The alien came to play ball. Or so I thought. It didn’t say so outright. Not exactly. Couldn’t speak English far as we could tell. But every day that summer, it would meet us there at the sandlot. The thing would come and stand behind the dugout, which was a rusty old hope chest Willie stole from his big sister. It would stand out there, the alien, not moving or nothing. Just observing, if that’s even the right word.
In the Principality there rule the Seven Suns. Armored gods, they marched through the universe eons ago, wreathed in subjected angels, and left footprints of conquest on galaxies. They dragged beneath them the corpse-heat from a billion burning worlds. The sixth Sun, the Gray Sun, is a god of silence. There is no voice, no mercy, no music within the Gray Sun.
Beneath the Gray Sun there is only emptiness.
No one had ever seen Tatter D’MaLeon’s face. Even those who thought she was just a legend agreed that she was always masked. That was about all anyone agreed upon. Although the female pronoun was usually applied to “her,” even Tatter’s sex was in doubt, as was her humanity, her age, and whether or not she existed. But believe or not, there was scarce a one who didn’t love the stories. Anthropologists had tried to pin down exactly when the first Tatter D’MaLeon stories had been told.
It was just a luckychance that I had been defrosted when I was—the very year that farprobe 992573-aa4 reported back that it had found a goodstar with a shattered crystalsphere. I was one of only twelve deepspacers alivewarm at the time, so naturally I got to take part in the adventure. At first I knew nothing about it. When the flivver came, I was climbing the flanks of the Sicilian plateau, in the great valley a recent ice age had made of the Mediterranean Sea I had once known.
Tomorrow is Easter, and I will have to welcome into my home the woman who is going to murder my son. I need to prepare side dishes in advance. Take a heaping bowl of injustice, mash it to a pulp, season with tears of rage, bake, and serve in a dish speckled with four-leaf clovers. The question is, should I put the rat poison in hers alone, or would it be better for all of us to go together?
The starship crash-landed somewhere in the dark and early hours of morning. The thunderclap sound of it striking the East Bay woke Tamuel up, heart racing and confused. He glanced out his window, but didn’t see anything. He stumbled out into the common room to see if he could see anything different from the balcony. “What was that?” One of his siblings also was apparently out and looking around for the cause of the sound. “There’s no storm.”
It took Michael “Meek” Prouder half an hour to magtube from Claremont to the Coachella Valley desert, near the Nestlé Reservoir entertainment pier. In this oasis of hot dogs, pinwheel fireworks, and whirlygigs, he could lounge and marinate himself, soak up rays as he listened to the music radiating from the dam wall, and sink under the rhythmic roar of artificial waves crashing against the artificial shore. He could walk out into the desert away from the city lights.
Liyana had seen elephants form into protective circles when calves were threatened, but this was different. These days, animal behavior was all but impossible to predict, of course—prey turning to predator; trees turning to stone in moonlight—but this didn’t feel random. There was intent in the way the elephants moved. The seven of them—she counted three juvenile males, two juvenile females, and two adult females—plodded into a loose formation.
The suns were setting over Ariel’s cliffs, a great blaze of crimson and gold, when the first pounding came at Anna’s door. The stories from old Earth talked about the glories of their sunsets, but they were nothing, nothing, to the drama of Ariel’s twin suns. And yet, it wasn’t the sunsets that brought people to Ariel, that had brought her and her husband, all those years ago. Bam-bam-bam! No polite neighbor knock, but desperation in the hammer of fist against metal.
I’d never been on a quieter school bus. Kids were whispering to each other, looking scared as hell as the bus clipped stray branches from the endless forest pressing in on both sides of us. “This isn’t even a two-way road,” I murmured to Flora, the girl sitting beside me. She was chubby and had braces. “I know. Where is this school? My parents said this would be the greatest thing ever for my college applications, but I don’t know about this.”