Martians – Chris Drew

Phobos

He is silent, unmoving, head tilted toward the moons. We don’t talk. We don’t touch. We simply exist, like two binary stars, spinning around the invisible weight between us.

I pull my knees up to my chest and tap my heels in a restless rhythm. A cloud of red particles blooms around my feet, tap-t-t-tap-tap-taptap-tap.

This is our place. Away from the Colony that feels so claustrophobic these days. Away from the Repros, who arrive in their hundreds but all look the same. They look like children, and talk like children, and play like children, but they are not children. They are not our children.

We were assigned another one today.

Every time I look at it — the smile, the eyes, the arms around me, the voice, Mother — I feel sick.

A bead of sweat crawls down my neck. I can’t breathe. I want to rip off this suit and run, and keep on running.

But out here, there is nothing but dust and death.

 

Deimos

Life isn’t a circle, it’s a spiral, like the slow descent of the moon, its cycles becoming smaller and faster and smaller and faster until one day, millions of years from now—boom.

Is death our only freedom?

I can feel her looking at me, fidgeting like a trapped animal. Fight or flight. I should comfort her, talk to her, but I don’t know what to say.

It was the first time we reached the second phase. The first time I placed my hand on her stomach and felt a twitch, like a bolt of lightning through my fingers, followed by the slow roll of an elbow or a toe curving across my palm, a sunrise.

The first kick, and the last.

We’re the only Originals left on the Colony now. There are others, but they’re either too sick to work, too old to care, or so space-crazed we keep them on permanent lockdown.

This planet will do that to you. Spend too much time out here and it eats you alive—your body, your heart, your mind. Your soul.

An accelerating spiral of decay.

 

Phobos

One moon is so close I can almost touch it. It looks like an imperfect embryo with pitted craters covering its surface. The other is distant, nothing more than a pinpoint of light in the scorched sky.

I move closer to him, as close as I dare. The far moon shines like a small sun. Each cycle takes it further away from us, but it is still the brightest star out there.

One day, it will disappear completely. From sight, from memory.

Nothing more than a dream.

 

Deimos

She shuffles toward me, closer and closer, an inevitable collision of our bodies. An end into a beginning into an end.

I stand, lift my visor, and look out over the dunes. From here, the Colony is a cluster of sand-dusted pearls in a red sea, encircled by a fleet of empty Pods. The Pods are smooth silver shapes, standing to attention, ready for their next voyage.

Another one arrived this morning. It carried supplies and a hundred more Irth children. Repros, she calls them, but I hate that word. Just because they’re born in a tube instead of a womb, just because they all have the same voice, the same smile, the same dark hair and dark eyes, does that make them any less human? Any different to us?

No. We are all equal. We are all doomed.

 

Phobos

I stand next to him. The sky dulls to the colour of blood and the wind shifts like a veil around us. It is almost time to return. But to what? A home that is not mine. A child that is not mine. A man who flinches at my touch, who cannot even look at me.

I feel dizzy. Past and present and future merge into a single point and spin into an eternal monotony of clearing and planting and breeding and suffering and healing, day after day after day until it all slips away, sand through a clenched fist.

I need to get out of here. Now. We’ll stow away on the next Pod and start a new life on the moonless Irth. We’ll have a family. A home.

We’ll have each other.

 

Deimos

The wind tugs at my suit and draws a shroud of fine powder across the Colony. The sharp edge of another storm. I grab her hand and pull her into me as a great swirling column spins around us.

The freedom, the power. I scream through the tornado’s coiled throat, willing it to carry us away.

To tear us apart and bind us together anew.

 

Phobos

The world collapses into a vertical tunnel of whirling copper that twists towards the stars.

I grab his waist. His arms encompass me. We hold each other as the storm bends and brays around us. Leave, it roars. You do not belong.

Nothing feels right. We shouldn’t be here. The Repros shouldn’t be here. Perhaps we should let go and allow the storm to lift us up to the moons. Away from all this, away from everything, until there is us.

Only us.

 

Phobos & Deimos

The storm spreads and dies. Everything is covered with red ash, as though the world has burned to embers.

I’m sorry, she says.

It’s not your fault, he says.

I love you, they say, and embrace beneath the moons, two rocks that drift inexorably apart, each facing their own oblivion, both of them together.

 

 

Le_Voyage_dans_la_lune_

CHRISTOPHER M DREW is a writer from the UK. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in MoonPark Review, Longleaf Review, Third Point Press, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, and others. He reads for FlashBack Fiction. You can connect with Chris on Twitter @cmdrew81, or check out his website cmdrew81.wordpress.com

 

Image: WikiImages via Pixabay

 

 

The Brunswick Street Chronicle – Anita Goveas

The advert was in the exact centre of the daily display adjacent to Hawthorne Street. “Applications open for Citizen of the Year”. There was encode to scan for the details, and a picture of a tawny-haired man with an auburn tail, balanced on a narrow bridge. He had one leg outstretched and one hand reaching towards the screen. Kalpana wanted to reach back, but was rushed away in the work-fixated crowd. She cradled her tail-covering close to her body.

The prize this year was 100,000 transfers, more than enough for her mother to have a living space with a garden. The doctors wanted her to have more time with the green, the journey to the unit park exhausted her, the trees that lined every street were insufficient. Their allocation, their two bedroom cabin, was based on their family careers at the time of the greening, which tended to the inside. When her mother craved more oxygen, they’d improvised with hanging baskets and walks to the Chronicle. Kalpana had always preferred it there to trying to keep up with the other unit children.

Kalpana approached the Brunswick Street bridge. The bamboo sliver stretched in front of her, gently swaying, the engineering building on the other side. The subterrain underneath was shadowy and unlit. The smell of viengar inadequately masked the stench of urine. When the rivers dried, the people had decided to keep them, and build along and with them. There were always new plans, to bring the rivers back or repurpose their murky tracks. Meanwhile, she helped build the connections on the bridges above but she couldn’t use them. She studied the view around. No-one from the service was nearby. She adjusted her tail-covering, exhaled slowly and started on her customary long, circuitous walk that bypassed the bridge.

When she finally arrived, the others in her section had finished their morning tea. They had opened the windows and a breeze was rustling the cotton-draped recycled stone walls. Jose segmented a ruby grapefruit, eyes on his tablet. Simone was adjusting the section display to list their daily tasks by timing, rather than alphabectial order. They all agreed they prioritised more effectively that way. Her umber hair and tail had matching avocado-green ribbons.

“It’s still warm, it’s peach today. Wanna grapefruit from the south-west quadrent of my garden?”

Jose inherited his living space from his grand-parents, the revered acrobats. They had used the trapeze well. He’d inherited their strong shoulders, smooth gait, copper-coloured tail. He trained from a young age and had the balance but not the range of movements necessary to continue the tradition. He had found his own way to contibute. If he entered, his routine for the competition would be watchable.

Jose brought over the grapefruit segments. He cleared his throat. He was going to ask her to go to the climbing wall in Ash Square park again.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was watching the downtown display, adjacent to Hawthorne Street and the Brusnwick Catalogue. What do you think about this year’s prize?”, she said hurriedly.

Simone tip-toed back to her desk, tail at vertical. She lengthened her spine and rolled her shoulders.

“Sorry, boarding was outside but brutal yesterday. I’m bruised all over. I’m thinking that’s a lot of transfers, they not getting the numbers?”

“Think its about people finding the inventions difficult. What else do we need?” Jose walked back to his station. “The routines got positional though. Remember that guy with the unicycle and the knives?”

The balance round had taken over the whole competition. People barely mentioned the presentation or the inventions. In the beginning, it was about improving yourself, making a difference. The man on the unicyle had tottered on a catwalk, amber tail almost horizontal. He’d been judged third most useful, and now presented the wind-surfing bulletins.

Kalpana shifted in her jute chair. The movement tugged at her tail-covering and the chair-fibre pulled the fastening on her back. She put a segment of grapefruit in her mouth and covertly anchored the cotton tube with her other hand. Simone unfailingly tended the plants in the section, helped her grandfather walk to the park. Jose brought in fruit from his garden every day. But they had innate balance and impeccable family histories. She didn’t know anyone else like her, they might know requirements and regulations she couldn’t access.

“This is really good, Jose. Thanks.” The citrus sting puckered her nose. “I was thinking of applying.”

Jose’s mouth pursed up, but Simone spread her arms wide. She was usually less obvious than Jose about wanting Kalpana to be more outside.

“Anything that gets you out of the Brunswick Street catalogue. We worry you’re going to move in.”

” Mum likes those old encodes, the dance and the gymnastics. We watch them together now she can’t outside so much, and she tells me about the inside. You remember her grandmother was a dancer?”

You remember, the more outside, the better. You can dance more freely in the Ash Square park.”

There was always someone dancing in the park, rhythmically nimble. There was always someone romping on the high walkways and narrow bridges, carefree and assured. Before her tail stopped growing, Kalpana had relished climbing the tallest trees, faster than Jose. Then the stump withered and she’d cowered inside, until her mother took cotton and flax and covered her shame.

She shufffled through the rest of the day, sketching without inspiration and tidying filling cabinets. She waited until the others had left so she could circumvent the bridge. Mother was waiting, but her restlesness needed the soothing of the Catalogue. Ling was leaving as Kalpana pushed the button to enter, and smiled in greeting. She watched encodes of rivers and mountains with her grandmother and great-grandfather, as they passed down their secrets from decades of mapping unusual geology. Ivan was in his place in the far corner, picking up encodes from tidy stacks and inspecting them. The unit legend was that he’d been a champion skier until he had damaged his tail, but from surreptitious study it seemed unblemished. Kalpana drifted through the racks. Individual encode were anondyne and synthetic but collectively exuded hints of rain clouds and silk. She spotted an encode with a cracked cover that had slipped behind a rack. It was labelled ‘Championship’. She scanned it out, slipped it in her jute bag.

When she got back to their living space, her mother was asleep. She unfastened the cotton tube, placed it diagonally in the small cupboard beside the kitchen door, then undid her long black plait. She rubbed at the hard skin acoss her lower back, toughened by adhesive, and massaged her aching muscles. She linked the new encode to her tablet. The screen wavered and crackled, then a stocky, dark, unbalanced girl moved across a rubber mat. It was inside, light was filtered through square windows into stars on the floor. Music played, a thumping, steady beat. The girl held a length of ribbon, it flickered above her head and in front as she leapt and twirled. Always moving straight ahead. She was fearless.

Kalpana’s eyes hurt from focusing. She didn’t know there were ways of moving if you were unbalanced that were as graceful as climbing or trapeze. Mother coughed in her sleep. She took the tablet into her room, pushed back the chair and bed to make a space. The dark-skinned girl balanced on a thin oak beam. She was turning somersaults, her arms above her head, her tail-less bottom tucked in and her smile radiant. Kalpana raised her arms, straightened her back. The pull in her muscles eased. She stretched out her left leg, tried to twirl. Her top half wouldn’t stay steady and she lurched forward. She rested one hand on her rattan chair and started again.

Mother was often asleep now when she came back from service. She had re-issued the encode four times. No-one else seemed to want it. Jose had also entered the competition, and offered to help with her routine. He was going to climb a bamboo ladder using only his left hand and leg. He was making the ladder himself, as his invention. Most people were climbing trees from a young age and ladders were becoming inside, but there were a few places trees didn’t grow. Something light-weight might be useful. She’d changed the subject when he asked about her application, and he hadn’t pressed for details.

Kalpana was trying lunges when her mother walked in. Ashanti was tall, fragile-looking, her sandy tail was wound clockwise around her right wrist. She liked to tame it as she had kept out some of her grandmother’s small silver ornaments. Most people didn’t decorate inside, so needn’t fear the damage an unrestrained tail might cause. Kalpana composed herself, but her mother’s eyes were sharp. She’d been the best astronomer in the Brunswick Street unit. Her spatial awareness would have been more revered in the past, before the greening.

“You’re trying something new? You’ve not shown me any encode for a while. Is the catalogue closed.”

“I’m sorry, I entered the competition, I’m working on a routine. I wanted to surpise you.”

“Without your tail-covering? They won’t let you in, how will you balance?”

“I’ve found something, there are people like me. I think I can make my own balance. But I can’t do it yet, I keep falling down.”

Ashanti felt for the edge of the slatted pine bed and drooped onto the soft cotton mattress. She hunched her shoulders, smoothed the downy hairs of her tail, eyes on her fingers.

“Kalpana, I’m sorry. I don’t think there is anyone like you. We looked into the families when your… it happened.” She started to wind the tail-hairs around her fingers, tugging until white lines appeared on her beige skin. “Your father went to the mountains to ask his cousins. No-one knew what we were talking about. That’s why we went so often to the Catalogue after your father died, I thought there would be an encode to explain. To tell us what to do.”

“But that’s what I’ve found. There were others once, there must be still. And she’s unbalanced in public.”

She turned on her tablet. The dark-skinned girl leapt across the screen, chest out, arms wide. She didn’t fall. She was unafraid. Ashanti narrowed her eyes, as if she was calculating the angles, tracking the whirlwind on its complex path. The way she looked when she built Kalpana’s chair, or re-wrapped her tail-coverings.

“She’s strong. From her legs, from her core. You should try squats, and lift weights for your arms. How do you feel about press-ups?”

Kalpana replayed the leap. She studied the way the girl kicked out her legs, arched her back, and then landed on one foot.

“I can make your costume too. Give me something useful to do while I’m inside so much. Do you remember how we used to watch the stars?”

As they clasped hands, Kalpana felt her mother tremble. But now she knew what she must do.

On the day of the competition. Kalpana walked to the Ash Square park by herself. If this went badly, Mother couldn’t cope without the support of the unit. She carried her equipment in her jute bag. She waited in line with the other applicants, forty or so, double the people from last year. She couldn’t see Jose, watched Simone walk in through the audience door as she waited to have her name ticked off and her bag checked. Several cubicles were still free as she changed into her costume and gathered up her invention.

They took people by unit, she was fifth in batch three. Batch one had completed, were sitting on the pine audience benches set up especially around the arena. It was used for boarding, and they had kept the pipes and the rattan matting. Kalpana tried to watch the applicants in batch two as they explained their ideas or devices, but could only focus on the routines. The catwalks and the beams, the hand-springs and the upswings, all landing on their feet, tails raised.

Batch three began, she watched the unit children she had grown up with show what they could do. Ling’s presenation was about perserverance, the effect of water on stone. Her routine flowed like silk. Jose was strong and balanced on the ladder. He talked about the amount of trees, the benefits of bamboo, and climbing in the Ash Square park.

They finally called her name. Her own breathing was louder than the murmurs of the crowd. A man on a front bench crunched an apple. Simone was waving, maybe shouting something. Kalpana attained the centre of the arena, put her equipment down beside her left foot. She straightened her back. She smoothed her cyan costume, embroidered with tiny galaxies and nebulae.

Kalpana reached behind with her right hand and removed her cotton covered, flax stuffed tail-covering. She held her hand-made bamboo pole in her left. Her shoulders relaxed, her neck elongated. The man had dropped his apple, it was rolling under a bench, she couldn’t see Simone. Her voice was heavy over the silent crowd.

“This is my presentation and my invention. I am unbalanced. There are others like me I hope, but I think we hide. It’s not lying, I wanted to be the same, to be useful. But I am useful as I am. I help build your connections, but they are not made for me. My gravity is diffferent. I have made this support, so my arms can be my balance. I will show you how I cannot climb as fast as you all, or over the narrow spaces, but I can still move well.”

She stretched out her arms. She leapt and twirled, piroutted and span. She kept her chest out and her shoulders down, landed on her feet. There were rhythmic clappings and stampings surrounding her, but she was whirling to the steady beat from the encode. She’d memorised it, a thump-thump, thump-thump she moved to always. She finished with one last revolution, and raised her arms to be horizontal to her sides. The three judges hadn’t moved, didn’t clap. As she trudged back to the changing rooms, she replayed their frozen faces. They hadn’t moved a muscle after she had revealed herself to be tail-less.

She changed her clothes and re-packed her bag, then she sat in a corner, rubbed her chest. Thump-thump, thump-thump. She’d declared she was not the only one, but there might not be anyone else like her in the world. Ragged cheering forced her back to the side of the arena, where the judges were announcing the scores. Kalpana pressed her right hand under her diaphragm, to make sure she continued to breathe.

Her presentation gained full marks, and the lady announcer suggested any other unbalanced could make themselves known. No-one came forward, but some of the crowd nodded, a few whispered. Most looked away. Perhaps in avoidance, perhaps thinking of someone at home who was different. Kalpana’s cheeks glowed with the hope that she might have helped someone who was afraid.

Her invention was fifteeenth, interesting and decorative but not useful. The lady talked about bridges and subterrain, and how they were important to the landscape, and supports would give a different message. Boarders might use them to develop new tricks, but that had not been the inventor’s suggestion. Kalpana would have to score higher than anyone had before in the routine to win.

They always paused before they proclaimed those scores. She sank down to the floor, the strain she had put on her legs and back communicating itself. They read down the list alphabetically. Jose was fifth, tenth overall. His presentation had been unfocused. He would have tickets to the climbing or surfing. Ling was third overall. She won 1000 transfers, and a weekend in the mountains. Kalpana pressed harder on her chest, the thump-thump pushing at her fingers, replaying in her ears. They had gone past her name, she did not have a score. They announced there were two disqualifications for use or misue of balance against the rules. She had never seen any rules about moving without a tail.

As she left the arena, Simone and Jose waved at her. She patted the air by her thigh in response, unable to raise her arms higher. The judges were enclosing a short girl with a beige fluffy tail. She had triple-flipped onto a piece of cork. The winner would be on all the displays.

Jose put out his hand, “Wait. You can’t just go home now.”

Kalpana didn’t want to raise her head. Her stomach was roiling, her shoulders were stiff, her toes were inflamed. But she would have to find the words to tell her mother, this couldn’t be worse.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I…I never knew what to say. “

“No, I get it. We can’t even begin to think about what you go through every day,” Simone said softly.

Kalpana watched Jose try to smile. “At least I know why you wouldn’t climb with me any more.” She winced at the implicit accusation.” I mean, I don’t know what I mean. But I have four tickets for the surfing, you gonna come with us?”

It was an overature, one she shouldn’t ignore. She’d worked too long though to let her dreams go easily.

“Can I let you know? I’d like to spend some time inside. For a little while.”

She felt their eyes on her as she drifted away. Kalpana meandered home, weighted by the bag. She found herself at the Brunswick Street bridge. There was no-one else nearby. The bamboo pole was sticking out of the jute. She reached behind, but she hadn’t replaced her tail-covering. She felt the thump-thump, thump-thump under her skin. She lifted her arms in front, grasping the bamboo, and raised her right foot.

 

 

Le_Voyage_dans_la_lune_

ANITA GOVEAS is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in Pocket Change, the Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter Press, former cactus mag , Litro and Willow Lit. She tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer

 

Image: Lasse Holst Hansen via Pixabay

 

 

Asunder – Michael Carroll

Ambassador Vilma Rohan shrugged herself into her best jacket as the dropship hit atmosphere. She zipped it from waist to collar and sat back for a moment, only vaguely aware of the craft’s swaying and lurching descent. The movement dampeners took most of the force out of the buffeting anyway.

“Motina’s help, we can do this,” Rohan said, nodding to herself and unconsciously brushing her thumbs over the rings on her index fingers.

The pilot briefly glanced back at her. “Sure we can, Ambassador. I’ve made a thousand trips like this. Maybe more.”

“Sorry, that wasn’t meant for you. I was thinking aloud.”

The young man—he’d told her his name when she boarded the craft, but she’d instantly forgotten it—said, “Gotcha. I do that all the time. Still…” He turned around completely and grinned at her. “I’m happy to be here. Last one, and all that?”

She nodded, then gestured past him towards the dropship’s controls. “Just…”

“Sure.” He turned back. “ETA two minutes.”

Two minutes. Then the battle begins.

There was more to all this than mere stubbornness or pride, as Rohan had tried to explain to her superiors many times. “It’s loyalty. That’s what we’re up against. And family. For some people that sort of bond is stronger than steel.”

Chancellor Raphael had responded to that with a snort. “Put it under enough pressure and even the strongest steel will buckle.”

Another lurch from the dropship, and Rohan automatically squeezed tighter on her seat’s armrests, the pads of her thumbs now pressing hard against her rings.

The pilot called out, “Sorry, that was me. But we’re through to a steady pocket of atmo now, just about there. You want to set down next to it, or a hundred metres away so they’ll see us coming?”

“The latter. We want them to see us.” Rohan pushed herself to her feet, glanced down at her jacket and decided that informal would be better. She unzipped it about half-way. But that seemed too casual. Maybe the jacket is the wrong approach? Leave it behind.

She unzipped it completely and removed it as the dropship touched down.

The pilot spun around again and stood up. “All right, let’s do this!”

Rohan thought that in any other circumstance his grin would be infectious, but not now. “Just me. You stay put.”

“No disrespect, Ambassador, but if things get fractious out there—Motina deliver us—you’re going to want someone who can put out fires. I’m not just a pilot.”

“You are today. I’m going alone.” She stepped towards the hatch, cracked it open and winced a little at the blast of hot, dry air that rushed in.

“I understand, Ambassador. Motina guide and shelter you.”

“Guide and shelter.”

She pushed the hatch open fully. It collapsed into steps, and she walked out. Set foot on Earth for only the second time in her life.

Ahead, the farmhouse stood alone, as it had for the past nine thousand years. Patched up and rebuilt countless times, long past the point where there was any material from the original building left, but somehow it was still the same farmhouse. Perhaps that was symbolic, Rohan speculated. But symbolic of what, she wasn’t entirely sure.

It was daytime, around noon, the sky was cloudless and the sun baked down on the old farmhouse. Rohan shaded her eyes with one hand, waved towards the farmhouse with the other, though with the light this intense she couldn’t yet tell whether there was anyone watching her. If there wasn’t, she’d just waved to no one. That would be embarrassing, except that if they weren’t there to have seen her do it, then only the mother herself would know she’d done it.

As she crossed the cracked dirt, with its clumps of parched scrubgrass and grid of ancient sun-bleached wooden planks, Rohan’s boots kicked up a lot more dust than she’d expected. She couldn’t help wondering whether that was significant too. Of course it is. Everything is significant today.

Ten metres from the farmhouse a voice called out, “Well, you did say you’d be back.”

In the shade of the porch, Helena Lazarov sat on her old wooden rocker. Hand-carved by her father, she’d told Rohan last time, from a tree he’d cut down himself. A tree his grandmother had planted eighty-one years earlier.

“Ms Lazarov, you can’t… Don’t you understand what’s happening here?”

“Of course I do. I’m not stupid.” She glanced upwards, though from her position all she’d be able to see was the inside of the porch.

Rohan looked upwards too, though even at night it would be impossible to see the arks. Four thousand and sixteen of them. Each larger than any structure ever built on Earth.

In the name of the mother, what is wrong with these people? “Ms Lazarov… Helena. You have made your point. You have pushed them to the limit. But you cannot beat them. You are one family. They are—”

“They?”

“All right. We. You are one family. Seven people. We are trillions.”

“So might makes right? What does the book say? Chapter ten, verse fourteen. ‘She who would stand alone against the storm is more favoured of the Mother than she who swims only with the rising tide.’” Lazarov tapped her chest. “Stands alone.” She pointed to Rohan. “Rising tide.”

“Out of context! And besides, that passage is open to interpretation. You could be the tide, and us the storm.”

“Stands alone,” Lazarov repeated, again tapping her chest.

“With six other members of your family. Hardly alone.”

Lazarov shrugged. “We’re a single family. That’s one unit.”

Uninvited, but no longer caring about that level of protocol, Rohan stepped up onto the porch and into the shade. “Where are they, anyway? Inside?”

“They’ve gone out for the day.”

Rohan bit down on her bottom lip as she slowly turned around and looked out across what had once been fertile farmland. “Where to? Where did they go? There are no cities left, no parks, nothing!”

“There’s a lot of interesting-looking wasteland, Ambassador. A whole world of it.”

Rohan spun back. “You cannot stay here, you damned fool!”

“Yes, we can.”

“They are going to pulverise the planet!”

Again, Helena Lazarov shrugged. “Not as long as I’m still here, they’re not.”

Through clenched teeth, Rohan slowly said, “We need the raw material. Without it, we can’t complete the Loop!”

“Yeah, well, that’s not natural. Nowhere in the book does it say that we’re going to have to give up our homes just so that all the planets can be mashed into one and rolled out into a ring big enough to go around the sun.”

“That isn’t how it’s done. It’s a strip of land, a loop ten thousand kilometres from side to side, three hundred million kilometres in diameter. We’ll live on the inside of that strip, a surface area greater than eighteen thousand Earths.”

“I don’t care how it’s done!” Lazarov pushed herself to her feet, stood almost nose-to-nose with the Ambassador. “We’re not moving.”

Rohan took a step back. “Look…. you’re the last family on Earth. Your names are already in the history books. No one can take that away from you.”

“That’s not what this is about.”

“Motina’s bane, but you are the most stubborn person I’ve ever…!” Ambassador Rohan realised that her fists were clenched and she forced herself to calm down, focused on rubbing her thumbs over her rings, feeling the familiar indentations of the prayers stamped into the platinum. “Did you even look at that last offer we made? A section of the Loop larger than the entire surface area of this planet! You’ll be the single wealthiest landowner in the history of the human race. We have offered you everything!”

“It’s not about wealth.”

“Suppose we leave you alone? Then what? Just you, your children, and your grandson. We’ll wait you out. The rest of the human race will cheer on the day that the last of you keels over. You’ll be reviled. Forever. You want that? You spend the rest of your lives alone, then the rest of eternity as… as a curse! No, worse, you’ll be an insult. ‘Hey, you see that guy? Stay away from him, he’s a complete Lazarov.’”

The woman turned to face Rohan with a smile. “This has been my family’s land for over three hundred generations. I can trace an unbroken line back nine thousand, one hundred and seventy-two years. Every one of my ancestors was born on this land, was raised on this land, died on this land. Well, no, not all of them died here. But they were all buried here. Every one of them. This is our land. People have tried to move us on many times. And every time they did, we fought back. Sometimes we fought with weapons on a battlefield, other times with words in a court of law, but however we did it, we won. Every. Single. Time. We won. Don’t you see that? Don’t you understand why I can’t leave?”

It hit Rohan like a shockwave, almost physically rocked her. Of course. I see it now. Oh, Mother, who can blame her for this? “It’s not about the land, is it? It’s about the history. The struggles of your ancestors. They put everything they had into this land, and now what you see is that it’s being taken away from you. Ms Lazarov… It’s not that. You give up this land and it’s not that you’ve lost. It’s that you’ve won the final battle. After this, there is no further need to fight.”

Lazarov turned away, shaking her head. “No. You don’t understand.”

“I do understand. We’re not taking this land from your ancestors, we’re asking you to give it to your descendants. You see? Your family has been fighting for nine millennia, and now you’ve won. The section of the Loop you’ll be given is the prize.”

Lazarov stared off into the distance, and without turning back to the Ambassador she said, “I want you to leave now. You’ve done your best, tried your hardest. And I appreciate that, I really do. Whatever happens next… Well, I won’t hold you responsible.”

“What do you mean, whatever happens next?”

Still looking away, Helena Lazarov smiled. “Where negotiation fails, the knife will succeed. Oh, I’m sure they won’t want the negative publicity of an actual attack. It’ll be subtle. Disguised as a natural accident of some kind. And then we’ll be gone and your people will move in and conduct their despicable work.”

“No. No, that won’t happen.” Rohan shook her head. “‘You shall not kill through anger, nor for greed, nor for envy.’ No. There has to be a way to… Look, what about this? We move you and your family off-planet. You take anything you need or want with you. First-class accommodation on the very best ark. And we’ll move your house. Intact. We can do that. Set up a force-field to keep it all exactly as you left it. We install it on your new land on the Loop in a location of your choosing. Trust me, if you weren’t looking out the windows you’d never know the difference.” She extended her hand. “What do you say?”

Slowly, deliberately, Lazarov turned back to face the Ambassador. But she kept her arms by her side. “You can do that?”

“We can. Shake my hand and it’s an agreement and we can get everything in motion today.”

“It’s not enough.”

“Not… Not enough?” Rohan dropped to her knees, buried her face in her hands to stifle a scream. She felt like she’d been kicked in the stomach, and it was only the pressure of her prayer-rings against her skin that helped her to keep a lid on her temper. With forced evenness, she said, “Oh sweet mother Motina, what more could you want? We’re offering you the equivalent of a planet!”

Lazarov spread her arms, palms out, and turned in a slow circle. “You have to take the land, too. You can do that, right? You take the land, and the house, everything. Intact. And then we have an agreement.”

Rohan raised her head. Her mouth had suddenly gone dry. “You’re serious? That’s what you want?”

The other woman nodded. “If you can do it.”

“We can do it. How deep?”

“What? Oh, ten metres would be enough. If your machines can sort of just, you know…” she made scissors motions with her fingers. “Cut it all out in one piece, lay it down intact on the Loop… then… then… Ambassador, are you crying?”

“Tears of relief! Yes, yes we can do that! We can build a ringworld three hundred million kilometres across, so we can certainly move forty acres of land! Motina guide us, we have an agreement!” She grabbed Helena Lazarov’s hand and grinned as she shook it for far too long. “You tell me when you’re ready to go, and we’ll get started. We’ll even let you press the button to destroy the rest of the planet, if you like!”

Lazarov gave a short laugh at that. “No, I think I’m notorious enough, thank you, Ambassador. You can give that honour to someone else. I’ll call my family back. Tell them to start packing. We can be ready this time tomorrow.”

Rohan finally let go of Lazarov’s hand, but held onto the smile. “Thank you, Helena. And thank the Mother! This is… this is the best news!” She stepped down off the porch, and slowly began to back away, head back to the dropship. “Guide and shelter, Ms Lazarov. Just think… the next time I visit your home, it’ll be in a much, much different place!”

“That’s assuming I invite you back! But it will all be identical, right?”

Still moving, Rohan said, “Apart from the sky, and of course there won’t be a horizon any more. That’ll be strange, but you’ll get used to it in time. Your grandson’s children will grow up in a whole new world, but it’ll be perfectly natural to them.”

Lazarov called after her, “Oh, I know. But I’ll be long gone then. Well, not gone as such. I’ll still be here. Right about where you’re standing now, in fact.”

The Ambassador looked down at her feet, at the parched, crack dirt, and the clumps of brown scrub-grass. And the ancient, weathered sun-bleached planks that protruded from the ground at regular intervals.

She understood, at last. Sometimes you fight to hang on to the past not because of pride, or stubbornness. Sometimes it’s about family.

 

 

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Image: skeeze via Pixabay

 

 

The Endless Chase – David J Wing

The chase began quite some time before and still it continued…

Back before the explosion, before lives in the billions, trillions and even quattuordecillions evolved, subsisted and perished, there was always the endless. Its’ desire to devour, quash and consume was boundless. Life across Galaxies and Universes blinked and expired in dribs and drabs from every corner of creation. It ate light and dark alike. It overwhelmed and brought its’ infinite appetite to bear on anything and everything.

For those that saw it coming, it was reported as the world ender.

News feeds proclaimed the apocalypse to be a reality and within weeks, it had come.

The giant star at the heart of the galaxy vanished first and the outer planets followed, not that it mattered which went next. Without the heat of the Sun, the worlds beyond dulled and died.

Some ships left, laden with supplies and desperate hopes of survival. The abandoned masses screamed to the end.

A number beyond sane measure surrounded launch pads the world over. If the windows allowed, the smell of bodies cooked to a terminal temperature would tear a mind to shreds. Blinds hid the carnage from passengers’ eyes, but the shrieks still penetrated the hulls.

Footage recorded by the external cameras became legend among Earth’s refugees. For the initial years after, the privileged and proud that had made their escape watched those images and thanked their lucky stars…then the reality of their desperate situation sank in.

Some humans found salvation on planets far flung and barren, other happened upon more fatalistic circumstances. Those that chose to remain on makeshift stations had a number of reclamation and recycling issues to contend with – not least of all, what to be done with the dead?

As generations passed, humanity became something wholly different, or was it simply how it had always been, but without the cloud of delusion?

The worlds of Man struggled on and forgot what they had fled all those years ago, but the Endless continued to feed – a welcome relief to many. The stations broke apart and finished their abhorrent existence.

All that remained were the distance few, those that had rolled the dice and continued-on to the very farthest reaches and landed where they must.

Time passed, people did too and before they knew it, the rebooted human race had regained its foothold and began to venture back into the cosmos. Language had changed, as had appearance, but what remained was a desire to explore. The nearest stars came first and then those a little further afield. Before too long, the galaxy had inhabitants near and far.

…then it came again.

Night fell faster and faster. The sound of a silent Universe became deafening. The outer colonies and then the inner planets became extinct and only those star bound held even the slightest hope of life beyond.

Those ships fully fuelled made it further, but ultimately, none made it far.

And now, here I am, talking to you, recording this long and yet painfully brief account of the existence of all Humankind as I flee a faceless darkness that will ultimately devour me.

My gauge reads low, my food stuffs count in the single digits but that all matter little, for my oxygen reserves will have long depleted by the time my hunger or thirst threaten to end me.

I thought of many poignant things to say at this point.

As men and women have come before me, their words reflecting a whole species, a universe of life and death and here I am, running from the end and this is what I sa…

 

Le_Voyage_dans_la_lune_

Image: Felix Mittermeier via Pixabay

 

 

The Archivist – Patrick Chapman

Yours is the last generation for whom
it will be possible to die of old age.

Your children and their offspring –
let’s not trouble them with this.

I record my note for no posterity,
nor for the idea of posterity, which

we understand in terms of years
at best. Milton suddenly unspurred –

would he have persisted? That
is my task. I am putting

everything into the memory
vault so that whatever succeeds us,

though it be unfathomable,
and our artefacts invulnerable

to its comprehension, it will
see that something was here

before it. We, whatever
that might mean, were here.

 

Le_Voyage_dans_la_lune_

Image: Arek Socha via Pixabay

 

 

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