Author: David C. Nutt
The chief of security removed the object archaically nailed to the briefing room door. There were gasps. It was paper. Forbidden by their protocols on the station. With a reverence and awe once held for holy relics, the chief delicately unscrolled the document and began to read out loud.
“Hear me now, defenders of the faith! I am a backslider, a heretic. I stand guilty of violating the doctrine of our people. For this I should be punished and consigned to the flames. For this, you would then have my bones disinterred and ground to powder and scattered to the wind.
Too late! Wail and gnash your teeth as you track our descent, slings and arrows disabled. I, my kith and kin have slipped the bonds of this station and descended to the planet of our people’s birth.
Look upon us with despair and know that for us we will never see you again for even if you leave your orbit to hunt us down, you violate your most sacred covenant: “to undue all trace of our hand, on the orb that gave us birth.”
Here, we will fill our lungs with air. Here, we will drink the waters. Here we will cut down the sacred trees and make our profane dwellings, here we will live our lives bringing forth our children, the issue of our compounding sin. Here, we will begin to consume the planet once again.
Our muscles will get stronger, our movements will get easier, our limbs thicker. In due time we will be ourselves again. Our children may not run in our green fields, but they will walk, and our children’s children will run.
We will drink the waters, we will harvest the land, we will herd and hunt. We will take, and we will give back.
For that is the lesson, O my once beloved! To give back- to give back and remain balanced. And so we shall. So we give ourselves back, and we will stay and we will roam.
You can have the stars; we will keep the earth.”
There was silence around the table. The chief looked to the captain. “Orders Ma’am?”
The captain just sighed. There was a long silence.
Blessedly, the first officer broke the silence “He always was a bit of a drama queen.” There were some chuckles.
The executive officer spoke next, her voice quivering slightly. “Ma’am, what are we to do?”
The captain smiled “Obviously we can’t fire on them. Even if we could get the systems on-line in time that would be unusually cruel and bad for the planet. Given the shield generators missing from inventory, a search would yield nothing.”
The chief frowned “Then our response?”
The captain smiled. “Let me guess, he has 95 reasons along with his bombastic screed?”
The chief looked surprised. “Exactly 95. How did you know?”
The Captain tilted back her head and laughed. “Hear me now, O defenders of the faith! It is time to seize the day and by gentle opposition defend our mother from these heretics!”
The executive officer looked puzzled “Ma’am?”
The Captain stood and the table scrambled to its feet “We can’t keep the planet pure from human contact now by any sane definition. We can only mitigate the situation. Prepare the station for re-entry and landing. It’s time to go home.”
Author: Robb White
“God, not Apophis again,” Eddie said. He set the tray in the middle of the table.
“‘fraid so,” Kathy sighed. “They started up as soon as you left. All the bars in town and we choose the space nerds hangout.”
“I beg your pardon,” Bill said, “but as a card-carrying member in good standing in that prestigious society, you’re being unfair, Kath.”
Bill and Jason, new-hires at the Center for Near Earth Object Studies, were grad students at Cal Poly and enjoyed one-upping each other with data on asteroids, their masses, speed, and projected impact megatonnage. Eddie’s return interrupted an argument over Apophis’s LD—its lunar distance in missing Earth.
A high-pitched voice behind them said, “Doesn’t it make you think?”
“All these recent near misses,” the tall stranger said. “Two within one LD.”
The person belonging to the shrill voice leaned casually closer to their booth, smiling as if he were angling for an invitation to join, which invitation didn’t come.
“Think . . . what?” Eddie asked the stranger.
“The videos of UFOs taken by Navy pilots. People all over the world live-streaming lights, discs, and cigar-shaped objects in the sky. Dozens on Facebook.”
“Shades of Plan Nine,” Bill said, referring to the 1959 Ed Wood sci-fi film. “It’s the Nineteen-Fifties come round again.”
Kathy looked around. “Are you talking about that sci-fi film?”
“He means Planet Nine,” Jason said. “The gravitational effects of the eTNOs—”
“No more shoptalk, pul-lease,” Kathy pleaded. Her ovoid face, furrowed by brow lines, thrilled her boyfriend.
The stranger looked directly at her: “It’s a hypothetical planet in the outer regions of the solar system, ten times more massive than Earth, and we think its gravitational effects are the reason for the improbable alignments of some planets and the orbits of objects.”
“Oh, I see,” Kathy said. She twirled her drink to keep from breaking into a laugh.
An awkward silence, the stranger taking the cue to move on. He received a few muttered “goodbyes,” “see you’s.”
Bill popped up like a prairie dog to watch the stranger exit.
“What a jerk!”
“Who is that weirdo anyway?”
“Did you catch that ‘we’ business? Like he’s some JPL big shot at NASA.”
“I’ve never seen him around CNEOS.”
Kathy laughed; it proved infectious, each critiquing the stranger for his voice, appearance, words.
“That bowl haircut, man,” Eddie said. “It went out with the last state asylum for the insane.”
“Moe Howard has a better-looking cut,” Bill said.
“Yeah, did you clock that squeaky voice?” Jason laughed and thumped the table with his open palm. “He could be the Mothman up from Point Pleasant.”
“He’s right about a couple of things,” Bill said.
“Bill the Buzzkill,” Eddie moaned.
“I mean, Earth has no defense—zero—for asteroid impact. All these close shaves from the last two ‘city killers,’ Twenty-Twelve TC Four and FT-Three. Jetliners fly higher. They’ll do some damage if they were to hit.”
“C’mon, Bill,” Jason said. “Next you’ll be buying his garbage about Planet Nine tilting orbits.”
“But what if there is another Mount Everest-sized rock lurking behind the sun? Twenty-Nineteen snuck past and we didn’t locate it until it was right on top of us!”
As they left, Pasadena’s lights smeared a bubble of haze overhead to block all the stars. Eddie wrapped an arm around Kathy’s hips as they headed off in one direction. Jason said goodnight and crossed the street.
Bill pondered the stranger’s words: They’ve come to see you get obliterated . . . it’s front-row seating at the best show in the universe . . .
Author: David Barber
These days visitors were few. The slim guidebook mentioned the Palace of the Red Emperors, famed once, but felled by an earthquake and never rebuilt; also the market, where travellers of discernment might purchase items from ages lost; a broken radio, wrist clocks, a set of X-ray plates.
His guide, who called himself Jamshidi, seemed friendly enough, though sly. He led Masterson through the marketplace, waving away stall-holders and dismissing their wares as fakes.
All fakery, he insisted, and vowed to show Masterson the real thing. Doubtless, he had deals with select vendors to recommend them to the outworlder.
“Very delicate,” the merchant began, proffering an ancient light bulb at a price so trifling it would mean robbing himself and depriving his children.
“Very rare,” he added, though a dozen more lay on his stall.
Masterson towered over them both. The outworlder radiated good health and common sense. “And why would I want this?”
Jamshidi and the merchant exchanged glances. “To remember your visit.”
“All recorded.” Masterson tapped his head where the implant was.
His guide’s gold-toothed smile faded.
Perhaps the merchant was less perceptive, or more optimistic. He angled a nameless data disc so that interference patterns chased colours across its surface.
“Like magic,” he said.
The outworlder raised an eyebrow. “You know about magic?”
Afterward, Jamshidi took him aside. “I see you are not here for ruins and trinkets. There is a place of magic the guidebook does not mention. It has a reputation.”
Masterson gave a disinterested shrug; anything more would inflate the price. He would ask about the reputation later.
They perched on local beasts, long-legged and imperious.
“I visit a desert and get sea-sick,” laughed the outworlder as their mounts swayed and lurched across the sands towards an ancient walled building.
Jamshidi pulled at the bell-rope. “The sorcerer will have sensed our coming. If he approves, the gates will…”
The gates opened a little and they squeezed through. An ancient fellow in a threadbare brown cowl greeted them and they followed him down long dim corridors.
Jamshidi translated. “He says his master bids you welcome.”
“Tell him I’m paying for real magic,” Masterson said. “Not card tricks.”
His guide blinked in puzzlement. “Real magic, yes. This apprentice will take you. I shall wait behind because of the risk.”
“Magic wastes the flesh of those that use it, using them in return.” Jamshidi lowered his voice. “This fellow here is younger than you.”
Masterson glanced uneasily at the apprentice’s gaunt features.
“You know Jamshidi, I think…”
“His master will already have begun; at much cost to himself. You cannot just leave.”
At last, something Masterson understood. He drew himself to his full height. “I’d like to see them stop me.”
“Magic also makes its users cruel. I fear a spell would be cast against you. I have witnessed dreadful things.” He shrugged. “Perhaps this fellow can be bribed to forget you.”
“The sorcerer would need your true name. Have we used your true name?”
“I… I don’t think so.”
“Then distract this fellow with money and go.”
“What about you?”
“You already spoke my name.”
Masterson held out banknotes but the man barely glanced at them. He studied the outworlder’s anxious face. In the end, Masterson flung them down and fled back the way they came.
The monk did not understand.
“Outworlders,” Jamshidi said, as he gathered up the money. “They do not comprehend the Godly life.”
He considered almsgiving, and felt pleasantly virtuous. Yes, perhaps the next timed he brought traveller to the hallowed monastery at Isfahan.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
The cliff face rises shear above the old skeleton. A tidal wave hewn in ancient granite, it crests high above the smoke that bleeds a bitter mist from the ruined city. A thin wisp that sweeps out upon the great lake that fans out as splotchy just cleaned glass at its edge.
For as long as anyone could remember, the armies of the Pabulum had amassed on the eve of this most sacred of months. Listen as now they crank their contraptions and ready their fire as hearty songs of conquest spill over the lip. Lyrical hate that flutters down to we, the People of the Stipe, and we brace en-mass at its foot.
This festival of death and cruelty, such a needless and hellish taunt. An intractable spectacle drawn in blood and fortified with ancient vintages of faith. An unwavering addiction to the notion that this city, this once beautiful thriving haven, had been promised in verse to those at the top and not to we, the heathen pretenders who toil as pigs down below.
In the old city, the resistance yawns as we, now too, lock our weapons in for the kill. The sniper sits in the warehouse, inclined with her back nestled into the over-stuffed bale of wool at her back. She lines her eye along the barrel of her jezail and up through the skylight and up still further until it falls on a fraction of movement up in the holes in the rock.
Children with dirty faces huddle in the cobbled plaza and they calculate the currents in the wind. Razor bullets will soon pepper the ground at their feet and they’ll let loose the balloon with the sting in its tail, and they’ll pray that it’ll kill at least one.
The Pabulum know this is a farce. They know that up in their lofty nests there is no chance for we creatures that pretend ourselves human. It is ritual contempt, prodding us down in this cage. The killing, the maiming so perfectly honed so that next year there will still be sport to be had.
The children will be shattered. Those not ripped apart or scorched from the barrage tremor will wail both in and out of their dreams. But they need not worry, I’ll whisper. Tiny ears, they must be patient and wait. Wait for the Hood Rat to come.
That whiskered thing that has lived for eternity down and beneath us in filth. This saviour, he will climb up and into our streets and, with his hood pulled tight to his head, he will stride to the foot of the folly.
He will lay waste to our enemies.
He will save us.
He will conduct the air and the bullets will drop dead to the ground.
He will scale the great cliff and he will crawl into their minds, and he will eat from the inside to the out.
Wait. Huddle down, for he will come. Listen beneath the drone of the guns and beneath your own screams and the whistle of the bombs as they fall.
“Do you hear the scratch of his clawed feet on the cobbles? It is the Hood Rat. He has risen and no more will we breathe in the smoke of this hate”, I’ll say.
He who would tell lies to children.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Tuesday night, post-shift beer in hand, prodding my phone with the other thumb to see what Alanna’s up to. Looking up, I see I’ve emerged from phone fog in time to take the shortcut I usually miss.
The cut-through runs behind some empty shops. Guess it used to be for delivery trucks. Whatever. Back to chasing my woman before one of her girlfriends gives her something else to do.
Who turned the lights on?
I look up to see a rectangle of yellow light hanging in the air. I can see a fox gone still, it’s shadow stretching back to graffiti-covered wall. A new smell comes by, like my dad’s compost pile on a hot afternoon.
There’s a noise, like something rushing toward-
A dark lump shoots from the light and slams down. The light goes out. The smell gets stronger. My night returns to normal, except I’m standing in a road with no lights and a stinking something just ahead of me.
I call the police on the non-emergency number. There’s an automated response.
“Good evening, Bruce Coppax. How can we help?”
“Not sure. Something just landed in front of me. Whatever did it lit up the place.”
“The fly tipping report line is currently closed. Would you like me to note your location and report it for you when they open?”
“Don’t think it was that. There was a big, bright rectangle in the air and something dropped out of it.”
“Could have been an airvan, Mister Coppax. Have you been drinking?”
“Just a half-litre can after shift. Haven’t finished it.”
“I see you work with solvents. Possibly you’re suffering side effects from accidental inhalation?”
“I’ve been in the store room all day counting spares.”
There’s a pause, then a click.
A different voice: “This has been prioritised. A patrol will be sent to your location. You may go about your business. Thank you for your notification.”
The call ends.
Seems a bit odd. Whatever. Now, as I have to pass it to ‘go about my business’, I may as well take a look. I prod at the torch function on the phone until white light floods out and makes me blink. Getting closer, I see there’s a pool of liquid around the pile that reflects the light. Moving slowly, I start to pass.
That’s a big, milky-white eye, like on a dead fish!
“Sir, please step away.”
The voice comes from behind me. I swing round and a tall bloke in a dark suit raises a hand to shield his eyes. His companion already has sunglasses on. Behind them, an aircar hovers a little way off the ground, soft blue lights showing up the rubbish in the road.
“That’s a bit bright, sir.”
I drop the phone into my pocket. Quicker than working out how to turn the torch off.
“Thank you. If you step to your right, we’ll deal with this.”
With me out of the way, the long aircar slides silently by and settles over the big dead whatever. There are sliding noises, then the aircar rises to hover again. The road under it is empty and clean.
“Thank you for your notification, sir.”
The two of them walk by me and get into the aircar. I watch and wonder which police centre it’ll head for. It doesn’t. The blue light rises into the sky, then vanishes with a little flash of white light.
What was that? I take a swig of beer. Whatever. Alanna won’t be interested. Shall I get fish or a pie with my chips tonight?
Author: Jeremy Port-Tuckett
They danced until midnight. She kissed him full of hunger. Her chaperone watched from afar.
“I have to go,” she said.
He walked her to the car.
“Who are you?” Dave whispered into the neon. “Where did you come from?”
He watched the lights until they were swallowed by the darkness of the city limits. She had lost her shoe. He picked it up.
“Come inside,” his mother said. He stood in the rain staring into the dark. He didn’t sleep. Too many butterflies.
“Please,” his mother said, “eat.”
He could not.
In the morning he packed a bag. He packed her shoe. His mother cried.
“Don’t go,” she said. He walked out of the city. It was cold but he was warmed by the thought of her.
“I’m coming,” Dave whispered. Moonlight kissed his face. He slept. He dreamed of her. The smoothness of her skin. The manner of her speech. Her clipped tone. Her laugh. It sounded like crystal clockwork. Innocent. In the morning he walked again.
The sea sang a lullaby. He stared at the island. It looked like paradise. He held up the shoe.
“Please,” Dave said.
He waited on the beach, on the night smothered sand. Stars danced in the sea. A voice sang. He followed it into the jungle.
“You have it?” the voice said. Dave nodded.
Dave followed the voice. Lights twinkled among the leaves; red and green. Blue.
“What is this place?” he asked.
“A place of dreams.”
A manicured lawn sprawled under phosphorous plants. Music.
She came to him in the clearing. Limping. She listed to the right. Behind her he saw the chaperone waiting.
“You have it?” the chaperone said.
He passed the chaperone the shoe. She held him. There were tears in his eyes. The chaperone retreated into the jungle. Drenched in moonlight he held her. Drowning in her. They lay down on the grass.
“Come with me,” Dave whispered to her. She slept. Dave listened to her sleeping. It sounded like purring. Her heart was ticking. Dave had never heard a ticking heart before.
A man came. He wore paramedic overalls. He carried the shoe. The man lifted her dress to reveal the socket, the plug of her ankle. Broken. Snapped while dancing. The man shook his head. She woke.
He pushed the shoe on. She smiled.
“Thank you,” she said. Slurring. The man rolled his eyes. He rolled her over so she looked into Dave’s eyes, pressing his finger to her neck.
“Who are you?” Dave asked her.
The man inserted something in the back of her head.
“Ella,” she said. “Version 3.1” The slurring more prominent. The man frowned.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “Moisture in the circuits. From the grass.”
“I love you Ella,” Dave said pulling his wallet from his pocket.
“I know,” Ella slurred.
“Can I get money off?” Dave asked the man. “This one’s broken.”