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Aliens

Best Impressions

by Brandon Crilly

That arkship is coming whether people want it or not.

A lot of the other tug pilots do. That’s why they’re hooking junk above the twinkling hemisphere below. We each have our sectors, and each of them is still clogged with enough debris to last two more generations. It’s a calling, this job, but I don’t feel the need to talk about it. Mostly I drown out the others’ comm chatter with techno, but tonight I switch back to one of the arkship transmissions.

I’ve heard every recording, including from long before I was born. The originals are best, not the attempted translations. You can hear the truth of why they’re coming in their natural speech. The translators and xenobiologists argue back and forth, but I don’t understand how anyone can mistake what our future guests are saying, after really listening.

Their frothing, bubbling speech fills my cabin as I hook another long-dead satellite. Come the dawn, no one below will notice any difference in the sky. But unlike the sea and land restorations, this cleanup isn’t for them. It’s far more important, and thankfully on schedule.

Really listen to those recordings and you’ll hear it. How much the beings on that arkship miss their home. Longing and regret are hard to capture in translation. Something must have happened, and now they’re coming here; maybe because we’re the only bright spot they could see. Luckily, their ancestors started sending word ahead, and mine started preparing a better first impression, and both of us have kept our respective sides going.

I won’t see the orbital cleanup finished, but that’s okay. As long as it’s done before our guests arrive. Maybe if they see a world that’s beautiful and pristine, they’ll be less likely to destroy it like they did theirs.

~

Bio:

Brandon Crilly has been previously published by Daily Science Fiction, Fusion Fragment, PULP Literature, Flame Tree Publishing and other markets. He’s also an Aurora Award-nominated podcaster, reviewer, conference programmer, and history teacher. Find him at https://brandoncrilly.com or on Twitter @B_Crilly.

Philosophy Note:

“Best Impressions” combines my focus on climate fiction and solarpunk with something else that’s always fascinated me: how we’d react to confirmation of extraterrestrial life. Moral behavior tends to occur more often when we think someone will see what we do, and I think that applies to environmental consciousness as much as anything else. Would we worry about what an alien species might think about how we’ve treated Earth? Reactions would vary, I think, which is a big part of what I tried to capture in this story.

The Social Aspects of the Aydax Phenomena: A Literature Review

by Andrew Gudgel

November 2043

Authors: Hanna Knudson, City College of London; Zhang Simei, China Academy of Social Sciences; Paolo Villarreal, Arizona State University; Margarethe Kohlmann, Universität Wien

Abstract

The arrival of the Aydax in July 2039 raised fundamental questions in physics (Lennon, 2041), xenobiology (Tao, 2039) and even philosophy (Magnette, 2042). No field has been as diverse in its response as sociology, with hundreds of journal articles generated in just a few years. Yet to date there has been no meta-analysis of the effects of the Aydax arrival on the societies of Earth. The authors attempt to take first steps towards illuminating themes in the human response to this watershed event.

Background

The first three Aydax ships were detected at 2049 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on July 8, 2039, by the US Space Surveillance Network at a distance of 35,000km. Two minutes later, three more ships were detected. Detections continued until a total of 21 ships were observed approaching the Earth (US DoD, 2039). The first three ships entered the atmosphere less than five minutes later and landed near Orebro, Sweden; Prague, Czechia; and Troyes, France. Landings occurred then across Eurasia, Australia, Antarctica and finally, North and South America.

At 1216 UTC on July 12, 2039—four days after arrival—the ships simultaneously emitted a noise interpreted by local security cordons as “Ay-dax!” Immediately thereafter, the bottoms of the ships lowered to the ground, revealing a conical ramp. The first wave of tightly packed, walking cephalopods were seen coming down at 1220 UTC and upon reaching the ground, immediately began to disperse in all directions (Salton, 2039).

Messages were transmitted at the Aydax using sound, light, and electromagnetic waves up to the microwave band, but attempts to communicate with this (and all subsequent) tranches of disembarking Aydax proved fruitless. Within six hours, five hundred and twelve waves of sixty-four Aydax proceeded from each ship, for an assumed total worldwide population of 668,128 individuals (Salton, 2039)–though this number has decreased due to the freezing to death of the 65,000-plus Aydax on the two ships that landed in Antarctica, predation by wild animals, and losses in subsequent encounters with humans.

Lack of Communication and Interaction

The singular aspect surrounding the arrival of the Aydax has been the lack of successful communication. In addition to attempts using sound and electromagnetic radiation, there have been attempts using neutron beams and alpha particles (Diaz and Burchfield, 2040), pheromones (Wu and Keegan, 2040), and even an informal attempt using capsaicin (Cleary, 2040). None have caused the slightest reaction. Claims of “Whispering Aydax,” telepathic communication, or gestural language have either been disproven (Stahl, 2042) or shown to be hoaxes; similar and more sensational versions of these tropes have appeared in numerous tabloid newspapers and merit no serious consideration.

An examination of the abandoned ships three months after the landing found no evidence of control mechanisms or written language, only alcoves that presumably housed individual Aydax. It’s likely travel occurred in a state of suspended animation, as there were no food preparation areas or hygienic facilities on board (Lutz et al, 2039). We still have no idea of where in space the Aydax may have originated, why they came to Earth, or their goals and aims. It’s unknown if they produced the ships in which they traveled. It has been argued they might not even be sentient at all (Mingus, 2042). If so, this raises the obvious question of who sent the Aydax to Earth and why.

Immediately after their dispersal, fear of a potential invasion sparked panicked humans to kill an unknown number of Aydax individuals worldwide–probably on the order of several thousand. In addition, some have subsequently been killed in remote areas by predators such as brown bears, lions and dingoes. To this day, Aydax are occasionally crushed when they wander onto roads or train tracks, and sporadic killings by humans still occur (Calvino, 2040).

However, the complete lack of any reaction or retaliation by the Aydax did not lead to mass slaughter. Instead, Aydax seem to have become accepted as a quasi-natural phenomenon. Individuals that obstruct or interrupt human activities are more likely than not to simply be ignored and worked around or picked up and moved out of the way (Fox, 2041).

Friend or Foe?

The popular press has painted Aydax as everything from angelic saviors to Machiavellian devils just biding their time before taking over the world (Brooks, 2040). However, there is currently no evidence that the Aydax are concerned with human activity to any degree.

Yet some humans have come to impute behaviors to the Aydax through their mere presence. Farmers in the northwestern districts of Peru have attempted to “herd” Aydax into churches just prior to weddings–having an individual at the ceremony is considered lucky, possibly through retro-association with Pre-Columbian deities (Cruz, 2042). In North America, Aydax that wander into sporting arenas are often “adopted” as mascots, believed to confer luck on the home team. The time spent in an art gallery by an Aydax (and the implied approval of certain artworks) was the basis of a subsequent lawsuit over those artworks’ actual value (Johnson, 2041). Aydax have been used to sell everything from consumer products to political candidates. They have also been accepted as part of Japan’s Kawaii aesthetic (Tadao, 2042), where they form the basis for the InterToy Company’s “Squidoo” series of characters.

The Aydax have been the source of a number of short-lived social phenomena during the 2040-41 time frame: the act of “Aydax Tripping,” and the online memes “AliensInHats,” “¡Hola!,” and “HuggingMyBuddy.” Recent streaming media have used the presence of Aydax in family homes in a number of contrived comedic situations (Yeager, 2043).

However, this does not mean that humans have become blasé to the presence of the Aydax. The low moan of air moving through their breathing throats and their uncanny ability to somehow enter and depart even locked spaces such as bank vaults, prisons, and family homes can be unnerving. This ability has led to Aydax body parts being used in sympathetic magic rituals among burglary gangs in Thailand and West African inmates during attempted prison escapes (Yost, 2043).

In North America and Europe, the rate of self-reported feelings of paranoia and “persecution” has shown a small but marked increase since the arrival of the Aydax (Gerson, 2042). Anecdotal reports of decreases in the number of house pets and small rodents in neighborhoods through which Aydax pass also worry many people. (Though see Hart and Duckworth, 2041, for an analysis which sheds doubt on this phenomena.)

The effect of the arrival of the Aydax on religious belief has varied. Abrahamic religions initially experienced both a questioning of basic tenets and a drop in congregational attendance. However, within a year, attendance at weekly services rebounded to just above pre-arrival levels. A similar effect was seen in both Judaism and Islam (Halston, 2040). In primarily Buddhist regions, Aydax have gradually come to be considered fellow beings in the wheel of Samsara (Pan, 2041).

The effect on world politics was both brief and muted. Once the initial shock of the Aydax landing and early fears of an invasion passed, most governments ended emergency declarations and went back to business as usual. However, in what could be described as the first case of true xenophobia, a populist government in Eastern Europe passed a law mandating the removal of all Aydax from within its borders. These measures proved impossible to enforce and were repealed less than a year later (Duchowski, 2040).

Conclusion: Mirror, Mirror

Human societies appear to be acclimating themselves to the presence of the Aydax. After an initial wave of fear and some temporary turmoil, humanity seems to be embracing the Aydax as a new part of the natural world, and in some cases attaching value to their presence. While the authors acknowledge that unfortunate and sometimes lethal encounters will likely continue in the future, such incidents have already become uncommon.

The authors further believe that barring a resolution to the communication problem and/or some indication of ill will on the part of the Aydax, the trend towards acceptance will continue. Yet the complete inability to communicate with the Aydax, and thus discern their intentions, has made them a blank canvas upon which humanity can project its own hopes, fears, goals and desires. This aspect of the “Aydax Phenomena” is unlikely to change until such time as human nature does.

Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank research assistants Donald Previn, Wan Quanhong, Deborah Johnson and Andreas Hartlieb for searching numerous databases for relevant information prior to this article’s creation. They also wish to thank their families for their understanding during the months in which the authors spent too many nights in online meetings and discussions. Finally, Hanna Knudson would like to thank the Aydax individual she saw standing in the yard while searching for the family dog on August 4, 2042, for being the genesis of this article.

#

References

Brooks, Killian, “Media Coverage of the Aydax Landing, July 2039-January 2040,” National Press Club [Australia] Magazine, June 2040, pp. 20-24

Calvino, Sophia, “Carcere per l’omicidio alieno,” La Stampa, 6 Aprile 2042, p. 12

Cleary, Alice, “Man Arrested for Giving Alien a ‘Hot Sauce Red Eye,'” Chicago Tribune Online, August 23, 2040

Cruz, Antonio, “Revival of Moche Beliefs in the Trujillo Region of Peru in the Post-Aydax World,” Sociology, (73:11), November 2042, p. 45-48

Diaz, Fernando and Aaron Burchfield, “Particle Beams as a Method of Communication with an Aydax Individual,” IEEE Bulletin (No. 648), April 2040, p. 730

Duchovski, Marcin, “Zgromadzenie Narodowe uchwala Prawo Anti-Kosmita,” Gazeta, 21 Styczen, 2040; “Prawo Anti-Kosmita zostało uchylone,” Gazeta, 11 Listopad 2040

Fox, Stanley, “Cloudy With a Chance of Aydax: Acceptance of Dramatic Change and the Status Quo Ante,Sociology, (72:9), September 2041, p. 31-37

Gerson, Tabitha, “Trends in Psychiatric Case Rates,” Journal of International Psychology, Vol. 18, Iss. 6, November 2042, pp.757-785

Halston Worldwide Associates, “Depth of Faith and Weekly Church Attendance post-Aydax Arrival,” September 2040 polling data, September 31, 2040

Hart, Angela and Brian Duckworth, “Observational Study of Lost Pet Notices After Aydax Passage,” Statistical Bulletin, 246:5, May 2041, p. 361-372

Johnson, Lily, “Judgment Against Gallery Owner in Aydax Case Leads to $800K Settlement,” New York World, July 30, 2042, p. A10

Lennon, Valerie, “Transluminal Propulsion and Einstein–a Reassessment,” Nature, 6 February 2041, pp. 12-15

Lutz, Dora, Karl Dorfmann and others, “A Technological Perspective on Aydax Spacecraft,” United Nations Special Technical Bulletin No. 36, November 2039

Magnette, Thomas, “Aristotle’s On Marvelous Things Heard and the Aydax: Categorically Improbable Truths,” Trans. Phil. Grecae (Vol 16:11), November 2042, pp. 345-70

Mingus, Stephen, “Canaries in a Coal Mine: The Case for Aydax as Ecological Indicators for a Yet Unknown Species,” in New Perspectives on Exobiology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2042

潘兰香[Pan, Lanxiang], “外星人会参加轮回吗? [Can Aliens Participate in Reincarnation?]” 《佛学 [Buddhist Studies]》 120:4, 2041年 4月,47-49页

Salton, David, “Report on the Arrival of the Aliens and Attempts to Make Contact,” United Nations Xenobiological Paper No. 1, August 2039

Stahl, Charles, “Contextual Gestures and Implied Meanings in Nonverbal Communication,” Linguistics, Vol. 27 Iss. 3, Spring 2042

Tadao, Takeshi, “Latest Trends in Japan’s Subcultures,” Commercial Journal, November 2042, p. 4

Tao, Yuanguang, “Morphology of a Newly-Discovered Species, Xenokalamari vagus aydaxUnited Nations Xenobiological Paper No. 2, September 2039

US Department of Defense Press Release, July 9, 2039

Yeager, Donna, “Shoehorning Aliens into Shows is a Trend We Can All Do Without,” Hollywood Magazine online, October 3, 2043

Yost, Michael, “Use of Human, Alien and Animal Body Parts in Sympathetic Magic Rituals,” in Paganism in the 21st Century, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2043

Wu, Hongmei and Dominica Keegan, “Am I Making Scents? An Attempt at Interspecies Communication,” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 25:6, June 2040, pp. 182-87

~

Bio:

Andrew Gudgel is a freelance writer and translator. His fiction has appeared at Writers of the Future, Flash Fiction Online, Escape Pod, InterGalactic Medicine Show and other publications. He lives in Maryland, USA, in an apartment slowly being consumed by books. You can find him at www.andrewgudgel.com.

Philosophy Note:

This piece was the result of meditations on aliens and first contact tropes. The first question pondered was: What if the
aliens were SO alien, we can’t even communicate with them? From there I extrapolated how humanity might react. Fear and/or curiosity seem to be the default responses in many first-contact stories, but how would humans react longer term with aliens who remained an enigma?

Pinning The Egg

by Larry Hodges

“It’s over,” I said, over 2200 years ago. Poor Emperor Qin may have united and conquered all of China, began the Great Wall of China, and created the life-sized Terracotta Army (for God’s sake, why?), but he could only glare at the Go board. I was nice enough to only beat him in private. When there were spectators I always let him win.

“Someday I will beat you,” he said. “For real.” When he’d ordered all the scholarly books burned, they’d also mistakenly burned the only good one on Go tactics.

I was about to politely explain to the black-clad Emperor why my losing to a primitive barbarian like him was about as likely as a giant egg falling out of the sky, that he didn’t have to wear black all of the time, even if water, represented by black, was his “birth element,” and for that matter why his hunt for the “elixir of life” would also fail, when the sensor alarm beeped. I raced to the viewscreen, an anachronism here at the Qin Palace, where astrology was the height of science.

Flaming out of the sky was a giant egg. A Murt Egg. Oh God.

Believe me, you do not want one of these on your world. Once hatched, out comes a Murt, with flaming hair and laser eyes that rip everything in its path like a tornado in a black hole. It could take out half a continent in one pleasant afternoon. I know; I was trained to fight them. The Chinese were the most advanced civilization on Earth back then, and so I’d made Xian my home base as their guardian against the Murt. It was time to go to work.

I used the transporter to leave China and the Qin Dynasty–I would never return–beaming myself to the egg’s estimated landing spot on a large island halfway around the world. Did I mention that in the 46,136 known cases of a Murt egg hatching on a planet with intelligent life, exactly zero of those intelligent races survived? That’s why the Galactic Federation created the Anti-Murt Patrol (AMP)–not to save intelligent race number 46,137, but to save their own sorry little tushies. And that’s why I’d been assigned to Earth, to stop any such infiltration, which would lead to more Murts as they expanded through the galaxy.

The egg smacked into the ground like an irritated meteor, just missing me. And then it was just the two of us, mano-a-mano, Colonel Cag, the lone agent assigned to Earth, versus the egg from Hell. You’re probably thinking of chicken eggs, twelve innocent, defenseless ovals in a carton smiling up at you, just looking for a nice home. Now imagine them screaming in agony as you toss them on the fryer. That’s you if I don’t stop this rhino-sized egg from hatching. Its pure whiteness was a trick; inside was the demon spawn of, well, demons.

“Back off or get pinked!” came a high-pitched voice in Galactic Standard from within the egg, giving a pink warning flash. Great; a girl Murt. They were the worst. I shuddered, remembering what I’d heard about this most evil of beings.

“Are you shuddering?” asked the egg.

Great Dragon’s Breath! These things can practically smell fear, even from the egg. A little bravado was needed if I wanted to get the upper hand. “Why don’t you take your frilly dolls and go back into orbit, and hatch and die in the vacuum of space? I’d hate to have to pin a little girl.”

Being an ignorant isolationist species, you probably don’t know that I’m one of the Zinh, a shapeshifting and transmuting species. I transformed from my Asian human guise into a solid sword of quantum quasar-tempered metallic hydrogen–a Zinh secret–and shot into the air. Only an incredibly sharp point made from an incredibly strong metal shooting at an incredible speed can pierce and pin a Murt egg to the ground.

Kapow! I barely dodged the pink ray that shot from the egg. A nearby oak exploded in flame. More rays shot out, and I dodged, left and right, keeping the blade–me–edge-on to the egg to minimize its target. One mistake, and I’d get pinked. This was what I’d lived and trained my whole life for! I swerved left, then right, saw an opening, and dived.

But the egg was too quick as it spun away. Imagine a rhino flitting about like a dragonfly. Fortunately, we Zinh train with the rhino-sized dragonfly-like beings of Krong. Only–when sparring with the Krong, I didn’t have to dodge death rays that made me want to go back to mommy. We did put laser flashlights on their collars and practiced avoiding them, but that’s like training with lightning bugs to prepare for a fire-breathing dragon.

I found another opening, and another, and each time the egg barely avoided me, and each time I barely avoided its barrage of pink light. But one mistake, and it would all be over. I thought back to my years of training, trying to find that one bit of high-level technique that would allow me to prevail. There had to be something. And then I remembered the last piece of advice my master had told me before I graduated, a tactic so advanced, so unexpected, that none could withstand it.

“You fight like a boy!” I cried.

“Oh yeah? And you–“

I only needed like a hundredth of a second of hesitation, and that’s what I got as I followed my words by swooping in, willing myself to go faster than even its beams of light. My point sank into it and pinned it to the ground as it screamed. Success!!!

Well, sort of. Did I mention that defeating a Murt egg is basically a sentence of life imprisonment to the winner? Stabbing a Murt egg doesn’t kill it–almost nothing does, including a nuclear blast–so all I could do was keep it pinned there, for all eternity.

“Can’t we talk this over?” asked the egg, helplessly flashing pink and burning a nearby innocent elm tree. “I’m not even a baby!”

“Sorry,” I said. The egg bucked back and forth for a couple of centuries (I won’t bore you with the details, but there was a lot of insulting repartee–the Zinh are good, but the Murt have us beat there), but eventually it sighed and gave up. Finally! “Would you like to learn to play mental Go?” I asked.

Eternity is rather boring when all you have to pass the time is playing Go with a large egg while staring at its innards. As the centuries passed, my sword body solidified; I’d never be able to shapeshift or transmute again. The egg also aged, gradually looking more and more like an ugly rock, as I helpfully pointed out every chance.

You’d think the humans would be grateful for my saving them from utter destruction, but no. Minions of evil kept trying to pull me out, not realizing the malevolence they’d release. And then one day, as I was about to beat the egg in Go for the 1,284,265th boring time in a row (yeah, I’m proud of beating a baby), an old man with a long staff and tall, pointy hat stopped by. After looking about to make sure there were no witnesses, he sprinkled hydrochloric acid all over where I entered the egg.

“What are you doing!” I cried as parts of me began to painfully dissolve, but he only giggled and left.

“It’s so warm and sizzly!” cried the egg, faintly flashing pink.

A few minutes later a gangly teenager came by. He stared at me for a moment, then grabbed me by the handle.

Don’t do it!” I screamed, but it was too late. With the acid eating away at me, he easily pulled me from the egg.

“Yes!” cried the egg. “And I only let you win at Go.” As the teenager held me up in triumph and declared himself king of England, I could only watch as the egg sank beneath the surface, where it would incubate and then hatch in about 1500 years.

I spent a few short years with this so-called king, where he used me to kill rivals to his throne, then he too was killed, and then I was lost for 1400 years, helplessly buried in the rubble of his ancient fortress as my energy slowly drained away. A hundred years ago I was found, cleaned, and spent years in various private collections as I was sold from back and forth, and finally put on display in a museum, though none know who or what I am. I’ve mutely watched as humanity advanced in so many ways, never knowing the danger below. But 1500 years have passed, and it’s about to hatch. My days are past, so humanity is on its own. Anyone for a last game of Go?

~

Bio:

Larry Hodges is an active member of SFWA with 114 short story sales, 35 of them “pro” sales, including ones to Analog, Amazing Stories, Escape Pod, and 18 to Galaxy’s Edge. He also has four SF novels, including When Parallel Lines Meet in 2017, which he co-wrote with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, and Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions in 2016, from World Weaver Press. He’s a member of Codexwriters, and a graduate of the six-week 2006 Odyssey Writers Workshop and the two-week 2008 Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop. In the world of non-fiction, he’s a full-time writer with 17 books and over 1900 published articles in over 170 different publications. Visit him at www.larryhodges.com.

Bait

by George Salis

This earth seems like a place you would call home, until you see a cluster of scintillating hooks descending through the sky and disappearing into a cityscape. Minutes later, hundreds of humans, pierced through the cheek, the hand, or even the genitalia, are pulled upward between the buildings and over the skyscrapers, through the atmosphere and into the frigidity of outer space. The source of the hooks is indiscernible, but you get the feeling that this is less an earth than a farm, ripe for the picking. The harvesters, smoke-obscured, are meticulous and methodical. But miscalculations happen, and humans that are pulled up too slowly become bloated and frostbitten, while those pulled up too quickly experience a barotrauma that explodes their eyeballs, prolapses their cochleas, and, on occasion, spontaneously ejects their brains, the parietal bone popping open like a missile hatch. These spoiled humans are thrown back as is, stuck in orbit among satellites and other debris or burnt to a crisp by atmospheric friction. Whether the harvesters discard them because they are inedible or unsellable or unable to be experimented upon is unknown, though it is believed that nutrition, economy, and science all play a role in the harvest. Fluxes of radiation borne of solar flares or other cosmic phenomena sometimes cook the humans as they are being reeled in through space. Yet this product is not thrown back. At such times, humans down on earth can just barely hear a celestial crunching, similar to the crackling of an aurora overhead, but combined with the harshness of something like deep-fried crickets. In response to this din, the humans stopper their ears with the palms of their hands and squeeze their eyelids together, attempting to unsee the imagined rows of serrated teeth, the miasmal burps of pleasure, the unidentifiable remains floating within cauldron stomachs, the defecation of pyramidal pellets containing shards of bone, broken jewelry, tufts of hair, semi-dissolved leather belts, shreds of cloth, and occasionally ellipsoid pairs of silicone.

         Over time, the harvesters will become more accurate in their reaping, and so fewer humans will be thrown back, but presently the earth seems to rain ravaged humans as much as they are ‘evaporated,’ which is one of the euphemisms used by the fearful. To address that issue, humans invent a global fleet of mobile nylon nets used to catch the discarded humans over land or sea. Thus it is discovered that some humans, although not frosted by space or sickened through decompression, are still deemed subpar by the harvesters. Likewise, children below the age of twelve are invariably released, probably in compliance with some intergalactic regulation. The latter are the most resilient, but many ‘recycled’ humans, as they are dubbed, are caught dead, with their brains lobotomized or decorticated by the hooks, their bodies charred from the fall. Yet there is still an abundance of survivors whose stories become a source of terror, wonder, and inspiration.

         A six-year-old boy is caught safely over the Atlantic, but found to have been skinned by the time he passed through the stratosphere, with a part of the adamantoid hook still jutting from his temple like an antenna. His corneas vaporized by ultraviolet radiation, he claims to have seen, up there, ancient astronauts in an inverted nimbus. He saw how their forms dissipate and coagulate at will, becoming tools, symbols, and what might have been their bodies, amorphous structures which echo the pillars of Greek antiquity. These beings are the Cosmic Parents of humans, the Creators and Liberators. “The journey of the hook,” the boy professes, “tests our purity and weighs our sin, for the abacuses of their consciousness can only bear so much darkness.” How can a child know these things? Some think that he is a kind of spy, yet another way to lure them, while others develop a faith in his messages, selling all their material belongings and cutting off every relationship before impaling themselves on the nearest hook, usually through the temple, in the way of the child mystic, the stabbing motion itself as innocent and alleviating as putting one’s head upon a pillow at night.

         When a middle-aged woman is caught in a net at the edge of the Sahara Desert, the velocity causes her epidermis to roll into itself like a sleeping bag, her head at the claustrophobic center. Members of the rescue team carefully unroll her and determine that she was filleted of every bone, but her skin was left intact, except for a hole in her cheek from which globules of saliva dribble. What alarms them is the fact that her left eye gazes out of her right ear canal and her other eye is fixed on what appears to her as an ocean trench (later discovered in the sphincter). More than this, her heart fell to the heel of her left foot, her lungs expand and contract within her right thigh, her bowels are where her brain should be, and all the rest is equally jumbled for lack of a skeletal system. They temporarily patch the cheek-hole with gauze, which helps her say, “I heard them speaking, but not, I heard their actual thoughts, the layers and layers, the calculations. Numbers. That’s what we are to them, numbers in the mind. And me, I was an outlier. An outcast.” She only survives for a few seconds after her enigmatic comment, loose parts of her flipping and flopping from occasional wind, until a simoom nearly blows her away. Caught by her kidney-bulging wrist, a man leads her whipping body through the sandy gusts and folds her neatly in an SUV’s trunk. By being an organ donor, she is able to save other Recycles. At her funeral, she is lowered into the earth inside a matchbox for a coffin. Because of her, the term ‘spineless’ is now synonymous with bravery and resilience.

         These tales of survival fuel a kind of arms race between the harvesters and the harvested. First, a brain trust is assembled by almost every government to determine what exactly attracts humans to the hooks, but this proves futile, for it is a mystery shrouded by amnesia and mythology. Some say you hear a soothing muzak, with coveted items of masscult, like smart phones or sex toys, glistening on the tips of the hooks. Others believe you are pulled in by the sobbing voices of deceased loved ones, finding them spiked through the chest and begging to be saved. A few conjecture there is a sibilant snake coiled around each hook like a worm, entreating you as if you were Eve, offering apples of knowledge, figs of immortality, a feast of the sensorium and the soul. Regardless of whatever temptation, the governments agree on a global law that forbids anyone to be within five miles of a hook and, like a total eclipse, to never look at one directly.

         In the event of a hook cluster, cities are made to evacuate. Strategically placed megaphones rattle buildings’ windows with monotone messages: “The hooks do not have your best interests in mind. Do not approach the hooks.” Families sardined in cars drive past digital billboards that read: Stay Happy & Hookless, with a vintage vista of undisturbed family life in the background. Hazmat teams, with tinted visors that only allow them to perceive the lines of the hooks, sever those ominous parallels using saw-toothed scissors attached to long poles. The grounded hooks are then treated like irradiated bear traps, and so other hazmat team members drive over them in a tank-like vehicle, finding the hooks via GPS and sucking them into a vat of acid. With time, the harvesters reinforce their lines with a plasmid aura that liquefies the scissors. They also infect the billboards and announcements with subliminal messages that equate the hooks with a shortcut to paradise. The humans soon develop meteorology that forecasts the when and where of a hook cluster. Less winds, more lubricating moisture in the air, the presence of fog to hide the hooks, all and more help to determine where they will descend next. This makes evacuation more effective and less haphazard. In response to this, the harvesters eventually deploy decoy clusters of hooks, catching the populations mid-exodus. So continues this game of cat and mouse, until you see a cluster of hooks descending, not upon a city, but a country, then a continent. Across the globe, hooked humans are being pulled through the clouds, the spheres, looking down on a world shadowed by themselves, by an entire species. The few million or so humans who are not caught immediately begin their immigration to an unfinished project, evading falling shoes, hats, glasses, and bodily fluids along the way. At the center of each continent is an incomplete underground metropolis. This will be the final step in the arms race, claimed the world leaders, who are now being reeled in by the harvesters, inhaling between screams the metallic stench of outer space. Here we will live and flourish in peace.

         Due to their intercontinental reaping, the harvesters are forced to incubate and breed humans, then throw them back down in a newly developed shrink-wrap that dissolves by the time they alight on the ground. But in the midst of desolate cities, the test tube humans become savage cannibals, reminding the harvesters of the tainted meat of millennia past. Yet the harvesters are not unwise to the layer of prime crop hidden beneath the surface, and after a century passes, they release a moon-sized chum bucket into orbit that slowly tips over and pours allamones over the earth. Golden spheres resembling dandelion seed heads swirl through the stratosphere and troposphere, the beginning of a nuclear summer. The nostrils of humans twitch amid the balm, the aroma, the perfume, the bouquet, the incense. They emerge from their subterranean safety to witness what appears to be a shattered sun as sparkling sky. Many stick out their dry tongues to let stray flecks settle on their taste buds and melt into a sexual urgency, others take deeper breaths and experience a desperate depression. Some pick up handfuls of the accumulated allamones and grind them into their eyes then use their stained fingers to brush their gums, quivering with euphoric revelation. The final goal of these states of mind are the same: every human skewers themselves on the nearest hook with divine gratification.

         Not many years after, the harvesters net the entirety of the earth and begin to haul it away. The few thousand humans that survived the maelstrom of allamones catapult into the net by the interruption of the planet’s rotation, then press back down to earth’s surface as the net tightens. Eventually the lack of sunlight causes a worldwide ice age, which has the benefit of keeping the meat preserved. If the humans could open their frozen eyes, they would see other netted planets being pulled next to theirs like the trophy heads of colossi.

~

Bio:

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThree Crows MagazineMad Scientist Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook and Instagram (@george.salis). He is the editor of The Collidescope.

Sila

by E. E. King

The Sila lived on a planet of stone. They were round, soft, slightly opaque and formed from silicon. They would have been transparent had they been thinner. Like blobs of jelly, they had no eyes, ears, mouths, noses or appendages. They had no senses, nor did they need them. They lived at a pace so slow they could comprehend that time and space were relative. On their planet, the speed of light was relative too. There were no constants. The only constant, unchanging unchangeables, were the rocks and the Sila themselves. They did not breathe or die. They had no emotions, no hungers, no need to reproduce, or desire for love. They communicated directly, without the need for words, faster than light or sound.

They sent their thoughts out into their galaxy, traversing space, distance and time. Life was, of course, fairly common in the universe, how could it not be? Uncountable galaxies filled with clouds of stars and planets. The life was mostly carbon based: small-minded, ignorant, finite creatures. Creatures who saw little and understood less. Creatures who trusted their limited senses and themselves alone in the vastness of space. The Sila found no reason to disabuse them. These creatures had nothing to teach them.

On all the planets, in all the galaxies in all the universes similarity abounded. There was nothing new under the suns… not even sun. But water, in its liquid state, unfrozen and not gaseous, was rare. So, there was interest when the Sila, probing far, far into the distant lights of the sky found a planet that was 98% saltwater.

Probing beneath its surface, they discovered a huge variety of life, an almost overwhelming multiplicity of species.

A few were free floating, looking like Sila themselves, though they were carbon based. Many lived in colonies, individuals sharing a common skeleton. They had no brains. A loose network of nerves detected light, odor and touch. Each had long, waving, poisonous tentacles. Probing into their calcium depths, the Sila discovered minute organism in each that could turn light into sugar. These tiny alchemists fed their own skeletons with food made from light. 

Deeper still, from the dark water rose the bleached remains of older colonies, some were shaped like brains, others like plates, or horns. These too had once been living, but due to temperature, salinity, or depth, they had died and lay white and silent beneath the waves.

There were other ruins too. Some younger, some older, vast towering made of glass, steel and stone. In them, the Sila found no life.

The Sila believed in light, in time, space, rock and chemicals. They believed in thought and ideas. They believed in communication. They did not believe in spirit or in soul. Souls were the inventions of carbon-based life, created to still the terror of an endless sleep, and to calm the fears of an infinite night.

Then they found them. Beings like themselves, round, pliant, opaque and still, lacking all traces of animation. How could this be? They were obviously not rocks. The Sila had seen too many stones on too many planets to be confused. These were Sila, but devoid of intellect, without life – dead.

They lay, two each, inside of six-foot rectangular squares that had been hewed in the ground many millions of years ago. Some were encased in fragments of metamorphic rock, some surrounded by molecules of rotted cellulose. They sat like soft, large eggs, placed symmetrically inside a curious construction of calcium which reeked of long dead carbon. How had they gotten here, buried beneath Water and Earth? What had happened to them?

The Sila were infinite, and yet, here was death, come to their kind on a planet in a galaxy far, far away. The Sila’s minds were invaded by that first ambassador of emotion; curiosity. It was like a finger pulling aside a curtain, letting in the first small beam of light, and as a shadow follows light, it was followed by a glimmering of fear.

The Sila shivered first collectively, then individually. If death was inevitable, each wanted a soul for itself, an afterlife, a heaven. And so, the Sila separated. Their expansive minds condensed. Their society collapsed. Yet it could have been so easily avoided, if only they had understood the words on the underside of the dead Sila; Best Breasts Allegan Brand.

~

Bio:

E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and biologist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals. King has won various awards and fellowships for art, writing, and environmental research. She’s been published widely, most recently in Clarksworld, Flame Tree, Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores and On Spec. One of her tales is on Tangent’s recommended readings in 2019. Her books include Dirk Quigby’s Guide to the Afterlife, Electric Detective, and Blood Prism.

Alien Mating Habits: A Brief Overview

by Jim Lee

Author’s Introduction (Note to all Copyeditors: Color-Code this Section in Darkest Brown, for Highly Honorable, Accurate & Valuable Information):

While an unnatural peace momentarily reigns in our arm of the galaxy, The Divine Order of Things and Our Own Species’ aggressive, restlessly expansive nature make future conflicts inevitable. I won’t comment on whether such wars are desirable or not–all right-thinking beings are surely agreed regarding that!

But knowing all your enemies (potential and actual) in as thorough and wide-ranging a sense as possible provides major advantages. Also, I argue that scientific inquiry—gathering knowledge, increasing understanding of those strange beings we share the stars with—is a worthy goal unto itself.

Therefore, I present this necessarily brief overview of all the extant sentient species we’ve encountered in our centuries of space travel for your edification.

I. The Icklanders (Entry in Medium Blue, for Moderately Disgusting Content):

This telepathically-linked species never leaves their homeworld, lest they lose mental contact with the balance of the species and suffer fatal shock reactions. Nonetheless, they helped found the unnatural multispecies military agreement that presently inhibits our continued, Divinely Mandated Expansion.

They employ other species, from other Alliance worlds and occasionally elsewhere, for such tasks as interstellar diplomacy, trade and off-world military action. It must be conceded that their creative, literally single-minded condition has led to advanced and unique technologies. None among us should doubt they would fiercely defend their world upon the defeat of the mercenaries who operate their well-equipped space fleet. But that’s a matter for another essay.

Our concern today (and the true basis of our instinctive distaste toward them—or ‘it,’ since no Icklander has any individual identity) is the reproductive activity of these slug-like beings.

In Mating Season, Icklanders employ their pseudopods to climb their planetary equivalent of trees. Huddled together yet never quite touching, they unleash slimy, grotesque downpours of sperm and soft-shelled eggs (each has both female and male reproductive organs). For several local days, the surfaces of entire continents are coated with sticky reproductive muck, until hatchlings eat their way out of the seminal goo. The adults then slide down, resuming their regular activities without even a backward glance.

II. The Polygens (In Paler Blue, for Slightly Distasteful):

These suitably warlike methane-breathers come in five sexes. The lone female in each family unit bears live young and commands absolute leadership in all things. This blatantly sexist arrangement may offend some sensibilities, yet is considered natural by them.

Successful mating involves one individual from each of the five genders. Deviations occur, though severely punished when discovered—a laudable display of species-wide discipline. One interesting perversion involves having more than one of a given gender involved. However, engaging in sexual activity with less than the normal five is considered the most socially objectionable.

III. The tas’Lenka (In Red, for Mostly Honorable):

Weakened by a series of conflicts with the Polygens before our arrival in their space, these folk put up a valiant if doomed fight. Now enslaved by us for a number of Standard Years, they continue resisting in subtle ways—thereby underlining their courage, intelligence and stubborn honor.

Their mating behaviors are no more or less violent, ethical or comprehensible than our own. We respect them, even if we occasionally have to make an example of some of them—usually a few thousand at a time.

IV. The Prenn (In Yellow, for Somewhat Unpalatable):

Cold-world O2-breathers, their retractable foot-claws (think: natural ice skates) can serve for weapons-free close combat, when necessary. As in other things, they’re very loyal, stable and well-mannered reproductively—boring, in other words.

Unfortunately, they evidence disgustingly excessive levels of tolerance—going so far as to willingly share one small colony world with the most disgusting of all known sentient species (you know who I mean).

V. The Tama Ka’Mor (In Greenish-Yellow, for Slightly Unpalatable):

Another Cygnus Alliance founder, they show fighting spirit if provoked. Yet they sadly lack the drive to prove themselves in the eternal battle for survival and righteous dominance. They usually practice a form of serial monogamy not too much unlike our own—though lacking the rich “Relationship Death Ritual” symbolizing termination of a relationship among truly worthy lifeforms (that is to say: Us).

VI. The Maruts (In Very Pale Red, for Semi-Honorable):

This valiant, long-conquered species, like a certain lifeform whose tragically misguided and self-inflicted destiny is too painful to mention here, breathes fluorine. (And I boldly digress to ask: Isn’t it time that we FINALLY acknowledge to ourselves that ancient tragedy was NOT our fault? How were we to know the freakish creatures would commit species-wide Mass Suicide rather than accept rightful enslavement by us!?)

Disappointingly, the Maruts no longer give us much trouble, despite their fascinating ability to channel electrical impulses through their bodies. They did give us a good battle despite being centuries behind us, so we of course honored them by restricting our war-making tech and tactics to ones no more than a half-century beyond their own.

The result was a glorious, nostalgic struggle.

It’s too bad that their mating traditions are so free-form and chaotic as to defy easy characterization. This demonstrates the underlying lack of focus that (along with being technologically backward) doomed these courageous avians to their status as our most-senior slave race.

VII. The Khensu (In Pink, for Ambiguously Odd):

The last of Alliance’s first five members, they live in a chlorine-based ecology and are renowned as the greatest of all bio-engineers. They’re also peaceful to a bemusing fault, having never even had a word for warfare until encountering other sentients. Strange people, yes—yet their legendary commitment to their beliefs, no matter how evolutionarily inappropriate and opposed to Divine Law, command some degree of respect.

They also display no passion in picking their mates-for-life and reproduce in orderly five-year cycles. Pretty boring, overall.

VIII. The Vayuans (In Near-Purple, for Mostly Shameful):

Oxygen-breathing cowards, these avians mate the same way they spend most of the rest of their lives—in mid-air, gliding along the air currents between their homeworld’s many mountains. Yes, they were bright-eyed primitives when we met. We dealt with them accordingly, our soldiers equipped with but the simplest weapons. Yet in contrast to the Maruts, they surrendered without a fight.

So who gives a damn about their mating habits—or any other aspect of their so-called culture?

IX. The Lintonians (In Pure White, for Utterly Baffling):

What isn’t mysterious about these silicon-based, extraordinarily advanced interstellar merchants? How did they ever evolve? Or did some still-unknown super-intelligence genetically engineer them, as some suggest? They sell all manner of other information (not to mention the arcane hyperspace drives we and all other space-going species use). But even the most basic questions about them are unanswerable at any price.

So until we (or, perish the thought, some rival species!) can reverse engineer their h-drives and force an end to their monopoly on interstellar travel tech, details of the Lintonians’ culture of star-traveling, hollowed out world-ships will doubtless remain obscure.

X. The Humans (In Deepest Purple, for Absolute Maximum Shamefulness):

Finally (and certainly least), we’re forced to consider the most perverted sentients ever known or imagined. While these O2-breathers are approximately as warlike as we are, yet we can rest easily in knowing that is the only behavior we have in common.

They call us Narakans (in typically corrupted dual reference to one of the countless ‘evil’ demons of their ancient mythologies and to our prehensile trunks’ resemblance to a large quadruped mammal (the elephant) native to the ancestral homeworld they ruined in their ever-treacherous insanity). This term they dare apply to us as an ironic insult, in part because we stand quite a bit shorter than the typical human’s skinny, unarmored frame.

And while we, in our perhaps too stern yet always honor-bound view, shame ourselves for our unintended part in the extinction of our first spacegoing opponents in the Divine Contest for Dominance, these monstrous beings barely acknowledge the many lesser species they have destroyed. But the worst and most intolerable aspect of their behavior is the way they treat Each Other!

So I ask, if only rhetorically: What intelligent species makes war, even on itself?

Only one (as we all know) and in their essential depravity, humans place themselves beneath the notice of disciplined, dignified and honorable lifeforms such as ourselves!

~

Bio

Jim Lee comes from a Pennsylvania town better known for producing Olympic swim champ/early movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, pioneer rock n roll DJ Alan Freed and millions tons of coal dust. He’s been a published writer since the 1980s. To date his work has appeared in a wide range of venues in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, South Africa and China. His recent sales include SF stories and non-fiction in issues of the magazine OUTPOSTS OF BEYOND and such anthologies as FANTASY FOR THE THRONE, TOTAL WAR and STRANGE STORIES Volume One. A member of his local library’s Board of Trustees, he has just volunteered to serve as that organization’s new Treasurer.

Progress Note: g’Kuyhelktu, Son of His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta

by Thomas Tilton

Session Information

Client: g’Kuyhelktu

Provider: Alastair Clark, LMSW

Session Date: 09-17-2099                                

Session No.: 648

Session Note

Client oriented x3. Denies SI/HI. Emanating faint pleasant odor akin to burning leaves (r/o: species-spec. pheromone). Appropriate dress & appearance (no visible tendrils). Speech & motor activity appear normal. Neutral affect & depressed mood.

g’Kuyhelktu presents with concerns regarding his seedmother’s upcoming nuptials to His Holiness, the Czar of g’Ctharta, g’Undalyis. Processed g’Kuyhelktu’s initial response to the marriage announcement.

Discussed his refusal to facilitate the marital union of g’Kuyhelktu’s seedmother & His Holiness on their wedding vigil, against g’Cthartaian cultural traditions.

g’Kuyhelktu continues to deny ego-intrusion.

Client asks writer “how would you like it if your mother were marrying him?” Writer provided psychoeducation on g’Cthartaian mating practices & biological incompatibility of g’Cthartaian/human relations. Client responds “to hell with it.”

Writer immediately tore vestments, discarded modesty shield, & cried to the heavens “long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

At this point, the czar himself, g’Undalyis, began to live-audit session. Writer placed head under g’Undalyis’ ligula & paired. g’Undalyis spoke as/through writer “fear me fear me o wastrel seed I will spite thee I will break thee I will consume thee I will excrete thee long live g’Ctharta, long live the czar, praise him, praise him!”

g’Kuyhelktu responded (monotone) “never.” Audible tearing sounds, as of a thick fabric. Atmosphere began to shrink, office furniture & accoutrement sucked into the center of g’Kuyhelktu’s head, which began to implode, then rapidly expanded like a balloon & exploded everywhere. g’Cthartaian gore covered office walls, flooring, the entire person of writer.

Writer unpaired from ligula, began rapacious consumption of g’Kuyhelktu’s remains, exclaimed, per custom, “your substance sates me, your substance sates me!”

g’Undalyis offered “perhaps tomorrow.” His Holiness evacuated bowels, rendering a 649th g’Kuyhelktu.

Homework

Read chapter 3 of The g’Cthartaian Wedding Vigil (7th ed.) [trans. Burton Halley]: “Facilitating the Marital Union: The Role of the Cuckold-Son in g’Cthartaian Mating Practices”

~

Bio

Thomas Tilton’s fiction and poetry have appeared in 365 Tomorrows, Disturbed Digest, Scifaikuest, and Star*Line. A native Texan, he currently resides in Michigan with his wife, son, and two dogs.