Vernix Moon

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

There was once a moon that orbited nothing. A shale-strewn grey sphere hung wedged in the sticky primordial trap of a very particular gravitational crossroads.

A lifeless nothing that became a fertile canal. A moistened fingertip with which to turn a final page.

On exactly opposing sides of its enormous equator plunge equally titanic craters. Not forged by impact nor internal tectonic caress — they are nonetheless fashioned for purpose.

As a blacksmith pounds beaming steel across an anvils rearing horn.
As a mother cups her belly and feeds with her fingers the festering cell that grows within.

Two bites from a lovers apple.

One crater suckles the dead from the darkness and the other spit-gushes newly primed life through a pulsing chamber rich with mucilage and wax.

We are again birthed upon the sheet plain. Bathed beneath the dancing beams that skim the rampart wall that severs this universe from that that is the next.

This is the estuary of a birth canal from where space thins and the dead can peer through and down and into their own flesh. Into the wilting tree of its capillary bloom and out along the gentle stretch of their ever-long fingers — as they reach up and move like the torn threadbare tips of a battle-worn pennant. Nails brush against the face of that which lays slowly stirring through the pane of the celestial cot so very close, but so very far from ours.

The crater creators began as microbes. Infinitely tiny creatures circling a single grain of sand on exactly opposite sides of this rock. They spun and they spun and wore into the grey until the effort became too much and so they each divided into two. And then two again and again until a great sweeping swath army had formed. The deeper they dug the more they evolved and legs grew where none were before and arms sprouted with claws at their tips.

Millennia folded into millennia and still the creatures dug and claws became razor-edged shovels that they used to gash openings between their own legs and into these jagged slits they shovelled the slag and it raged in the furnace of their core. And the detritus it did render to gossamer ash that the creatures then bawled out in agonising prayer and it floated away in flutes of glittering fumes — as if multicoloured diesel oil caught in the flow of a mighty cosmic stream.

As they worked they sung a beautiful pulsing rhythm and in the brief moments that they paused they looked up and saw the toil light of the other side and it made them smile.

Onward.
Inward.

Once the craters were complete the things each took to burrowing at their centres. Digging ever deeper into the moon and those that died were stripped of their silica shells and they were laid and embedded into the cup of the great craters earth-facing scoop.

There came a day when the core was met and once sharp but now dulled fingers also met. A day when a cavern was formed and the things began to disassemble each other and the final part of the purpose ensued. They did pull away limbs and redirect veins and arteries until nothing of themselves was left.

Nothing of their memories.
Nothing of their purpose.
Nothing of their self.

All that was left was a machine. And it slowly began to turn and the bones clicked and sheared until they whirred into a perfect vacuum hum.

I do not know why but this moon it gathers souls — for want of a better word. It gathers the dust of humanity’s spent existence and pulls it through a hollowed moon and places us here. Not as babes, but as we were. Faces split with age, ripped by violence or taken by cancerous rot and we are flung into a field of sweet smelling wax.

I am standing next to an young woman from Hranie. She smiles and shows me the sickle edge that cupped and gouged into the gentle wave of her teenage belly. And she inhales and her head fills with sickly smoke as the barn burns and the smoulder cinders fall upon her families jag shaped ruin.

I am nothing.
I am worthless and my reflection sews the vomit into my mouth.

The next world sags above my head. A bulbous belly ready to split and offer nothing but endless beautiful hope.

I don’t know why I am here.

Walk This Way

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Is your head deformed in some way?”
I spin left, taking the still-habitual extra step to back off a bit while doing so.
It’s an Uglonos herder, complete with brow spines painted blue. The contrast with his lime green hide is striking, but not as much as the clash with his lurid pink compound eyes.
“No, it’s normal sized, for a human.”
The triple jointed legs stop moving, except for the rear toes. They keep moving, lifting and pressing the ground one after the other, going right to left, then left to right, in a never-ending rhythm, marking this one as a devotee of Namedna the Ever-Walking.
“Then why is your warhead so wide?”
‘Warhead’: Uglonos only wear head coverings to protect their brow spines when in combat. The concept of wearing a helm or hat – sandogasa, in my case – for other purposes is incomprehensible to them. On a planet where sunlight is the strength of a desert afternoon on Earth within an hour of sunrise, most humans choose to remain inside the habitat domes. It’s a shame. All it takes is a little harmless guile and you can spend your life roaming this serene paradise.
“I am under oath to Torlyn of the Lowering Cloud. From the moment I saw the first buds of spring on the foan tree outside my family dome, until I return and see them once again, I am denied the sight of Roanna’s Wheel.”
The herder raps his claws against his forearm ridges to honour my devotion. It’s a shame humans don’t get out here more often. These insectile saurians have a society over nineteen millennia deep in peace. No world-blighting wars, no continent-spanning industrial addictions. Their only weakness is religion. They have over eighty thousand deities. From gods of individual village ponds to goddesses of grey clouds traveling westward, they have them for every occasion and space.
“Namedna walked with Torlyn for a whole two-moon year. To honour that journey, walk with me today. The village ahead has the finest bridges from which wayfarers can watch the shineer dance in the moonlight. They also have a sourblossom broth that is a delight to savour while engaged in that watching.”
There it is. The gods and goddesses of this world fit together like a subtle, complex machine that orchestrates every interaction to maintain a sublimely functional society. It’s uncanny how well it works. Could make a cynic think it’s a brilliant piece of civilisational engineering. Luckily, I’m not one of those anymore. I was looking for a place to make a better percentage on my goods. Instead, I ended up selling my ship along with the goods to buy a permit to stay.
“Then in honour to them both, I shall agree, but would prevail upon you to tell me the tale of their journey while we walk. I have not yet been graced with it.”
I fell in love with their etiquette before the sun set on my first week here. From there, it didn’t take me long to fall for the lifestyles and natural beauty of this place. I’ve become a wanderer, making my home on the endless winding ways.
It’s been nine years. I don’t regret a single step. If more of us took the time to exchange stories with travellers, and sit with strangers to sip sourblossom broth while watching shineer dance, things would be much better all over.
Come walk a new way.

Slowpo

Author: Majoki

“You wrong. Dead wrong, O’Bob. The slowpo didn’t do this.” Mikal nodded absently around him at the decay, the gloom, the malaise, the rotting bones of the city they scavenged everyday. “You did.”

“You mean we all did. All of us.” Old Bob sighed. His heavily lined face working through the many years, the tricky emotions of grief, loss and guilt. He lifted his shoulders again and tried to be the history professor he’d been, and what he was now, the only teacher for those like Mikal who had no understanding of what it was like before the slowpocalypse.

“It’s not that we didn’t see the breakdown coming,” he continued. “It just unfolded so slowly. Not the fall off the cliff that prophets for ages had warned of. Just a slow, bumpy slide to the bottom. Maybe a cataclysmic meteor or nuclear war or plague would’ve been easier to stomach.”

Mikal didn’t say anything. His young grey eyes unreadable, so Old Bob went on.

“I guess we didn’t want to acknowledge what it meant. I mean, when you look at past collapses, no native was hankering to cut down the last tree on Easter Island, and no Mayan wanted to believe their slash-and-burn approach to developing farmland would bite them in the butt. That’s just how it plays out. At a certain point, a civilization’s poor choices catch up with it. The signs were there for us, too. We felt the first and secondary effects. Ocean warming, unpredictable weather, lingering droughts, more intense storms. Plant and animal die offs. Economic and political turmoil. More and more migrants and asylum seekers looking for someplace safe. Someplace to escape from the next domino falling on them. And still most of us went on like nothing was happening. Like denying that chest pain, nausea and fatigue aren’t the signs of a heart attack. I guess that’s human nature. Denial until things get too dire. We seem to love the adrenalin of a crisis. As a species, we were either overly optimistic or oblivious: take your pick.”

Mikal continued to stare at Old Bob in silence while he fidgeted in his bulky jacket that was really three disintegrating jackets grafted and bound together by fraying twine. Finally, he worked a worn, grimy hand out of his bundled sleeve and jammed a stubby finger into Old Bob’s thin chest.

“You ain’t listening. Ain’t understanding. It was you. Just you that trashed this place. For me and mine.”

Old Bob was used to backtalk, accusations. All teachers were. “I hear you, Mikal. I claim personal responsibility where I can. But,” he gestured at the buckling buildings, the pitted streets, the rusting husks of cars and trucks around them. “ I didn’t create this wasteland by myself.”

“You did, O’Bob. You damn well did!” Mikal took his finger off Old Bob’s chest and stuck it to his own temple. “Me and mine never knew no better. This wasn’t a wasteland until you told us about the slowpo. Till you told how good it was before. I wouldn’t have known none of that. This the home I was born to. My clean slate, my world, and you muddied it. You mucked it up good. Teaching us all that history, telling how good it was before: clean, hot and cold running water, AC, central heating, cars, supermarkets, computers, television, Internet. All the stuff you miss. But me and mine didn’t miss it! We never had it. Never wanted it. Not till you told us.”

Old Bob stood stone silent, like one of the dozens of defaced statues in the ruined city.

“You done this. Just you. This slowpo is only a disaster to you. A come down to you and yours. Me and mine coulda just started our own way, but you laid your regrets and guilt in here.” Mikal tapped his temple hard. “Filled me and mine with your mistakes and your sadness. Your damn damn memories. That’s the real disaster. You and your kind. You the slowpo. Let me and mine make our own go. Then we only got to handle today, not your yesterday or your sad dream of tomorrow. You got that, O’Bob? Let it go. Let us go.”

And Mikal stormed off, leaving Old Bob to stare after him. The long stare of a parent watching his child choose.

A Library

Author: Ross Field

“You are ready to hear the story of our people my son”

With their backs to the blinding light and whipping sand they descended down the wide tunnel worn smooth from time, through the carcasses of toppled skyscrapers, museums, and churches compacted together.

“When the sky failed them our ancestors found safety here”

Passing emaciated guards with bloodshot eyes and dark leathery skin covered in cancerous tumors, they bowed to his and Their father. They were the society’s elite defenders.

“But their enemies also fled below to escape the death above”

As they reached the end of the long tunnel and emerged onto a rusted metal balcony, a pungent milky odor mixed with sweat reached his nostrils.

“In the world before they had had foolish machines they thought would last forever, but died in front on their eyes like everything else”

Far down below there were hundreds of them aligned in rows, his and Their father called them “Servers”. Every part of their obese, hairless and pale body was tattooed with miniscule words. All of their bald and tattooed heads were bent close to the fleshy back of the one in front, their eyes twitching intently, their chubby fingers moving rolls of flesh or limbs to see the words beneath. These rows made him think of the millipedes that were farmed for his and their Father’s feasts.

“When they came back into the light after many generations had passed, the first Father of our people knew that his ancestors’ enemies must be removed to stop them poisoning our new purified world, just as they had destroyed the one before.”

They reached the bottom of the winding metal staircase, passed the long rows of albino flesh and entered into a smaller guarded room full of beds packed tightly from floor to ceiling. The Servers in this room were missing limbs or covered in bright patches of scar tissue. Some were so ancient that they had to pull their skin out taut to show the tiny words.

“As the Father said ‘mind and spirit lies, bodies are the only truth’, our people burned the enemies paper, crumbled their chiseled stone and cut the tongues of wisdom keepers.”

A special servant quickly rushed into the room bringing a stool, which his and Their father sat on. Two servants quickly roused a dozing Server missing a hand and foot. They produced razors which quickly made their way all over the Server’s body, and their hands slathered the body with grease from the bowls they carried.

“The most loyal followers of the Father offered their life, bodies and future children to carry the gone world’s knowledge for him and as repayment he kept them close and safe from harm”.

His and their father spread his legs into which the Server sat bending forward to stretch the skin on its back. The light from the hanging fires glistened off the Keepers body as his and Their father found the scar he had previously made and continued to read.

Veterans of Alien Wars

Author: David Barber

One of the aliens was strolling through the city centre as easy as you please. As if the war had not happened.

For an instant the Pilot saw worlds burning, air spilling from nests, the sparkle of detonations amongst their swarming craft.

He’d spent a lifetime fighting these aliens without ever seeing one in the flesh. The dwarfish creature turned, its features twisting into what must have been alarm as the Pilot bore down upon it.

An Agent of the Law stepped in the way.

“Calm yourself citizen, we can’t afford trouble.” The Agent glanced upwards. Didn’t death orbit the world now?

The Pilot made to shove past, but other Agents seized him and he was hustled away.

#

“You arrested me,” raged the Pilot. “For walking in my own city.”

“Their envoys can go where they choose.” This one wasn’t an Agent of Law, but something from Government. One of the new breed.

“You know they can destroy us?” she added. “The way you destroyed their worlds.”

Oh yes, it was him and them now. The slippage of years while chasing c had brought him home to new generations. History had been rewritten, there were monuments of shame, and crowds protesting what Fleet had done. While alien envoys looked on.

No one wanted to hear what he had to say. How we were late getting to the stars – blaming cost when it was a failure of imagination, of will – and when c-ships finally went out, how we found the aliens already there.

The Agent of Government tried to interrupt, but the Pilot hadn’t finished.

“They were everywhere, outbreeding us, turning resources into more of them. While we’d waited for it to become easy, they sprayed their seed into the dark, as if the galaxy was theirs to fill.”
“What choice did we have?” That had been the consensus when he shipped out.

“So you set their their worlds aflame.”

It still filled the Pilot with rage how the survivors always rebuilt. Soon habitats infested every rock again, new colonies on every marginal planet. They were like vermin in the walls.

We were smarter, our technology better, our weapons more terrible, but they had the numbers and our precious dreadnoughts were overwhelmed one by one.

His craft had been amongst the last, and when wrecking planets wasn’t enough, he snuffed out suns.

The same Agent of Government came to see him in confinement.

“The envoy you threatened wants to meet you.”

#

The creature eyed the restraints, but made no comment.

“You piloted an Agent of War,” it began. “How we dreaded them, emerging from the dark to wreck planets. By the end you were killing suns.”

“But you tracked down our world,” the Pilot declared. “And confined us here with the threat of extinction.”

The Pilot met the envoy’s gaze. “I would have finished us.”

“Some of my kind think that also,” admitted the creature.

Behind them in the shadows, the Agent of Government stirred uneasily.

“Why did you want to meet me?” the Pilot wondered.

“To see if you had changed.”

“I have not changed.”

“No, I meant your species. If you no longer pose a threat…”

The creature made a curious motion with its shoulders.

The Pilot wrestled with his chains. How small these creatures were, and how easy it would be to twist the head from that thin neck—

This Agent of Government and her like deluded themselves, hoping eggs left exposed would be safe. One day these humans would finally decide otherwise.

When the Sentinels Wake

Author: CL Farley

Light turns the insides of my eyelids red. A strange smell, burning and sharply sweet, sticks in my nostrils and the back of my throat. This is not my cool backyard, where the damp breeze chilled my skin and sunset painted the looming clouds purple and crimson. I open my eyes and the light burns, forces me to blink rapidly as I focus on the glistening shapes on either side of me. Pinkish with small black dots, the light shimmers across the objects when they move. A slim rope or wire flashes across my vision; no—there are suckers on it, a tentacle. Staccato clicking and sloppy squelching sounds rise around me. My heart pounds in my chest and my limbs won’t move. Something bites at my wrists and ankles when I try to rise and I feel the painful pull of bare skin sticking to metal along my legs and arms. A heavy weight presses across my chest. It’s definitely a tentacle; I wasn’t imagining it.

The pink thing on my left leans in. There’s an eye set into the side of its bulbous body. A nictitating membrane slides across it as the oblong black centre fixes on me. The creature is clicking, but I can’t tell where the sound is emanating from; all I see is that eye studying me with a keen intelligence, sizing me up, but for what?

Another tentacle writhes across my field of vision. Its tip is coiled around a white sphere with spikes protruding from it. My throat burns when I scream. The tentacle darts toward my head and a hot pressure pierces my forehead. It crawls into my brain, a writhing worm that sears everything it touches and leaves a trail of numbness in its wake. Then I feel peace. It almost lulls me, but the things still loom over me, light shimmering across the white walls behind them.

No Harm. It’s more of a feeling than articulated words, but the concept floods my thoughts with urgency. It’s accompanied by a spicy stench that makes me choke and cough.

Thoughts that aren’t mine rattle through my head like machine gun fire: be calm, lie still, no harm. Repetitive, echoing. Get out of my head!

But that’s the only way they can communicate with me. I know it as soon as they think it. The one on my right leans in front of me, silhouetted against the light so I can see nothing of it except a rounded shape. The next thought they send me fills me with a fear even greater than before: Sentinels. Massive metal limbs creaking as the beings, part organic and part machine, awaken. Lights flickering amber and blue across metal plates fused into flesh as systems come online and flocks of the giant organisms gathering around a star, draining it of life to power their weapons.

Mishira. We need you to stop them once more.

“I can’t,” I mumble. “The interface was fried.”

We have another way