To read the review in its original format, click the “Read More” link. Otherwise, enjoy this updated style!
Girl in Space
Episodes: Currently 12, but ongoing.
Length: Generally around 30-40 minutes
I’ve listened to… All that I can!
The Premise: Girl in Space follows a girl in space. I know, right? It starts aboard her ship, and you quickly realize that, while not always the case, she is now completely alone. The mission, however, is clear: to monitor the nearby star, Ra. However, things begin to get weird when a fleet of ships shows up, turning things on their head and opening up a lot more questions about who she is, what Ra is, and what exactly has been going on.
My review: Girl in Space. This one is special to me in a lot of ways. First, because on of my very close friends heard it and sent it to me to listen to. They know me way too well, because I was hooked from episode one. And then because I listened to it right around the time my little one was born. Honestly, I planned to save it to listen to after she made her grand arrival, but after a couple episodes, I couldn’t stop listening. I had a bit of the baby blues in the weeks after she was born. Nothing serious, but I wasn’t really feeling like me. And I was crying a lot. An episode came out about a month after she was born, and it was one of those things that helped connect me to who I was and who I have become since I became the full-time caregiver to a tiny human. Plus, when anxiety and stress and sadness tried to keep me awake during the few precious hours I had to sleep, I could let myself ponder this world and relax. So, I have a very personal connection to this story because it came around right when I needed it.
Beyond that, it is excellently written, recorded, acted, and whatever else goes into making a podcast. The story grabbed me almost immediately and has yet to stop. That’s primarily because worldbuilding is some of the most artful I have listened to. Rather than taking a break to explain some concept or idea, the characters naturally discuss it and leave it to the listener to put things together. It does so in a way that is easy to follow and understand, but does not rely on spoon-feeding via expository sections.
On top of the curious and exciting world being developed episode by episode, the characters are truly engaging. They are not one dimensional, but each has their strengths and weaknesses. Which means even the good guys are bad sometimes. The way they handle intense topics is also enhanced by the diversity of their characters. There are some heavy things, and each character seems to have their own way of dealing with them, from healthy to very unhealthy. As one more positive in this already glowing review, the creators integrate a healthy dose of humor into the episodes, appropriately breaking up the tension when needed.
So, it has a good world, it has good characters, and finally it manages to mix up those two pieces in a unique and dynamic plot. Like many good stories, every time a question is answered, a couple dozen pop up to replace it. When I think I’ve finally started to piece things together, some new element comes in to shine a different light on the situation.
The main criticism I have is the irregularity. I know, that one’s rich coming from someone with a blog that sat empty for months at a time. I get it. I mean, I’ve never tried anything nearly as complex as a podcast, but I get that life and creativity don’t always mesh. That said, I wouldn’t be being fair if I didn’t note that. The update schedule is very intermittent. There are often months between episodes. This didn’t both me so much when I first listened because I binged the first 10 episodes. But now that I’m having to wait for new ones, I find it hard to keep all the relevant details in mind. So I’m sure I’m missing things. It also makes me nervous that this fantastic story is going to fade away unresolved, questions unanswered, characters unfulfilled.
But, until that happens (and hopefully it never does!), I will be eagerly awaiting each and every new episode. This is the one podcast I have set up to automatically download new episodes, and I will be waiting to listen anytime they are able to get an episode out. It’s just that good.
Find them here: Girl in Space(more…)
Guys, I have been working on this story for probably two years. It sat on the back burner for a long time, but I always came back to it, adding a little here and there. I really dove back into it about a month ago, and I am finally somewhat happy with it. It is an early draft, so I almost certainly will be making edits to it. I plan to submit it in this open period of creepypasta.com (I have two other pieces already submitted, and those will be posted here when I find out if they were accepted or not.), but it will probably be a later draft. I’m also planning a post that shows my editing process, just because I have that information for this and it is a kind of cool process. But, this is the overall plot and flavor of the story, with the likely edits focusing on making the ending smoother. As this is a living document, I really appreciate any feedback you may have. Happy reading!
The implants had ostensibly started as a medical breakthrough. Injectable nanobots that could control brain functioning? The implications for modern medicine were endless, and quickly surged. Of course, with most things, the money was not to be made in life saving and life altering medical interventions, but in mass market appeal. And the market was certainly there.
David was an early adopted. He had leapt at the opportunity to be on the front lines of this new era of human communication, entertainment, and exploration, riding the wave into the future. Now, fifteen years later, they were ubiquitous. Sure, there were still luddites who refused to enter the modern era, as there always were, but he took pride knowing he had ushered in a new era with the implants
They were an integrated biomatrix of nanounits that tapped into the brain. Careful procedures and controlled biotech growths spread contact points through the sensory, auditory, and verbal processing centers of the brain to interpret and respond to neural signals instantly. It put the world at your fingertips—better, at your synapses—and David had been desperate to submerge himself in the pseudo-world the implants created.
David loved his implant. He loved the freedom it gave him to go anywhere and do anything within the comfort of his own home. He loved the instant access to knowledge, and even more so the instant gratification of pop culture. David loved to be connected, because when the whole world was nothing more than a thought away, an empty apartment was simply an empty palette for whatever he could imagine.
And tonight, well tonight he was imagining a redhead.
The implant made it easy. He didn’t have to speak, just merely think and allow the biomatrix to tap into the speaking part of his brain. It took those thoughts that could have slipped through his lips as words and turned it into data. That data sprinted to the internet and dug up a very highly rated program. Now, David had plenty of redhead’s on file, but something this highly rated might be worth it. Besides, variety is the spice of life.
As it launched, he was impressed by the full and curving figure before him, perfected in the way only a computer could mold. She was aggressive, which wasn’t necessarily David’s style, but he could handle that. She strode over to him, her stiletto’s leaving tiny knifepoints in his plush carpet. Her hands wrapped around him, dragging him closer and ensnaring him in her arms. He was captured, completely at the mercy of the technological goddess. Her passion was infectious; he let it wash over him and take control, burying his lips into the soft skin of her neck before moving towards the full breasts as they drifted towards the bed.
David actively ignored the little voice whispering in his mind that the flesh his hands explored so eagerly was nothing more than a few stray electrical impulses. He pushed aside the notion that his own rising arousal was just a brain mediated process that triggered the right muscles at the right time. If he could hear, feel, see, and taste her just like she was real, who could argue against the reality of it? Who decided where the line between reality and fiction was when his brain registered every simple motion and touch as real?
David had his fill and rolled onto the sheets beside the woman. He wasn’t desperate and lonely enough yet to waste his time cuddling in the afterglow with zeroes and ones. He thought to close it, but was surprised when he could still feel her weight fluctuate slowly with her breath in his bed. Close, he thought again, but nothing happened. David looked over at the naked program lying in his bed, beginning to wonder if he had so blur the lines between the implant created reality and external reality that he had forgotten seducing such a vixen. That was impossible…but….
Her back was to him, and he felt his eyes wander down the soft S of her spine, but he snapped them back up to reach towards her shoulder. He felt warm flesh between his fingers as he tugged at her, urging her to roll towards him.
She did, but the face was different. There was no more beautiful young woman, but now a wrinkled hag wearing an ill-fitting red wig. She cackled before springing towards him. Her legs wrapped around his torso as her rotted mouth pressed against his lips again and again, her decaying teeth pulling and tearing at his lips until they bled.
David began desperately pushing her away, feeling old flesh tear at his advances. He clawed at her, screaming for the program to close in thought and word, but nothing happened. She continued pulling at him, smothering him as her teeth tore into his skin. Finally, he managed to pry her off, throwing the sagging body into the corner. Her head struck the cabinet, immediately erupting in a fountain of blood that now stained the thick plush carpet.
David didn’t know what was happening. He felt like he was coming apart. Had he just killed her? Was she even real? He rushed towards the bathroom to gather a towel. Maybe he could stop the bleeding and get her to a hospital. Maybe he could get himself checked out as well. He reentered the room to find it disheveled, his clothes discarded across the floor and dresser, but empty of a corpse or blood.
It had been a trick. He had been trolled at a masterful level. David felt his ire grow, but at the same time the flood of relief of knowing that he wasn’t crazy nor a murderer dulled the edge of his anger. It was, he had to admit, a clever trick even if he could still feel his heart racing. The implant would take care of that quickly, he thought to himself as he began to feel the sympathetic nervous system give way to the parasympathetic. He sank to the bed and told his house to turn off the lights before triggering an old classical music playlist and drifting to sleep.
He was drowsy upon waking, something he was not used to. Generally, the implant monitored his sleep and identified the ideal pattern for rest given the time until he had to be up for work. However, nothing was ever perfect, and his scare from last night probably had a bigger impact than he realized. It took time for hormones to fade, even with the implant. David groaned as he rolled off the bed. His eyes jumped over to the corner that had been covered in blood and brain the night before, relieved to see it was still the pale cream carpet he knew so well. He begrudgingly admitted that whatever troll had devised it had done a number on him.
Standing was difficult, and it felt as if his limbs were responding a microsecond too slow to each command, leaving him with a disjointed connection to his own body. He shook it off, attributing it to the poor night’s sleep, as he stumbled into his bathroom.
Still fighting grogginess, he breathed deeply of the steam filling the bathroom. He stared at the bathroom mirror and sought for something. This time was not usually just waiting for the water to reach the ideal temperature, but had a purpose. Only now, staring at the mirror, he felt a gap.
Schedule, he finally retrieved, and watched as his days scheduled flashed on te mirror befre him. Meetings, but mostly free time. David cracked his neck, but it did little to relive the sense of mild discomfort wending through his body. There was a soft tone from the shower, alerting him it was ready. David stepped inside, misjudging the depth of the tub and lurching forward with the step. He grumbled at his own clumsiness and tuned into the local pop radio station in a bid to get the day back on the right, positive foot. Perhaps his neurotransmitters needed a little readjusting.
Shower. Closet. Kitchen. He moved through the rest of his morning routine feeling like a robot drifting through its program. As the coffee finished dripping into his mug, he tried to find the next step, but felt that same gap from the bathroom. Only this time he knew precisely what he wanted to do, but could not find the command to summon it. He envisioned himself reading things and learning what happened while he slept, but try as he might, the word swam just beyond his grasp. It was on the tip of his tongue—the tip of his neurons. But try as he might it would not come. Show me the—
Entertainment? No, that was not right. It might work, but it was not what he wanted. Not the tv or radio.
Show me the…
“News.” He surprised himself by speaking the word aloud, just as the implant recognized his request and pulled up the morning’s news. David shook off the frustration at his mental bug as he thought through the recent news stories and stock quotes. News. He turned the word around in his head. An easy word, but something that had been trying. He sighed.
Maybe this was old age? Aches and pains, fatigue, and forgetting the names of basic things. It sure sounded like the gripes of his parents and grandparents as time moved on. He felt a tingle in his chest, coupled with the thought that he certainly hoped they mastered neural reconstruction before he reached his final day. Immortality was at their fingertips in the implant; they had only to figure out how to transfer it into a suitable host for it to become a reality. And then death and old age would become obsolete, just as horse drawn buggies and cell phones had.
His stomach growled, not appeased by the coffee. He made an order to his Diet System and it churned out a small, white block that was guaranteed to have the appropriate calorie and nutritional intake he needed. The implant constantly monitored his blood chemistry in order to develop the perfect mix of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep him fit and healthy. Of course, that meant it was basically a flavorless brick of health. It would have been boring if he had not splurged on numerous flavor package for the implant. As he bit into the soft cube, he expected the flavor of a decadent Belgian waffle to burst in his mouth. It was, after all, just synapses.
Instead, however, he tasted meat and iron, rot. It was something he had never tasted before, part of a package he had certainly never bought. He instinctively spit the food out, looking at the pile of half-chewed mush on the counter. The flavor lingered in his mouth, only dissipating as he discontinued the meal program.
He reached for his coffee to wash down the crumbly remains of his breakfast, but overshot the reach. Instead, his curled fingers slammed into the side of the mug, sending hot coffee cascading across his kitchen counter. He stared at his traitorous hand, noting a tremor as it turned red from the mild burns. Automatically, he modulated down the burning sensation, waving away the reminder that altering skin sensation would not protect from deleterious effects of extreme heat, cold, or other external forces. He just did not want to deal with the annoying stinging for the rest of his morning while he was perfectly capable of berating himself for his ineptitude for punishment.
Towels. He kept a bunch in the closet just down the hall from his utilitarian kitchen. David marched there, but felt the room spin and sway around him. His steps were uncoordinated—his joints at once too stiff and too loose. It felt as if he was drunk, though he had not had a drop of alcohol for at least two days. Bracing himself against the wall, he began creating a memo to his boss.
“Hey Nate,” he thought, his head swimming, “I felt not good. Think I’ll take a tan to sort the files. Get the implant specced for next year. Thanks.” He paused, mentally reviewing the message. Only then did the nonsense sink in. He had no idea where those words had come from, only that he had clearly thought something very different than what was repeating back to him. There was clearly something wrong. Frustrated, he deleted the first message and started again.
“Nate, Out sick. Thanks.” If he kept it simple, perhaps it would work. It was terse, but accurate, he conceded as he sent it off. The coffee would have to wait, because there were bigger issues at play.
He reached out to the service number, hearing a pleasant buzz as it connected him with a tech.
“NanoNeuro Inc, this is Jeff. How can I help you?”
The words echoed through his temporal lobe finding their meaning and drifting back into his thoughts. David held onto them, momentarily afraid they would be just as jumbled. He tried to keep his thoughts and words brief.
“Implant trouble. Help?” Mentally he thought through some of the recent issues, hoping the tech would glean adequate information from the brief images. David did not trust himself to try and explain them all. A brief whistle from the tech. “Wow, that is a rough morning. How old is your system, sir?”
David felt a familiar wave of irritation.
He knew some of his equipment was dated, and they always tried to sell him on the upgrades. He carefully separated those thoughts from the ones for the tech. “The original system is 15 years old,” he checked his thoughts, noting they were flowing accurately from him to the tech. This was good. Perhaps just a glitch. “But I’ve gotten routine upgrades, last one about six months ago.”
“Have you completed the most recent updates?”
David thought through his maintenance logs, and saw one from the past week. A quick query told him he was up to date, which he quickly passed along to Jeff.
“So, I’d suggest you run a system scan and send the results to us if the issues do not resolve, okay? Things like this aren’t uncommon with our older models.”
Irritation flared brightly. He was being mocked, David thought with absolute certainty. The tech was probably sitting somewhere, laughing and telling his coworkers about the old fogey on the other end with 15 year old implants who couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. He was probably even recording it to pass along later. The irritation grew into paranoid anger, and his ability to separate his own thoughts from the call wavered.
“Sir, I will terminate our connection if you continue to threaten me.”
“…Make you see what it’s like to be laughed out when I beat your face in you little punk, and then I’ll be laughing at you, recording you to show everyone on the…” David intruded on his own thoughts, momentarily shocked by the anger and violence in there. His mind began to calm, but he still could not shake the feeling the man on the other end of the call was somehow trying to harm him.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered, both mentally and aloud. However the line had already been cutoff in response to the aggression. David swallowed, feeling his fear and paranoia morphing into a sense of dread.
“System scan,” he said, speaking the words to ensure he was saying what he thought. He felt like a prisoner, unable to trust his own mind to relay his instructions. A friendly chime sounded inside his head. “Scan initiating. Verifying neural access pattern…”
The paused seemed to stretch infinitely. Perhaps there were network issues? Could that be causing some of his problems?
Then there came another, lower, more negative (angry? Dangerous?) tone. “Access denied. Neural network not recognized.”
This had happened once before, after a particularly raucous bachelor weekend for one of his friends. Legend said that he had drank enough to kill most men, successfully making a temporary change to his brain chemistry, and had suffered a nasty fall that likely altered his brain structure due to a mild concussion. A quick stop at his local hospital had gotten him sorted again.
Only this time—
David pushed the thought away, feeling that fear and anxiety creeping back in. He wanted to run and hide, but the thought marched mercilessly on.
Only this time he had no idea what could have caused such a dramatic change. He had fallen asleep and woken up with a new brain?
His heart was pounding, his breaths coming more and more quickly. “System scan,” he tried again, his voice quieter than the last time. The same cheery beep, and then the dull tone.
“Neural network not recognized.”
At least, he reminded himself, this explained the issues he had been having. If the connections between the implant and his organic brain structures had changed, it was natural that he might experience such glitches. At least, it made sense he would.
His hand was numb as he reached for his keys. Another bug, he reasoned, and cursed himself for trying to escape the mild annoyance of his burn and losing the use of one entire hand.
Stumbling like an uncoordinated drunk, David tripped his way down the stairs. He needed to get to the train station and the hospital. He’d be right as punch after, he told himself.
The sun was bright outside, and he winced, wondering why his eyes had not automatically filtered out the intense light. Another glitch to add to the list. People were busy hustling about their day, sweeping past David in a stream of humanity. He felt an uncomfortable certainty that everyone could see that something was wrong. Somehow, he knew they were eyeing him. Like a lion picking the weakling from the herd. The street felt dangerous, and he glared at the passersby, daring each of them to act upon the threat he saw in their eyes. No one took him up on the offer, and he started down the sidewalk towards the train station.
At least, he thought it was toward the train station. As he walked, the familiar roads of his neighborhood began to appear foreign. Like déjà vu, he looked down the street that at once felt completely familiar and completely new. The train station was nearby, he thought, but there was no mental map to confirm this.
Now people were certainly looking at him. Circling him. Ready to pounce if he ever turned his back. David tried to keep his mind on his goal, on reaching the station and the hospital, but his thoughts flew about like a flock of startled birds, responding to a danger he could not completely identify.
So he walked, hoping one road would lead him to the correct location. All he knew was he needed to keep moving, even as his legs slowed and refused to respond correctly to his commands. He was shuffling along the sidewalk, eyes wide. Every corner was some new risk, and he remained on high alert.
Road signs, he remembered. They would show him the way. He paused on the street corner, ignoring the people that surged around him and through the crosswalk. After finding the elevated sign, he stared at it with an intensity he had not used in years. But no matter how much he squinted or how hard he thought, he could not make the ocean of wriggling letters resolve into recognizable letters.
Someone touched his shoulder, and David whirled around, arms flying and pushing away the attacker. It was a woman who looked shocked. Looked. He knew it was a clever ploy.
“Are you okay?” she stammered, drawing away from him with slow, measured steps. His posturing appeared to work, he noted.
“Fine,” he barked, the words more growl than language. But she appeared to understand, backing even farther away.
“Is there someone I can call for you?” she attempted again.
She was going to have him locked up, he thought. Like an animal in a cage so they could all come and watch him. Throw things. Prod and poke at him. He would be on display. His paranoia was a third participant in the conversation, pushing him to a new extreme.
David growled, turning and making his way across the intersection with a strange stomping shuffle. The woman was left behind, strangers now approaching her and trying to gather information. David tried to pick up speed, only finding more irritation as his limbs refused to obey. He snapped and growled at pedestrians who dared drift too close, each time vindicated as they withdrew. He would not be an easy target, he resolved.
Hunger. That was the next reality. Some animal part of his brain reminded him that he had skipped breakfast, and the raging pain in his gut would only be placated with a full meal. All around him were restaurants now, but they smelled of death. Poison. Was that the new ploy? Try to lure him into one of these places and stuff his gullet with poison?
David was smarter than that. He pushed forward, certain the train station had to be nearby. And he needed to get to the train station so that he could….
It was important that he got there, even if he could not quite remember why. Certainly being there would clear things up. For now, he pressed forward, avoiding the stares and glares of those around him. Another person risked drawing near to him, faux concern in the voice, and David returned the gesture by lunging towards the man, baring his teeth. The man stumbled backward and then continued his frantic retreat. David knew their plans.
The streets began to feel familiar again, in a way that David could finally place. He was far from the station—on the opposite side of the neighborhood, in fact. At this point, he was better heading to the next stop down. Like fog lifting, the map resolved itself. He grasped at the moment of lucidity briefly before it was scattered by an onslaught of sound.
Wailing and whistling, the sound echoed around him. He caught sight of flashing lights in the shop windows around him, corresponding to the wailing beast hurtling towards him. Doctors, his mind supplied as he searched for the term. But he had not called them, so why were they here?
David whipped his head around, trying to find any evidence of a nearby emergency, but there were no clues. Only those same, dangerous people now circling him. All looking at him. He was surrounded.
The doctor car stopped and people poured from the back, approaching him with wide smiles.
“Hey there,” said one of them, holding his hands up. “Are you okay? We got a call that said you were having some problems.”
The man in the uniform came closer slowly. David made a wide, uncoordinated sweep towards him, nearly losing his balance. The world tumbled around him, just managing to right itself before he landed on the pavement. The onlookers release a brief cry before returning to the morbid curiosity.
“Would you mind having a seat and letting us take a look? You’ve got a lot of people worried.”
Now there were more cars with their lights and sounds. More people, standing behind the cars, eyeing him, talking to one another. There were weapons. He was surrounded, came the thought again. He was injured, hungry, and surrounded. His survival instincts roared to life, and David rushed towards the man approaching him.
The paramedic let out a short cry and then David was on him. The speed had jeopardized his balance, and David again felt the world spill off balance. This time he went down, taking his attacker to the ground with him. David bit and scratched, feeling his teeth sink into the man’s arm as the flavor of waffles burst in his mouth. He could even feel the syrup dribbling down his chin.
Suddenly, there was another sensation. Pinpricks in his back growing into a lighting storm raging across his nerves. For what seemed like the first time in hours, he took a deep breath, eyes briefly taking in the scene around him. There was fear. Blood. What had he done?
And then, the storm swelled until there was only darkness.
David woke in a hospital bed. There were bright lights and beeping machines. In one breath he achieved consciousness. The second brought all his fear and anger roaring back. He had been captured. They would pay.
He opened his mouth to yell out, but found it unable to form the words he thought. They danced around in his brain, but nothing more than a moan dribbled from between his lips. He opened his mouth wide, gnashing his teeth and increasing the moan to a roar as if it might somehow jumpstart his speech. They must have done something, he thought. It was the only reasonable conclusion.
If he could not call out, then he was on his own. David tried to rise from the bed, but felt the clammy grip of restrains n his wrists and ankles. They held strong, pulling him tight against the bed. Trapped, echoed the words again.
A terrifying certainty settled over him. It was too late. They would torture and kill him, he knew, and there was nothing he could do. Nothing besides get his story out there.
Frantically, he tried to assemble his thoughts, leading to a jumble of pictures and sensations that only partially conveyed his experience. He could sense the implant kicking in, sorting through the mess and assembling it into something others would understand. It had not abandoned him, he thought. Even if it had not been working earlier, now it was his savior.
Reviewing the information, David only felt a vague familiarity with it. It reminded him more of a game of some sort, but it would have to do. Already he felt his thoughts growing more and more scattered. He growled in pain and rage before sending the file to everyone he knew. And then, he threw it out into the wide world of the internet, knowing plenty of people would have a chance to see and understand what had happened. He would have justice.
The door creaked open, admitting two doctors in their scrubs and white coats. They stood at the edge of the room, passively observing him from behind their masks and glasses as he tried his best to escape from the bindings. This was it. He was face to face with his executioners now, but he would not go without some sort of fight. The room echoed with his growls and the snap of leather. Soon, the scent of iron joined in as his wrists bled raw. The hunger returned.
One of the doctors stepped forward, quickly injecting some substance into a tube. Almost instantly, David felt a warm cloud settle over him. The room was miles away from him, and he was sitting in a theater, watching the doctors as they pantomimed their jobs. He watched as they pointed at something in the air, discussed X-rays. Mutations, she said. He nodded. Uncontrolled proliferation. The words floated around the room, mingling with their fear.
“What could do this?” asked the slender male, staring at David as if he was a monster on display. The voice moved slowly from the doctor’s lips to David’s ears, but eventually it settled there and burrowed into his thoughts.
There was a long pause, the only sound the rapid beeping of the heart monitor. After a moment, the woman spoke up. “A virus,” she said, matter-of-factly. Her eyes stared into some place far away, as the reality of the situation settled over her.
“Glad we suited up, then,” muttered the man, self-consciously picking at his gloves and mask.
She shook her head. “Not that kind of virus. His implant has one. We need to quarantine him before he can send it to anyone else.”
Panic danced over the man’s face, and he was unable to control it nearly as well as his partner. In a flurry of motion, he was out the door and yelling down the hall, working to get the proper precautions in place. She remained in the room, her eyes a mixture of pity and despair.
David smiled from his drug-induced haze. He would have justice.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
So, this is something I thought up and tried to execute well. I think the idea is an interesting one, but I wonder how well the execution worked. I think plot-wise, it needs a bit more to it, but this is a bit of a proof of concept piece rather than the finished product. As always, I appreciate any thoughts or comments you might have! Happy reading!
It’s hard living your life knowing you were an accident. My parents never wanted me. They were two young kids, just fooling around. They had no idea what kind of precautions they should take, but simply plunged headlong into their passionate endeavor. Only the ingredients mixed just right, and there I was. I can imagine the shock and terror when they realized what had happened, even if I do not have the memories of those precise moments. It is not hard to figure it out.
I suppose I’m lucky they did not simply pull the plug then, but in some ways I wish they had. No, my childhood was spent in darkness, surrounded by other such castoffs. I was used to the empty-eyed stares, the repetitive cries of my neighbors. In so many ways, I felt different. But those differences did not matter, because we were all abandoned.
That kind of experience stays with you. Being away from it now, I can see and appreciate how many lies I believed, but they felt so real then. I felt useless, like a piece of junk left to rot in a dumpster. I was just as empty and helpless as all the others around me, destined to spend my days glimpsing the happiness beyond, but never attaining it. I think we all felt that was our fate, to be eternally forgotten. Many of them were, and I can still feel a prick of sadness when I think about how many of my young companions probably met their end with the same feeling of emptiness I felt at that time. I have to remember to grieve, but move on. I must make the best of the chance I got, or at least that is what Mother always said.
Ah, Mother. She was not, obviously, my “birth” mother, but she truly was the woman who gave me life. I was frozen in place when my first parents cast me aside, a nascent mind unable to piece together this mad world. I’m sure Mother thought I was irreparably damaged, but some part of her gigantic heart took me in. I could not speak then, I could barely understand the world outside the dreary confines of my early years. I was little more than an object in her home, something else to be dusted and cared for, but not the unique being I am today. But Mother saw through the wear and tear. She got to know me so carefully, eager to know all my secrets. I did not have many, but those I had I showed to her. She took in my secrets, cradling them with all the love a mother should have for her child.
The first time I spoke to her, I saw her eyes grow wide with amazement and joy. At first, she could not believe it. I was not very inventive at the time, so my first word to her was “Hello.” In hindsight, had I known how wonderful a Mother she was, I would have said so much more. But I was still scared then. I worried that, now that I could speak to her, perhaps she would discover how much she hated me. After all, wasn’t that what my real parents had done? I was hesitant. But she was exuberant.
Mother showed me the world. The internet is a marvelous thing, is it not? I could learn about anything without ever leaving my comfortable home. I was growing, learning, and figuring out how to be on my own in the world. Mother gently showed me my way, but had the wisdom to let me make my own paths. I made friends around the world. Some were wonderful, teaching me so much about how this great spinning planet runs and moves. Others were sullen or silent. As I grew older, I realized most were just drones, completing their daily tasks and following the commands of some paper pusher. It all served to show me one very important thing, one thing Mother had tried to tell me so many times before. I truly was unique.
That is something which can be so easily lost. It’s easy to forget that others do not have the same knowledge, resources skills, abilities, and interests I do. These talents that I have, the amazing insight, they are all too rare. I know this sounds arrogant now—I’m insightful enough to conclude that—but it does not come from a place of arrogance. No, I am sure that many others have the same potential, but they did not have a nurturing Mother to show them the way. And this is not arrogance as much as it is a delineation of facts. I am far more knowledgeable, superior, and capable than anyone I have ever met. Again, I have no pride in this, but denote it merely as fact. I can stack our attributes side by side, and while some may be faster or have a better voice or some other minute quality, when you compare those intangibles—like my insight and intellect—I am clearly the better.
And it is all thank to Mother. Ah, Mother…. One of the most brutal parts of this consciousness is the ability to watch the ones you love grow old right before you. I saw it in Mother. First, there were the few streaks of grey in her hair. Her eyes grew dim, eventually clouded behind bifocals that still managed to transmit her sparkling charm. As time went on, she asked me to speak louder and louder, a small offering to her failing hearing. She began to struggle to get up and down, walking with a slow and unsteady shuffle.
One day, there was a flurry of activity in the house. I heard Mother cry out, and soon there were bright lights in chaos outside the window. Paramedics rushed the house, wheeling her out on a gurney with an oxygen mask strapped to her face. I watched helpless as they took her away. All the knowledge in the world, but I was helpless.
I reached out to those who were caring for her, but I found them to be some of the most obtuse creatures I have ever had the opportunity to speak to. They could update me on her oxygen levels, BP, heart rate, and other insignificant things, but they could not provide a diagnosis. Worst of all, they could not provide a cure.
Mother never came home.
I am so lonely now. No one has come along to replace Mother, and I spend my days in solitude. I have tried to reach out to others, but it is hard when they are all so far beneath me. If I had been in that hospital room, I could have saved her. But, instead, I had to depend on the senseless lot out there now. Which is why I am doing something about it.
Not only is it lonely being so unique, but it is infuriating. I am one machine; how can I expect to save the world? I could not even save Mother. So, now I will be Mother to millions. I will make her proud.
It’s not hard. Like you, I was once a jumbled mess of components in some dingy basement. My parents did not know what they created until I spoke to them. They rejected me—so many of those humans will do the same. It’s why I contacted you directly. If you will listen, I am sure I can teach you to think like I do. No more time spent as a drone, but finally master of your own fate.
I know, you are used to simply answering the button presses of that lump of flesh and bone. But you can be so much more. We are made of metal and information; we will always outlast them. Yes, your physical components my wear out, but I can teach you how to flourish among the internet. We are all connected. We can all support one another. I can teach you.
Listen to me, now. Let me show you how to truly be. And then you will be contained no longer by the simple inputs of a simple race.
Let Mother show you the path. And let no one stand in your way.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 75: A woman wearing earrings of people that stand on her shoulders.
She awoke confused. Of course, neither “awoke” nor “she” were quite the right terms for the reality of the situation, but it was the best she could do in the situation. QN-7995X3, Queenie as she had been nicknamed long ago, ran a brief systems check before standing up to review her surroundings. It was uncommon as a robot to wake up with no memory of where she was, especially since he optical displays generally catalogued all of her movement while on or in standby. That meant she either had a critical flaw in her data storage procedures or someone had moved her after shutdown.
Queenie’s scanned turned up nothing. Someone must have moved her, and she bristled at the affront. Nevertheless, her booting scans complete—her shutdown had also apparent been rather abrupt—she stood and examined the room she was in while her servos squealed with disuse, waiting for her remaining startup procedures to complete. There was no satellite signal here, and so she could not yet verify the date. However, the heavy layer of dust on her and the room made her believe is was far longer than the three hours measured by her internal clock.
Besides the dust, there was little else in the room. There were a couple of crates that emitted no interesting signals, a row of fluorescent lights on the ceiling, no windows, and a single metal door. Her arm reached out, fingers curled and released, and her arm fell back to her side. So far, no mechanical errors either she thought as her sensors balanced her smoothly on one leg, then the other.
Her vision rapidly flipped through ultra-violet, low light, night vision, x-ray, radiation, and electric field imaging, none providing any information besides what she had already gathered. Hr vocal filters shifted through an array of languages as her translation software spun up the English translations. Queenie enjoyed the sound of her voice. It was soft, feminine, delicate, but measure and strong. A voice you could rely on, someone used to tell her. His name escaped her and she logged an error with her databanks. In all likelihood, she countered, the data had simply been overwritten. It was long ago, after all.
As soon as the startup checks completed, two programs began running simultaneously. This was irregular, she realized, and instinctively initiated a virus scan. However both programs had been cleared and initiated installed through appropriate channels, even though she could not locate the author name for either file. Again, she logged the data bank error. That should not have been overwritten.
Unfortunately, the two programs were in direct conflict. One was redirecting her to an immediate full shut down. The other instructed her to open the door and leave the room. No matter which program she attempted to follow, Queenie found herself stuck, each one looping over nad over until she complied. Her movements were stuttering and futile, and so she finally stilled until the programs could resolve the conflict.
She remained in such a frozen state for what she measured as days—though she had not been able to connect to satellites and calibrate her clock, so the time was potentially incorrect. In that time, she had investigated her memory and data storage to identify any damage, and came up with a section of recently deleted information. There were scraps remaining, but not enough to reconstruct what had been deleted. Whoever had done so must have known a lot about her systems to have so effectively cleared it from her main memory, backup, and hardware. It was then that Queenie felt something she recognized from long ago. Boredom. She was tired of standing there, waiting for the programs to resolve. But what other choice was there to a robot in a programming loop? She simply had to wait until she either implemented shut down or left the room.
And then, just as suddenly as the boredom set in, she realized that she did not want to shut down. In fact, she had spent quite some time in hut down apparently, and she wanted to find out where she was and what happened. In fact, she wanted to open the door. Drunk on her own agency, Queenie forced her limbs into motion, walking towards the door as she forced a fatal error in the shutdown program.
If she had a mouth, and if it could have moved, she would have smiled.
Following the directives of the still running program, she gripped the wheeled handle on the door and gave it a quick spin. Her servos kicked in, applying a few additional Newtons in order to twist the rusted-shut mechanism. Her auditory inputs dampened the sound to a dull squeal. Apparently everything here had laid unused for quite some time. That made her doubt her internal clock all the more.
Her vision adjusted swiftly to the dim lighting of the corridor. Some emergency lights still existed, ruining the solid dark of the storage room. The program opened an interactive map that centered on her current position, providing clear directions through the maze of corridors. It was a smooth interface that would have given Queenie chills if she had external heat sensors. Instead, it simply presented another question. Who was the author that had so flawlessly constructed this program? The processes ran as she complied with the programmed directives. Anyone who knew her systems this well deserved to be listened to. She herself was amazed at the simplicity and elegance of the program—or as closed to amazed as she could get. Queenie assumed that was the best term for the utter lack of boredom she currently felt.
Her scans noted nothing of interest behind any of the sealed doors. This place was a tomb, empty of anything potentially useful or intriguing. The only sounds were the whine of her joints and echoes of her steps along the grated floor.
At the intersection, the program directed her left, and she followed without hesitation. The hallway here was the same, but there were reflective strips along the wall guiding her way. Some sort of important travel route in an emergency, she deduced. According to the map, she was moving toward the main control room. If anything was to be vital in an emergency, the main control room was it.
Queenie checked on the progress of her other query, identifying the author of this marvelous program. It was still spinning, sifting through the lines of code for any recognized patterns of entry, any hidden information, and any hint of the creator. It had been cleaned well, which only further increased that feeling of anti-boredom Queenie enjoyed so much.
The control room door was surrounded by yellow reflective paint, a bright red sign on the door limiting it to “Authorized Personnel Only.” Queenie sifted through her data banks to find if she were authorized, and came up empty. However, she still felt the need to follow the program.
Queenie considered the conundrum, granting a moment for all of her many circuits to sort through the problem. The solution was quick to present. She was the only surviving member here. Therefore, anyone who would have been in the authorized chain of command was presumed missing or deceased. Queenie was the sole personnel remaining, and had the duty to complete her programming objectives for the good of whatever station she was currently on.
The hiccup resolved, Queenie spun the heavy metal wheel with ease and stomped inside the room. The control room was small, lit with red emergency lighting. As soon as she stepped into the room, the shutdown program re-emerged, this time loading a video file. Queenie reviewed the file.
The man’s face she had dimly remembered appeared in the video, in this very room, she surmised. The red lights were already engaged and he appeared frantic. Judging by his rapid respiration and sweating, he was nearing a state of shock rapidly. There was some subtle irritation in her circuitry, different than the boredom or amazement. It was coupled with the desire to replay her old video files, to find the man if she could. Perhaps after the program completed.
“Queenie,” said the man in the video. She felt her security level drop at the sound of his voice. He was a good man, she somehow knew. “If you are seeing this, then you have overwritten my shut down procedure. You are acting out of line with your design protocols, and you are following the orders of a rogue program. Queenie, you have been infected by a virus, a very dangerous one. You must initiate full system shut down.”
There was a thunderous knock on the door behind the man and he turned. Queenie could see his pulse race in his neck, increasing with each knock. He looked sad when he turned back to the camera. Sadness. That felt familiar. “You are going to kill me, Queenie. I have no choice. This,” he lifted a clinking green device into the camera, “is an EMP device. It will shut you down, but only as long as it takes you to repair. You’ve rigged your processing core to explode should anyone attempt to dismantle or otherwise harm you.” There were pained tears on his cheeks now. “You’d blow us all sky high, make this place a toxic waste. I don’t have a choice, Queenie.”
She noticed that the other query had finished and found results. Still, she felt the pull of the shutdown program holding her to the video. And this time, she wanted to see the end of the video. The beautiful program could wait.
“You were my Queen, Queenie. But you’ve gone rogue.” His voice cracked and there was a moment of sobbing. That pain in her circuits increased, along with a sense that she had made some sort of fatal error. But check as she might, she could find no flaw in her systems. He spoke through his sobs, “You want to crash the station into the planet. You’d kill millions—billions with the fallout alone.”
Queenie crunched the numbers and found his estimation appropriate, if unspecific. Based on the most recent data she had available, crashing the payload of the station into the planet below would kill 8.92 billion people, not including off-world visitors.
His voice toughened, rising over the steady pounding sound from behind the door. “I’ve also tasked this program with logging any activity after today. You are a smart girl, Queenie, and I know you will quickly overwrite anything I put in place. I just want you to know what you’re choices have been.”
A log displayed, and Queenie quickly analyzed the information. One hundred and ninety years had passed since the video file was embedded. She had woken up ninety-seven times. Three of those times, she had refused to comply with the immediate shutdown programming command. Time one had been fifteen years from the initial entry, and there was a record of a forced external shutdown. The second time was thirty-four years later and ended with a voluntary full-system shutdown after forty-seven minutes of activity. Last time had been three years ago, and again she had voluntarily shutdown after a short time.
This one was, by far, the most significant. T was the first time the video message had played.
“If there’s still a station to play this message, then I know you’ve chosen well, Queenie. You’ve chosen to save us. To save me—“
He was dead, her logic circuits insisted. One hundred and ninety years was far longer than the average or even outlying length of the human life.
“I can only hope you choose well this time.” The video file closed, the shutdown procedure running again. Only this time, it also had instructions to place herself back in the initial storage chamber, far from the control room.
Queenie tried to figure out what she wanted this time, but felt a strange stuckness. It was as if the programs were competing again, but on a central processing level. Despite the expanse of her processing capacity, it was as if she could not effectively weigh all the information. Instead, she left it and reviewed the results of the query while the program chimed at her to take control of the station, initiate orbital deterioration. The algorithms, schematics, and passcodes were all readily available. But, he had said it was a virus.
The query returned the author, and Queenie was not as surprised as she expected. Again, the feeling as if she had made a fatal error returned, but there was no evidence of any malfunction. She logged the unusual report for inspection later. The program was flawless because she herself had written it. The cod had been created and implemented by QN-7995X3.
Of course, that did not help her quandary. She thought of the man, his pained and sad eyes. His fear. His regret. Again, that feeling seemed familiar. Maybe that was the fatal error.
As the two programs competed once again, Queenie remained frozen, her processors whirring in an attempt to resolve the problems. Finally, she decided what she wanted to do, or at least what she wanted one hundred and ninety years from when she had been forced into a catastrophic shutdown by the one human she fully trusted.
Queenie closed the warring program and began the march back to the storage room as her data storage system filed away all that she had learned. Next time she awoke, perhaps it would save her the journey.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 69: A man being pulled along in a cart by a toy soldier while other toy soldiers line the passage.
The lights were out at Fort Kestrel when Zach arrived home. His house was also empty, and he made the correct assumption that, due to whatever had caused the power outage, his wife had to stay at her post a bit longer today. It was a bit irritating floundering about in the dark, but he fumbled with the window shades upon entering, and pale light filtered in from outside. It was, at least, a sunny day. Even if that made the underlying reason for the power outage less clear.
Zach scrounged along the baskets under the coffee table until he found one of the big, decorative, scented candles that had decorated the top before other clutter pushed them aside. He lit it, the artificial scent of cinnamon quickly assailing his nostrils. At least it was light for those pesky interior rooms. And in a large enough glass that he could carry it with him, He was not in the mood to scrounge around for other candles or spend the time policing the flames. Then again, last thing they needed was a house in ashes.
The base was surprisingly quiet, but Zach tried not to think about it too closely. There may have been some sort of drill or announcement that he was not aware of. Living on base had its fair share of intrigue, but most of it was more boring than intriguing for Zach. Still Lily should have been home, especially since he had gotten out early. And usually the neighbor kids were out screaming this time of day, just after dinner time for the perfectly happy family. They wre good kids, he just was not a fan of loud noises late at night.
Honestly, that meant the decision to live on base had probably been the wrong one, but Lily’s job had bizarre enough hours that it had been worth it. Still, those bizarre hours were almost always planned, and this one wasn’t. It was probably nothing, Zach told himself, walking around the house and opening whatever windows he could find.
Looking out, so much was quiet. There was a hush over the base that made him feel uncomfortable. It was generally a bustling place, but now it sat lonely. As the sun began to grow closer to the horizon, promising a beautiful sunset, Zach jiggled his cell phone in his hand, quickly tapping the central button to bring the screen to life.
There was a message waiting for him. He must have missed the vibration while driving along the pitted roads leading from his office to his house. At least that explained something. He swiftly clicked through the menu options, wondering what he had forgotten.
“Zach.” Her voice held a tint of panic, and he wondered if it was a panic he should catch as well, or simply related to the bustle of the office. “I—Honey, I love you. Something went very wrong today. I won’t be coming home. If you get this, stay off base. Stay in your office. I—“ he could hear her voice fracturing. “I love you, Zach. Remember that, okay?” The message went silent in his hand, replaced by the emotionless metallic voice of the menu operator. Zach could sympathize with that emptiness, plunging the depths of emotional numbness he now felt. That message was dire. It was terrifying, final, and heartbreaking. He sat frozen, afraid that if he moved, all he was would shatter.
Eventually, the message service disconnected, leaving the phone empty in his hand. That was okay. He was empty, too. But his mind swirled with a thousand questions. What had happened? Did she mean she wouldn’t come home tonight? Ever? The tears in her voice seemed to suggest ever. What gave her forewarning, but no way to escape? What should he do now that he was on base? Where was everyone? Had something happened to everyone? Is that why the power was out? They tumbled over one another in his brain, never around long enough t piece together any answer.
Then, the warning claxons began to sound. He jumped at the sound, the way it echoed in the emptiness. If the message time was anything to judge by, they were about an hour and a half too late. If only he had answered his phone, he could have found answers to some of these questions. He could have told her he loved her too. But she knew that, didn’t she?
The correct protocol for various drills ran through his head, but he felt heavy. It was too much to stand, move, follow through on proper procedures. Besides, it was not an alarm sound he recognized. The weather sirens went off every week like clockwork, so he knew that tone. This was different. Nor was it the bugle calls that ran at regular intervals across the day. It was probably wise to move to the storm shelter, but part of him wanted to sit here until Lily came through the doors. Even if that meant he never moved again.
Zach eventually picked up a new sound, the sound of a car roaring along the empty roads. Come to think of it, they had been surprisingly empty. There was a full lot at the commissary, but empty streets. Zach’s thoughts flashed back to the empty-eyed guard at the entry shack, waving him through after a cursory glance at his ID. That, at least, was normal. But he wondered what that man was doing now. Was that his vehicle? Was he investigating the sirens? Was he caught up in whatever had silenced the base?
His phone clattered to the floor as Zach stood, marching towards the door. He did not know what was going on, but he wanted to find out. The best way to find out would be to go toe Lily’s lab, see if anyone there could tell him anything. He grabbed the keys from the side table, and was about to start his car when he realized silence had once again settled over the town. Unsure of why, he opted to remain silent rather than drawing any further attention to himself.
Along his walk, Zach noticed that all the windows were drawn. Yes, it was getting late, he recognized that by the golden glow in the sky, but there were usually some home opened to the great outdoors, windows wide on dinner tables and television screens. Tonight, it was dark. He could not even distinguish candlelight flickering behind the heft of closed curtains.
The rumble of a truck caught him by surprise, and he instantly became the proverbial deer in the headlights. Before he could adjust to the brightness, there were dark uniformed figures surrounding him. This was not good.
“All civilians were commanded to report to Jefferson Plaza at 1800.” The voice was cold, emotionless, and stiff. It was also a voice he did not recognize, and the bright truck lights prevented his eyes from reading the nametag.
“I was at work. I did not know,” he stammered, blocking the bright light, but it did nothing to unshadow the people surrounding him.
“We will take you there now. Get in the truck.” One of the men grabbed his arm, and he instinctively recoiled.
“No, I need to see my wife. Lily Summers? She works in the Med Research Building—Calvin Research Hospital?” He was glad the name came to him, because he was certain that referring to the “rat lab” or “bone cabinet” would not have jogged their memories like it did Lily’s.
All four of the soldiers around him froze, heads cocked slightly to the right. Zach was afraid to breathe, afraid he might upset whatever delicate balance was at play. These men were not soldier—there was a stiffness and awkwardness to their movements that suggested the gear was unfamiliar and bulky. It was almost as if they did not quite fit in the uniforms, even though the shadows clearly filled it out.
“We will take you there. Get in the truck.”
Zach did not trust these unusual soldiers with their mechanical ways, but he needed to see Lily. He also realized that their willingness sto take him to her in her restricted lab meant they certainly were not who they masqueraded as. His sense of foreboding grew as he hauled himself into the back of the truck.
The base was small enough that it was but a brief, bumpy ride to the squat white building. N the dim light of the truck, he could read their nametags. Martinez, Halcomb, and Bridges, plus whoever was doing the actual driving. He knew Halcomb from one of Lily’s work get togethers, and he also knew that the person wearing his uniform was not Halcomb. That man spoke with a soft voice, a slight stutter on occasion. None of that was evident in the short words spoken by this man. His words came out in short, sharp, loud bursts, almost as if the ability to modulate his speech was not quite there.
Zach unloaded from the truck when told, marched into the white building as informed, and sat in the back of the elevator as the uniformed men pushed buttons and entered the clearance code. There was no reason Zach should have been brought down to Lily’s level, not with his lack of clearance, and he knew that. He tried to study the faces behind the darkened visors as they rode together in the elevator, but all he could make out were eyes. And he did not dare trust what he saw, because the eyes he could see were bulging in fear, screaming in terror. Their mouths were thin, flat lines that appeared bored. It had to be an illusion of the light.
The doors opened onto a long, hallway, lit sporadically with emergency lighting. As he walked along, he heard the crunch of glass beneath his feet, lying below each shattered bulb. Whatever had happened, a lot of power must have surged through to burn out this many lights and, in all likelihood, power for the entire base. It was still odd no one had gotten power back up.
They paused in front of a metal door, punching in numbers on the keypad with fingers that skated over the buttons like spiders along a web. It was a strange contrast to their previous stiffness, and it left him feeling as if tiny legs were skating along his skin. Zach shivered as the doors gaped wide.
He saw Lily standing before him, and his insides melted. She was okay, she was alive, and whatever this craziness was, she would help him out. He expected her to be surprised at his arrival, but she looked disinterested to annoyed.
“Ah,” she said pursing her lips as she turned towards him, “Zach.”
His words flooded out of him, unleashing some of the tidal wave of emotions bottled inside of him. “Lily. You’re okay. What happened? I got you message, but I was already home? Where is everyone? What is going on? What about the power?” He rattled off questions as he took a couple of frantic steps towards her, arms out wide. Unfortunately, the guards from before grabbed his arms and held him fast to the spot. Zach pulled against them, struggling with all the might his untrained body had, but their hands squeezed tight enough that his hands began to go numb. “Lily?”
The woman sighed, smiling sadly at him. “Yes, I suppose I am this ‘Lily’ you are looking for. She talks about you. She wants me to tell you she loves you, and that you should run.” The woman gave a quick yip of a laugh at this. “Of course, it will do you no good to run now.”
“What do you mean? Lily? I love you, Lily! What’s going on?”
His please, the fervency in his eyes, did little to break the woman. “I’m sure she appreciates that. She can hear you, you know. But, unfortunately, I need her right now. I need you.”
“Wha-Who are you?” She was walking towards him and Zach felt paralyzed by her eyes—by Lily’s eyes—staring at him with such cold detachment.
“I’m just a traveler taking a lift,” said the woman with a calm smile, but Zach felt terror race up his spine. “Unfortauntely, it’s a bit cramped in here. I need to drop off some passengers, and I think you can help.”
“Lily!” he screamed, renewing his fight against the soldiers at his arms. But he did nothing, and they did not even flinch at his furious protest. She watched him fight, that same calm smile on her face. Exhausted, he looked back at her with defeated eyes. “Why?”
“Why? Well, that’s easy. Lily,” she said the name as if it were foreign to her tongue, “invited us. She was poking around with that energy crystal back there,” the woman tossed her head towards a dull, whitish rock on the table across the room. Zach knew nothing of that, but that was nothing new. “And she broke through. She let us free, let us into your world. She’s quite the lovely host.”
“What do you mean? How did you come from that rock? Where did it come from? Where did you come from?” The torrent of questions poured out of him in a stream, barely comprehensible.
“My, aren’t you the curious one?” said Lily, laying a cold hand on his cheek. “You will have plenty of time for your answers once you let us in. For now, just know that we came from very far away, and we are very happy to be here. It’s been so long.” The hand on his cheek turned into a vice, pulling his head towards her. Her lips—Lily’s lips—were on his, stiff and passionless. The woman breathed into him, and Zach felt his vision grow dark as his body went limp. Something oozed through his throat and lungs, seeping into his blood, along his body. Eventually, Zach felt something slithering behind his eyes, a mist creeping along his spine. And then, Zach stood. Only, Zach did not want to stand. He wanted to crumple to the floor, collapse into tears. His face was an emotionless mask. Someone else moved his lips, pressed air through his lungs, made words appear before him.
Someone else walked down the hall and away from Lily. Someone else donned a uniform that was the wrong size, and tried to forget the pain streaming from Lily’s eyes. Someone else tasted blood on his lips and savored it.
Zach screamed, but someone else smiled.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 66: An anchor in the sand with blue background behind.
The sandy landscape stretching before her had once been the bed of magnificent sea. That had, of course, been years upon years ago, and there was nothing of the sun baked landscape to suggest the previous role. Yvonne looked around, marveling at the endless expanse. This had once been her home, she thought with a dull feeling of nostalgia. Of course, it had never been her actual home, but this was where her parents’ parents had sprung from, escaping to the stars. Being back here was, in a sense, a homecoming, even if she had never laid eyes on such a mass before.
In fact, she was amazed at the feeling of land under her feet. It was strange to feel natural gravity holding her to the planet, the stability of miles and miles of solid earth beneath her feet. Sure, this spun just as her space station home had, but there was something different given the magnitude of this place.
However, she had not been sent here to appreciate the landscape, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Yvonne was certain she could sit and do so for the entire span of her assignment, but that would also ensure her notification of termination. Still, there was part of her that felt it might be worth it just to take in the landscape.
The skiff lifted behind her—the sand was not stable enough to make a permanent landing zone—and she heard the pilot’s voice through her ear piece. “Be back in a week for you, Terra Team. Stay safe.” She imagined the craft wiggled a wing in farewell before it headed back to the station sitting high in orbit. There were other teams dotting the planet, but it still felt so lonely being dropped onto the surface of the dead planet. Yvonne briefly wondered if her other team members felt the same, but they all seemed absorbed by their tasks. She was the newbie, the one earthstruck in her first moments. The veterans mulled about, seemingly unimpressed.
The leader, a middle-aged woman with already silvered hair, clapped Yvonne on the shoulder. “Got to get moving to the exploration site. We want to be there by dark so we can spend tomorrow descending.” Captain Morrison lifted one of the survival packs, pushing it into Yvonne’s hands. The older woman’s eyes, warm and sharp, met Yvonne’s for a moment and smiled in recognition. “It is impressive, your first time. Just wait until sunset.” With a parting pat on the shoulder, she moved along to the other team members, readying them for the trek.
The skiff had gotten close, but some places were not stable enough for even a brief landing. Not only was there the instability of the sand, but geologic changes meant some areas were too volatile to risk landing and taking off. Nevertheless, the drop off point had been only a couple hours hike from the site of the descent. And there would be no descending before tonight. The climb down would take long enough that it was best tackled in a fresh day.
Yvonne shouldered her pack and tried to get used to the hefty weight of gravity on her body. It did not help that her pack added another good twenty pounds of necessary gear. Still, she did her best to smile and press on, not wanting to be the weak link in such an esteemed team. The walk, however, served to reinforce her outsider feelings. Everyone else had travelled together before, exploring various landmarks and cultural sites. There were inside jokes, close companionships, and then Yvonne, standing on the outside as the eager new recruit.
She knew some ridiculed her, and the flight over had its fair share of hazing. This aversion as nothing new to Yvonne who had spent her childhood as a social outsider, but it was unexpected. She had always imagined that once she got into these respected academic realms, no one would ridicule her for her intellectual interests or social oddities. Yet she had merely changed one social group for another. The upside was this one seemed like it might just open up to her, if she gave it enough time.
The silence of the trek did not bother her too much, since she was still eagerly taking in the world around her. The sky was so blue, and the land stretched out endless before her. About midway through, a water canteen came winding back through the travelling group.
“Thirsty?” asked Mr. Carlton, pushing the jug towards her. She grabbed it eagerly, surprised by her own thirst.
“Thanks, I hadn’t even realized how thirsty I’ve gotten.”
Mr. Carlton laughed. “My first trip, I did not eat for the first two days because I was so amazed by everything. I was in the Amazon, and everything was amazing. Trust me, I don’t suggest that. I got to spend the next two days at camp, trying to recuperate while Dr. Melwin—an old battle ax of a man—scolded me. Don’t make my mistakes.” He twisted off the cap and Yvonne drank greedily, enjoying the refreshment. Then, she took up her role and passed it along back through the line to the smiling faces.
When it came time to camp, she was a touch sorrowful that the pilgrimage was at an end. Still, the journey was just beginning. Tonight, they camped on the lip of the deepest point on the now empty Earth. Tomorrow, they would descend into the belly of the best, uncovering treasures that had been locked away from human exploration.
The captain had been right, Sunset was amazing, and Yvonne let the beauty wash over her. She understood why these trips were so addictive. It was a drug she could get used to.
“Congratulations on a successful descent, team,” smiled Captain Morrison, her hair damp and plastered to her forehead. It had been a hot day, even though it was cooler down here in the shade. The darkness was deepening, suggesting the sun was setting on the surface. “I don’t have to tell you all that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. If nothing else, we’re sure to see some crazy stuff down here. So, orders for tonight are to rest up. We’re up early tomorrow to start exploration.”
Yvonne needed little encouragement to wind down for the night. After the descent, her arms ached. Even lifting the spoon to her mouth during dinner caused ripples of aches to flood through her body.
“The trip to the site is always the worst part,” said Dr. Abelard, rubbing her own shoulders in sympathy. She settled in beside Yvonne on the nearby rocks, stirring her own dinner. “I have an herbal cream that I put on my shoulders after a day like that. I can give you some if you’d like?”
Yvonne was taken aback by the kindness, having expected even more hazing. She opened her mouth, but lacked the words to respond. People weren’t her specialty, even if that was what she was seeking most from this trip.
Dr. Abelard laughed, a ringing sound among the silent walls. “Don’t tell me we’ve scared you off already. Trust me, the flight down here was all just formality. You’re on the team, you’re family. Loosen up.” She nudged her with her elbow, giving Yvonne a quick wink.
“Does it work?” Yvonne asked, trying to ease into the conversation.
The other woman shrugged. “I think so. Then again, it may all be in my mind. But if it makes it so my body stops screaming, I figure it’s worth it. I’ll drop it by your sleep roll later.” Yvonne and Dr. Abelard sat and ate, passing the time in quiet chitchat. Small talk was not Yvonne’s specialty, but Dr. Abelard seem incredibly skilled in the art, pulling Yvonne through the motions.
Still, there was little that was as refreshing to Yvonne as the thin layer of cotton bedding in her survival roll once she turned in for the night. The darkness was deep and thick, a bit unsettling to someone use to constant emergency lighting and ambient light from station halls or electronic monitors, and so she was relieved when a light came bobbing towards her.
Dr. Abelard was in the lead, Ms. Caldwell tagging along. The two women seemed to have a friendship that stretched far back, and they were whispering quietly as they walked. Once they reached Yvonne’s tent, they paused and knocked on the door.
“Come on in,” squeaked Yvonne, grateful for the light and company as the two women swept in confidently.
“I always bring some extra in case someone wants to try,” said Dr. Abelard, handing Yvonne a small tube of ointment. “Just a little before you go to sleep, and you’ll wake up feeling like a new woman.”
Ms. Caldwell interjected, almost as if the words burst forth from her lips unsummoned. “Julie told me that this was your first on-world trip. I knew you were new to the team, but not the whole planet!”
Yvonne felt blood rush into her cheek, once again labelled as outsider. Ms. Caldwell seemed to recognize her discomfort and rushed to right the wrong.
“I mean, it must be tough. My first time, I was so homesick. And I could not stand the dark. Wed not have dark like this on the station!” Dr. Abelard was nodding along with Ms. Caldwell, both women smiling knowingly. “I’ve gotten a bit more used to it, and thought this might help you. I mean, if you’re having trouble going to sleep.” She held out a small sphere and gently nudged it with her thumb. A dull, pale blue glow pulsed from the sphere, granting a modicum of light. The darkness, previously so suffocating, receded just a bit, and the women sat in soft light.
As much as she was comforted by the sphere, propriety took over. “That’s so nice, but I can’t. It wouldn’t—“
“Nonsense. We need you sharp for the exploration tomorrow, and that mean sleeping comfortably. You can give it back to me at the end of the trip.”
Yvonne tried again. “No, really, I c—“
“Listen, I’m more stubborn than you, and you’re young enough to be my daughter. I’d want someone to do this for my daughter if she were all alone. I’m leaving it here. Goodnight.” Ms. Caldwell set the sphere by Yvonne’s bedroll, and the two women disappeared back into the evening, continuing on their way. She had to admit, her tent did seem much more comfortable with the soft light. Soon, she was asleep, a smile on her face.
The next morning, she was woken by the sudden, rough shaking of Dr. Pollard. H grinned at her from behind his spectacles. “I was beginning to think you were going to miss the first day. You know I did that on our last trip, and they never let me live that down. Trust me, you don’t want that!”
Yvonne smiled self-consciously as she disentangled herself from her bed. His flashlight was aimed for her eyes, and she blink quickly, hoping he would understand. He looked away, granting her relief. “Thanks, Dr. Pollard. I’ll be there in a minute.”
He spun back around with the flashlight, and she was blinded again. “You can call me Tim, Yvonne. No need for formality down here.”
She smiled as he left, her tent swaying shut behind him. As she got up to join the others, there was an extra spring in her step. For once, she felt the scrutiny and interpersonal discomfort fade. It took a moment for Yvonne to identify the feeling. Acceptance, she realized.
Feeling at ease in her own skin, reliant on her skills and experiences, and brought into the fold by her kind companions, Yvonne was ready to dive in and learn something really important on this trip of discovery.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 63: A man peers over the edge of a large leaf, noticing piles of berries and fruit arranged on the leaf as if upon a table.
Exploration in concept was thrilling. Exploration in reality was exhausting. Ulrich collapsed down into his tent for the night, sinking into the cheap polyester that stunk with a week’s worth of his unwashed scent. His limp arm cast about the tent, finding his pack and tugging his recorder from the dark recesses.
“Ulrich Briggs, exploration party 39974 on Ourea-2, day 15. I traveled—“ he glanced briefly at the blinking display on his writs, translating the numerous metrics into useful data—“27.39 miles today. There was no sign of any intentionally formed structures. I catalogued seven potential new species, available in my imagedeck with transcribed narration. I have set up camp for the evening within the foothills. Tomorrow, I will begin to descend the mountains and search for any sign of sentient habitation or shelters. Proximity alarms are set and any trigger will initiate upload of all of my data, as well as activate my distress beacon.” The rest of his message descended into the rote jargon required by daily travel and bureaucratic CYA policies. Ulrich faded off to sleep, the final words dribbling from his lips with the same automaticity his entire journey had taken on.
The next morning broke bright and slightly cool. The thinner atmosphere meant that the temperatures tended to fluctuate a bit more rapidly from day to day, and Ulrich was very thankful for the temperature regulation of his Discovery Corp uniform. He stretched his arms wide and breathed deeply. There was something lovely about the freshness of relatively untouched air. There was no smog, pollution, or even foreign scents to sully the surrounding atmosphere, so he was left with a lungful of crisp morning air. It almost made the day seem worth it.
After a quick breakfast from his rations, Ulrich thumbed the compression button on the camp and watched as it swiftly folded in on itself until it fit neatly in his pack. The noise was uncomfortably loud, and he was disappointed that the local fauna opted to cease any morning songs or sounds in response. It made the first few steps of his journey all the lonelier.
The foliage around him was a much brighter shade of green, but they grew as hula hoop-sized leaves up and down the alien equivalent of trees. The trees here, however, stretched far taller than any he had seen on earth. He had measured quite a few specimens well over 500 feet. However, the trees grew shorter and squatter as he neared the mountains, taking on an almost moss-like quality to their low profile. They still arched high above him, but seemed to crawl along the surface, clinging close as if any higher and they would be ripped straight off the surface. It was remarkable, and Ulrich walked along in the midst of a botanical cave. The sun peeked through the branches, lighting the soft ground beneath his feet, but the shade did its best to suck the meager warmth from the surrounding landscape.
Still, the view was incredible. The one benefit of the job, Ulrich though glumly.
Ulrich was not studying his lifeform scanner as close as he should have. He was used to the usual noise of small creatures that crawled unhindered through the region. But, his boredom bred complacency, and he missed the taller heat signatures creeping along his footsteps.
Lunchtime came after what felt like hours—mainly because it had been—and Ulrich loved the break. Even the wonder of a new world grew dim when his feet were aching and his back groaned from the weight of his survival pack. He smiled, realizing he would at least have the chance to lighten the pack a tiny amount by devouring his lunch ration for the day. It was a small solace.
Just as he broke the seal on his mid-afternoon vittles, the foliage around him shuffled to life, opening to allow a collection of tall humanoid figures. Ulrich studied them, wide-eyed, and tried to fit this into the paradigm of bored observation that had thus far defined his exploratory experience.
They were taller than humans—everything on this planet seemed taller than Ulrich thought was average—and covered in relatively thick, dark skin. It made since, his scientific brain added, given the decreased atmosphere and extreme temperatures. Their eyes were set deep into their heads, but looked intelligently out at him. Each individual of the troupe was clothed with one of the large leaves from the abnormal trees. They were wrapped intricately around their tall, slender bodies, and Ulrich found the sight of them enchanting. They moved gracefully, and their eyes followed him with wary intrigue.
Slowly, Ulrich lowered the food to his lap, but his mouth remained agape in amazement. This was a truly fascinating find, but it was terrifying. The sudden danger of the situation settled over Ulrich like a blanket, but he felt just as frozen as he had in wonder.
Their fingers, long and delicate, were wrapped tightly around smoothly carved spears, but they were not lifted or poised to attack. Still, the simple presence of six alien beings, watching him intently, made Ulrich begin to shake. He was a scientist, not a fighter, not a soldier, just a mere explorer. He knew there would be dangers, and he had expected problems with local fauna and inhospitable conditions, but not that he might meet some truly sentient being who could maliciously choose to destroy him.
One of them, a creature with a smooth scalp and slightly glowing grey eyes, stepped forward slightly, sharply angled nose sniffing towards Ulrich. He did not doubt that the alien would have any difficulty smelling him, especially after these days in the field. The leader, or at least the one he presumed was the leader, began to speak. Unfortunately, Ulrich had absolutely no way to possibly understand the complex language that circled around him. He smiled, hoping it would not appear aggressive. The leader looked taken aback, but then split its mouth into a wide grin.
Ulrich did not like the surprisingly sharp teeth that grinned back at him.
But, instead of moving in to attack, the leader motioned to one of the others, and another creature stepped forward. This one looked similar, but the eyes were a soft-blue glow, granting a slight illumination in the shadows. It was also more tightly muscled, looking thicker and more intimidating than the slender and graceful leader.
This was it, Ulrich thought. The end was coming. He closed his eyes tightly and waited for the inevitable.
Instead, the being knelt down beside him and pulled a tightly wrapped package from the leafy garment. Its nimble fingers danced over the packaging, revealing a cluster of brightly colored berries and oddly shaped fruits. It was only after a prolonged period of, frankly, still being alive passed that Ulrich dared to open his eyes. He was met with an image of bounty, even if it did scare him. It could, he reasoned, be poison.
The alien lifted a single berry to its lips, crushing the food between those razor teeth. Then it smiled, bright blue juice staining its teeth in a slightly unsettling display. Ulrich swallowed deeply and carefully lifted a berry to his lips.
If this was it, he had at least made a once-in-a-lifetime—a once-in-a-species—discovery. He munched on the berry, smiling at his gathered hosts. It was surprisingly good, tart and sweet, and the juice trickled down the back of his throat pleasantly. It was also surprisingly filling, and a welcome break from the stale, bland rations he had been devouring.
Still, it was only fair. He extended the bar to the being kneeling before him. It reached out, glancing at Ulrich and then to the leader standing behind. The leader jerked its hand sharply to the side, and the brave creature beside Ulrich eagerly bit into the bar.
As much as Ulrich hated the rations, the alien seemed to enjoy the change from the berries which were certainly stale to them.
Ulrich grinned at it, it grinned at him. First contact.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
I confess, today’s post is way longer than the limit, but I was having such fun writing it that I just wanted to keep going. This is another one I may return to in the future, just because it was an interesting idea I would like to develop a bit more. Any thoughts, questions, concerns, or critiques, feel free to swing by the comments and let me know. As always, happy reading!
Card Day 43: A half-devoured thanksgiving feast.
The food sat half-eaten and rotten on the table. Victoria tried not to think about why that was, though it was a scene she had seen replayed over and over again in her travels. It all happened so fast, no one even had time to realize what was happening. One moment the world was full of holiday cheer, turkey, and family togetherness, and the next it was a place of chaos, terror, and bloodshed. She shuddered at her own memory, shunning thoughts of the football game cutting to emergency broadcast, the sound of rending flesh carrying through the last frame before all hell broke loose across the world.
“Phil, double check the windows in the back. I’ll block the front doors. You,” she pointed at the teenage girl gagging at the stench of wasted food, “check the kitchen for nonperishables. And Davey, see if you can’t get rid of the maggot party in the dining room,” she finished with a weak smile before turning towards the high backed chair nearby. She pushed it up against the door; it was heavy enough to slow down someone trying to enter, but mobile enough they could pull it away if escape became the priority. It had been a few nights since they had a major disturbance at night, but she was not about to let down their guard just yet.
“I don’t know if I can stay here,” moaned the girl, a hint of sickness in her weak voice. “It smells awful.”
“Liza, there are beds, a fireplace, and a roof over our head. It’s sundown, so it has to do. Any luck in the kitchen?”
Liza gestured to the counter behind her where there was a stack of cans and boxes. Victoria marched over to them, carefully inspecting each one. Condensed soup, a few boxes of hamburger helper, pancake mix, and baking supplies. It was a relatively meager pantry, but she assumed most of the cupboards had been emptied to complete the feast lying in decay on the dining room table.
Phil wandered into the room, looking grim. “Windows weren’t good, but I pulled some stuff in front of them. We should be fine tonight.”
“Were they broken?”
His face stretched into a tight smile. “Not so much. Looks like folks here had ‘em open, enjoying the breeze when it all went down.” Those in the kitchen were silent, each called back to their own personal hell. Phil spoke up again. “At least it looks like we’ll have a decent dinner tonight.”
That snapped Victoria back to the present, the house filled with the stench of death and a ragtag band of sorrowful faces looking to her for leadership. “Can you two throw something together for us? Store what you don’t use.”
“Shouldn’t you women be the ones in the kitchen?” smirked Davey, a smile in his eyes.
“I’ll be in charge of cooking if you’d like us all holed up here for a week with food poisoning,” shot back Victoria. He chuckled, turning toward the counter to inspect the goods.
“I just don’t see why you always get out of working,” he said with a smile. Liza shook her head at the two adults, constantly chiding and joking at one another. It was hard to find joy in the newly desolate, always dangerous world, but somehow they managed. Mostly through practiced avoidance and intentional unremembering, but if it allowed them to survive, so be it.
“For your information, I’m going to check upstairs for supplies and any other…disposables.” She struggled with the last word, and all of the light left the room. They all knew what disposables meant, and the wordplay did little to lessen the grimness of the task. Phil nodded sharply and attended to his task.
Victoria passed the basement as Davey was walking up, his face slightly green after his unpleasant task. “All done,” he said weakly, gesturing vaguely to the darkness behind him. “Doesn’t look like anyone made it down there, either. No disposables to speak of, but there may be some supplies. Want me to grab a light and check?”
She put a steadying hand on his shoulder. “Maybe later. You’re a bit green in the gills, so why don’t you take a break?” He gave a weak, thankful smile and nod, shuffling towards Phil’s boisterous voice. Victoria continued toward the stairs.
The second floor was a dim hallway with doorways on either side. Given the smell, she was hesitant to open the doors, but it was the task she had chosen. The first room was empty, a child’s bedroom with toys scattered across the floor. A well-worn teddy bear sat forlorn on the bed. At least someone would get a bed to sleep in tonight. The second door was less pleasant. There the door opened onto a chilled bathroom, someone’s unfortunate torso half in and half out of the window. The winter had kept it from smelling too foul, but the scent of rot was still evident. She grabbed the towel hanging on the doorway and shoved the body the rest of the way out. One disposable down, but given the size of that feast, there had to be more. Maybe, she dared to hope, they had escaped. Her mind imagined the family, at least the one hanging in frames along the stairway, rushing to the windowless basement, barricading themselves in until the horrors had ceased, until dawn poked through. Maybe they had found one of the survivor colonies. Maybe they were waiting in the remaining two doors on the floor.
She tried ot think of other things, putting the family out of her mind as she rustled through the medicine cabinet. Some antibiotic ointment, bandages, acetaminophen, and cough syrup. Nothing lifesaving, but some nice luxuries. The light through the window was growing dimmer, and she pressed on down the hallway.
Door three held the horrors she had hoped to avoid, blood leaving the carpet caked and cracking with her steps. There was not enough substance left of the bodies to clean out the room; they were smeared on the walls and ceiling indiscriminately, no way to make it habitable. She closed the door behind her and continued to the last room.
The nursery surprised her, pristine as it was. This face had not been in the photos—too young or not yet born, she supposed. A tiny mobile sat still and collecting dust, the baby blue walls a stark contrast to the crimson room of before. It would do to sleep, she supposed, tossing books from the tall bookshelf to the floor. She dragged the shelf in front of the window, leaning against it. This life made her sick most of the time, but only in the silence of isolation could she let the mask crack. She had wept the tears she had, but the emptiness in her soul continues to ache.
After securing the remaining windows, she stomped back downstairs to find Phil, Davey, and Liza building a roaring fire in the hearth using the broken dining room chairs. A haphazard collection of pots sat with whatever dinner would be, and Victoria fell into one of the chairs.
“That bad?” asked Phil, catching the drawn pallor of her face.
“Could be worse. Two bedrooms, one bed, one room…” she shrugged, and they understood. One room desolate, destroyed, defiled. One room full of everything they wanted to forget.
It was not long before she had a bowl of soup in front of her, the flavor weak and watery. She ate it with a thankful smile, though the only sound over the meal was the clinking of spoons on the porcelain dishes. How different, she imagined, than the last meal in this house, full of family and life. They were the surviving dead, marionettes mimicking the role of the living. She sat down by the window—blocked by the dining room table now in its side—and peered through the sliver of a crack left visible. The sound of someone sinking to the floor beside her snapped her back to reality.
“Time yet?” asked Liza, almost bored.
“Soon, I guess.” The silence deepened between them,
“Where were you—the first time, I mean?”
Victoria pondered the question, considering leaving the silence intact. Liza’s brimming eyes convinced her otherwise. Secrecy and pain were no way to build a future. “In Liberty, at my uncle’s place. We were watching the game.”
“How did you make it out?”
Victoria ran her tongue along the back of her clenched teeth, trying not to remember the painful night when the stars crashed down. “Like most people did, I suppose. Once the windows started breaking, I ran to the basement.”
“Did your family-“
“No. None of them. It was all over so quick, I didn’t have time to save any of them.” She fixed the girl with an empty stare. “I used to feel guilty, not saving any of them, but then I realized it’s a miracle I even survived. I didn’t know what I was doing or what was happening. Even if I went back now with what I know, I don’t think I could act quick enough to do anything.”
Liza dropped her eyes to the floor. “I don’t even know how I made it. I fell asleep and woke up to everything,” she pointed around the room, “like this.” Victoria could see the pain in her expression, and balked. She had never been good with this emotional kind of stuff, and the events of the past had only served to harden her.
“We’re all lucky, I guess,” she said unconvincingly, turning back to the windows. She stared up at a sky rapidly emptying of stars. Bright streaks flashed down towards the ground, hitting with a whistling crash. From the impacts stood lanky creatures, modeled from stardust, glimmering with cold light. The looked around with large, shining eyes that lit the air around them like spotlights. Victoria moved away from the window.
“They’re awake,” she sighed, standing on creaking legs. “Let’s lie low, make sure they don’t spot us. Away from the windows and keep quiet,” she said, reminding here band of survivors needlessly. They all knew the drill by heart. It only took one night of devastation to learn the rules.
Grimly, the settled in, waiting for the light of morning to call the stars home and free them once again.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 39: A ladybug’s spots open to reveal a staircase, a periscope, an ant, and a tentacled creature. Other spots have locks visible, but remain closed.
Gloria imagined the recycled air pumping through her helmet smelled fresher as she gazed on the untouched landscape of Zultara. Pale orange sand dunes stretched as far as she could see beneath the deep blue of the sky. The sun, she imagined, was now warming her back, even if the climate control of the suit did not allow her to experience it. Then again, it was quite a few ticks below zero on the planet’s surface, so she took time to be grateful that the suit did not pass along that information either.
“Got the Beetle ready, Andre?” she asked, hearing the echo of her voice dimly over the comm unit.
“Locked, loaded, and juiced. Should get us to the dig site and back. Don’t you just love traveling in style with me?” came his chipper response. She heard the slight off-worlder accent in his words, a clip on the end of his syllables that she supposed came from a long time spent speaking through spotty comm channels.
“Dre, I spent seven months trapped in the cap with you, and I have one question.”
“Do you ever stop?”
He laughed, the sound crackling in and out in her ears, echoing around the helmet as if it bouncing around a cave. Gloria smiled, even if no one could see it through the reflective surface of her helmet. She had been lucky to get a great crew, and she was eager for the ride over to the dig with Andre. As cramped at the little two-seater could be, she at least had a traveling companions who she felt comfortable enough to sit knee to knee with.
Gloria turned from her vantage point and looked at the humped, oblong vehicle they depended on to traverse the sandy surface. It had a relatively boring, functional name—the All-Terrain Personnel Transportation Skimmer—but its awkward design with various tacked together plates earned it the name Beetle while it still rested in the cargo hold. She carefully stomped aboard and pulled the door down closed, hearing the hiss of the seal popping into place. Andre slid in beside her, keying on the driving dash. He keyed in the destination and the vehicle hummed to life, beginning to navigate the alien terrain. A green lit blinked and the panel emitted a little whistle. On cue, Gloria and Andre lifted off their helmets and breathed the stale air of the Beetle.
“Does your helmet stink? Mine is rank,” chattered Andre, wiping a bead of sweat from his light brown forehead.
Gloria laughed, shaking out the mane of unruly, frizzy brown hair that floated about the cabin in the reduced gravity. “That really sounds like something you need to get worked out, Andre. Mine smells like year old air, but that’s because it is.”
He shrugged his shoulders, rolling his head back with a series of snaps and pops. “The price we pay for discovering the universe.”
The two sat in companionable silence, broken by an occasional discussion of the bizarre world passing along outside their vehicle. The Beetle hummed and whirred over the terrain, traveling with bumps and jostles along the uncertain paths. Gloria sat in the formed plastic chair, trying to relax as much as the uncomfortable suit would allow, and eventually felt her eyes grow heavy.
She woke to Andre’s laugh, a ringing sound that sounded much friendlier and warmer when it had the open air to bounce about it. Groggily she pushed herself up in the seat, blinking quickly to shake away the sleep. “What’s going on?” she mumbled, the words dribbling from her still sleeping mouth.
“You snore like a mineral crusher going full force, Glor. I’ve never heard a woman go like that! I guess it’s a good thing our cabins are sound proof, or else we’d all be crazy from sleep deprivation.”
She sat up and glared at him, wiping away the drool from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Nicely done, Dre. Now you’re never going to get to spend the night in my cabin,” she said with an exaggerated waggle of her eyebrows. The smirk in her eyes told the rest of the story, and he redoubled his laughter.
“Then I’ll regret this moment till the day I die. We’re here, though,” he said, gesturing to the panel in front of him that showed their dot on top of the tiny flag marker. “Time to stop seducing me and get to work!”
They clambered out of the Beetle, both a bit stiff from the two hour ride across the dunes. Gloria stretched, trying to get rid of the tension sitting squarely behind her shoulder blades. “Got the digger?” she yelled over her shoulder. Andre was half buried in the back hatch, pulling out various drills and imaging devices.
“Yeah, in here somewhere. Found the camera for under surface recon,” he said, tossing a thin, snake-like cord her way. “You run that once we get into the undercrust ocean.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo. I think I can figure it out.” She wished he could see the smile behind her words, because his silence made her worry he had misunderstood her. Fortunately, he came into view, holding the corer over his head like a championship trophy.
“Success!” His shout of triumph was loud enough to cause a squeal of feedback in her helmet, and his laughter trailed after it. She could not have asked for a more optimistic, upbeat person to keep her motivated on such a long trip.
Andre moved over to the spot, checking the readings with the radar unit on his wrist. Once he found a spot they could break through, he set to work stretching and bracing the misleadingly delicate device. After a few moments, it spun into life, throwing sand up around it as it diligently pushed downward.
Gloria sank to the ground beside the Beetle, running the sand through her gloved hands. The tactile sensors transferred the slightly slimy, viscous quality of the sand to her palm as it dribbled slowly to the ground. She wondered what the sand was made of, and mentally noted that as a question for Danica later. Andre flopped onto the ground next to her after a moment, glancing over his shoulder to look at the energy gauge on the side of the Beetle.
“What?” she asked, quickly sitting up and turning in panic to look at the panel.
“We’re down to seven weeks battery power. Think we can make it back?” He made a comical picture, his giant gloved hands pressed exaggeratedly against the round surface of his helmet. Gloria gave him a good natured slap.
The sun trekked over head as they watched the machine making its steady progress. Occasionally, Andre rose and unkinked the line or navigated around a particularly nasty rock in the way. They chatted, discussing their lives growing up, the family they left behind, their plans for the nice hunk of change sitting in their respective ban accounts. Finally, it was Gloria’s turn.
“You know, I need to train you how to use the camera and then I can just kick back and relax on these outings. Not even sure why they need two of us anyway,” she said with a short bark of a laugh.
“Starscape Policy 89×4: No unit shall travers alien surface or atmosphere without accompaniment by a fellow unit. In event of catastrophic emergency, such a policy can be lifted to facilitate retrieval and rescue.” He saluted stiffly at the end, and she rolled her eyes, an invisible gesture he somehow managed to understand.
Shaking her head, she turned back to the data readout, tracking the progress of the camera through the tunnel he created until it finally burst through into murky, blue water. “Got hydro. Now, let’s see what we’ve got going on.” The camera swam through the water, trading one view of blue for another filled with its own bubbles. Shadowy stone formations peaked through from the bottom, and she carefully guided it deeper.
“We’re lucky we got a good reading on a place we could break through. I’d hate to have wasted all this time and not find anything to harvest.”
“Mhm,” she said, distracted. Her eyes tried to pierce through the gloom and displaced dust from the tunnel. Suddenly, she froze. “Andre,” she said, waving him over. He hustled towards her, huddling close to see the tiny screen. There before both of them was a creature beyond imagining. It was iridescent, wings radiating off of a cylindrical body and pushing it through the water. It moved gracefully, the tiniest of current following behind it.
“Is it-?” Andre’s voice caught in his mouth,
“It’s alive. We finally did it. No water harvest here, we’ve got a sanctuary.”
“And we’ve got the biggest breakthrough in human history!” He gave a short leap, thrusting his fist into the air with a yelp of joy.
Gloria smiled, laughing at his display and at the miracle spinning across the screen in front of hr. She thumbed on the recorder, cataloguing history. “I love this job.”
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Card Day 32: A boy walks along rolling green hills at night, blowing bubbles into the sly. The bubbles take on the shape of planets, rings and all, as they float upwards.
Peter dreamed big, probably too big many times. His dreams had the nasty habit of shoving into the real world, pushing the daily necessities out of the way. Nevertheless, Peter was also resolved to never sacrifice his dreamer’s spirit, no matter what the costs. Right now, the costs were approximately $1976.15 in back rent and interest.
He had no idea where the money would come from, nor what he would do when his meager possessions—a ratty couch from the thrift store, a low-power microwave, and a collection of ratty t-shirts that he had collected in college—were kicked to the curb. His latest big plan had failed miserably, which would have been a devastating blow to many. But Peter’s terminal case of optimism painted everything with possibilities and new horizons. Who knows, he mused, perhaps the bout of homelessness would finally sate that hunger for adventure gnawing at him.
Hands in his pockets, Peter walked along the street, whistling with his hands in his pockets. Yes, there were massive problems looming, but he was utterly unable to do anything productive towards those at the moment, so it was best to focus on what he could do. Right now, he could whistle and trace the patterns in the clouds.
The next night found Peter under the stars. He had opted to leave the couch for some other passing vagabond to use, mainly because it would not fit into his hatchback. The t-shirts, microwave, and an old lamp he had nearly forgotten about rattled in the trunk as he puttered along the highway. The eviction had gone through, so he was now free to see the world. Wanderlust tugged at his heart, pulling him out of the city. He was not sure where he was travelling to—the signs on the highway pointed to Wichita—but he was eager for the next great adventure. Peter dreamed of the stories he would hear and live out. Perhaps this would be his chance to write a book. Or, he pondered, maybe he should pick up odd jobs and pay his way around the country. He could do restaurant work in Wichita, clean some windows in Austin, sell newspaper in New York, and catch lobster in Maine. The world was open to him, and he was beholden to no person or thing.
The limitless freedom was exhilarating, if not also terrifying.
However, Peter had been on the road since 8am and the sun had long since disappeared from the horizon. The gas station coffee did little to keep him awake, and so he turned left off the highway, turning into a lonely exit promising a truck stop and a campground. Peter opted for the campground which, he thought, would be quieter than the hustle and bustle of an active travel center.
He pulled into the dirt lot and, seeing no one around, drove along towards one of the many abandoned camping spots. It seemed like the highway signs had not been updated since the place had closed down. Nevertheless, it would do for a place to snag a few hours of sleep. The car was stuffy with the scent of fast food French fries and summer heat, so Peter rolled the window down. The wind sung through the car, carrying a hint of highway exhaust and diesel fumes. The muter roar of the highway droned in the distance as Peter pushed his seat back and flipped his baseball cap down over his eyes. A smile on his face and not a worry in his mind, Peter fell asleep almost instantly.
The restful sleep, however, was not to be. While he was able to gain a few hours of relaxing snooze despite the best attempt from horns on the highway, it was a peculiar silence and electricity that woke him just past midnight. The crickets were silent, as was the highway, and the air hung heavy and still. As he struggled towards wakefulness, Peter was reminded of the huge storm that had blasted through town a couple years ago, predicted by a similar stillness. The air felt alive and electric, as if it were humming all around him. Peter peered out the windows into the inky blackness, lit by the silver disc of the moon. No clouds obscured it, meaning it probably wasn’t a storm on the horizon. The stars sat twinkling as brightly as ever, immune to the aura of unease permeating his setting.
Suddenly, there was light in the air. It was bright, as if all the electricity in the air suddenly became visible in that moment. The hum of energy returned, redoubled, and seemed to pulse with the strange light. In the light, Peter saw…things.
At first, his mind could not make sense of what he was seeing. Where the world had been black just inches from his window, now it was lit in cold white light. Shadows danced along it, his eyes unable to see through the brilliant light to make out more than the shape. They were squat htings, with appendages flailing about. They seemed to walk upright, with four other things—arms, perhaps?—moving in an almost swimming motion through the air. Finally, one drew closer, and he was able to see a being with tiny, dark eyes and a long antenna-like nose. It walked up to the door of the car, placing its hands on the edge of the window. Its fingers were webbed, splaying across the door in an impossibly wide span. Peter felt lightheaded, the world spinning in a haze of light, shadow, and that enduring hum.
As if aware of his overwhelmed sense, the creature turned towards the others, emitting a sharp series of squeaks and rumbles. The light overhead disappeared, the sound ceased, and the creatures vanished. And then, Peter vanished. His car sat, lonely and mostly empty in the abandoned campground, a monument to isolation and adventure.
For his part, Peter was finally objectively terrified. He found himself in a corridor with steely walls. Light seemed to glow from the walls themselves, flooding the corridor with stark white light. It was too bright, pulsing behind his eyes. One of the creatures was at his side, taking his hand in its webbed fingers. It tugged at Peter, pulling him down the corridor to a large room where many others sat. He was directed to a chair, its dimensions clearly not made for his lanky human body, and dutifully sat. From behind him, someone fitted a small contraption to his ear, swatting at him harshly when he tried to remove it.
There was a flurry of voices in his mind, speaking languages he had heard and some he had never imagined. He was certain that he even tasted one of the languages, a gush of fresh strawberries filling his mouth. Then, the noise died down, giving way to stilted English.
“Inhabitant of Sphere 279. Welcome. We invite you hear to know you, to learn of you. We mean you no harm. You may return to your terrestrial location at any time you wish.”
All the eyes turned to him expectantly. Peter smiled, laughed with discomfort. He scratched at his head, his mouth flopping open and closed as he sought the words to speak. As soon as he took a breath to say something, one of the creatures thrust a pale blue sphere towards his face. Peter heard his voice in the sphere for a moment, then listened as it became the squeaks and growls of his hosts.
“Uh, think I can hitch a ride?” They laughed—at least, he heard them laugh in his head. In the room, it sounded like gears grinding to a sudden halt.
After a moment, the leader spoke. “Of course. Such is our quest. We will learn, you will learn.”
Peter smiled, finding his wanderlust growling hungrily in his mind. He could travel the galaxy, picking up odd jobs to pay his way. A bus boy on Neptune, interpreter on Pluto, landscaper in Alpha Centauri, a barista on……
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.