This week have stories by:
A Death in the Family
By: Norval Joe
“Hi, Mom. What’s for dinner?” Charlie said. He walked past his mother, sat down, and rubbed his feet. When he realized that she hadn’t answered he stopped and looked up . She stood with her hands planted on her hips.
“What?” he said, withering in the heat of his mothers glare.
She shook her head and sat at the table where she had been preparing roots for dinner. When she spoke he clearly heard an undertone anger in her voice.
“The dinner is where it always is. Right under your nose. You can see for yourself what it is.”
She held a reddish knobby tuber in her hand. Tears welled up in her eyes and she looked away.
Chagrinned, Charlie picked at the dirt between his toes.
She got up from the table and stepped away, her back to her son. He could hear her quiet sobs.
He stood and walked to her. She had one hand to her mouth, the knuckles pressed to her lips. In the other hand, she held the tuber. Her shoulders shook.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” This wasn’t like her. He felt disoriented and off balance.
She turned, holding out the root in her hand that she hand been cleaning. She squeezed it as she spoke. “Your father has been gone for weeks. I don’t know if he is ever coming back. And Now my sister, Ida, is sick. She has a fever that won’t break. The doctor has tried his best herbs, and still, she is so hot.” As she spoke she waved the root in the air in a senseless, and futile way, that matched the desolation in her voice.
Charlie felt empty watching his mother behave this way. When she suddenly sat, again at the dinner table, he crouched behind her. “I love you Mom. Just wait, everything will be all right,” he said, and ran his fingers through her short hair. He picked here and there, as if he found a louse. There were none there, but the action had the desired response. His mothers shoulders relaxed. She closed her eyes and cried.
He sat behind her for more than an hour picking though the hair on her head, neck and shoulders.
She wearily got to her feet. “Come, Charlie,” She said, “we should go see her before it gets too late.” The sun was already close to the horizon, and it wouldn’t be safe to travel after dark; Not even the short distance they needed to go.
They approached the clearing where Ida lived and could smell something on the air that told them that things were not right.
Charlie had never experience the death of a family member, but he did know the smell of an animal when it was killed. The air had a similar odor, but also reeked with an an unfamiliar sourness.
Ida lay on her side, unmoving, eyes and mouth, partially open.
Charlie and his mother squatted close to her lifeless form, but did not touch her. His mother quietly wept.
They sat together through the night, watching the inert form. By morning the sourness had dissipated from the air and was replace by the normal scent of decaying flesh.
“Charlie, dear. You must do something for me.” She said when she turned and looked him in the eyes. “Please take her away and put her where the animals won’t get her. I can’t do it. I don’t have the heart. Please, son, do this for me.”
Without hesitation, he bent forward to pick her up. Ida wasn’t heavy, but she was too awkward a shape for him to lift.
His mother watched, expressionless, as Charlie took his aunt by the foot and dragged her from the clearing. Once out of his mothers sight, he stopped, to take a moment, and decide where to put her.
‘Where will animals not be able to reach her?’ He thought. ‘I can hardly lift her, I can’t put her in a tree. Maybe I could put her in a hole and cover her up. But where is a hole large enough for her?’ The only holes that he knew of, close by, were the lairs of burrowing animals. That didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
Then it came to him. The place was far, but he could make it, if he really hurried. He ran back to the clearing. “Mom. I know what to do. Go home and wait for me there. I will be most of the day. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” He didn’t wait for a reply. He ran back to his aunt’s body and dragged it away, through the forest.
He could smell his destination long before he got there. The smell was unlike any around his home. By the time he reached the opening in the ground, the fumes were so strong that his eyes ran with tears and he coughed continuously.
The ground was barren of plants for yards around the pit. He eased up to the edge and peered over. He looked at the wet, liquid, clay, ten feet below. A rainbow sheen glimmered where the sun reached its oily surface.
He didn’t think about it for a long time. He pushed his aunt over the small dirt mound and into the pit.
The clay was thin, but had some resistance. Ida didn’t sink immediately. She light, frail, body floated in the oily, cold, bath in much the same position as when they had found her the night before. On her side, with her back toward him, she slowly disappeared below the surface.
Charlie waited at the edge of the barren area for a short time, before returning to the pit to verify that she had gone, completely.
Satisfied that no trace of her remained, he headed for home
By: Mick Bordet
Maart felt a moment of panic when the noise started, a faint pulse that seemed familiar, yet long forgotten. He traced it to the bracelet on his left wrist. It had been little more than a decoration for years, but now was glowing and emitting the noise that had caught his attention. A puzzled look spread across his face as he realised what it was telling him: Maeala was back.
That was impossible, he thought, yet the last time the bracelet had made such a signal was the last time he had seen her, almost thirty years ago. When the device had first changed from the almost imperceptible ticking he was used to, the sound that told him she was safe, to this same slow pulse, he had jumped into action. The tracking system led him to the side of the lake where he found only a small child crying. Her tears were for the kind girl who had rescued her ball, but fallen into the dark water in the process.
He had sat by the shore for days on end, gazing out across the calm, black surface, knowing that she was gone, but hoping against all logic that perhaps her bracelet had just fallen off and she would appear by his side, telling him not to be so silly. After three weeks his own bracelet had gone quiet. Wherever she was, somewhere down there, where the search teams could not reach, she was out of sight of the Sun’s rays and the charge on her bracelet had run out.
“So why,” he asked himself, “is it active again after all these years?”
After the accident, he had signed up for the airforce tests that would see him given an aircraft that could travel in space at close to the speed of light. He was told to leave Earth and return with details of new planets that could be colonised if the extreme volcanic activity on Earth worsened. There were already worries that the atmosphere was becoming poisoned by the rapidly changing climate, so action was needed now if the people were to survive. A year earlier nothing would have dragged him away from his idyllic lifestyle in the village where he lived, but with his only love lost he wanted to get away as quickly as possible.
Space had been his home for years now and he had found two planets worthy of habitation. One was so beautiful that he hadn’t wanted to leave its brightly-coloured forests, dark purple moors and twinkling golden deserts, whilst the other was less hospitable, with unending rain showers and strong winds detracting from an otherwise fertile and verdant land. He had noticed on his approach to his home planet that it seemed greener and bluer than he had remembered, but had put this down to his memory reflecting his emotions about leaving, rather than what he had actually seen. Those had been dark times and he had been quite happy to see the planet disappear into the distance as he left.
Now that he was down within the atmosphere again, he could see that it was not just his imagination, but the planet had indeed changed; the sky was clearer, for a start. He wondered if the scientists had found a way to reverse the global warming and reduce the poisonous gas emissions, but then he saw the cities. All over the planet were huge stone outcrops, buildings not made of wood and natural materials, but of synthetic compounds that glared against the sky. Coming closer to the ground he could make out the inhabitants; tall, almost-bald, tail-less creatures roamed everywhere. They were clearly of a similar species to himself and yet a world removed. He knew this was not a change that could have happened in thirty years, but had no explanation for where his own people were. Had he not been daydreaming through his lessons on the theory of spaceflight, he might well have realised that he was experiencing time dilation first hand. All that distance he had crossed at near-light speed had seemed a long thirty years to him, but to Earth, millenia had passed and his people had died out millions of years ago.
Passing from night into day as he sped towards the source of the signal, Maart stared all around the landscape surrounding his little ship, noticing that, despite the differences between his people and these new inhabitants, the latest tenants of Earth looked like they were making a lot of the same mistakes. Light and noise pollution were everywhere, something his people had not suffered from, as well as massive plumes of near-luminous white smoke rising into the night sky.
Finally he reached the building from which the signal was emanating. It was open, though there were very few people around, which meant he could easily sneak inside without being seen. As he crept along the echoing stone corridors, the range of weapons, skeletons, monuments and old artifacts led him to the conclusion that this was a museum, though his focus was fixed on the bracelet on his wrist which registered his proximity to his goal with an accelerating pulse. Eventually the corridor came to an end and he stood facing a wall.
He looked up. There she was.
The fossil, attached to the wall facing him, could have belonged to any one of his people, but for one thing. On the wrist of one of the figure’s outstreached arms was a faint, but rapid, pulsing glow of pale green light, perfectly synchronised with the frequency of the pulse illuminating his own wrist. He stepped forward and touched the delicate skeletal structure where it was lit, his finger lingering for a moment before tracing the arm bones back to the body and stroking the skull. Her mother had died in childbirth and he had raised her on his own until that dreadful day.
“Good night, my darling daughter,” he said, for the first time in 47 million years.
By: Jeff Hite
Sara hated the environmental suit she was wearing. It didn’t fit properly and the air recycling system smelled as if they last person who wore the suit was a long dead whale. But since her suit had been damaged the day before, this suit was the only one that she had access to, and this find was way too important to wait until her suit was repaired.
Three days ago they had found the remains of a village that was probably the oldest thing they had found yet. They had yet to find any remains but the team knew that If was not a custom to bury their dead near their dwellings, and so far that is all the scans had found. The dwellings went from nearly the size of the transport ship, to smaller than the landing craft. It was in one of these smaller buildings that her suit had been damaged, when an ancient piece of equipment, proved to be still sharp enough to slice her suit from wrist to elbow. It was a surprising find to be sure, but it had cut her day short.
“Sara, what were you thinking?” Doctor March, the team lead, had asked.
“I could not imagine that it was still sharp.”
“Did you check it? You know that these people were known for their use of tempered tools.”
“Yes but I could not imagine that after all this time it would still have an edge.”
“Well you were lucky. If you had leaned against it and cut your suit in a place that could not have been so easily sealed off.”
“Yes, yes I know. But what do you think of the find? Do you know what this could prove?”
“You mean that they were a truly integrated society?”
“Personally I don’t think we have found anything that would prove that. And, I am leaning more toward Johnathan’s theory.”
“But what about the proximity of the buildings?”
“As Johnathan has said, they were storage. which is why you found tools there.”
“But Doctor, that makes no sense, why would dwellings so large need additional storage? The site we found yesterday show huge open spaces in the larger dwelling, that would be prefect to store anything they could possibly need. And they it would make more sense that we would find tools of the crafts of labors in the smaller dwellings?”
“Did you get a look at the tool that you cut your suit on?”
“No not really, it cut my suit and I left.”
“Kelly went back in there, and found no evidence of a dwelling but he found many more tools.”
“What if it that was only the lower level and they lived above.”
“The foundation does not look like it would support a second level.”
“But it still makes no sense, the larger dwellings had so much extra space, they would have no need for extra storage. The smaller dwellings have to be for the poor. And it makes sense because there is one or more per larger structure. It makes sense that each of the well off groups would take under their wing a poorer one.”
“There is your problem. Once again you are projecting what you know about our society on these peoples. You are taking what you know about us an assuming that they did the same things.”
“But, nothing. They were known to be particularly savage. Did you know that that they used the skins of animals to cover themselves, or ever worse they eat animals.”
At that thought of this she felt violently ill and almost lost control. When she had regained control she said, “But we have no evidence of them eating their own kind. Do we?”
“Nothing solid, but it is never that far of a leap for these primitives.”
“But, they had made into space, they had a rocketry program, in the southern part of this continent, and they had released the power of the atom.”
“Yes, and then they used it to destroy one another. The records that we have been able to recover show that the people that discovered and harnessed the power of the atom were the first to use it against others on the planet.”
“I read that was well.”
“There is much more evidence to that they were horrible wasters of space, and those out buildings you found where just for storage.”
“But we have nothing hard on that. And what about the one that we found genetic Material from someone not belonging to the group that lived in the main dwelling.”
“First of all, in that area it is not clear which smaller building is associated with which larger building, and just because we found remains there does not mean that they lived there. They could have been hiding or they could have died their unexpectedly. One of the side effects of a diet that consists of animal, um, is sudden heart failure. I think that you are reading too much into this, this is your first planet side expedition.”
“I would like to continue to collect evidence on my theory.”
“Very well, but I highly doubt you will be able to support it, no matter what you find.”
“Thank you, but I think you are wrong.”