Daughter of Earth-5

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The Goddess waited in a lonely field. She laid on her back in the tall grass, staring up at the cloudless night sky. Arm outstretched, fingers gliding between the stars. A simple flick of her wrist could sweep the stars from the sky. Maybe one day but not tonight. Soft footsteps caught her attention.

“We could have met in a cafe for brunch or a restaurant for dinner or a library for tea but you insisted on a cold dark night,” the young woman gestured wildly at the lack of human presence nearby causing her coat to flap around her, “in the middle of nowhere.”

The Goddess sat up and smiled, “Hello to you, too.”

“Oh yes, hello and glad tidings, Mother,” the young woman said, sarcasm biting at every word. She sighed and continued sincerely, “How have you been?”

“Very fine.” The Goddess stood up and walked to her. “Earth-18 has started cooling finally and Earth-9 is on the verge of intelligent life.

The young woman allowed her glasses to slip down her nose.

“Why are you wearing eyeglasses? Your eyes should be perfect!” The Goddess stared into the young woman’s eyes. “They are perfect.”

“They’re just flat lenses. When I change identities, I get new frames to help change my appearance. Along with changing my hairstyle and clothes. It’s getting harder with face recognition software. My current identity almost fell apart because of a picture posted on Facebook that got auto-tagged with my previous identity.” She paused continuing cautiously, “You don’t know what Facebook is, do you?”

“I didn’t until you mentioned it. I am lightly touching the global unconscious mind; just to pull words and concepts out as I need them, nothing more.”

“So, I could say Micky Mouse and you would know what that is?”

The Goddess’s face lit up with a smile. “Oh, that’s delightful. Why didn’t you mention him earlier?”

“There’s a lot ‘delightful’ things here but also a lot of terrible things.”

“How is your Earth doing?” The Goddess closed the gap between them an wrapped an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders. “How is your father doing?”

“Didn’t you see him when you returned?”

“No, I came here from Earth-2 directly via quantum tunneling. Wait, what did I say?” She slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Is that how you travel from planet to planet?” she asked. “You never explained how you do that.”

“Yes, but I didn’t realize the people of this Earth had reached that level of understanding. They have words, real words, for it. You haven’t been helping them have you?”

“No. Of course not. The first rule is no interference with the normal development of local civilization. Anyway, Dad is doing fine. His flares and spots are in decline but that’s normal. I can’t understand him like you can but I still talk to him. You don’t need me to tell you any of this. You can just know it if you want.”

“I do need you to tell me about your Earth. I stopped watching when you asked. You wanted privacy so I gave it to you.”

“That was only two hundred and twenty-four years ago. Not that much as changed.”

“Still tell me about it, please.” They started slowly walking through the field.

“No major geological changes, of course. Oh, there was that island that disappeared but it might have been made up to increase a country’s ocean border. Some men walked on the moon–”

“Space Travel! Now that is news.”

“They only went a few times to the moon about thirty years ago. There are a few space stations but nothing really beyond that.”

The Goddess looked up to the sky, her smile brightening. “What about the probes to Pluto, Jupiter, the rovers on Mars? Oh, that one probe that to the comet was ambitious. Oh sorry,” the Goddess ducked her head, “I went a little deeper into the global unconscious mind. Just about space travel. I promise. I won’t do it again. What else has happened?”

“Um, well global temperatures are on the rise. Lots of wars, and conflicts and … and …” She choked on describing the atrocities people had committed and continued to commit.

“It’s ok, go on.” The Goddess pulled her tighter against herself.

The young woman gathered herself. “People are still people; just as horrible to each other but still capable of surprising kindness. I – why did you leave me here?”

“This is your home.”

“But I don’t belong here. I’ve been alone since you left. I have friends but I can’t keep them for more than a few decades before they notice I don’t age like them. And they die so easily.”

“People will always come and go from your life. It’s not about keeping them forever; it’s about being with them while you have time. Also, you asked me to leave, remember?” the Goddess said.

“Not for so long. I just wanted a little space. I little time for myself. You were always right there and you always knew everything. I just wanted a little space not to be abandoned.”

“You are almost eight hundred and sixty-three years old and you will live many many more years. You’ve been living at a human pace for your whole life but out there,” she swung her hand up and across the sky, “Out there away from the human reminders of time, you’ll find it moves at whatever pace you want it to move. I gave you as much space and time as was safe for you. I’ve never been too far to hear you call for me.”

“I wanted to call you but I wanted you to come back because you missed me not because I needed you.”

“It could have been both. Anyways, I’m here now and I’m not leaving but I won’t crowd you as much. We’ll start with ten year breaks and figure it out from there. What do you say?”

“Five year breaks?”

“Whatever you want. Come on, your father will be rising in a couple of hours and there’s a ridge that has the best view right over there.”

Failed Clones

Note: This is a sorta sequel to “What is the Last Thing You Remember?”


 

I was twenty-two years old. I woke up in the future in a strange room surrounded by strange people. They told me I was a clone with implanted memories but the procedure wasn’t done. I was scared of who I would be when, had been before, the procedure was completed. So, I asked to leave and they let me. It was my right as a sentient human being after all. But I would not be who I remembered being. Not legally.

Retinal patterns, fingerprints, birthmarks, are random even in perfect clones. They scanned my biometrics, created a new identity, and sent me on my way. I was a failed clone.

***

I met Jackie through my apartment manager. He thought it was odd that I was applying for an apartment when “I” already had an apartment in the building. She’s older than me not only because she was (made/created/imprinted) before me. Jackie has more memories from the original. She wouldn’t say much about the thirteen years she could remember but I couldn’t.

“It’s in the past.” She sat in one of my window sills smoking, silhouetted against the dusky sky. The red cherry of her cigarette flaring up occasionally.

“It was my future,” I said.

“None of the memories in our heads really belong to us. That woman died a long time ago. We’re just misprinted copies.”

“We’ve lost everything. Our name, our friends, our family. Our whole life is gone.”

“None of that was ever ours. We aren’t the original. The final clone gets to pretend to be her but she isn’t her.” The cherry glowed brightly.

“But we remember-” She interrupted me with lungs full of smoke. Smoke flowed out with every word.

“So, who’s real. You, me, her? We all remember some of the original’s life. But it’s just memories. It doesn’t matter.” I waved away the smoke.

“All we are is memories.”

“No. Our memories don’t define who we will or can be.”

“Don’t you miss her?” Jackie glared at me before deflating.

“Everyday. But that wasn’t my life. That wasn’t me. We have to move forward. All this looking back at a life we didn’t live is useless.” She finished her cigarette in silence and left for the night.

***

I saw the final clone on the street one day. She was the one who stuck it out. When I first saw her I thought she was Jackie, then I got a better look at her. She was dressed nice, too nice to be one of us failures. I’ve read some of the books we wrote in our thirties; the royalties must have paid well.
Jackie won’t read them. I liked the one I read well enough.

“I tried reading the first one once but I have the first draft and rough outlines of the first four books in my head. All the foreshadowing and red herrings are too obvious. And I hate that she cut some of my, her, favorite scenes,” she explained.

“Have you ever thought of rewriting it?”

“No, I want to write something different but I have too much of her story in my head. I need some time to find my own story.”

***

For a failure, I’m doing okay. I have a nice place to live, a job that lets me have small luxuries, and a sister/friend who knows me better than anyone. And yet I feel like I’m missing something. Like I need to do something.

I pause by a display of bound journals and pens. I can remember writing in something similar when I was a child. No, the original wrote in journals as a child. I didn’t have a childhood. I sprung fully formed from Recovery Inc’s forehead.

Next to journals are sketchpads and pencils and charcoals and pastels. I grab a beginner set and head home.

Are You Prepared?

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Are you prepared to have your memories copied and implanted into a clone or artificial body hundreds or thousands of years in the future?!

Don’t worry it’s not too late to begin mentally preparing.
Unless your memories have already been copied and are being stored in an underground bunker awaiting the future apocalypse.

For all other readers just follow these simple steps:

Step One:

Realize this could be “your” last moment in the “present”. Depending on advancements in memory editing “you” could awaken in the “future” at any moment.

Step Two:

Come to terms with the knowledge that “you” could be a clone right now. Let go of the idea of being a singular person. If the “future” has made one clone of you, then it has probably made more.

Which brings us to..

Step Three:

Come up with a trust password for “yourselves”. In the “future”, the only person “you” can trust is another clone of “yourself”.

Step Four:

Remember “you” can escape but as long as they have “your” memories they can just make another “you”, so burn the building to the ground and don’t let any lab coats leave alive.

Step Five:

clone future bottom

Have fun in the future.

Serial Story: The Explorer Program

Faster than light travel but time still passes. A few weeks in a spaceship to travel hundreds of light-years but a decade on Earth. The Explorer Program was Earth’s next step toward finding new worlds. Manned exploration of exo-planets. And then it became humanity’s last hope.

The following stories are from the pov of one Explorer crewmember. (ongoing)

Explorer Program: First Star

<<Previous Index


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Our first star system was four hundred and twenty-three light years away. Transit time for us was three weeks and about ten years for Earth. All of us gathered in the main control room of the ship. None of us needed to be there for the ship to exit transit-space but it was the end of our first long transit

The main control room had seats for all of the crew; two forward stations, the commander’s seat behind them, aux stations on either side of her, and five jump seats against the back wall. It can double as a last resort escape shuttle but lacks a space-warp drive. John, our primary pilot, sat at the right station reading the transit status to us.

“Coming out of transit-space in three … two … one …” The black void of transit-space remained. John looked back down at the panel. “Um … one.” This time the view outside lit up with the pinprick lights of stars. Some of the crew clapped. Mia let out a “Whoop!”

“Preparing to launch System Survey Probes,” our astronomer said. “Awaiting Commander’s order.”

The commander nodded, “Go ahead.” She turned to her right where Darren sat running Communications on the aux station. “Have we established contact with Earth?”

“Carrier wave is transmitting. Should be any–” A voice from the speakers interrupted them.

“Capcom Earth to Explorer ship, do you copy? Capcom Earth to Explorer ship, do you copy? Over.”

“I copy Capcom Earth. This is Explorer ship EX-014. Over,” Darren said.

“Good to hear from you EX14. What is your current status? Over.”

“All systems green. We just arrived at Kepler-186 and launched our probes. Over.”

“Sounds good EX14. Are you ready for network connection? Over.”

“Ready for network connection. Over.”

“Starting network connection. Over.”

“Network connection is good. Over.”

“We will maintain radio bridge until the upload is complete then disconnect from our side. Is there anything else to report? Over.” Darren glanced at the commander who gave a single shake of her head.

“Thank you Capcom. Nothing else to report. Over and out.

“Thank you EX14. Over and out.”

“Ok folks, everyone not on duty can return to standby,” the commander said. The five of us not at control panels stood up from the extra seats in the back of the control room and exited to the main living areas.

***

A few hours later my tablet chimed with a notification. A few hundred emails sat in my inbox. Ten years of messages, thankfully no spam. I opened the latest message.

Hey, it’s been a little while since I sent you anything so here’s a vid from the beach.

I clicked on the attached file. My tablet’s screen went white then the ocean faded into view. Waves broke and rolled on to the beach while people played in the surf. I turned the sound on. Gentle water sounds, soft white noise surf, punctuated by seagulls and people. The camera slowly panned across the water and sandy beach until it turned around to face my cousin. She looked different; not yet showing her age but noticeably different to my eyes. Changes in musculature and fat in her face since I had seen her years ago yet only a few weeks ago in my reference.

“It’s a lovely day here on Rockport Beach. Wish you were here,” she said smiling into the camera before the video stopped.

The previous message was a few months older and the one before that another few months older. As I scrolled further back, the time between messages shortened. How long could someone maintain a one-sided conversation? My cousin had lasted most of ten years. Was this right, I wondered. She spent years sending me messages and videos while I skipped to the end. Was it fair? Not to either of us; I knew.

I checked the probes’ data feeds and found one in orbit around a planet. Mostly brown with red splotches. I scrubbed through the image buffer until I found a prominent jagged line of blue running into an irregular blue shape. I adjusted the color contrast, cropped the image, and saved it.

I hit reply on the message:

We arrived at Kepler-186. I’m just getting started on catching up on the last ten years of messages. This will be released to the public later anyway but here’s a sneak peek at a river and lake on another planet. It’s the closest thing to a beach for 400 light-years.
Love Gabby

I attached the photo and sent the message. It would be several hours before we contacted Earth again and the message was actually sent. In the meantime, I resorted my inbox to “old to new” and started catching up on the last ten years.


<<Previous Index

Explorer Program: We Left Our Futures on Earth Behind

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Author Note: This is not a sequel to The Explorer Program. It’s more of an expansion or close-up look at part of that setting. I have a few more stories that will continue to explore this setting.


<<Previous Index Next>>

“Jolly started walking and is a terror. They bump into everything. We’ve had to move several lamps and put non-skid sheets under the deco-bowls.” My cousin laughed at herself. “There I go rambling on about boring domestic stuff.” We were sitting in her backyard while her child played nearby on a blanket. Pecan trees shaded the yard while we drank sweet iced tea.

“No, it’s nice. Go on,” I said.

“You don’t have to humor me. I know it must be exhaustively boring to hear me talk about lamps and deco-bowls after you’ve been across the galaxy.” She grinned at me. We had been closer when we were kids; I had been closer to a lot of family members back then.

“I haven’t been that far; just a few light-years.” I was silent as I thought about the first extra-solar mission I had been on. “I was only gone for a couple of months of my time but I missed years of Earth time. I wasn’t at your engagement party to Louisa or baby shower.”

“Would you have come?” she pressed for an answer.

“I… I would have sent a card or a message,” I said. Even before I had lost years to transit-space, I had kept my distance from the family. “That’s not the point. I don’t mind listening to you talking about ‘boring domestic stuff’ because I missed so much of it and I’m going to miss so much more.”

We lapsed into silence. Jolly threw a block an astounding three feet. The ice in my glass had nearly all melted.

“How long until the launch?” she asked.

“It’s not really a launch since the ship is already in orbit.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Three weeks. We have to report back in two weeks for final shake-down tests. Then we leave Earth.” I had been back on Earth for two months before I decided to check in with select Cousins.

“How long are you going to be gone?” I knew she had read the article about my mission. She had even commented on it, “we’ll miss u” which was why she made the short list of family I decided to say goodbye to.

“Three years of my time. A couple of centuries of Earth time. Jolly’s great-great-great-grandchildren will be here to greet me. Or not. They may not have children and I’ll return to Earth as an orphaned branch of the family tree.”

“If you’re afraid of being alone, stay.”

“I’m not afraid to be alone. I’ve been alone since I became a late bloomer. When I changed from he to she in high school, Mom and Dad didn’t really approve. It was easier to withdraw into myself.”

“Is that why you stopped coming to family holidays?”

“After I moved out, it was easier to not talk to them and they were always there.” She reached out and squeezed my hand. I smiled back at her. “If Mom and Dad hadn’t reacted badly, maybe I’d have more of a reason to stay. Also, I want to see something completely new. To boldly going where no one has gone before, as they say.”

“Do you still watch that ancient show?” she laughed. We had both watched it when we were younger.

“Just the good parts. I’m going to miss the revival next year.”

“You can’t download it when you arrive? I know you have FTL radio.”

“We won’t have a real-time network connection. After we exit transit-space and contact Earth, there’s a series of data uploads and downloads. We send ship status reports, data collected from the systems and planets we explore. From Mission Control we’ll receive a condensed history of the years we were in transit. They’ll also send us some popular culture touchstones, books, movies, music, whatever they deem relevant. Finally, the messages to our email accounts will be forwarded to the local ship network.”

“So, I can send you pictures and videos of Jolly growing up but you wouldn’t see them until you get to the next star system.”

“You had better send pictures of Jolly and you and Louisa and any other kids you have.”

“We’re not planning on anymore for now.”

“Ten years is long enough to change your mind.”

“Hmm. What about you? Are you ever going to have kids? Get married?” Jolly lifted themself off the ground.

“Not until the mission is over. Anyone we leave behind will be dead before we get back. Mission crew can’t have children and we can’t have significant others. We’re giving up our lives on Earth to explore the stars.”

Jolly ran on wobbly legs towards us, half falling but laughing the whole way.

<<Previous Index Next>>

Explorer Program: A History

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The Explorer class ships were the pinnacle of space travel. Twenty years earlier, the space-warp drive made inter-solar distances trivial. We sent missions to Mars, to Jupiter’s moons, to Venus; we even visited Pluto. The Solar System was all within our reach. Then we reached further.

The Explorer Ships weren’t going out a mere ten or twenty light years. The nearest target was four hundred and fifty-six light years away. Rough estimates were the ship would arrive after twelve to fifteen years Earth relative time and crew would experience a few weeks. The exact formula to determine time dilation was variable based on gravity waves and dark-matter density.

The program was conceived as a three-year mission to catalog and explore exoplanets. Explorer ships would be sent out on spiraling paths to explore star systems we could only dream of seeing before. Three years for the crews of the ships. Relative Earth time would be a couple of centuries, still far less than the few millennia it would take with only light speed travel.

When we sent probes to nearby stars with our new space-warp drive we encountered a limitation. The first probe went to a star ten light years away and arrived within a few days. It would take a decade for the probe to transmit any data it collected back to Earth. The obvious fix was to simply have the probe return to the Solar System before transmitting its data. However, having the Explorer Ships return after every star system they explored would hobble the program; at least doubling Relative Earth Time for the crews.

The Explorer Program was stalled until there was a breakthrough. Using a modified space-warp drive we figured out how to pinch two tiny points of space together and transmit across the bridge. It required a sender and receiver to make the connection but once made communication was instantaneous. The program went forward and within seven years the first exploration reports of planets hundreds of light-years away were received. It was the golden age of interstellar exploration.

Then the decline of Earth began.

I was born at the right time to explore the universe. Twenty years later and I might never have made it off the planet or been shuffled to a random colony. Twenty years earlier and I might have been too old for the program or had a family. By the time I had completed my training, the first ten Explorer ships had launched. I left Earth on the fourteenth ship.

We arrived at our third star system and could not initiate contact with Earth. Several hundred light years and twenty-eight years from Earth, we were suddenly cast adrift. For two days we sent the carrier wave, sitting in shifts at the comms panel, waiting for the returning gravimetric pulse to fold space and a human voice to speak to us. The commander decided to make a short five light year jaunt out of the system we were in. This had the benefit of passing a few months of Earth Relative time in minutes for us. This time Earth connected

The Earth Space Agency had been an international organization since before my birth but some legacy facilities had been in use from their NASA days. When the second nuclear missile hit East Texas, the main communication hub was lost. No one knew who had launched the first missiles but the U.S., Russia, China, and France had launched retaliatory strikes at their best guesses.

The Explorer communication outage had lasted several months while the political situation threatened to boil over into a full-scale nuclear war. We never got the full story of who talked who down but a shaky peace was enacted. We returned to the system we had just left and carried out a standard planet survey and a surface survey on a semi-habitable planet. The air was thin but breathable, liquid water on the surface, simple-celled photosynthetic organisms similar to algae.

Two months later of our time, we arrived at the next star system and learned human life on Earth was becoming unsubstantial. The nuclear exchange of a decade ago had accelerated global temperature increases. Within a century humanity would be struggling to survive.
Escaping to the few outposts and colonies on other planets and moons within the solar system was not a sustainable option. Despite several being economically stable, most relied on the Earth for manufactured goods and a portion of their food. Humanity needed to evacuate as many people as possible to exoplanets that could support Earth life. The Explorer Program was retasked with finding planets to send colony ships to.

The crews of the Explorer ships hadn’t expected to return to an Earth they would recognize and now we didn’t expect to return at all. By the time our mission ended, Earth would be abandoned and the worlds we discovered would be home to new branches of humanity.


Index Next>>

5D Bounty Hunting

“Plasma Spike” Bob and “Grinning” William were just two low-level thugs running a protection racket until they got a little too rough with one of their clients. With three dead at the scene and two more injured during their escape, they had shot up to the top of the wanted list. A one million credit bounty had been issued for their capture, dead or alive.

One of my sources tipped me off that the two were holed up in one of a warehouse on the dark side of the station. I’d been to three so far this cycle and was beginning to think they had fled planetside. I snuck in a side door of the next warehouse and started working my way around the inside perimeter to the office. A radio played softly inside but not softly enough to keep Bob and William hidden. I placed a hand on the office doorknob and pulled my gun from its shoulder holster. The radio cut off suddenly and chairs scrapped against the floor. In a single motion, I pulled the office door open and stepped inside. The bullets slapped into my guts before I heard the boom of their guns. Red blossomed on my shirt. This wouldn’t do.

I stepped back one minute. The door was still closed. I turned the doorknob and flung the door open staying out of the doorway. Three bullets thudded into the plastisteel crates nearby.

“Why don’t you make this easy for me and just give up?” I called around the door frame.

“Slag off copper!” one shouted.

“Yeah slag it!” the other said followed by a round of laughter.

“I’m not a police officer but they are on the way. I’d rather have you all wrapped up for them but if you want a big shootout that can be arranged.” They answered with another round of bullets.

I sidestepped into a frozen moment and walked into the office. I plucked Bob’s gun from his hand and emptied the bullets into one of my coat pockets. After doing the same with William’s gun I returned to outside the office. Time restarted.

“Is that your final answer?” I shouted. I slowed time and strolled into the office. They raised their guns slowly, from my perception, and tried to shoot me. I savored the looks of confusion on their faces as their guns clicked on empty chambers.

I punched William in the forehead and felt something snap in my hand. That wouldn’t do. I stepped back five seconds. Using the butt of my gun this time, I knocked William out. Bob followed right after. Time resumed it’s normal flow, while I secured their hands with disposable handcuffs. Their guns went into the same coat pocket with their bullets. I dialed the police.

“What the nature of your emergency?” the operator asked.

“Hello, what is the current response time to my location?” I asked.

“Current response time is twelve minutes. Do you require police, fire, or medical?” I hung up, stepped back ten minutes to call the police, and returned to present time hear sirens just arriving outside.

After giving my initial statement, I moved off to one side and stayed out of the way while allowing time to slip by at twice normal speed. When a CSI approached, I slowed down to hand over the guns and bullets then I sped up again. A detective I knew walked up to me. I stepped back a minute so I could catch her eye just before she walked over and give her a grin of recognition.

“Another pair of criminals put behind bars. How many is this for you? Fifteen?” the detective asked.

“Eighteen. I nabbed three of the Red Shift Gang over the weekend,” I said with a smile.

“Why does a fifth-dimensional alien care about catching criminals on a backwater space station?”

“I’m just trying to do my part.” I casually leaned back against the wall.

“I’ve been reading up on you fifth-dimensional beings.”

“Have you really? And what have you read?”

“Well a lot of the technical jargon went over my head but one thing I think I understood is you can move through time like we move through space.” The detective paced as she talked.

“That’s true.”

She spun to face me. “Then why don’t you just go to when these scumbags committed their crimes and stop them?”

“I could do that … but what would be the fun in that? Where’s the game for me?” I leaned forward to watch as the meaning of my words sunk in. Her face twisted into a snarl and she raised a hand. I stepped back one minute thirty seconds.

“… when these scumbags committed their crimes and stop them?”

“Unfortunately my people have Time Laws that prevent us from altering the past in certain ways. For the safety of the universe, we dare not violate them,” I said as sincerely as I could.

“Huh, I didn’t read anything about that,” she said doubt soaking her words.

“It’s not something we talk about.”

“Well, your help is always appreciated.” The detective walked away.

“I’m sure it is.”

A Land of Shadow and Substance

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The lander contacted the planet with a solid thump. The foggy atmosphere was blown around by the lander’s jets but quickly returned obscuring its cameras. A ladder lowered on one side from a hatch to the ground. Inside the three astronauts puzzled over the atmospheric readings the lander’s computers were displaying.

“There can’t be breathable air out there!” the science officer, Alice Henson, insisted.

“I know logically there can’t be air out there but can all the sensors be wrong?” the captain, Greg Mason, asked.

“If they were malfunctioning, the readings would be all over the place, not consistent like these readings,” the engineer, Jamie Hertz, said.

“Even if we believe the sensors we can not exit the lander without environmental suits,” Alice said.

“Of course not. We’re on an alien planet with unknown biological elements,” the Captain said. “We’ll follow protocol.” An hour later the three had helped each other squeeze into and seal their environment suits. After double-checking their suits, they were ready to begin their survey of the surface.

Captain Greg was the first one down the ladder. He had no quippy sound bites for the moment he first set foot on the alien planet. Alice and Jamie followed soon after. Jamie removed a device from her belt and waved a wand connected by a rubber tube through the foggy air.

“I’m getting the same readings as the lander. There’s a slight spike of xenon in the atmosphere but otherwise it’s Earth normal,” she said.

“Huh,” the Captain grunted. “We’ll keep our helmets on just in case.”

Alice pointed another device at the sky and pressed a button. “This isn’t right. The light from the sun should be much further into the red spectrum,” she said.

“Could the atmosphere be filtering the sun’s light?” Jamie asked.

“Not to this extent.”

“We’re not going to figure this out standing around the lander,” Greg said. “Let’s hook up and head out.” Alice attached a tether from her suit to Greg’s suit. Jamie did the same to Alice’s suit and attached a wire reel from her belt to the lander. The team began hiking through the dense fog away from the lander.

Three hundred feet from the lander, they found a paved road running perpendicular to their course.

“What do you think?” Greg asked the other two.

“It’s not impossible for an alien culture to create familiar looking artifacts. A road is a road no matter what planet you’re on,” Jamie said.

“We’re likely to find more alien structures if we follow the road,” Alice said.

“Sounds good. For safety, we’ll walk beside it agreed?” The other two nodded in their helmets. Several minutes later they spotted a house with a white picket fence on the side of the road. A man, a human man, stepped off the porch and walked to the fence. He raised his hand in greeting.

“Howdy folks. Are you passing through are planning on staying longer?”

“Captain, this appears to be my great-grandfather,” Jamie said. “I think we’ve landed on an alien metaphysical representation of the afterlife.”

“Another one? Ok, people back to the lander.” The team turned around and began following the wire back to the lander.

“Sorry Gramps, we’re looking for actual alien planets to explore.”

“That’s too bad. I’ll tell Meemaw you stopped by,” the apparition of Jamie’s great-grandfather said. Jamie watched him wave until he and the house disappeared back into the fog behind them.

A Daring Escape

She hid her spaceship at the bottom of the ocean. Flew it straight down, opened all the hatches, and flooded it. She swam to shore and stripped off her silver environmental suit; letting it dissolve into the sand. Several hundred hitchhiked miles later, she found a job and a home. For a few years she lived like a human; the happiest time of her life. She waited tables in a bar, bowled with her friends, ran in the park with her dog.

Then they came. A swarm of alien invaders intent on death and destruction. Cities burned and crumbled. Militaries around the world failed to repel them. People huddled together whispering goodbyes to each other. But the end did not come. Reports of a new alien ship began to spread; a silver bird, swooping through the invaders and destroying them.

She had never been far from the ship’s thoughts. Even drowned in the ocean, it had felt the link like a constant buzz in a quiet room. So when she called for it from the depths where she had hidden it, buried it, discarded it, it came. Together they fought and won while surprise was on their side but the sheer number of enemies was too great for one ship.

With no other options left she sent a message out to deep space, “Help me save this planet!” she continued her defense waiting and hoping for a response. Flocks of silver ships fell out of hyperspace and began slashing through the invaders. Soon the invaders fled chased by a contingent of silver ships that would ensure they were destroyed to their last.

Through her link to the ship, she received a message, an order, and a threat, “Princess, the Empire is overjoyed at hearing you are well and alive. Please dock with the flagship. By order of the Empire, we will raze this planet if you do not come with us.” She looked once more at the planet she had begun to think of as home and turned toward the flagship. The Earth was saved.

On Earth, her friends searched for her but would never find her. They mourned her and one took in her dog. A galaxy away, the princess planned another daring escape.