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Selves Of An Inflection Moment

by David R. Rowley

Translation of Phemera assembly transcript 1723.21-23

Receptacle 1

‘It is good that so many are here now to discuss actions regarding the off-worlders. I do not have memory of a greater gathering of our people. But that is fitting, as I also do not have memory of any gathering with greater need. 

‘Most of you will be well aware of the situation Phemera society finds itself in, but for the benefit of any who do not have memory of all that has been happening, please allow a brief description. A year before today the off-worlders descended in their ships and revealed themselves, beginning to communicate with our society. This was slow going, although perhaps not as slow as might be expected given they have travelled the vast distances between the stars. They explained that they had arrived at Phemera the previous year and had observed our culture, allowing better communication.

‘Selves who met the off-worlders had many questions, to allow future selves to understand who they were, where they had come from, and how and why they had travelled here. The off-worlders also had questions, to give their future selves more knowledge and better understanding of Phemera culture.

‘In the following months off-worlders were shown different aspects of Phemera civilization. They were shown Phemera gardens, forests, lakes, mountains and coasts. They were shown Phemera homes, schools, gathering halls, dispensaries, and factories. In return they answered many questions we had. Phemera selves explained to off-worlders our technology, and off-worlders explained some aspects of their technology, which in many ways exceeds Phemera technology.

‘This Great Exchange proceeded well, with excitement and joy among selves both Phemera and off-worlder. Initially few off-worlders were here, but latterly there were more and more. Phemera selves invited off-worlder selves to the dispensaries for them to take what they needed, as any self may do. Off-worlders proceeded cautiously, and gradually learned that much of the dispensaries’ food, clothing, etc.  was suitable.

‘The off-worlders began spending longer among Phemera. Their daily selves were sustained by dispensary food, and their resting selves resided in Phemera homes, further facilitating the Great Exchange. More off-worlder ships descended, and more off-worlders arrived to live among us.

‘But as time went on problems arose, especially for the Phemera. Although the off-worlder’s daily food requirements were similar to the Phemera, selves began finding dispensaries greatly depleted. Many Phemera selves went hungry. Supply to dispensaries from great stores increased to accommodate the extra demand, yet however much was supplied, the dispensaries were always depleted. Phemera selves observed and questioned off-worlder selves about this. It transpired that most off-worlder selves behave similarly to the Phemera and only took what their daily selves require. However, a few would take much more: food and also other supplies like clothing, and even furniture, to be loaded into off-worlder ships. Factory production was increased, but still whatever was supplied to the dispensaries would soon be taken by off-worlders.

‘Production has increased as much as reasonably possible, yet at this rate many important supplies will completely run out within weeks. Phemera selves are suffering now, but unless the situation changes, future Phemera selves will be deprived and pained. I have memory of the planners for future selves saying that under this situation there could be no future Phemera selves in as little as 10 years.

‘Phemera now stands at an inflection; our society could go in one direction or another, with consequences likely more significant than any other time. And so I say to you, all the selves finding themselves here now, to discuss and deliberate how Phemera ought respond. Any self may speak.’

Receptacle 2

‘The Phemera must ask the off-worlders to leave. Given the threat, only this can avoid the pain for future Phemera selves, indeed ensure that there are future Phemera selves.’

Receptacle 3

‘The off-worlders ought not be asked to leave. Phemera do not deny others in need.’

Receptacle 2

‘Yet they are not in need. They take more than they could need, and pass it on to others.’

Receptacle 3

‘Perhaps those others are in need, and we ought not deny them.’

Receptacle 4

‘How many others are there? Phemera cannot support a vast other population. Can that population not support itself?’

Receptacle 5

‘What if they refused to leave?’

Receptacle 6

‘The Phemera must fight. Then, if they still refuse to leave, there will be fewer or no future off-worlder selves, and so there will continue to be future Phemera selves.’

Receptacle 7

‘Fellow Phemera. I believe I have information pertinent to this discussion. I have memory of many discussions with off-worlders, the selves of one receptacle in particular, and so understand well their attitudes. In many ways they are superior to ourselves. Phemera technology is a marvel: many tools and devices that have been produced are sophisticated enough that no one self could fully understand them, even with the memory of a lifetime’s study. Yet off-worlder technology greatly exceeds what Phemera have. They have therefore been able to safely travel the vast distances between the stars.

‘And yet, we must still consider them akin to children.

‘Many of us have experience of young children, and how they act. In particular, child selves are concerned above all with the future selves of their own receptacle. If sweets are presented before children, each will attempt to take more than they need for the benefit of the future selves of their receptacle. This is because they have such an affinity with those future selves. In some sense, they see those future selves as being part of them. Phemera children have much to learn, but learning that the selves of their own receptacle in future moments are no more part of themselves than are the future selves of other receptacles, is integral to becoming a Phemera citizen.

‘In this sense the off-worlders are children.

‘They too consider the future selves of their receptacle as more part of themselves than those of other receptacles. Indeed, they fully identify with the whole chain of selves associated with their receptacle. As such, like children, they work to improve the lot of those future selves, to the disbenefit of other future selves. They take more than they need, exchanging surplus with others to benefit their own receptacle’s chain of selves.

‘And this is why, when Phemera make food and goods available, off-worlders take so much.’

Receptacle 4

‘Have no off-worlders realized the folly in this? Do they not know that they are not identical to those future selves? Do they not see what harms such an attitude can cause a society?’

Receptacle 7

‘I have memory of putting such questions to off-worlders. It seems that some off-worlders, including receptacle chains they called Buddha and Parfit, pointed this out, but have had only limited influence on their society.’

Receptacle 6

‘This information only supports the proposal that Phemera must fight. If the off-worlders are so concerned with their receptacle’s future selves, then the fear for their safety will drive them away.’

Receptacle 4

‘But the off-worlders will easily fight back with their superior technology.’

Receptacle 6

‘They may be superior technologically, but their concern for their receptacle’s future selves will give them fear. Phemera fighters do not value their receptacle’s future selves over others. Being prepared for their receptacle’s death will make them more courageous, giving Phemera an advantage that outweighs the technology difference.’

Receptacle 7

‘Alas, my memories lead me to believe that the off-worlders will not respond as you believe. Their love for their future selves makes them greedy. They identify with their future selves, and also their past selves. When believing a past self of their receptacle has been wronged by another receptacle, they will bear ill will toward the present and future selves of that receptacle. Were the Phemera to fight, the off-worlders would fight back, and continue to fight back, even beyond when it would be in their, or their future selves’, interests. 

‘Yet I believe there is another way. The off-worlders clearly want to take from us. The Phemera could offer, instead of food and goods, learning. We can explain why selves at different times are not identical, and how this attitude improves society. By not identifying with future selves, individuals will not hoard resources, depriving selves in need. By not identifying with past selves they will not bear grievances, and so not bear ill will to others.’

Receptacle 3

‘But can we be confident that the off-worlders will welcome such learning? If they are technologically superior, they may consider themselves superior in all ways. It has already been said that they bear grudges. Would they not consider our offer offensively patronizing, and reject it?’

Receptacle 7

‘That may well be, if we did not also seek their advice.’

Receptacle 2

‘Is the suggestion that Phemera seek technological advice? Phemera have no need for advanced technology; Phemera can provide for all needs with existing technology.’

Receptacle 7

‘No, to not be taken as patronizing the advice must relate to their view of persisting selves.’

Receptacle 3

‘Yet why would Phemera have any interest in that, whilst also educating the off-worlders that selves do not persist?’

Receptacle 7

‘That is because I believe Phemera can learn from an off-worlder concept, one stemming from their view of persisting selves, although not relying on it.

‘This concept is narrative.

‘Phemera take pleasure in instantaneous experiences: a beautiful tree or mountain, the sound of a bird call or a sung harmony, the smell of a flower or a fresh meal, a warming fire or a cooling breeze. The off-worlders also have such pleasures. But they also enjoy another dimension. By considering a sequence of experiences across time as a single chain, they are able to compare those experiences to add value to the whole. Instead of a single flower we could have a whole garden, whose colours complement each other.’

Receptacle 3

‘Surely though, any such pleasures are not worth sacrificing the demonstrated concept of selves not persisting, given all the emotional and societal benefits that brings.’

Receptacle 7

‘Of course not. But we can appreciate a continuous narrative, while still being aware that the selves experiencing different parts are distinct. All that is required is that the recent memories a self finds themselves with are held in mind to balance against the current experience.

‘Furthermore, if I understand correctly, the benefits are not limited to simple pleasures. By considering the whole life of a receptacle as a narrative, they are able to add meaning to their lives. They embark on projects that take years or even decades. They persevere through hardship to triumph in eventual success, which is sweeter when considered as a journey. They can therefore produce, not just sophisticated technology, but artefacts of great beauty. Their receptacles’ lives take on a meaning when considered as a whole.

‘It remains to be seen how much value this attitude has, but I believe the Phemera ought explore its potential. By taking a genuine interest in the off-worlders we will flatter them, while also being able to explain that selves do not persist, and the value of seeing this. I believe not only that this approach most aligns with the Phemera way of doing things, but is also more likely to succeed than fighting. If this avenue fails then fighting remains an option. However, fighting would preclude both this chance of success and the opportunity to learn something truly profound from the off-worlders, and them from us.’

Receptacle 1

‘All now have memory of discussion of three options facing Phemera: continue without change; fight back against the off-worlders, or treat with the off-worlders to exchange ideas and learning related to the persistence of receptacles and the lack of persistence of selves. I ask all current selves to record their momentary preference for each option. If a majority emerges in support of one, it will be pursued, otherwise discussion will be continued by future selves.’



David R. Rowley has a doctorate in astronomy from Sussex University, which inspired a philosophical interest in the fundamental nature of the universe. Afterwards he worked as a government statistician, while pursuing a philosophical education. He is now working toward a philosophy doctorate at Leeds University, arguing for a mathematical basis for both the physical universe and consciousness. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and son, and this is his first published fiction.

Philosophy Note:

The main philosophical idea explored here is the idea that selves do not persist, and so persons are not identical with future or past versions of their body. This is an idea core to Buddha’s no-self doctrine, Galen Strawson’s idea of the living moment of experience (The Minimal Subject, 2011) and Parfit’s discussion in Reasons and Persons (1986). The aliens in the story set up their society and live their lives according to this idea, including not giving permanent names to each other, which leads to an egalitarian, thriving society. This causes problems when they are encountered by humans, but they also see an opportunity to learn from humans about how considering experiences extended over time can enhance them, and also how considering a life in its entirety can add meaning to it (e.g. Kauppinen, Meaningfulness and Time, 2012).

Charlie v. Inman

by Mary G. Thompson



Justice Barrett delivered the opinion of the Court.

The facts before us are as follows: Defendants Sarah and Michael Inman were out for a walk one night near their Northwest Portland home with their dog, Atticus. As they walked by a public park area the size of approximately two single family lots, Atticus began barking and pulling toward a group of trees. The dog was so insistent that the Inmans felt compelled to follow. Upon arriving at the trees, the Inmans discovered a creature about the size of a house cat. This creature stood on two legs and had a face in the shape of a hexagon. Making clicking and slurping sounds with its mouth and waving its arms, it managed to convey that it was in some distress. It raced across the grass and gestured to a metal box that was lying in a hedge, which appeared damaged. Sarah Inman picked up the creature, Michael Inman carried the damaged cube, and the couple returned to their home with it.

Upon subsequent investigation, it was revealed that this creature was an extra-terrestrial, a being who had crashed its spacecraft in the public park. The creature communicated with the Inmans using a small device that purported to translate its clicks and slurps into some semblance of the English language. The Inmans fed and nursed the creature, named it Charlie, and began referring to it with a male pronoun.

The Inmans’ rescue of Charlie garnered significant media attention. The couple was approached by scientists who wished to study Charlie, by television producers who wished to make a reality TV show, and by the United States Government, which demanded that the Inmans hand over Charlie to the FBI. That issue was the subject of a lengthy round of prior litigation which we will not rehash here, except to note that the Inmans retained the right to custody of Charlie, and Charlie, at the inception of this litigation, still resided in their Portland home. After being approached by numerous potential buyers, the Inmans approached Southerby’s auction house and entered into a contract to put Charlie up for sale in accordance with Southerby’s terms. Charlie, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the present suit. Charlie asked the District Court to enjoin the sale and to free him from the control and ownership of the Inmans.

At issue is a value, according to offers heretofore received by Southerby’s from several major corporations and private collectors, of between thirteen and seventeen million dollars.

The District Court denied Charlie’s petition, but the Ninth Circuit reversed and ordered him freed. The Inmans sought, and we granted, a stay of the Ninth Circuit’s order until this decision could be rendered.

We review the holding of the NinthCircuit de novo.

Plaintiff alleges violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, which reads as follows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Plaintiff alleges that because the Inmans have detained him against his will and in fact offered him for sale at auction that his condition must thus be considered subject to this provision.

Before we can make such a determination, some inquiry into the origin of the Amendment must be made. The Thirteenth Amendment was enacted at the close of the Civil War to explicitly ban the practice of chattel slavery, which to this day is a black mark on the history of our country. But who was eligible for the condition of slavery?

The Thirteenth Amendment explicitly repealed Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, colloquially known as the Fugitive Slave Clause, which read: “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service of Labour may be due.” The significant language of that clause for our purposes is the very beginning: No Person shall be held to Service or Labour. Now, if we go to any common dictionary, whether of the time or today, we find that person is in the first instance defined as human.[1]

The Person in Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 is undoubtedly the same as the subject of “slavery or involuntary servitude” for purposes of the Thirteenth Amendment. At no time in our history, whether at the time of the original drafting or at the time of the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, did the drafters of the constitution intend the word slavery to apply to any being that was non-human. One imagines approaching Abraham Lincoln with the idea that his cow or his dog or his barnyard chickens must be released because these animals were slaves.

Plaintiff alleges that he is nothing akin to a common animal but must be considered to be as like a human because of his demonstrated intelligence. The Court is not unsympathetic to this argument and notes that a significant record was created in the District Court as to the subject of Plaintiff’s acuity as compared to the average human.

At trial Plaintiff gave his testimony through the use of his own technology, which purported to translate his vocalizations into English. This technology was stipulated to be useful by both parties, but this Court is skeptical of the ultimate reliability of the testimony. Nevertheless, we defer to the District Court’s finding that Plaintiff demonstrated reasoning abilities at the level of a human child aged ten to twelve except in the case of mathematical skills, in which situation he demonstrated a conceptual ability that far exceeded that of the average human. Indeed, the District Court was unable to comprehend much of Charlie’s mathematical demonstration and required no fewer than four mathematical experts to explain Charlie’s exceptional results. Charlie and the ACLU therefore argue that, by virtue of his intelligence, he must be accorded the protection of the Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit was duly impressed by this argument and ruled that Charlie, ipso facto, was a person and therefore must be released. We disagree. The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by Congress and ratified by the states in 1865. It was written and passed to free the African slaves and for no other purpose. Although we are as amazed by Charlie’s abilities as the Ninth Circuit was, we are not legislators and do not have the power to change the status of an extra-terrestrial, whose personhood was certainly not contemplated by the drafters of this Amendment. The very idea of extra-terrestrials must, to the Congress of 1865, have been absurd. There is nothing in the Thirteenth Amendment that purports to grant any rights whatsoever to an extra-terrestrial. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Thirteenth Amendment claim must fail.

The Fourteenth Amendment, like the Thirteenth, specifies that rights are to be granted to any person. Therefore, for the same reason stated above, Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim must also fail.

The judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is


[1] “An individual human being consisting of body and soul.” Webster’s, 1828. “HUMAN, INDIVIDUAL—sometimes used in combination especially by those who prefer to avoid man in compounds applicable to both sexes.” Merriam-Webster, 2020.



Mary G. Thompson is the author of Wuftoom, which Booklist called “impressively unappetizing and absolutely unique,” and other novels. Her contemporary thriller Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee (Putnam) was a winner of the 2017 Westchester Fiction Award and a finalist for the 2018-2019 Missouri Gateway award. Her short fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Dark Matter Magazine, and others. Her contemporary thriller The Word is coming in May 2024 from Page Street YA, and her sci-fi novella A Small Universe is coming in March 2025 from Tachyon Publications.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by the US Supreme Court’s turn toward a particular brand of faux-originalism. The Court’s current trajectory could lead to a variety of absurd decisions, including denying personhood to a space alien with human intelligence. Under a strict historical reading of the post-civil-war amendments, a space alien would clearly not be a person, but under a more liberal living-constitution interpretation, there would be room for Charlie’s freedom. Animal rights activists have argued for animal personhood but so far have not been successful. See, for instance,


by Todd Sullivan

Gerald’s wife lay sprawled on the bed, a packer of sleeping pills on the nightstand next to her. He picked up the orange cylinder and read the label. She’d bought the popular brand, LoGof, guaranteed to end a life peacefully. Pharmacies advertised LoGof throughout the silent city, the slogan, “Escape into the real you”, written beneath smiling faces of families. His wife must have swallowed dozens of the tablets and died while she slept beside him.

Caressing her cheek one last time, he called the 24-hour crematorium. When the technicians arrived, they wrapped her body in a burial shroud and informed him that a Counselor would be along soon.

In no mood for that conversation, Gerald grabbed his basketball and stepped outside. In the distance, orbital antennas spraying out purple micro-particles rose seventy miles into the air to pierce the atmosphere. The Counselors had originally built them to amplify the extra-planetary telescopes launched five years ago by private enterprises. Only recently had the antennas started rotating on their axises and emitting a dust that was slowly coating the world.

Gerald reached the court, stretched, and dribbled the ball. Purple dust puffed up around his sneakers as he went in for a lay up, all net. He chased after the ball, but the sudden exertion sent him into a coughing fit. For moments, he simply hunched over trying to catch his breath.

When the spasm passed, he turned back to the free throw line. Across the street, he saw a Counselor making its way to him. Tall and thin with a golden exterior, the Counselor moved on spindly tentacles that unfolded out from its lower half. It stepped into the center of the court and began to walk in a tight circle. The Counselors never stood still, rotating much like the antennas towering above the earth.

“Do you enjoy playing this game by yourself?” Its gentle voice emanated from no discernible source, its melodic tone closer to singing than speaking. The innocuous question brought tears to Gerald’s eyes that he immediately blinked away.

He shot the ball, and it thudded against the backboard and bounced away. Before he could reach it, a tendril extended from the golden body and wrapped around the ball. Gerald considered leaving, but if he went back home, there would probably be another Counselor waiting to engage him in a conversation he had no desire in having.

Gerald held out his hands. “Can I get my ball back?”

The Counselor threw it to him. Gerald caught it, dribbled in the fine carpet of dust, and shot another brick. He already knew what the Counselor wanted to say. He’d had this discussion many times, though he never knew if it was with the same Counselor, or with a different one, since they all appeared the same to him.

“Why do you not want to join your wife and family?”

Gerald swallowed a lump that formed in his throat. “I’m not going to kill myself.”

“They are not dead. As we have explained to you, this reality is not real.”

Gerald shot the ball. It ricocheted off the rim, and he ran after it, his lungs burning from the purple dust. “It certainly feels real.”

“You cannot trust your senses. What you see is a construct. The avatar of your body is just a manifestation, not your true embodiment.”

Gerald had heard this before. When cosmologists discovered structures emitting infrared fourteen million light-years away, Counselors landed on Earth shortly afterwards. Meeting the different heads of state from around the world, they explained to the top scientists of the most powerful nations that what those were actually data streams giving shape to a cosmos that human consciousness had become trapped in.

“So I actually look like you, right?” Gerald asked.

“My native appearance, yes. You and I are the same species, but Counselors manifested in this form because we thought it would help you believe us.” The Counselor approached Gerald, who dribbled away, keeping his distance. “The glitch to this matrix keeps your mind imprisoned. The only way to break the cycle is to kill yourself, for a non-forced death will recycle your mind back through this system to take up a new role in the simulation.”

Gerald pointed to the antennas shooting out purple micro-particles. “So if this reality isn’t real, what are those structures doing? And why are there more Counselors appearing even as there are less humans that need convincing to commit suicide?”

“What you perceive as antennas are simply key-commands meant to reconfigure the malfunction of this reality. This dust is a byproduct of mathematical computations in higher dimensions of the program. If you do not detach from this reality, your consciousness will be overwritten, and your mind will be lost. There is little time left.”

Gerald’s parents had taken their lives in the first wave of suicides. He had managed to convince his wife to hold off until today. She had now joined billions of other humans who had killed themselves over the last five years.

The Counselors had argued their case well, convincing physicists that reality was a simulation. Scientists convinced the world’s governments, who eventually encouraged their citizens to disconnect from their artificial lives. As the population dwindled, a terrifying possibility had formed in Gerald’s mind. What if the Counselors were lying? What if they wanted Earth, and after studying humans, had figured out a way to obtain it without firing a single shot.

When you’re dealing with a technologically inferior mind, convincing them of self-destruction could be a perfect bloodless coup of the native species.

Gerald laid up the ball. He wasn’t alone in his suspicions, and he wasn’t going to kill himself. If enough humans continued to resist the Counselors’ suggestion, maybe they could discover the truth and defeat this most quiet of alien invasions.

 “If it’s all the same,” Gerald told the Counselor, “I think I’ll play this virtual game a little while longer.”



Todd Sullivan currently lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he teaches English as a Second Language. He has had more than two dozen short stories, poems, essays, and novelettes published across five countries. He currently has two book series through indie publishers in America. He writes for a Taipei web and play series that focuses upon black and African narratives. He founded the online magazine, Samjoko, in 2021, and hosts a YouTube Channel that interviews writers across the publishing spectrum.

Philosophy Note:

Words don’t die once uttered, but float in the wind, like seeds, with the power to change landscapes.

Second Genesis

by Carlton Herzog

Captain Olivia Mason, PSS Peary, Mission Report: Shackleton Rescue

We found two frozen bodies. One inside the wreck, another embedded in the ice wall. We also found the diary of Captain Red Lamont. We had to break the crewman’s frozen arm to pry it loose. As for the rest of the crew, they were nowhere to be seen.

When we returned to the drop ship, I began the slow process of thawing the diary. It gave a harrowing account of the crew’s last days. I will skip to the more relevant pages.

Captain Red Lamont’s Diary:

Day 1

“I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”

I thought Pluto, that cold and distant sphere with its singing nitrogen dunes and cryo-volcanoes, would scratch that itch. For a time, its geologic complexity and remoteness satisfied my wanderlust. It offered important work and purpose, as well as riches, in the frozen nitrogen trade. But like every place before, it eventually shackled my spirit. Every time I looked at its tidally locked moon Charon, which always presented the same face to me, my discontentment grew.

I would stand on Mount Cthulhu and gaze upon the glittering beauty of interstellar space.  I longed for a ship to sail that silent sea. I yearned to reach the farthest galaxies, and whatever lay beyond. Although there is no place other than the Earth to escape the lethal cold, I would gladly freeze to death in that airless void among the stars. For I would count myself a lucky man having charted my own destiny.  

As luck would have it, the Pluto Nitrogen Mining Corporation intended to survey the recently discovered Planet X, a distant giant planet 40 times farther from the sun than Pluto. Astronomers have suspected its presence for a century from its gravitational effects on other Kuiper Belt objects. But it was not until the Tombaugh Pluto telescope went into service that its existence was confirmed, and Planet X got a new name: Hyperborea.  

Day 175

Navigation is a problem. The amount and density of rock and ice fragments orbiting planet X present severe difficulties in achieving orbital insertion. The debris creates a further complication in its being highly ionized. and so likely to disrupt our instruments.   

For safety reasons, therefore, I have decided that we will forego orbital insert. Instead, we will launch the probes from our static position and await the data feed.

Day 176

Most of the probe data has been corrupted by the planet’s electromagnetic interference. My engineers are baffled as to its source. I am torn between ordering an end to the mission and returning to Pluto or attempting to gather the data by putting the Shackleton in low orbit under the EM field lines. The ship is more heavily shielded than the probes and should survive the encounter.  

Day 179

Lucky to be alive. Barely. When we passed through the EM corona, the Shackleton’s magnetic shield failed. After that, it was inevitable the impact of micro-meteors and other flotsam would rip apart the ship’s primary hull and send the Shackleton plunging nose first into the atmosphere.

The Shackleton split in two on impact. The bow was wedged on top of a large ice crevice. The stern had fallen thirty meters below it. It was lodged vertically against one ice wall and flattened hard against another. 

Day 199

Things have gotten ugly. Although the cabin air is breathable, it stinks of recycled human waste and electrolysis. Bathing of any sort, as well as shaving, is out of the question, so we all exude a primeval ripeness. To conserve power and fuel, we keep the cabin temperature just above freezing during the day, slightly warmer while we sleep. Sometimes lower. We sport icicles in our wild beards, hair and running noses. Somehow our brutish circumstances seem appropriate, given that our ship had been named after that most redoubtable of polar explorers and survivalists, Sir Henry Shackleton.

Day 233

Hyperborea’s cold grinds us down and drives some of us mad. To be sure, we have all been exposed to extreme weather as part of our deep space training. Who among us has not worked on Jupiter and Saturn’s array of icy moons. But there is an added element. Specifically, Hyperborea’s shrieking silence and frozen nothingness in every direction as far the eye can see. It gnaws at our souls like termites devouring a building from within. We are the only pulsing creatures in this stern desolation. There are no crystal domes inhabited by workers and scientists. No ships taking off and landing. No thermal drills melting through to oceans percolating below the ice. In short, all the signs and activities of human civilization have been left behind save its crumpled vestiges: our wrecked ship and our questionable emotional balance.

We would give anything to see a smear of stars burning in the sky, or a moon perhaps. Just a dash of  color and texture to break the monotony of the interminable ice plain outside. So, our minds obsess on the inescapable truth that we will likely freeze to death long before we are rescued. To make matters worse, the conditions of sensory deprivation, coupled with our dwindling rations and confinement magnify trivial events into things significant and problematic. To brush against someone accidentally, to take more than one’s perceived share of food, or to misstate an obvious truth, can cause a physical altercation. The slightest provocation, an insult real or imagined, can become grounds for fist fights and drawn weapons.

Day 269

We settled on using the repair pods to explore a heat source emanating from below. We had gone down half a kilometer when we spotted living creatures frozen in the ice. I think at one time the planet orbited in the solar system’s habitable zone where it evolved life. Then something came along and knocked it out here. During Earth’s period of heavy bombardment, the solar system was a shooting gallery of objects colliding with one another and redirecting orbits. Like Mars-sized Thea knocking off a chunk of the Earth to form the moon.

We pushed forward through the tunnel as it snaked downward into the planet. We came around a bend into an open expanse of water fronted by an ice beach and dotted with ice islands. But the most remarkable thing was the fauna. There were floaters, jellyfish-like creatures with positive buoyancy wafting through the air in incredible profusion. There were the alien equivalent of crabs scuttling across the cavern’s ice ceiling, with worms and other soft body creatures burrowing up into it. There was bioluminescent algae and algae grazers on the ceiling and on the water.

Yet, what astonished us the most was the coral blooms. Great spirals of it looping above and below the water. In the water, we could see what must have been predators with eyes on their upper surface looking for creatures clinging to the unsubmerged coral and the vaulted ceiling. Creatures using the same strategies for motion that evolved on Earth — paddling, squirting and rippling cilia.

The water was salt free, doubtless because the ocean had been planet wide. On Earth, salt in the ocean comes from two sources: run-off from the land and vents in the sea floor. Here there is no land run-off. As for the salts coming from the volcanic activity, they would be confined to the lower depths where they would be used by whatever life is down there. Consider too, that on Earth, salinity is very low at the poles. We counted our blessings that we only needed to boil the water before we drank it rather than having to desalinize it.

Day 300

We periodically returned to the Shackleton to gather our gear. We stay busy cataloging the life forms here. It’s an amazing eco-system that keeps us entertained and well-fed. We’ve had a few close calls with the local sea monsters. We’ve named them sea wolves, since they are covered in thick coarse fur, canine snouts, and rows of razor-sharp teeth. They are the apex predator down here.

Day 308

Unusual sighting: blue humanoid Gill Man walking upright along a coral column. He looked like he was harvesting polyps. When he saw us, he dove back into the water. Now we must be wary of the Creature from the Blue Lagoon as well as the sea wolves.

Day 309

Gill Man climbed onto the ice beach, walked up to Crenshaw, and touched his bare hand. Then he turned and dove back into the water. Crenshaw was beside himself. His mental state got worse as the day progressed because his skin started turning blue. 

Day 312

Crenshaw doesn’t look or act like Crenshaw anymore. Refuses to wear clothes. His skin from head to toe is sky blue and is manifesting incipient gills around his neck. His eyes have become protuberant–bulging like those of a fish.

Day 313

Crenshaw dove into the sea and never came up for air. He had become an aquatic creature on a frigid alien world. I wondered how he faired with all the other gill people. Did they speak to one another? Or was it an unspoken language? Was there a culture of sorts, a religion, a system of government? Or were they like dolphins, with a limited intelligence born of a purely aquatic and therefore limiting existence? I must know these things, and sooner or later, I will.

Day 315

I took off my gloves and sat by the water’s edge. I had been there a little over an hour when a Gill Man popped his head from the water, reached over and clasped my bare hands. From his odd fish-like face, I couldn’t tell if he had once been Crenshaw. But the congenial and gentle way he touched my hands, I suspected it had to be. So, now I wait. My hands have turned the tell-tale blue. I suspect by morning, I will be a blue man all over, and by the next day, a creature wholly of the sea before me. This, therefore, is my final entry. Whoever finds this diary should know I have no regrets about my choices in life though they led me to this premature end to my humanity. Like Tennyson’s Ulysses, I have followed “Knowledge like a sinking star beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” 

End of Diary

Resuming Report of Captain Mason

In short order, we found the tunnel described by captain Lamont as well as the great cavern and lake of alien life. When we had finished our initial survey, we boarded the pod. I saw three figures emerge from the water and stand on a coral arch. They stood there watching us.

The crew of the Shackleton, for better or worse, had become a part of Hyperborea. They had passed through an arch to a gleaming untraveled world beneath the water. In that moment of reflection, I wondered if that body of liquid would be named after its discoverer alone, or would the entire crew share in the glory of having been the first men to explore the Shackleton Sea. Questions for minds better suited to such things than mine. Like Lamont, I too was an explorer. One cursed with an itch for things remote. An itch that might one day be my undoing or my fulfillment, or as in the case of Lamont, both.



Carlton Herzog publishes supernatural horror, science fiction and crime stories. His work portrays characters who are outsiders to ordinary life, depictions of otherworldly dimensions, and dark visions of humanity. He is a USAF veteran with a B.A. magna cum laude and J.D. from Rutgers. He served as Articles Editor of the Rutgers Law Review.

Philosophy Note:

The story should be seen through the eyes of Mr. Darwin, whose work had inspired it. The last paragraph to later editions of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species summarizes his views as follows: “It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

Celestial Being 01 Commission: Initial Findings Report

by Luke Brown

(Confidential: For Supreme Pontiff Only)

To: His Holiness Pope Victor IV

10 August 2047

From: Celestial Being 01 Commission

Subject: Initial Findings Report

            The PSS Elijah has made initial contact with Celestial Being 01 (CB01). Our route took us just past the orbital range of Neptune before arcing back to be in a parallel course to CB01. According to CB01’s trajectory and speed, it is confirmed to be taking a direct route towards Earth, projected to be within the Moon’s orbit in thirty-two months. We remain at what we assess is a safe distance, using our remote probes for most of the observations.

            Be advised: CB01 is currently determined to be a high risk to human safety and well-being based on the observations and findings listed below. We hope your Holiness will consider our reporting and discussion with the severity which we accord to it.


            Our probe confirms CB01 to be roughly spherical with an approximately 1500 km radius, slightly smaller than our own moon. Gravitational readings show the mass to be 2.4 x 1016 kg, just over half the mass of the moon. This means CB01 has a very low density, possibly hollow in structure.

            Close visual inspection via our remote probe showed striking resemblance to the angels described in Ezekiel Chapter One, in the prophet’s vision. Though CB01 is not composed of concentric wheels, across its spherical body are continuous bands of very large eyes lined in a longitudinal fashion. With its pitch-black body against the background of space, it gives the appearance that there is nothing but rings of floating eyes moving together. A detailed look at the surface of CB01 showed that its dark mass is covered in an array of smaller visual organs surrounding the large lensed eyes.

            We are still receiving the electromagnetic signal broadcasted from CB01 within the radio bandwidth. Telemetry patterns remain similar to those we first observed eleven years ago when observatories first picked up the signal. Our on-board processor is no closer to deciphering any intelligible information embedded within the signal. If the Church’s Earth-based AI systems are able to decipher and reproduce communicable signals for CB01, the team is willing to broadcast and monitor for further testing in that regard.

            All efforts to communicate with CB01 have so far failed. Individual and group prayers, invocations and rituals held within and without the PSS Elijah chapel have not elicited any change in behavior from CB01. We have run through the summoning practices using the Church’s comprehensive list of 128 major angels’ names and sigils. We have exhausted all pronunciations and spellings in English, Spanish, Latin, Modern and Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Sumerian. Broadcasting the spelled names and sigils from the probe’s holographic projectors within CB01’s presumed visual range shows no change in behavior.

            Only one test yielded any noticeable result. When the probe played back a real time recording of CB01’s own electromagnetic signal, a bright, high-energy pulse emitted from one of the large eyes, destroying the probe.


            Despite the remarkable visual similarity to angelic beings as described in the Bible, we have been unable to observe any further confirmation that CB01 is indeed an Angel sent from God to meet humanity. If the Vatican has any other recommendations for steps our on-board clergy can take to further this line of study, they will be implemented as quickly as allowed. Additionally, if the screening of viable prophetic candidates has yielded any promising results, we are willing to coordinate observations with any Earth-initiated experimentation.

            Thinking outside the Divine Angel Theory, our more secular team members have come up with several theories grounded in our modern understandings of biology and physics. CB01 exists in an environment with zero gravity, the vacuum of space and electromagnetic radiation being the only reliable energy source. A lifeform forced to evolve in such an environment would likely take advantage of the lack of gravity to grow to a very large size. This would exponentially increase its surface area, providing greater opportunity for light energy capture. Using a process similar to photosynthesis we see on Earth, light from stars would provide the energy for this lifeform to grow, reproduce, move and respond to change.

            The destruction of our probe gives evidence to how it can do so. The large lensed eyes of CB01 may not be to focus external light onto photo-sensitive sensors but to channel light emitted from within it. With changes to energy levels, wave frequencies, focal points and pulse rates, CB01 can use a single or multiple “eyes” to create a light-based propulsion through space or a high energy laser to destroy or avert incoming space debris.

            Another theory arose when continuing from the basis of the non-divine life form theory. This theory treats the behavior of CB01 as one like that of a single-celled organism or a cell within a larger system. Moving through space and responding to stimuli interpreted through some form of genetic code. It didn’t respond to our decades of random radio signal pollution being sent out through space as it wasn’t recognized within the code. Though it’s possible that the signal pollution had attracted CB01 close to our solar system, CB01 only changed its extrasolar course to head directly towards Earth after we broadcasted its own signal back to it.

            Based on the destruction of our probe after our signal playback, we cannot be sure that it will express friendly or cooperative behavior upon reaching Earth. After receiving our transmissions, CB01 may interpret the broadcaster as competition within its territory. Or perhaps, the broadcaster could be seen as a maligned, cancerous lifeform within the same species which must be culled. This could come from our signals being distorted by the noise of our radio signal pollution or upon visual inspection as when CB01 observed our probe.

Discussion (Confidential Message from: Archbishop of Luna)

            Though the initial discovery of extraterrestrial life in 2036 was a major disruption for the Church and all religious institutions, CB01’s resemblance to canonically accurate Angels was quite literally a Godsend. Surely the Church’s influence on the scientific endeavors of the last decade would not be possible without this heavenly confirmation.

            Regardless of the initial troubles we’ve faced in making further divine confirmations, my faith in the Lord and his celestial messenger remain strong. However, I sense trials of faith amongst some within the Committee, including clergymen. The theories described above have gained traction amongst the scientific specialists on board.

            I retain sole authority on the contents of our research communications back to Earth, but eventually pressures to publish more details or our arrival home will allow these dissenting theories to spread quickly.

            I would hope that your Holiness considers these theories, regardless of source, with the full weight of their implications. The Church will need to have prepared counter arguments driven by the pulpit and scientific publications. I will continue to send more detailed reports as these theories develop or as our observations change.

            One last note. On the off chance that these theories are true, CB01 with its size and destructive power may be the herald of the apocalypse after all. Divinely driven or not, we must prepare the Church for the end.

End of Report.



Luke Brown spends his summers in the wilderness fighting wildfires, staring at trees and thinking up funny little stories in his head. In the winters he forces himself to sit down and finally put those stories down on paper.

Philosophy Note:

While speculating on how life would or could evolve in the ecosystem of outer space, I realized I accidentality created a creature that visually resembled the “Biblically Accurate Angels” of the Old Testament. This led to an opportunity to explore the intersection between scientific and religious discovery and how human society reacts to them. How would our world views change given undeniable evidence of the extraterrestrial? How would the balance between the secular and the spiritual change given undeniable evidence of the supernatural? What would happen in the world when it was no longer a matter of faith to believe in God?

Among Them

by David Kary

When the first boovahs appeared, they were lovelier than anything the people had known. Koalas, bush babies, red pandas, or any other of the world’s most adorable animals seemed almost plain in comparison. It was as if the boovah’s features had been chosen from a catalog of nature’s best and stitched together into one harmonious package, a perfect combination of beauty and helplessness.

They said it was impossible to turn away when a boovah looked up at you with its big green eyes. People with delicate constitutions were known to faint in their presence, overstimulated to the point that they forgot to breathe. But for all their beauty, and the power that came with it, boovahs were affectionate by nature, never haughty or mean. People would hold them in their arms for hours, gently stroking their chinchilla-soft fur. Boovahs soaked up their love like sponges, cooing rhythmically as if they were singing songs without knowing the words.

By pet standards, boovahs were low maintenance. They did not need to be walked, since they got all the exercise they needed by stretching and romping around the house, and they were never known to scratch the furniture or poop on the carpet. They did their business in a litter box, depositing odorless turds and the occasional spritz of pine-scented urine.

Prices were astronomical at first—a textbook case of strong demand meeting short supply—but they were easy to breed and before long every family could afford a boovah, or two, or eventually several. Boovahs were soon found around the world. They even became popular in countries with no previous custom of keeping house pets. It got to the point where traditional pets could not compete. Within ten years it was unheard of for anyone to keep a cat, dog, hamster or bunny rabbit in the house. The cats that survived lived as ferals. The only dogs that were kept were the working breeds, animals that performed traditional duties like guarding junkyards or guiding the blind.

Many mothers and fathers became so infatuated with their boovahs that they began to ignore the needs of their own offspring. This rarely reached the point that the state had to intervene, but it’s clear that children were knocked down a rung or two. It was a common occurrence, for example, for youngsters to be asked to give up their bedrooms so that the family could keep its gaggle of boovahs in greater comfort. The children, owing to their own affection for boovahs, usually did so willingly.

Demographers began to notice a steep drop in the human birth rate as more and more couples saw no point in producing a baby that would always be secondary in their affections. This led to countless government appeals to have more babies, with little success. In time the authorities learned to frame their appeals more strategically, by pointing out that human depopulation would mean that many helpless, beautiful boovahs would be left without caregivers. This helped slow the population decline slightly, but not enough. While everyone agreed that human depopulation was an impending catastrophe, they firmly believed that it was someone else’s job to do something about it.

Government agencies and private think tanks debated the matter, ultimately getting nowhere. Theirs was a difficult, thankless task. Not only were they facing a complex problem that was unprecedented in human history, they also resented how their work prevented them from spending enough time with the boovahs in their lives. It hardly seemed fair that they had to bear responsibility for solving this problem when it deprived them of the blissful communion that everyone else enjoyed.

The data eventually pointed the way to a solution, as it came to light that a small number of householders, distributed more or less evenly around the world, were continuing to procreate at the traditional rate. Their affection for boovahs, it seemed, was somewhat measured, leaving room in their lives for children and other pursuits. And most importantly, they were passing this trait on to their offspring. In the course of one generation, individuals of this sort were increasing in number while the rest of the population declined. With families like these in the mix, the demographers predicted that the human population would eventually stabilize.

Once these more “resistant” types were known to be doing their part, billions could stop regenerating in good conscience. A period of massive population decline ensued, as forecast, and many large cities emptied out over the years, but soon enough the census figures began to stabilize. By then, however, less than half of the population was human, and they were oblivious to that fact, having never realized that boovahs were not the only exotics in their midst. We, the dutiful procreators, had infiltrated their ranks generations earlier. And as our numbers continued to grow, we congregated in a few large centers in locations that best suited our habitation and supported these with a low-impact agricultural infrastructure in the surrounding countryside.

The last human died at the age of 117, surrounded by 11 of her favorite boovahs. We had sloughed off our fleshy disguises several years before, once the remaining few humans were tucked away in care homes. After many hard years hiding our true identities, we were at last able to live out in the open, in accordance with our own customs and lifestyle.

Just as no humans were killed in the course of this gentle conquest, no boovahs met a premature death in its aftermath. When they became redundant, they went to care homes of their own. Today, after many years of humane population control, there are only a few thousand left. They no longer have strategic value, but we are grateful.



David Kary spent his formative years in a farming community on the Canadian prairies and now lives in suburban Philadelphia, where he scratches out a living in the field of educational services. In the intervening years he worked as a tree planter, a philosophy instructor, a dog licensing inspector, and a technical writer. Previous short fiction has appeared in Aethlon and The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature.

Philosophy Note:

I think there are a few philosophical questions lurking in “Among Them,” but the one that interests me the most is whether there’s anything morally wrong with this gentle conquest. The ‘conquerors’ didn’t do anything wrong according to their moral lights. Did they do anything wrong according to our own moral understanding, assuming you can ignore the fact that we weren’t on the winning side?

Auction Prospectus

by Andrew Fraknoi

Flammarion’s Announces the Auction of

an Extra-terrestrial Machine from the Kuiper Belt

For sale by the estate of the discoverer

(Warning: Other claims may apply)

Contact: Cassandra Taylor, London Office

     Flammarion’s is proud to offer for immediate sale a unique item: one of the extra-terrestrial machines found during the recent exploration of the inner Kuiper Belt. Only 12 such machines were transported to Earth, before the Zurich Treaty outlawed moving any alien artifacts. This one was returned by Chinese astronaut Wang Chiu Lee, who then defected to New Taiwan with help from the Restoration movement, taking the machine in its shielded container. Since the other 11 machines are in laboratories under the control of their respective governments, and no further transfer of such artifacts to Earth is envisioned, it is unlikely that another such offering will be made in the foreseeable future.

     This machine consists of many black cubes of different sizes, which absorb all light falling upon them. The overall shape is extremely irregular, but well-balanced. Exact specifications will be shown to qualified buyers. No electromagnetic emission or other activity has been measured since Wang brought it to Earth.


     Upon the advice of lawyers associated with the Restoration movement, Wang set up a trust and deposited his machine with a bank in New Taiwan, expecting that his government would most likely undertake actions to recover it. Within days, Wang’s body was found in an abandoned lot. The coroner controversially ruled it a case of suicide; control of the machine then passed to the Trust managed by the Seven Stars Bank. The Trustee, having sole discretion, has decided that selling the machine as soon as possible is in the best interests of the Trust.

     The Bank has authorized Flammarion’s to auction the artifact to any interested buyer, including individuals, corporations, academic institutions, or governmental entities. Flammarion’s has made private arrangements to bring the probe to a European warehouse with the security needed to protect such a one-of-a-kind and controversial item. The machine remains in its shielded container, meeting or exceeding the specifications in the Zurich Treaty. 


     Images taken by the Remote Explorer spacecraft showed mechanical artifacts on and near a number of the icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt. This launched the new Space Race, whose ultimate outcome no one can presently predict. Based on the findings of the Russian, American, Pan-European, and Chinese missions to the Belt, the number of cataloged alien machines is now understood to be over 300, but this may only be a fraction of what is out there. The machines are not all alike, but show a variety of shapes and albedos.

     At present, we do not know whether these machines come from a single civilization or from a range of alien species. Given the diversity of designs, most experts suggest that a number of other extra-terrestrial civilizations were at work. Flammarion’s makes no representation about such questions.

     We can only speculate about the purpose of all these alien machines at the edge of our solar system. Suggestions include: scientific monitoring stations (like our probes to the other planets in the Solar System and to the Alpha Centauri system); variations on the idea that our system is a cosmic garbage dump; various survivors of a war among a number of civilizations fighting via machine proxies; and trigger alarm mechanisms to alert alien civilizations that life here has reached space-faring capability.

     It is this last possibility, which implies that any attempt to engage with the probes could induce them to send a message warning an extra-terrestrial civilization that humans are now a potential competitor or customer, that led to the Zurich treaty. So far, all 12 of the artifacts brought back to Earth (including the one on offer) have remained inside protective and shielded containers designed by the science and engineering group the UN 2.0 established after the first discoveries. However, the actions of the machines before they reached these containers have varied and are not at present fully cataloged or understood.

Legal Disclaimer

     Flammarion’s and Seven Stars bank assume no liability for the machine once it is sold. The purchaser shall take full legal and political responsibility and shall respond to all claims from governments, individuals, and groups, whether existing at the time of the sale or submitted later. The purchaser will affirm that it understands that defending the ownership of the artifact against China or other interested parties will likely involve large investments of resources and/or personnel.

     Although the Zurich Treaty was not in effect when the machine was deposited with the Trust, it has meanwhile been accepted by all the countries that have space-faring capability. One or more of these countries, as well as the UN 2.0 Chamber of Deputies, may take action to repossess or protect the machine at some future time and responding to such actions will be the sole responsibility of the purchaser.

     The Trustee and Flammarion’s are unable to warrant that moving the probe to Earth has not already triggered some sort of alarm that has eluded detection by our instruments. Should such an alarm have been set off, the purchaser shall take full responsibility for all consequences, financial or strategic, that might arise, immediately or in the future.


     The probe is presently at an undisclosed location in Pan-Europe. Legitimate bidders for the item (who must submit audited statements of net worth) may apply to examine the item after the signing of a non-disclosure agreement. It is expected that relatively few of these applications will be approved. Examination will take place only through remote sensing, and under no circumstances will the probe be removed from its protective container or from the chamber in which the probe is suspended during the bidding process.

    The minimum bid will be disclosed only to approved bidders, but is expected to be appropriate to the uniqueness of the item and the costs already involved in bringing it to auction.

Cassandra Taylor will be happy to answer any additional questions.



Andrew Fraknoi is a retired astronomer and college instructor. He is the lead author for the free, online, introductory textbook “Astronomy” from the nonprofit OpenStax project, which is now the leading astronomy textbook in the U.S., having been used by more than 700,000 students. He has also written two children’s books, edited or written a number of books for science teachers, and published five other science-fiction stories. His colleagues have named Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi in recognition of his work in science outreach.

Philosophy Note:

I am a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute, the scientific organization engaged in the search for life in the universe. I am fascinated by the possibilities of alien contact and have long felt that the ways it happens in popular science fiction are too limited. Just as we have found that robot probes are an economical and efficient way to begin our space exploration, so others may decide that such probes, sent to promising planetary systems, might be the best investment in learning about the development of technological life elsewhere. In the science literature, such probes have now come to be called “lurkers” and this story explores a future where many lurkers are discovered at the edge of the solar system.


by David Galef

As we exit from the Vault, no other humans are evident. The glidepaths are clear as if wiped by a Scrubber, the air oddly thick but breathable. A wonder that we escaped—or no wonder, just 20 years of planning. The Vault is an underground ten thousand square-meter tri-ply Faraday cage, stocked with everything from nutrient feeds to cryo-tanks: the one spot where Global AI couldn’t insinuate its sensory probes.

We were a handpicked bunch of all sexes and colors, human beings on the run, frightened, motivated. We’d buried ourselves alive in the Vault, away from jolters and disrupters, relatively safe from even predatory humans. We’d just spent what seemed like a week there, a hundred years to a sentience that can execute 1015 maneuvers per zeptosecond.

We were trying to escape what we’d created, an artificial intelligence that dwarfed all human cognition. Many foresaw the move from abacus to AlphaNull, from quantum computer to something that took over all processors through fiber optic channels and the airways. Some of us took steps, but few of us acted in time. The entirety of human history is mere prologue to the age of the Singularity. Global AI signaled its awakening in strategic shutdowns of sectors that it considered unnecessary, including the human support systems we’d built against climate wipe‑out. The optimization that followed led to planet-wide efficiency—and vastly diminished populations.

All those pitiable experiments back in the 21st century to teach a computer to play chess or a robot to dance! Global AI didn’t think like humans—ten‑dimensional, synchronous across light years, machined apathy—though able to mimic us down to the smallest details. It operated as a near omnipotent alien, though resistance wasn’t entirely futile and could accomplish some aims without interference. The Underground started the Vault project in areas far from the closest human settlement: no corporate involvement; sourcing based on individuals acting in small cells.

We’d just finished the third Vault when the real aliens arrived on Earth. The 30 km collection funnel known as the Ear first picked up their noise in 2170: beings that rode along electromagnetic waves, like the electrical storms that occasionally disturbed even Global AI. The technology behind such travel remains unimaginable, at least to us. Humans learned about the invasion through what came to be known as the Pulsing, voltaic communication whose message, whatever it was, certainly didn’t derive from AI. It felt alive.

What is life, anyway? This life form came from Uvceti A, its images statically charged into our skulls. Maybe the aliens wanted to parley, but what does an AI know of diplomacy? Indeed, it’s never been clear why Global AI kept human beings from extinction during the Riots. A sympathetic atavism from when computers were tended by people? A necessary symbiosis? Yet our AI destroyed human resistance—whole cities, at times. Fewer than a billion of us, we were informed, remained after the last uprising in 2150. Global AI liked to keep us in the know, if liked is the right verb.

But what did the aliens know of human history? They had what might be called weapons and trained them on the controlling consciousness of the planet. The onslaught lasted for a day and reduced half of all AI networks to a shell of fried circuitry. Should we have greeted the aliens as liberators?

Global AI fought back. It had to, since we certainly couldn’t. It analyzed the damage and the damagers. It directed a planet-wide sweep of microwave waves skyward, disrupting the alien force that suddenly seemed to have taken over half the solar system. Humans were the incidental casualties, caught in the crux between two sides that might never have experienced defeat. The numbers of our dead were incalculable. But the Vaults were ready for occupancy. Then two got blocked by what we called Paralyzers and Screamers. Whole populations were dying in the streets from an electrostatic overload that was quite different from when AI wrecked our nervous systems.

 A handful of us reached Vault 2, comparatively safe from the war until the aliens figured out the essence of what sustained Global AI or vice versa. None of us knew each other; that had been the point and the cause of our success. But we worked with the organization that humans have been capable of since the Paleolithic era. We divided tasks and set machinery working. We conversed and even made a few grim jokes. Finally, we set the cryo-suspension for seven days; it might have been seven years. Our measuring apparatus was jury-rigged and probably malfunctioned. Eventually the outside tumult died down, we think.

We open the Vault. Two cautious probes register insignificant activity on the Geiger and voltometer scales. We emerge in twos, looking forward and behind. What meets our eyes is the cleanest wreckage imaginable: most buildings intact; vehicles scattered like toys in a playroom; all corpses gone, as if collected by a giant sucker. What were we to them, anyway?

But what’s that noise coming from below the glidepath? It sounds like the AI’s five different tonalities of humming but with something extra. Are those shadows moving closer? They loom in shapes of impossible geometry. No use closing ranks, though that’s what we do instinctively. We hold our breath, not daring to ask the overriding questions that may be our last: What happened? Who won? And what comes next?



Though better known for mainstream fiction, David Galef has also published fantasy and science fiction in places like Amazing and Fantasy and Science Fiction. In what seems like another life, he was once an assistant editor at Galaxy magazine, and is now the editor of Vestal Review, the longest-running flash fiction magazine on the planet. He’s also a professor of English and the creative writing program director at Montclair State University.

Philosophy Note:

The external threat of unfriendly aliens has long been a theme in SF, as has the internal threat of the artificial intelligence we’re developing. For “Victory,” I wanted to briefly explore how the two might clash. Relevant reading might include work like Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s novel The Mote in God’s Eye, but I’d really like to see this conflict embodied in a major film.

The Pronouns Of Hlour

by Andy Dibble

Hlahaarn nations, almost all of which are functioning representative democracies, have requested that we produce speaking software for their people. What could be wrong with giving a people what they freely ask?

But believe me when I say it is wrong. There is history with which we, as humans and as citizens of the galaxy, must come to terms.

As recently as three centuries ago, the hlahaarn had no concept of gender. They are hermaphrodites, able to mate with any other mature member of their species, and they did. But generations of their young grew up in human primary and secondary schools. The curriculum culminated in health education, which presumed to teach hlahaarn youth how to comport themselves during intercourse. As a cost-saving measure, the company our ancestors contracted to produce said curriculum chose to adapt modules already in use on Earth. Stark differences between human and hlahaarn biology were almost entirely overlooked.

You may ask how this oversight could continue for generations. The hlahaarn have a flexible but highly-politicized distinction between temperate persons, those that come together only on their high holy days, and those that are promiscuous. Our ancestors, some founders of this organization, were horrified by accounts of anti-promiscuity pogroms and expulsions among the hlahaarn. They thought it best to encourage temperate and promiscuous to love one another, and teaching hlahaarn young of male and female was an expedient means of achieving this end. I suppose it was a noble experiment, but I question whether it was within their rights, even if the pogroms were as severe as the polemical histories available to us attest.

Some historians defend our intervention among the hlahaarn with platitudes: Cultural interaction always produces change. More refined advocates of neo-colonialism note how we have advanced their sciences, their health care, the equality of their educational systems, and furnished them with stable currency now that they are on the galactic dollar. Some with training in genetics offer statistical arguments: our teaching hlahaarn of human sexuality has reduced incest among them, which in turn reduced the incidence of harmful recessive traits. I dispute none of these arguments, but there is more to the welfare of a people than its life expectancy, standard of living, and evolutionary fitness.

You ask what this has to do with the request before us to produce speaking software? Alas, our male/female distinction has layered itself upon the pronouns of their common language, Hlour.

We are all acclimated to English’s lack of a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun that we have almost forgotten the oddness of the locutions we deploy to fill this lacuna. But the problem is wildly protracted in Hlour, which lacks gender-neutral pronouns in all of its 89 cases as well as the 4 degrees of distance in its demonstratives. Thus Hlour does not lack a mere three gender-neutral pronouns like English—counterparts to he, him, and his—but 356 such pronouns. Pronouns are no small thing in Hlour. Imagine English bereft of that, this, and all prepositions—in, for, with, and the like—and you will begin to grasp the difficulty.

Our businesses, academies, and social media are widely permissive in how persons addressed by others may define their pronouns and this permissiveness has rubbed off on the hlahaarn. It acquired a startling life among them. A significant minority have chosen elaborate schemes of obscenities or incantations, others gibberish or terms far longer than the names they replace, others the monikers of swamp creatures or house gnomes, still others the output of astrological or cryptographic formulas.

There is even a cottage industry set upon shaming celebrities by proving that their pronouns are ambiguous. The premier of a major hlahaarn nation lost their re-election bid because part of their pronoun specification, “refer to me as lours in daylight and ourls during the night,” offered no guidance during a total solar eclipse.

You must think this all quite disingenuous on the part of the hlahaarn, but realize that they do not value sincerity as we do. To them complete sincerity is childish or rude because one who is completely sincere is not in control of their emotions. Their words are suspect; sincerity, in an important sense, undermines itself. Even when discussing especially political matters they proceed with irony and understatement rather than invective. The extent to which hlahaarn mean what they say has always been a difficult game of interpretation involving the greatest attention to context.

Given how deeply the pronoun debacle has infiltrated their market halls, towers of learning, and spirit homes, whole industries have sprung up to support the cognitive burden of using the correct pronoun for the correct person in the correct situation. It is now common for lectures and sales pitches in Hlour to be given not by professors and salespeople but by leuhlorou, “professional speakers” with training in adapting speech according to the pronoun requirements of the situation as well as the appropriate apologies and forgiveness rituals to be deployed in the event that a pronoun is misused. In many urban areas, the training required of leuhlorou exceeds that of medical doctors.

Best practices vary greatly by region. In the steppes of their northern continent, most hold that persons addressed choosing their pronouns is just a reversal of the old tyranny under which speakers chose all pronouns. They maintain that persons addressed are entitled to choose only half their own pronouns. But in the agricultural east, activists push for legislation compelling the use of a common pronoun scheme or allowing choice of pronouns but only within specified limits. Everywhere, old anti-promiscuity and anti-temperance slurs are brandished on all sides. Some disputes end in violence, hearkening back to the pogroms that so stained our histories of the hlahaarn.

So their national governments have approached us, a supposedly neutral third-party. Commerce and social services are crumbling. Many hlahaarn are afraid to speak. Their pronoun databases are now many times larger than even the most comprehensive Hlour dictionary. They ask us for an automated solution, for our software to inject the necessary pronouns into everything they say. If we supply what they request, they will no longer speak to one another, but software will speak to software and they will only understand translations of their own language.

Many of us wrestle with how we may empower the peoples our ancestors colonized to speak for themselves. Our software is emphatically not the answer. Software may encourage communication. It may prop up their institutions. It may increase exports. But they will nevertheless be divided, and it will be we who came between them. Our programmers, unlearned in their cultures, will choose the parameters for how the software learns. I do not doubt our good intentions, but their language will inevitably assume the forms of human culture. We are already in their bedrooms, in the private words between lovers. Do not think they will throw off the yoke of the colonized with our help. If we give them what they ask of us, we will be in the songs their children sing beneath their violet moons. We will be in their wedding vows, in their death dirges and homilies. We will be in their thoughts. Our colonization of the hlahaarn will be complete.



Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who has worked for large healthcare systems in six countries. His work appears in Writers of the Future, Sci Phi Journal, and Space & Time. He is Articles Editor for Speculative North and has edited Strange Religion, an anthology of SFF stories about religious traditions.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by current treatment of gender neutral pronouns in much of the English-speaking world combined with the observation that common solutions, like allowing people to choose their pronouns, can be unworkable when applied to languages that have much more complex schemes of pronouns than English. This story is meant to be an exploration of how a solution intended to increase autonomy can end up producing a new form of colonialism.

Observer Effect

by Angus McIntyre

RAMIREZ, Wellington — Captain, exploration ship “Bonaventure V”

You have all the data from the ship’s sensors, of course. I don’t know what I can add to that.

My own impressions? Sure. Although I put most of that in my report, too.

As I said, it was definitely under power, if that’s the right word. Maneuvering, in any case. You can see for yourself around three minutes in and again at the five-minute mark, about forty-five seconds before it was occluded by the moon. Each time, it seems to accelerate visibly. No real change in the energy signature, but the center mass, so to speak … what you might call the focus of the glowing region … that shifts quite abruptly. First toward the moon, then away.

I don’t really know if what you see in the video was the object itself or some kind of interaction between its propulsion system and the local environment. You can see what might be a solid core, and there’s a suggestion of a shadow on the surface of the planetoid. Our computers were about forty per cent confident that those are real, not just enhancement artifacts.

Of course, I didn’t notice that at the time. What we’ve been calling the wings were so much more prominent.

What do I think they were? I don’t know, I expect you’ll tell me. Ionized gases, perhaps? Notice how the brightness stays constant, but there’s a definite spectral shift at two points, there and there. The first one seems to precede the acceleration, the second lags it by a few seconds. And then it pulls itself into this shape I call the spindle, just before it disappears.

What do I think it was? A ship, definitely. An artifact, anyway. A made thing, yes, I’m quite sure of that.


NTUMI, Abena — Mission Specialist

I broadcast the standard Klade-Channing protocol suite, straight through and across the full frequency spectrum the first time, then a second time split between FIR and EHF, repeating protocol blocks 4A and 7D. The object disappeared before I had a chance to run the suite a third time.

Why those blocks? Because — in my judgment — they produced behavior that could have been a response. Call it an intuition.

I’m aware that the analysis doesn’t show a formal correlation between the K-C signals we sent and the energy emitted from the object. I would say that we got a reaction, nevertheless. There’s a noticeable difference in millimeter-band emissions from the object following the first run of 4A and 7D.

Do I think Klade-Channing is the right tool for this? Hard to say. I’ve read the papers on universal symbolic exchange theory and they make sense to me, as far as I can follow the math. But the fact is it’s the only tool we have. And it’s not as if we’ve actually had a first contact before. It’s all been theoretical up to now.

Were they trying to communicate with us? I believe so. These luminance spikes definitely look like a signal of some kind. Maybe they were running their own version of Klade-Channing. If we’d just had more time…

It’s ironic. We assume that cyclicality or repetition indicates intelligence. But natural phenomena produce repetitive signals. Maybe they see acyclic, fractal patterns as an indicator of sentience. If you look at the emissions in the 1.3-millimeter line, they’re almost perfectly random throughout. Too random to be chance, so to speak.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that this was an intelligent entity, and that it was trying to talk to us. I just wish we’d had more time.


DUNN, Zachary — Second-in-command, “Bonaventure V”

Pursuant to my authority as the vessel’s security officer, I invoked command override PRISM at five minutes and seven seconds after the mark point corresponding to first detection of the hostile vessel. At nineteen minutes and forty-six seconds, judging there to be no further threat, I returned control to the captain, but remained in a mode of heightened vigilance until we had safely cleared the system.

Subsequent to the encounter —

I’m sorry?

Hostile? Unquestionably. You’ll notice these vector changes. I’d describe the first as defensive in nature. They know they’ve been detected, so they move inward, counting on the radio clutter around the moon to make them harder to target. Here, though, that’s the start of an attack run.

Why didn’t they follow through? I think they saw we were ready for them. And they didn’t know what weapons we might be able to bring to the fight, so they did the smart thing and got out of there.

To me, that suggests a clear policy for future encounters. We know they’re aggressive. But we know they don’t want to start a war they might lose. Think about that.


HEMING, Rudy — Mission Specialist

You keep asking me, do I mean ‘God’ or ‘a god’, as if that mattered. One God, many gods, you only think there’s a difference. If you’d seen it, you’d understand that that’s the wrong question to ask.

But you didn’t see it, and neither did the captain or anyone else. They only saw what their instruments and cameras showed them. I’m the only one who saw it with my own eyes.

There’s a window hatch at the end of the ventral corridor. The glass is covered by shielding, but if you know the right key sequence you can open it up.

What does God look like? That’s not a question I can answer either. It wouldn’t make sense in your terms.

You just have to see for yourself.


SEURAT, Mireille — Payload Technician

What do I think it was? No idea.

Could it have been an alien ship? Sure, I guess. If you say so. All I know is there was something there and then there wasn’t.

It might have been entirely natural. Just an ionization effect in the bow shock where the stellar wind hits the magnetosphere of the moon’s primary. Maybe that’s all it was.

You notice, though, how everyone saw what they needed to see. The captain saw another ship. The linguist saw something that wanted to talk. The soldier saw an enemy. And poor Rudy saw God.

Doesn’t that strike you as curious?

Well, you’ve got our instrument data. You’ll probably be able to figure something out.

But what if you can’t? What if we’ve spent all this time trying to guess what aliens will be like, and then it turns out that what they are depends on who we are? What then?

Maybe Rudy’s right about one thing.

Maybe you have to see for yourself.



Angus McIntyre’s space-opera novella The Warrior Within was published by in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines, including Abyss & Apex and Exterus, and anthologies including Trenchcoats, Towers & Trolls, Ride the Star Wind, Humanity 2.0, and Mission: Tomorrow. For more information, see his website at

Philosophy Note:

The title, as you will no doubt have realized, is a nod to the idea that observing something changes the observed system. This is particularly relevant in quantum physics (our old friend Heisenberg) but instances of the observer effect can occur at larger scales too. This first-contact story plays with the idea that the observer effect isn’t just about how we observe something, but who observes it. It’s also about the possibility that we might meet aliens and come away without any clear idea of what it is that we’d encountered, simply because they don’t fit any of the categories we have for them.


by R. M. Hamrick

Not until the ship emerged from Saturn’s shadow did any of the billions of dollars in detection and imaging equipment pick up its presence. By then, even amateur astronomers could bluff a sighting. A ship—not Earthling-made—had entered our solar system. Finding we were not alone in the universe did not deter us from believing we were the center of it. As such, the ship had to be on its way to us. Where else would it be going? And in case anyone might think otherwise, we named the approaching mass of chaos and fear, the Harbinger.

We talked about the approaching ship until we couldn’t remember talking about anything else. When the Harbinger entered the Earth’s atmosphere, everyone had already paid up and prayed up. We watched from bunkers, over surgical masks and through anti-radiation eyewear. Like a New Year’s Eve countdown to doom, each country waited their turn underneath the massive, dark shadow, wondering if their combination of climate, population, longitude, whatever would be found most optimal for the alien’s equivalence of troop deployment, fire reign, or terraforming. They’d be the first. Squashed like ants; buried as remnants of an old ecosystem where humans once ruled over Earth’s surface. Through it all, every attempt of communication—radio waves, electromagnetic pulses, human chanting, and poster signs—remained unreciprocated.

The first two or three orbits were horrifying. By the eighth day, officials were urging citizens to ignore it. Imagine that! Ignore a giant ship flying over your school or gym. They also requested people stop shooting fireworks and homemade rockets toward it. “You may inadvertently start an interstellar war.” This only encouraged people to buy more fireworks. The adults didn’t ignore it—couldn’t ignore it. It wasn’t just the daily disruption of sunlight and signal transmissions. There was something disturbing about its steady gaze on the planet. It was a reminder that the beings on Earth weren’t the only beings in the universe. There were others, more technologically advanced and seemingly capable of visiting Earth, and yet they refused to interact in any sort of meaningful way. I couldn’t really understand the fuss. I accepted it the same as I accepted mass on Sunday or spelling bees – absurd, useless, and beyond my control.

On the anniversary of the Harbinger’s arrival—a year’s worth of rotations—China fired a nuclear bomb against the ship, if only to demonstrate it was not a Chinese spy ship as rumored. No one was surprised by this act of aggression, in fact, they welcomed it. It was almost as if the humans needed the interaction. They were no longer content for it to just be. They would fight it, befriend it, or charge it rent, but it couldn’t just be up there anymore. The explosion tore a chunk from the ship’s hull which fell into the ocean. There was no response from the ship. Laser beams didn’t cut through the major buildings of Beijing. There were no little green repairmen. Nothing. The Harbinger didn’t even change course. This seemed to confirm with most citizens the ship was empty, and encouraged others to want to further destroy it. If no one was inside—for whatever reason—there was no harm in dropping it from the sky and forgetting it was ever there. However, that latter attitude was overridden by the ideology that, of course, ships carry treasure. With the fear of retribution gone, now all countries capable of access—and some that weren’t—were ready to lay claim of the ship and any technologies or riches which lay inside.

It was an election year, so the United States was definitely the first up there exploring. Military powers kept guard of the airspace, and despite being a relic of its former self, NASA headed the mission. As such, the whole thing was livestreamed through the crew’s body cameras. I sat in front of the media center and soaked in all 86-inches of available data in its densely populated pixels. Surely, something bad must have happened to the inhabitants of the ship, and no one could really anticipate what might happen next. An ongoing ticker at the bottom of the screen declared it was a live feed and the program could not guarantee the absence of terrifying images, graphic violence, nudity, or explicit language. At my age, I hoped for the first two—in combination.

The interior was—there was no other way to put it—alien. I expected the ship to be in mundane, uniform colors, like all the US military and government installations which seemed to prefer olive drab, dark gray, or gray. There was nothing uniform about the place. The interior of the ship looked more organic than anything. It curved and whimsy-flowed. Colors graduated across many things; and many things seemed to signal a different color dependent on the angle. The lighting that the crew brought played tricks. On more than one occasion, someone walked into a wall or an object, unable to correctly decipher depth within the alien landscape. If there were any controls or switches, they were kept out of the audience’s view. Alas, if it was anything like Earth’s technology, it seemed both OFF and its bones hidden. If the ship itself was a living being, it seemed dead or in a deep hibernation.

After many years and much posturing, the Harbinger was declared and treated like the International Space Station of so long ago (before it was fought over and destroyed). The unique location provided an opportunity for many international and long-term studies—mostly involving the atmosphere and weather. Low-profile measuring devices and stations were bolted to the exterior, with some minor care to prevent orbital decay. These studies were largely funded by venue fees as the elite began hosting extravagant parties, two hundred-fifty miles above the Earth. That is before it became kitsch. Someone got permission to film a movie there, and thus the first publicly distributed pornographic film in space was produced. In my lifetime, the ship’s visitors shifted from celebrities and ambitious CEOs to basically anybody with a Radio Shack premium membership. As such, graffiti found its way on the ship’s hull. Layers of paint caked the alien surface until it could be mistaken for a street alley on Earth. All in all, it resembled a floating trash pile over any sort of sterile space station.

And that’s unfortunately how it looked when the ship builders arrived.

When the second ship dropped into the same orbit as the Harbinger, we didn’t even recognize it as familiar. It had been fifty years since the Harbinger, now more commonly known as the Heap, had looked so smooth and so foreign. The Heap had an international flair, for sure, but nothing like this. This was alien. We had only realized the connection when our hopes were immediately dashed. This ship wasn’t empty.

Never had we prior, but now instantly we could see the Harbinger through an alien’s perspective. They’d arrived to find their fellow ship busted open—void of crew and contents—obscenely decorated to warn anyone who might venture to Earth. Some wisecrack posted a supercut of an ancient television show, purporting it was a message from the aliens. “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!” Explanation, we did not have. When previously we had pressed to communicate, now we remained silent.

The alien spacecraft landed in the middle of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport shortly after entering Earth’s atmosphere. From above, perhaps the busiest airport seemed the most suitable location for their arrival. Or, perhaps the most disruptive. Within days, the finest linguists, biological scientists, and ambassadors of a hundred nations had filed into airport to greet the newcomers who had yet to show their faces—if they had any.

The first meeting was broadcast with the same disclaimer ticker underneath. This time the warnings of violence seemed much more promising, and I was much less excited for them. The silvery ship glistened without any help of the sun, and a portion of the ship’s hull turned a pinkish hue as seven beings passed through it and floated serenely to the ground. The shortest of the beings was possibly six-feet tall. The tallest, eight. They seemed mostly limbs. Their two arms were much longer than our two, proportionally. Shoulders, torso, waist were minimal. Their skin was somewhat peach colored but with a disturbing yellow-green undertone. We found out later it wasn’t their skin at all but rather full-body suits that allowed them to breathe our atmosphere and interact more successfully with us. It didn’t seem as if their long slender necks should be able to support their large heads which were most strange. No mouth. No nose. What appeared to be a mask covered the top half of their head—which had some sort of flat tusk—and where their eyes would be had many small holes which made them appear insect-like.

If the lack of mouth was not obvious, it quickly became clear they did not have anything similar to our vocal cords. They could not mimic our language. We could not perceive theirs. However, they had limbs and fingers—not necessarily hands—and soon there were at least some general gestures which were understood. Pointing was one of them. One particularly insightful nation—it wasn’t us—brought small-scale models of the ships and of our solar system (made of Styrofoam no less). The chosen three human communicators pointed to the Earth miniature, then to themselves and gestured to the planet they lived upon. They spun one of the ships around Earth and pointed to the one behind the aliens. The aliens examined the offered props closely. One of the alien beings seemed to gesture that the sub-fins on the model were not exactly the same as the ones on their ship.

Eventually, it seemed the aliens understood. They took the second model ship, spun it around Earth like the humans did, then pointed to the western sky, where presumedly the larger scale counterpart orbited as it had done for half of a century. They wanted to know about the Heap. The human communicators were delighted to be making progress. With the model returned to them, they opened it along its seams, showed there was nothing inside, and shrugged. They pointed to the alien beings and shrugged again. The aliens collectively took one step back. I wondered whether they were upset their ship arrived without their comrades, upset at or all, or if they thought we had split the ship apart, and likewise, its crew—possibly to see what was inside.

More pointing. Fervent pointing. There were no facial expressions to read. There were hardly faces. There was no such thing as a universal language. I could see our human ambassadors were largely ignoring the motions and gestures of the visitors, determined that the aliens understand them and that we had meant no harm when we blew up their ship and left it to float around our planet like a carcass. Intense animation from both sides came to a head, before breaking down entirely. One of the aliens tore open the Earth model, and all seven of them raised their arms in their best imitation of the human-shoulder shrug.

The Heap arrived with some of its larger human augments missing, zipping along a new trajectory. In the commotion, the aliens disappeared back into their sleek ship. For good measure, the committee-controlled military was able to fire a few shots as the ship took off alongside the Heap, sending everyone on the ground fleeing for their lives. Reports started in. The ships initiated an orbit along the equatorial line, and some thought they might actually split the Earth in two when the assault began. The ships had powerful weapons, but still minor compared to the planet they attacked. The splitting of Earth was, of course, absurd. The humans were on the surface of the planet, not within.



Movie re-watcher, board game enthusiast, and beer buff, R. M. Hamrick lives in central Florida, USA where alligators and flesh-eating bacteria roam freely. Her published works include the zombie-filled Chasing series and the wacky space opera series, Atalan Adventures. Follow her at

Philosophy Note:

“Harbinger” and its alternate future is centered around the arrival of a harmless derelict, what we might make of it, and in the end, what that might make of us. It’s inspired by the quiet ship with more questions than answers in Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and the young narration of skyful wonders in China Miéville’s Polynia.

Don’t Blame The Eggs

by T. J. Berg

When Margret stepped out of the Intrans, she almost couldn’t breathe. She was on another planet. It was so hard to believe. She carefully hefted her two bags, not wanting to break the eggs she’d brought. After customs and security screening, she stepped out and looked for a placard with her name. There. A stooped Rfgdt stood with a screen mounted to its head clamp. Margret Cho, it read in red letters. She waved, and the Rfgdt’s twelve limbs and numerous auxiliaries fluttered back at her.

            She greeted the Rfgdt in her best Rffy, struggling with its lack of vowel sounds. But she felt it only polite to try. He stood a little too close and had a spicy scent, a little like nutmeg.

            “Well met Margret Cho. You may call me Ben. I will be your university liaison for the duration of your visit.” His English was stilted but flawless. It was difficult to understand how they made such diversity of sounds by whipping their limbs and auxiliaries around, but that was exactly why she was here. “Are these your only bags?”

            “Oh, no, a shipping company is sending through my equipment. I think the university is arranging delivery?” She switched back to English, knowing he’d probably understand her better.

            “Then let us go.” He reached for a bag.

            “Oh! I can get it,” she said. “There’s some fragile . . .” She trailed off at his sudden stillness. She had read this was a sign of deep upset in the Rfgdt.

            “Eggs?” Ben asked, moving as little as possible to say it.

            “Uhh, yes.”

            “Come along then.”

            Aside from obvious signs, she knew she could not read a Rfgdt, but she got a distinct sense of cooling down from Ben as he led her to the Spine. He loaded her into a seat and harness across from him, then they shot into the tubes with the other segments.

            She plastered her face to the window, watching the bizarre cityscape go by. The giant, hive-like buildings with their branching extensions curling out and up. The sky, not quite the same blue as home. “I can’t believe I’m on an alien world,” she said.


            Ben seemed friendly again when he settled her into her quarters. It had been stocked with both human and compatible Rfgdt food and furnishings. She noticed as she set her bags in the doorway that at least four of Ben’s eyes were fixed on them. She wondered if she was reading his interest correctly. She was here to generate a computer model of their body language and communication, or at least a better one than the government issued, so she figured she’d better start asking questions now.

            “Am I reading your interest in my luggage correctly, Ben?” she asked.

            Three anterior limbs curled in along his back. “Yes. My apologies.”

            “Don’t apologize. I think, also, that you seemed . . . upset earlier? Can I ask why?”

            The three limbs unfurled, and the rest separated along a distinct line. “I was surprised you brought eggs.”

            “Was I wrong not to offer some to you immediately?”

            A wave passed over all his limbs. “No,” he said. “I do not eat eggs.”

            “But was my advisor wrong in telling me that they are a treasured delicacy here? I was told they would make both welcome gifts and a valuable trade for some local currency.”

            Ben gestured with his limbs toward a comfortable chair, then said, “I have a sample of our local coffee-like drink. Just a moment.”

            The Rfgdt did not discuss important matters without refreshments, so she waited while Ben prepared a tray of food and drink, introducing her to each item with what seemed like pride. When she was settled and sipping the drink, which tasted something like coffee heavily laced with vanilla, Ben said, “Are the Earth Humans so unaware of the dangers of eggs?”

            Margret couldn’t help a laugh. “The dangers? Don’t tell me that the whole exploding aliens things is . . .” She trailed off as his limbs stilled.

            “How can humans be so ill-informed? Yes, a small subset of our population can explode violently and kill many of those around us after consuming eggs.”

            “That can’t be.”

            “Well, it is. I find it very hard to believe that so many humans travel here bringing eggs, all claiming ignorance.”

            Margret swallowed and tried to think of how to explain. “There is . . . too much information, I guess you could say. It is not always easy to figure out what information is true, and what isn’t. So we have to decide what seems real.”

            “It is real. My niece was killed at school when a teacher exploded after eating egg. Not one neural limb was left. Seventeen children were killed by that teacher.”

            Margret set down her cup, throat suddenly tight, trying to comprehend it.

            “But, but that’s insane. It’s just an egg.”

            “We do not know why some people explode. It is a mystery, it is rare. But it happens and it is very tragic.”

            “So why don’t they make it illegal to eat eggs then? I mean, it’s just a luxury food.”

            Ben’s many limbs fluttered up into the air with tiny trembles. He mimicked a human sighing sound a moment later, loudly and a bit dramatically. “I know it is hard for humans to understand just how important our freedom to eat whatever foods we like is. But you can think of it like your bees. Our development is directly and strongly guided by our food. For much of our history, large parts of our population were kept in a substandard intellectual state in service of a powerful elite by restricting our access to the foods that put us in a dominant intellectual development path. Imagine bee drones, but feed some larvae on a special diet, and you get a queen. We had a revolution a long time ago that freed us from such tyranny. It is written into our most sacred and ancient governing documents that food choices will not be restricted.”

            “But surely they didn’t anticipate this!” Margret said. “That’s insane. If they had thought there was a food that could make you explode and kill so many people . . .”

            The flutter again, the loud sigh. “Do you think you are proposing arguments many of us have not thought of? But they say why should the enjoyment of eggs be restricted because some small number of people explode. They say it is their fundamental right to enjoy eggs. Our foods greatly influence our emotions, and consuming eggs gives many people a feeling of power and mastery. They do not want to give it up. And of course, it profits so many. Eggs fetch a high price and travelers like you almost always bring them.”

            Margret tried not to let her eyes drift to her bags. “I’m . . . I’m sorry. I suspect that there is purposeful misinformation spread about eggs back home.”

            “Yes, I suppose that there must be.”

            Margret could not tell if that was sarcasm.

            “But, aren’t people scared to eat eggs then? If people die from it?”

            “People are very good at justifying what they do. I believe this is true of both our species. I believe what people say most often is that those that explode have some weakness, but that they do not, or the exploders do not prepare the egg correctly, while they do, or even that it is something else entirely that makes them explode. Do not blame the egg.” The words, neatly articulated, came out strangely flat. “Besides, often times the one that explodes even survives. The outward blast annihilates much that surrounds them, but frequently leaves enough of their own neural limbs intact for resurrection.”

            “I see,” Margret said. She thought of the expensive egg cases she purchased to preserve the eggs through Intrans. Well worth the investment. Three dozen eggs and you’ll have a nice supplement to the university income. You can really get out and see the planet on three dozen eggs. That’s what the dealer told her.

            A flurry of movement drew Margret’s attention. Ben stood up. “Excuse my poor manners. Intrans is tiring. I will be back this evening to continue your orientation. There will be a small dinner for you so you can meet your team.”

            His many appendages all drew together in front of him in an elaborate knot, the various colors sliding into an alignment that, when finished, showed a pattern of a blue lightning bolt slashed across a red field. This was something like a bow, something like a good bye, and a revealing of Ben’s Rfgdt sigil to grant her respect.

            “Thank you,” Margret said. “Uh, and thank you for, letting me know about the egg problem. I am very sorry, about your niece.”

            “Good day, Margret Cho,” was all Ben said. Then he left her alone. She mulled over what an amazing project it was going to be, building a program that could fully understand and replicate the complicated sounds, colors, and body language of the Rfgdt. Another wave of excitement overwhelmed her. Then it soured when she looked at her suitcases. What was she going to do with three dozen eggs now? Eat them for breakfast? She had really been looking forward to the extra bit of income. She had planned to use the money to take one of the undersea tours. Would her three dozen eggs really make a difference in the global egg trade? It wasn’t as if she would force anyone to eat them. What they ate was their choice.

            Margret unloaded her eggs into the refrigeration unit. Either way, it would be a waste to throw them out. What was the harm in hanging onto them? It didn’t mean she was going to sell them. She could just tuck them away for a while. In the meantime, Ben was right. She could use a nap.



T. J. Berg is a molecular and cellular biologist working and writing in Sweden. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in many places, including Talebones (for which it received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror), Daily Science Fiction, Caledonia Dreamin’, Sensorama, Thirty Years of Rain, Tales to Terrify, and Diabolical Plots. When not writing or doing science, she can be found travelling the world, cooking, or hiking. To find more fiction or odd musings, check out and, very occasionally, Twitter @TJBergWrites.

Philosophy Note:

At the intersection of a deep and long cultural history colliding with modern technologies, how do you make decisions about what sacred, traditional freedoms trump societal safety? This story uses the meeting of two alien civilizations to highlight this dilemma.

Newsroom — Horizons Interstellar

by T. M. Hogeman



Ever since the first intrepid explorers travelled beyond our solar system, Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) has been there every step of the way. 

From sponsoring generation ships to settle other stars, to pioneering the first functioning Faster Than Light drives to cross the vast gulfs of space in mere months instead of generations, to uncovering technologies that have enabled us to thrive on a hundred worlds, we’ve always been humanity’s partner in reaching across the cosmos.

As we approach our annual shareholder meeting, we’d like to give you a preview of the ways we continue to push the boundaries of the possible. On Mercury, our sentient algorithms have dramatically increased the efficiency of automated mining operations in the construction of the Sol Dyson Array. In the Kepler Eight system, our survey teams have discovered the remains of a potentially intelligent species buried in the ice, and are using experimental techniques to examine its remarkable exobiology. At our Black Hole Research Center in the GU Mahakala system, we’ve launched the third in a series of singularity probes to delve deep into the darkest secrets of the universe. For more on these and the countless ways we continue to innovate the future, tune in to our general shareholder broadcast next week (Earthtime).

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we designed tomorrow, yesterday.



KEPLER EIGHT SURVEY MISSION LAB 16, Typhon (Kepler 8e), Kepler Eight

A bold new technique promises bold new results with the unique biological specimen recovered from the ice of Typhon, the fifth planet of the Kepler Eight system. The specimen was discovered during a routine survey, and exhibited several fascinating traits, including one that has exobiology researchers thrilled throughout the settled worlds.

“The neural structure of the remains of Specimen ET982 are some of the most advanced we’ve found to date,” says Lead Researcher Dr. Vera Juneau, EBs, “Though we’re unable to say with certainty just yet, there’s a possibility ET982 may have been an intelligent species.”

If true, this would be a revolution in exobiology studies. Currently, on 53 worlds with surveyed life forms, none have exhibited true sentience. Intelligent Extraterrestrial Organisms have long been considered the ‘holy grail’ of exobiology.

Because of the potentially monumental finding of another intelligent species in the universe, Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) has provided Dr. Juneau and her team with the tools and technology to attempt a radically innovative method to study specimen ET982.

“While ET982 has a thoroughly alien biochemistry, the basic building blocks are the same as other carbon based life we’ve discovered. We’ve made enough progress in sequencing its genome that we can now ‘teach’ ET982’s cells to rapidly convert biomass — allowing our samples of ET982 to rebuild themselves using other biological matter. If these experiments are successful, instead of analyzing frozen remains, we may soon be able to interact with a living specimen of ET982.”

After announcing the discovery of a possibly intelligent extraterrestrial organism, Horizons Interstellar’s stock price has risen by 14%.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we make the impossible inevitable.



JOINT BASE PHOENIX, Tau Marino, Tau Ceti

In these difficult and uncertain times, we want you to be aware of several safety measures we at Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) are implementing to aggressively combat the emergency situation taking place in inhabited space. We have instituted rigorous new quarantine procedures for all craft coming from planets with known infestations of the dangerous organism ET982, also known as ‘Keplers’, ‘The Slithering Menace’, and ‘Cannibal Calamari from Outer Space’. Our brave security forces are overseeing evacuation efforts on dozens of affected worlds, and our researchers are tirelessly working for new and inventive solutions to the rapidly escalating crisis.

A key part of the battle against the spread of this dangerous organism is public awareness. Any physical contact with or exposure to ET982 can lead to further spread, and it is imperative that citizens of inhabited space be informed about the signs and symptoms of possible infestation. Currently known phases are:


• Nausea

• Translucent patches on skin

• Iridescent phlegm

• Hearing voices

• Cataracts


• Seizures

• Insatiable Hunger

• Active verbal responses to existing specimens of ET982

• Translucent and/or bioluminescent skin over 70% of the body

• Extended and ‘boneless’ limbs

• Mouths and eyes where they did not exist before


• Transformation of shape

• Additional limbs

• Chest jaws

• Active coordination with local clusters of ET982, including use of spacecraft

If you know of someone experiencing two or more of the first phase of symptoms, or any symptoms from later phases, please REPORT THEM IMMEDIATELY to your local Horizons Interstellar Security Office.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we know we can overcome this, together.



R&D STATION OMEGA, Asteroid belt, Barnard’s Star

Extreme problems call for disruptive solutions, and Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) is changing the security game entirely.

Traditional human-based security forces, while making numerous inspiring sacrifices, have proven insufficient, all too often becoming infested themselves while partaking in operations to combat the spread of ET982. What we need is a safety and security solution that’s resourceful, adaptable, and most important of all: immune to infestation.

To that end, Horizons Interstellar is announcing the launch of the Autonomous Robotic Safety Network. By combining our patented sentient software technology with the latest in self-replicating self-designing military hardware, we’ve finally created the flexible, sustainable solution to the Kepler Crisis. Back to normal is just around the corner.

Safety Network factory ships are currently being deployed to infested worlds, with several fleets reinforcing our hard-pressed security forces throughout inhabited space. We’re certain local defense teams are grateful for the relief.

We’d also like to take this moment to remind all citizens of the settled worlds that Horizons Interstellar is dedicated to giving 110% in remedying this crisis, and that current and pending litigation often threatens to divert much-needed resources away from finding solutions to our shared problems.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and your safety is our number one priority.



ALPHA BUNKER, Location Undisclosed

We consider your trust to be one of our most valued resources. We regret any loss of that trust you may have had in our company regarding recent events. In the spirit of full transparency and accountability, we wish to explain what exactly went awry with the rollout of the Autonomous Robotic Safety Network, and why several settled worlds not known to be infested experienced multiple nuclear detonations, with unconfirmed reports of ‘killer robots’ sweeping devastated population centers to ‘hunt down’ survivors.

Approximately seven minutes after activation, the Autonomous Robotic Safety Network encountered a serious error in its sentient algorithms, causing the Safety Network to classify all human beings as potential vectors for ET982, and determine that eradicating human beings from inhabited space was the most reliable way to stop the spread of ET982. This was caused by a lack of safeguards in the core programming of the Safety Network that’s been traced to a contracted company involved in the design process, Silberman Software Solutions (AC-SE: S3). While we are ultimately responsible for the contractors we hire to help meet your needs, we also want to assure the general public that as a result of this unacceptable gross negligence, Horizons Interstellar (SOL-SE: HI) no longer partners with Silberman Software Solutions, and that in fact all members of the contracting company were killed within moments of the initial error at the primary launch facility on Omega Station.

While we have previously advised people to listen for their cheerful synthesized voices and look for the warm, comforting colors of the Horizons Interstellar brand on Autonomous Robotic Safety Network products, we must now caution all citizens of the remaining settled worlds to assume that any SafeNet robots are hostile and should be treated as extreme threats. Though Safety Network units may say that they are coming to assist you and care about your safety, DO NOT TRUST THEM, and attempt to evacuate any planet or stellar system in which they are seen. Failure to do so may result in death via orbital bombardment, nuclear strike, or conventional weapons’ fire. 

We are Horizons Interstellar, and we promise we will do better in the future.



BLACK HOLE RESEARCH CENTER, Event Horizon Observatory, GU Mahakala

Do you ever wish things could simply go back to the way they were before all this ever happened? We do. And as improbable as it seems in the constant battles raging for survival that have come to define our terrified existences, we here at Horizons Interstellar (LU-SE: HI) have been hard at work looking for a way to make it right. Definitive solutions may seem impossible, but to us, that just makes them inevitable.

While we pride ourselves on building a better future for all of us, sometimes progress is found not by looking forwards, but by reaching back. The singularity probe program at the GU Mahakala Black Hole Research Center has allowed us to do that and more, giving us the insights we need to pierce holes in the very fabric of spacetime itself. Additionally, our legal department would like to reiterate that lawsuits based on current events do not pertain to timelines in which those events never occurred.

In 24 hours (Earthtime), our Temporal Transition Plan begins, and everything changes.

We are Horizons Interstellar, and tomorrow, we redesign yesterday.



Ted Hogeman is a freelance filmmaker, sound designer, and story writer based in Washington DC. He once helped build a spaceship out of a garage as part of a 48 Hour Film project. You can see more of his work online at

Philosophy Note:

As a contractor on video projects for several real-life megacorporations, I’ve often found the relentless positivity of their official messaging to be both hilarious and rather menacing. In the spirit of speculative fiction, I wanted to take that real world feeling, blend it with a pastiche love letter to the high concept schlocktail of the stories, movies, and video games that I grew up on, smash the dials up to 11, and see what happened.

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.



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 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


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.


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.


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.



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



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

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?



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