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.

Short Story: Our Benevolent Friend Part 2

2.

Return

When our friend, benevolent and kind as it was, returned from the stars; he was greeted by unanimous contemplation from the peoples of Earth. Many waited for him to speak with an aura of excitement and fealty, others with bated breath, suspicion. Some knew not what to make of its grayish-blue, leathery skin, or its elongated, oblong features. The foreign, extraterrestrial frightened most for unknown reasons. But for the Doctor’s part, he was not fearful nor suspicious, he readied himself to greet his extra-terrestrial compatriot as though he seeing an old friend after an eternal interlude. He donned his most formally-casual apparel, and embarked an all-terrain vehicle to race for the ship’s desert landing-zone.

On arrival, he was struck cautious; the land was hazy, wet, smelled of fluids and materials foreign to even his well-traveled olfactories. The putrescence of biology labs mixed with the desert’s natural odors and hinted the scent of fresh vegetation despite its absence. Perhaps, he thought, it was a by-product of the ship’s landing procedures, the mist the ship exuded seemed to do so from vents alongside the ship. The strange secretion was continuous, deliberate. The Doctor prepared himself for the worst, feared his friend as foe. He hurried up the Pyramidal structure’s doorway– the same one he’d seen his friend enter before it had blasted off for the unknown.

The door opened promptly for the Doctor as he approached. He hesitated a moment, giddy and curious as a child yet with a cautious, adult air about him. His mind remained consumed by the strange mist, but his curiosity, gained the upper hand, compelled him inward against his volition. A hallway led to an open domed structure, the bio-luminescent rocks he’d seen once within an ancient crypt all around him. They were dialed to full-strength, emitted a bright, greenish-white light that flooded the ship’s innards. Viscous, transparent membranes barred the inner room from the massive engine pods behind them. The Doctor could only fathom as to their function, craned his neck to scan their tops near the dome’s apex.

Every area of the ship appeared to have been utilized for one purpose or another. Even where he stood, though comfortably situated, was filled with crystalline stalagmites that glinted and gleamed brilliantly in the bright lights. He scanned the room, stepped forward. His friend emerged from behind a crystalline tower, donned in the same, ancient Egyptian garments it had left in. The Doctor, betraying his misgivings, hurried forward to greet his friend.

“Forgive me my friend, the door was open,” The Doctor said in greeting.

“Ah, opened for you though,” It replied.

The Doctor smiled, “I must admit, I feared you wouldn’t return. I thought, perhaps this world was no longer intriguing to your learned species. I meant no offense, but–”

It raised a hand to silence the Doctor, spoke with its uncanny smile, “I understand. It is perfectly within logic to assume as much, but it is also the reason that my return was delayed.”

The Being motioned for the Doctor to follow, led him around the stalagmites and toward a small area of rock-like chairs. It motioned to sit. The doctor sank against the stone that gave way with a peculiar softness. He ran his hands along another, viscous barrier, now visible beneath him.

“Interesting,” the Doctor remarked.

“It is but one of many things I will teach your people to build,” the Being intoned.

“Yes, about that,” He began cautiously. “Your ship seems to be emitting something– a mist. May I ask; what is it?”

“Ah, the purpose of that mist is rather exciting indeed!” The Being said in good humor. “I took the liberty of beginning a Terra-form of the desert around the ship. I will turn the barren area into useful land as a demonstration of my technology and peaceful intentions.” The Doctor’s face was open in alarm. The Being addressed it warmly, “In short, there is no need to fear, Friend. I’ve noticed a large portion of your planet goes unused for anything in particular. Reforming it can help to rectify several problems, most notably the starvation and hunger of your planet’s minority, and its dwindling atmosphere.”

“So it is yet another benevolent gesture!” The Doctor exclaimed, as if in triumph.

“Quite.” The Being replied in kind. It explained, “Though, I must say, this is not all I’ll do to correct these problems. I have, in fact, several types of enzymatic catalysts that can easily be bred into your crops to allow for faster, more efficient harvests. Agricultural land can then be put to continuous use without fear destabilizing it.”

“My word, that is quite amazing,” the Doctor said. “And as always, a most gracious gift.”

The Being gave a throat chuckle with another, uncanny resemblance to its alien friend, “It is hardly a difficult thing. My people long ago encountered and conquered that problem. As for the pollution of your land, we must convey the plans of non-polluting transport vehicles, and urge that they become the standard means. Then we can focus on cleaning the land and air. There are many ways industry can be carried out. Unfortunately, your peoples’ way is one of the most detrimental. As an outsider who’s seen many these destructive ways cripple many civilizations, I can impart what data has been collected from it. In essence, teach you of the non-polluting, highly productive alternatives.”

“My friend!” The Doctor exclaimed. “Does your kindness know no bounds?”

The Being gave a small tilt of its head, “Perhaps. But not quite so finally, I will help your people to scrub the land and air, remove the garbage from your fills to be broken down into fuels, and recycled into useful products for the future. Of course, all these means will be given to your people in the hopes that your people will aid ours in something we can not do it alone.”

“Friend,” the Doctor said candidly, stunned by the benevolence before him. “You intend to grant unimaginable kindnesses upon us all– even to those that will surely oppose you. I am afraid to have to ask again, but… why?”

The Being held sincerity above the notes of sadness in its voice, “As I said during our first meeting, I wish for a peaceful universe. I will not deceive you however, many of my people do not feel it fitting to bestow such gifts upon you. They think it unwise given your young age as a species. However I, as well as a several others, feel it is our duty to do so. To no offense, we are a technological superiority, see it as our purpose to help you join our majority. We will do this. It will take time– a few years perhaps, but by then the face of your planet will have changed. Your people will live healthier, less wasteful lives. We will tailor our immunological gifts to your physiology, increase your life spans a hundred fold, give each you the chance to do what I have done.”

“You mean live forever!? A million years! Glory be, what could we ever do to deserve or repay these gifts?” The Doctor asked, his words dampened by his amazement.

The Being explained, “Friend, you live and breathe. That is all you must do to deserve them. Forgive me that these gifts have not come sooner, but as you know I was in absentia for millennia. They would have come sooner, and I feel sorrow for all the lives I might have saved had I could. Fortunately, it only fuels my desires to impart these things now.”

“My friend,” the Doctor said, sensing the Being’s soulful unrest. “Those ancient peoples should not way so heavily on your mind. Though I understand your sentiments, had it not been for those war-minded peoples, we would not have our greatest feats of history. Much of the last ten thousand years has been fruitful for our kind, despite the bouts of darkness between. I fear, had you intervened, we would not have developed properly as a people. I thank you for your restraint, on behalf of all of my kind. But Please, do not blame yourself. If you feel there is a debt to be repaid, I assure you, your return has already fulfilled it. More importantly, your benevolent promises, if sincere, will leave us indebted to you. One I know we cannot repay for ten-hundreds-of-thousands of years!”

The Being, affected by the consolation, promptly rose with its awkward, “Come now, friend, we’ve a people to forward!”

In the days that followed the Being’s return, a strange and glorious sight overtook the desert around the ship. While the Being had stated a Terra-forming had begun, none dared dream the extravagance that appeared. In all directions, foliage and greenery crept out, ended abruptly. As if in moments, a dense rain-forest had sprung up.

Admittedly there was apprehension at this gift; despite it being touted as a token of kindness, the suspicious nature of Humanity questioned the assertion’s validity. Either from feeling undeserving, or as of yet unbelieving of their guest’s beneficent ways, there was extensive, public scrutiny and caution. Overlooking these concerns however, the scientific community feared for the indigenous desert life and the stability of the global climate from the sudden appearance of rain-forests in place of deserts. Some argued life could not adapt fast enough to the new conditions. Others said the significant change in climate would force an evolutionary adaptation, render desert life obsolete.

Despite the lack of visible, negative effects, questions arose about the desert’s necessity. Graciously, the Being met with world leaders and foremost scientists to discuss this subject and others. With its friend, the Doctor, at its side, the Being reached a consensus with the assembly to halt any further Terra-forming for a short time. If, in that time, no significant threat to the global climate appeared, it may proceed as planned, or else repeal the changes that had been made.

Among other things, this meeting marked the first time Humanity saw its guest speak for itself. There was not a single television channel or internet stream or post that was not devoted entirely to the Being during its meeting– as if, for once, the world collectively stopped to watch together. Many were humbled simply by its presence, others decried a hoax. Still more shied away, hid in the shadows to let come what may and re-emerge later on. Through it all, the Being remained cultured, mannered, ever-polite and warm. It was as if it saw Humanity as its kin, one it had not seen for far too long and had missed in the interim.

It was only days after the Terra-forming questions were first posed that others began to arise. What had become of their guest’s home-world? What would gift might come next? Was there truly no price to be paid in return?

These questions and more were asked, but only a few, broad answers could be given in reply. It was shortly after the first assembly that a second was formed to parrot the most pressing questions directly to the Being. It explained in short order, that its society had made many, great strides in technology during its hibernation. Though none so great as what would be measured between Humanity’s society and theirs, the advancements were important nonetheless.

Furthermore, it explained, to measure time as humans do was difficult. Given their long life-span and billion-year evolutionary path, to mark history the same would be misleading at best. Their star, billions of years older than earths, had already entered a white dwarf state, lost its mass and pull. Their planet therefore, revolved much slower than Earth, its years and thus their history much more complicated. Not only did this shifted star change the Being’s society, it also imbued them with their gray-blue skin over the eons from blue-spectrum light. The day their sun would die out in a supernova, was nearer than not, preparations were under way for a mass exodus.

These facts seemed of little significance to those whom wished their questions answered, but it was necessary in order to understand that the two civilizations nearly coincided in matters of formality. The only difference being the near three-to-one ratio of planetary time. Where a research grant on earth might take six months to process through formal channels, on the Being’s planet it might take eighteen months or more. Such was the languid pace of formal action upon the home planet.

These understanding led to a question on even the Doctor’s mind; what of the Being’s people, and their enemies? Again, time dilation factored into understanding. At length, the Being relayed That the governing council, once every year– or every three, depending on your perspective– was followed to a strict discipline. If council was held too often, it risked corruption; too infrequent and it risked discontent. The council leaders voted on matters of planetary importance accumulated over their previous, solar year, and decided the fate of their people.

However, in the previous council before The Being’s emigration, many controversial matters had been voted upon. Unrest was furthered by discontent mounting from previous years’ councils, and met a boiling point when a certain set of voices went unheard for too long. Many of that minority rose up, banded together to march on the council headquarters, and demanded an emergency session be held for the first time in their people’s history. When it was not, the unrest climaxed in violence that prompted a military response. Their enemy then, had not been one of another system or galaxy, but of their own people, was only rectified when the next, solar council had been held.

These recollections and explanations met the ears of the assembled parties whom listened with bated breath. Their fear was transparent– a fear that they had opened Pandora’s Box. The Being, either from instinct or telepathy, assuaged the fears: So long as we meant them no harm– which we could not have lest we lose everything promised to us– there would be peace between us.

With the fears put to rest, the Being told of what it had brought to this world: hyper-galactic transportation, teleportation, techniques and industries light years ahead of us. It was then that the Being, benevolent and kind as it was, told of the gene therapy that would soon be implemented to increase the human life-span, make then immune to near every form of disease and sickness known. Of these gifts, hyper-galactic transportation was relatively new to their race. As a result, they were only willing to allow its secrets to be revealed under certain terms: Because of Relativity, in which it is stated that nothing can travel faster than light, they had been forced to find a work around. This workaround came in the form of a specific type of ship engine, only capable of igniting in certain parts of space. In parlance, it was known as a wormhole acceleration drive.

“This,” the Being explained before the assembly, “Was the cause of my delay. Several requirements must be fulfilled before the drive can engage. Most notably, a certain, minimal amount of amount of particle-wave interference must be reached. In order to operate, the drive must generate what is known as a wormhole; easily explained in human physics as curved line beneath a straight-line of points A to B. The curved line effectively is shorter due to the curvature of space-time.”

“For all of this to begin,” it explained. “Massive amounts power are required in a stable point of space. This is difficult to place given the ever-changing, sub-atomic nature of the universe. You call this quantum physics. Unfortunately, any interference above a certain variable may translate through the open wormhole with the ship. This is troublesome because it may destabilize the wormhole, spitting the ship out before its intended destination, and possibly leaving it stranded.”

Though these things furthered already vocal concerns, The Being assured the humans given ships would be well-trained before taking the helm. It was then placed at humanity’s feet, the true compensation for this gift; “First and foremost, we need your help in finding permanently stable regions of space for wormhole jumps. This is the only… catch, as you would call it, to our gifts. Simply, the universe is an infinite place, and we graciously request your help in charting and exploring it.”

With humanity at their side, the Being’s people hoped to finally master their space-fairing pursuits.

It was after this assembly that an unexpected event occurred. The human population, hearing of the visitors return, and of the gifts its people wished to bestow, demanded a more public, informal appearance. The Being, gracious and hospitable as always, obliged. Until then, masses of skeptics and non-believers still shouted rumors of a hoax, or otherwise distrusted their alien guest. Furthermore, several activist groups had revealed a shocking divide in the population’s opinion of the Being and its gifts. Many wished counsel to help in solving the world’s problems, others condemned The Being as an incarnation of one of the apocalypse’s horsemen– the mythical beings that would bring about Humanity’s destruction.

The Being took it in stride, calmed The Doctor when angered by his own people. To it, the reaction was amusing– relieving even.

“Zealotry,” it said. “Is the sign of an intelligent people. There was once a similar demeanor in my own people millions of years ago.” These words comforted the Doctor. It continued, “The divide between the zealots and non-believers spurred us to seek the universe’s truths. This was the origin of our sciences, our research. It is comforting, as given our history, it means Humanity is indeed on the right path.”

It went on to explain that their own mythology had been rather amusing; they had believed the universe’s creation came from the sternutation of an omnipotent. By their own admission their people believed all of existence had been sneezed into being. This notion, though ludicrously held to heart for millions of year, was not entirely inaccurate of the human’s current picture of the beginning of the universe; the Big Bang. Similarly, the two theories stated an explosion of massive force propelled all of space outward. The Doctor and his friend agreed, in this way perhaps the big-bang did resembled a sneeze.

Whatever the strange machinations of zealotry might have been, it was clear that the two species showed striking similarities. Most importantly was their to deconstruct the workings of the universe. There was still much that The Being’s species had yet to learn such as the initial conditions of the universe of the Big Bang– a problem humanity shared. The completion of this research might finally provide a solution to their FTL travel problems. Even the Being’s less-educated people knew they could not hope to discover the answer alone.

The Being itself was fond of a vision it often spoke of to The Doctor; “Imagine if, for one, brief instant, every human dropped what they were doing, and turned their attention to the stairs. I believe we may achieve that here, once the others arrive. Every human is wondering one of two things: Are we to invade, or bring about a new, golden age that will send us across the universe together?”

The Being was fond of this thought, and his friend no less enamored by it.

“No doubt,” the Being once said. “When they realize we mean only peace, that event will take place. Petty land discrimination issues, and greed will dissolve into cosmic dreaming. Why kill or die in taking another’s land when you could have a free, bio-spherical dome upon mars, still visit Earth each day? The universe is a vast place, and there is no doubt somewhere in it for everyone.”

The true desire and will of its species seemed summed up in these words. Though there was hardly perfection in either species, their meeting was the bridging point that might eventually lead there.

As time crawled forward, and the others’ arrival drew nearer, Humanity’s fearful divide became more apparent. When the day finally came, and the first of the others stepped from their ship onto Terra-firma, Humanity paused all at once. Collectively, they held their breath; toed the lines between adulation and terror. The Being and Doctor, both present at the arrival, greeted them as old friends. The Beings exchanged a peculiar greeting; their hands, thumb out, over their cheeks with a bow, The Doctor attempted it in good nature. A tense silence ensued before the gesture was returned.

The Other spoke, its voice lower that the first, “My ship contains all the knowledge you seek. In time, it will be converted to a format accessible to you, duplicated and distributed freely for all that seek it.” It raised its arms high, bellowed over the crowd, “May our two races conquer the stars together!”

An uproar emitted from the crowd. The Doctor smiled with humble warmth, “Thank you, and welcome to our home.”

They bowed to one another, and the Being lead them to an awaiting vehicle.

What happened next is a matter for longer tales, best summed thusly; the two races, so different in ways, and similar in others, joined as one in search of cosmic truths. In the days and weeks that followed the second’s arrival, more of the Beings came to meet with world leaders, their kind, and other humans. In time, and as promised, they addressed the poverty, homelessness, and starvation rampant in the world. Once rampant, these things ceased almost abruptly, and just as Humanity questioned what might come next, the first, human-built ships went into production. In short order, the Terra-forming continued, the new industries and counter-measures rejuvenating the atmosphere while people zoomed back and forth in personal, electric aircraft.

In time, new technologies were devised, pollution all but eradicated. Certain, specific deserts of the world soon became lush jungles, saw Earth on its way to a new age of health and glory. Then, the first trials of the life-extending gene-therapy began. With its immediate success, Humanity finally exhaled, allowed itself to dream with the newcomers. Together, they envisioned star-systems full of Terra-formed planets of both species– and perhaps others– together in harmony.

Soon after the first ships were launched, their human captains now well-trained, Humanity took the helm to fulfill its promise to its benefactors: to map the stars for one and for all. When plans to Terra-form Mars began, it seemed the Doctor’s friend had finally seen its dream come to pass. Indeed, Humanity had largely turned away from pettiness. In admiration and longing, and with new hopes and dreams, the two species looked skyward to the stars.