Ilk glanced down at its own foot, noting how it looked upon the broken rocks and dust. This is where they lived.
The words weren’t any language the inhabitants of this dead world would have understood. All such languages were dead, preserved only in relics that survived the Cataclysm.
They brought it upon themselves, Kin replied.
Kin’s signal felt harder than the others, yet it was also familiar.
We came from them. Ilk felt something indistinct stir within.
The connection is distant.
We should try to remember. Ilk stooped and ran its own glowing hand through the dark soil. With the sun overhead, the lack of atmosphere drove the surface temperature too high for liquid water. The heat diffused harmlessly through Ilk’s form.
They had war. They killed over petty differences. Why should we care?
Ilk recalled when Din, from whom Ilk spawned, spoke of Tin. Tin was spawned many millennia ago, as far back as post-Cataclysm records went. Much information about their ancestors still existed then, but was lost over time.
Tin’s words, recited by Din, resonated in Ilk’s mind. Our reasons to fight are gone. There is no sex, no color, no shape. We gained peace, but we lost nuance.
Ilk’s goal was to understand those words. Kin shared no similar goal. Why did you come?
You asked me to. The hard edge of the signal had lessened.
Whatever Tin meant about nuance, Ilk knew the answer wasn’t on Earth’s scorched remains.
No reason to stay. Ilk put its arms over its head and allowed the transformation to take hold.
Kin did the same.
Twin lightning bolts flashed across the sky.
A Polite Letter of Complaint
Captain Ariana Otto
In indefinite orbit around the planet Lysea
CEO Kimp Zernfoddle
Galactic Language Systems
Space Station Copernicus
Tau Ceti System
Dear Mr. Zernfoddle:
As the commanding officer of the USS Freebird, I was recently given the great honor of making first contact with the Lyseans. Though we knew little of their language or culture going in to this assignment, my entire crew spent weeks studying the intelligence that had already been gathered on this species. We felt confident we knew enough about them to open the lines of communication, and perhaps even establish a trade agreement with them.
Mr. Zernfoddle, as the CEO of the largest and most powerful manufacturer of translation technology, I have no doubt you are quite familiar with the importance of trade agreements. Part of building and maintaining them requires that you don’t offend the people with whom you’re negotiating. I ask that you keep this crucial fact in mind as you read the rest of this letter.
Due the ironclad contract you negotiated with the Astronomical Union’s head of purchasing, your company is the sole provider of communication devices for each of the AU’s starships and space stations. Under normal circumstances, I would not take issue with this legal wrangling that surely had your legal team laughing like giddy children, but universal translators are crucial in first contact situations. The wrong word can derail an otherwise friendly conversation. The unfortunate beheading of my good friend Captain Crane illustrates this point perfectly. A slight difference in tone turned a simple request for water, which translates as life-giving liquid, to a request for a bodily fluid that also has life-giving qualities. The three meter tall emissary with whom Crane was speaking took offense, and by nightfall Crane’s head was hanging from the balcony of their capitol building. As you’re surely aware, we are still trying to negotiate the return of his remains, and even with the help of your top of the line translation tech, the proceedings have been less than successful on our end.
My ship uses the L3M0/V Universal Translator. This is the same translator Crane was using before he unwittingly made the query that would have earned him an immediate court martial had he not lost his head over the situation. Mr. Zernfoddle, I can assure you that my diplomatic team carefully crafted an introductory speech and practiced for days for a multitude of scenarios. I worked closely with them, and I felt confident in my ability to communicate with the Lyseans. While I could never have guaranteed that our meeting would be all we hoped, there is no way my carefully scripted remarks could have been interpreted as “questioning the parentage and bedroom habits of the emperor” without some kind of error on the part of the translation device.
Of course, I cannot tell you exactly what I supposedly said, because we only learned of the charges after days of debate in a prison interrogation room using your translator. Normally I would use facial expressions to overcome some of these difficulties, but as the Lyseans are bulbous green creatures with no discernible faces, that wasn’t going to be much help. They have only a small mouth, and even that is covered by a large flap of skin that makes it difficult to see. Without a reliable translation, we are in the dark.
I can only be certain that they have no intention of letting this go easily. The majority of my crew remains aboard the Freebird, looping the planet in perpetuity until we can reach some kind of diplomatic understanding. I, along with the rest of the team that met with the Lysean emperor, have been accommodated in the maximum security wing of the prison. It has now been a full three months since this mix-up began, and we are eager to return to our ship.
The AU teams that have come to negotiate on our behalf have, with the aid of your newer L/1M3 Universal Translator, had a little more luck than we did. Only 75% of their people have been punished for infractions such as “confessing to a string of unexplained murders from more than a century ago” and “accusing the emperor’s daughter of eating worm holes.” Again, I am not certain of the veracity of the charges as translated back to us. If the translations are somehow accurate, the Lyseans are more sensitive to insult than any other sentient race in the galaxy.
I am writing to you in the hope that you can help us fix this. Since you are the only corporation we can legally go to for our translation needs, I was hoping you could devote the best resources you have to resolving this matter. Though I do not want to sound impatient, I have spent the last months cleaning the prison toilets to earn my meals. These toilets are out in the open, and the inmates have no inhibitions about who is watching when they use them. Also, given that they defecate out of their mouths, I frequently find myself unable to eat the meals I worked so hard to get.
Since you and I speak different languages and my letter clearly has to go through your translation software before it will make sense to you, I hope you encounter none of the problems that we have. If anything comes out wrong or sounds offensive to you, please discard it as a difficulty with the translation. I would never insult such a rotund, mentally-deficient, greedy despot such as yourself.
I hope this letter finds you rotting in a pool of your own fetid self-righteousness. My people and I look forward to hearing from you.
Captain Ariana Otto, Senior Toilet Scrubber
More Than a Movie
The passengers on the cloaked timeship take their seats. The staggered seating guarantees that everyone has unobstructed access to the wide viewscreen.
Fifty feet below, the cold water of the North Atlantic turns to white froth as the behemoth of a ship cuts through. The oblivious passengers mill about the deck as the sunset paints them in shades of orange and gold.
Attendants are passing bags of buttered popcorn, assorted candies, and beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) out to the audience.
The images of Titanic are interspersed with interviews explain what to expect from the sinking.
The CEO of Temporal Cruises soon fills the screen. “Many films have been made about Titanic,” he explains, “but they don’t have the same impact as the real event lived out before your eyes. People want to see that life and death struggle, and we provide that.”
Unseen, the iceberg looms in the distance.
The twins worked in tandem. As soon as Bobby and Billy learned to walk, they toiled together to build the toy skyscrapers that brought them to the cookie jar. When one got in trouble, the other rushed in with a distraction.
People quickly noticed how in sync they were, and always without a word. Testing at age 8 revealed that they were telepathically connected. They often used this gift to mischievous ends, but nothing serious.
Gift turned to curse at 17.
When a dead body appeared in their backyard, Bobby went to the police. "I did it. I don't remember it, but I know I did it."
Billy remembered. The girl liked Bobby better. Being a twin, Billy rarely got anything to himself, and he was sick of it. He was strong enough to plant the guilt in his brother's mind afterwards.
Now he was free.
An Urgent Announcement
This is an urgent announcement.
A dimension-hopping fang beast of absurd size has been spotted on several worlds throughout the Federation. Please note, if you are in any of the areas where sightings have been reported, we recommend that you remain indoors. This will, of course, do you little good as a dimension-hopping creature isn’t likely to be hindered by a few walls. Remaining indoors may, however, improve your mental outlook as you shield yourself with a false sense of security, keeping you in reasonably good spirits up until the moment of your imminent death.
For those of you in areas where sightings have not occurred, feel free to go about your daily activities as you see fit. This is not to say we can guarantee your safety, because, as we have already established, a dimension-hopping fang beast can drop in pretty much anywhere it likes. If anything, you should take comfort in the fact that you have thus far been unaffected by these incidents, and you should acknowledge there is nothing you can do to prevent anything from occurring in the future. Any alteration in your routine would therefore be pointless and counterproductive.
To those we have cautioned to remain indoors: ignore that last statement and remain calm.
Most people who encounter a dimension-hopping fang beast are not fortunate enough to survive the experience, so few physical descriptions are available to us. However, we have enough information to say that the beast is appropriately named. Most dimension-hopping creatures of this type are bipedal and roughly the same size as an adult Tyrannosaurus Rex (or a Snorphadinglus for those of you unfamiliar with ancient Earth history). The beast has four rows of serrated teeth and eight primary fangs that are approximately ten feet long. Razor sharp talons on its feet can cut an average human in half. We recommend against wearing body armor for protection. Body armor only turns an instantly lethal blow into a drawn-out death. Most people who were unfortunate enough to try this were eviscerated and spent their final moments trying to shove their intestines back in.
Once again, I would like to remind everyone not to panic.
The dimension-hopping fang beast itself isn’t the only peril you need to watch out for. If by some remarkable conglomeration of circumstances you manage to be within visual range of the fang beast and not die, you also need to watch out for any rips in the space-time continuum. As the beast jumps quickly in and out of our dimension, there is always a risk of accidentally falling through a gateway and out of our reality.
Should this happen to you, remain calm.
If you survive the dimensional shift and find yourself on a suitably solid surface, proceed quickly in any direction that leads you away from the rip. The fang beast could very well be coming through immediately behind you.
Once you have gotten away from any immediate danger, you should promptly give up on all hope of ever getting home. As rescue would be impossible, your only hope of returning would be to mount the beast and ride it until it jumps to a time and place remotely similar to the one you left. Given the mortality rate associated with close proximity to the beast, we would strongly recommend against this.
Instead, we recommend you take stock of your new surroundings and get used to the idea of calling it home. You may find yourself on an alien world, in which case exercise caution in sampling new foods and dealing with any indigenous population you may find.
If by chance you have found yourself somewhere in the Federation at some point in the past, become a recluse. Do your best to have no impact on the world whatsoever. We don’t want anyone to screw up the timeline. It might make for a mundane existence, but you can find solace in the fact you still have a pulse.
If you’ve been transported to the the distant future, accept that you’ll probably never learn enough about the technology to become a productive member of society. Try to become a rich person’s pet. It may make for a demeaning life, but at least you’ll be comfortable and breathing.
Stay tuned for further updates on this growing crisis.
Film at 11.
Interstellar Diplomatic Negotiations: Rulebook and Disclaimer
The Terran Alliance expects a lot from its ambassadors. You, as an ambassador, are the bridge that connects us to the rest of the universe. This is a position that demands dedication and quick thinking. Keep in mind, interstellar negotiations are comparable to juggling with bombs. You must be quick and fearless to avoid the worst.
A list of basic rules has been provided to help you, but bear in mind that you need to be prepared for anything.
- Please refrain from engaging in personal relationships with other ambassadors. During the course of intense negotiations, it would be in the best interests of the Terran Alliance if our ambassador were not debilitated by emotional attachments, or being blackmailed with incriminating photos. The last time this became an issue, not only did we lose an entire planetary system in the botched negotiations, that ambassador also contracted a new form of STD that rendered certain body parts permanently useless. Of course, he also passed it on to a few others before that happened. Trust us when we say that it’s best to avoid these messy situations
- Ambassadors are to adhere to the dress code at all times. The plain gray uniform may be dull, but it is also practical. Each species we encounter has unique traditions, and they perceive ambassadorial attire as a representation of our species. The mishap with the Bryndari delegation in 2471 gave the Terran Alliance a black eye. It’s always embarrassing when a war that kills millions of civilians is mistakenly instigated by a paisley necktie. Had the ambassador known the Bryndari considered paisley a sign of disrespect, he would have selected a different garment. The strict uniform requirements seemed a reasonable way to avoid such misunderstandings in the future.
- Be sure to study your pre-contact report before engaging in diplomatic discussions. These reports are made by the Alliance’s top intelligence people. Make sure you can recite it word for word, because you never know when you may need a particular piece of information. For example, the Tillani have what appears to be a second set of eyestalks located on their shoulders. These, however, are not eyestalks, and looking at them could be taken as a mating proposal. Making this mistake could (and did) complicate negotiations. That ambassador was only able to complete the negotiations after a lengthy courtship and marriage ritual. Then, afterwards, he had to resign his commission to live on the Tillani homeworld. These mistakes are easy enough to avoid if you thoroughly study your materials prior to contact.
- If you should use your diplomatic privileges for personal advantage, that will be considered an act of treason. One ambassador made the mistake of accepting gifts from the Denai in exchange for 100 Earth Alliance citizens, who were to be used for slave labor. That too resulted in a war. The ambassador was charged with treason and sentenced to death. However, he was forced to fight on the frontlines when we went to retrieve our people. He died in battle, which at least saved the Alliance the costs associated with executing him. Unless you want that to be the story of how your career ends, you should refrain from accepting gifts from other ambassadors, no matter how good, or innocuous, the deal may seem.
- Now for the most important rule of all. Never give away Earth, or its moon, in the negotiations, no matter what is offered in return. This kind of error would result in a immediate termination, a charge if treason, and you will be expected to take up arms in any battle that might result. As the cradle of human civilization, Earth is home to a large percentage of our population and is a symbol of who we are as a people. Should we lose that in a negotiation, we would become the laughing stock of the galaxy. We’ve already had enough mistakes over the course of Alliance history, but recovering from that error would be all but impossible.
Welcome to the Terran Alliance Ambassadorial team! Given that you were drafted into our organization, you may be less than enthusiastic about your new duties. However, you are required to demonstrate enthusiasm in public. You are, after all, the face of the Terran Alliance.
We apologize that the draft has become necessary, but our number of volunteers has inexplicably plummeted in the last few years. Please, try to make the best of your new career, and see this as an honor and an opportunity that most are not fortunate to have.
Best of luck!
We reserve the right to amend these rules at any time. You will be held retroactively responsible for any infractions that only become such after new rules are passed. This may seem unfair, but it ensures that our ambassadors think long and hard about the decisions they make. You will also be expected to compensate the Alliance for any bribes you may offer to get what we want during negotiations. This is not meant to discourage you from doing what you must to do your job effectively. Since we’re in a recession, we need to be economically solvent. This means underpaying you and sticking you with the bill. This is a government operation, so you could hardly have expected anything different.
Blood and Tears
The sun is high overhead in the courtyard, and I feel the heat on my face. This is the only exposure to the outdoors I’m allowed to have.
The genetically engineered blood lilies are oozing today. The red liquid stands out in stark contrast to the delicate white petals. The blood streaks the petals, naturally running along the veins. By the end of the week, the blood will have accumulated until the weight of it flattens the flowers. Then the blood will act as a fertilizer, nourishing the next generation of lilies until they too meet their demise. The cycle is meant to symbolize the bloodshed of the revolution, and the triumphant rebuilding of our civilization.
The whole process seems more like a subtle reminder of what I am. You see, I’m not any different from the lilies. Maybe that’s why these poor flowers disturb me.
Here’s my story.
My mother died of poisoning during childbirth. I became a ward of the state, and I was locked away to ensure the safety of our allies. To the rest of the world, I might look like a normal young woman. I am seventeen years old with a willowy figure, wispy blond hair, and sky blue eyes.
I am also a living weapon.
I sit beside the blood lilies. They emit an oppressive odor. The metallic scent of the blood takes root in the back of my throat. The natural scent of the flowers is drowning. My stomach turns at first, but I take a deep breath, and the nausea passes.
Removing my long black gloves, I see the rubber has left my fingers perpetually wrinkled from sweat. My supervisors would go pale with fear if they saw me now.
I pluck one of the lilies. Turning my hands palm up, I let the flower rest there, and I watch as the change begins. The edges of the petals start to peel back and wilt. White fades to brown.
Why am I reminding myself of my poisonous nature? Most days I wouldn’t, but today is a bitter one. A year ago, part of me died.
His name was Henry, and he too was a weapon. We grew up together, and though I could never touch him without my gloves on, I felt closer to him than anyone else. The rest of the kids were too scared to come anywhere near me. He wasn’t.
Henry’s skill was telekinesis. He lifted large objects with ease. He controlled the tiniest of movements. You name it, he did it, but they wanted more. Our puppet masters worked to enhance those powers.
One day, something went wrong.
A regimen of narcotics had dramatically increased his potency. His power soon outstripped his ability to control it, and there was an accident. Three of his training supervisors died. Henry suffered a concussion when he was knocked unconscious by flying debris.
When he was isolated from the rest of us afterwards, I knew immediately what that meant. I’d seen this happen with others.
A year ago precisely, I went to visit him after lights out. The moonlight streamed through the barred window, revealing that his warm brown eyes were open. They were unfocused as they took me in. He was clearly being medicated to suppress his abilities. This much was to be expected. It also meant he could barely move.
“Kali?” His voice sounded soft. Hopeful.
I sat on the edge of the bed and touched his hand with my gloved one. “Yes, it’s me.”
“The meds are killing me. I can feel it,” he whispered.
This didn’t surprise me. If they couldn’t control Henry, they would get rid of him. Osiris and Tempest died the same way. Our puppet masters would keep him like this, gathering all the information they could while he died. This research would help them develop a weapon to stop any enemies with similar abilities.
I squeezed his hand, silently damning the gloves, our masters, and everyone else I could think of.
“Will you do me a favor?” he asked.
“Anything.” Henry was the only one to whom I’d ever felt any real loyalty.
The request stunned me. “You know what that would do.”
“I’m going to die anyway. At least this way I’ll get something I’ve always wanted in the process.”
Maybe I should have hesitated more than I did, but I couldn’t stand the thought of him slowly dying alone. Not for their benefit. I loved him too much for that.
I leaned over him, and he embraced me, the pressure of his arms granting me a temporary reprieve from the pain.
I’d dreamed of kissing him before, but I never believed it would happen. As such, I had no real expectations. The warmth of his lips surprised me, as well as his eagerness. Though the poison from my saliva diffused rapidly through his pores, moving steadily toward his heart, he kissed me hungrily, as if he were trying to fit an entire lifetime into that one moment. Even with the inevitable outcome looming, he seemed to put the thought out of his mind.
Then his arms went slack, and his final breath caressed my face. I pressed my forehead against his, the loss overwhelming me. It swelled in my chest, threatening to explode. Poisonous tears landed on his pale cheek, steadily burning into his dead flesh.
My masters like it when I cry.
When I look down at the lily again, there is no sign of life left in it either. I close my fingers around it, and the petals turn to dust.
Everything I touch dies. My mother. Henry.
And like the blood lilies, the poison builds in my system. If the excess weren’t removed regularly, I too would perish. I try not to think about what my masters do with the poison they withdraw each week.
I finally let the floral corpse fall to the ground.
My hands are stained with blood.
Just like that, the bubble that is my sheltered life bursts before my eyes. I am now left to face an unacceptable truth. The reality I’ve accepted for my entire existence has been a farce.
My creator stands before me. All along he’s been here, masquerading as my friend whilst secretly monitoring me. Testing me. Even tempting me.
“You’re not human,” Jorgen repeats. Not that it’s necessary. Those words will rattle around in my mind for the rest of my life. “The exhibition is in two days. I need to do this now so I can have everything ready in time.”
He’s using these hollow words to justify what he’s about to do. Until this morning, I never had reason to doubt him. There were memories of us growing up together. We’d been best friends since kindergarten. He gave me my first wedgie, my first valentine, my first kiss. An entire childhood of best friend moments, and many that were significantly more.
All a lie.
I have no idea where my actual life began, and where the falsified memories ended. Not that it matters. Even the memories that are genuine, that really should belong to me, are still based on lies.
Jorgen strips the garments from my body. I am shocked further, incapable of words as I realize he didn’t ask to do so. Now that the rouse is up, my permission is no longer required for such an action. He can bypass any protest I may make.
I am invalidated.
Soon I am propped against the white wall of his laboratory, held in place by metal rings. I cannot move. He’d claimed he wanted to show me what he did at work. Technically, he was showing me that, but I wonder if that’s all he thinks he’s shown me. If so, he’s greatly underestimated the power of this moment.
“You’re not human,” Jorgen says again as he picks up a laser scalpel. His hand seems to be shaking.
That observation gives me the courage to speak. There still may be hope. “You don’t have to do this if you aren’t sure about it. Just think about this.”
“No! There’s no time. I can’t turn back. My award is pending. If I don’t have my work ready in time, they’ll give it to someone else. At 19, I’ll be the youngest person ever to get it. I can’t risk losing that.” He dares to look me in the eye as he waves the scalpel behind my ear. My body is instantly numbed. He pokes my arm experimentally, and I sense nothing. I can’t even shiver as the dread seeps through me. “The operation will be quick and painless.”
Quick maybe, but far from painless, I think. Tears blur my vision, though I cannot feel them fall.
Now Jorgen looks stunned. Could he seriously have failed to predict my sadness? He stands there for a long moment before reluctantly wiping his free hand across my cheeks, drying my tears. Then he determinedly drops his hand. “You’re not human,” he recites again.
“You made love to me!” I protest. Then I hesitate. With so many false memories, I cannot be certain that even happened.
The look on his face, however, instantly confirms that it did. He appears as though I punched him in the gut. “I had to try you out, see that you functioned properly,” he argued. “It was all in the name of research.”
Then he knelt in front of me and touched the scalpel to the skin above my manufactured navel. Looking down, I can’t help but marvel at the level of detail he used to build my body. The level of deceit was implicit in each choice he made in my construction.
Jorgen peels me back, layer by layer, exposing my viscera to the world. He stops frequently to snap photographs, insisting that everything must be properly documented. I scarcely listen as he explains that each moment of my life has been filmed for the committee to see. They’ll be able to watch every single private moment, study my schematics, and experience the implanted memories that laid the groundwork for my being.
I, however, will be the main attraction. Harnessed to that wall, visitors will be able to examine my constituent parts. They will also interact with me. Fully awake, I’ll see and hear everything going on around me. Though my nervous system will no longer transmit pain signals to my brain, I’ll still feel it all in the most real of ways.
When Jorgen is finished, I can see my own artificial organs. The counterfeit is good, but the rubber hoses and metal connectors betray my artificiality. Though I cannot see this, I know my scalp has been torn away, revealing my positronic brain.
Jorgen, the man who once acted like my friend, puts away his tools and turns out the lights, his work done for the night. He says nothing to me before he goes.
All alone in the dark, I imagine him laid open on the wall beside me, my mechanical parts warmer than his flesh and blood.
Jaclyn emerged from the chloroform fog. Cold leather straps dug into the skin on her wrists and ankles, pinning her to a hard wood table. Darkness crept into every corner of the room, so she couldn’t get a clear view of anything. What she did see, though, was a row of shelves to her right that identified it as the old storage room. Cobwebs clung to the boxes, proving their disuse.
Off to her other side, she spotted a faint red glow. Turning her head, she could hardly believe her eyes. “Is that . . .?” she whispered, unable to finish the sentence. Yet her eyes didn’t deceive her. A small cauldron was boiling on a hotplate.
A face hovered into view above her. The twisted smile enhanced the features of her colleague, Dr. Lessner. He had the typical mad scientist, gravity-defying white hair. She felt the look made him look more like a caricature of a scientist than a scientist. Jaclyn assisted him in creating plant hybrids. Pumpkins were the latest project. With their alterations, a carved pumpkin would last much longer, prolonging Halloween enjoyment.
“What are you doing?” she asked, unable to steady her trembling voice.
“Taking care of a problem.” He pulled a razor blade from his pocket. “The pumpkins showed me our error. They’re in pain, you see.”
“The ghosts of the slaughtered will haunt us in hell,” Lessner growled. He lifted her shirt and pressed the blade against the soft skin of her stomach. “Jaclyn, have you ever been carved like a jack-o-lantern?”
Jaclyn looked on in horror as the blade punched through her skin, releasing the blood beneath.
Lessner laughed gleefully. “Afterwards I’ll boil your innards and make you into a pumpkin pie. You’ll know their anguish, as I now do.”
A Politician Tells the Truth Before Armageddon
My Fellow Citizens of Earth,
I address you now, not as the holder of the most powerful political office in the world, but as a member of the human race. As a fellow human being, I feel I need to be honest with all of you.
First of all, for as long as I have been in politics, I haven’t had an honest atom in my body. Lies drive the political process far too often, and I repeatedly allowed my greed to take precedence over the truth.
The biggest lie I ever told will reflect poorly on me until the end of civilization. Unfortunately for everyone, due to the nature of my blunder that will only be three more days.
First contact was a serious matter, but I treated it as a strategic advantage in my bid for reelection. In all honesty, the situation here at home was rapidly deteriorating, and I didn’t know how to prevent World War III. Tensions were too high, and I pretended to understand the nature of these conflicts better than I actually did.
When the Vintari initially met with our envoy, they were interested in opening peaceful trade negotiations. There were no indications that they intended to go to war with us. Yet their very arrival triggered the raving lunatics to declare the end of the world. Many prepared for a possible conflict.
My mistake came from putting too much faith in the scenarios put forth in alien invasion movies. I saw the way humans banded together when faced with an extraterrestrial threat. I thought if I could create that conflict of the people of Earth versus an alien adversary, I might be remembered as the leader who united the world and brought it back from the brink of destruction.
That’s right. I committed terrible crimes against my people, and my sole purpose for doing so was to ensure my own legacy. World peace, while a noble goal in itself, was only a tool to bring me immortality. Oddly enough, I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care.
The threats reported by this administration were fabricated at my command, no more real than an illusionist’s optical trickery. The so-called Vintari attack on our lunar colony was staged. I gave the order to have those civilians killed, and as our people died at my hand, I reminded myself that there are acceptable losses in any war. I knew that these actions would give us all a common enemy. I guess I succeeded in the end, only that common enemy is me.
Damnation! That is what I have brought upon us all. My malady was arrogance, and it sealed our fate. I moved forward with my dastardly plan because, I truly felt that if we threw all we had at the Vintari, we couldn’t lose. As your leader, I was entrusted by you to employ good judgment on your behalf. In that charge, I clearly failed. There aren’t enough apologies in all of creation to earn your forgiveness, so I won’t waste your time by trying.
I’m not sure if there really are a heaven and hell. Many times I’ve claimed such certainty, but that too was a sham to buy votes. All I can say now is that, if they are real, I know where I’m going, so I hope for my own sake that they’re as much a lie as my campaign speeches. Though I know what I’ve done to you is wrong, I care more about my own position after death than I do about all of you. How terrible is that? None of you should have ever voted for me, but how were you to know when I did nothing but lie and make my opponent seem worse.
So at this very moment, the Vintari planet killer is on its way. I can see that massive ship barrel toward this little light blue marble of a world in my mind, and I know we are defenseless. We ran every probability study we could, but most of our fleet has already been destroyed. Those of us on the surface of this world are the only ones left.
My advisors warned me that, due to the hopelessness of the situation, there is a 98% probability that I’ll be lynched by an angry mob as I walk out of this building. That’s okay with me. What’s another 3 days of life anyway? I imagine whatever you have in store for me can’t be any worse than what the Vintari have in mind for me.
Good luck to everyone. Though you’ll all be united in death soon enough, you’re all on your own until then.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The sound isn’t the drip of water from a tap. If only I could convince myself of that, I might be able to stifle the urge to vomit. I close my eyes tighter, willing the world away.
You can kill me, but don’t make me look at what you’ve done, I think to myself. Please, please sweetie, don’t make me look.
The mistakes I’ve made pile up in my mind, and I can’t escape the conclusion that this is my fault. I was the one who wanted to explore this dead world. My research tracked the spread of the epidemic to an underground lab. That lab, as I later learned, belonged to a terrorist group that claimed the apocalypse was nigh. No one took them seriously. Little did anyone know they intended to cause the apocalypse themselves.
I regret everything now.
Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. Feet dragging on metal. The deckplates seem to be singing a wordless eulogy as my deceased husband edges closer. Though I’m not breathing through my nose to block out the stench of putrefying flesh, I can taste it in my mouth. The air recycling system dutifully distributes the scent throughout the ship, so even if I escape this room, I won’t escape the harsh reality.
A stiff, cold hand grips my elbow, and my skin crawls. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. None of this is your fault.”
The response is a dry, raspy wheeze. A faint tickle of putrid breath falls across my face, and the moment is too much for me. Vomit pushes its way up my throat and dribbles down my chin. The hand only tightens its grip and pulls me closer.
Why did I ignore protocol? Regulations stated that, in a quarantine situation, I was supposed to burn his body after he died. Yet it all happened so suddenly, and my sentimentality got the best of me. I wanted to bury him properly. I wanted to rest alongside him for eternity. That sentimentality cost me everything.
Our precious daughter had no choice. We drug her along for this crazy mission, but I was sure I’d done what I could to keep her safe. Later, when it all started to go wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her what happened to her daddy. So I lied. I left his body in the infirmary and told her he was sick. So when he left his deathbed, she let him into our quarters. Why wouldn’t she? It was her daddy, after all.
As he, the love of my life, pulls me closer, I know he’s about to sink his teeth into my neck. It’ll be over soon. On this tiny spaceship, I could never have avoided this fate, nor would I have wanted to. My guilt will soon be veiled by a mindless, insatiable hunger, and that doesn’t sound too bad.
Drip. Drip. Drip. That maddening sound persists.
I only have to wait a few moments longer, so why do I open my eyes? The compulsion comes from within, and before I can think better of it, my vision is filled with the image of my little girl’s severed head. The blood drips from her neck, and the sound of it echoes so loud in my ears I’m astonished I can hear anything else. Her clouded eyes roll up to look at me, and she bares her teeth. Almost as if she’s accusing me for letting this happen to her. I know logically that isn’t true. The hunger has a hold on her. There isn’t enough of my daughter left to lay blame on me.
When his teeth finally pierce my flesh, the rush of blood brings the warmth of release. My death is the price of my forgiveness. Soon I’ll be consumed by the hunger too, and reunited with my family, we’ll wander the corridors of this tiny ship in a fruitless quest for sustenance.
Falling into Love
As a young girl, I wrote down almost everything I saw and felt in a worn little spiral notebook. They were almost a kind of postscript that helped me organize the information I couldn’t otherwise decipher. I wanted to devise an explanation for everything.
Let me be clear. Curiosity and exploration are wonderful things. There’s nothing wrong with analyzing the world in order to understand it. It’s a desirable thing. Yet a list of facts, of cause and effect relationships, can’t touch what it feels like to be human. You need real life experience to get the whole picture. Call it practical experimentation, if you will.
I’ll never forget the day I learned this crucial lesson. I was eighteen. Officially an adult, I applied my infallible (to my mind anyway) logic to everything with renewed confidence. I heard about the so-called beauty of love from all sources. Despite all the fans of love, the idea of loving someone for life seemed ludicrous to me. I judged every couple as I saw as delusional and doomed to failure. So the idea of leaping into romantic entanglements seemed ridiculous. Of course I wouldn’t waste my time with such nonsense.
It was our last day of high school. I walked home with my friend Jesse that afternoon. I’d known him since his family moved to town halfway through Kindergarten. He was easily one of my oldest friends, and he loved to argue with me about my outlook on life. As a writer, he investigated the world through literary means, and he had a decidedly romantic perspective on the world. While we didn’t always agree, I enjoyed our debates.
The rain had fallen heavily through most of the day, but by the time we set out for home, it was barely a drizzle. We tromped through the damp streets discussing the nature of string (it was his day to select the topic of our debate). I stuck to issues such as tensile strength, functionality, and material. He focused on its ability to hold things together. “If we tied a long enough string between us when we both leave for college, we’d have that one thing in common. Each little movement one of us made would have an influence of the other.”
In retrospect, I understand his reason for taking the conversation in that direction. Yet at the time, I jotted down his latest argument in the notebook I reserved specially for our post-school discussions. “Perhaps, but the string would also wreak havoc on traffic patterns,” I noted.
At this point, we were approaching a downward slope that led to a small creek that flows through the middle of town. My house lay just beyond that, so we usually cut across to save time. On this day I instinctively turned to go down the slope.
Jesse’s hand gently captured my wrist. “It rained a lot today. Maybe we should go around the long way. You don’t want to get your shoes soaked.”
I looked down. The water level didn’t look that bad. “It’ll be fine,” I insisted as I took a step.
At that precise moment, the mud gave way and left me struggling to get a foothold. Jesse automatically tightened his grip on my wrist as he attempted to hold me upright. In the end though, gravity prevailed, and as a result of his efforts, received two falling bodies for the price of one misstep.
Well played, gravity. Well played.
Dignity evaporated as Jesse and I tumbled one over the other down the mucky inclined plane. He held me close to his body all the way down, as if that would somehow shield me from the fall. Soon our momentum brought us to the bottom, just beside the water. He came to a rest on top of me.
That’s when it happened. My head spun slightly from the dramatic tumble as I looked into Jesse’s face. Mud plastered his cheeks and hair, and a twig stuck out from behind his ear. Yet through all of that, I saw the concern on his face. He leaned down slightly so he could get a good look at me, and I couldn’t avoid the intricate details of his green irises. Something warm, something wonderfully unexpected seemed to echo infinitely in his eyes. My chest suddenly felt hollow, and I realized something was missing from that moment.
“Oh!” That single word escaped me as the enormity of it all sank in. He’d been in my life all this time, yet now, for no explicable reason, I saw him in an entirely different way.
He seemed confused by my monosyllabic utterance. “Amie, are you okay?”
In response, I slid an arm around his neck and pulled him even closer. When I pressed my lips against his, I did it wholeheartedly. I intended to savor the warmth, the pressure his lips exerted against mine, and the way my body reacted to all of it. My chest no longer felt empty as a glowing feeling swelled inside me. It felt like something ancient and scarcely understood was at work, pinning us together in a cloud of feeling. I needed to know every detail it.
Gotta love biology.
When I pulled back, Jesse looked bewildered. “Did you hit your head?” he asked.
I laughed. “I don’t think so.”
Satisfied by that answer, he leaned down and kissed me again. I accepted the kiss with fervor, anxious to feel more.
Never underestimate the power of practical experimentation.