Two hundred ships moved through the stars, leaving an iridescent trail of transmission beacons in their wake. Five billion kilometers long, the beacons stretched all the way to Earth, a desiccated and shaken planet that the passengers once called home. Sometimes simple messages from the ships arrived in the data. After a long time, images came and—after an even longer time—clips of the passengers going about their lives. But the vast distances meant these clips were rare. Normally an image arriving on Earth was cause for celebration, because it meant the crew was still alive, or at least the ship’s systems were still functioning.
The boy stopped playing after his Mom and Dad chained the iron man to the Kingdom’s heart. The boy used to run alone and brave through the welt within the walls, and even ranged as far as the borders of the wood. He tossed the ball his mother gave him into the sky, gold against blue with the sun behind, and laughing, caught it again. The ball purred in his grip. Sometimes he asked it questions—how to build a puppet, how to open the castle gates, how to change the color of the sky— and it answered. How questions were the ball’s job; why questions were Mom-and-Dad’s.
Pop-star uber-sensation Jaim Janan rockets off to promote their third album atop a SpaceX Dragon VII capsule today, where they will stream a live musical performance from orbit, some 350 kilometers above the Earth. Before today’s launch, when asked if they were feeling nervous about the trip, the young pop star coolly responded, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” It’s not clear how many of Jaim’s obsessive fans, or “Janatics” as they are sometimes known, recognized the star was quoting twentieth-century pop legend Elvis Presley [click for bio]. But by mid-afternoon #TruthIsLikeTheSun was the most popular hashtag on Twitter.
The mountains were beautiful, even though the roads that took you there were broken. Even though the whole world was broken. Tara sat on the side of the pitted road, soaking in the autumnal sun, gazing at the distant snow-capped peaks in awe. Forgetting, for the moment, the ache in her feet and the emptiness in her stomach. “The Sivalik Range, children,” said Anju, pointing at the green hills that rose around them. “The word literally means the ‘tresses of Shiva.’ Cross the valley, and you stand at the feet of Pir Panjal, the inner Himalayas.”
A recon detail brought in another one just after dawn. The soldiers had donned full biohazard suits; nothing could convince them that this wasn’t contagious. They set the body on a gurney. I wheeled it into a quarantine room and inspected it. This time, for the first time, it was a child. A girl, about eleven years […]
When I was a girl, my sister Susanna and I had to get up early whether we were rested or not. In winter particularly, our day often began before sunrise; and because our dormitory was in the south wing of the house, with narrow windows facing the central courtyard and thus facing north, the lurid, pinkish light sometimes was hours late in arriving and we would wash and dress while we were still uncertain whether we were awake or not. Groggy and only half coherent, we would tell each other our dreams.
When Tommy Burke took me out to Gundark Island to see the alien, I wasn’t really expecting much. Maybe I was just going because I thought it would be cool to take a ride in Tommy’s canoe. Or maybe I was just hoping Tommy might turn out to be a friend. If there really was an alien there, too, then all the better. After passing a hand-painted sign that said “Please Don’t Feed the Alien,” we came to a clearing in the middle of the island where I saw a lump in the ground. At first it looked like a small boulder, except that it had a grayish-purple tint to it. Upon closer inspection it vaguely appeared to have scales.
Billy and Principal Andrew Alty went all the way back to kindergarten, when Billy had convinced Mitchell McCoy that the green fingerpaint was Shamrock Shake, and watched with glee as the little babyface had scarfed it all down. Billy knew that Andrew Alty knew his style: refined, controlled, and above all, personal. Billy never would’ve dropped a dozen M-80s down the girls’ toilet. His stuff was always one-on-one, and possessed of a degree of charm and subtlety. But nevertheless, here was Billy, along with the sixth-grade bumper-crop of nasty-come-latelies, called on the carpet in front of Andrew Alty’s massive desk.
This is a love story, the last of a series of moments when we meet. Saki Jones leaned into the viewport window until her nose nearly touched the glass, staring at the colony planet below. New Mars. From this distance, she could pretend that things were going according to plan—that M.J. was waiting for her in one of the domed cities. A shuttle would take her down to the surface and she and her lifelove would pursue their dream of studying a grand alien civilization. It had been such a beautiful plan.
My children do not dream and neither do I. But that does not mean our sleep is sound. Sometimes they wake in the middle of the night, eyes wide and wet, grasping for a reason they stare into the darkness. I wish I could tell them it was a nightmare, that whatever they are feeling isn’t real, but instead I tell them to close their lids and lay lightly back into sleep, which they always do. My children are good at taking orders.