Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Marcus followed June from the school after class, across the back field, up over the train tracks, and down the other side into the woods.
“Where are we going?” He struggled to keep up, his backpack catching on a branch as she forged on ahead with determined certainty.
“You’ll see”, was her reply, not missing a step.
They walked through the forest for nearly an hour, she seemingly certain of the way, though there was no trail Marcus could make out. June was always better at finding paths, and he couldn’t help worry a little about getting separated and not being able to find his way back.
“How much farther?” He huffed, the exertion starting to wear on him.
“Not long”, the non-committal reply.
He shrugged his backpack further up his shoulders and trudged on behind her the rest of the way in silence.
The trees cleared abruptly at the edge of a ravine, and they slid down the incline to a wide river bed. Water rushed from around a corner upstream to slow in a wider pool where they were standing, before disappearing around another bend a little further downstream.
“Here”, June instructed, “watch this.”
She gathered a few fist-sized rocks and climbed along the boulders and fallen logs that lined the river bank until she reached a flat rocky outcrop, where she dumped the rocks in a pile, then waited for Marcus to join her.
“See that dark spot on the water, there?” She pointed to a shady patch where the water was caught up in a pocket behind the outcrop they stood on, forming an eddy and turning back against the current. “Watch.”
She tossed a rock into the middle of the slowly revolving circle of water. It disappeared without a sound.
“Now look up there,” she pointed upstream as a rock fell from thin air into the river with an audible splash easily ten meters away from where she had dropped it.
Marcus stared for a long minute.
“I don’t get it. Do that again.”
He watched carefully as June picked up another fist-sized rock and dropped it into the eddy.
They both stared upriver together for a few moments before a rock fell again out of thin air into the middle of the river.
Marcus stood speechless. This was scratching a part of his brain that didn’t like being scratched.
When he turned around, June had stripped off her shoes, socks, and pants.
“I’m going through”, she announced, and without another word, and before he could protest, she jumped into the water, again without a sound, leaving not even a ripple.
Marcus stared upstream and waited. She should have appeared by now. The rocks had come through right away, hadn’t they?
June landed with a thump, not in the river, not even in water, but in a hole. She stood, slightly sore from the fall, and raised herself on tiptoes to see over the side.
A creature sat, hunkered down on all fours a few meters away, staring at her with wide, unblinking eyes, its lips peeling back in a vulgar smile around a mouthful of teeth.
Beside it was a pile of fist-sized rocks.
Behind her, a rock fell out of the air, landing with a thump in the hole where she stood.
The creature picked up a rock from its own pile, and with a sound almost like a chuckle tossed it into a hole in the ground at its feet.
Author : Callum Wallace
“Nah. I think they’re kind of cute.” Loden scratched her nose. “Besides, they’re useful.”
Donaal sniffed. “As a resource.”
One approached them now. Soft and pink in the bulky atmos-suit, thick lips spread over stained ivory in the mockery of a smile.
“Wuaay doo as Spak-Part?”
Donaal shook his head. Taking the jobs, trampling over everything, couldn’t even speak the language. He leant down, raised his voice, enunciating as though talking to an idiot.
“Follow the road. Blue signs. Blue.” A blank stare. Donaal sighed, pointed to the blue of his badge. “Bluuue. Follow bluuue,” he pointed down the busy road to the signs, clearly visible above the heads crowd, glowing a very clear blue in the gloom.
White eyes widened, the soft face thickened, revealing more of those ridiculous teeth. It waggled its head back and forth eagerly and waddled away.
“You shouldn’t get so upset. You know they can’t help it.” She pointed, laughing again at the ridiculous little shape as it strolled into the mass ahead.
He grunted, sparking a light and taking a deep drag of his smoke.
A sudden noise caused them to turn; two of the little bastards were fighting, one trying fervently to crack the protective dome of the other, slamming the plexi-glass against the floor.
They cocked their rifles and dashed over, easily shouldering the gawping onlookers aside. Donaal drew his leg back and kicked the assailant as hard as he could. He heard the air leave its lungs, saw the spray splash onto the inside of the little chap’s helmet.
Loden had easily hoisted the other to his feet and, for some reason, seemed to be trying to calm it down, speaking to it in fractured bursts of their language.
He clicked his earpiece. “Migrant assault, thoroughfare 2-B. Advise.”
Hiss of static. “Dispatch advises. Pacify and arrest. Hold in stasis, await jury squad.”
Donaal scowled, exhaling green smoke. He turned to Loden, who had released the chattering alien to scamper away. “I miss just giving them a proper kicking. Used to work in my day.”
She shrugged, stooping to check on the crumpled figure at her feet. She scooped him up easily, depositing him in a wide shoulder plate. “Can’t do that no more Don. ‘Hearts and minds’, y’know? Planetary says they’ll be citizens soon. And besides, they are useful. Cheap labour, too stupid to want more. Most of ’em are just pleased to be here.” She looked up at him, “Remember, before we came along they hadn’t even gotten out of their own star system.”
Donaal frowned, flicking his sulphurstick away. “Still don’t like ’em.”
“You don’t gotta like ’em Don. You just gotta not kill ’em”
“Might be best; you’ve seen what they can do. Petty, violent little shits.”
She smiled at him then, a proper smile. Her cheek horns split, spreading and lowering. “That’s where we come in.” She patted the badge on his chest plate. “Come on.”
They made their way towards the stasis cell, pushing through the stunted aliens masses.
One day they’ll realise, he thought. They’ll realise and they’ll rise up, and they’ll destroy us and everything we’ve built. Then they’ll turn on each other, like always, and they’ll destroy that too.
Can’t live with ’em, and they can’t live without buggering things up for everyone else.
Donaal took another stick and lit it, taking a sackfull of sulphur smoke. Worried for the state of the galaxy he pushed through the crowds, crowds that seemed to get a little bigger, a little more foreign, a little more human, everyday.