A year after the war began, I found myself in Madrid, where I took a room at the Hotel Florida. In those lean months, breakfast usually consisted of little more than a few bits of dry bread from the night before, but one morning in the lobby, as I was nursing a cup of weak tea and some stale crusts, I noticed the smell of fresh coffee and fried ham drifting down from somewhere overhead.
The sirens are growing louder. Riley doesn’t know how the peacekeepers found out—he was so careful, so sure he’d covered every trace of his existence, all of it—but that’s less important now than getting away. He cannot afford to make any more mistakes. The night seems dark and empty as he leaves the warehouse through the back door.
I never felt like a real college girl until I met John my senior year. He and I stayed up all night talking and then ran around campus chalking pastel hearts and portraits of Václav Havel on the cement walkways. A manic fox with wavy brown hair, he could come to rest suddenly and eye me with a playful stillness that made me ache. He managed to be both clever and smart, lean as well as dimpled.
There was a special program when I was in fourth grade where this photographer came and taught us. It was called the Appalachian Art Project, and it was supposed to expose us to art. We all got these little plastic cameras called Dianas that didn’t have a flash or anything, and black and white film. The first week we took pictures of our family and then we developed them and picked one for our autobiography.
“There’s a stall in the new market where they cook just about anything on a stick.” These were the words, spoken by coworkers returning to the office from an early lunch, that drew me from my cubicle and onto the streets one late April afternoon. Everyone has their weaknesses, and mine has always been food. Anything? I thought. We’ll see about that.
The Heroes left the man dying on the field, one of the thousands they pitched overboard from their silvery ships at the end of each battle with Yousra’s people. Yousra brought him home and had him castrated, to ensure he spread no contagion, and put him to work in the village. The Heroes’ men tended to eat little and work hard, and with so few people left in the village, his labor was welcome.
The call came through as I paced outside the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, puffing on an e-cig and watching my breath turn to vapor in the chill. “Hello?” The bald, skeletal image of a stranger stared back at me on my phone. “Ava,” he whispered. “Oh, Ava.” It took me a few seconds to regain my composure. “Dad?” I said.
Dear Scully, I should’ve been suspicious of the girl in the lab coat offering me psychic ice cream. But with you and your ponytail, the psychic ice cream just seemed so harmless. After it gave me a brain freeze that’d make the Sierra Nevada Mountains jealous, imagine my surprise when I started hearing people’s thoughts—thank science it’s only temporary! Good call on that, by the way.
After a long and tumultuous expansion, the universe began to contract. The speed with which it had cast itself out was finally overpowered by the inward gravitational pull of its own suspended matter, and so the stars and planets paused like weary travelers before beginning to drift the long way back toward one another. They drew together in great clumps, colliding with such force that they collapsed into black holes. Thus, all of creation devoured itself and was compressed down to a region of incredible heat and density.
It starts with light. Then heat. A slow bleed through of memory. Catchment, containment. A white-hot agony coursing through every nerve, building to a sizzling hum—and then it happens. Change of state. And what comes out the other side is something new. The woman held up the card. “What color do you see?”