New Stories for April 14, 2019
Keelia Black of the Swan Clan watched through the domed glass of the hanger deck as her ship, the Black Light, exploded in a fiery blossom, beautiful and silent against the inky blackness of space. In front of her, Easton, her second oldest brother, dropped to his knees and began the Prayers for the Damned.
“You have just violated intergalactic law,” said Niall, the eldest, his voice hoarse with rage.
Fang Nazari laughed. It wasn’t a mad laugh. Or even particularly evil. Fang was delighted, as if Niall had promised her double desserts after dinner. “I know!” She drew a deep breath, as if inhaling the smell of victory. “And wasn’t it fun!”
Keelia turned and examined their captor more closely. Fang was nearly eight feet tall—either space-born or modified—and she didn’t walk so much as glide. Or perhaps it was her dress that moved? The fabric, if it could be called that, moved around Fang as if made of millions of tiny green iridescent insects. Occasionally, bits of her dress broke away from the mass and crawled up into her turquoise hair and sometimes into her mouth, where she ate them with an audible crunch.
Keelia and her six brothers, Niall, the twins Easton and Graves, Jedidiah, Anwell, and Mataxlen had arrived in the quadrant earlier in the week. Alliance surveys had indicated that it was uninhabited, but likely to hold profitable asteroids. The Black children had harvested two ice rocks and were looking for dwarf star alloy when their scans picked up an asteroid the size of a small moon with multiple alloy pings. They had landed, prepared to do a survey and a little exploratory digging with their father’s newest invention—a sonic drill.
What they had found was a moon base, a mad woman, an army of robots and what appeared to be a seven-foot man-alligator. Fang Nazari, as she had introduced herself, had wasted no time in launching one of her robots armed with a detonator and a cubic meter of the highly explosive dwarf star alloy at their ship.
And now their ship, and their way home, was dust and debris
Chapter 3 – The Corporate Spy
She was going to get caught. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. She’d played out every scenario she could as she hunched down below the smooth white counter, and not a single one was going to get her out of this mess. Aderyn Ryder’s original plan was to get in, get a copy of the data, and get out. But none of her research had indicated that the lead tech had a severe case of paranoia and a bio-locked workstation that was impossible to hack into with the genetic material Aderyn had on hand, which did include that of the lead tech, Jareth Ankler.
Just not Jareth’s pet lizard, who Aderyn had found out he’d grown from a Grow Your Own Reptile! kit and kept in a special pouch under his shirt at all times. Said lizard, it turned out, was also the key to every lock Jareth created. Specifically, the lizard’s saliva was the key. The lizard’s saliva was also lethal to anyone who was not Jareth.
And also, it was a lizard, and Aderyn never really liked lizards. So instead of trying to go through the nearly impossible task of getting Jareth alone, getting the lizard safely back to the workstation, and getting the lizard’s spit on the lock without also accidentally poisoning herself, Aderyn did the next best thing: she broke the protective casing of the workstation, yanked the data core out, and ran.
The problem was that said core was tagged with a tracking chip and any attempt to take it out of any exit would immediately set off every alarm in TenDek Corporation. She estimated she had maybe ten minutes until her smash and grab of the data core was discovered, and if she didn’t find a way out of the main building and back to the ship dock—with the core—not only would she be facing serious jail time, her client would very unhappy.
Aderyn had the kind of clients that it wasn’t safe to make unhappy.
Aderyn pulled up her 3D map of the TenDek Research and Development Space Station on her com bracelet, using her other hand to twist the floor map around, tracking different paths with her index finger. The secret to any good escape was to control the information—video feed, sensor information, ID chip logs—any information that told people who what and where other people were. The truth was, most people didn’t look up from their coms anymore, counting on their resident AIs to tell them if the people around them belonged or not. Aderyn had convinced the TenDek AI that she was a visiting shareholder. That would get her to an exit, but not through, not with the core’s chip triggering the alarm. She gestured at her projection until it zoomed in on something interesting: there was a recycling room one floor down that Aderyn was pretty sure she could get to. Maybe she didn’t have to leave with the core, so long as they both made it out.
She walked calmly and with purpose, keeping her pace steady and unhurried, despite her desire to run. Her outfit had been carefully selected to match her persona—a boring, overpriced suit that did little to flatter her curves and that marked her as a mid-level shareholder who was wealthy enough to let do what she wanted, but not wealthy enough to bother sucking up to. Her hair was twisted up in such a way that the bright purple streak was hidden, only showing the dark brown, and her makeup was conservative, with only some sparkle brushed across her cheeks in the way that was all the rage in the Dekken Solar System. She wore brown contacts over her amethyst eyes, as her eye-color would have made her stand out too much. She was shorter than most Dekken women, which was impressive considering she was considered tall for an Osterian, man or woman. Still, she hoped she blended in enough that these little differences didn’t mean as much.
She gained entry to the next floor with another quick scan, trusting her memory of the 3D map to lead her to a doorway about halfway down the hall on the right-hand side. This door didn’t have a lock, and Aderyn slipped inside easily.
The recycling room for this part of the TenDek compound was mostly filled with old coms tech, vid-screens, and empty food packages, but Aderyn could tell at least one workstation had been torn out and sent down here to be stripped into parts. The core would blend in well with those bits, and she hurried over, noticing as she did a small reflective square on each item in the room. Even the food packaging had these squares, and as Aderyn picked one up to look closer, she felt her heart sink.
Of course the TenDek workers tagged their recycling. They wanted to prevent the very thing that Aderyn was trying to do—slipping important tech into the recycling chute to smuggle it out of the compound. After using her com bracelet to get images of a few more of the tags, Aderyn’s computer told her that not only was each item tagged, each tag directed the item to the appropriate recycling center. The good news was that Aderyn could use a tag to send the data core where she wanted it to go. The bad news was that she had no idea how to make the recycling tags. She wandered over to the main workstation in the room and stared at the login screen.
The question now was whose ID should she try to use to log in? She had a handful of worker IDs and passwords with her, which is how she had gotten as far as she did.
Aderyn scrolled through her IDs again, this time looking for anyone marked currently offline. She had two possibilities. One was the head of the bioengineering department, and the other the very same lizard-holding lab tech who had made this job so very complicated. Of course, Jareth probably never logged in his own recycling. She imagined it would be very hard for him to explain why he suddenly had, particularly the day the data core went missing. It gave her no small amount of satisfaction to picture his discomfort as she typed in his ID and password, swiping his replicated DNA sample across the sensor to verify his identity. It was a public workstation—no poisonous lizard spit allowed.
Aderyn exhaled when the computer granted her access and brought up a simple menu. She picked the name of a recycling center in orbit around the same planet as the research and development station and labeled the data core as a broken motherboard. When the computer asked her if she’d like to disable the tracking chip, she grinned. Yes, she selected. Most definitely yes. The computer secured the recycling sticker on the data core at the same time it disabled the tracking chip, replacing one way of keeping tabs on it with another. The only thing left to do was drop the core into the appropriate bin so that a drone could start it on its journey.
Aderyn’s hand hovered over the bin. Once she let go, so much could go wrong. She hadn’t anticipated this path, hadn’t figured out all the variables, all the possible outcomes. If she lost this core….
Chapter 1: Satellite Surfing
“[T]he youngest was the prettiest of them all; her skin was as clear and delicate as a rose-leaf, and her eyes as blue as the deepest sea; but, like all the others, she had no feet, and her body ended in a fish’s tail.”
—Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid (1836)
Luminous was an energetic nebula, as far as nebulae go. Living in the cold, near-vacuum of space, made up of energy, gas, and dust, she refused to settle for the gravitational pull of any of the larger celestial bodies, like her siblings kept advising her. Why would she want that? Her surfing verged on art, creating beautiful aurora borealis above Earth. Plus, she loved to watch the fast-paced, short-lived people on its surface.
The humans were so full of life and noise, growth and emotion, as they floated through space on their blue-green planet. They were fascinating. They were also dirty, careless, and wasteful.
Look out below! Luminous crashed through a snarl of broken satellites and defunct space junk, surfing her once-favorite atmosphere: Earth’s. The debris spiraled out of orbit to burn up on re-entry.
For many hundreds of Earth’s orbits, the people had been extracting Earth’s resources and turning it into trash. The space around the planet was now so full of human-made debris she could barely even surf her favorite spots. And now they’d turned to mining nearby asteroids to get more resources to create more short-lived junk for an ever-growing population. They could not seem to control themselves.
She’d tried talking to them, but communicating with humans was hard. She’d come to the conclusion that their attention spans were too short for meaningful conversation. Also, they didn’t seem able to see her as anything other than random gas and dust. And so, she’d had to watch while they junked up the Earth’s oceans, land, and her orbit. She’d had to devise a more direct way of communicating the problem.
Bombs away! she called in the universal language of radiation. She gathered up some junk in her gaseous cloud and released it toward a newly-launched satellite. Pieces ricocheted off its solar panels and it fired boosters to right its course. But she couldn’t have that. For humans to take action, she had to hit them where it hurt: in their new technology.
She stretched herself out and tumbled the satellite into her gaseous tentacles, swung it around, aimed and released it to enter Earth’s atmosphere, burning toward the giant island of trash stuck in the swirl of the ocean’s currents. She followed it up with a whole swath of debris and felt a deep satisfaction in returning some of the litter. She knew aiming at cities would garner more attention to her cause, but she drew the line at terrorism.
Recently, over the last two hundred orbits or so, humans had actually been trying to deal with their discarded resources on Earth’s surface. But they hadn’t yet addressed the junk they’d left adrift above Luminous’s favorite planetary atmosphere.
It hurt to see the Earth this way. But without being able to talk with humans, satellite destruction was her best—her only—method of communication.
As for the overcrowding, humans seemed to be trying out several solutions, none of which had even made a dent. They had placed surface domes on the moon and Mars, but hadn’t yet seemed to figure out how to create an atmosphere like Earth’s in either place. And, they had built an enormous space station out near Luminous’s home planet Neptune, which used thrusters to keep itself in a strange, unnatural non-orbit. They called it Tersa Tellus.
So many ships had puttered their way out to the silver, double-ring port, including recently, the three biggest space ships yet. Though she couldn’t talk with humans, she could hear their excitement and knew this was a big deal for them. She kept hearing one word: colonies.
And then, the excitement spiked, with the strong added emotion of fear. She heard a mass of radio waves projected all around the Earth and saw more frenzied activity than any human event she’d ever witnessed. And she kept hearing the same word over and over, in every language: Pangaloid.
She had no idea what a Pangaloid was, and the signals from the satellites she hadn’t destroyed had been no help. She needed to consult her sister Astri, who liked to stay close to Neptune, but first she turned to look out at the distant, prophetic stars. What she saw there made her stop in her orbit. Any thoughts about chucking another satellite back to its makers died a fiery death. Could she be reading that right? Now she really needed to talk with Astri.
Luminous sped across the solar system and found her lazing around in one of Neptune’s rings, absorbing the minimal sunshine. She watched as Astri ricocheted off a meteoroid and spun off in a new direction. Sometimes Luminous thought Astri had forgotten she was a nebula. Or, maybe she simply preferred being solid.
Lu! Are you finally giving up on the blue-green monster? Come to relax with me?
Earth isn’t a monster, Astri. It’s exciting. You should really come with me next time, for the people watching if nothing else.
They blew up Callisto! Just a few cycles ago!
Which I’m sure was an accident. Luminous had thought they’d finally gotten to the point in their evolution that they weren’t going to destroy themselves. And then they’d blown up one of Jupiter’s moons. It wasn’t very reassuring. You’re the one who retaliated by chucking satellite parts down on areas of dense human activity, she reminded Astri.
We’ve seen their ships, Lu. They open up their maws and pull us out of orbit and then, she whispered dramatically, they eat us.
Astri, you’re an energy being. Get off your rock and avoid them!
Luminous, you’re a nebula. If you want them to understand you, you’ve got to be solid with them. Send their satellites back to the inhabited areas that sent them in the first place. Now, that’s a message they would hear.
But they’re not as bad as you think, Astri! I mean, yes, they’re capable of destruction, but also love, and kindness, and creativity, and problem-solving. Remember when they were heating the planet so much it was killing them? They solved that.
Halfway, Astri conceded. They may have stopped the Earth from warming further, but they never did slow the great storms, or their consumption of every resource.
But they took the first step. They’re making progress! Except, Astri, there’s something new going on. I need your help to figure what it is.
Astri expelled an exasperated puff of gas. You need help alright. Here’s some advice: Stop surfing Earth. Stop watching them! Stop trying to get those tiny humans to do the right thing. You work too hard and they’re going to do what they want no matter how much you try because they can barely see past their own puny lifetimes. Earth is a lost cause, Lu, and you won’t be radiant forever. Stay and have some fun with me.
But surfing Earth made her feel like she was experiencing something bigger than herself. There was nothing else like it. She wished she could make Astri understand.
Instead, she gestured at the stars with her shifting extremities.
Astri, what do you see? Her own change in perspective hadn’t made any difference. Astri was silent for a long moment, observing the prophetic stars, twinkling in their usual soundless song through space.
War, said Astri at last. War is coming. War and destruction.