Bonus Short Story: Never the Same Again

The world shuddered in fear when it appeared. It was a ghostly apparition sent from the heavens that no one refused to accept. It was like the shadow that flits at the edge of the eye, but when one turns to look with a start, they find nothing. Except it has never left. It didn’t then, most certainly. Now, I’, not sure we could imagine our lives without it– for good or ill.

I was working a main-line water-repair when it appeared. A few hours before the main had burst in front of a local middle school. We were lucky the summer-time was on us and school was out. If it hadn’t been, people would’ve hated us all the more for blocking the main thorough-fare between ends of the city.

I’d been cracking asphalt with a jackhammer when I looked up. I was wiping sweat from my forehead. For a moment, I thought my eyes were playing tricks. Even in the dead of night, the heat was ungodly. If it had been day my boots would’ve melted to the asphalt. I guess there’s some silver lining there, however minute.

There it was though. Hanging overhead twice the size of the largest the moon could become, and clearly man-made– or rather, made by something other than nature. It had settled into an orbit that allowed it to be viewed world-wide at appropriate times of day.

Humanity breathed together. We were like one organism, together in terror. I remember dropping the jackhammer and almost causing an accident when someone was about to trip over it. He and the other guy carrying equipment between them stopped. They caught my gaze. Five hundred pounds of concrete and other gear toppled sideways like over-stacked books. The ruckus made the job site stop and gaze over at us. They all saw us frozen, staring skyward, then stared themselves.

From what I’ve heard, that was how it went all over. One man or woman was wiping away sweat, or daydreaming with eyes on the sky, or blowing smoke from pursed lips, and caught sight of the massive object. From there everyone followed to look in similar fashion. I can’t imagine how many car accidents, or accidental deaths there were from that event. It was like the world came to an utter and complete stop. From 60-0, and there was no time nor braking. It stopped, and that was that.

People panicked. World-wide, global panic. The stock markets nose-dived. The stores were emptied by doomsday preppers. Martial law was declared in many places. Others were almost completely abandoned by law-enforcement and military, giving rise to local militias of crazy assholes with more guns then brains. At least the more intelligent folks among them prevailed. Some sort of order was necessary, of course, but it was a long time before anything resembling it reappeared.

I remember that first night. It was like we were on the cusp of a precipice. Behind us was this sort of imperfect peace. Ahead, lay a chasm of total anarchy and violence. The job was called off pending this appearance– and more “officially” the loss and damage of the dropped materials. That last part was the excuse, but I doubt anyone would’ve argued about it. I’m not even sure that information was ever received.

We were sent home around midnight. My wife was awake. She’d received a call from a friend working the late shift somewhere. I don’t know where. We never got along, and I didn’t ask questions about her. Point is, my wife was awake, and our little girl was still sound asleep in her bed. What I wouldn’t have given to see her dreams go on forever, so that she might never wake up into the nightmare that was sure to come.

We sat at the kitchen table, across from one another. We’d been friends our whole lives. We’d dated in junior-high, explored each other, broke up, explored others, then started over again Senior year of High-School. Somehow we came out of it with a beautiful daughter, a nice house, toys and luxuries, and an otherwise wonderful life. I wasn’t greedy. Never have been. She’s like me in that way. I guess we jut got lucky, rewarded for our general, positive way of living.

But that night…

It was like we were kids again. We trembled and held each other like inexperienced children. We cried in anger and sorrow like petulant children. Hell, we even laughed and joked the same as we once had, long, long ago. It was all a response to fear. We knew it then, as surely as I know it now.

It’s not something one experiences everyday. This was a complete and total shift of everything we thought we knew. Us as a people I mean, Humanity. Everything from social issues to physics was now challenged. So far as I know, scores of people vastly more intelligent than myself rose to it, and all of them came away stumped. Even that great physicist and sometimes philosopher Hawking only knew what he could deduce from observations, measurements, and readings taken with every known instrument.

I guess they tried communicating with it for a while. All the while the anarchy and chaos were worsening. The faithful said it was the apocalypse. The scientists said it was a baffling mystery. Law men and politicians flocked to one side or the other, adding whether they thought violence was the answer. Personally, I just said “holy shit.”

That was all that would come out. Every time I looked up, I thought about the millions of years of evolution that our species had gone through. I thought about the last few hundred years of technological development, the last few millennia of civilization. All of that had to pale in comparison to whoever– or whatever– had brought this thing here. I still can’t imagine what they’re like, or were.

Billions of years have passed since the Big Bang. The Universe is still expanding. It will, for the foreseeable Eons forward. Even our tiny knowledge base had deciphered that much. We had speculated countless ways of alternate evolution, from the most learned astrobiologists to the most overconfident sci-fi writers, but we’d never had any proof, any indication of where to look.

We suddenly had it then, and we still didn’t know what to do with it. When communication attempts failed, and our instruments had found all they could, an expedition was outfitted. A team of astronauts with a mathematician, linguist, psychologist, and school-teacher in tow, launched for the ISS. They made their rendezvous to procure supplies sent up before them on an automated rocket, then made for the moon-like vehicle orbiting nearby.

We still haven’t heard back much, but we know its empty. There’s a lot to be deciphered and scoured, but there is supposedly a distinct lack of any life aboard. I hope that proves true. I hope those crazy conspiracy theorists are wrong, that there isn’t a cover-up about aliens aboard. I hope, but I’m not holding my breath. There’s something about disappearances these days. They’re too numerous, too obvious. I can’t imagine what the point would be.

We live in fear now. It’s kept us in check thus far, but the way things have turned, it isn’t a stretch to believe it could all fall to chaos again. The governments don’t have control anymore. The militias are more armed and populated than ever, and the water main is still unfixed. I don’t know if things will ever be the same again, but I’m not certain if that’s good or bad. All I know is that my wife and I, and our daughter, won’t be taken without a fight, no matter who comes knocking.

Advertisements

Short Story: Space Rock

An orange dart streaked across the sky, brighter than even the moon. It made fireflies of the stars, lit up the treetops as it curved toward Earth. Somewhere in the Northern area of Indiana, it struck the ground with all the force of its cosmic ejection. In a shower of dirt and demolished foliage, it came to a rest in a nondescript forest with the world largely unaware of its presence.

Two figures emerged from the trees to the glow of red-hot rock in a small crater. The first figure was taller than the second, but neither beyond the height of childhood. Eric Williams and his younger sister Linney crept nearer, felt the meteorite’s heat even from the distance. They were still clad in airy, thin pajamas, both intermittently glancing back to ensure their distant, tiny tent remained where they’d marked it in their minds.

They ambled, step-by-step, toward the meteorite, until its heat was too intense to go any nearer. Linney made to step forward again, but Eric’s hand was firm on her wrist. Instead, she stood transfixed, staring.

There wasn’t anything inherently interesting about the meteorite, save its pulsing glow. The longer Eric stared, the more shapes swirled in the glow; tiny little ovals or cylinders squirming and writhing, as equally agitated by the heat as fueled by it.

It was just his imagination, he knew, but it disturbed him. He tugged at Linney’s arm, “C’mon. We’ll come back in the morning.”

Linney was enthralled. She didn’t hear him. He tugged harder, began walking backward, pulling. Her eyes finally swiveled with her body to follow him. Every few steps he’d have to tug her again as she lagged, neck craned over a shoulder to watch the glow fade. They returned to their tent, nestled themselves into their sleeping bags.

Eric laid awake, thinking on the strange shapes he’d seen. He feared sleep; Linney might fake it, sneak out and back to the crater. It wouldn’t have been the first time. These camp-outs were common, and given the family’s massive property, Eric though it a shame to waste the opportunity. Linney though, liked to think that eight years old meant smarter and stronger than anything in the world. She was smarter than Eric, he knew for sure, but she couldn’t be allowed to think that. He forced himself to stay awake until his eyes fluttered, and he succumbed to sleep beside her.

In dreams he found himself standing in a fluid that glowed red-hot like the meteorite. All around him thrummed and thronged creatures he couldn’t distinguish. He felt their presence beside him. They writhed and squirmed, hummed and rippled, as the glow nearly blinded him.

He opened his eyes to sunlight peeking in through an overhead, mesh-window. It splayed over his face, as blinding as the glow in his dream. He scooted backward to lean upright, rubbed sleep from his eyes. He yawned a deep “good morning” to Linney.

There was no reply.

His head snapped toward her empty sleeping bag. He was suddenly up, sprinting. He screamed Linney’s name between heavy, terrified pants. It was futile. If Linney didn’t want to be found she wouldn’t be. Even if she did, she might still remain quiet in fear of incurring his wrath, or worse, Mom and Dad’s.

Eric bee-lined for the crater, calling to her. The nearer it came, the further his voice carried its fitful projections. He was hyperventilating when he stumbled up beside the crater, came to a skidding halt on his hands and knees. Across the now cooled, jagged form, Linney lay unconscious.

Eric scrambled over, knelt to shake her. She merely bucked and jostled, limp against his grip.

He screamed at the meteorite, “This all your fault!”

Tears streamed down his face, body wracked by terrified sobs. He knew there was something he was supposed to do, some type of thing doctors did, but he wasn’t sure what.

He reacted in the only way he could. With a massive heave of a twelve-year old strength, he lifted his little sister and sprinted for the house. Linney was dead-weight. Foliage crunched and swished under his agonizing, break-neck speed.

He burst through the kitchen’s back-door to find Mom and Dad eating breakfast, reading their respective newspapers. He shook and stammered, his parents dumbfounded. They were suddenly up, rushing Linney to the living room couch. Mom took out a few medical instruments. Explanations and pleas fell from Eric in a terrified, jumbled din that his parents barely heard. Mom and Dad seemed to agree Linney would be alright just as Eric exhausted his other emotions and collapsed in a blubbering heap.

It was around noon that Linney finally awoke. The family had been in various states of dismay around the living room. Dad paced and muttered a lot. Mom cried in silence, stroked Linney’s hair. Eric just stared, his mind paradoxically both empty and overflowing.

She awoke with a sore “umph,” and shook away sleep like a puppy. Questions raged atop silent mutterings of relief. Someone finally addressed her directly with, “What did you think you were doing, young lady?”

For a moment, she stared off, and then, with an almost whimsy replied, “I was dreaming.” It was obvious even to her young mind this wasn’t sufficient. “I… went to see the space-rock. It wasn’t hot, so I touched it. And then I… started dreaming.”

The family mocked disbelief, but were too relieved to interrupt.

She paused for a long time, then finally explained, “I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a normal dream. It wasn’t one of my dreams. It was someone else’s. Like a boring documentary about people and Earth, but not one I’ve ever seen on TV. It was… different. The people didn’t look like people, and the cars flew in the skies, instead of riding on roads.”

Her face made confused shapes. Mom and Dad gave one another a deranged look. Eric merely stared, breathless, hanging on her every word. She couldn’t be lying. He knew that much. Linney didn’t have a very good imagination. She’d always been more “grounded in reality” as Mom put it. That’s why she always wandered off, because curiosity “got the best of her senses.”

Tears began to well in Linney’s eyes with a sorrow beyond her meager years, “And then… a-and then there were space-ships. Screaming. Fires. It was terrible. So terrible.” She choked on her next thoughts, piercing the family’s hearts with it. “And there was someone saying something over a lot of beeps and screams and fires and the smell of dead things. Millions of voices and different languages. I couldn’t understand them. But then I heard ours.”

She choked into silence, weeping and sniffling. Eric had to know. “What did they say, Linney?”

She screwed up her face to reply to her brother, inflecting something he’d only seen a few times– a sort of sibling code that said to take her deathly serious, “I-it s-said… they’re coming.”

The Nexus Project: Part 10

18.

Niala hunched over the console, freshly guilt-riddled. Simon was still in shock a few paces behind her. She examined the console with the best, analytical eye she could muster, “Strange. This console seems to be based on human designs but with… modifications for non-humans.”

Simon ambled over. He looked down at a large, free-standing dashboard with over a hundred lighted buttons, switches, levers, and knobs. Between them, touch-screens were lit with various graphs, commands and measurements. He saw little difference to any normal console he’d have expected to find in an advanced, prototypical ship.

“I don’t. Understand.”

Niala keyed in a few commands. 3-D projections emitted in a strange perspective around them. It made Simon’s head spin. He blinked hard with a groan. She explained, “A projection mode for Avian species, to compensate for their orbital-placement.”

She keyed another command. The projection disappeared. Suddenly the touch-screens changed color and speed. They seemed more sluggish now than before. Simon examined them long enough to feel his dizziness worsen, then looked away.

“For those of us that see in fewer images and colors,” Niala said. She keyed in a final command, and half the lighted switches went dark. With a key, she cycled through various lighted configurations, “Avians. Quadrupeds. Reptiles…” The list went on. Niala stopped for Simon’s sake, “Somebody’s gone through a lot of trouble to properly compensate for Sol’s evolved animal-life. More importantly, they’ve done it without the aide of the ISC or Federation.”

Simon failed to see her point, but his mind was drawn to a single word, “Money?”

“Whoever’s built this thing is well-funded.” She knelt beneath a console that formed a desk before a chair. With deft paws, she eased off a panel to examine its innards, “Strange.”

Simon busied himself with a in-depth survey of the Bridge, “What?”

Niala splayed and sifted through wires, “The solders are pristine.”

Simon compensated for his inability to speak at length, “Your point?”

Niala continued to part wires, examine them, “In a prototype ship, solders are generally done by hand– everything is. There’s usually visible evidence of human or animal hands. But these were machined.”

Simon lingered on a massive, flat panel-display at the front of the room. For the first time it occurred to him there were no windows anywhere. It made sense, in a way. Windows were a structural weakness that required extreme, excess machining for any material put in them. Such were the rigors of space travel. In most public applications, like transport shuttles, this was less of an issue as their speeds were often too low to matter. Moreover, Sol’s people liked windows. Human and animal alike had evolved to need them to counter isolation disorders.

A D-S explorer however, if in line with his research, would move at speeds where the slightest micro-meteor impact could destroy it. A small hole would expand, suck out the crew and anything else nearby. The display ahead was probably one of many through-out the ship, likely connected to external cameras. Their link with image processing software would form true-to-life images as real as windows.

In all designs by the ISC and Federation, good, old windows prevailed. There was only design Simon knew of to incorporate simulated, external displays like this; Zelphod ships.

Niala had reached a similar conclusion regarding money; who in their right mind would give anti-humanists enough funding to mass-produce D-S ships? A myriad of small factions sprang to mind, but most were harmless. Even those that weren’t could never afford this level of support.

A faction heavily financed enough, and with access to mass-production machinery, would have to be accounted for. They’d have to have the motivation and means to disrupt an entire system’s economy, politics, and agenda. There was only one group with that level of commitment and grudge.

She slid from beneath the console, sat upright. “Zelphods,” they chorused together.

They were suddenly up, headed back to the infirmary. Ten minutes later, Niala was standing over a vid-phone with Snow beside her. A lone Hog looked back with massive tusk yellowed from Lunese tobacco.

“I authorize it,” Snow instructed. “Sound the alert. Count ten minutes, then lock down the lower station’s seals and keep the O2 monitored. Do not re-open them until the O-2 returns to normal.”

The Hog snorted, “Aye, Alpha. We’ll keep you updated.”

The screen went blank. Snow looked between Niala and Simon. He’d lost all of his previous distaste, replaced it with gravity, “You’re certain of this?”

Niala’s conviction matched his, “I wouldn’t do this otherwise.”

Simon grumbled a pained line, “We still. ‘ve no idea. Where the facility is.”

Snow disagreed, “There’s only one place with pre-existing infrastructure for an operation this size.” Niala looked away. Snow reiterated to emphasize his point, “There is only one place— a place we both know is abandoned.”

Niala swallowed with more difficulty than Simon. More regret and guilt filled her than before.

Simon watched, on-edge, “Where?

She winced, “Ceres.”

19.

Ten minutes later they once more occupied the Bridge. The ship’s auxiliary power flickered to life as its engines and main power-plant engaged. It shuddered with a groan of fresh welds.

“In less than a minute, the mine will begin to dissolve,” Niala said at a console. “Five minutes later, the cavern will open and Ganymede’s atmosphere will be flooded with ammonia gas.”

Rearden beeped over an intercomm with an interrogative tone, “What. Is it?” Simon asked a panel speaker.

It beeped a few more times. The forward display lit up; the same one Simon had used to deduce Zelphod design. Somehow, he knew, it was about to confirm it. The bridge appeared, identical to its present state but with a pair of Cobras flanking a MeLon. He approached a fourth creature. Its armored pressure-suit made it appear as a Praying Mantis might were its thorax missing.

“Zelphods,” Snow growled with a furious bare of teeth.

Simon was suddenly fearful the Wolf might channel his ancestors and charge the screen. Instead, he fixed himself in a lean. He growled low as panel speakers buzzed and zipped before them.

“Zelphodian,” Niala said astutely. “But why would he bother to speak it to–”

The MeLon cut her off with a hissing, nasally voice, “The ISC believes the Feline genuine. Pheromone collection and application is a success. We may begin phase-two.” There were a few buzzes and zips. Then, the MeLon made a half-bow, its bulbous eyes closed, “As you wish, sssir.”

A moment later, the MeLon was a Feline. It rounded on-heel, sauntered away and off-screen.

“Sonuvabitch,” Simon muttered with a scratch.

The ship’s launch rattled and shook everything– a tin can of old-world coins. The trio braced what surfaces they could grasp. Niala kept herself poised at the pilot’s console, ready to flick sequences of switches with trembling. Impacts struck the upper-decks, adding crashing to the grumble of engines.

Niala keyed up the exterior display. Yellow smoke swirled as bits of cavern disintegrated and dislodged. A large stalactite plummeted straight past the camera with a deep shadow, left stirred poison in its wake. Rearden beeped over the panels. Simon did his best to soothe the little bot’s fears. This much was expected, albeit more violent than he’d imagined.

Three-and-a-half minutes of shaking and shuddering accompanied pounding of across the hull. The gaseous smoke all but concealed the cavern from the cameras. Niala cycled through them anyhow, lost at what to do. A beam of light cut through gas on the forward display. A section of cavern collasped into a wet pile. The depressurization sucked ammonia smoke out, cleared the cameras.

Niala keyed up the ship’s thrusters. An emormous crash sounded atop the hull of the quaking ship. She threw a digital switch to full-power. The ship jolted them backward, rocketed forward at an shallow angle.

Silence. Then, a shattering crunch.

The ship groaned and shuddered from the top down. It threw them about. Niala kept her balance. Snow tumbled left, felt to all fours, then followed through onto his side with a wounded yelp. Simon was thrown forward, landed splayed over an L-shaped, inactive console. A sudden stillness returned them to silence.

Niala keyed up a few external cameras in a row; they were now beyond Ganymede’s artificial atmosphere. Jupiter dangled to one side of the moon-station, curved away from the ship’s momentum.

Niala exhaled a long breath, “We’re free.”

Snow was immediately up and at Niala’s side. He keyed up several cameras as the ship came about. Below, the station’s lowest reaches were shrouded in yellow smoke. It obscured everything in a curiously spherical area.

“There,” Snow said at it. “The At-Mo barriers are holding.”

“It’ll be there for days,” Niala winced.

Simon groaned. Buttons, knobs, and levers stuck into him in various, uncomfortable ways. He could only crawl forward, tumble over the console, and pull himself up at Niala’s left. He clawed his way up to watch the displays. Ganymede seemed motionless below, but Niala thumbed a knob and a bar-graph sprinted upward. A small jolt forced Simon to blink, and Ganymede was gone.

“Jesus,” he said quietly. “They did it.”

They were already near the asteroid field where Ceres waited; a darkened dwarf-planet in a field of meteors large enough to end all life in Sol if it so desired. Simon was suddenly grateful asteroid belts were neither sentient nor given to fury. If they were, Sol would be extinct.

Simon could think of nothing else as they sailed on through vacuum and celestial debris that dwarfed their ship. Moon-sized chunks of rock, forever caught in the gravity well of inner and outter planets, orbited space with little more than aimless spinning. They were all barren of features, even those most easily mined. The fear of doing so kept them that way. If these more monstrous bodies’ orbits decayed, a chain-reaction could spell doom for Sol.

“There,” Niala said.

An especially rounded asteroid– or dwarf planet, as Simon came to realize– rotated to one side of the visible asteroid field. As the display centered on it, a HUD appeared on-screen, it listed out Ceres’ cosmic information and history. It neared, seemingly the only body within vast, celestial distances given the belt’s sparse density.

Simon was more focused above the historical entry that read, “Population: 0.”

He glared, “What. The Hell?”

Niala rounded, “Ceres is dead, Simon. It has been for a decade.”

Snow crossed his arms with spite, “And we made it that way.”

He was breathless, “H-how?”

Snow was quick to speak, “Ceres was a scum pit. Ganymede is an Eden in comparison. Ceres was a slave-driven economy with more corruption that the Federation Senate. Nothing would have changed that outside extinction.” His face was fixed without regret, “What we did kept Ceres’ disease from spreading.”

“What. Was it?” He asked, fearing the answer.

Niala was more indifferent than anything, “A chemical gas attack.”

Short Story: A Measure of Compassion

The old man sat in his rocking chair on the front porch of his home. The scenery was something out of an old photograph from the dust-bowl with only the most minor, verdant patches to differentiate the times. His shotgun sat to one side, leaned up against the wall between him and the old hound dog whose eyes were as milky white as her owner’s.

Rain began to beat a steady tempo atop the porch’s awning above. The dusty horizon was splattered darker with each moment that passed. Even before he’d smelled the rain, he’d felt it in his bad knee. A century ago he might’ve been out dancing in the downpour with Mary, but she’d been gone decades now, and damned if the old hound hadn’t developed two left-feet in her old age.

There was a streak through the sky like some fool’d shot a missile out of the old nike base down the way. He almost didn’t believe his eyes, but the hound’s milky-whites reflected the elongated string of fire that arced downward through the sky too. He was convinced, especially when in the distance, past old Peterson’s former farm, it struck the ground like a flaming lawn dart. There was all manner of fire and smoke billowing along the horizon, but given not a soul lived ’round these parts anymore, he sensed he’d be the only one able to investigate.

He hobbled down the few steps to the wet earth, one-two’d in his half-hunch toward his blue pick-up. The dog waddled along after him, her steps even less sure of themselves than his. As usual he stooped to lift her, help her up into the truck. It grumbled to a start beneath them, began the turbulent trek up the dirt-drive and across the cracked asphalt for the abandoned fields to Peterson’s back acres.

The smoke and fire died down as the rain became more dense, weighted the day’s light nearer toward nighttime darkness. Were he not so sure of his whereabouts, he might’ve lost he and the poor hound in the muddy landscape ’til night turned to day. Instead, he jostled his way over the hard, wet terrain toward the smoke-plume that lessened with each breath.

The truck’s head-lights splayed over the first signs of wreckage with a dutiful gaze. Bits of tall metal stuck from the ground at all angles, most red-hot. Whatever had crashed didn’t look like any missile he’d seen in his army days. As a matter of fact, the bits didn’t look like anything he’d ever seen before. They weren’t made of any metal he could place, too dull for steel, too firm for aluminum and with a sort of queer glow that looked more like oil on water in the sunlight.

He slipped out of the truck to help the hound down to her feet, then groped along a fender to cross the high-beams for the wreckage. The smoke was near gone by then, the fires embers along the edges of hot metal and smoldering grasses. The old man thought to go closer, but even the hound knew it best not to. Instead, the pair circled wide around the area, made sure to lean in over the taller edges of the dirt crater that’d been carved out for better looks of the interior.

It wasn’t until the two came full-circle that the old hound began her howling. She danced back and forth in place, left-footed and all, with her ears back and her arthritic spine stiff. Her growls became howls as much aged-whooping coughs as they were canine vocalizations. The old man put a hand on her head to calm her, but she only went quiet. She still danced backward with a wheezy whimper, as ready to flee as any creature he’d ever seen.

It was then that a shadow caught his eye at the edge of the head-lights. It turned to a silhouette of gangly, human-like features as it clawed itself through the dirt, drug itself forward. The old man would’ve run if he’d been capable of anything more than awe. The hound would’ve done the same if not for her stubborn devotion to staying at her master’s side. All the same she began her howling again, this time louder, more frightened than anything.

“Shush it now,” he said with a backward swat of the air. She went quiet as he stooped down, offered the poor soul a hand, “You alright there, friend?”

A curious bunch of clicks and sharp sounds echoed in his head, as if they’d come from his own thoughts. He wasn’t sure whether his mind had gone suddenly, but he kept himself focused on the wretch that drug itself toward the light. When its gnarled hand graced the light it was charred almost black over a deformed set of three fingers.

The strange hand reached for the old man to help while the weird clicks and screeches sounded again. He worked himself down to his knees, grasped the cold, wet hand that felt more like rubber than skin. With a heave, he drug the creature back to see the face of something more inhuman than even the most frightful carnival attractions from his youth.

“Good lord,” he said with a breathy voice. “You ain’t human.”

The dog whimpered as the creature came to a rest in his lap. He looked its head over to see the the viscous sheen of tears that leaked from black, oblong eyes. With a hand he ushered the hound over. She approached carefully, sniffing as she went. Another wheezy whimper saw her inch toward the creature’s face. It made a few clicks with heavy breaths, lifted a hand toward the dog. She slapped his face with a wet tongue, and the clicks and screeches made a stutter as if altogether shocked to laughter.

The old man cradled the creature’s head as it looked up, teary-eyed. For a moment there was a silence that even the rain didn’t feel right in breaking. Then, with that same curious way, words formed in his head as if from his own thoughts.

“Th-aankk you, fr-iend.”

With a last breath, its eyes closed and it went still.

The hound gave one, deep and mournful howl. The rain picked up. The old man did his best to lift himself and the creature for the back of his truck. By morning, a hole was dug. The creature filled it– just a little to the left of Mary in the back acre. He wasn’t sure whether to mark it with a cross or a star, so he left it blank.

He finished moving the last of the earth to fill the hole, leaned on the edge of his shovel while the hound laid in the dirt. Her milky-whites more sad than he’d ever seen ’em behind the little cyclones of dust kicked up from her hard snorts.

“I suppose we ought to say something,” he admitted aloud. The hound huffed a breath against the dirt and lifted her head. He scratched an eyebrow with a dirty thumb, “I don’t rightly know what to say though. If’n you think you got something, now’s the time.”

She gave a sharp whimper, went silent. They listened to the wind for a moment, his eyes on the sky above. She whimpered again and the wind stilled.

He nodded, “I suppose that’ll have to do.”

They returned home to retake their places on the porch. The old man settled into his chair as the hound collapsed in her usual way. He stared outward, uncertain of where the creature’d come from, but sure its final moments were as peaceful as they could’ve been, given the circumstances. That was something, he felt; if nothing else, any visitor should know a measure of compassion. His only regret was that he couldn’t show it more.

Bonus Short Story: You’re On!

You’re On

“I don’t give a good god-damn who you are, get out of my house!”

Arvin was pissed. Clearly. The fact that he shouted this particular phrase down the barrel of long-nose .44 didn’t hurt in conveying his otherwise less-than-mellow state. The problem was, at least from his wife’s perspective, there wasn’t quite anyone there for him to be shouting at.

For the last twenty years, Arvin and Marjorie Dunn had been blissfully married. They’d survived a long-distance college relationship, ten years of growing older and bitter, tying the knot and two kids that were now grown and out of the house. In all that time, Marjorie hadn’t seen Arvin raise his voice nor hand in anger. He’d never needed to. He was a frightfully stern-looking man, with eyebrows made for the colossal grump he appeared to be. But really, he was a teddy-bear– all soft and cuddly, and stuffed with more plumped up fibrous tissue than a life-size version of the aforementioned.

In the moment, it didn’t seem to matter. Any of it, in fact. He cocked back the hammer of his home-defense .44, ready to rain swift hell-fire on the air. Marjorie was still frozen in horror behind him, not sure whether to run or cry, but all the same unwilling to anger the beast with the large revolver. She wasn’t sure what to do, nor of how things had progressed quite to this point.

She’d already traced it’s origins; this had all started when the Matthews’ moved out. They’d been the Dunn’s neighbors for nigh-on fifteen years, had been there twice as long as anyone else in the suburb– one of the first families to settle the subdivision when it was first built. Granted Warner Matthews was always a couple decades older than Arvin, they grew together as friends.

And for fifteen years, the two men grew older, fatter, balder while they counted the time in barbecues and beers, football games and nachos, and fourth of Julys and hot dogs. They were the best of friends, helped to keep each other grounded. That’s not to say that Darlene Matthews wasn’t the same for Marjorie. They too were the best of friends, but in the way of women whom largely preferred to sit at home with books or cross-stitching were. They just weren’t quite the level of close the other two were.

It was always known between Arvin and Warner that one day the latter’s pension would come due. He and Darlene would pack up their most precious belongings, sell the rest, then run off to Florida to live out their days. Promises to visit on both sides might eventually be upheld, but unfortunately, it just hadn’t been long enough yet to tell if there was any truthfulness to that.

Indeed, the day they did finally finished selling off the less-desirable elements of their home and history, they packed up Warner’s old pick-up (Darlene’s car atop a long-bed trailer towed behind it) and drove off into the sunset. Arvin was happy for them then, as any man or woman might be watching another achieve their dream. He was even happier the next week when they received a post-card of the new condo on the beach in an envelope with a picture of the boat the couple had bought from selling their vehicles.

But that too, was the day when all of this started. It seemed innocuous enough when Marjorie returned home with groceries, and Arvin saying something about new neighbors. Being laden with armfuls of groceries, she didn’t quite hear him, and his mind was too easily swept up in aiding her in the task otherwise. The conversation didn’t re-emerge until the next day, when once again Marjorie came in from the car, keys jangling as she set them in the bowl just inside the door.

Arvin said something about new neighbors again, this time mentioning that he’d only seen the one car. Evidently the new couple– a husband and wife in their thirties– preferred to share a car rather than have two payments. Marjorie’s suggestion to run across the lawn and introduce themselves was met with the curious recollection that he’d seen them both leave just before she’d arrived home.

“Well then,” Marjorie replied. “You’ll just have to make sure you tell me when they’re back so we can introduce ourselves. Otherwise we’re gonna’ be livin’ next to strangers ’til we’re dust.”

He’d chuckled with a casual compliance, but the thought had left his mind somewhere between there and dinner, and by the time that was over, he wasn’t sure he had the energy to get off the couch. The cycle of one thing or another keeping them from meeting their neighbors continued for almost a full week.

That’s when Marjorie noticed the first of a series of insidious changes in Arvin. Where he’d always been one to rise with the sun, have himself a wholesome breakfast before work, then putter off to wile away the day at the salt mines, he was suddenly late for work. For anyone else, it might’ve slipped by unnoticed, but Arvin was a punctual man. Provided you caught him on a normal day, you’d be able to set your watch by him– so long as you knew what time he did what each day.

For Marjorie, this lapse raised her guard. Ever the housewife, she watched three days pass like this, her time wasted in worry rather than up-keeping the house and flower-beds. The front petunias withered, only saved by a short rainstorm that managed to perk them back up. Even so, Marjorie’s routine was as shaken up as Arvin’s.

On the fourth day, she paced about the house, so tense at Arvin’s shift she wasn’t sure what to do. Over the previous days and nights, Arvin had spoken more of the young couple next door. He’d managed to run into one of them at the gas-station and introduce himself. Unfortunately, due to their schedules, the two were almost never home, both instead absorbed by positions at a mutual job concerning computer-something or other– Arvin couldn’t recall, he was too old for computers to make sense to him.

On that fourth day, Marjorie devised a plan. By four AM of the fifth day after Arvin’s failure to rise began, she was up. She lurked in the shadows of the window that faced the Matthews’ old house. She refused to leave, almost refused to blink, even when Arvin rose, once more late for work. He left as the sun settled into its passage through-out the sky, and by the time Marjorie recognized high-noon coming, she’d devised another plan.

She didn’t wait to execute it. Instead, she sneaked over to the Matthews’ old house, through the back, wooden gate, and across the paver-block patio that Arvin and Warner had built one summer a decade ago. She rifled through the mulched flower-bed beside the back door, fished out an old, fake rock that contained a key to the door. Evidently, the new neighbors hadn’t moved it yet, or even replaced the locks: the key slid in just as it should, turned without issue.

She slipped into the house only to be chased out moments later by a bilious feeling that sent shivers through her spine: the house was empty, just as she, Arvin, and the Matthews’ had left it after they’d filled Warner’s pick-up and Darlene’s car.

To be standing between the kitchen and front room now, watching her husband curse and swear with a gun in his hand made her feel all the more guilty. When he’d returned from work, she’d confronted him. With little more than a short argument, and a promise to bring one of them over, he’d left the house. What Marjorie didn’t realize was that he’d retrieved the .44 from the bedroom after he’d stormed off. Why was anyone’s guess, but all the same here they were.

“I said get out of my house god damn it!”

“Arvin there’s no-one there!” Marjorie wailed.

“The hell there isn’t!” He said.

He fired two rounds through the air into the man he saw before him. A moment later, the man was on the ground before Arvin, blood pooling on the cream, shag-carpet. Suddenly Marjorie saw him too, but it wasn’t a man. Instead, the long, distended features of caricatured humanoid creature lay before them. Arvin dropped the gun, back-stepped in horror. He’d grown too frustrated, angry at the world and the break in his routine. Marjorie hadn’t seen him snap at his co-workers, or flip off other drivers, or feel the rise in his pulse and blood-pressure during the argument.

It all seemed to make sense to Arvin, but to Marjorie, nothing made sense.

“My god, what is that?” Arvin said, finally seeing the creature’s true form.

A woman appeared in the doorway, fell to the ground wailing, “No, no!”

The woman suddenly lit with a bright, glowing light. A similar figure to the creature became apparent through it. Marjorie fainted.

When she awoke, Arvin and the two creatures were grouped around her, but they once more resembled their human selves.

“Honey, I think we need to listen to these people,” Arvin said, still sickly pale.

The woman spoke, the man still clutching his side, though no longer bleeding. “We’re terribly sorry for all of this. We knew we could not keep the masquerade up forever.”

“I… I shot him,” Arvin said breathlessly.

The wounded man gave a grunt, “We heal… quickly.”

“You’re… not human, are you?” Marjorie asked.

The woman shook her head. The man attempted a joke, “For once that’s… a good thing.”

“I-I didn’t know… I swear. After what Marjorie said… I-I-I thought you weren’t real.”

The man gave a shrug. The woman grimaced, “This wouldn’t have happened if we were honest with you to begin with.”

“Honest?” Marjorie asked. “About what?”

The two creatures exchanged a look, then, the man gave a pained nod to his partner. She frowned, “The Matthews, the ones you believed lived beside you? We’re them.” A mutual “Huh?” escaped the Dunns. The creature claiming to be Mrs. Matthews explained, “We’ve lived her for a long time. A lot longer than the short life-span humans carry.”

“Problem is…” the man said. “Every few decades we have to change our appearance or else we draw suspicion. I mean, we can fool you with gradual aging, but eventually humans have to die.”

“We don’t die so easily,” the woman added.

“So clearly,” Marjorie said, overwhelmed.

Arvin shook off his guilt long enough to speak, “So… you’re telling me, you two are… what Aliens? And every sixty or seventy years you change your appearance to keep blending?”

The man’s features flickered from the handsome thirty-something to the wrinkled, white-haired countenance of Warner Matthews. “That’s the long and short of it, pal,” he said with Warner’s tell-tale buddyism.

“Warner?” Arvin said. “It really is you!”

The man morphed back into the thirty-something, gave a nod, “Yeah-huh.”

The woman explained to Marjorie directly, “We didn’t want to move away from our home, our friends. So we just pretended to. We’re still waiting on having the new furniture delivered– that’s why the house is empty.”

“But what about not seeing you?” Marjorie asked.

The man replied, “Just bad luck. We had the day off today. When you came in to examine the house we hid ourselves– the same way we trick you into seeing these forms instead of our true ones.”

“The trickery requires focus, concentration, that’s why you saw him when he was shot,” the would-be Darlene said.

“My god,” Arvin said. “You really are our neighbors then.”

The young man chuckled, already almost fully head, “Yep, that’s us.”

“Can you ever forgive me for shooting you?”

Warner smiled, “You’re my friend, Arv and I couldn’t trick your wife and you together yet. It was as much my doing as yours. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you everything, and I’d’ve had to after we saw Marjorie break in earlier.”

“So… it’s really my fault, isn’t it?” Marjorie asked.

“Let’s just say,” Darlene began. “Everyone made mistakes.”

The human couple swallowed hard and exchanged a look. Arvin glanced up at his extra-earthly neighbor, “Lemme’ at least make it up to you. I got some steaks and some beer, we’ll have a cook-out– just like old times.”

Darlene and Warner exchanged a laugh, the latter nodded, “You’re on pal.”

Bonus Story: Stronger Without Them

Cold wind whipped snow and ice in drifts across a plain of white mounds and frozen boot-prints. The mounds were the size of a man tall, five or six men wide, and spotted the horizon for countless miles. The man was clad in furred leathers, well-insulated from the cold with only thick, wild hair and beard to shield his face. He planted each step with a stone’s determination. It made his resolve immovable. His head was kept upward, eyes small, squinted against the snow that pelted and plastered his face and furs, coated him with a fine layer.

His people had a legend, one that made the trek all the more unavoidable: if a man were to seek to rectify the past, he must first risk his future, his life, in the mounded flats. Only once he made it through, could he hope to seek out recompense for the slaughter of his wife and children. He made the journey alone, as a man should, was certain he would die before he found refuge in the Gods’ embrace. He refused to listen to reason from those in his tribe; the invaders, they said, were the ones to blame.

But he blamed the Gods. For millennia, their tribe had lived the way of the righteous, their gratitude and sacrifices never late nor without due praise or ritual. They had given to the Gods all that had been requested, earned nothing but their contempt in the process. He’d had enough. He was man, and no God– gracious or not– would keep him from seeking his bounty. The righteousness that compelled him forward was just as it had always been; with conviction of spirit, character.

The Gods had let the invaders come. In any case, had not prevented it. In the harsh of Winter, when their ardor was already dampened, his tribe had been half-slaughtered by the invaders clad in their fierce battle armor. With sword and musket alike, they pillaged, plundered, raped and conquered all they’d seen. It was only after their leader, in his bear skins and helm, was killed that the tribe had finally withdrawn.

The snows of the village were stained crimson like the hands of the Gods that had neither prevented nor appeared during the massacre to stop it. The seasonal perma-frost had been breached by the pyres of a dozen men, their women and children. What few did not die by the sword wished they had. Only the fear of reprisal in the after-life kept them from turning their weapons upon themselves. The echoes of men and their families wrenched billowed cries for absolution through the blizzard that came after the battle.

But he would no longer stand for it. They had done all the Gods had asked of them, more even, in the promise that the Gods would watch after them, protect them. They had failed. He would not. Once he found them, he would paint the hallowed grounds of their hidden refuge with their blood. He would bury his sword in their bellies for every life lost and given in vain. Then, satisfied with the carnage, he would turn the sword on himself to die alone, the Gods vanquished and his work done.

He had fought the cold and the snows for five days to cross the flats. Like others of his tribe, he’d taken to resting only to conserve his strength, eat stored morsels and drink from a water-skin. He was no fool, knew not to take the journey lightly. If he did, there would be no one left to avenge the fallen, seek retribution for the sacrificed.

By the sixth day, he stood before a clearing in the mounds where the storm that raged seemed not to exist. In that emptiness, the ground was stone, clear of snow. The mounds around its perimeter formed a wide circle open before him. A furious huff of hot breath blasted from above his white-covered beard, fogged the air with the fire of his heart and ready wrath. His last steps were even firmer than the thousands that had brought him here.

He stopped in the center of the clearing, in his tribal tongue, demanded an audience with his Gods. It was answered with an intense, blue glow of light that deposited three, elongated figures with bulbous heads and black-eyes before him.

“You seek an audience, primitive?” The center God asked.

He spat at their feet, then in his tribal tongue, barked, “You have forsaken us! Broken the bonds that bound us to your servitude. Your treachery must be answered for!”

“You speak of the battle passed,” the left-most God said.

“Yet there is little that can be done for the dead,” the right God said.

“No!” He shouted in defiance. “There is one thing that can repay us for their loss.”

“Blood.” The three chimed in unison.

Your blood!”

He drew a thick blade from his side with a sound of metal that rang through the open air.

“You mean to stand against your Gods?” The middle God asked.

“I mean to seek vengeance for all the blood spilled in your name, both in sacrifice and in the battles past– those you failed to protect, as was your promise to our people.”

The three Gods fell silent, as if to speak mentally. Then the middle one spoke with a bargaining air about him, “We cannot resurrect the dead. What is is what what must be. But we can offer something for the sacrifice your people have given this winter, both from the battle and when we did not think to aid you.”

He was unconvinced, his mind unchanged. He demanded they speak, “And what is that?”

“Bountiful harvests,” the middle God said.

“Warmth and fertility,” the left God added.

“And strength and protection in the battles to come,” the right God finished.

He growled from his throat. In a quick charge, he launched himself at the middle God, kicked him backward to rebound at the gut of the left God. The blade slice deep at its belly to ooze green. The curiously-colored blood did not faze him– blood was blood and it was to be spilled. With an outward spin, he moved for the God at the right, buried the blade in its belly as he’d planned. More green spilled out, leaked from the God’s mouth. He twisted the blade, heard the crunch of soft bones, then pulled it back. The second God fell dead.

His blade dripped a trail toward the God that still lay dazed on the stone ground. He dropped a heavy knee to its chest as it eeked out a few, last words.

“We would have… given you anything, made you the most powerful tribe,” it said, barely drawing breath.

“Your cowardice and bargaining only weaken us.” He grit his teeth, “We will be stronger without you.”

Then, the blade plunged into the belly of black-eyed God. The bulbous head gave a shudder with a last, rattling breath. Its eyes shut. The smallest bit of green oozed from the God’s mouth as the tribal rose to his feet, readied to bury the sword in his own gut and finally end things. Instead, something compelled him to look at the carnage around him, his three Gods slain about it. His own words resonated deeper than he’d first realized.

He lifted the blade to examine it, “No.” He sheathed it, spat at them once more, “Enough has been lost to you. I will lead my people now. Protect them as you should have. I will show them they are strong– stronger even without you. Then no man, woman, nor child will ever think to play servant to your kind again.”

With a steadfast resolve, he turned away from the green-stained ground, and left the mysterious clearing to show his people the way.

Short Story: The Great Sphere

The construction of the Great Sphere began with little ceremony. The few that had heard of the project felt it would never be completed, let alone serve its rather grand function. Admittedly, I too was on the fence, though I proposed the project to Congress, then later, the United Nations, European Union, and finally NATO. The last of these organizations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed by several, powerful governments in the Northern Hemisphere, and with an army all its own, gave a home to my designs.

Granted, those original blue-prints were less than stellar, if you pardon the pun, I was certain they were our best hope. Given the news that daily bled from NASA’s public comm-channels, it was also our only hope. I remember watching the first ship that launched from Canaveral. Just after dawn the air is quiet, pristine. That day there was a nip to the air, it forced to huddle myself into my jacket, warm my hands with steaming breath. Even then I knew the fire in my heart would blaze when the launch counter reached zero.

When zero arrived, the sight struck me first. An emblazoned dart propelled itself spaceward with a fearsome, immolated tail. As I gathered my wits to draw my next breath, the sound enveloped me. It was something like the fireworks I saw as a boy but longer, louder, of more girth. Though they’ve long since been banned at the fears of resistance groups, there was something spectacular about them. The cry of a rocket is a long, dulcet growl that softens and broadens the further you get from it. Even so, those that watched were lump-throated together.

That rocket, Lazarus I, both reignited our space-fairing ventures, and sealed our fates in stone. The first of the Lazarus payloads contained the gravity generators and miniature, atmospheric barriers required to begin welding the initial frame together. Initially, this was accomplished by robotic drones remotely controlled from Canaveral’s command center. They were primitive now, as we look back, no different than our last few unmanned excursions to Mars, only differing in their instruments and intended application. I was on-hand for the first welds that took place from those robotic arms. Blue sparks of light that glowed against the blackness of space just outside the thin, opaque membrane of the atmospheric bubbles.

While it worked away at the corner weld of two, massive steal beams. All the while in the control room, the technicians hammered at their keys, scratched equations on notebooks, crumpled failed thoughts, and smoothed out the last, few kinks the system had presented once deployed. We all suspected things would need to be ironed out once activated, but even at that we’d so well exceeded our expectations.

To those great men and women there, the offer of my eternal gratitude could never be understated. Though it was NATO that initially approved and funded the project, it was those gentle, highly-intelligent souls that made the Sphere possible. Were it not for their sacrifices, largely personal of course, I believe human history may have never continued– or at least would have done so in a vein that would have casually seen its end.

Instead, the first welds went in to place, then the seconds. More still came with the launches of Lazarus II &III, and by the time Lazarus IV was launched, the Sphere had begun to take shape. It sat between us and the sun, situated just so as to orbit it and us in an ellipse. Though it was difficult to see at night, in day, the incomplete husk of the Sphere loomed near enough to cast shadows on certain structures. When later it was completed, it became as a nearby star might.

It is the most magnificent feeling to see one’s vision complete, but no more humbling than when its purpose is finally revealed to the world, and its inspirational symphony plays out across the emptiness of space– both for all to hear, and none.

Though public perception was against The Sphere at first, when next they heard the leaks of NASA’s comms, it shifted. Collectively, the public learned that NASA’s deep-space monitors had been tracking a possible threat. Imagine if, in a moment’s breath, a pandemonium erupted all over the globe, spurned by the ultimate terror a human can experience. Only if this image is then multiplied ten-fold on itself could one’s mind even begin to approach the chaos that ensued.

The first days were the worst, I believe. It was as if the world stopped all at once. All those whom we relied upon to clean our trash, service our engines, and infinitely more than I can think to name, relinquished their posts. They fled, en-masse, home to their loved ones to comfort and cower with them. Some shook with terror or grief beneath any thing that hid them from view of the sky. Others still became consumed with the nihilism that one so bitter-sweetly experiences when faced with their own, imminent demise. I do not blame them. Were I not so consumed with my own work and vision, I’d have just as soon joined them.

But the Great Sphere is curious in its affect on man, woman, and child. When first its distant lights were lit to test its power, all those hidden away or absorbed by their fears, looked upward. A billion, distant service-lights blurred into one. The Great Sphere pulsed nearer Earth than not in its orbit.

With a cool, blue glow, the hearts of adult and child alike were soothed. But a most wonderful thing happened in those hearts too, as if a switch had been thrown on all human kind at once: fear no longer existed. Not truly. Minor fears were still present of course, but fear is interesting in its effects as well. It would seem as predictably chaotic as fear can make the mind, so too when it is overcome does a certain peace of mind descend. That peace engulfed the people, formed of the confidence they once more had in their place in the universe.

Curious though it was, the light of The Sphere led to the mass enlistment of men and women that wished to take residence there. Mechanics, technicians, security and others lined the halls of recruitment centers, each of them certain their future lay in the embrace of The Sphere. Because of it, construction was completed far ahead of schedule, and when our adversary came from the furthest stars, we were well-prepared.

Broadcasts of intention were received and decoded with bated breath. Until then we could not have known if they were friend or foe, but the latter was most plausible given their bearing. They had launched from distant reaches of space’s horizon with a seeming armada whose swiftness could not be matched. Until then, we had never seen true space-ships. Our rockets were primitive in comparison, ancient Greece’s javelins to our modern day cruise-missiles. While our engineers have since made that point moot, it was clear on their arrival that our visitors were no friends to us. Our own intent to stand our ground was made as transparent as the most pure crystal when those first responses were encoded back to them.

For a brief moment, salvos of lightning and insta-freezed vapor glowed in the sky with the silent gatling of lasers. Collectively, the world watched as those brave men and women aboard the Great Sphere readied to fight or die. But as I had hoped, planned, envisioned, the fusion-charged, opaque shields activated and disintegrated any attempts on the Sphere.

As if they sensed they had bitten off more than their inhuman mouths could chew, the would-be invaders turned their sights toward Earth. Fighters launched by the hundreds for the surface while the vain bombardment continued on the Sphere’s shields. The scream of foreign engines swept the top-most reaches of our atmosphere, some silenced from poor entry-calculations alone. We’ve begun to believe these failures suggest where-ever these attackers’ knew nothing of the detriments of the angles to our atmosphere.

Even more fighters were lost to our guided-missiles. We tracked their approach via satellite imagery and digital spotting. When finally in range, SAM sites all over the world launched fearsome rockets by the thousands. Our atmosphere thickened in their wake, fogged by the impetus of a war meant to be decisively won. All across the globe, the missile’s detonations split the air with gusto. Those ships never stood a chance. All that remained after the attack was what refused to be consumed by the fires of victory.

Explosions blanketed the skies of Earth and the foreground of space beyond it, the latter silent as the Sphere whose weapons had yet to finish their first, true charge-cycle. They deployed, invisible to any whom knew not where to look or were too distant to see them. I imagine those cruiser-class and Colony vessels would never have made such a lengthy trek had they known what was in store for them.

The first weapons to come online were the rail-guns. Their targeting parameters were set for the Colony ships– the least armed of the rival fleet. Over twenty-thousand rounds of shrapnel per minute were expended from each of four guns in over a thousand batteries around the Sphere’s exterior. Each with its own, three-hundred and sixty-degree view of its surroundings, the rail-guns were no match for even the most experienced of their pilots. Even then, the Sphere was so adequately armed, that their placement through-out the entirety of the structure made easy prey of those few ships. I believe, in all, five Colony ships were cut down in the first moments of our counter-attack.

Just as the last of the Colony ships went down, the rail-guns re-fixed their aim on the cruisers. Their salvos and lasers were answered with the silent call of our own Plasma cannons. As with the rail-guns, their numbers were more than sufficient to do the job. Countless balls of red-violet streaked effortlessly through the vacuum of space, cut through cruisers and stray fighters alike. The rail-guns hammered along to bludgeon their message home, add a final insult to the armada’s fatal injury.

In what was mere moments, the battle commenced and finished, the threat eliminated. We had waited life-times to know for certain that life existed elsewhere. Then, we waited years to meet it face-to-face. When the time came and our hearts sank at the forthcoming battle, it passed nearly instantaneously with us as the victors. When NASA’s comm chatters first leaked, we bit our nails in agitation. When we learned of their violent intent on-arrival, our guns were readied and our hearts were heavy. Once the smoke cleared however, we learned we were a force– a species– not to be taken lightly, no matter how we appeared. More importantly, we learned that the Great Sphere would be our protector no matter the battles to come.

I, as its creator was awarded the highest of honors. But now we all stand, ever vigilant, with our eyes on the space’s horizons. There with fire in our hearts, we thank the Great Sphere’s guardianship as if it is a deity. In a way it is; one that has allowed us to begin a new chapter in human history, rather than pen its epilogue with our blood.