Posts tagged ‘space’

03/22/2015

The Saddest Story Ever

by Camilla Stein

In memory of Leonard Nimoy.

– to my son –

Lights went off. The entire household quieted down in a matter of minutes. Stanley made sure everyone had been sound asleep before he snuck out onto the porch. From there, in the dark, he made his way right into the tree house on a huge birch tree that had been growing on the farm since forever and where he had been keeping a secret stash of stuff he never shared with anyone. He climbed the tree.

That was a beautiful night. Starry luminous sky, soothing clicks of cicadas, the full moon – Stanley knew he was going to miss everything once the summer was over and school began. In his seventh year, he was a quiet dreamer, a boy who never got in anyone’s way. Until that one day when things changed. But not before a once-in-a-lifetime event happened that triggered everything.

As of now, Stanley was in his tree house watching the sky through his telescope, a present from his grandfather, when an enormous fireball scratched the horizon behind the endless corn field and fell down to Earth in the silence of the night. Stanley jumped in his seat from the sudden scare but his natural curiosity quickly took over.

After a brief moment of disbelief he settled himself comfortably at the eye of his telescope, and started thinking. There could be a billion explanations to what he had just seen, and Stanley wondered whether anyone else watched the fireball fall. But the night was still dark and lights in the house were still off, and even the dog slept on without as much as the slightest movement. Stanley was alone.

A seven year old boy doesn’t necessarily think about the abundant dangers in the world around him. Moreover, a seven year old boy doesn’t necessarily think of himself in connection to his family and people who may worry about his wellbeing. More often than not, a seven year old boy thinks about the world as this large playground, a place to explore. And that’s why more often than not, a seven year old boy sets up on a journey to the end of the Earth to chase the fireball that he saw fall from the sky, and he doesn’t tell anyone.

Stanley was quite a resourceful boy for someone his age and kept a backpack with supplies in his tree house at all times. On that starry summer night, he pulled the backpack out, threw it to the ground, climbed down, picked the backpack up and swiftly reached the farm’s gate. He didn’t want to disturb anyone, but the sleepy dog had awoken at hearing the boy approach, and he patted the silly animal before walking out and closing the gate behind him.
***
“We’re losing altitude! Can you do something?” The pilot’s frantic voice screaming at the starship’s computer to correct for the navigational error was not exactly encouraging. Computer was an artificial intelligence, the mechanical being inside the starship, but had superior sensors that allowed it to read emotions of its helmsman. And with the helmsman being a very young person, emotions were running sky high. Literally.
“You shouldn’t have taken your father’s vehicle.” Computer reprimanded the pilot while analyzing sensor input.
“This piece of junk? He won’t be missing it, it’s been sitting in our backyard for ages.”
“Be it as it may, young man, but you could at least have told them where you were going…”
“By ‘them’ you mean my family? I don’t think so. By the way, who programmed your language settings? You talk like a grumpy old man from the Middle Ages.”

Computer had a long arm attached to its peripheral alignment which was hanging over the pilot’s seat and thought it was the right moment to access the arm’s mobility application.

“I could spank you, you know.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” the pilot retaliated. “I am the pilot here. You work for me.”
“May I remind you, young man, that your father installed pedagogical subroutines on all family vehicles. A wise decision, I must admit. And now, it’s part of my infrastructure, and it will be used at will if should be. You ought to liste…”
“Whatever, dude. Now, how do we get out of here? And where are we anyways?”

The pilot was, in fact, a child, a rebellious boy who had just started school, and who was now running away from home, because even in the farthest corners of the Universe all boys run away at least once.

“Young man, I am afraid our only option is to land on this planet beneath us. The starship’s engine is malfunctioning. Could it be because someone missed the refill at the gas station before hurriedly jumping into this star system? And now the engine ran out of… juice… and damaged its core. Juice? Did you play with my language settings??”
“Now you noticed.” The pilot had a mischievous look on his face. He indeed tweaked something in the computer and was now accessing its star charts. “Can you tell me where we are?”
“Here,” computer lit up a star at the outer leg of the Milky Way, “This third planet. Quite a looker, don’t you think. There’s something else you should know about it.”

Pilot glanced at the interface with impatience while the ship’s computer continued.

“The planet is inhabited.”
***
When Stanley closed the gate behind him and boldly walked into the night, little did he know that the family’s sleepy dog, now wide awake and agitated, followed him outside through a secret hole in the fence that only the dog knew existed. The dog – let’s call her Leia – was a three year old mastiff, smart and strong but somewhat too carefree for a dog of such an intimidating breed. Perhaps that was the result of the family’s lack of seriousness when it came to training the dog, or maybe there was something in the wind that had been dashing through golden corn fields every now and then. Whatever it was, Leia appreciated the taste of freedom and no amount of schooling could have taken that away from her. As a result, the dog grew up to be a loyal companion – with a mind of her own. And on that starry night that had just begun turning into the morning, Leia’s sense of duty to her family prevailed.

“What are you doing here, silly? How did you get out?” Stanley was surprised to find Leia tagging along just a few feet away from the farm. Leia, as frisky as she was, couldn’t have possibly answered his question. Instead she continued tagging along and Stanley only shrugged. He figured, in the final analysis, he could use some company after all and was glad it happened to be this particular dog.

“Some two miles from here is a barn, we’ll drop by to get my bike. You don’t mind walking two miles, do you?” Stanley talked to Leia as if she could understand what he was saying. “I should be using a bike for this, see, it’s too long to walk on foot, we’ll never make it. Well, maybe you would, but not me, I am too small yet.”

Two miles later there it was, the old barn where Stanley used to spend time with his grandfather during the busy harvesting season. Now the barn was empty, with some harks and shovels laying here and there, and some hay, and Stanley had no trouble finding his rusty bike which he mounted right away.

“Come on, Leia, let’s go, it’ll be light soon.”
Leia listened carefully to the night around them and followed the command at once. And there they were, two figures in the dark, with cicadas still clicking and the stars still twinkling, and the seven year old boy Stanley was no longer alone.
***
“If we land now, can we then take off later?” Pilot, who, by the way, had a name and the name sounded nothing like what people on Earth used to call their children, was having second thoughts about his flight from home. Not that he hated the adventure, nothing like that. In fact, the crash only enhanced the flavor he was going to remember for a very long time from now. But he started thinking that maybe he’ll never get home again. What was the point of an adventure if you couldn’t share the story with others back home? So the pilot was now feeling rather sad, and his predicament started to look more and more like a humongous judgment error.

“I will make necessary repairs over time, not yet clear how long it’ll take but I am confident we can make an escape if the engines are back online. Just need to find the source of, what is it that you call it… juice?”
“Since we’re on an organic planet, this shouldn’t be a problem. You know this bioship derives energy from just about anything.” Pilot was downloading sensor readings.
“Provided we find large quantities of this anything. Biomatter, I presume?” Computer was not programmed with more optimism than was absolutely necessary.
“Maybe we’re in luck,” the young person who for the purpose of this story requested to be called Ari pointed at the readings that he had just downloaded.
“Fancy you could run this ship,” computer almost sounded jealous.
“I can’t – not yet that is – and you know it. Now help me pin-point where these readings come from on the surface. There’s an indication of a large quantity of organic compounds we need to synthesize the reaction.”
“Ah, using smart words I see. There, ten miles from our projected crash site. They call is ‘corn’.” Computer complied but not before accessing its sarcasm subroutine.
“Can’t we crash nearer?” Ari assumed it was only logical to try and manually navigate the ship closer to the edge of the corn field they had spotted on entry.
“It will only be a few minutes now, I am not sure I can switch controls to manual in the given time frame.”
“So we walk then, is that it? We walk?” Ari already imagined them scouting the location while trying not to engage the locals. He might have been seven years old, but his brain was that of a brilliant future scientist and explorer, although his heart – still that of a child.
“Young man, walking the necessary distance to find fuel should be the least of your worries. How about thinking and doing something about our velocity so we don’t burn up in the atmosphere…”
“Atmosphere? Do we know the composition?”
“Breathable air. We can get out once we are down.”
“Wouldn’t matter to you, would it? Your portable unit is a robot, needs no air.”
“You are correct indeed. Now I shall attempt to crash us into something soft. How’s that spot over there, would that do?”
“Is that a corn field? Just do it. Another few seconds and we’re toast.”

That is what went down while Stanley had been in his tree house looking into the eye of his telescope. An alien boy named Ari, about the same age as Stanley, took his father’s bioship without permission after failing the entrance exam which was to define his specialization at school on a far away planet in a far away star system. Ari wanted to fly spaceships. That was all he ever wanted to do. But failing an exam meant he got to study something else and would not be considered for piloting lessons until next year. But he knew every bioship in every class and category, even intergalactic ones! Ari thought the test was unfair and in an outburst of anger and frustration ran away from home. And now he didn’t quite know what to do.
***
Stanley’s mother woke up in the middle of the night not feeling quite right. She sensed something odd was about to happen – or already has. She sat up in bed listening to the night and not hearing anything. That part about not hearing anything was exactly why she thought something was up and so she rushed to the window, opened it wide and stared into the darkness. Nothing. That much of nothing was the scariest thing she’d ever experienced. She ran out of her room and into Stanley’s. His bed was untouched. His things were all there though. A nagging sick feeling crawled up into her stomach, blood rushed to her face, her legs gave up under the weight of her body and she slid alongside the door onto the floor. That’s what panic must have felt like, she thought. See, mothers always know. It’s simply a matter of common sense. Mothers always know.

Her husband, Stanley’s stepfather, was at a town’s fair many miles away, but Grandpa, her father, stayed overnight and she all but flew upstairs to wake him up.

Grandpa opened his bedroom’s door to her frantic pitch about something having happened to Stanley. Without hesitation, he grabbed his rifle and ran outside with Stanley’s mother following in his footsteps with a pocket lamp in her hand showing the way. They shouted Stanley’s name but got no response. At some point, Grandpa looked inside the dog’s cabin. It was empty.
“Leia’s gone too. It’s safe to assume she followed Stanley to wherever he went,” Grandpa concluded.
“Or was taken to!” Stanley’s mother was dialing up sheriff’s department. She needed to tell the sheriff that her son was not much of a talker, would never speak to strangers and would easily get lost in the woods because of his poor orientation skills, not to mention autistic or not he was just too young to be out there all by himself. Just too young.

It was only a few minutes later that the sheriff drove over with a brigade of volunteers and together they fine-combed the territory up until the old barn where they spotted tracks of a child’s bicycle going south-west and a set of dog’s footprints, not always clear, but nevertheless this was a solid clue and they now knew where to look further.
***
It could’ve been a meteorite, a huge one that would leave a gigantic crater, or it could’ve been a UFO with an alien inside. What if it really was a UFO? Maybe even from Mars? That would be awesome. Stanley thought this through and promised himself that if the fireball would turn out to be a meteorite with a crater he’d name it after Mom. Mom was the best. Now that he thought of it, he remembered not telling anyone where he’d gone. What if they discovered he was gone and got mad at him? Or worse – what if Mom got all worried and was crying? That didn’t sound too good. The thought of possibly getting punished for running away crossed Stanley’s mind. He entertained various scenarios for a few brief moments and then jumped onto the topic at hand. What if the fireball was indeed a UFO – and an alien person was inside? Was he friendly or was he starting the invasion of Earth right here in this corn field just outside of Houston?

Stanley couldn’t think anymore. He was cycling as fast as he could, determined to get to the site while it was still dark and no one had seen what he had seen and no one could claim his discovery. Getting there first seemed like an important thing to do. Stanley had never been first at anything, and now he felt he was given a chance to prove his worth, to prove that he was normal. It didn’t matter to the seven year old boy who hadn’t seen much of life yet that true personal worth was not measured by being first at things and that normalcy was a very vague concept. He didn’t know that when he’d grow up he’d learn the truth about personal worth and all, and his childhood beliefs would vanish like dew in the sunlight. On that starry night as he cycled towards the unknown, Stanley just wanted to be a normal kid and wanted to get somewhere first. At least once in his seven years of life. Because, that’s what all seven year old boys would do.

Leia was running next to Stanley but as they marked yet another mile Stanley noticed how Leia would stop for a moment, her tongue sticking out, her chest going up and down as she struggled with the heat. Water! Leia needed water. Somewhere around here was a tiny little river that he knew of but couldn’t see right away in the dark. That river was not on his direct path to his destination, but he could take a detour. He’d do anything for Leia. Now it seemed Leia was giving up on moving all together.

“Sit here, Leia, I’ll be right back. Watch the bike! I’ll be back in a minute.” Stanley left his backpack hanging on the bike and walked away. He was gone for a few minutes. That tiny river he remembered from previous visits to this neck of the woods happened to be nearby – frogs gave it away. Once there, Stanley realized he had nothing on him to carry the water in. Nothing but for his sneakers. So he took one off, a resourceful young man as he was, filled it with water and walked back as quickly as he could wearing just one shoe and trying not to spill a single drop.

After Leia had satisfied her thirst, the boy and the dog resumed their journey. The boy kept thinking about a possible alien on the spaceship that possibly had landed in the corn field and which he, the boy, would have possibly discovered first out of all the people on the planet.
***
“I drove back as soon as I heard. Why didn’t you call me right away? Why did I have to hear about this from your father?” Stanley’s stepfather didn’t bother shutting the door of his dusty pickup truck when he drove to the farm some half hour before dawn and found his wife on the porch, wearing a coat over her pajamas, with her hair all messy and her hands shaking. He obviously hurried as hell and paid little attention to the road, which is why his pickup truck was covered in dirt and the man himself looked like he just got through the wringer. “He’s my son too.” The man looked into the woman’s eyes. “Don’t you doubt that even for a moment. Maybe I haven’t been much of a father lately, with the farm business and the stress, but he’s mine just like he’s yours and don’t you dare shut me out now. Especially now.”

Stanley’s mother just sobbed in response. She was exhausted. Her father and a group of volunteers led by the sheriff and his men were searching for leads out there in the fields, in the dark, brushing through that darn corn. She was instructed to stay on the premises in case the boy returned on his own, and just sat there, helpless and whispering a prayer after prayer.

“You know how he gets when it’s a full moon,” the woman uttered, wiping away tears and smudging dirt on her face, “They think he’s with Leia.”

“Leia is a good dog. Don’t you worry,” the man from the dusty pickup truck hugged her and together they remained sitting on the porch, in the silver light of the full moon that graced the Earth that night.

That’s when they heard gunshots. They couldn’t tell from how far away the gunshots came and their faces grew deeply worried. The man stood up and ran towards his pickup truck where he had been keeping a rifle just in case. With the weapon in his hand, he quickly gave the woman a kiss on the cheek and ran off into the dark, leaving her on the porch, alone again, with a walkie-talkie and a cell phone, messy hair and smudges on her wet face.

Not much time had passed but for Stanley’s mother ten minutes seemed like ten years. When the sheriff alerted her over the phone of a deputy coming over to pick her up and drive to the site, she kept herself together. It was only when she had been brought to the spaceship’s crash site that she burst into tears, uncontrollably, at seeing her son and an unfamiliar entity both standing next to each other talking in front of an open and lit up entrance into the strange apparatus. “He speaks!” was all she could say before her legs turned soft and she collapsed onto the ground among people and corn, and an alien spaceship, in awe of what she was seeing, because never in her wildest dreams did she think her autistic son would speak. But she had hoped, God knows she had, and it took an alien encounter to trigger his speech.

Leia the dog, however, didn’t mind the situation and ran up first to the boy and the small figure next to him, and then to Stanley’s mother, father and grandfather.

“Don’t shoot!” Stanley shouted out on top of his lungs. “This is Ari. He is my friend. Please, everyone… don’t shoot.”

Sheriff and his men kept the alien and the spaceship in sight but lowered their guns, albeit hesitantly. Now someone needed to tell them what the protocol for this would be.
***
Ari was visibly frightened. His robot-computer didn’t anticipate this situation, but Ari figured things could have been much worse. These people must be the inhabitants of this planet, something computer warned him about before. Of course there were other life forms, he could see that, but humans appeared to be the ones in charge. When the young person had first approached him, before the others arrived, Ari was cautious. Stanley, that was the young person’s name which Ari learned later, responded with a weird outcry which meant nothing to Ari. “Wow,” was all the human boy said and just kept staring at Ari until his robot-computer broke the ice with some stupid joke about bad space weather that stranded them here. Computer’s involvement didn’t exactly clear things up, as Stanley only kept wowing and that creature whom he called Leia kept sniffing everything around her and even peed on Ari’s spaceship. It was a bioship in fact, and it could have smelled funny to the dog which explained her behavior. Despite being designed solely for home travel, the bioship could go through a vortex like taking a walk in the park, and that’s exactly what Ari did with it – took it through the vortex, a wormhole that connected his galaxy with Stanley’s. The rest was history.

“Who are you?” Stanley went first.
“I just got here. You can call me Ari.”
“So you’ve got a name, that’s cool. Did you come in that?” Stanley pointed in the direction of Ari’s spaceship.
“In fact I did. Don’t you have them here too?”
“Nope. Not that I know of.”
“We use them to travel across space. They are pretty handy.”
“So they are like cars to you?”
“What’s ‘cars’?”
“Vehicles. For people to drive from place to place.”
“Something like that.”
“Do you go to school?”
“Just started. Not that it’s been much fun that is.”
“Me too! What’s your school like? Mine is boring. But we are having a summer break now.”
“I have never been on a summer break. What do you do?”
“In summer it gets warmer around here, and all this stuff grows here,” Stanley meant corn. “So we get to spend time without any classes or anything like that, just doing things for fun, and I get to help with the corn too.”
“Biomatter.”
“What?”
“We call it biomatter. In fact, I need this to fuel my… vehicle.”
“So that means… you won’t be staying?” Stanley suddenly realized that the boy he had just met must have had parents of his own, a home of his own, a place where he’d be missed if he didn’t come back. It meant only one thing – Ari couldn’t stay and be Stanley’s friend this summer like Stanley would have wanted very much. And that’s why Stanley felt sad in that particular moment.
“I really must return.” Ari thought real hard about his situation and understood how unfair he had been to his parents, and that flying alone to an unfamiliar planet was also quite foolish and irresponsible of him. “But I could hang out for a while till my computer’s done with repairs. If that’s all right with you?”

Of course it was all right. Stanley would give anything in the world to have a friend from another planet, even for an hour.

Now that the boys have talked a bit, it was time to explore the surroundings and Stanley offered to be Ari’s guide. The robot-computer tagged along to see if the corn was a suitable match for the ship’s engines. Leia came along too. The gang walked a bit in the dark; they almost got lost in the corn field but Leia found the way back to Ari’s ship just fine. There was plenty of corn to power up the engines which computer promised to fix in the meantime and while that was underway, Stanley and Ari got to chat a bit more. Stanley had some items in his backpack that Ari found peculiar. There was a story attached to every item, be it a harmonica or an energy bar, and Stanley was glad to tell them all. And then there was a bike, and the dog, and the lights coming from the ship. Ari never ever rode a bike before and found it quite an experience. In return he offered Stanley a tour of the ship explaining where everything was and what it all was for, because, as you and I both know, Ari was a young expert on spaceships of all classes and categories, and could tell with his eyes closed where all controls were because becoming a space pilot was Ari’s dream. The one that would come true one day, only Ari didn’t know that yet – and neither did he need to.

Never in his wildest dreams did Stanley think of being on a real starship with a real alien. The funniest thing about it all though was not that the wildest dream came true just like that, but that he didn’t think of Ari as an alien. In fact, even the starship didn’t feel like something out of this world to Stanley. The two boys hung out for a while chatting about things that all boys usually chat about regardless of what planet they are born on. Boys will always be boys, and will always get into trouble, and will always seek adventures that’d take them beyond the known horizons. And that’s what happened to Ari and Stanley.

And then someone fired two gunshots into the air.

Stanley, being used to farm life as he was, was also used to hearing gunshots and thought those were hunters trying to get a duck or a deer. But Ari never heard a gunshot fired from a rifle by a human on Earth before, and didn’t know whether he should have been afraid or not, so just to be on the safe side he chose to be afraid and stood there, scared and hoping for it all to go away before something bad happened.

Then two more gunshots were fired and Stanley heard voices shouting his name. In a few more seconds, the sheriff and his men turned up and started pointing their rifles at Ari who did nothing but stand there in front of his bioship. His robot-computer was still inside working on repairs, and it was up to Stanley to make sure his new friend didn’t get hurt because in his heart of hearts Stanley knew the sheriff didn’t come all this way here to chat. And so Stanley stepped forward, making just one small step, showing to the sheriff and his men that he was unharmed and there was no funny business going on, nothing for the grownups to get all worked up about.

“Don’t shoot!” Stanley shouted out on top of his lungs. “This is Ari. He is my friend from space. Please… don’t shoot.”
***
The spaceship took off right when Earth’s sun began to so beautifully paint the morning sky over the corn fields just outside Houston, and a group of grown up men and women stood there quite speechless, and a sad but happy little boy was waving goodbye to a new friend he had just made who was now going back to his home planet, and a frisky dog named Leia was running around with her tail up and cheering everyone.

Once the spaceship was gone, people on the surface turned to each other and smiled, all of them knowing deep down that not a single soul in the entire world would have believed their story of what had just happened to them on a starry summer night that year.

And none of them could have possibly known that Stanley and Ari were to meet again in the future. Much, much further into the future.

Camilla Stein ©2015. All rights reserved.
01/04/2015

Nothing Wrong With Me

by Camilla Stein

Mother was in the kitchen. I heard her rattle with utensils. A smell of freshly baked vanilla pancakes mixed with a stench of burnt oil reached my nostrils and I sat up in bed. A huge clock on the wall showed seven in the morning. Sunlight was beaming through curtains and birds were chirping on a birch tree that stretched its branches over my room’s balcony.

The morning had all signs of turning into a nice day but for one little detail – my head was hurting in two places and I didn’t know how it had come to be that way. I looked around. My uniform was still on the floor where I had left it the evening before. That much I remembered. My bag was thrown into a corner and lay there half open. Everything around me suggested that I belonged here, but something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was and decided to concentrate on getting out of bed first.

Mother called for breakfast. Within seconds the entire household began buzzing with noise and commotion. A family?

“Awake, are you?” A cheery voice coming from outside my room sounded persistent. I mumbled something in return.

“Ah, he’s alive!” The voice moved away from the door and I heard a screeching sound. The door opened and somebody sneaked in.

“Look, he’s sitting up,” that somebody was a little girl in a beautiful pinkish dress with ruffles. She smiled at me and handed an apple.

“Thank you,” was all I could say. I did not recognize the girl. I knew I should have, and a sudden realization that I might be having amnesia frightened me. Apparently my facial expression gave away my inner distress.

“Mother, he looks like he doesn’t know who I am!” The girl shouted into the space outside my room and ran out. For a moment I could see her ruffles in the doorway before she vanished and I was left sitting in my bed holding an apple and feeling ridiculous. I couldn’t see beyond my room’s door but assumed there were more rooms and corridors the way I knew there were supposed to be more rooms and corridors in my house. And yet, a nagging feeling in my stomach made me rethink my assumptions.

The voice I had heard prior to the girl’s little demarche returned.

“Leave your brother alone,” I found myself face to face with an elderly man who wore a grayish beard and had a pair of warm, deep hazel eyes. From the looks of it he must have been a grandfather figure around here, possibly my own grandfather, if only I could remember that. I couldn’t and so kept sitting there looking around and blinking like a stupid cow.

Mother appeared with a tray in her hands featuring a small teapot and a lovely porcelain tea cup, a set of pancakes on a plate and a jar of maple syrup.

“I thought after a night like that you’d like your breakfast in bed,” Mother said carefully setting the tray next to me. “No need to rush, dear, you’ll have plenty of time to sort things out. Now eat.” She left the room. My grandfather, or at least the man whom I was supposed to remember as one, was looking through the window, his hands behind his back. He didn’t say a word when Mother walked in and kept silent when she walked out.

Sort things out? ran through my head. What things? What happened to me and why I cannot recognize my family but can recognize my room? Something was wrong and I resolved to get to the bottom of this unexpected mystery.

“You better eat those before they get cold,” Grandfather pointed in the direction of the tray. “Trust me, you don’t want them to get cold.”

Trust you? In this moment I don’t even know who you are! My head was still hurting but I armed myself with a fork and a knife and vigorously attacked the plate.

“Do you know what happened to me?” Words came out of my mouth uncontrollably while I was still chewing. I couldn’t help myself – I was in a hurry to uncover the truth.

Why such an innocent question would startle Grandfather was beyond me. He looked straight into my eyes, held the pose for a moment as if trying to find something behind my retina and uttered in all seriousness:

“The truth won’t do you any good right now.”

He then walked out into the space outside my room. I still couldn’t see beyond the door although it was left wide open.

 ***

“We shouldn’t have brought him here,” Mother looked at Grandfather with utter reprimand as she whispered her disagreement. “You with your insane ideas… I don’t know what possessed me to listen to you in the first place, but recreating a familiar setting will most likely only make things worse. You heard the medic, we cannot delay the inevitable. Besides, how long do you think we’ll be able to fool him? Need I remind you staying in corporeal forms will take up all our energy resources?”

“Questions, questions… How do you suppose we tell him the truth… It’s unthinkable! His entire world collapsed in a blink of an eye right in front of him. How does one recover from something like this? He’s too weak. That shock wave took a toll on him. Brutal exposure to the truth is what will make things worse for him – not eating pancakes in the comfort of his home, even a fake one. After all, what were we to do? His shuttle crashed practically in our backyard!” Grandfather didn’t feel the need to whisper but Mother alerted him with a gesture and he changed the tone of his voice. “Don’t worry, he won’t hear us, I activated a damping field around his room’s door when I left.”

The little girl ran up to them and spoke in a serious adult manner. “I still don’t understand how this happened, I mean the physics of this all. But we couldn’t have shown up in front of the Council with him either. They’d have him committed or put in a museum at best! I too didn’t approve of the decision to keep him here. But we couldn’t send him back to his death now, could we? His shuttle was catapulted away from his planet right into our space for a reason. All this secrecy… The Council will eventually find out, no doubt about that, but by the time they do he’ll pass the transformation and it’ll all be done with. He’s young, and I am convinced there’s hope for him after all. He liked the apple. And I am beginning to like these ruffles.”

Mother and Grandfather only shrugged in response. None of them could foresee what was to come next.

***

I stared at the apple in my hand. A red, polished, fine smelling fruit was so inviting. I was still weak after the night, and couldn’t think straight. Having put the tray aside, I walked up to the window. The sky and the sun were magical. I opened the window and a breeze of fresh air tickled my nostrils. Then I walked to the corner where my bag was, and inspected its contents. Seemingly, all my things were still there. My uniform bore marks of exposure to elements, or at least it looked that way to me. Dirty smudges, a sleeve torn off, my insignia gone. I concluded I must have been in a mishap of sorts. At the moment I didn’t know yet that ‘a mishap’ was in fact a downright destruction of my world, the only home I had known, and the trauma to my nervous system, caused by the mega blast that had killed everything on Earth and engulfed my shuttle on approach to the planet, was so severe it rendered me unconscious and drifting in space. The other thing I didn’t know at the time was that the space I ended up in wasn’t the same that my planet had existed in. Somehow, my shuttle was shot into the void between two Universes, and that’s where I encountered beings who nursed me back to health, the void dwellers.

A girl appeared in the room again. She made a few rounds around my bed and danced away with a smile on her face. She did look genuinely very friendly and nice. Is she my little sister? From what I’ve heard earlier she must have been. I couldn’t remember. My amnesia was so annoying. The girl said nothing, just glanced at me in a peculiar way. After she had left, my attention was focused on the room again.

Why can’t I see beyond the door? I approached it sensing movement on the outside but my eyes registered nothing. I couldn’t hear a thing either unlike just an hour ago when I was still in bed. This is my room, and yet it is not. I began inspecting the perimeter in agitation. Things started to make sense. My uniform… I must have been in a crash. Most likely this is where I landed. But why am I being kept here? How long have I been here? Am I a guest or a prisoner? Or is this all a bad dream? My head was aching in two places and my neck felt stiff. There were too many questions that I had no answers to. Out of curiosity I stretched my hand through the doorway. I didn’t dare cross the invisible border between my environment and what was beyond it. But I stretched my hand and it didn’t get stuck or burnt or bitten. Nothing like that happened. Instead, I could actually see my hand on the other side, shining like a light bulb and feeling weightless. For no apparent reason this scared me and I pulled back. That hurt for a split second. At a closer look I saw no visible changes of any kind, nothing that would have any significance or clues to what was going on. I was still instinctively rubbing my hand when Mother walked in.

“You shouldn’t be straining yourself so much,” Mother brought clean clothes for me to change into. “Here, something for you to wear now that you’re awake and ‘ve eaten. But don’t strain yourself like that, there’s no need. Grandfather wanted to talk to you though. I sure hope he knows what he’s doing,” she picked up my dirty uniform and left just as suddenly as she had appeared the moment before.

Mother acted like she was trying too hard, but her last remark alerted me to the possibility of something dead serious going on that I had not been made privy to yet. I changed into a new set of clothes and decided to wait not wanting to jump the gun by revealing my concerns prematurely. For all I knew, this whole thing could have indeed been in my head, which still hurt like hell by the way. Anyhow, from the looks of it I wasn’t in any immediate danger and lying in wait seemed like the smartest decision for the time being. I tucked myself in bed. There was a book on the bedside table, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Well then, Jules Verne it is. There was nothing better for me to do anyways. In a subconscious gesture I picked up the apple that had been resting on a plate next to Jules Verne’s masterpiece, had my first bite, opened the volume of 20,000 Leagues at a random page and began reading.

***

“He is eating the apple,” the girl whispered to Mother and Grandfather who stood to her left. “I told you, there’s a chance he’ll become one of us.”

“I am still skeptical. We mustn’t push him into anything,” Mother uttered reproachfully, “Not a single human ever survived the transformation when forced into it. It’s just too dangerous for his kind.”

“What do you mean by his kind,” Grandfather grumped out, “Aren’t you forgetting he is what we used to be thousands of years ago? In a way, he is our past, our fascinating past.”

“You and your romantic ideals,” Mother shook her head. “No wonder you were expelled from the Council. They won’t tolerate nonsense.”

“Exactly why I didn’t want to reveal him to them,” Grandfather retaliated. “Now you see why.”

“All right, you two, get a grip,” the girl in ruffles was getting tired of the dispute that went on between the only two adults in the entire household. Their corporeal forms were holding steady but she was beginning to feel drained from having to continuously battle them both in an attempt to get her message across. She was the youngest and as impatient as they come. “Look, he’s reading and eating the apple. I told you it’d work.”

“Aren’t you rushing this a bit? He needs to finish the book first. And the apple,” Mother waved off the girl’s enthusiasm.

“Something tells me he will,” Grandfather took the girl’s side. He began feeling more secure about the young man’s future in their space. The boy needed to transform fast. Their containment field would soon weaken because of limited power resources, and they couldn’t afford drawing attention to the situation and exposing their guest by requesting additional power cells from the factory. They were exhausting their energy savings for the sake of a stranger whom Grandfather believed to be the last of their long lost human ancestry.

“The book is encoded. I worked all night on the algorithms. It’s very intense this time, but we have no choice. The apple is re-sequenced to decompile his DNA and re-assemble it in a new form. When he’s absorbed the code – he has to finish the book for that – the catalyst in the apple will do its work. After that it’s wait and see.” The girl spoke as a true scientist. The corporeal form she had chosen was so unfitting her dry talk that Mother and Grandfather smiled involuntarily.

“The transformation will be painful, no doubt. If it’ll occur that is,” Mother sounded ruthless, almost as if she wanted for this experiment to fail. “There were no survivors after his planet was gone. If we lose him, we lose the last of his kind. That’ll be such a shame.”

“I will guide him,” Grandfather intercepted her destructive thinking, “I have some experience, if you must know I’ve guided several humanoids who ascended to our space due to natural causes. Not only from this boy’s planet that is, but they all have similar physiology. It’ll be a walk in the park.”

“If only I could share your enthusiasm,” Mother moved away from the door. “I have to run a few maintenance routines, this recreation of his home cannot support itself.”

“Just make sure you don’t disengage the room,” the girl reminded. “He must finish reading.”

***

I felt a tingling, irritating sensation in my arms and legs. Sudden onset of dizziness and nausea didn’t feel pretty either but I immediately dismissed these symptoms linking them to the accident’s aftermath. I figured I must have injured my head in the shuttle on my approach to Earth. I remembered that now. A hundred pages into the book I began remembering events that preceded my being here, going back in time, not always in the actual order of how these events had occurred but nevertheless I began remembering.

There was something very odd about the book I was reading. Pages almost seemed fluorescent at times. Or that was just my optical nerve malfunctioning. Either way, I kept on reading without keeping track of time. The story that I had known since childhood now had a new feel about it. I was discovering new words, new meanings. I was Jules Verne’s characters every step of their way, seeing what they had seen through their very eyes. A fascinating journey, from time to time so real I could swear it felt as if I was present on that submarine.

I finished eating the apple just when I turned the last page of 20,000 Leagues. That’s when Grandfather walked in. And that’s when it hit me.

Earth was gone.

A wave of emotions overwhelmed me. In a matter of seconds I remembered seeing on my shuttle’s screen a fiery blast that was moving across from one continent to another, burning all life on my planet, not sparing anyone or anything organic. And then when it was over, my planet was left a solid dry rock, no water, no atmosphere, no people, no animals, no plants. No nothing. Just dry solid overheated rock. And then something exploded. My shuttle got picked up by the shockwave and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, my nervous system had already blocked all memory of the event and I lived for another day under the assumption that my family, my people were alive and well. I was kept in the illusion of my own home which supported my amnesia. But, my psyche began instinctively getting through the masquerade and that’s why I started questioning everything. I sat up in bed shaking and if I could cry I would have, but my eyes were dry and I felt empty on the inside. Images began passing before my eyes. Images of my family, my friends, and then the exposure grew larger and I began seeing faces of unfamiliar to me people, but they all were humans, of different races, and they all lived their lives and breathed the same air I did, on the same planet that nurtured them till something terrible happened and took all of that away from them.

Nothing made sense and yet everything did. The burden of emotion fell on me like a huge rock and buried me underneath its weight; I was alone, weak and gasping for air, desperately trying to get up and shake off the weight that kept me down, but I was gradually losing the battle with the giant which was the truth. I collapsed to the floor in an uncontrollable seizure. My arms and legs were convulsing and that tingling, irritating sensation returned. I was dizzy and nauseating.

“Did he finish the book? And the apple?” the girl’s voice came from behind the door.

“Not now! He’s having a fit,” Grandfather barked in response. “We must stabilize him now before he slips into a coma.”

Nobody ever ascended while in coma. Everyone who did was always conscious, even if it meant for a brief moment, because ascension only took a brief moment. Inexperienced with corporeal medicine, the three of the void dwellers did their best to save the life of an organic being, a human, who was rapidly deteriorating right there on the floor of the illusionary room they had created to keep him safe.

“He dog-eared the book, see, right here,” Mother turned a few pages of 20,000 Leagues. “He must have started reading from a random page, not from the very beginning. Did you compensate for this variable?” She turned to the little girl in pinkish ruffles who was holding the young boy’s head while Grandfather was trying to maintain the life in the boy’s weakening body.

The girl realized what had gone wrong and froze in disbelief. She looked at the young man on her lap and the gravity of her mistake became clear to her. She failed to anticipate the unexpected. Was there a chance to correct the error? Her mind began racing through myriads of options, calculating new solutions, but the boy’s body was almost gone and she had to do something right away if they were to keep the last human from descending into an abyss.

“Deactivate the containment field, now!” She shouted, but the void dweller who had previously acted as Mother had already anticipated her instruction and cast off her pretend physical body, now moving to the panel hidden behind the large clock on the wall. In the absence of corporeal restrictions she could navigate around much easier. She deactivated the simulation, all but one elements of it, because they still needed the floor to keep the young man on it, before they could figure out what to do with his fading corporeal form. The girl’s thinking was to conserve energy and store the boy’s consciousness in a buffer that was masked as a window, before they could decide how to proceed. But the events took a different turn.

“He is beginning to emit energy beams,” Grandfather announced with a smile of relief. He was holding the boy’s limbs tight to prevent premature disintegration and was still in his corporeal form for that reason. Once the young man began emitting energy, Grandfather changed his physical appearance into that of a being of light, free and unrestricted. The boy’s body was motionless on the floor that was rotating in the space filled with fluidic all-penetrating light. The space was formed as a chamber with soft edges, many of such chambers linked to one another in the mosaic of fluorescent light.

“I don’t see how that’s possible,” Mother was checking 20,000 Leagues for clues. “It seems he did read it all, but in a random order. I have never encountered such an unorganized mind. That might explain the problem – he’s ascending backwards, out of alignment.” She approached the girl. “It looks like all you need to do is re-sequence the algorithms, and the ascension process will be resumed in a correct fashion.” Mother took over and the little girl now got a chance to cast off her corporeal form and quickly made necessary adjustments to the code. She then moved to the young man’s head and gently blew shimmering light onto his face. The boy opened his eyes. His body was partially consumed by light, his flesh now gone, and his remaining organic parts were getting thinner and lighter as he looked at the surroundings, still very confused, shocked and yet in a complete submission to the ongoing. The floor stopped spinning around and, as the three void dwellers united around the boy’s transforming physical form, he made the final transition. Now fluidic light was everywhere and four beings were freely soaring in the whirlpool of shimmer and fluorescence.

“I will miss the ruffles,” the girl winked at Grandfather and the four of them left the chamber.

Camilla Stein ©2015. All rights reserved.
05/28/2011

SPLINE

by Camilla Stein

Savannah looked out the window. Thin smoke was rising from behind the old clock tower, and the always so busy street was now suspiciously empty. Alarmed, she dialed Nen’s number on a pliant little gadget inside a panel of her desktop communicator, waited a few seconds and dialed one more time. Nen was not responding.

     Savannah wondered about his priority message earlier this morning. She couldn’t make much of it; technical noise jammed the transmission. She looked out again.  Something was not right.

     While she was about to close the window, a frantic cry came from around the corner and a distressed woman in her mid 30’s ran through the street as if she were being chased. A sleeve of her bloodstained coral dress was torn and her brown pumps were missing a heel. She was deliriously waving her blaster to no effect.

     A mighty roar in the distance caused the woman shrug and draw nearer to the wall. The roar closed in as its echo shook the neighborhood. The woman was looking for someone, knocking on doors and screaming.

     Savannah froze behind the blinds. Her door was next so she decided not to wait-in one grab she pulled the fugitive inside.

     “Shhh… Not a sound! Keep to the floor.” The woman exhaled, terrified. “It’s here!”

     “What are you running from? Who are you?” Savannah whispered back, shaking off angst. Whatever had happened to her uninvited guest, it must have been very bad-she was getting weaker by the moment.

     “I’m a tracker.  I just got back from Andromeda, worked on a station there, undercover. The Aurorans have insurgents everywhere. Not that civilians are supposed to know that…” The woman coughed blood at an attempted laugh. “My last assignment was to investigate disappearance of two female officers on the station. That case led me to many more…Now my partner is dead and I will be too, soon, but not before this…” Savannah noticed a tiny silver sphere in the woman’s hand. The woman forced herself to stay awake. Her coral dress was soaked-she was bleeding out.

     “You’re wounded. Hang in, I’ll get the kit.” Savannah crawled into the kitchen to fetch first aid utilities. When she returned, the woman was barely conscious.

     “Don’t waste your time, I can’t be helped anymore. Here, take this.” The sphere slipped into Savannah’s palm. “It’s the Auroran memory chip. The data is encrypted. Nen is the only one who can crack the code and deliver the list to the High Council without compromising the entire operation. Maybe it’s not too late.”

     “Wait a minute…Nen? My brother?” Savannah’s head was spinning. “He’s not here. I’ve been trying to reach him all morning.” So, the woman’s ending up in Savannah’s home was no coincidence. Nen indeed knew someone who knew someone in the High Council, but he didn’t like talking about his connections.

     “Yes, him.  His profile is in our system. Yours too.” Savannah’s eyes widened. She reckoned there was more to her brother’s life, but didn’t fancy finding herself in the middle of an espionage thriller.

     The woman gasped for air and continued in a fainting whisper. “Listen carefully. I need to leave immediately. Use your neutralizer. You have one in the kit, don’t you? It should be sufficient to erase evidence of my ever being here. They sent a neuro-robot to follow us…me…He killed my partner and is now sniffing through town. I managed to burn a part of his matrix, but Auroran technology is highly sophisticated.  He’s adapting as we speak. Whatever happens, he should not find you.” She pulled out a pill from a secret compartment inside her belt.

     Savannah heard rumors of such inventions. The drug was said to put a person in some sort of a temporary hypnotic state, inducing a nerve block and causing rapid recuperation. The catalyzed abnormally high energy level was enabling subjects to work through pain and injury, but would wear off quickly. The effects were lethal and the drug’s application was restricted to military personnel, to be used in terminal cases.

     The woman got up, gave Savannah a brave look and stepped outside just as another powerful roar spread through the street so close Savannah had to cover her ears. She then reached for the first aid kit where she kept her neutralizer.

    Nen parked his capsuloid on the roof and hurried to transport down to Savannah’s place. He doubted that his sister got his message; there was so much interference on every channel. He managed to alert several friends, and they, in turn, exercised necessary precautions. By the time Nen arrived, the entire town was locked down.

     Savannah’s worried face startled him the moment his body materialized out of the tube, but instead of making a scene, she handed him the sphere and sat down.

     After Nen’s manipulations with the Auroran code, the two were looking at a cryptic list of names.

     “Terminated, I suppose…” Nen pointed to the crossed ones. “And those with red dots next to them are due, scheduled for. Do you understand?” He turned to Savannah.

     “Why only women? And what are these symbols?” She was shocked and confused; her stomach was curling from nausea.

     “High Council speculated that the Aurorans were behind nasty bio experiments on humans, but there was no hard evidence to go with.” Nen continued. “A large number of female residents with infertility problems went through artificial insemination in our clinic on Andromeda’s station. Seventy percent of them disappeared in the third trimester.”

     “The insurgents!” Savannah jolted at recalling the tracker’s warning.

     “Indeed. The symbols must be names of Auroran infiltrators. Impregnated and carrying alien fetuses, the women became disposable after the extraction. This here is the proof.” Nen shut down his decoder and was now inspecting his blaster.

     “What will happen when we deliver this list to the High Council?” Savannah looked up at her twin brother, seeking to confirm what she already knew-Earth was bracing for an interstellar war.

Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.
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