to my skiff with another guy behind me. Got out just before the cavity sealed and my skiff detached. The beast started flexin’ and unravelin’ its coils as we were blastin’ away.
“It didn’t go after you?”
No, we were lucky. I clung to a rung at the bottom of my skiff and watched as the corporate boat tried to blast away too, but the beast grabbed it and tore it to pieces.
“You’re lyin’, Leroy. You ain’t never even seen a space whale, never mind drillin’ into one.”
I ain’t lyin’. You don’t believe me then fly out toward Gloombridge 1618 yourself and you’ll find two things floatin’ around in the void: what’s left of a corporate whaler, and a whale with two sealed up drillin’ holes on each side of it’s neck with imagin’ probes stickin’ out of ’em – kinda like the Frankenstein monster.
Author : Ian Hill
As if caught in a sudden zeal, Adrian spun the locking mechanism and pushed the iron door open against the howling wind. Torrents of needling water cut in at steep angles, slicing to the bone with unchecked frigidity. The light inside the cabin’s entry room immediately shut off—a technological remnant from a darker, war-torn time when enemy hunters prowled the waters, eyes open for any sign of light from a victim. Adrian stood in the darkness, embracing the harsh nature as it pummeled him with salt, froth, and tiny chunks of withered sea creatures.
Slowly, Adrian stepped out onto the deck, pushing the heavy door shut behind him with the aid of the all-too-accommodating wind. It was like it wanted him to stay outside, to witness the unholy gale, the surging ice vapors, and the glacial maelstrom. When lightning struck, Adrian saw mountains standing at the horizon, looming. He saw oddly uniform ramparts of stone, clawing towers, and bulbous palaces. Darkness fell again and when lightning next struck he saw that the apparitions were merely clouds, immense and stretching from the ocean to the firmament’s apex.
Adrian shook his head and blocked the stinging rain from his eyes with an upraised hand. Carefully, he moved to the guard rail and followed its length to his normal station. He assumed Barlow must have been in this general vicinity when his mind fell ill. Adrian mechanically clung to the iron railing, leaning over the edge and gazing out at the swirling sea. It was a confusing sight, the endlessly extending planes of conflicting darkness. For a moment he wondered why he had left the safety of the vessel’s interior. It seemed out of character.
Another bolt of vivid electricity cut across the sky, burning the air around it and cleaving a path of purity through the toxic clouds. Adrian took this brief moment of clarity to imprint the image that Barlow had seen into his own mind. The deep violet waters spread from peripheral to peripheral, unbroken and perfect. The stabbing light caught all facets of the choppiness, giving new meaning to each wave and dune. Blue illumination also splashed across the monstrous clouds, changing a flat picture to a multi-tiered fortress of puffy ridges and mushroom-like bulbs. Descending blades of rain shrunk under the lightning’s glare as Adrian stared out from the dwarfed ship.
However, not all was normal in the single frame of vision that nature granted the shivering professor. At the furthest edge of sight protected by fog, haze, and the growing thickness of rain coverage stood a pillar, pristine and perfect. It was an out of place figment of the manmade world, an impossibly immense column with a semi-reflective ivory surface. It hung resolutely at the horizon line, stretching from the water upwards until the canopy of spreading clouds obscured it.
Adrian flinched as the bolt’s radioactive heat faded. His hands opened and he fell backwards, collapsing onto the slippery deck, the anomalous pillar hanging in his mind’s eye like some sort of demonic specter devoid of any clear meaning. The innate terror management found in everyone’s subconscious acted quickly to disregard the column as another mirage. Adrian lay silently as rain thudded down upon him and the wind brushed against his cheek almost comfortingly. Somewhere up there his writhing cloud tormentor waited, watching. Adrian Galbraith began to question his own sanity.