Welcome to Issue #43 of Aoife's Kiss!
. . . and don’t neglect to vote for your faves [see below]!
As always, we’re presenting three stories and three poems from the print edition for your reading pleasure. We hope you enjoy them. We have arranged for you to vote for your favorites. Just go to this link when you're ready, and list the stories and poems according to your choices, first, second, third. VOTE The story and poem receiving the most votes will also be published in Wondrous Web Worlds 11 next year [assuming the Maya calendar does not intervene].
And please do order a copy of the print edition of the December 2012 Aoife's Kiss--or better yet, a subscription. You can do so by going to www.sdpbookstore.com and choosing the Magazines Section.
Just Another Cochoc Vys by D. Gansen
Broke by Jennifer Juneau
Property Values by Wayne Carey
Forever Love by Rone Wisten
Rusted World by JD DeHart
The Monolith by Christina Sng
Just Another Cothoc Vys
by D. Gansen
Sapper fire began to spray the field. Lt. Renfro and his men dived into craters and ditches along the line. “Shit,” Renfro said between clenched teeth. He crammed himself against the wall of the shallow crater and breathed hard. The mingled odor of explosives, sweat, burnt hair and flesh assaulted his nostrils. “War stinks,” he muttered. War was hot, too. Even morning was stifling on the planet of Banador. He pushed up his face shield to wipe a drop of sweat from the tip of his nose and made eye contact with the five men who had jumped into the crater with him. They expected him to know what to do. He was only six months out of Patrol Academy, but it had been six months of hard fighting in First Unit of Patrol Second Division, always among the first salvos to be fired at the enemy. Unlike the mock combat at Academy, real combat was a learn quick or die kind of education. Renfro had learned quick and become one of the good officers needed for this galactic war that had raged for hundreds of years.
He knew the enemy, even if he didn’t understand them. The Cothoc Vystrians who were trying to kill him were humans in that they had emigrated from Earth in the Great Exodus with the ancestors of everybody else who now lived in the galaxy. There were, however, subtle differences between Renfro and them. He had green eyes, a normal human color, while ninety percent of the Vystrians had yellow eyes and just as many had bright red hair. He didn’t like to point it out, but the majority of Vystrians were left-handed, and so was he.
The professors at Academy had called them an “insular people”. More like “inbred” Renfro thought. They had isolated themselves on their galaxy-edge planet for so long that they were all very much alike. These Cothoc Vystrians who were trying to kill him today were the worst, though. They were a zealous and proselytizing sect which had goaded their people into empire-building. It ticked Renfro off when prisoners tried to preach to him. He would’ve killed a few of them, but he was one of the good guys and he could only kill them if they were armed. Being a good guy sucked sometimes. But today, they were all armed and he could kill them until they gave up or until they killed him. At least, that’s how Renfro saw it.
The lieutenant keyed his helmet mike and shouted over the pop of the sapper fire. “Ferber! Where are you and how many men you got?”
“Jesus Christ!” the sergeant replied in an equally loud voice. “I thought the rapid sappers were cleared!”
A shell exploded fifty yards away and showered the crater with dirt. Renfro spat out some of the dirt and said,”Obviously, they weren’t.”
Ferber reported, “I think I’m on your nine. I got six men with me in a goddam small crater! Can hardly move!”
Another sweep of incandescent missiles screamed over the heads of the huddled men. The sapper shots didn’t pierce like metal projectiles; they hit and burned like hot needles. Body armor could absorb them, but a direct hit cooked flesh well done.
Renfro looked up at the tiny bright lights that were streaming over his head. The sweep lasted three seconds, passed over, then returned three seconds later. From his observations he could tell that the gun was directly in front of his position, about fifty yards away, and manned by idiots. The regularity of their sweep said it all.
He considered all the weapons in his personal arsenal: long range sapper rifle, sapper sidearm, bayonet, dagger, and a selection of grenades. The grenades would work, but he had used his most potent ones already. “Anybody got an H4?” he asked towards the five dirty faces close to his. He was offered three.
“Have to stand up to get ‘em that far,” Private Gilliland said, then flinched with the rest of them when another shell exploded and another shower of dirt threatened to fill their hiding place.
Renfro had already decided that of the men in the crater, he was the most likely to be able to make the throw. He was tall and fit and he liked to blow up Vystrians. He would have three seconds to spot the sapper. Plenty of time, he told himself.
“Get ready to go!” he ordered. “We’ll have to get through before the other emplacements can react.”
He could hold two of the powerful explosive devices in one hand, so he might as well throw that many. He adjusted his face shield and waited for the spray of white pinpoints to pass, then he sprang up. “One thousand one,” he said. He spied the sapper. He pulled the pins that started the timers on the grenades. “One thousand two.” He paused to let the timers run, and pulled back his arm. “One thousand three!” He hurled the weapons. His timing was a little off and the explosion bigger than he had expected. He heard the roar, saw the flash, felt the impact, and then . . . and then he slowly became aware of voices. He opened his eyes. A med tech was leaning over him.
“You’re okay, Lieutenant,” the tech said. “Just knocked out for awhile.”
Renfro sat up. He was beside the crater, but the guns had gone quiet. The injured and dead were being removed from the field. “Looks like I slept through the whole damn war,” he complained.
“That was quite the boom, L.T.,” Sergeant Ferber said, crouching beside Renfro. “Knocked you on your ass and blasted the Vys into molecules. Two H4’s mighta been overkill.
“No such thing,” Renfro grunted.
* * *
Late in the afternoon, Renfro emerged from his tent and tried to inhale some fresh air, but there wasn’t any. The only air available still smelled like war. The searing, dusty atmosphere was saturated with the fumes outgassed by the sun-heated plastic fibers of the tents; the stomach-turning smell of the potent antiseptic Patrol sprayed everywhere, and the accumulated body odor of thousands of men who were as sweaty as he was. At least he had gotten rid of the body armor and put on a clean uniform, though it was already damp and beginning to cling to him. “Goddam Banador,” he muttered.
His division had been on the planet for sixty days, beating the Vystrians back into a few fortified cities. Across the sea, Second Division of Female Patrol had slashed its way through the continent and even now was bombarding one last stubborn outpost. On this continent, the fortified city was Arkanda. Patrol was negotiating for its surrender and at the same time preparing to besiege it.
From where he stood, Renfro could observe the line of Vystrian civilians who were escaping the city before the war could enter it. They emerged from the human size door in the aircraft hangar size steel gates and hurried along the hundred yard paved road. They were shoulder-to-shoulder, for to step off the eight foot path, was to enter the minefield. After a hundred years of occupation, Banador was more like a huge explosive device than a planet. But Renfro wasn’t in the minesweeping business, and he didn’t worry about the safety of these or any Vystrians.
The refugees were directed into a corral constructed by the Patrollers so that each one could be scanned for weapons before being released to seek safety elsewhere. Renfro strolled towards the corral. He had seen plenty of Vystrians in his six month career, but he wondered what these were saying. Sometimes Vys civilians were relieved to get away from the battlefield and some resented being driven out of their homes; all of them were sullen.
Major Bergen, Renfro’s commanding officer, was also watching the proceedings. He turned to the lieutenant as he passed. “Not a bad job today,” Bergen offered, “for a civilian.” It had not been a compliment, but an opportunity to use the derogatory epithet of “civilian” on his least favorite officer.
It didn’t faze Renfro anymore. He had heard it too many times; from his first day at Academy until now, and it wasn’t going to stop. Because his parents had not been Patrollers, the multi-generationals would always consider him an outsider. He made no comment and kept his eyes on the growing crowd.
The barricade was just a two-wire fence about four feet high, but the armed Patrollers around it discouraged the non combatants from making a break. Strangely, there were only a few children among the refugees. They clung to the clothing of their elders and stared around with wide, golden eyes.
“Not many kids,” Sgt. Ferber said. “Kinda strange.” He had stopped beside Renfro to look at the Cothoc civilians.
The lieutenant was not mystified, but he was cynical. “That’s what happens when siblings breed together for a few generations: low birthrate.”
“Sure, but ya gotta feel sorry for ‘em.”
Renfro shrugged. “Why?” No one had felt sorry for him when he was a kid, growing up on a pebble of a planet in a large, neglectful family. “They could be out there shootin’ at me in a few years.” He turned away. “Just more goddam Cothoc Vys.”
Another lieutenant joined him. “Well, everybody’s out who wanted out,” he said.
Renfro put his hands in his pockets, which Patrollers were not supposed to do. Sooner or later, someone would yell at him about it, but it gave him satisfaction to be a little insubordinate. “Siege set?” he asked, though the activity around him was his answer. Men in body armor were gathering to be deployed around the walls. The troop carriers creaked on their axles as the heavily armed men piled in. When filled, the vehicles buzzed away, their Krutzfeld motors powering them over the cratered battlefield to the siege barricade where the war awaited them.
“Yep. And we have the midnight to nine shift,” the other lieutenant said in parting. “And I’m going to sleep until then.”
Renfro studied the metal and concrete city walls. The air between him and them was so hot it wavered, and they seemed to be alive and taunting him like a kid on a playground wiggling his butt and saying, “na na, you can’t catch me.” But when negotiations failed, as Renfro knew they would, that simmering playground would become a battleground.
* * *
The bluish sun of Banador was twenty degrees above the horizon and already burning hot. It was a bleary, angry eye opening on the battlefield of foolish mortals. One of the mortals was Lieutenant Renfro. He tried to shrug the trickle of sweat from the back of his neck as he and five thousand other Patrollers waited behind the sapper fire resistant barricade as they had for the first four hours of their shift. He made a mental note to complain to Bergen about how hot the new “advanced fiber” suits were when covered with black body armor.
A hundred yards away, across the mined no-man’s land, lay the twenty foot high steel gates of the walled city of Arkanda where the Cothoc Vys were weighing the “surrender or die” ultimatum they’d been given. They had two hours left to decide, and then the Patrol engineers would start to fire the Bangalore torpedoes which would skim the ground like expertly skipped stones across a lake, detonating the mines. And, like the ripples generated by the touches of the stones, one detonation would lead to another and another.
Renfro shifted his long range sapper to his right hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead, but his helmet was in the way. He cursed the stubborn Cothocs. Why not just get to the shooting, he wondered. Experience had taught him that Cothoc Vys don’t surrender, but no amount of experience could have prepared him for what came next.
The human size door of Arkanda slid aside, but only a few feet. Renfro pulled down his face shield and tightened his grip on his sapper. Then he witnessed the event that would make the name of Arkanda infamous across the galaxy. Children emerged and the door closed. About two hundred of them, from toddlers to teenagers holding infants, huddled together outside the gates. There was silence for a few heartbeats, then from the top of the wall, the Cothoc parents of the bewildered children began to shout at them, telling them to run to the Patrollers to be saved. Run through the minefield! Those Cothocs whose gods must be psychopaths, were sending their children to their death because they knew how much it would horrify the Patrollers.
“Good god,” Renfro murmured.
He watched helplessly as they began to run. He and the other Patrollers screamed at them, trying to direct them to the paved path, but they were terrified and confused. They ran with their arms out, as though reaching for that far away safety. Their eyes were wide; they screamed, cried, fell and scrambled to their feet. Some of them disappeared in roars of clouds and smoke.
Some Patrollers ran out but were fired on and had to retreat. Renfro couldn’t take his eyes off the sight of the doomed children. Sure, they were just Cothocs, but they had been cruelly swindled into performing the last spiteful act of these hate-filled fanatics. At last, they had garnered his pity, and he had to do something. He looked at his flak shield: five feet tall, light, transparent, sapper fire proof.
“Come on!” he yelled. “Make a tunnel!”
Everyone within earshot ran out, and others followed when they saw what was going on. A crouching man on each side of the path and one standing in the middle overlapping their flak shields formed an escape route thirty yards long. Any longer and the Patrollers would be too exposed, and running seventy yards was easier than running a hundred. Renfro stood at the end, catching the children as they stumbled in and shooing them towards the barricade. They were crying or in mute shock; exhausted and at the end of their endurance.
Sapper fire and projectiles battered the flak shields. The Patrollers expected that, but they did not expect the Cothocs to shoot down their own children. There was the “crack” of a conventional rifle shot from the wall, then another: aimed at the children. They had escaped the mines, but not their parents. Instantly, more cover fire burst from the Patrol line. Fewer shots were fired from the wall, and more children reached safety.
A nearby explosion staggered Renfro and he was pelted with dirt and blood. Then, through the remnants of brown smoke burst the last survivor: a teenage girl. In her arms she clutched a bundle--her little ward. Renfro reached out and shouted. They made eye contact. She was only a few feet away when a projectile fired by one of her own people struck her in the back.
In Renfro’s mind, above all the other noise on the field, he heard that one sound: the thud of that projectile hitting her flesh. The girl’s golden eyes grew round and she started to fall. The maniacs had killed her. The final act of her young life was to toss the bundle towards the waiting Patroller.
Renfro snatched the bundle out of the air and hugged it to himself. As he retreated, the Bangalore torpedoes fired.
* * *
In the med tent, a nurse tried to take the bundle from Renfro, but he was still on the battlefield. He could still see the girl with golden eyes and outstretched arms. He was abruptly transported back to the med tent by a touch from the nurse and only then released the bundle. There was blood on the blanket so he looked down to see if he’d gotten hit, but it wasn’t his blood.
The nurse opened the blanket and Renfro went cold. The baby’s little face was so placid, as if he were sleeping and dreaming that he was still in the arms of the girl and she was warming him with her smile. But beneath his dreamy face, his little clothes were drenched with blood. In spite of her brave effort, the girl had not saved him. The projectile had pierced her heart and his. The nurse shook his head and carried the bundle away.
In Renfro’s mind, he was shouting, “No, no, no!” but he held it in. He hurried out of the tent and kept walking. He didn’t see the men who were rushing about. He didn’t feel the heat or smell the stink. He didn’t hear the bombardment of Arkanda. He swallowed hard and bit his lip. He could not allow himself to look like a fool in front of men who would laugh at him and say, “See? He’s just another pathetic civilian.”
* * *
“Shit,” Major Bergen muttered wearily. It was dark, the battle was over and Arkanda was rubble. The Cothoc Vys were in the presence of their exacting gods while he was in the presence of some of his officers in one of the staff tents. They all had to submit reports to the next person up the totem pole. “Goddam Cothocs,” he added.
“Fricking Cothocs,” another officer chimed in.
“Hey, Renfro,” Bergen said, “you better take some leave.”
“What? No!” Renfro exclaimed. He had been looking out the door of the big tent, observing the glow cast by the embers of Arkanda.
This was another opportunity for Bergen to deride this “civilian” officer. “You look pretty crappy.” By which Renfro and everybody else knew he meant weak.
“No crappier than anybody else,” Renfro snapped and hoped.
“That thing with the baby could get to anybody,” a more sympathetic officer offered. “Sucked.”
“Yeah, I saw it,” another guy said. “That girl, geez, she tried so hard to save him.”
Renfro wished they would shut up. His stomach was churning. Through clenched teeth he said, “Just another Vys who won’t be shootin’ at me in a couple of years.” He couldn’t expunge from his mind the sight of the placid face of the little dreamer who would never again wake. He turned back to the glow in the sky so the others would not see his eyes water. “Just another goddam Cothoc Vys.”
By Jennifer Juneau
She carried three shopping bags full of expensive clothes and jewelry in shades of liver and old lace—things she couldn’t afford—out of the store. Maxing out her credit card would have to be her secret, until the bill came anyway, but what did she forget? The jingling in her purse confirmed she had her keys. She reached inside and felt her wallet. Her skirt swayed as she fixed herself onto the escalator. Good, she still had that but Mnemosyne abandoned her now and the crowded shopping center jarred her nerves. The wisteria walls of the mall gleaned, or winked mysteriously as if in complicity with some twisted force out to engulf her sensibility. An awareness clung to her frame and her aura was a dulled tumbleweed. Her familiar midnight-blue keen-thinking poignant and lucid self seemed to have escaped her. The escalator raced up to the next level. A split-second alarm bell plummeted to her gut—was it the baby? Had she left the baby in the changing room? No, she hadn’t taken the baby shopping today. Others began staring at her as she stood stock still. A woman rolled her eyes in disgust. A man gazed at her and shook his head. That was it—it was her head. She had forgotten her head.
She glided between shoppers up the escalator, took a U-turn at the top of floor K and glided back down the down escalator to floor F and back to the clothing store.
The salesgirl—nineteen, twenty, maybe, with jet-black hair and eyes to match, stood affixed to the cash register snapping her gum and tallying up receipts, or something.
“Excuse me,” she said to the salesgirl, “have you found a lost head?”
“Blond?” the salesgirl said.
“Red,” the woman said. “With green eyes,” she added, as if.
“Somebody left a blond head in the fitting room,” the salesgirl said. “And her eyes are brown.”
“Shit,” the woman said. Her voice was all essence. Her senses, too.
“Good luck finding it,” the salesgirl shouted through her mouth as the woman left.
She couldn’t go home without her head, Bkentz would kill her. Or stick her on the drug. The drug grew a head back between your shoulders, but it wouldn’t be the exact old head, it would be a different head with an R tattooed on the forehead to indicate “Replacement.” She’d be the laughing stock of society. And how embarrassing to throw a dinner party and have your friends, with their original heads intact, suddenly see you’ve dropped the ball so-to-speak and lost it. It would be the third time she’d lost it, which would elicit expletives from Bkentz, like, “Rebecca, I can’t believe you fucked up again. Where was your fucking head?”
The first time Rebecca lost her head she was at a job interview with the promise of a huge salary. A position for salesperson opened up in the want ads and Rebecca secured herself an interview. This was in their pre-baby days and she and Bkentz were saving up for a house. When the interviewer asked Rebecca if she knew how their new product, SuckDust Ceiling Vacuum, functioned (which any moron could have found information on) she told the truth and said No. Through clenched teeth the interviewer with the austere bun atop her head at SuckDust explained that one simply affixes the apparatus to the ceiling, switches on the light switch and all the dust is sucked to the top in one sweeping rush and how the fuck was someone going to sell a product they knew nothing about? Rebecca left the interview chiding herself, “Rebecca,” she said, “where was your head?” Surely the woman inside knew that she had no head during the interview. “Always the last to know,” Rebecca had murmured to herself, shaking nothing.
The second time she lost her head she was in the car driving with baby Whhispt. The baby was cooing in her car seat and surprised Rebecca by uttering the word banananana. Rebecca was overwhelmed with joy. All along she thought the baby wasn’t developing rapidly enough. She reached into her baby bag, taking her eyes off the road, for a banananana to reward her cooing baby (who had at that instant learned to say the word banananana) and swerved into a tree. Thank goodness she was driving at a snail’s pace but snails didn’t prevent the front end of her car from getting smashed. Snails didn’t stop the insurance premium from rising. When she called Bkentz from her cell phone to tell him about Whhispt’s banananana word and the accident he said, “Fuck, fucking shit, Rebecca. Where was your head?” “I don’t know,” she responded. “I don’t know.”
Rebecca thought she’d been born with a curse. Born with an uncommon name: Rebecca. How many Rebeccas did she know? None. How many Rebeccas had she even heard of? Squat. Why couldn’t her mother have named her a common name like Bleez or Knmje or Starry-Luz? Rebecca sounds more like a nickname for Rzibka. The salesgirl at the store was named Rzibka, her nametag said so. And what a name! Rzibka or Bleez or Knmje wouldn’t have lost their heads. People with names like that rarely do. But a Rebecca would. Was her name the problem? What’s in a name? A lot, Rebecca thought with her spirit, a lot.
Now, Rebecca lost her head for the third time. Bkentz will hate her for it. Bkentz, the well-bred breadwinner, never lost his. Was she worthy of a man whose mother knew better by choosing a name for her son that made him less susceptible to losing his head? A name that is sure to climb the ranks in the job sector? Bkentz, president and CEO of the company he worked for, managed to execute the responsibilities of his stress-laden job with ease. It baffled Rebecca that Bkentz could be a genius at what he did without breaking a sweat. The long hours at the office. The obscene bonuses at Christmastime rolling in. Bkentzes made money. Bkentzes made sense. Rzibkas made money. Rzibkas didn’t lose their heads. She flirted with the idea of hooking Bkentz up with salesgirl Rzibka and running far, far away with baby Whhispt. Then she dismissed it. It couldn’t be her name, how ridiculous! She was just an airheaded klutz. No wait, she wasn’t. She was too self-critical. She had baby brain. Everybody said so. At any rate, she must find her head before Bkentz came home. Bkentz had a dark side she envied.
Rebecca phoned the nanny from the road to dismiss her for the afternoon, saying she was almost home. Rebecca would be ruined if the nanny saw her without her head. She’d snitch. The nanny didn’t protest. She was bored anyway, she said. Whhispt was asleep in her crib, she said. In her haste Rebecca said goodbye and hung up.
Rebecca was astonished she remembered her phone number. She must be getting better at losing her head. Could it be that the headless were a developed species of their own? What a thought—she could be head of the headless. She’d rename members of the new headless race with archaic names like Mary-Lou and Abe and Johnny. The males would have the male names and the females would have the female names like in the olden days. Not unisex, as it is. She’d tune the world like an instrument. Slow it down. The world, as it was, was too much with us, she thought. Not late but soon.
As she pulled her vehicle onto her street a splinter of euphoria shot through the blueprint of her frame and she prayed the upswing wasn’t the better part of her disposition that would plunge into self-destruction. She entered the garage which hadn’t been cleaned out in months. Remnants of vacations past—of past Rebecca—tennis rackets and solar-propelled rafts leaned against the walls like dust-caked mummies—were no longer employed for recreation. All this a symbol of the sinkhole that swallowed Rebecca’s existence. Her vision was in focus and she wasn’t about to crack, what with shards of glumness littering the ground like chunk glass? It was time to turn the switch. Forget Bkentz. Forget baby Whhispt. She was on a mission. It would take minutes to wrap up her before life and head out on the road to her after life—and she’d better do it fast for fear what was not visible might soon be lost.
by Wayne Carey
I didn't see the necessity of my joining the entourage as it trekked through the forests of Enyo from the landing site. Robert “Bobby” Carter, owner and CEO of Carter Industries, led the way, his huge form in its cream-colored suit stomping along the path. I followed dutifully behind, wishing to be back in the yacht and out of the stifling heat. Behind us came an assortment of characters, from the ex-military security man grumbling that he should be in the lead, to the personal assistant who tripped over every root with her expensive shoes, to the university professor who was the only one who understood the language of the locals. They didn't need a lawyer.
“Why don't I just wait back at the yacht,” I said. It may have been the third time.
“Naw,” Carter drawled. “I need you there. You drew up the documents, you can explain the details, answer any questions.”
“I don't speak Enyoan,” I said.
Carter shrugged as he pushed a low branch out of the way, stepped past it, and let it swing back. I ducked to avoid it.
“Don't need to,” he said. “That's why we have Professor Hinkle. He helped you draw up the Enyoan translation of the document, right? Besides, these Enyoans may be primitive, but they learn fast. They speak English better than Major Pain.” Known to everyone else as Major Paynowski, his security chief and a former military officer, who stopped grumbling long enough to scowl at both of us.
I scraped something from the bottom of my shoe and followed along, clutching the old leather briefcase that contained the hard copies of the documents, one in English, the other in Enyoan. Or an approximation, since they didn't seem to have a written language. I wasn't certain how that translates legally. My job was to draft the document and make it as airtight as possible. And I got paid very well for doing it. Eventually, some save-the-indigenous-sentient-lifeforms-from-corporate-exploitation group would get wind of it and throw all sorts of lawyers at it. By then, Carter Industries would be so entrenched that no one would be able to evict it, and no court could fight Carter's legal rights. I put so much into that document that there would be no way to dispute it in the future. Add to that the evaluations that the Enyoans were well aware of what they were doing. Their rights were protected, in a sense.
In less than an hour, Bobby Carter would own their planet.
Rustling among the brush caught my attention. I glimpsed movement, shapes scurrying through the undergrowth. I was reassured that Paynowski was armed, though there was not supposed to be any dangerous wildlife on the planet. The survey team that had located the Enyoans two years ago had also declared the planet mostly harmless. Surveys have been wrong. Not so much wrong as incomplete. Inadvertently missing the occasional carnivore.
The path broke into a clearing that dipped down to the sandy shore of a shimmering blue lake that stretched out so wide that the further shore was a thin discoloration on the horizon. Small islands covered with tall, straight trees dotted the crystal surface of the lake.
“Ah!” Carter exclaimed. “This is what I mean. Look at it! Beautiful. Like Earth used to look. Name any other planet that has a vista like this. I challenge you. And just as soon as those papers are signed, we'll start breaking ground for construction. I'll put the first hotel right here. Half the rooms will have this view. The other half will be looking over the canopy of the forest.”
“Um,” I said, “what about the village?”
To the right, along the edge of the forest, was a cluster of small huts made of branches, leaves, and mud.
Carter waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, we'll find another place for them. Or they can stay here. Great for the tourists, seeing the aborigines. People like that sort of thing, love to take pictures of the primitive aliens.”
“Whatever,” I said. Not my problem. If the locals were stupid enough to sell all the rights to their planet to someone like Carter, then they deserved to get whatever came to them. Consider it an evolutionary process, decreasing the dumb gene.
The little village, made up of about thirty huts, was a buzz of activity. Enyoans were all over the place. Some were running around, some tending cooking fires, some splashing in the water of the lake, and others were on the lake in small crude boats. A few burst out of the forest to our left, probably who had been haunting us on our hike. Between our bedraggled group and the huts, six natives were playing a game with a large ball. They made two lines in the sand and tossed the ball back and forth, members of either side running to hit the ball back so that it didn't touch the ground. All six players were laughing.
Their laughter was more high pitched than that of humans, though actually pleasant to listen to. In fact, it was contagious. I found myself smiling as I watched.
Enyoans are tall and lanky, their skin a toasty brown from exposure to the planet's sun, Capello. They wore loose-fitting clothes which included a short-sleeve top that seemed optional and a pair of breeches the came to the knees, each in different pastel colors that were mixed and matched. Only a few wore sandals, the rest going barefoot.
As we approached the village, the players turned their attention toward us, missing the ball. It hit the ground, bounced in the sand, and rolled to a stop. It uncurled into a three foot long segmented body and scurried into the forest on dozens of tiny legs.
Carter waved at the Enyoans and they waved back. Their hands have six long fingers, an opposable thumb on each side. One ran enthusiastically toward us while the others ran into the forest after their ball.
“Hobs ol' buddy!” Carter called. “Good to see you.”
“And you, Carter my friend.” The Enyoan stretched out his hand, enclosing Carter's in a handshake. He pronounced each word with precision.
Enyoans are not an ugly race. I have met too many beings that were difficult to look at, which was not the case with Enyoans. Their features are symmetrical. Two small, angular eyes on either side of a long nose that widens into a short muzzle with a mouth that sports extended canines. What looked like short bristly hair on the crown of the Enyoan's head were actually stubby cilia that flowed back and forth, independent from the breeze coming from the lake. When he shook Carter's hand, the cilia paused, then leaned toward Carter. I had read the reports from the survey scientists, who suggested the cilia were sensory organs, acting in place of external ears, which they lacked. The cilia may reflect their mood by changing color. This Enyoan's cilia was changing from bright red to a cool blue, which I hoped was a good thing.
“Hobs, this is my lawyer, Murphy,” Carter said.
“Hobcyntorux,” the Enyoan said. He extended his hand. It was cool and dry to the touch, despite the warmth of the day and the exercise he had just finished. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Murphy.”
Hobcyntorux smiled, showing off the sharp canines and crinkling his eyes into narrow slits.
I smiled back. “Nice to meet you, too, Hobsee … Hobsin …”
“Hobs will be fine, Mr. Murphy.”
“And just Murphy is okay. You tackled our language easier than we have yours.”
“We are naturally curious. Languages come easy to us. Even our young ones are learning , though your survey team had very little that they could leave us. We are hoping to alter that.”
“Yes indeed!” Carter said. “Why don't we find a quiet place and get down to business. Iris! Are you recording?”
Iris Stucky stumbled out from behind Paynowski and waved her computer pad. “Yes sir, Mr. Carter. The eye is active.” She pointed skyward with one manicured figure.
The small dot hovering about twenty feet in the air could have gone unnoticed, but Capello was bright and the sky was a deep blue. It looked like a ball that had decided to contest the law of gravity. Those small vid scanners weren't made for the great outdoors. One good burst of wind and Iris would never find it.
Hobcyntorux led the way into the cluster of huts. I haven't seen many primitive races, only a few on vid documentaries. They always seemed to be struggling to stay alive, find enough food for everyone, fighting nature and other intelligent races. Not normally a happy lot. The Enyoans were different. Smaller ones, which I took to be children of various ages, ran around playing games and laughing. The adults smiled and laughed, and often took part in the games. Even the very old Enyoans were happy. No grumpy curmudgeons. No arguments.
Near the center of the village stood a curious artifact that was anachronistic to the level of Enyoan technology, or lack of. A metal cylinder ten feet high and two feet in diameter, planted in the ground like a pillar. The metal surface that was not hidden by moss and lichen showed signs of corrosion.
“What's that?” I asked Hinkle.
He wiped perspiration from his face with a handkerchief and looked at the blackened metal with its splatter of green. “Don't know.”
He continued following Carter's group.
I hurried after him. “Wait, I thought you spent weeks here, learning about the Enyoans.”
“Learning the language, yes.” He seemed annoyed to even talk to me. I wasn't very high on his agenda. “I'm a linguist, Mr. Murphy, not an archaeologist. I of course looked it over for samples of their written language, but there are only a few readable symbols on it. Not enough to decipher. The Enyoans told me it was here before the village was built. Off hand, I'd say either it was erected by early visitors to the planet or it had been created in an earlier age by an Enyoan society that knew metallurgy, and they devolved technologically to their present primitive form. I'm not a sociologist. It has nothing to do with the present day Enyoan language, so I won't waste my time with it.”
Carter called me to join him at a long wooden table resting on a carpet of woven grass mats outside one of the huts. A number of Enyoans, including Hobcyntorux were seated on the mats around the table. Colorful fruits of various shapes and sizes filled wooden plates scattered over the table. At the head of the table, Iris helped Carter lower himself to the ground. His belly pushed against the edge of the table. Hobcyntorux slid a plate of mixed fruit toward him and took a small, juicy red thing for himself.
“Murphy, the papers,” Carter said.
Iris tucked herself neatly under the table next to him, across from Hobcyntorux. She tapped on her pad, bringing the vid scanner closer. Hinkle sat next to her and grabbed a large green-skinned fruit and took a loud bite from it. Paynowski stood off to one side, arms folded and eyes glaring at each native as though awaiting an uprising.
I opened my briefcase and handed Carter the documents, then stepped back and leaned against one of the huts. My job was done.
“Now what we have here, Hobs buddy,” Carter said, presenting the documents, “are legal forms stating that you and your people grant me and my company all the rights to your property in this system. In exchange, all you want are books. We have those available right here. Iris!”
Iris pulled out another pad from inside her once-stylish jacket, now wrinkled, sweat-stained and muddy, and handed the pad to Carter.
Carter tapped the activation button. “On here is an extensive library. Science, technology, literature, history. All at the touch of a finger. Thousands of books, right here.” He passed the pad to Hobcyntorux. “We can give you as many of these as you want. And they are constantly updated and charged by sunlight.”
Hobcyntorux pursed his muzzle as he fumbled with the pad. He looked at the screen, tapped the buttons, turned it over, then passed it back.
“This will not do.”
“What!” Carter bellowed. “You said all you wanted was books. That little thing has thousands upon thousands. Why, you couldn't read that many in a lifetime.”
Carter would be lucky if he read one.
“That is very generous, Mr. Carter, but we prefer to have actual books. With pages. You're technology is very nice, but we prefer not to accept it. The survey team was nice enough to give us some books, which is how we learned to read your written languages. If you are not able to provide us with books, then ...” He slowly unwound his legs to stand up.
Carter waved his hands. “No, no! I can do that. I just wasn't prepared for trading hard copies. We can do that, can't we, Iris?”
“Yes sir,” Iris said, tapping on her pad.
“It'll take some time to make the arrangements,” Carter said. “We'll get you whatever you want.”
Hobcyntorux stood and smiled. “Good. As many as possible. But no science and technology. History, yes. And literature. Especially literature.”
Carter slid the documents toward the spot where Hobcyntorux had been sitting. “Maybe you can sign anyway, and we'll rush those to you.”
Hobcyntorux picked up the papers and leafed through them. The cilia on his head wiggled and turned red. “I will read these, and sign when our books arrive.”
He paused before turning away and pulled out one set of documents, dropping them to the table. “We won't need these,” he said. “Is this what Mr. Hinkle believes our language is like when it is written? I apologize, but that is a most childish attempt.”
Hinkle's face burned red.
The other Enyoans at the table drifted off, leaving Carter and Iris to bend their heads together and form a strategy, which consisted of Iris working out the logistics of purchasing and transporting thousands of hard-copy books and Carter paying the bill. Hinkle was ignored. So was I, as a matter of fact. But my work hadn't been insulted by an uneducated aborigine, so I wandered around and enjoyed the day.
Iris found me sitting on the beach, watching a horde of immature Enyoans playing in the water. I was tempted to join them. The sun was hot and the breeze from the lake cool.
“Enjoy it while you can,” Iris said as she stood over me, silhouetted against the sun. Her ruined shoes were danging from their straps gripped in the fingers of her left hand. Her ever present computer pad was in her right. Her hair was a mess, half plastered down with perspiration, half curled from humidity.
“Once Bobby gets those papers signed, he'll break ground for the hotels and resorts. He won't need you any more and you won't be able to afford to vacation here.”
I nodded toward the Enyoans playing in the lake. “What about them?”
She shrugged. “You know what the contract says about them. You wrote it. They basically will have to live where Bobby tells them. He already has ideas for an aborigine village resort amusement theme park. And any of them that don't want to work for him, they can live on a reserve up north. They'll have to stay on the reserve.”
I watched the kids splashing each other, listened to their laughter.
“They don't know what they're getting into,” I said.
“Hobcyntorux knows what he's doing. He just doesn't care. Primitive races live in the here and now, they can't contemplate future consequences. They just don't have the intelligence.”
“He seems pretty intelligent to me,” I said.
“Then he definitely knows what he's doing. He wants those books, and that's all that matters to him. We've arranged for a huge shipment to be sent out, and it should arrive in a week. After that, this planet – this whole system – will belong to Carter Industries. All thanks to you and your little document. So enjoy paradise while it lasts. You've got a week.”
“Care for a swim?” I asked.
“Me? In that filthy water? You've got to be kidding.”
Actually, I was. I already knew what her reaction would be.
“I'm going back to the yacht,” she said. “Climate control. Showers. Fresh water. Filtered air. Real food. Technology. And I'm not coming out until Bobby has to talk to Hobcyntorux again. I can't wait until this place is civilized.”
She stomped off.
I climbed to my feet and wandered around. I found a long, straight stick and used it to poke at the sand. Three ancient Enyoans walked past me on their way to the water. A roughly dug-out boat skidded ashore, and two Enyoans jumped off, proudly displaying a string of fish they had caught. They were such a happy people. Their simple life would soon change forever, just because they were curious. Hobcyntorux had no idea he was a new Pandora about to let loose a legion of demons. But that was his problem, not mine. I was a lawyer – Carter's lawyer – not an aborigine rights advocate.
“Are you not returning to your ship?” asked a voice.
I turned to find Hobcyntorux. He was munching on a small, yellow fruit, juice dribbling down his muzzle. His pale blue cilia moved in calm waves.
“I suppose so,” I said. It was getting late. The sun would soon set and I'd have a hard time finding my way back in the dark.
“You are welcome to stay in the village,” he offered. “I made the same offer to Mr. Carter and the others, but they declined.”
“Thank you, but I'll go back to the yacht.”
“I have read your documents. Very well written.”
“Thank you. I ...” I stared at him. He had a small smile on his muzzle and I had the distinct impression he was teasing me. How could a being who only recently learned to read a language know the difference between a good and bad legal draft?
“Were you able to understand it?” I asked.
“Do you know what you're getting into with this business?” I asked, walking an ethical tightrope.
“Yes. Mr. Carter is being most generous. We are all anxious for the books to arrive. We are all very curious about your literature. The survey team had only a few books.”
“And you speak for all Enyoans?” I asked.
“Every Enyoan on this planet? Even ones beyond this village.”
“Yes, but there are only a few outside this village, who prefer solitude or wish to explore different lands. I am the elected speaker for all Enyoans. Although we are all in complete agreement.”
“A hundred percent consensus? No one disagrees with your decision?”
I shrugged. Definitely not my problem.
“If you would like,” he said, “we have a small hut that is presently empty. You may use it. It belongs to my brother who has left for a time. In fact, he has left some of his clothing, which may fit you. It would be more comfortable than what you are wearing.”
I had a week. I could do with a vacation. Enjoy paradise before it got paved.
I hefted the stick, swinging it with my right hand to land onto the palm of my left with a smack. “Deal,” I said. I looked at the stick, then at the young Enyoans running around on the beach. “And I'll do something for you. Do those bug balls you were playing with earlier come in smaller sizes?”
“Yes. And larger.”
I suppressed a shudder. “I need one about this size,” I said, opening my left hand as though I held a ball.
“Do they break easy?”
“Their shells are extremely resilient. Why?”
“Because I'm going to teach your people a new game.”
Three days later, Paynowski confronted me after a rousing game of baseball. The Enyoans caught on quick, learned the rules, and made a fool out of my meager talents. They not only had fun playing the game, they also enjoyed watching. They chose teams, often trading players, and gathered their own fans, who would root for one team one inning, and the other team in the next. They understood competition and played to win, but never got upset when they lost. They congratulated the winners and strove to be better the next time. They were good sports, even the children.
“I'm disgusted with you,” Paynowski said.
“So?” I was a lawyer. I was used to that.
“You've gone native!”
I looked down at my bare feet caked in wet sand, my faded yellow breeches, and the sweat-soaked pullover, which were courtesy of Hobcyntorux's brother. My suit and shoes were useless in this climate, and I had nothing on the yacht that could compare to the comfort. Besides, I liked the tan I was developing.
“I'm on holiday,” I said.
“You work for Mr. Carter.”
“And he doesn't need me right now. When he does, he knows where to find me. I'm on retainer.”
“You wouldn't be undermining his work here, would you?” His voice grew low and dangerous.
“That would be unethical. I could be disbarred.”
“That's the least of your worries, Murphy. Just see that the Enyoans don't change their minds about signing those documents.” He pointed skyward, and I saw Iris's vid scanner floating above the beach, probably to keep an eye on me.
I could not advise Hobcyntorux against signing, but I could make him question the wisdom of his actions. Of course, if he didn't sign, Carter would just assume I was the cause and sue me. Should the worst happen, maybe the Enyoans would adopt me and I could live with them. I certainly wouldn't be able to get a job anywhere else in the galaxy.
When the drop ship brought down the crates of books, stacking them on the beach outside the village, the Enyoans went wild with excitement. I had never seen them so anxious. More so than for any ball game. But they dared not open the crates until they were given permission.
Carter and his entourage returned to the village. Carter sat down at the head of the table, Iris next to him, Hobcyntorux across from her, my documents between them, the vid scanner floating above. Paynowski stood behind Carter, his arms folded, his eyes glaring at me. Hinkle was circling the metal obelisk, finally showing some interest in it.
“Aren't you joining the party?” I asked the linguist.
“Huh? Oh, no. They don't need me. All that work I did, making a plausible Enyoan translation, that was a waste of time. This thing, though, has been bothering me. These symbols look vaguely familiar, but I can't place them.”
“They aren't Enyoan,” I said.
“No, they don't have the technology to build something like this.”
I now wore my suit, my shoes feeling tight, the shirt and jacket stifling. My skin itched. I pointed to the nearest group of Enyoans. “They have the technology to make those clothes.”
“Cloth and metal are entirely different materials. Have you seen anything that could be used to fire metals? You've been here the whole week.”
“I haven't even seen how they make their clothes,” I said.
“Well, I assure you they didn't make this pillar. The thing is, I can't figure out who did. And it might be my imagination, but I think it's vibrating. Humming.”
I left him mumbling to himself when I saw that the talking was over and Hobcyntorux was about to sign.
“Wait,” I said. “I have something to say.”
“It better be congratulations,” Carter said, “or your butt is going to be in court for the next hundred years. You're still my lawyer, you know.”
I tossed my old computer pad onto the table. “Actually, I'm not. I sent my resignation to the corporate headquarters days ago and returned your retainer. So I am officially not your lawyer.”
Paynowski stepped forward, ready to use force the moment he was given the word.
“I'll still sue you, Murphy.” Carter shoved my pad away. “You'll never get another job. You'll be disbarred.”
“That isn't up to you. And I'm sure the courts would be more interested in what you're doing to the Enyoans. So go ahead and throw whatever lawsuit you want at me. You'll be in court, too.”
“It's all legal. You saw to that.”
“Yeah. But think of the publicity.” I grinned at him.
Carter opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He looked at Iris for help, but she only shook her head.
I turned my attention to Hobcyntorux. “Hobs, don't sign. Carter is doing this to steal your planet from you. You and your people will be put onto a tiny reserve. You'll never be free on your own world again.”
Hobcyntorux smiled. “But you were the one who wrote this document, Murphy.”
“Yes, I know. That was before I got to know you. I can't sit back and watch this happen to you.”
He tapped the papers. “But this merely states that we relinquish all rights and property to the Capello System to Mr. Carter and Carter Industries. In exchange, we get all those books.”
“That's what it means, Hobs. He's taking your planet.”
Hobcyntorux smiled wider and picked up the stylus. His blue cilia waved back and forth. “Do not worry, Murphy my friend. It is a small sacrifice for such a great reward. All those books. Novels, essays, poems, epics, histories. And we do not have much time.”
So many books and so little time, I thought.
Paynowski stepped in front of me. “You heard him, Murphy. Stand down.”
And by that time Hobcyntorux, as duly elected leader of the Enyoans, signed away all their rights to the planet and the entire system. For a few thousand books.
Carter laughed at me as Iris helped him to his feet. Iris looked at me, shook her head, and mumbled, “Idiot.” Paynowski just glared at me. I don't think he had any other expression.
“Since you're no longer my lawyer,” Carter said as he gathered up the documents, “then I don't have to give you a ride back. But I'm a generous man. You can keep your berth for the return trip, for a hundred thousand creds.”
“What? I could go on a luxury cruise for less than that!” I said, staring at him.
He shrugged. “Your choice, Murphy. But we won't wait all day. Are you coming, Hinkle? Or do you want to stay with Murphy?”
“Coming, sir. But this pillar. I don't think it's a pillar. And the inscription. I think its Ursan. It's actually up-side down, which is why I couldn't figure it out. And it definitely is vibrating.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Carter said. “Ursans aren't anywhere near this sector.”
“Mr. Carter,” Hobcyntorux called, “would you mind if I kept one of those electronic readers?”
“Not a problem, son. Were you able to figure it out? Iris could help you.”
Iris pulled the pad from her jacket and presented it to Hobcyntorux, whose cilia wiggled.
“It's rudimentary,” Hobcyntorux said, “but it might prove useful. May we now open the crates. We don't have much time.”
Carter looked up at the sky. The sun wouldn't set for an hour or so, but the Enyoans were probably anxious to unpack their new acquisitions as soon as possible. “Have fun, Hobs. They're all yours. Oh, and Murphy... call us if you have the cash for the trip back to civilization. Or you can stay here and see if the construction crew will hire you to dig ditches. They'll be here tomorrow.”
Paynowski tossed me a comm link.
“Most unfortunate,” Hobcyntorux said as the group disappeared along the forest path. “They will abandon you here?”
“Looks like it.”
I sat down on the table. “I just wanted to help. Why wouldn't you listen to me?”
“I appreciate your efforts, but they were not necessary. Now you will not be able to leave the planet in time. For all you have done for us, you may stay with us. Perhaps you have other games to teach us.”
The Enyoans were busy cracking open the huge transport crates and removing the smaller containers loaded with books. Each Enyoan, even the children, lifted a container and carried it off. But they weren't heading back to their huts. They were following a path into the forest.
Hobcyntorux motioned me to join the others. The cargo crates were nearly empty. Two containers left. He lifted one, and I took the other. We trailed behind the line filing through the forest.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
We soon came to a glowing rectangle between two trees. It looked like a doorway leading from a dark room to the bright outside. Through this the Enyoans walked, from the gloom of the thick forest to the glaring sunlight of … somewhere else.
“What?” I said, stopping, dropping my container on my foot. Good thing I was now wearing shoes. “How? Is it? That's impossible!”
I walked around the trees. Just the forest. From the other side I saw Hobcyntorux waiting patiently for me, holding his container, reader tucked under one arm.
“Is it natural? Does this take you to another part of the planet?” I asked as I rejoined Hobcyntorux.
“Does that look like this planet?” He pointed into the brightness.
I squinted, seeing the silhouettes of the last Enyoans carrying their treasure. Beyond them I could make out the tall towers and spires of a vast city stretching across the horizon, glowing in the sunlight. Sunlight different from Capello.
I pointed to it. “What's that?”
He smiled. “Our home. You may come with us. Every one of my family likes you. No one cared for Mr. Carter and the others, so we didn't mind tricking them.”
“This planet is not our home. That is,” he said, pointing at the city. “We came here seven years ago, and now it is time for us to leave. We have gateways hidden on many planets. I'm certain we will be able to get you to your home without much delay. Certainly long before Mr. Carter returns there.”
“You've been here for seven years? Why? Why leave … that?” I had never seen such a glimmering city, of all the planets I've been on.
“We are technologically more advanced than your civilization. I am not boasting, merely stating a fact. We like to keep out of the way of other species and races, hiding our advancements. Your people have yet to come across our home world. We told Mr. Carter we did not want books on sciences or technology because they would be too primitive. Like this quaint reader he gave me. I should be able to access its memory chip and make use of it for our libraries, but the actual books we wanted because they are priceless. My whole family will never have to work again, considering what we bring back with us. It was more than we could hope for.”
“Your family? The Enyoans in that village, they were all your family?”
“Yes. The survey team misunderstood. Enyo is a corruption of our family name.”
“But you've been there all these years. Why?”
Hobcyntorux set down his container on top of mine. “Our race has a much longer life span. We work for many years at our careers, and then we take some years off to enjoy our lives. Sometimes we like a more primitive lifestyle, living the way our ancestors had at the beginning of our civilization. It is a way of purifying our minds.”
“So you took your family on a camping trip for seven years,” I said.
“Exactly! Now we must leave.”
“Your vacation time is over?”
“No. We still have two years, but the Ursans are returning.”
“Ursans. That's what Hinkle said built the pillar.”
“Not a pillar. It is a message. Before it corroded and became covered in moss, it stated that the Ursans claimed the system and all planets belonging to it. That was several years before we came. An Ursan survey team had left the obelisk as a warning to trespassers. The colony ships were sent out, but we knew they would take several years to arrive. We built our village around the obelisk so that we would hear the warning it emitted as a beacon to the colony ships.”
“Yes. The ships are almost here, so we must leave.”
I fumbled into my pocket for the comm link Paynowski had given me.
“Carter! Carter! Are you there?”
A crackle came through the tiny speaker. “So you decided to pay the fee to return with us.”
“Listen you fat idiot! Lift off immediately! There are Ursan ships about to land. Get off the planet.”
“What? I own this planet.”
“No you don't. All you bought was whatever claim the Enyoans had on it, which is nothing. They don't own anything here. The planet belongs to the Ursans.”
“Huh? Oh, wait. The pilot says we have a incoming message. Probably my construction ships letting me know how far out they are.”
I said a few choice words when he put me on hold.
When Carter came back on, his tone was a lot less antagonistic. “Murphy? You still there? Listen, Murphy, we seem to be in a bit of trouble. That pillar Hinkle was bothering about, seems it's an Ursan survey beacon claiming the planet for their colonization. Their command ship has just informed us that we are trespassing. Be a good fellow and come on back to the ship. I'll forget all about the scene in the village and hire you back. Double your retainer.”
I looked at Hobcyntorux. “What will the Ursans do to them? Blast them?”
“Oh no. Ursans are very disagreeable but not bloodthirsty. I'm afraid that Mr. Carter and his friends may be spending a few years on the planet, imprisoned for trespassing. Ursans are very territorial. Fortunate for you that you did not return with them.” He smiled and his cilia wiggled.
“Murphy!” came Carter's tiny voice. “Come on back, son.”
“Sorry, Bobby, but I'm on vacation.”
I tossed the comm link into the trees, picked up the container of books, and followed Hobcyntorux through the gateway.
By Rone Wisten
In Once Upon I heard your call
And hurried to your side.
Kindred souls of common birth
The world was ours to claim.
Until one night death struck us down
And ripped us from our living flesh,
Our essence lost among the stars.
“Love is forever,” you had said,
And I carried it in my soul
Into another body of flesh,
Where I wait to hear your call.
by JD DeHart
Gentleman made from spare parts
A bit of toaster here, calculator there
Lady made from finest quality
No black tape and bolting to be seen
He’s got a sort of life planned
Works daily at the factory
Moving in time like clockwork
Like the rest of the world
At end of day, his gift
Some rusted metal roses
Lady takes them with a whir
Gentleman clicks and hums
Outside, the rattling of ads
A constant threat of rain
Blinking, honking busyness
Inside, a quiet evening
With a warm cup of engine oil
And a few small repairs.
by Christina Sng
And there we saw it,
Looming on the horizon,
Black against granite black:
A gargantuan tower rising.
It hovered statue-like, mid-air
And then a shrill resonance
Thundered through Earth
Imploding water into gas.
Inside and out we geysered,
Rivulets of death splattered
Across our blue planet, splotches
Of red against the green and brown.
The crimson seas
Raged with the blood of innocents.
Millions of years of evolution,
Washed away in the snow.
Those who burrowed, survived.
Underground in lead boxes,
We lived on stale food and filtered air.
Never again to touch sunshine,
Not with our bare skin,
Nor feel the dew
On soft green grass
Underfoot at dawn.
The years passed
And the survivors passed.
This is not life,
Whispered the last,
Climbing out of her metal shell,
Dead children in her arms.
She stood on charred land,
Thick fumes choking her lungs.
As she fell, the monolith
Slipped quietly back into the sky.
She turned her face towards it
And softly asked, "Why?"
As quiet as the sunrise,
I closed my eyes,
And faded into the light.