July 15, 2149, Hawking
Karen looked around the decimated lander and searched for any sign of Grant. His supplies were gone, along with the picture of his daughter that she knew he took on every flight. Everything he would need to survive a new world for at least a few weeks was not here. They already knew he hadn’t crashed —he’d shot them information when he’d landed, then the lines had gone silent.
“Penner, any sign of the transmitter?” she asked.
“Still nothing. I can say without a doubt that it’s not within a square mile of this wreckage.”
That was interesting.
“Commander, we’re getting a message from Breena. She says it’s urgent,” Officer O’Sullivan’s eyebrows raised as he spoke. They all wanted to know just what that alien message had said.
Times aren’t easy in academia here but our astronomers can recognise a pork barrel at 50 megaparsecs and scrape it clean from a lot further than that. So after the climate crash/panic of ’47 we focused our instruments on new pots of money.
This is our first attempt at communication. Dark matter signatures prove you are out there, and we expect each of you discovered us and our many brethren. We hope you’ll understand this or one of the accompanying translations.
Here (as for you?) with sea levels rising and coastline property values tanking, Congress threw money at any half-baked scheme to fix the environment. Geoengineering was the favourite from the more reasonable ideas, but we got in there swinging; we can handle a gift horse. We needed millions but a drowned government isn’t expected to pay its debts so we got funded.
Then I got in touch with good people worldwide: here, Europe, Asia, South America, Africa. Cosmology, like sea level, is truly international.
July 15, 2149, Hawking
Grant ducked and hoped he’d been fast enough to avoid being spotted. He knew there were dozens of the monstrous beasts in the hollowed out cavern, and he had no idea what direction they would come at him from. His stun-gun sat uneasily in his now sweating palm, but he knew there wasn’t enough juice in it to take all of them down. He would have to be lucky. After a moment of silence, he once again heard an occasional grunt, and the constant humming of the large, blue, glowing power source from the centre of the room.
Knowing he had to do something, and quick, he crawled down the hall. The floor was a dusty, red shale and his hands and knees were getting cut up and raw from rushing across it. Better sore hands than being dead. He slipped into a small opening in the wall and crouched down, hoping to catch a peek of what was going on in the room. Apparently at this point, he hadn’t been seen, but he knew his luck would run out sooner or later.
A voice began blaring through the speakers of the cavern. The acoustics, mixed with the fact that it was in an entirely alien language, gave it an ominous tone. His heart raced at the new information. This couldn’t be from the grunting, howling monsters, so it had to be from an outside source. Was there another race on this planet, or was this voice being transmitted from far away? Perhaps from one of the ships depicted on the cave walls in a crude triangle shape. Continue reading
“You know they call us body-snatchers?”
I flicked my gaze to the rear-view mirror then back to the street ahead. I hadn’t driven for Elaine Grey before but it was obvious she needed reassurance. “As long as they stick to just name-calling, Miss, then everything will be fine.”
She twisted a handkerchief between slim hands. “Only, in the news, those stories…”
“Coincidence, Miss, nothing more.” Two Shilling Agency recruiters had died in the last month, both in circumstances ruled accidental. Regardless of the official line I’d switched to an armoured limo and ballistic vest – if only for my own peace of mind.
I took a longer look at my charge. Attractive enough, in a slender, nervy, kind of way, but I never mixed business and pleasure; I was her driver and bodyguard, nothing more.
Elaine caught me looking. “But you understand the value of our work? You appreciate its importance? We take the deformed, the crippled, those society has discarded, and give them purpose.”
July 14, 2149 – Seeker – Solar System Outer Limits
The Seeker had reached astronomical speeds, but the problem with the technology was it couldn’t just slow down with out ripping the ship apart. The deceleration process took light years, and Karen was told it was much like a speeding car using a parachute to slow itself. Except there was no physical tarp, but rather a force shield that grew incrementally at the front end of the ship. Too much too fast and they would all die, but with the proper calculations they should arrive into Hawking’s orbit. Karen hoped they had the exact right distances or they could end up shooting past it, or into something – mainly one of Hawking’s two moons.
“Penner, are we confident in the force shield?” Karen asked.
Penner gave her a slight head turn and nodded. “Yes, Commander. Plus, we have no choice. We’re heading into another system full-speed. If we don’t try to stop now, we have no idea where we would end up.”
* Winner of the 2016 Story of the Year Award *
I am numb, paralysed from the neck down. Strangers over-ooze sympathy when they hear the word: quadriplegic. Family and friends avoid me, too embarrassed that they can stand on their own two feet. I hate this prison of false emotions. I want to be back in the real world, the way I was before my so-called accident.
The sea was my fascination. I would sail, swim, dive, or if it was in a fury, stand back from the shore to watch pebbles being hurled out of its spindrift.
The injury happened when I was diving in the newly discovered Forden sea cave in Gothenburg’s archipelago; 33 metres depth and 240 metres in to be precise. A pink granite boulder twinkled wildly in my lights. Curious, I diverted towards it. Two strokes should have got me there. I barely got three quarters of the way. Puzzled, I checked my oxygen via my wrist screen. Levels were normal. I felt my lips with my tongue. They were warmer than normal, a sign of carbon dioxide poisoning. My diving app had gone haywire.
July 15, 2149, Hawking
Beads of sweat poured down Grant’s back as the sun beat down mercilessly. He’d been travelling all day in the heat, trying to track the creature that had been at his lander. At this point he had no idea if the tracks he sporadically saw were from the same one, but he had nothing else to go by. It was doubtful that help was coming for him: there was no way to contact anyone. He had taken all the supplies he could carry without hindering his movements too much, but they were limited.
Stopping, he pulled the ripped T-shirt off his head and wrung out the sweat. Maybe he should have left it on to stay cool. Nothing was clear to him. The whole mission seemed so absurd now. Here he was stranded on a semi-hospitable planet – by far the best-case scenario Earth had ever hoped to encounter. He had no way to know if they’d gotten his initial messages. He silently prayed they had, and someone was on their way.
“Be cool, man, everything is just… peachy.” Harry Hale sank back into a drug-and-booze torpor.
Peachy? Not with a dead teenage girl lying on the floor of his hotel suite. Harry was the vocalist with Harry and The High, a psychotropic rock band. I don’t like working with musicians at the best of times and this was shaping up to be my worst experience yet. The assorted drugs and paraphernalia on display were worth an ‘intent to supply’ beef on their own. The naked corpse lying face down on the carpet added ‘contributing to the delinquency of a minor’ and ‘reckless endangerment’ – if not an actual charge of homicide.
I left a micro-drone scanning the scene and returned to the corridor where Lonnie Perth, the band’s manager, was waiting. He looked pale and nervous. “Well?”
“She’s dead alright and has been for several hours. I didn’t touch the body but my drone detected no pulse or brain activity. There’s no sign of violence so I’m assuming it was something relatively benign, like choking to death on her own vomit or a drug-induced heart attack. Do you have any idea who she is?” Continue reading
July 11, 2149 – Seeker. Earth’s Orbit.
“We are all set to go Commander,” First Officer Penner said, hands hovering over the ship’s controls.
Karen took one last look out the viewport at Earth and said a silent prayer for the people they were leaving behind. “Hail the Santa Maria, please.” She fidgeted with her collar. “In my office please.”
She sat at her desk, empty except for the comp screen. It buzzed and an image of the Union president appeared. “What is it Bilson? You should be gone by now.” President Carne’s face flushed.
“Yes, sir. I just…-” she paused, wondering if she should just keep it to herself, “I want to know if you have a plan to come back and help Earth once we’ve settled?”
Carne’s red face turned crimson and a vein pulsed on his forehead. “Bilson, follow your damned orders and don’t question me again. There are plans in place that are far above your pay grade. Fly your vessel in front of us. Keep us posted and we will be a day behind as planned. If you fail to do so, you will quickly see yourself left behind, alone on the lift to Earth!” The screen went dark.
The guilt that somehow she aided in the world’s death tried to weigh her down, but she knew she had to shake it off and help those she could. The colonists were her main focus now. With a new resolve she walked back to the bridge.
“Penner, take us out.” The first officer smiled and soon the ship was accelerating quickly away from Earth and everything they’d ever known. Continue reading
Rednak watched the celebrations from the window of his bedroom. The night sky pulsed with light and a torch-lit parade filled the street below. Even with the window closed, the sounds of laughter and music from the procession permeated the room as the people walked by. They were accompanied by marching bands and mobile displays depicting the historical event. Rednak should have been down there marching with them but this was the night he had chosen to tell his parents the truth. The irony had been lost on him until the moment the words left his lips and his father’s face began to contort in anger.