It began, as many things do, in the dead of night.
“Dad!” cried the boy. “There’s monsters under my bed!”
The covers were down before he was fully awake, and as he rolled smoothly to his feet, his mind begins processing the situation while his body continues with the rehearsed, automatic movements.
Automatically: Reach for the rifle while scanning the room.
Mentally: Consider whether to rouse his wife and review the room-clearing procedures they move through together if there may be a threat.
There is no one else in the room, save for his wife who is quietly awake now in bed. No alarms are going off, and no quiet lights signal a breach into the house. All is quiet silent since the boy’s initial cry.
Automatically: Shoulder the rifle and stride silently to the door, minding the sight lines around the frame.
Mentally: He’s finally reached the age where nightmares begin, but nothing is wrong. All the same, demonstrating security might help put him at ease.
He crosses the hallway and eases the boy’s door open, rifle still up but careful to keep the barrel clear of anywhere his son could be. A quick sweep in the darkness reveals the room to be clear, save for his son sitting up in bed.
Perhaps some theatrics? “You there, under the bed,” he challenges quietly, falling back on his old command voice. “What business do you have here?”
The response is just as soft, but gravelly and sibilant…and something stirs in the black beneath the bed frame. “There is no end to the monsters in this world.” His finger moves to the trigger. “We tire of flight, and seek refuge here.”
He considers carefully. “I am the end to monsters in this world, and none may breach this refuge. How many of you tire?”
“We are many.”
“Then I will build more beds. Do not wake my children.”
Author: Garrett Frechette
We have called ourselves a great number of names over the course of these many years. At times, we presented ourselves as federations and republics, our history records our imperial conquests and peaceful coalitions. We are Milky-Wayans, we are Solans, we are everywhere.
We are Human.
Humanity has faced many obstacles that were unconquerable. Sweeping plagues that were wiping us from existence without a cure in sight. Yet, we conquered. We cured. There were civil wars that divided us at our core and was once thought impossible to reach an accord. And still, treaties brought us together many times. No other paths were seen when our machines rose up, at an intelligence greater than ours, against us. Now, they are our greatest brethren. Our arms spread wide across these galaxies, altering physics, playing with time, redefining gravity, and even bending cosmic strings to our will. Our minds can know of nothing that can stop us.
In the many millennia that have passed since we first shed our infancy and left Earth’s atmosphere, we have never found any other sentient life. There was the occasional resemblance to mammals and reptile-like creatures that intrigued our curiosity. Never a hint of civilization and certainly nothing to give us reason to believe anything ascended to the stars such as humans did.
Humanity changed again when we rose from our infancy for the second time. One of our exploratory vessels happened upon a massive galaxy that appeared to be infinitely larger than any of the millions of others that we had colonized and surveyed. We had made our way to the center of the cosmos, the center of the universe. The galaxy was a super attractor, pulling everything towards it. It was a nexus to other universes, filled with a mecca of thousands of other intelligent species that made a similar journey here.
The other sentient species congratulated humanity on passing the test and making it to the ranks of other Class 5 civilizations and petitioned us to join them. To come home.
“This was all a test?”
“We thought ourselves to be alone for this? All these years, such loneliness.”
“Do they think of us as children to be patronized?”
The commanders, generals, and admirals of our greatest militaries convened. They assembled humanity’s largest armada of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. We gathered an anger and resentment that could not be quailed, so we went to war. We went home.
We are human.
Author: Joachim Heijndermans
Darren rushed into the bathroom as if hell was on his heels. With his shoulder, he slammed the door open. From the corner of his eye, he spotted a figure that stood before the sink, greeting him with a “Pardon me! Growing a tail here!” as he bolted into the stall.
Hunched over the metal bowl, he cursed himself for drinking all that coffee earlier. Seven cups! He swore that, from now on, crisis or no crisis, he’d stick to water or a nice herbal tea.
He cleaned himself off, buckled his pants, flushed and headed to the soap dispenser. It was then that he recognized the man by the sink. And after the morning they had, he doubted he’d ever forget that face.
“Hey! Carter. Jeez, sorry about that. Too much coffee. And the wife has me on this fiber-rich diet and…well, you know what I mean,” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” Tom Carter mumbled weakly.
“You doing all right? I don’t know if the bosses mentioned it, but you’ve been cleared for leave of duty. No limit. Come back whenever you’re up for it. No rush, you hear?”
“Yeah,” Carter muttered.
Darren washed his hands, letting the warm water pour over his stubby fingers. “Can I ask you something?” he said.
“What?” Carter replied.
“What was it like? I mean, being snapped loose like that? Tumbling around out there, with nothing to slow you down? Christ, I’d piss myself all the long way. That’s why I signed up for command deck duty. I could never do the walk. Space scares the piss out of me.”
Carter shivered, his head hung limply as his chin touched his clavicles. “I…” he muttered.
“Jeez. I’m sorry. I never know when to shut up. The wife always gets on my case about that. I just wanted to say how glad we all are you managed to get back to the ship. One in a million chance, right?”
Carter turned to Darren. His lip trembled as a lone tear rolled down his face.
“Jeez. I’ll…I’ll just leave you be. Take all the time you need, all right?” Darren said.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to…but I was so scared. Cooped up in my suit. Falling forever. I just wanted to come home.”
“Of course you were scared. It’s space. Anyone would be scared. What do you have to be–?”
“I said yes. I said yes to him…her…it..”
“What?” Darren whispered, recoiling as Tom Cater’s left eye turned a mix of red and purple.
“It couldn’t get onboard. I was terrified. I didn’t want to die. It offered to get me back to the ship if I would let it…” Tom said, his voice cracked in agony. “I couldn’t say no.”
“Say no to who? Carter, what happe–,” Darren began before his voice gave out from shock. He stammered, unable to find the words, while Carter’s eye-sockets expanded to the size of dinner plates. Darren peered into the void that leaked from Carter’s eyes, whose lips quivered as if he stood in an ice storm.
“I…I can’t stop it,” Carter stammered, as he fought to suppress the smile that slowly grew on his face. He failed. His face shattered into pieces, while the void within him crawled into their reality.
“Hey, Darren,” said a different voice, cutting through Darren’s eardrums like a knife, as it peeled the layers of matter and reality around them apart, flaying all that ever could be. “Smile.”
Author: Suzanne Borchers
I pinch my arm. “Ouch!” It’s real! I might have met him only a few hours ago, but I know.
I’m traveling to Xeron with my soul mate.
“It’s not going to happen,” my friends chant, mired in the gooey slime here on Syren. They are so wrong. That party, filled with its brilliant lights, mind-jolting drinks, and his kisses on my neck and breasts, convinced me that I have to catch the ship to Xeron with my love.
Well, I am on my way. Suited up and ready. I’m laughing. Even with the heavy supplies’ pack on my back, I feel light and drawn to his ship. It’s only a few hundred paces away. He’s waiting for me. Or he would be if he knew I was coming. But he must know I’m coming. He must feel it.
I am invincible! I lust for him! So what if Xeron is a mining planet of muscle-bound Puritans? My lover and I have more than enough passion to withstand all odds.
My boots suck farts as I pull them out of the mud, pushing toward the ship and my life-mate. Step by step, I stride toward my ship of dreams.
The fuel plumes tickle up the ship toward the sky. The engines rumble, anxiously awaiting my tread up the ladder to the open doorway.
How many heavy steps will I have to make?
Cripes, it’s getting hard to breathe. My feet are coated with tons of muck. Each time I haul my foot up I sway before I slap it down again in the slurry. Then I heave the next one in the air. Over and over, slower and slower; my breath punctuated with shallow coughs at each step.
Is the ship farther away than when I started this feckless march? Does it smirk at me? The plumes mock me with their dances up the shiny ship’s body. So much erotic energy compared to my plodding, painful steps.
I’m crushed! The weight on my back is too heavy. I can’t take one more step.
I tumble my backpack of supplies into the muck at my feet.
Lighter, I push on with a giant step toward the ship. His welcoming arms will embrace me.
My face sinks into the soupy earth. Oh, what a soft pillow. My body feels caressed by its enveloping richness.
Engines pound and he ascends, leaving me alone.
How could he leave me here? In his choice between my life-giving love and his selfish career, how could he choose so wrong? I’m awesome!
He’s a fool.
I hope you enjoy your back-breaking work on that sterile planet. I hope you enjoy your slab of rock. You’re a fool, sucker. You could have enjoyed me.
I lie in the mud.
I know where there’s another party happening in the settlement tonight. Perhaps I’ll meet my true love in the crush of lonely travelers seeking pleasure.
Cripes, I need a shower.
I labor to my feet and turn toward my friends.
Maybe I’ll wear the golden slip tonight with green highlights in my hair.
Author: Gerard Hutchings
The postman was early and had left something for me. I threw on an old tracksuit to go out and check the letterbox. As I approached I noticed a dollar coin on the footpath, so I went to pick it up. The cord on my pants decided it was the right time to break, so as I bent down I revealed a lot more than was decent.
A woman walking on the path caught an eyeful, screamed, took a photo with her mobile and phoned the police, apparently, all at the same time. I quickly stood up and held my pants in place with one hand and clutched the coin in the other.
A spacecraft that had been cruising above the city trying to identify some form of leadership had obviously misinterpreted the severe embarrassment and agitation we were both feeling. Next thing we had been transported aboard and were being approached by something with tentacles carrying what looked like some form of a probe.
The woman screamed again and fainted. The alien, therefore, turned to me, inserted the probe into my nose and there was a slight pinching in my nasal cavity before the probe was removed. I could immediately understand what the alien wanted, though it did seem bizarre.
It indicated it needed approximately two square metres of soil as fuel, and requested my permission to transport it onboard. Naturally, I agreed and a section of turf appeared near my feet, proof that they had taken only what was agreed.
At this point my hay fever caused me to have a huge sneeze, the small device was ripped from my nasal cavity and shot into the turf at my feet. I noticed blood coming from my nose, so grabbed a hanky with the hand holding the coin, losing my grip on it and dropping it onto the turf.
The alien may have made some other comment, however, I could no longer understand him, and the next thing I was again standing on the footpath as a police car was pulling up.
The policeman approached and asked what was going on. I thought of myself clutching my pants with one hand, a bloody hankie held to my nose with the other, then noticed the unconscious woman at my feet to the side of the path in what appeared to be a shallow grave. I looked up in time to see a huge explosion high above and wondered whether the coin or nasal insert had caused the problem.
I really had no idea what I should say to the police.