Starlight, Camera, Action.

By Andy Ainscough

 

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 02-01-04-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: See spotify playlist at end.

 

In all the roles I’ve played I think this is my greatest. It is finally me and just me alone. I am in this moment, truly me. Is that acting? Is it actually realizing who you truly are? Everyone thinks it is someone else. They are so used to seeing a character every single day. When they really see you, it is someone else entirely.

Here at the opening of my new film, with the assembled paparazzi of the galactic empire, they see me for the first time.

It was always the two of us, all through our lives. The two of us. The golden pair. So beautiful, so perfect, how could the Galaxy not love us? You’ll know me, of course, Branta Carlile, and my brother, Brent. I think when I clock it up we’ve done over a three hundred films together. We’d churn them out one after another. Starring roles, cameos, characters we’ve done them all. It started, as all these things do with a mother. Our mother, Farbrisia Carlile, was born in the slums of Nep1. She was a tall, heavyset woman with a fierce stare. We never knew our father, I don’t think she did really but we did know he was an illegal. We were born glowing and glittery. We were supremely healthy with two crops of lush golden hair. Our cherubic faces had cheeks just a tad too rosy. My mother knew whoever our father was – he was an enhanced human and she saw the chance of a lifetime.

I think we were six months in our first film. Nothing huge, some kind of holoart where the history of the galaxy was represented by two babies swimming through goo. Our enhanced brains work better than normal humans so I remember it well. The cold, viscous goo, my mother looking over the vat as the hover strings pulled us through. Before out ‘big break’, she used to take us down the docks where the commercial cruise liners stopped. She knew how beautiful we were and if she held us over the barriers, one day someone would need us. She was right – one day they did. How different a life we would have had if Farbrisia Carlile was less ambitious. If she could have loved both of us the same. If she could keep us for herself rather than show the whole galaxy. How better our lives would have been.

After a few more roles, we were picked up by an agency and were relocated to Ea1. I remember my mother’s over exaggerated sighs of relief. She had been on at us for months about the darkness of Nep1. The darkness was sending our enhanced skin shades of blue and we needed to get further into the solar system to get back our golden glow. I didn’t mind, I would have quite liked to have gone blue. But we boarded the shuttle bus to Ea1 and never looked back. I will never forget my first view of the Capital. Earth, as it used to be called an age ago, had lost all semblance of a natural object. It was a sphere of chrome and gold, glass and diamond. Giant antennae punctured its surface. HoloAds the size of countries flickered in the solar sky advertising perfume and housing developments in the 02. On the top, at the north-pole, was the golden senate building, its vastness even visible from space. One day I would meet her, the sneering witch-like Empress Tabitha Might, but then I just imagined her scuttling around in there like a rat.

From then on, we were the darlings of the galaxy. But it was always my brother who came first. Even swimming through that goo at sixth months old, he swam first. Not only have I had my life robbed by my mother but my brother too. In the posters he would be in foreground, me always behind. Why? I was more beautiful, hell I was more talented. After a while I admit it, the rot set in. The way he was treated was so different. I remember once, a dreadful film, some faux western starring Lavitio Bron, well before the disgrace. Lavitio, his face morphing into a soft elfin man as he approached us, went straight up to Brent and graciously congratulated him on something and then walked straight past me. Nothing at all. I was the biggest star in the galaxy and I couldn’t even get a hello. Well the jokes on him now. Look it up.

The endless flashes continue – will they ever stop taking pictures?

My mother was the same, she always doted on him, the golden boy. Once, we were up for the same award at the Grants, he won of course. She said to me after, ‘You were second out of the womb, this is your place to be second best, be pleased for your brother, he is the one who deserves the spotlight.’

She died in a gambling den on Triisk. After a string of reality tv show appearances, the chem.pills finally got her. I saw her just before she fled to sector 6, her eyes green and glazed, she barely knew who I was, she said ‘you, woman, where’s Brent? Brent Carlile, I’m his mother you know.’

When I got Triisk, I searched and searched for her. I wore a veil and pretended I was her staff. Eventually a janitor in one of the hyper casinos said her body had been thrown in the gravity compactor. They said she had choked on her own vomit. Too much chem., a door Gorbeg said sadly. I searched those god-forsaken places for her. On my own. Brent stayed in the Capital with his friends. When I told him, he looked a me for a moment, in the middle of a gaggle of people all drinking champagne, and then said ‘ah man, that’s a shame’. She loved him so much, more than she ever could me, and he didn’t care. He didn’t care at all. The press showed endless footage of him in black mournfully walking through the holopark with a black rose. Staged, just like everything else, it was staged.

From then I just kept thinking about it, a life I could have lived. Away from my tragic mother, away from my horrible brother. Where I was the star because I was kind and beautiful. Not because I caught some of the light in somebody else’s shadow. I had to do something about it. I had to break free of this role given to me and become the one everyone remembered. Because of something I did. Me.

The paparazzi click and click and flash and flash. Somewhere in the distant I hear teleports and the thud of boots. I heave him up a little, my brother, he is becoming heavy in my arms. This is the role I will be remembered for. I killed him just behind the door, stabbed him through the neck. We were due to make the announcement of our latest venture so I though I would make it mine. They’re right to take pictures. Take as many as you want. The blood that stains my white dress is congealing and starting to smell. I clutch his body and stare forward smiling. Me, in my final role as Branta Carlise, the biggest star in the Galaxy.

 

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There’s Something in the Sewer

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 35-01-02-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: See Spotify link at end.

 

(1)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Work is coming to a close on the latest in a string of terraforming in the 02. The Siren’s Belt stretch, officially know as 01-02 has been undergoing biological and architectural upgrading to provide accessible housing for the 01. This controversial project has recently come under fire from the So-Hal University for projecting human standards of biology and physics on an area that does not allow for it. In a statement made earlier this week, Empress and Senate Leader Tabitha Might, claimed ‘We are working in the 01-02 for all levels of galactic society, to provide a housing and living standards that work for all in our galactic community.’ Work should be finished by the end of the next standard orbit.

 

 

‘Yep about there should do it.’ Jex shifted the bags into place. ‘Look at this place. I hate terraforming its disgusting.’

‘Ah, stop complaining you old git,’ replied his companion Terry, from down the tunnel.

‘You know what I mean though. It’s gross, I mean look at this place, fully built yet the wrong cocktail of chemical and it produces this.’ Jex flung a lump of the fluffy, red substance to the floor.

‘Why do you keep touching it then? Use the neutralizers.’ Terry shouted.

The company the pair belonged to, the rather plainly named 01 Cleaning Solutions, had been contracted to the nearly completed Siren’s Belt, after the main city’s sewer bricks had reacted baldly with native soil resulting in their expansion into what was essentially corrosive red foam. A standard operation in the grand scheme of things but politics, as usual had got in their way. After a long process in of discussion in the Capitol, they had come to the decision that they had best do something about it. By this time Terry and Jex were faced with a whole city’s worth of compacted red mutated bricks.

‘You looking forward to going home Jexy?’ Terry splashed through the water, hauling two bags of compacted foam with him.

‘Aye, yes. Not seen Sarah and the boys for what feels like forever. I came from that job over in the 06.’

‘God. Fringe stuff that. What was going on?’ Terry lifted his visor, revealing a cheerful, bearded face below.

‘You’re telling me. I was induced for about 3 weeks. Something to do with a sudden fall of rock dust over a planet. A new Empire post, but the place was covered in it. Like a storm had hit it. Had to laser sweep the place from orbit.’

‘Grim. Ah well, just a couple of days under the gas before we get back. Can’t wait myself.’

Terry bunged his bags over to the growing pile. They had burnt the foam down into tiny wisps and then collected them up in bags. They would take them back to Ma1 with them to be shot out to some desolate waste planet. It was a satisfying job and you could tell it on both of their faces as they surveyed the tunnels. The building drones had followed them along as they worked carefully replacing the brickwork as the foam peeled off the earth. So now there was just a dark shining tunnel, ready to be filled with the city’s waste. The last job was to get in the Germ Cart, as they called it, and sweep the place.

‘Come one, let’s go and spray weird shit on the walls,’ Jex sighed. Terry smiled as he watched his ever-grumpy companion trudge into darkness.

 

(2)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Throughout Ma1 and the AC operations are now taking place for the populating of The Siren’s Belt. Following the recent criticisms of the project, the commons have launched a formal inquiry into the processes of construction planning and are set to release a conclusion in ten standard years. The new home units across the six planets have been met with some suspicion by potential home owners due to the historical instability of the area. Professor Garrick of the University of Cold Light described the project as ‘irresponsible’ claiming that the belt had been left alone ‘for good reason’. Empress Tabitha Might has released a statement claiming that ‘the immigration crisis into central galaxy has to be controlled and assessed. The Siren’s Belt project is a way in which fair and affordable housing is available for everyone.’

 

Swipe for full statement video.

 

‘All Aboard!’ Terry smiled and offered his hand out to Jex. The germ cart, or Hyper-Sealer as it was more formally known, was a long platform that hovered slightly above the ground. Fixed to each end was a control panel and a hazard suit. The idea was, after the general cleaning was done, that the germ cart would zip through the offending area firstly identifying and categorising the last remaining microbes and then, if appropriate, destroy them. The cart was not only lighting fast it was fitted with a military-grade selection of cell based genocides. The laser effectiveness of the process hadn’t failed them yet. The process was also galactic law, which was why the inventors had installed a categorisation stage, if the microbe was beneficial or essential to terrestrial life than the injectors would bypass it.

Jex took Terry’s hand and climbed on to the cart.

‘You see this is the bit I find weird,’ Jex said with a heave.

‘Oh god, here we go.’

‘If we’ve cleaned the place, which we have, then why do we need to do this step? If it’s good for terrestrials than its gonna reform or congregate elsewhere isn’t it?’

‘It’s just for a double check, insurance, isn’t it Jex. I bet after this fiasco we’ve just cleaned up, someone’s heads on the block.’

‘It’ll be for the categorisation I’ll tell you that for nothing.’

Jex was having some trouble getting in his haz-mat suit. He pulled it on over his leg and then realised the head hole was in his groin. He swore loudly and tried again. Terry looked on from behind the glass of his fully assembled protection.

‘Oh here we go with the conspiracy theories…’

‘I’m telling you Terry, they only compile information to make sure humans come out on top.’

‘Oh I don’t care. Come on let’s get this done so I can go home.’

Jex eventually clambered into the suit and stood panting at the edge of the cart. In formation they both place their hands at the left edge of their control panels. A light emitted from the panel and then a voice spoke clearly;

‘Terry Swaa and Jex Smith, 01 Cleaning Solutions, Security Level Delta, Cleared.’

The cart hummed with higher and higher intensity. The pair, quickly and efficiently spread their fingers over the buttons tapping and pressing with the confidence of a concert pianist. A green light emerged from underneath, it quickly spread towards the walls lighting them up as if they were underwater. The cart started to vibrate.

‘Ready Jex?’

‘Aye Terry.’

At blink speed, the germ cart set off down the sewer.

 

(3)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Breaking News. Ships have departed towards the controversial Siren’s Belt region of the 02. Despite claims from the Fal Tap Senate, of the biological favouritism and recklessness of the Human Empire, the plans to rehome millions of citizens from the 01 is going ahead. The ships departed this morning (Ea1 Standard Time), and the project’s leader, Captain Monica Tand, hoped for ‘a smooth and enjoyable transition.’ More to come.

 

‘Anything?’ Terry said.

‘Not yet, picking up a few specks in the cracks, nothing interesting.’ Jex stared intently at the screen as the sewer zipped by in blur past him.

‘They’re shouldn’t be any cracks we’ve just installed the bricks!’ Terry smiled.

‘I was a bit sleepy after my lunch yesterday.’ Jex said and looked backed at Terry. Suddenly an alert appeared on the corner of the screen. ‘Ah now then, a Muxlin Strain has just appeared.’

‘Muxlin? Odd I’m not getting that.’

They were heading now deeper into the city past the huge swirling bypasses that served the new administrative quarters. Apart from the blinking map on the screen they would have had no idea where they were.

‘It’s just one cell, or only a couple at least. Guide it back we’ll go check again.’

Terry leant his hand on the control panel and pressed the palm in deep. Jex did the opposite, pressing his fingertips in instead. The cart slowed down just enough to see a slight outline of brick and then shot down back the way they came.

‘Yes I’ve got it too. Muxlin. There are a few more now though.’ Terry said.

‘It’s an odd strain. The basic structure is there but it’s not like any muxlin I’ve seen before.’

‘A shot of Indritol should do it. If it’s a muxlin structure it’ll stop it dead.’ Terry said. ‘Your end I think, 02 strains.’

Jex found Indritol on the screen and dragged it over to the ‘deposit’ menu.

‘Good, good, right just the northern outskirts and then we’re done. Swing it back will you?’

‘Aye Aye!’

The carriage swung around a long curved tunnel, whizzed across the central canal like a stone skipping on a lake. With a whirr it ground to a halt outside the main exit. They both inhaled deeply as it they leapt down from edge. They both knew this smell, the smell of a finished job and it was their favourite. Even in the sewer the place smelt clean as a whistle. It was fresh and clear, the germ cart even deposited pine-freshness as it went. Terry stroked the cart fondly.

‘Do you two need some time alone?’ Jex laughed.

‘Shut up! It’s a fine bit of kit though this. I’ve always thought that. Imagine the lives it saved. Just in a simple act of categorisation and cleaning.’

‘I don’t know how the germs feel about it though. Ha!’

‘You’ve cheered up.’ Terry said. The exit chamber, a wide platform with two stairways at the back, like an old-fashioned subway, was scattered with equipment. The pair got to work, packing the poles, sponges and laser beams back in their respective holsters.

‘Well we’re going home aren’t we?’ Jex smiled.

‘Aye you’re not wrong.’ Terry strapped the equipment onto his back. Jex always laughed at his colleagues with their backpacks because with all the poles they looked like an antenna.

‘What was that muxlin strain from before?’ Terry said as he got out his clipboard.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I gotta fill in some forms, government job you know. What base was it?’

‘Bloody government. I think it was carbon? Carbon based muxlin.’ Jex heaved his bag onto his back.

‘Carbon? Weird, should be okay though,’ Terry stuck out his tongue.

 

(4)

 

Ea1 NewsComm:

 

Breaking News: The Siren’s Belt is warming up for the arrival of, what critics call ‘The Homeless Hoards,’ a term not endorsed by this newscast. The power bots took flight late last week from their sapping point the 06 Sun, Caster M and have docked. Lights are now appearing across the planet’s surface. We spoke to a passenger who claimed that xe and xyr family were ‘thrilled to be getting away from Ea1 and to forget everything we saw there’. Arrival is expected in the next 24 standard hours.

 

‘Right let’s be offskies, I’ve sent the all clear to the fat cats in orbit,’ said Terry. The tunnel was dark and quiet apart from the slight clinking of equipment. ‘I won’t miss it here down here.’

‘I feel that,’ Jex laughed.

Suddenly, with a whirring flash, all along the tunnel the lights came on. The pair covered their eyes for a moment to adjust. From somewhere beyond the walls came the sound of machinery. The whole place was waking up.

‘Well look at that,’ Terry sighed. The bright white lights had revealed the tunnel’s true magnificence. The black tiles shone like squares of space each with their own little star.

‘This place is going to be a beautiful place to live.’

‘I know – if the sewers are this good then the rest of it…’

At the end of the tunnel a green glow appeared. It just fringed the edges but appeared to be coming towards them.

‘What’s that?’

‘Power surges. It happens all the time on powering up planets. Let’s go before it catches up to us.’ Terry nodded to the stairs.

Jex ran forward and placed his hand on the railing. His hand stuck to it. He flicked it away and stared down. His hand was covered in a green jelly. The railing had dissolved in front of him. The jelly in his hand swirled and congealed until it formed into a rough cube. Jex found he was fixed to the spot.

‘Terry, you better come and look at this,’ Jex said, his voice cracked like he had just hit puberty.

‘Don’t worry Jex I’ve got it too.’

Jex turned to see Terry knee-deep in the green jelly. Down the tunnel he could see flashes of light and cracks of energy.

‘Stay there Terry. I’m gonna have a look.’ Jex flicked the goo off his hand and ran to the tunnel. Slowly one by one the lights down the long strip went out, each one with a shuttering hiss. He turned around. At the corner where the tunnel turned off to the right the green glow was brightest.

‘Jex get the acid wash, I’m going down here.’ Terry was half way down into the floor. From his waist tiny blobs of green goo were jumping out and hopping away. Jex ran for his bag and pulled out a pole with a yellow end. It fizzed into life.

‘I can’t use it without hurting you mate.’

‘I’ve got my protection suit on you idiot just zap them.’

‘Right right yeah.’

Jex plunged the acid wash against Terry’s middle and pulled him out of the ground. In the hole was just a mass of morphing green goo.

‘What is it?’

‘It must have been the muxlin strain. I told you didn’t I? They don’t check these things – they just assume one thing works for all. It’s my fault I said the Indritol would’ve neutralised but it seems to be reacting with the light.’ Terry clutched his head.

‘What do you mean we got rid didn’t we?’

‘Clearly! What happened before – it exploded into red foam – whatever is on this planet is not reacting well with Ea1’s protocols. We knew that and its only gone and happened again.’

‘So we’re back to square one. Bloody hell!’ Jex stamped his foot and made a green goo footprint in the floor.

‘Looks that way. Well it looks potent but not live. The Muxlin strain mustn’t have been capable. Unpack the equipment then…’

They both turned to the tunnel wall. The whole thing was a dripping mass of green. Jex and Terry reached for their poles. On the wall a thousand eyes morphed into life and blinked with uniform precision. Further down, growing from the bottom were scuttling claws that scraped along the floor. In the middle like a black hole a mouth plunged open and from each side a set of long, sharp teeth.

Just before they could reach the panic button they fell into the green mouth opening up beneath them.

 

(5)

 

Ea1 NewsComm.

 

Breaking News: Ships are arriving at the Siren’s Belt and are set to disembark new citizens within the next hour. Latest reports from the project’s orbital hub state that they have received the all clear from the team performing the last-minute checks. The brand new, empty cities are set to be a dazzling sight for their new inhabitants providing comfort and facilities unheard of beyond the central hub. The rife criticism and fiery debates of the last months seem to have proved fruitless as millions of citizens look forward to their new future in the 02. All here at NewsComm wish them well.

 

(6)

 

GMesssage. Sarah xo.

 

Wishing you a safe journey home sweetie. Seeing the news of all the people excited for their new homes is making me so proud. That was you you know. Boys can’t wait to see you. Love you xx.

 

 

Galactic News: Vol.2 + Submissions.

 

GALACTIC NEWS UPDATE FRESH FROM EA1.

Hi all, check out the latest updates from Galaxy below.

Vol.2

It’s been a wild ride already right? A big thank you to all those who have been tuning in for our weekly dip into the Galaxy – I hope you’ve had fun. Six short weeks later (7 including the one just gone) we find ourselves at the end of Vol.1. You lovely readers will have had some tantalizing glimpses into this madcap galaxy but there are so many stories to explore. So I am pleased to announce that Galaxy will continue from next week with 6 more stories, in other words here comes Volume 2. The titles, which give virtually nothing away, are as follows:

 

There’s Something in the Sewer.

From the Realms of Glory

Captain RainCha and the Child Prince

Beep. I. Beep. Love. Beep. You.

The Rubber Mice

Starlight. Camera. Action!

 

As always, each one will be accompanied by a unique soundtrack. In the last update I claimed that this volume would be fortnightly which turns out to be a lie. These will be released weekly, the first two before Christmas and the rest in the New Year. Happy reading space explorers!

 

Submissions.

Even before Vol. 2 is released I of course have Vol. 3 in mind. The aim of Galaxy is not for me to just continue on alone, this is a world(s) building project and I want you to get involved for Vol. 3! The beauty of galaxy is that practically anything and everything can be a story – so if you have a burning idea I want to hear it. As with the other volumes there will be six stories, each with an accompanying soundtrack. So if you would like to get involved and write for Vol.3. please send the following to galaxyscifi1@gmail.com by 31st December 2016:

 

A title

 

A brief summation of your story, moment and/or theme

 

A suggestion of your soundtrack.

 

 

If you wish to reuse characters or are unsure about certain aspects of the galaxy please don’t hesitate to get in touch! If your story isn’t right for Vol.3 it may well be for Vol.4 (or beyond!).

 

Keep Exploring!

All Best,

 

A.

 

Cocoon.

 

Galactic Co-ordinates: 13-21-05-01

 

Suggested Soundtrack: (See Spotify soundtrack at end) Premiere Gymnopedie, Erik Satie. Gnossiennes: No.1, Lent, Erik Satie.

 

 

I.

 

It feels everything. Firstly its eyes, closed yet formed beneath the lid. They extend out in circles, ridges take shape. Hard, they stand proud from a face. It raises the muscles at the top of the head.

 

I am.

 

Suddenly, a hole. An intake of air. Not air. But liquid. It is thick and flows down the throat but it feels like air. As if this is what it should be doing. Flowing in and out of it. It rolls a tongue around the hole. The fleshy lumps from before are not there. There are sharp points, arranged in a row.

 

Before.

 

Its face winces. It tries to understand what it means.

 

Before.

 

It feels a stretch of bone at each side. They are attached just below the head. It moves them slowly at first, the creak and the hinge of an elbow are learnt and then mastered. It tries to raise them finds it can’t. There is more of the liquid and beyond – something else.

 

I.

 

Its eyes are still closed. It hasn’t had the sensation yet. Of opening one. It doesn’t know how. But it feels the compulsion to do so channeling through its body surging them upwards. But they are heavy. They want to continue in their sleep.

 

I am.

 

Its muscles expand and contract. Like the delicate plucking of a tuned string they ripple across its body. It feels further down two more stretches of bone. At the end, the tips splay out into claws. It knows it will put them on the ground, climb with them, mark others with them.

 

Others.

 

Something pricks its mind. Shapes moving in the distance. Inching along. Flapping high above. Running. Running. Running.

 

Others.

 

There was stillness too. The shapes twist and lilt into many solitary strands. They tower high above and low on the ground. The extend out like the new stretches of bone. They cut and scrape like the claws. But they are still. They watch.

 

I.

 

It stretches out again – this time along down the back of its head. A spine. He can feel every tiny flex of bone as they ridge and extend together. How they bristle into calcium undulations. Around half way down there is another mountainous protrusion. Two of them either side. They grow out into small, hard panels of bone and then, to its surprise, with a flood of nerve-travel into great stretches of skin. It wraps around the now body.

 

I am.

 

He wants to swing them outwards. Feel them unfurl and then contract. He wants to flap. The word forms strangely in his mind – flap. But then crests over into understanding.

 

I am.

 

Something rises from his middle. It grips and pulls in at his muscles. At his skin. It churns and spikes. It flows up through his chest and into his mouth. He rolls his tongue along the teeth and then out into the hard lips.

 

I want.

 

He craves something. Something hot. Something wet. Something to. Something to. Something to chew.

 

I am.

 

He flexes. The wings extend. There is a sound of ripping and a flooding of light. He stands and takes in gulps of air. He hovers. He opens his eyes. There is a smell of blood.

 

I am awake.

 

 

 

 

Admissions Policy

 

GALATIC CO-ORDINATES: 03-12-04-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: Anything by Tchaikovsky.(see link at bottom of page)

 

‘…Of course this particular sub-territory of the empire isn’t without its peculiarities. Here we have, a rarity, in that there is no discernable native life across any of the sixty five planets. Now of course, if we discount the obvious no-go areas, your gas giants, your fringe planets, this still leaves us with at least a handful of what we regard as ‘Progeny-Zones”, now why is it that we have we no evidence of any recordable signs of life production, let alone conscious or sophisticated structures of civilization?’ Professor Zanflip, raised his eyebrows at the lecture hall. His skin felt heavy today as if weighed down.

‘Anyone? No?’

A Fal-Tap in the front row raised her hand. Unknown to Professor Zanflip, this Fal-Tap’s name was Fenn, and she had quite enough of the orbit-sickness to listen to such an outdated lecture.

‘Is it because the Empire hasn’t found life here that it deems worthy of recording?’ she said breezily. She bared her teeth, showing the points.

‘Ah now, yes, good one Miss? Sorry Xiss? No…’ Professor Zanflip flustered.

‘Ms. Fenn. Professor,’ she said.

‘Yes, good joke there Ms. Fenn. As you know the Galactic Empire records all life in its databases. If none have been found here it must be for another reason.’

A human in the middle raised his hand. Fenn had always found humans strange, all fleshy and hairless. She shuddered.

‘This system is in the proximity of the Pollat Hole. Is it the wastage from there perhaps?’

‘Very, very good Mr Smath. I applaud your quick thinking.’ Professor Zanlip hit his flippers together in some semblance of a human round of applause. ‘It is indeed one of the most popular theories of recent times that the Pollat Hole’s wastage feeds back into the surrounding systems affecting it’s life production.’

Fenn sighed, ‘But the Taxla system is just by the hole- they are an ancient race? How come they haven’t been stunted by it?’

‘They are hardskins and anyway they say the hole was provoked by the Taxla themselves.’

‘Bollocks it was…’ Fenn said grumpily. ‘Unless they are older than their mooring star.’

‘Now, now, this is all academic. Please stay civil. This station isn’t world-sized – we must get along.’ Professor Zanflip raised a flipper. ‘Now, ah, I asked all of this to provoke some fiery essays – and it seems we will get them! Five thousand on the Progeny-Lack in System – 12-04. Due in 3 Orbits time.’ He looked to the front bench. ‘Miss Fenn – a word if I may?’

‘Yes of course Professor.’

The vast hall was emptying now; as the life forms shuffled and climbed out of their seat it revealed the open mouthed teeth of vacant seats. High above were arches in mock-marble render keeping in place the plex-glass. In front, behind the lecture podium was a huge window that looked out onto the swirling red planet below. Fenn waited as the Professor shuffled his papers into his bag.

‘Ms. Fenn I was wondering if I may talk to you about your essay.’ He waddled over to her and looked earnestly into her eyes.

‘Of course Professor.’

‘The university is keen to extend its knowledge of this area. 12-04 is a largely unknown. That’s why we moved here of course.’

Fenn remembered seeing it on the Pan-Galatic news. The University of Pure Sight was moving from its usual orbit around the Sister-Capital Ma1, to backwaters of the not even named 12-04. The discussion had gone on for months. The costs, the logistics, the point, all brought into question. But the university had stood firm and with the help of some Empire Warp-Drivers had settled into orbit around the red planet of 03-12. Fenn had watched wide-eyed at the endeavor, the risk and had applied. But now it seemed the Professors here were as conservative as the planet-bound schools. Professor Zanflip held out his flipper urging her to walk with him.

‘Do you intend to write about Species identification in the Empire Ms. Fenn?’

‘I may do – it seems to have sparked a debate in the lecture at least,’ she smiled. Outside the corridor had emptied; the students had rushed off to another lecture or back to the living quarters. The Professor stopped and looked her, his heavy brow dropped and his whiskers began to twitch.

‘I encourage you to do so. But please I ask you submit it to me personally. Not to the hard drive.’

‘But what should I upload then – the system will check I’ve submitted won’t it?’

‘I imagine it will – upload anything. Gas ethics or something boring. But the rest to me. Do you understand?’

‘Yeah – course. I can do that.’

‘Good good. Ah-ha.’ He looked up at the corridor info-point. ‘Is that the time? Post-Union Line-Theory awaits I’m afraid.’ He tapped his squat nose with his flipper and waddled off.

Fenn leant against the wall for moment watching the old Walran Professor until he was out of sight. What had he meant – give it to him personally? He was so against it in the lecture. She slicked her hair back over her ears and headed off.

 

It was standard mealtime in the dining hall and the place was a flurry of bodies and food. The nocturnals were rowdy – standard mealtime meant drinking time to them. They were off to bed soon. But for Fenn it was lunch. For a space-station the university did well – it’s vegetables were almost planet-standard and the grown meat was as good as anywhere. She pushed a piece a protein around her tray idling her head to the side.

‘What’s up with you?’ Ter was staring at her, xyr eyes narrowed into slits. Fenn had met Ter on her first day here. Xe was standing in the queue in front of her looking nervous. Fenn had never seen Ter’s race before, a Sonva she had learned later. They were humanoid in shape but thicker in stature with sky blue skin and deeply expressive faces. But when Fenn had said hello, xe had broken into a huge smile and xyr eyes had doubled in size. It seemed no one had spoken to xyr since xe arrived and xe was ecstatic to hear a voice. They had been firm friends ever since.

‘I dunno. Nothing I guess.’ Fenn pushed the tray to the side and rested her head on her claws.

‘Don’t lie to me Fenn. I know you enough now. You Fal-Taps are hard to read but I can tell.’ Xe said. Xe took her hand in hers.

‘I’ve been looking at planet categorization for my essay,’ she said.

‘Sounds boring,’ Ter smiled.

‘We can’t all do Six Quadrant Theatrics.’

‘Theatrical Arts I’ll have you know.’

‘Whatever.’

‘Go on then brainbox what have you found?’ Xe laughed.

The nocturnals were shouting next to them. Some complicated game based around cards and figures and beams of light had got heated. A Noxon and a Fline were squawking at each other in their respective communications.

‘Shut up! Go to bed or wherever it is you do whatever!’ Ter shouted across. There was some squawking but they slunk off – an angry Sonva is a terrifying sight. ‘What did you find Fenn?’

‘It seems when the empire did their life sweeps here in the designations – they only did it once and left. Now protocol is once every ten standard units,’ Fenn was hissing her words. ‘Now this was centuries ago. Nothing since.’

‘But this is a fringe sector is it not? Maybe it was just that. Don’t let it worry you. You can’t keep the weight of the galaxy on your shoulders.’ Tev smiled again as xyr skin turned shades of royal blue.

Suddenly the dining hall ground to a hush. Through the doors at the end walked four humans. They were of some indiscriminate gender and all wore the formal clothes of the capitals. Fenn was always curious about their insistence on wearing a strip of fabric around the neck. They walked briskly and ignored the students. Everyone stared. Even the nocturnals had sat down.

‘It’s the new vice-chancellors,’ Ter whispered.

‘But they’re all human. I thought it had to be a cross-race board.’

‘I dunno. But that’s what I heard. Empire request.’

Fenn watched them exit into the office quarters. As she did, she flet a lightness pass through her body. She looked across, Ter was beneath her getting smaller. The noctunals at her side appeared to go from hovering to floating. She sighed. The gravity had gone.

 

They had floated down the corridor on the way down to the dorms. There was protocol – all of them knew it from basic training – head to your dorms and strap yourself into the concealed emergency unit. But there were people everywhere. Some of the bigger lifeforms were crashing down pushing people against the walls and roof. Fenn grabbed on to the roof-bars usually reserved for hand-movers.

‘Ter. Where are you?’ she said.

‘Right behind you.’ Ter’s round blue floated up from beneath.

‘Stay near me.’

‘What’s up?’ Ter span round with a huge grin. ‘It’ll just be a routine grav-check.’

‘It’s never happened before.’ Fenn let herself fall down from the roof a little as a cluster of fish-like Flounds fluted past.

‘Well we’ll go back to the dorm and then wait it out. Bit of power-out spirit. It’ll be fun.’ Ter wrapped xyr hand around the bar. Xe looked as the bar started to vibrate.

‘There –look,’ xe said. Fenn span her head round. At the end of the corridor were the humans from before. The vice-chancellors. Six of them, walking along the floor untouched by the lack of gravity. Each one was moving slowly and deliberately as if weighed down. They wore sophisticated external-helmets over their heads – the kind designed for racers and the army.

‘How are they walking – is that a human thing? Anti-grav?’ Ter stared.

‘No it isn’t. They’ve got those weight-shoe things. They’re like an individual gravity field. Just for a person. Trust humans to save the best equipment for themselves.’

‘Come on – let’s get back,’ Ter shouted.

They stomped by underneath them not looking up for a second. The lights started to flicker. At each flash, Fenn saw the humans move one step away. In the planet light they looked like ghosts walking along the bottom of the sea. Their heavy feet the only reminders that they exist in the world. The pair of them clung onto the bar, dodging a couple of nocturnals who were struggling with rapid changes in light. They were close by the humans again. Fenn looked again. There were six before. There was a flash of light. There were only five now. With a crackle of power, the lights along the corridor exploded.

 

‘Where did it go? Where?’ Fenn shouted.

‘Where did what go?’ Ter felt around and eventually touched the fur of Fenn’s face.

‘The human. One disappeared.’

‘Oh I don’t know. I never understand humans. Come on. We can still find the dorms if we’re careful.’

They turned a corner. It seemed quiet here. There were far fewer life forms. Fenn squinted at the sign at the entrance. It was the lecture unit. They moved slowly still clinging on tight to the bars. The planet light from the windows above was just making it through. Everything was bathed in an almost invisible redness – it was like being inside an artery. The blood cell life forms would bash past you, indifferent and purposeful as you tried desperately to make it to another part of the body. A Stenta with its wide fleshy wings swam past them seemingly unaffected by anything. It span around and flipped over. Fenn could see its regular body support had been turned off.

As they reached halfway down the corridor the bars started to vibrate again. Beneath them as if emerging out of the half-light were the humans. There were four of them now, Fenn counted. The back two had gone. The others walked on as if nothing had happened.

‘Do you think they even know?’ Fenn whispered.

‘That’s some high-end tech they’ve got there. They either know exactly what going on or its blocking everything out.’ Ter took Fenn’s hand in xyr’s. The door next to them was heaved open with grating slide. Through it floated Professor Zanflip.

‘Oh my goodness Professor. What is going on?’

‘Ms. Fenn is that you? Ah yes and erm…sorry. Oh my goodness.’ He floated close to to Ter’s face studying it over his perched glasses.

‘Ter, Professor.’

‘Ah yes Ter – you are a Sonva no?’

‘Yes Professor.’

The Professor gripped Ter’s shoulders. ‘And what can you feel?’

‘Professor,’ Fenn said, floating away slightly. ‘What are doing?’

‘What can you feel?’ He shook Ter a little.

‘Fenn I’m sorry – we keep it hidden the Sonva… People they don’t like it. But I should have told you.’

‘What is it Ter?’ Fenn said. She could just see xyr face.

‘We can sort of tune into frequencies. Around others. It’s like how some life forms can see infrared or breath in water. We can tune into…Emotion I guess.

‘Right… like sympathy…Empathy?’ Fenn said.

‘Yes. But as an action. I can turn it on like a switch. Feel the mood in a room. Sonva have been hired… or enslaved, throughout history by politicians, armies…artists. To gauge reaction. To see into people. I should have told you.’

The Professor floated between them. ‘And what do you see now?’

‘Revenge.’ Ter Whispered.

 

 

They had bundled through into the main lecture hall. With the huge window, the light was a little brighter here and the benches could be made out. They looked like ridges on the back of a sleeping beast. They moored themselves to the front row and watched the planet below.

‘But what do we do now?’ Ter whispered.

‘We wait,’ the Professor said. ‘A technical fault on this scale the fringe authorities will have been alerted.’

‘We saw the humans… the vice-chancellors – they were heading somewhere.’            ‘To the escape pods I imagine. Down the lecture belt were they? One block over is their personal ships. That’s where they going.’ The Professor sighed.

‘Do you think it was them?’ Ter said.

‘Possibly. Although I doubt it – too much to lose in the Capital. Humans are against cross-species universities we know that but this… it doesn’t taste right.’

‘No, because the humans, there were more of them and then…’

From somewhere nearby there was a deafening crash. It lurched them out of their seats.

‘What the hell was that?’ Fenn reeled; she got up and smoothed her ears back.

‘It’s getting stronger,’ Ter said.

Fenn ran over to the door and peered through the window.

‘The lights have come back on – shall we go through?’

‘No. Come back here Ms. Fenn. What were you saying about the humans?’

‘There were six at first in their boots… and then as they went along there were five and then four.’

‘Oh dear…’ Professor Zanflip rubbed his head with his flipper.

The door opened and a hand grabbed the frame. A human – his helmet removed revealing his pink, fleshy head emerged through, his mouth open in a silent scream. It was as if an airlock was opened and he had shot out.

‘I think you were right Ms. Fenn. And all that good work you were doing – great work. You were right. I just wish we could’ve finished.’

‘What are talking about Professor?’ Fenn said. She ran over to him. His grey face was turned down in an image of defeat.

‘It truly would have made a great essay,’ he smiled sadly.

There was a rush of noise, the lights had gone again. Through the benches smoke was emerging. It coiled and swirled until it gained weight and depth. It folded upwards and further upwards until a length of black gas filled the room. It flicked out two arms and then with a painful wretch a head. Its face formed like the collapsing of building. Two depthless eyes and a scream of a mouth. Fenn, realizing what was going on, smiled meekly at the Professor. Ter, who stared up at it, had clearly worked it out too.

‘I’m sorry. We were on your side,’ the Professor said.

‘We really were.’

‘You need a new admissions policy,’ the life form said. ‘All I wanted was to learn.’

It swept forward and lunged into the glass. With a crack it shattered and the two students and the Professor were sucked out. They watched as the space-station University of Pure Sight began to fall to the planet below.