Nativity (Part 1)

A Galaxy Nativity in two parts by Andy Ainscough.

 

Prelude.

 

Lullay Lullay my little tiny child. Bye bye Lullay Lullay.

 

 

*

 

‘Any news from the camps?’

 

‘Nothing. Nothing new anyway.’

 

The two men stood on the edge of the rock crest surveying the darkness below. Apart from swirling mist that here and there stretched its cold fingers, nothing could be seen. Even the sky, with its map of stars, was black as scorched earth.

 

‘What are the current numbers?’

 

‘Fifty-thousand dead on the west side, before the quarantine. South tip has gone now, the wall reinforced, the few who remained left inside. We haven’t heard in weeks from Ureicia so we can presume there are none left. Since the containment has been released into the air, we have had no further diagnoses. Only the worst cases are still dying. A small mercy.’

 

‘No no, I mean the birth numbers. What are the reports?’

 

‘Ah. I see. Well, since First1 was discovered, not a single baby has been delivered.’

 

The two men stood for a second letting the words resonate through the air. A moment after a light appeared above them accompanied by a huge guttural whirring of heavy engines By the first man, A rope ladder hit the floor. He shook the other man’s hand and started to climb the ladder. After a few rungs he looked down.

 

‘Thank you Professor. Your work is much appreciated. Tell me what happened to Sir Balthar?’

 

‘He didn’t make it. Until we meet again Prime-Minister.’

 

The helicopter with the Prime-Minister of the planet Galthet disappeared into the night leaving the Professor in the warzone below.

 

Part 1.

 

A Desperate Wind

 

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay.

 

The village huddled together in cold winter air. They had heard a report was coming. An excited buzz ran through the crowd. A report meant something from above. From the Sector five parliament, perhaps even from the Galactic Commons themselves. After such long hard years, after the all the misery that the First1 disease had caused they clung onto that somewhere out there in the black night, there were people who could help. The Decade of Death is what the survivors had come to know it as. The decade where everyone died and no one was born. You could see it in the people. Not just in the clothes they wore, nothing more than layers of brown rags, but in their faces. Nearly everyone here was either in their twenties or thirties but they looked much older. The heartbreak had etched itself onto their faces.

A woman, with scraggy brown hair lumbered forward with what looked like a box covered in old sack. Another man, sporting a turban of soiled bandages, placed a crate delicately on the floor. The woman plonked the box on top and like a magician pulled the sheet from it. It was a television and the woman bowed to a humble cheer from the crowd. The man banged and banged upon the box until it spluttered into life. The screen fuzzy and dim showed a symbol, a star inside a human fist with a circle round the outside. Underneath was a countdown. 3…2…1…

A woman appeared on the screen smiling. You could tell she was a grey looking person even on the black and white screen. She had a sharp hook nose and hair cut close to her head. She smiled for a moment and then began to speak:

‘Greetings people of…’ She looked down for a moment off camera. ‘… people of the planet Galthet. I, Tabitha Might, Empress of the Galactic Alliance, was deeply moved by the plight of your people and the horrors that you must have experienced over the last ten standard years. Your leaders appealed to myself and the commons and in the circumstances tough decisions must be made. In light of the deadly nature of First1 we have decided to quarantine your planet indefinitely. We regret this decision but in a complicated Galaxy complicated decisions must be made. As such, I will inform you that no external individuals or powers can step foot on your planet. Take care and Goodbye.’

No help was coming. The villagers screamed into the night.

 

The Shining Light From Above.

 

A star, a star dancing in the night, with a tail as big as a kite.

 

The next evening, at the edge of the village, Paddy the Yowk-Herder saw a star appear in the empty and frozen sky. He looked around to call someone but no one was there anymore. Paddy had once roamed the fields with his two brothers but they had gone now. The plague had taken them. He still had his Yowks though who slept around him, keeping a quiet chorale of deep, animal snores. He brought his hand up to his eyes to look at the new arrival in the sky, but it was too bright and he turned away dazzled. Probably the last of the government escaping. The quarantine probably didn’t extend to them. He sat and leaned against one of the big animals, burying his head in its soft fur. It felt to him here, as if he was the last person left, not just in the village, but the world, the galaxy. There was no one there but him and Yowks to roam the fields until First1 came to him at last.

Paddy and the Yowks sat at the small rock lip overlooking the village, down below nothing stirred, not a cry or a light. Here in the winter, the village would normally be lit up with people dancing in the streets but there was no time for such things anymore. The curfew saw to that. Paddy was only allowed out for essential services. A phrase he always smiled at, he never felt essential before the plague came.

He leaned forward. There was a rustling, a movement in the dark below. Yes, he thought, there coming from the town hall was a person. They were moving along the walls with a hunched back and a big coat. Whoever it was they almost certainly didn’t want to be caught. He climbed down the ridge and looked further, the light from the sky illuminated the street. The figure emerged into the street and he knew who it was straight away. Magda, the witch from the forest, her hair a wild nest of green, her clothes mossy rags. She looked towards him, her wild eyes stared right into his just for a second and then she disappeared into the night.

 

*

Alanu, the Prime-Minister’s assistant stood waiting nervously in the shipping container that now stood for the ministerial offices. With a gust of wind from outside, in walked the Casperium, The Prime Minister. He was still dressed smartly, in suit and tie but there were stains on the shirt and mud along the bottoms of the trousers.

 

‘Prime-minister have you seen it?’ Alanu said.

 

‘Of course I’ve seen it you idiot. How could you miss it? Its right there in the sky.’

 

‘Yes sir, quite right sir.’

 

‘Any news from the Professor?’

 

‘Nothing as yet sir. The last of the trade ships have docked and gone, they have left some supplies but not enough.’

 

The Prime-Minister stopped and rubbed his temples. My life, he thought, should not have been this. The Christmas before it started, Galthet had been one the shining lights of Sector 6. He loathed the phrase because it was Ea1 condescension but it was an up and comer. An example of what the outer rim planets should be doing. Quaint but industrious. Fucking Ea1, he thought to himself.

 

‘Sir?’

 

‘Sorry, yes Alanu, could you make sure the –‘

 

The Prime-minister stopped. The screen on his desk crackled into life, after a moment, with faint wavering lines across it, appeared the face of the Professor.

 

‘Professor, it’s good to see you.’

 

‘You too, Caspar. Although I bring grave news.’ His face was white even on the faded screen.

 

‘How could things get any worse?’

 

‘I’ve been decoding a message in the sky. The message from Tabitha Might was wrong. Well it was a lie anyway. The star in the sky is ship, an empire class battleship to be precise. She said quarantine but she meant incineration. If we can’t prove that life will continue they’re going to burn the planet.’

 

The Witch from the Forest.

 

Then woe is me, Poor child for thee, and ever mourn and say…

 

Madge was not a witch, even though they all thought her so. She, and her mother before her had lived from the earth, from where they came and where they will return. Snaggle snaggle, snick snick, she whispered as she went, rubbing the dirt into her hands.  She approached the edge of the thick trees and fell prostrate to the ground. Anyone to look at her would be afraid, as many in the village were. Her hair was a nest, wild and full of twigs, across her face were two green streaks of moss, her teeth yellow like river fish. Snaggle snuggle, snick, snick, she said to herself again. She wore sack and leaves as clothes and from her arms hung feathers and hides of small tree-rats. She wailed a cry for her world to the trees, she mourned it already. The people were dying and so soon would the earth. The great moan echoed through the sky. She cracked her head this way and that until birds erupted into the sky. She wept for the earth but also for the people’s stupidity. If only they looked to the earth for their answers and not the hell-sky above. She cried until she made herself hoarse. She knew the earth and what it could do. Pain shot through her and she clutched her stomach tight. She cried most of all not for them, the people already on this earth. But for the child she was about to bring into it. For the last child of the planet Galthet at this Christmas time.

 

To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray…

 

 

 

 

The Galaxy Nativity will continue in Part 2…

 

 

 

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Homecoming

A Morven Glass story by Emma Geraghty.

 

 

It gets harder around this time of year. I guess it’s tradition. Things have changed over the years, but this time of year never gets easier to deal with. It doesn’t get cold out here. I know they have artificial snow and ice and all that shit on some of the more populous planets, but nobody bothers about it in Blokk. Heating bills are expensive enough without digitally induced weather.

I’d love to say I spend Christmas volunteering, that I give my time to those who actually would benefit. They’re always looking for help around Nep1 and the smaller settlements. I want to be a decent person, I’ve had enough Christmases that I could do it. But I don’t. I donate a large chunk of credit to a few places to assuage the guilt I’m supposed to feel, and then I leave. I’m inactive. And that’s fine.

I spend Christmas day in the space station that orbits Tanaka. My home planet, if I even have one of those. It’s primarily used as a hotel, a stop gap for interplanetary business people, so it’s relatively quiet around Christmas. I rent a room for three nights. I spend Christmas Eve asleep. I wake up early on Christmas day and order room service, I read in bed until mid afternoon, and then go to the restaurant. I sit alone and eat. The bottle of whiskey goes up in price every year, but it’s tradition, it’s all tradition now, just like the armchair nearest the observation window in the station lounge is always my place to sit with my legs tucked under me and my tumbler balanced on my knee. I look at the planet I grew up on. The thick clouds of dust, the cracks in the skin of the world where water runs in fast currents searching for a sea that isn’t there, and ocean that doesn’t exist. And the sky around it. The infinite darkness of space, the void, the emptiness, and I know there are hundreds of planets and hundreds of peoples and but I have lived out here for so long and it doesn’t go away. I let the homesickness overwhelm me. I drink more. Sometimes other people try to talk to me, other lonely souls looking for someone to raise a glass with, but most of the time I turn them away.

I tell Allory a half truth. She knows I don’t have family, but I tell her I spend Christmas on my home planet with some friends I grew up with, the one time we get together in the year. Which would be difficult, given the whole not-aging thing. There were – are, presumably they’re still alive – others like me, other Children of Lazarus, but I don’t know where any of them are. Maybe meeting someone like myself would make me feel better. Maybe they’d be insufferable.

Tanaka is sand and stone, hard living, bad wages, difficult. A lot of people never leave, and even if they do they come straight back again whether they mean to or not. It’s a dustbowl, a sink hole, a non-place. It’s home. Was. My stomach drops and I knock back another gulp of whiskey. I miss it. I miss them and I dampen it down most of the time, but now, looking at my home planet, the longing comes back fierce and fiery, forcing it’s way through my veins. I indulge. I indulge in the emptiness in my chest, in the memories that slip over my eyes like old films.

The last Christmas I spent with them was the best, and maybe that’s just nostalgia, but it was the best. I didn’t know I wouldn’t spend another one with them. I was in my fifth and supposedly final year at the Institute and I was allowed three days off for Christmas, and I was home with my mum and my little sisters. I wasn’t well. They were trialling a new drug on us, I can’t remember what it was supposed to do but the side effect of insomnia was taking it’s toll. I slept for all of Christmas eve and took enough Klaxxon pills the next morning to match the energy of my sisters and help Mum in the kitchen. It was crowded in our tiny house. Hot. We played music from Ea1 that Mum bought on the black market and we opened presents and drank the wine we’d been saving all year and ate until our stomachs hurt and Astrid and Henna complained about there not being enough chocolate as if there could ever be enough chocolate for them, and Mirry got cranky because she’s five and is always cranky past bedtime, and Mum tells me off for spending too much money on a bracelet for her but I see her smile when I fasten the gold clasp around her wrist, and I can already feel the dread of going back to the Institute but I push it back and play games with the girls and watch films on the VirtuVid that Gran gave us last year and Mirry falls asleep on my knee and Henna and Astrid climb into their bed and Mum tells them a story and when they’re all tucked in, we sit together on the sofa. Mum asks me how I am. And I tell her I’m happy. And it’s true.

I should have stayed.

The whiskey burns my throat as I finish the bottle. I should know by now that drinking just makes things seem further away. I am so lonely. I don’t admit it, but it’s this time of the year, the time of the year when everything is about togetherness and family and love and sharing time with one another and it just reminds me that it’s gone, it’s all gone, all of what I used to have is gone and the loneliness seeps into my skin and I drink more, but it doesn’t help. I feel removed. I feel one step away from everyone. Like I’ve lost the sense of touch. The lights in the lounge are ambient, colours melting across the ceiling, and I miss Allory like mad. But not just her. I’m a million miles away from everyone I’ve ever loved, and it’s melodramatic, but it feels so true. If I was someone who cried then the tears would be coming now, but all I want is another drink and to be held. So maybe, when I’m sat at the bar, that’s why I let someone buy me a drink. He sits on a stool next to me and talks, and it’s clear that he doesn’t need any response to have a conversation, and this suits me fine. He puts his hand on my leg and I don’t push him away. We finish our drinks. I let him lead me to the lift and once the doors close he presses his lips to mine. He slides his hand under my shirt. I let him push me onto the bed and in my head I apologise to Allory, knowing that she won’t find out. And when I get out of his bed hours later, dressing silently so I don’t wake him, and walk back to my room, I know I should feel bad. I should regret this. But I don’t. I never do.

Better Than James Brown

By Emma Geraghty

This is set immediately after Captain RainCha and the Temple of Dreams, so make sure you check that one out first.

Galatic Co-ordinates: 15-01-01-01

Here are a few things that I would love to say. I would love to say that this is my first time inside a government cell. I would love to say it’s the first time I’ve been arrested in a public space. And I would love to say that I came quietly. But none of those things, in any way, are remotely true.

San Ya’s assistant took me in an outflier away from the cave of wonders, or whatever that place was called. I offered to stay and wait for RainCha, but to be perfectly honest I wanted to get away from there as quickly as possible. I was shaken up. Being teleported into a death race is not the kind of experience I was looking for in KrYstal100. And RainCha seemed to have a handle on things. Guy has an ego as big as his, he must be good for something. I think Valeiran could tell I was on edge. After a swift word with San Ya, I was in the tiny ship buzzing back towards Sector Four. Valeiran kept trying to talk to me. He had a very soothing voice. It didn’t do anything. I was seriously freaked. All that talk of worst nightmares… I just wanted to go back to Allory and get into bed.

The universe, as usual, had other ideas. Valeiran picked up the government fliers on the scanner about ten minutes into the flight. He didn’t seem panicked at all. I saw him start to reset the flight path, evasive manoeuvres, all of that. But I was tired.

“Just drop me at the nearest port.”

His brow furrowed ever so slightly. “We can get away, Morven.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want you getting caught up in whatever they’re trying to pull. I can deal with it. San Ya probably needs you wherever she is, or with whatever RainCha is dealing with. You seem pretty indispensable.”

He smiled his incredibly attractive smile, but for once my mind was too preoccupied.

“Seriously. Drop me. I’m good. I can lose myself in a crowd.”

Valeiran dropped me at Cymosa Port. Not the nicest place, but somewhere I could fade. Probably lay low for a day or two. Maybe they weren’t after me.

“MORVEN GLASS.”

Maybe they meant another Morven Glass. I kept walking. If I could just make it to the main street…

“STOP WHERE YOU ARE.”

I didn’t. I could hear them running towards me and resisted the urge to go for my gun. I rolled my shoulders, shook my head slightly, and dropped to one knee as one ran straight at me. His momentum landed him on my back and I threw him sideways. Back on my feet. Turned to face the other three aiming blasters at me. For a moment, I was tempted to go for them. Just to see if I could. But getting shot was something I didn’t fancy.

“HANDS ON YOUR HEAD, GET ON YOUR KNEES.”

“If I had a credit for every time…” I grinned, locked my fingers behind my head and knelt on the floor. There was quite a crowd now. The guard I sent flying twisted my wrists into cuffs and kicked me in the shoulderblades, sending me straight to the ground. I managed to twist slightly so I didn’t land right on my face, but it still fucking hurt. I was hauled unceremoniously into the back of the flier, a hood was pulled over my head, and we set off. Another grand adventure with the law for Morven Glass.

So now here we are. Or rather, here I am. In some cell in the pits of some government building, getting the shit kicked out of me because of someone else’s fuckup. If I ever see RainCha again, I might kill him. Or shoot him in the knee. Something along those lines.

“I told you, I don’t know where he is.”

“Don’t lie to us, Glass.”

“I’m not lying, you cretin.”

He sinks a fist into my stomach and I crumple. Or at least I would, if I could. The Gorbegs on either side of me keep me upright with iron grips on my upper arms. My feet are only just on the floor. I’m a little glad of the support, to be honest. Not sure I could stand on my own. These guys are good. The guard stood in front of me waits while I get my breath back. Very nice of him.

“I told you. I fucking told you. I got teleported to some weird Indiana Jones bullshit in the middle of arse-end nowhere. I don’t know where RainCha is. I never met the bastard before today.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s not my problem.”

The guard smiles slightly. It’s not a friendly smile. I grit my teeth, waiting for the blow I know is coming, but even then the punch to the face takes me off guard. “It is your problem, Miss Glass. It is definitely your problem.”

I guess he’s right. I’m not sure it’s my fault, but it’s definitely my problem. I press my tongue against my teeth, checking if any have come loose. Miraculously not. What I should do is just relate the whole story to him in a calm tone of voice so he understands that I genuinely had nothing to do with RainCha appearing in the Galactic Senate and it’s just a huge misunderstanding and actually I’ve had a pretty rough day too and he’ll just let me go back home. But I doubt that would be the outcome. And I’m pretty sure he just gave me a black eye, so there is no chance of me co-operating whatsoever. Because I’m stubborn. And I’ve had worse.

He’s talking again.

“…we have no issue with keeping you here overnight, it would be so much easier if you just told us what we need to know. I don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart.”

I laugh. “Oh, fuck off. This is nothing. I’ve been doing this for a couple of centuries. I’m a child of Lazarus, remember? The kind of torment I went through for that, you’re not even allowed to come close to. This is basically a massage.”

“Listen-”

“Nah, you listen. I have told you what I know. I have not lied to you. I hardly know RainCha. I have no idea about the teleporter. I am not the droid you’re looking for. So you might as well just let me go, because this little spa day is just wasting everyone’s time.”

The guard doesn’t seem to know what to do with this information. It must usually be a lot easier than this to interrogate someone, and for the second before he hits me, he looks genuinely irritated. He slaps me hard across the face and my head snaps to the side. I taste blood in my mouth. I count to three and grin up at him.

“Come on, honey. At least buy me dinner before any of that kinky shit.”

——-

It’s dark when I come round. It’s dark and I am in a lot of pain and I am pissed off. I never asked for any of this. Not this time. I allow myself a moment of self pity before getting my shit together. I pull myself into a sitting position against a wall. Everything hurts. I do an inventory. It’s mostly ribs and kidneys and stomach and face. Nothing broken. Maybe a rib or three. Black eye, probably. Split lip, definitely. Huh. My nose isn’t broken. That’s nice.

I’m pretty sure I can hear breathing nearby. I give a low whistle, the universal call and response signal. Someone whistles back.

“You awake.” The voice is heavily accented. “Thought you dead.”

“Sadly not.” I squint into the darkness but can’t make anything out. “How long was I out for?”

I hear them shrug. “Time unimportant. You human?”

“Mostly. You?”

“Vespin.”

I don’t know if they want a conversation or not, but my brain just isn’t up to it. I hope I haven’t been down here long. The last time I was in a government cell, I didn’t get out for a week. I don’t think I could do that again.

In the darkness, I can let myself think. It’s something I try not to do too often – I’m all hard exterior and wisecracks and old pop culture references that people don’t understand. Not that much room for real thoughts. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. Old age doesn’t apply to me, but I have had enough injuries that I should have been dead long ago. Maybe that was something else they did to me at the Academy. Superior healing power. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. I don’t know. That’s the thing with being alive as long as this. You don’t care any more. Or rather, you do care, but in a different way. I have seen too many loved ones die to care freely. I don’t let people in, I close myself off. To people. To situations. To everything. Nothing is new any more.

So when something shakes me up, it really shakes me up. Getting teleported into that canyon, for example. That has never happened before and I had no idea how to react, but my default is survival and I’ll be damned if that’s the way I was going to go. The fates have other ideas, I guess.

And then there’s Allory. It’s been over two years already, and I don’t want it to end. I’ll have to tell her at some point, that I don’t get older, and then she’ll want rid of me. Which is fine. Or there’s the alternative story line, where she says it’s fine and physical appearance doesn’t matter and she wants to stay with me forever, at which point I’ll leave. Because it doesn’t matter if she’s strong enough. I’m not. I can’t watch her get old. I don’t have it in me. When I got out of the Academy, ten years after enrolling, after all of the experimentation, I went back to my family once. And that was it. I knew that if I stayed with them I could see my little sisters grow up. But then they would carry on growing. They would pass me, their big sister, and they would grow old and time would take them away from me. I don’t know if I had nieces or nephews or anything like that. Better they thought I was dead than knowing I was… well. Weak.

Shit. This got real. I guess I should be feeling close to tears or something, but unless it’s physical pain I generally don’t cry any more. Physical pain or a vintage movie where a dog dies. The bastards.

I lean my head against the wall and close my eyes, trying to get the images of my family or Allory or Marley and Me out of my head. I can hear the Vespin breathing near me. They sound asleep. There’s an idea…

Bright light wakes me, and for a minute I think I have died and crossed over and I am a little put out. But then I realise that a door has opened. Not a metaphor. A physical door to the cell has opened and guards are coming in. They motion for me to get up. I can’t. My body has seized up, so when they grab me under my arms I yell out in pain.

“Give me a minute, fucking hell lads.”

I try to get some life back into my limbs. Slowly, slowly, I get to my feet, using the wall for support. This is really difficult. My eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the light. One of the guards grips my upper arm and walks me to the door. Wait. Where are we going?

“Gonna be honest with you boys, I don’t think I can take another interview. Someone else can have the job.” I’m babbling a little. This doesn’t happen to me. What the hell, Glass? Get your shit together.

“Someone’s collecting you.”

If that’s supposed to reassure me, it doesn’t work. Just don’t let it be a lawyer, I can’t handle that, not right now, not when I’m already injured, who is it, what-

But then I’m already out of the door and I see who’s come for me. Allory. All business suit and angry expression, a look of fear flashing across her face when she sees me. I must look gorgeous. The guard lets go of me and I fall against her. I press my face into the shoulder of her jacket, my fingers gripping her arms. She holds me for a moment, lips pressed to the top of my head.

“Come on. We’re leaving.”

She signs some forms, muttering about lack of professionalism and the legality of everything, and helps me walk slowly to the lift and up to her flier outside. She straps me into the passenger seat. There are guards watching. I have a look at the building we’ve just come from. It seems like a single storey storage job, but that’s definitely just a hologram. I’m normally on the lookout for details, little snippets of information I can use or at least something to make a decent pun with, but I don’t have the brain power. The events of the last few days – hours? Weeks? I genuinely don’t know, and that scares me. But anyway, they’re catching up with me. Allory gets in the pilot seat and revs the engine, taking off slowly. She doesn’t like talking when she’s flying, so I lean back against the headrest and take a moment to look at her. Really look at her. Take in the angle of her jawline, the tension in her knuckles as she grips the controls, the small strands of hair that have escaped her bun. I’ve never told her that I love her. I can’t say it now though – I have been hit in the head too many times recently for it to come across as sincere. I feel my eyes begin to close.

“If you die now,” I hear Allory say in a measured tone, “after all the strings I had to pull to get you out of there, I will kill you.”

I open my eyes, smiling. “Al-”

“And I am aware that sentence is illogical, but let me explain.” She types some new coordinates into the navpad. “If you die, I will hire all the best scientists to bring you back, I will spend every scrap of money I have to resurrect your ungrateful self, and after your first few minutes of consciousness, I will shoot you in the head. So keep your eyes open.”

“Aye aye captain,” I respond, and am rewarded with the smallest of smiles. “Where are we going?”

“Hospital.”

“Allory, I don’t-”

“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently, Morven? You’re a fucking mess. I have no idea what they did to you, and I don’t want to know because I am already fighting the urge to turn around and burn that place to the ground. You said you’d be home three days ago. You promised. And I know you’re tough and you can fight, and I know your job is dangerous, but you keep your promises and when you didn’t show…” She shook her head sharply. “I’m taking you to the hospital. I want you to heal properly. Not your usual couple of days bedrest and then back to work. I’ve had enough of your bullshit with that. You hear me?”

I nod. “I hear you, Allory.”

“Good. Now, shut up and let me fly.”

I keep my eyes open all the way to the hospital. My heart starts beating faster as soon as I catch sight of the place, but I breathe slowly and will myself to calm down. Medical facilities have always terrified me, ever since the Academy, so it’s a testament to Allory that I actually make it through the doors and past reception. I get given a robe to change into while I wait for a doctor to see me. Allory has to help me. Fucking hell. I can’t remember being this bad in decades. Fuck RainCha. Fuck Lavatio Bron and his mirrored suit and his sand snakes and fuck Tabitha Might and her slap happy guards. I get examined and poked and tutted at and I do a lot of metaphorically biting my tongue until finally I get put into a bed and injected with some sort of sedative. Allory kisses me lightly on the lips as I drop into blissful unconsciousness. I don’t want her to leave. But the whole world is slipping away.

Dreams. Memories. Everything white and chrome and sterile smelling and it’s just a needle. You’ve done it before, the side effects with this one are minimal. Are you looking for an escape route? There are guards everywhere, and I know you might fancy your chances but eventually one of them will stun you and bring you back here and we’ll give you the drug anyway. Don’t be a pussy. That’s better. No, not your arm. This one goes straight in the spine. Scared, Glass? Didn’t think so. There. All done. Brain spinning. Everything hurts. His face turns into Mum and San Ya and Allory who smiles and pushes a needle into my temple and I am in so much pain and I’m crying what’s wrong with you? You’ve been through worse but that means fuck all if you don’t take it as far as you can go. It’s just another year or so. We’ll make sure your family are safe. Who knows what would happen to them if you decide to drop out. Not a difficult choice, is it?

I wake in a cold sweat, heart thumping so fast I feel like it might re-break my ribs. Panic attack. I close my eyes tight and focus on my breathing. I’m getting out of this place. I try to rub my eyes, but I can’t move my hands. I look down. Handcuffs? Are you fucking serious?

“WHY AM I IN HANDCUFFS?”

Allory’s head appears round the door, eyebrows raised. “Why are you shouting?”

“Why am I in fucking handcuffs?”

“Because otherwise, you’ll try and discharge yourself. Which you are completely allowed by law to do. So I handcuffed you to the hospital bed.”

I press my head back into the pillow and close my eyes tight, willing myself to calm the fuck down. The sheer ridiculousness of the situation hits me. I start to laugh. It hurts, but not as much as it did before. Must be getting better. Allory comes over to the side of the bed.

“You know, I kind of like you in handcuffs. Once you’re fully healed up, I’m going to…” she bends down and whispers in my ear. My eyes widen in surprise. I think I’m blushing. Wow. She pulls away, a look of pure innocence on her face.

“Whoa.” I shake my head in disbelief. “Now I know I love you.”

Now Allory looks surprised and I panic because that is completely not what I meant to say. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. 

“Weird timing, Glass,” she says. Then she shrugs. Smiles a little. “Get some rest. I love you too.”

She walks out of the room and I breathe a sigh of relief. That went so much better than it should have done. Huh. The universe had other ideas, I guess.

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.

 

Captain RainCha and the Temple of Dreams

by Andy Ainscough

 

SUGGESTED FOMER READING: Captain RainCha and the Bad Boys of the Purple Moon, Vol.1, Story 4 + Captain RainCha and the Child Prince, Vol.2 Story 3.

 

GALACTIC COODINATES: 12-05-06-01

 

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: See spotify playlist at end.

 

 

Oh boy. This is not good. Really not good. There’s no religion or self-help book that can make see the good in this. Oh boy not one. I can see why people wanted the damn thing so much if it did this. Fuck me, this is a bad guy’s Christmas.

 

Okay so as usual – I’ve got me some explaining to do. Let’s roll back a bit. Let me tell you how I came face to face with the Galactic Empress Tabitha Might.

 

Cue titles. A montage of purple weasels. Me looking handsome. Slow motion pulling out of guns. Etcetera etcetera.

 

Now I love myself a party. Who doesn’t? And I find myself in one of the hottest gigs in sector 4. And we all know sector 4 is the coolest sector. I know Joe will be salty but you’ve just gotta have a change from time to time. Its Friday night standard as I walk into KrYstal100 and the place is LIT. Its full of illegals, unregistered, humans, Fal-taps, Gorbegs – essentially if there is a biological oddity in the damn wide universe it is represented here. People dance around the crystal formations that grow out the ground up to the cave roof. A cross species slap-band funk the freak out in the corner hitting the crystals and send sound waves rumbling through the floor so you can feel it in your nethers. Oof that’s some good funk.

Oh yeah –we’re in a cave. And the place is run by living crystals. Sorry, just to get you up to speed.

 

Anyway. I’m not here strictly on pleasure. That would be ridiculous. I’m here to catch up with a business associate of mine.

‘Come on Ray she’ll be there later,’ I say and usher him away from a particularly sleek looking silver-back. Oh yeah my mate Ray is here too. He’s a highly evolved Gorilla but now works as a courier and my professional getter-into-troubler.

I walk across the dance floor snaking my hips as I go. They all love it. Or if they don’t they just haven’t seen it yet. At the other side are the private booths. Each one is carved into the rock face and lined with a different colour crystal. People like it – I think it looks like a fucking sweet shop. Alas. Me and Ray cha cha to the nearest one. A big, nasty looking Gorbeg in a begrudging tuxedo stands with his hand on an inevitable red velvet rope.

‘Name.’ It says blankly. Literally not a hint of emotion. The wall looks more passionate.

‘Woah calm down hot stuff,’ I say.

‘Name.’ the living wall says.

‘Okay okay no need for a speech handsome. Captain RainCha and Ray.’

Its huge hands remains unmoving on the rope.

‘Full names.’

 

Uh oh. Noooooooo. Don’t judge me.

 

‘ How did she get my full name? Ugh fine. Captain Horatio Alveron RainCha and Ray, full name. Ray the Bonso.’

 

What can I say – my parents were Hippies. End of Story. Fine.

 

‘In you go.’

 

Here she is. If I wasn’t such good friends with her I’d spend all my time running away from her. This bitch is crazy. But I love her. She’s tiny and this time she has a immaculate bob haircut in her trademark sleek black. She sits, with her tiny legs dangling over the plush sofa her hands folded and her lips pursed.

 

You guessed it – it’s only San Ya, proprietress of the largest black market in the Galaxy.

 

‘You late,’ she says unmoving. We shuffle in next to Valeiran, San’s Fal-Tap assistant and two radioactive looking drinks teleport onto the table. Told you this place is cool.

 

‘Hey San, sorry hun, we went to that new planet in the 02, tried to flog some of Ray’s old stock but it turns out its been overrun with green goo monsters. Who knew?’

 

‘Half galaxy knew RainCha. Idiot. But tell me did you get it? Shadow-board is it yours?’

 

Cut-Scene. So it turns out I’m wanted by some pretty bad guys. They’re really bad actually and not very pretty. Anyway, they knew everything about me – including that recently I got some let’s say superpowers courtesy of a bunch of undiscovered purple space weasels. Long story. But annnnnyyywayyy. I had to get a little do-hikkie that essentially deleted my name and face from every database in the galaxy.

 

And it motherrrfuckin worked. Yea.

 

‘Yes San I did indeed get the shadow-board.’

 

‘Show me, show me now.’

 

I’ve had the shadow-board, actually a rock that produces weird black smoke embedded in a sick necklace that is totally dope. I delve into my shirt and carefully hold it out towards San.

 

‘Fuck me San!’

 

She immediately yanks it off its chain and clutches it in her tiny hand. A series of magnifying glasses spin round from over her had and onto her eye.

 

‘Needed closer look. Necklace very frivolous.’

 

She stares at it every which way and gasps occasionally.

 

‘It is very beautiful. I wonder how works.’

 

‘No idea – I just know that it does.’

 

Besides me I can hear Valeiran purring. His tail is edging towards the shadow-board.

 

‘Do you think San,’ he says sexily. I’m sorry he’s super sexy even for a cat. ‘Do you think San it is one of the Unnawri?’

 

Oooo what is this?

 

‘The Unnawri?’ I say and look at Ray. He raises his eyebrows. I can practically see the credit signs rolling in his eyes.

 

‘Very possibly Val. RainCha you are a scoundrel but a useful one. Tell me have you heard of the Unnawri?’

 

Clearly not. What’s wrong with her?

 

‘No San as I have literally just expressed I have not.’

 

‘Sarcastic boy. You stop. The Unnawri are powerful artifacts from the Sofiva Empire. Beautiful and dangerous. They have been lost for millennia. But we think they are still out there.’

 

Ah. The Sofiva. Before the human vermin infected the galaxy a wise and powerful race called the Sofiva built a benevolent empire across it. Or so the story goes. They were like gods and angels. Built like humans but stronger and lither. Their never fatigued or aged. They were said to have cracked the code to eternal life. But they disappeared. Suddenly and definitively. Then the humans moved in. Any scrap of Sofiva evidence is worth millions and millions of credit. So you know people want them you know?

 

‘It’s not – you’re joshing me. the shadow board is a…what was it an onion?’ Ray says and laughs heartily. God love Ray.

 

‘Unnawri. Stupid Bonso,’ says San in a very roundabout fashion.

 

‘Do you know where the rest are?’ I say.

 

‘As soon as we had an inkling, San and I started doing some digging. If the shadow-board is an Unnawri then the legend is real and the rest will be out there. We have located a contact. A soothsayer of a kind called Pref Terin. We feel he may be able to help us find the rest.’ Valeiran says so softly and gently I practically fall in love with him.

 

My stomach suddenly drops. I mean I already kind of knew it but it just hits me all at once you know? If this is one of the most valuable objects in the galaxy then there are people gonna want it no fear. Suddenly all across the room I feel eyes looking at me. Are they? Who knows?

 

‘San,’ I say. ‘I think we just head back to the market. Get the shadow board somewhere safe.’

 

She understands my meaning and nods to Valeiran.

 

‘Yes. Good idea. Come Idiot Captain. Bonso. We will go. My ship is outside.’

 

We slide out of the booth and the enigmatic Gorbeg lets us out without a smile. Our motley crew slips through the crowd. I make sure the weasels are inside. For once they conform. A woman bumps into me – she has an old fashioned t-shirt on. A man with some kind of lighting sword – she looks hard as nails. She stares and me for a moment and then for longer at San Ya. I’m not offended, everyone knows San. I mean the woman might know me, I’m not bothered. Am I? Oh who cares?

 

The night is full swing. The music bounces off the crystals. Drinks slosh around. Different species, who probably shouldn’t, neck in the distance.

 

Then. No kidding. Total Silence. No joke.

 

I’m stood in some kind of spotlight. A huge blinding light from above. The rest of the club is frozen. San Ya next to me points at the exit like a statue. Valerien remains sexily still. Ray is honestly pulling the most hilarious face. I take a picture obv. But still what the hell is going on?

 

This is where things get a bit weird. There’s a voice. From god knows where. Perhaps it is God – I don’t know but here it goes:

 

‘CAPTAIN RAINCHA YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN…’

 

I knew it. I knew I was the messiah. Something just told me you know?

 

‘YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN FOR A RACE.’

 

A race? That’s not savior of the galaxy. So mad.

 

‘…A RACE TO THE FINISH AND A RACE TO DEATH. AT THE END LIES THE TEPMLE OF DREAMS WHERE YOU’RE GREATEST DESIRES WILL COME TRUE.’

 

Inevitably, that’s when I teleport.

 

So back to the present for a little interlude. Ooo nice word. Interlude. This is by far the worst shit I’ve been in. And I’ve been in some proper shit before. Tabitha Might does not look happy. And as I look over my shoulder, neither does the collected representatives of the Galactic commons. Anywho back to the story.

 

So I’m teleporting. I’m hoping I land in a nice warm bed, or a soft, flower laden meadow. But oh no, I land IN MID AIR and fall to a stone floor with a ‘oh fuckin hell’

 

It’s darkness but I’ve got a stone floor so that’s something. I whip out Scratchy out of my arm. It sniffs the air and looks at me quizzically. ‘I don’t know hun either,’ I say. It raises one of its tiny claws as if to say oh I have an idea. Suddenly it grips with all its might and glows a bright purple. I look round. The purple light does nothing. Just illuminates more darkness beyond.

 

Then I have an idea. I whip out all eight weasels and push as hard as I can. Purple light fills the air. Oh shit, I’ve got this wrong. I can feel a fizzing up and down my air. Damn things can never get it right. I can tell they’ve mistaken light for raw power. Children and animals people, never work with children and animals. So suddenly I’m a mini bomb ready to blow. And blow I do. Watch it.

 

I was in a prison or a box. I know that because the weasels have only gone and blown the bloody doors off. Well and the walls.

 

I’m on a podium in the middle of an oblong stadium. Either side are huge crowds in the stands. They’re jeering and shouting and waving betting slips. These are not your usual San Ya’s market fodder either. You know people like me, a bit sketchy but a good heart really. These I can tell are proper underground scum. There’s some I can see who are banned from the market. There are slavers. I can see men sat with species in chains round them. There are huge monsters taking up tens of seats. Unregistered and terrorists. If the Empire found this place they’d have a field day. Me on the other hand… Beside me are others on more podiums. An old battle hardened Fal-Tap with a scar down his face. A young Gloosha with a set of mean spikes on her head. A huge Gorbeg with a cyborg arm. A human – wait, I think, it’s the woman from before, the one in the vintage t-shirt. What’s she doing here?

 

A platform floats up in front. Oh no. No, no. Not him. Anyone but him. I’d recognize that missing tooth anywhere. Lavatio Bron.

 

Firstly I owe him money but that’s besides the point. Mainly this guy is a sleezebag of the highest order. He used to be the darling of the galactic network. Show on every channel, appearances in every sector attended by millions. But after some rather, what I can only describe as… unsavory business transactions the man fell from grace. I saw him hosting a club night on Triisk a few years back. Some dead end gig, with a few tired old strippers. Seems as though the man has landed on his feet though.

 

Let me just paint you a picture of how much a bellend this man is. He’s wearing a suit made entirely of mirrors so you can’t help but look at him. His dyed black hair is slicked back in the most enormous greasy mullet you’ve ever seen. His face is conventionally attractive I guess. But anyone would say that. He’s had morph-surgery. His face literally moulds itself to your own particular attractions. It’s the weirdest thing you’ll ever see, but my does it get your loins going. Ugh I hate him. It’s the tooth, the missing canine, that’s the only way I can tell it’s him. Oh and his smug fucking grin.

 

He’s whizzing round on a grav-platform clicking his fingers at the crowd. They cheer and I can tell a wave of unusual feeling hits their privates. Eventually, with a flash of fireworks he hovers centre stage.

 

‘Welcome one. Welcome all!’ His silky sickening voice booms over the stadium.

 

‘OI!’ I shout being a nightmare to show proceedings. ‘OI LAVATIO’

 

‘I see you’ve all made it from your various prisons you beautiful lot.’ There’s a roar of laughter from the crowd. He can’t hear me the bastard. Right I’ll show him. There’s a rise of purple fizz in my throat.

 

‘OI LAVITIO BRON WHY THE FUCK AM I HERE?’ my voice echoes around the stadium thanks to a little fire from the weasels.

 

He stares at me for a minute shocked and then smiles lizardly.

 

‘Well well, ladies gentlemen, other designated existences introducing Captain RainCha and the bad boys of the purple moon!’

 

There’s a roar from the crowd. Cool, the name caught on. Anyway. He swings along the line the Fal-tap first.

‘Terrance Grenn, Mercenary. Adventurer of the 6th sector, watch out for those claws.’ Then the Gloosha, ‘Bloge, heir apparent to the Sea of Harmony. Gonna get in trouble for that one.’

He bypasses me and heads to the gorbeg. ‘Oh boy, don’t get on this one’s wrong side. It Karvax, Grand Champion of the Sector 6 gladitorial games. Finally last but not least. Its her, a child of Lazarus – Morven Glass herself. I, on behalf of my employer welcome you to the Sancta Canyon. At the end of this treacherous path lies the tomb of dreams. Inside, legend has it all your dreams can come true. The first one there will find out its wonders. The others – well they will die.’

 

There’s a Cannon fire. I guess that means – oh shit. GO.

 

So I’m running that’s for sure. And so are the others. It’s a race I guess that’s what you do right? Terrance Grenn whizzes past me, a trail of blue behind him. He’s got grav-boots on that’s not fair. I want Grav-boots. The canyon is narrow but huge. The vast, sandy walls tower above me. As I run the roar of the crowd becomes less and less. This shit is creepy. There is a crash from behind. It’s Karvax, the huge Gorbeg, he shoves me to the side. Painfully from the floor I watch as he leaps into the air and plunges his arm into the rock face. He propels off it and into the adjacent wall. He’s going over the top! Bastard. Well two can play at that game.

 

My arms glow purple. Oh yeah baby here we go! I zoom into the air like a rocket. The energy from my purple weasels tingles all over my body. Sandra busts out of my outstretched arm and dances to the music. Oh what music you ask? I’m playing funk music in my head obviously.

 

Anyway.

 

I shoot up past the canyon edge and from here I can see the whole outstretched map. The canyon is like a deep gash in a rocky wasteland. It snakes on and on until out of the sand a mountain rises. Along the slopes there are cracks with deep green energy throbbing out of them. Well that’s obviously the place. Right then off we go.

 

Oooo. There’s something in my ear. It’s a bee. Wait no its not. Is it? Ah. It’s buzzing. Shit. What is that? Bitey pops out over my shoulder and peers in – it shrugs and then disappears.

 

‘Captain that you my friend?’

 

Is it God? Surely not. I thought somebody disproved him years ago.

 

‘Can you hear me Captain?’ I think I’m having a religious experience.

 

Its Ray. Ray is speaking into my ear.

 

‘Captain its me Ray. Can you hear me?’

 

‘Shit yeah I can – how are you doing that?’

 

‘Oh I put an audio chip in your ear months ago. No biggie.’

 

‘No biggie you fucking weirdo! What you snuck into my room and then gave me an inside piercing. I’m outraged – can you tell I’m outraged? Who does that? Why on the moons of Sa1 did you do that?’

 

‘I dunno maybe in case you got lost or kidnapped or teleported out of a bar right before my eyes. I dunno. Something like that.’

 

Hmmmm. I guess. Okay I suppose. Still mad though.

 

‘Where are Captain?’

 

‘Lavatio Bron has me. But it’s not him running the show I don’t think – he’s just hosting it. They’re getting me and some others to race to a ‘temple of dreams’ or some shit.’

 

‘Ughhhh Lavito Bron is the worst.’

 

‘I know right?’

 

‘Never heard of the temple of dreams. Did he give you anything else?’

 

‘Erm…the Sancta Caynon. I’m hovering above it now.’

 

I can hear him typing. From the background I hear a barked shout. Ah he’s at San Ya’s.

 

There’s a rustling screech – I think a microphone has been pulled away.

 

‘Captain its me San Ya.’

 

‘Yes I can tell it’s you San. You have a distinctive voice’ Like a gar-claw being pulled against moonstone.

 

‘You in sky yes?’

 

‘Yes why?’

 

‘Get down – get down – back into canyon.’

 

‘Why –?’

 

Oh. Oh I can see why. How did I not spot it before? The sand is moving. And I don’t mean just with the wind its literally moving up and down like waves. I can still see Karvax running along the dunes. Oh yeah there it is. A huge monster like an eel but MASSIVE rises up through the sand and swallows the mercenary in one. Shit. Suddenly on shoots past me on the left. I dodge. Then on the right. Bollocks. They block out the sun with enormity. Enormity. Good word Captain. Sorry.

 

‘Captain what happening? You are on the planet Cracktar, home of the desert snakes. Get back in canyon.’

 

‘I’ve realized San. Little busy. One min.’

 

I shoot downwards. Karvax must have sparked a feeding frenzy. The bastards are everywhere. It’s a storm of teeth and slobbering terrible, sandy breath. One rises up in front, I blast it with energy. The purple shot bounces off its grey-brown hide. Okay so can’t fight them. They’re all around shooting up through the sand wrapping and writhing round me. There! There’s a hole I funnel the energy into my feet and blast across as quick as I can. It’s closing and quick. Come on weasels. Sandra appears in front of me with a face as if to say we’re doing our bloody best. I push harder.

 

Yesssss. I did it. Of course I did right? I zoom out of the nest of giant eels and into the sunlight and shoot down into the canyon, back where I started. Just as I pass the lip I see the writhing monster mass slither back into their sand-sea. This place is gross.

 

‘I’m out. I got back in the Canyon.’

 

‘Good. Desert snakes very nasty. Eat you one bite. No hope.’

 

‘Thanks San. Good talk. You anymore info?’

 

There’s another buzz in my ear.

 

‘Ray here. The Sancta Canyon is rumored to be home to the Temple of Dreams like you said. It’s a burial place of an ancient king said to house an ancient treasure. Lost for an age though – not a surprise against this shit- hole of a planet. We are straight up sector 6 here my man. Uncategorized to shit. Look there’s not much info apart from a message found on an ancient hardrive.’

 

‘What does it say?’

 

‘Face your worst nightmare to find your greatest dream.’

 

Oh boy that doesn’t sound good.

 

Alright Alright. It can’t be that bad. How would anyone know what my worst nightmare is? I’m pretty sure I don’t know what my worst nightmare is.

 

‘I have placed tracker on you. Get going. We are on our way. But you can’t look like you’re not playing game. They kill you dead. Go now.’ Says San in my ear.

 

‘God hell San I’ve just escaped a nest of giant sand eels give me a break.’

 

She’s right though. I start to run down the canyon. It’s strangely empty. There’s no plants anywhere, no scuttling animals. Nothing. Not even a few stray rocks. I stop for a moment and wipe my hand along the side. The dust comes away and there’s metal underneath. A grainy metal as if its really old.

 

‘San, Ray. I don’t think this is a canyon.’

 

‘What do you mean man?’ Rays says.

 

‘I think this whole place is the tomb.’

 

‘I can scan it from you audio chip.’ There’s a clicking of keys and a buzzing of loading screens. ‘Oh boy Cap you’re right. This place is massive. The sand must have moved in afterwards. It’s like you’re on the last assent of some huge mountain.’

 

‘Are you here yet? Can you get me?’

 

‘Nearly but we can’t get down too close or the snakes will get us. Get to the temple up ahead and we’ll pick you up from there.’

 

Knew it. I just knew no matter what I’d have to make it to the temple. Behind me I hear a chug of a jetpack.

 

‘Can who get you?’ A voice says. Its slippery and sarcastic – I like it. I turn and see the woman from the crystal club. She lands on the floor with a light thud and holds out a gun.

 

‘Woah there hun,’ I say. ‘Let’s not ruin our first date with laser blasters eh?’

 

She laughs, cocking her head back. ‘Not my type, I’m afraid,’ she looks me up and down. ‘So go on then Captain what’s your party trick?’

 

‘What was your name again?’ I say stalling. I like her already but I can’t yet work out if she’s going to kill me or not.

 

‘Morven, Morven Glass. I’ve heard your name before, mainly in Salty Joe’s, mainly paired with a few choice expletives. Go on then tell me, why you here?’

 

Ugh, I have to do this like literally ten times a day.

 

‘I crash landed on a unregistered moon and became host to some purple energy weasels. They make me kinda fly and blast and shit. No six pack though yet. I thought that’s what super powers did but apparently I miss out? Just my luck.’

 

‘You’re shitting me. Weasels? You’re having me on.’

 

Now this is the bit I enjoy. Because quite rightly no one ever believes me. I spin on one foot. As I move through the air, with a flash of bright fuschia, eight weasles appear on my arm and wave at my new friend Morven. I grin.

 

‘Ok. Ok you’re telling the truth. Shit that’s cool. The weasels though not the spin.’

 

‘Go on I’ve shown you mine, you show me yours.’

 

She sighs. ‘I’m a child of Lazarus.’

 

I knew my face dropped. I knew it. I couldn’t help it – a bloody child of Lazarus.

 

‘So you… so…’

 

‘Yes. I don’t die. Pending injury at least. I won’t ever…run out.’

 

‘Whoa cool.’

 

‘You’d think wouldn’t you…’

 

She puts down the gun and squints at me. ‘You’re not a bad guy are you? You’re just a big idiot man?’

 

‘Oh absolutely.’ I laugh.

 

Unfortunately at that point, right behind us, they decide to make another apparence, missing us by mere inches a giant, bloodthirsty sand snake burst through the wall. Fuck’s sake.

 

Ok just imagine the next bit accompanied by a rocking bass solo right?

 

I shoot up into the air. Morven’s jet pack bursts into life. Snake after snake is busting through the walls. We dodge and duck and weave. These things are nasty you can tell by their bloody awful breath. I wonder if the snakes came with the temple or came afterwards? Shit no time. The canyon is getting darker as more and more of the beasts criss cross the expanse. They’re bursting through and diving straight back into the other side.

 

‘Morven if we can get to the temple at the end my friends can pick us up’ I say blasting a snake down through its open mouth.

 

‘Who are they?’ She says running along the length of another.

 

‘What the hell does that matter?’ I say and swoop under another big bastard.

 

‘I’m not getting in some spacecraft with someone I don’t know. You could be slavers or something!’ she hovers for a moment and expertly takes out the eyes of one snake sending it writhing to the ground.

 

‘We’re not Slavers! My friend is called San Ya, she’s okay.’ I mean I wouldn’t stretch to good. The canyon is writhing with the buggers. Up ahead I can see the floor rising. We’re getting near. I send out the weasels. Each one along a different snake. They scamper along quickly down the great mottled backs.

 

‘Whoa you mean the San Ya, okay it’s a deal. I’m coming with you.’

 

Down below I see Blooge the royal Gloosha caught in some huge teeth like trap on the ground – definitely dead. That’s going to cause some international incident I know it.

 

‘In 10 seconds M, Get by side and fly forward.’

 

‘Yes Captain,’ she’s says, still sarcastically.

 

I wrestle away from my current snake and look forward. The weasels are all in position along the side.

 

‘NOW!’

 

There’s a flash of purple and a great explosion. We hurtle forward at lightning speed. I can hear rustling the snakes are coming to. The temple is up ahead I can just see it. Whoa shit shit. Its Terrance Grenn the fal-tap mercenary. A snake bursts out and eats him in one.

 

‘Keep going!’ We push harder and harder until we tumble out onto a flat stone surface and everything goes deathly quiet.

 

‘What the hell just happened?’

 

‘The weasels exploded. Made a brief pathway for us to whizz through. They saved us.’ I say.

 

‘Oh I’m sorry I guess.’

 

‘Oh no…they’re not…’ Out pops Sandra from my shoulder and winks at Morven. ‘They’re multi-talented.’

 

Okay the next bit is where things get weird (okay weirder). Something unexpected happened and I’m not talking about Tabitha Might. Let’s just say I didn’t enjoy it.

 

Behind us, presumably with no food sources, the snakes retract into the walls. We came through a force field I felt the tingle as we passed. Up ahead is the tomb. It’s a squat, square pyramid. It’s hard to tell if it’s made of stone or metal – it’s like a combination of the two. All over it are strange carved symbols. They are faded though and their edges are blurred. This thing is ancient.

 

‘Cap we’re here but couldn’t get through to the ground – we see you’ve made it though.’ Ray appears in my ear. ‘You’ll have to fly up from here something is blocking our lifter-upperer.’

 

‘Transit beam Ray, its called a transit beam.’ I say without thinking. The tomb is entrancing its like being a dream even looking at it. ‘There’s a force field here. But it seems to let people through. I’ve made a friend – we’re bringing her too.’

 

‘Okay fine. Come on then.’

 

I drift forward towards the tomb. Its like I’m being pulled along. I can fell Morven beside me doing the same. What’s inside there? What did those goons at the stands want so bad that they set all this up? In the middle is a gap of a door. We stand in front of it and just stare. I feel like I’m underwater. Everything is blurred at the edges.

 

‘Cap, come on, we can’t stay forever.’

 

‘Sure sure.’

 

We stare at the open mouth of the door as if it is a piece of beautiful art. The blackness inside changes slowly. It swirls and curves into creamy passages of white. They twirl like rivers bending into whirlpools until the shape of body appears. The body gains detail, the end of a vague arm flexes into fingers. A soft face takes on softer features. It is like a human, but beautiful, more beautiful than any human could possibly be. And taller, and more graceful. Out of its back, slowly two great wings unfold. Is it an angel? Oh no did I get eaten by a snake? Am I dead? Well if so Morven is too – ha. The Angel, with all its features in place opens its mouth and begins to speak.

 

‘Welcome weary travelers. We are the Sofiva and welcome to our temple. One may pass and one may leave. Through this door is your worst nightmare and your greatest dream. Only those who are worthy will have both.’

 

Well what do you know? As soon as the Sofiva are mentioned here they are. Well fancy that.

 

The words snap me out of my trance. ‘Yeah I can do without either. We’re going hun.’

 

‘Yeah sorry strange hologram lady. We’re off.’ Morven says.

 

We both blast off upwards but of course slam into the now solid force-field roof.

Shit. A little sore we both look at each.

 

‘I’ll do it.’ We both say at the same, clearly both secretly and absolutely wanting to.

 

‘I’m protected. The weasels they’ll keep me safe.’

 

‘From your worst nightmare?’

‘Ha maybe not. But a nightmare – you must have lived longer than I have Morven, I’m sure there are more nightmares for you than me.’

 

She looks at me for a moment and then turns away. ‘I’m not sure of that. Your eyes Captain, your eyes tell a different story.’

 

‘Go. I’m protected. I’ll be fine.’

 

She turns and then with a huff jumps and hovers in the air. ‘Fine, but its my turn next okay?’

 

I nod and smile weakly. She launches upwards through the force field and I am alone. It hits me suddenly – that feeling of being alone – but it isn’t an alien one. Before Ray, before San, hell before Salty Joe I was alone. After the army, before I found out that greedy people only get greedier, back when I was hanging out on the ice planets of the Thex system and hopping between the asteroid ruins of the last edge of the galaxy, I was alone. I feel it here again like an old friend. Even though my friends hover above the force field they may as well be a universe away. Only the door is there now and whatever stands beyond it.

The Sofiva stands to the side and gestures me in. I walk forward through the door and into utter darkness. I know what is coming. I can feel it. If the Sofiva was right than it is my worst nightmare is coming, and my worst nightmare is something I have already lived. Predictably the door closes behind me with a grind. Slowly but surely I hear in the distance the pounding rhythmic march of many feet. They are getting closer. I try to run but in the darkness I go nowhere. Up ahead a child appears. I don’t know his species but he turns from green to red quickly as if alarmed. He runs through lush green trees shouting for his mother. Shouting for anyone. The marching boots get closer and closer. He screams and runs. Others appear, more children playing out on the forest. They are glowing red just like the first one. The marching people pass by me – they are soldiers, decked out in full space gear. They looks like robots, faceless and terrifying. I know they are human though because one of them is me. Suddenly they stop and bring out the guns off their back. I collapse to the floor – Sandra emerges and cuddles my arm. They cock the guns and aim into the forest. I can see the glowing red of the children just for a moment and then it fades away.

 

Yep. They got it right. My nightmare relived. After that I never went back.

 

At the present Tabitha Might is opening her mouth as if to speak – but we’re in slow motion right? So let me finish off my yarn.

 

I sit for a moment curled up in a ball. There’s a tap on my shoulder, I raise my head and see all eight weasels looking at me with tears in their eyes.

 

‘Don’t hate me,’ I say. They don’t, they all come and nuzzle my legs. I don’t deserve them. The room, now the projection has gone is just a small stone space, with nothing in it. They must tap into your mind and project it back at you. Horrible but effective I guess. In front a panel opens into another room and light pours in. I get up and slowly walk through.

 

My god the Sofiva were keeping this close to their chest weren’t they?

 

Inside is a glass room. Literally all of it glass. Or I think its glass. There are beautiful sculptures of impossible creatures laid on delicate plinths across a huge carved floor. The ‘windows’ must be holograms – each one a different scenes. On one side lush green fields, another a snowy mountaintop. The furthest side is as if we’re in deep space, a galaxy of stars for the taking as if painted on a canvas. My open mouthed gawp is interrupted for a moment by a voice that I had all but forgotten.

A painful jolt shoots through my head accompanied by a scratchy changing of sound connection.

 

‘Ahhhhhh Captain – forgotten about me had you?’

 

Ah yes, my old enemy The Owner. Of course – how could I forget? He’s after me for a few things, not including selling him some dodgy sheep and stealing the shadow-board from under his big fat nose. Anyway.

 

‘I bet you were wondering who put this all together weren’t you?’

 

‘No,’ I say. ‘Obviously it was you dumbass.’

 

‘Well… oh fine. Well we have the place surrounded. You’re little buddies have scarpered. Get the artifact. There in the centre. Get it and bring it to meeeeee.’

 

His voice is so annoying I can’t even. I just can’t.

 

I guess I have no choice.

 

On the central plinth is what looks like a heavy ring. Is this it? A bit of old metal. As I grab it I feel that familiar tingle. But boy is it powerful.

 

OH MAN IS THAT GOOD.

 

So that’s you to speed. I touched the artifact and it teleported me here – the galactic senate right in front of Tabitha Might. I mean talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire? Oh shit I guess slow motion is over. Back to the present. Tabitha Might raises her finger and points it at me:

 

‘GET THAT MAN!’

 

I’m not worried. Scratchy just winked at me. The weasels have a plan. As I say it again that doesn’t sound so good. The weasels have a plan? Oh god I’m going to die.

 

Guards emerge from everywhere. I feel an odd stretching sensation over my body. As if my head is halfway into warpspeed but my arse isn’t. What is happening? Ugh this is horrible. I’m being pulled downwards. The guards step back shocked.

 

Oh wait- I’m not being pulled downwards. I look at my hands. They’re tiny little purple claws. I knew I had more powers – I knew it! I can transform into one of them. At least I hope I can transform back – we’ll have to see. Anyway for now I better run. I scamper along the floor of the senate and jump headfirst through the Empress’s chest and out the other side. I wave a tiny claw and disappear into the labyrinth of Ea1.

 

A cliffhanger. A cliffhanger indeed.

 

Now that was quite an adventure and it isn’t over yet…

 

Tune in next time. Stay cool.

 

Captain RainCha and the Bad Boys of the Purple Moon.

 

 

 

 

The Not-Quite Silence of Nightfall

By Becky Kinge.

GALACTIC CO-ORDINATES: 96-05-04-01

Reik’lin watched as the rest of the Uuen village worked. He was in a foul mood despite the serenity of the sunset hours. Music, gentle and rhythmic, surrounded his clan; against his will, Reik’lin’s feet started to move in time with it, before he caught himself and stopped.

The quiet thrum of the drums sounded like hail dancing cautiously upon tin. It pirouetted through candle-lined pathways, uniting the villagers as they prepared for nightfall. Beyond the twinkling tap of percussion, only the shuffle of fabric and whispers between neighbours could be heard.

Two of the Uuen girls, with lilac skin fading into apricot hair, tiptoed between their neighbours, relighting any flame that had perished. One, whose eyes were as porcelain white as a new-born’s, smiled sweetly at the drummer. The drummer jerked his chin in warning. The Uuen were a species of professionals and he held the most important role: his tranquil beat maintained a constant hush, a noise-level akin to waves lapping at the coast, and could not be disturbed.

During the evening, noise tempted curious spirits to exit the forest. During nightfall, it angered them.

Reik’lin grumbled to himself as he collected his supplies; no-one ever flirted with the lantern boy.

Stuhn, a soldier in charge of surveying the perimeter, approached the Eye. She sat, eyes closed, in an aged armchair surrounded by piles of textile. Reik’lin paused in his preparations and homed in on the conversation. Stuhn was a stickler for the rules and never interrupted the Eye as she meditated. Something must be wrong.

“There’s a human in the forest,” he said. The village halted.

The Eye nodded. She knew, had seen it – had probably known of its presence near their clan for hours – but had not spoken. She only spoke of danger. They were safe. One-by-one, the villagers returned to their tasks, slower now, glancing intermittently at the forest edge as if expecting it to pounce. The drums grew quieter, and the villagers followed suit.

If the human entered the village and saw mistake in their decoration, they would be shamed. If the human entered the village and spoke loudly, as they tended to do, they would be killed.

Allegedly.

Reik’lin kicked at his lanterns. His mother heard the smack of paper and wood and shot him a warning glance. Lighting the lanterns is an honour, his family had told him, to have individual responsibility is a mark of respect. Reik’lin didn’t care about credit, he didn’t want a solo role, he just wanted to stitch stars into the patchwork gazebos with his friends, if only to have a few more hours of conversation before silence became mandatory.

Besides, illuminating a path straight from the ancient woodlands back to the village seemed incredibly counterproductive. The same, he thought, as painting an arrow straight to their home with the words oh great feared spirits, demons of Vvent’un soil, this way, we’ve got three spare cots and plenty of running water.

He reiterated this, in a sharp whisper, to his mother, who took a break from her weaving to listen to him moan. When he finished with a flap of arms in place of an audible sigh, she clucked her tongue and pushed him towards the perimeter, signalling for Stuhn to follow.

Untath quihip grai,” Stuhn whispered to the Eye, ‘grace protects us,’ and then walked smoothly, almost gliding, to where Reik’lin was collecting his things.

“You heard what I said?” he asked. Reik’lin huffed.

“No,” he said, “try talking a little louder next time.”

“You shame us, Reik’lin. Such ignorance is beyond your status.”

Reik’lin clucked, a jolt of irritation causing him to tear a hole in the lantern he was constructing.

“It was a joke,” he said, “I heard you. But the Eye said there’s nothing to worry about, right?”

“Not in as many words, no,” Stuhn mumbled, and Reik’lin was taken aback by the subtle disdain that lined his words. Stuhn, protector of their clan, was sworn to revere the Eye’s near-omniscience. “It’s true that it may bear no ill will, but that does not mean it won’t disrupt the spirits. It is nearing the perimeter, now. If you see it approach when you are laying the lanterns, be careful, and be sure that it is careful, too.”

“Wha- be careful? It’s not gonna shoot me, is it? Why am I on the front line, here, Stuhn? I’m just the lantern-kid.”

“You are the front line, Reik’lin,” Stuhn said, “your lanterns lead the spirits back to the depths and decorate our land so that no being dare harm it.”

“Yeah,” Reik’lin said, poking the broken lantern, “can you believe I don’t get a uniform?”

Stuhn gave him a confident pat on the shoulder, barely grazing the fabric of his tunic (out of fear, Reik’lin presumed, of the resulting clap alerting enemies of their movement). Reik’lin saluted him, waved to his mother and to his friends, and slumped out of the village.

There, in the arched silhouette of lavender trees, the human looked small.

Reik’lin had only ever seen humans from a distance; they had been taller than even Stuhn and twice as muscular. This human was short, lean, with a protruding chest and long, light hair bunched back in a thick strap. Their hands were on their hips, and they were shouting into the bushes.

Reik’lin climbed the nearest tree, lit a lantern from his basket, and placed it on a branch. He crawled along the treetops, leaving a trail of light, until he was rested between the leaves above the human. It was a girl, glowering.

“Buttons,” she said, “get out of there.”

“I’M STUCK,” something said, “STUCK IN THE MUD, MELISSA!”

The human pinched the bridge of her nose and poked at the bushes with a stick. Reik’lin heard a whir and a rustle, then the incredibly loud and somewhat distorted voice spoke again.

“MELISSA. I AM STILL STUCK.”

“There’s nothing I can do, Buttons,” the human said, “dad said you need terrain training.”

“YOUR FATHER WAS MISTAKEN. I AM FINE ON ALL TERRAIN.”

“Then why are you stuck in a bush, Buttons?” she said, crouching down and spreading the branches of the push to peek inside.

Reik’lin looked towards the sky; it was almost dark and he was yet to start placing the lanterns on the opposite side of the path. Irregardless of how often he dismissed his role and the village’s traditions, the growing shadows of the forest made him uneasy; roots curling like demons’ fingers clawing out of the ground. He had to move

“RESEARCH.”

“Researching what, Buttons?”

“BUSHES.”

There was little to no sound as Reik’lin’s feet hit the ground. The human, now reaching for their friend, hadn’t even noticed him land. In the distance, there was rickety howl. Reik’lin fought every impulse to the human out when she started laughing at whatever was happening within the bushes. It was a piercing sound, impulsive, and the spirits were stirring.

With one struggled heave, the human fell onto her back; a strange, square, metallic being followed. It was a robot – Reik’lin had never seen one, before, but he’d heard stories.

“THERE IS SOMEONE HERE,” the robot, Buttons, said. The human jumped up and twisted, pointing a twig at Reik’lin’s chest.

“Who are you?” They said, and Reik’lin flinched at the volume.

“I am Reik’lin of the nearby Uuen village,” he replied, softly, before aggressively miming zipping his lips shut, “who are you?”

“I am Melissa,” she said, “we’ve travelled from the City, and did you just tell me to shut up?

“Yes,” Reik’lin said, “so would you?

“Why? Because I’m human? What do you plan to do with me, Uuen?”

“Sew your mouth shut if possible,” Reik’lin mumbled.

“HE SAID: SEW YOUR MOUTH SHUT, IF POSSIBE.”

“I heard him,” Melissa said.

“Really? Because you’re speaking so loudly that I assumed you were deaf,” Reik’lin said, “our Protector warned me about you, you know. That you’d break the silence and wake the spirits!”

“The … silence?” Finally, she spoke with caution, glancing at Buttons.

“YES. HE SAID: THE SILENCE.”

“The silence that protects us!” Reik’lin said, “that leads the spirits from our village.”

“Then what’s with the lights leading the way, huh?”

Reik’lin glared. Even the ignorant human thought that the lanterns were a stupid idea, but it was his role – an important one – and seeing someone else insult his people’s stubborn sentimentality flicked a switch; only he was allowed to call his job stupid.

“The lanterns guide the spirits home and highlight the beauty of our land so that no demon dare tarnish it,” he said, “duh.”

“THE UUEN PEOPLE FIND SILENCE SACRED,” Buttons said.

“Oh,” Melissa said, looking sheepish. “Then I should probably tell you –”

“THERE IS A SPIRIT BEHIND US. OH BOY. LOOK, MELISSA. A SHADOW DEMON.”

Reik’lin whipped around. There, seeping out of the trees, was a demon; oil dripping from its slender body, eyes glowing orange and mouth widening to a grotesque size as it moved slowly towards them, leaving shadows in its wake.

“IT’S COMING CLOSER,” Buttons said, and the demon glitched nearer at his words, eyes flaring. “NOISE APPEARS TO AGGRIVATE IT.”

It jumped again.

“Then stop making noise!” Reik’lin said.

“That’s what I was trying to say!” Melissa squealed, “his –”

“MY VOLUME FUNCTION IS BROKEN.”

“THEN STOP TALKING!” Reik’lin shouted – he hadn’t shouted in years, not since his schooling had finished, and the roar summoned a second spirit to spawn. He clamped his hands over his mouth, taken aback by his own power.

“What do we do?” Melissa whispered, backing towards the village, “we should run, right?”

“And lead them to the village?” Reik’lin said, struggling to keep quiet now that he’d rediscovered what noise felt like to release, but every word continued to jolt the demons closer and it was either they die (and endanger his village) or they ssh. Buttons had other ideas.

“MIGHT I SUGGEST YOU LEAD THEM SOMEWHERE ELSE,” Buttons said.

“How?” Melissa said. A cool wind jingled the basket at Reik’lin’s hips, and he gasped.

“The lanterns!” Reik’lin said, “the lanterns guide the spirits home!”

“We don’t have enough time! Every time we speak, they inch closer.”

“We need to distract them,” Reik’lin said. Melissa bit the inside of her cheeks in thought, then grabbed his wrist and pulled him backwards. Reik’lin’s impulse was to complain but, before he could, Melissa stuck her leg out and kicked Buttons back into the bush.

“WHAT WAS THAT FOR?” Buttons said. “HELLO. I’M STUCK, MELISSA, AGAIN, IN THE SAME BUSH. SAME MUD. I THINK.”

The demons paused, flicked in between a state of being and a state of not, and then turned towards the bush instead of Reik’lin and Melissa.

“I UNDERSTAND NOW,” Buttons said, as the spirits approached him. “I AM THE DISTRACTION. I SHALL KEEP MOVING FURTHER INTO THE FOREST, OKAY?”

“Quickly!” Melissa said, “they can’t hurt him, but I still feel bad. You get those lanterns and light the path away from the village, and I’ll extinguish the ones you’ve already put up. Deal?”

“Deal,” Reik’lin said, dashing past the demons and towards the shadows as Melissa leapt into action and climbed the nearest tree, blowing out the candle of its lantern.

“I AM SLIGHTLY FURTHER AWAY,” Buttons said, “BUT I AM STILL QUITE TANGLED AND THEY ARE GETTING CLOSE.”

Reik’lin bit down his reply and prayed Melissa would do the same; she was slowly becoming enveloped in darkness, and the path to the village was disappearing. Reik’lin had never been this far into the forest before, and the more he climbed, the more spirits he could sense. They were slipping from the roots of the trees, gliding towards his home, limbs clicking and dripping.

He kept on working: climbing, lighting, climbing, lighting. The spirits began to take notice, reaching towards the light as if it would heal them. But it wasn’t enough. They needed more. They needed noise.

“HEY!” Reik’lin shouted, “DEMONS. LOOK OVER HERE!”

They did, and began advancing towards the path he’d lit.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY, UUEN?” Buttons called from the opposite end. They turned, again.

“BE SILENT, BUTTONS,” Melissa shouted to him, and the demons turned on her.

“BOTH OF YOU, PLEASE, JUST SHUT UP FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIVES,” Reik’lin screamed, and the demons set their mark. They slid towards the light, away from the village, and Reik’lin used their slow movement as his opportunity to dip behind the branches of the furthest tree and crawl down. Buttons, thank the Gods, remained quiet.

When he reached Melissa, she was grinning.

“We did it,” she whispered.

“Shut up,” Reik’lin said, and they set to work heaving Buttons back out of the bush. Using the faint glow of his torch and the blue hue of Button’s eyes to navigate back to the village, the three teetered on the outskirts and looked nervously to where the clan had gathered. The entire village was staring, aghast, at the pitch-black forest that should have been shining, and the shouting beings that should have been silent.

“What happened?” Stuhn asked from the front-line.

Melissa gulped, slapping a hand over Button’s mechanical mouth.

“The lanterns led the demons home,” Reik’lin said, stepping forward, “the human helped.”

Stuhn looked to the Eye for confirmation; she smiled and nodded once.

“When the sun arises and we can sing again,” Stuhn said, “you will tell your tale.”

 

 

The New World

 

SUGGESTED FORMER READING: Admissions Policy, Vol.1, Story 2.

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

SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: (See Spotify playlist at end.)

 

Prelude.

 

A truck swishes past in the direction of the Fal-Tapria, it’s going too fast.

 

Where am I?

 

The cartoons aren’t on the telescreen when I get home from school.

 

What happened?

 

At quarter past five there’s no sign of my parents.

 

The University. The gravity had gone.

 

On the news the Fal-Tapria is lopsided parts of it are cracking and then it falls. I don’t understand. My parents are still not home – I make myself a sandwich.

 

There was a lecture theatre and then…

 

It’s dark and the news is still on. I don’t think to turn on the light. A man comes in and tells me a story. About some bad people who did a terrible thing.

 

…there was the shade. The thing with the smoke and the…

 

I sleep that night in a bed that isn’t mine. In a house down the street. A woman I don’t know keeps coming in checking if I am okay – she smiles but also looks sad. Everyone that day looks sad.

 

it opened the airlock. Am I dead?

 

Act 1.

 

For a minute I think I have a hangover. My head hurts and I can’t remember what has happened. Have I been put to bed? Where did I go – probably the outer hub, always terribly dangerous parties there. But I am not lay on anything, I can’t feel my back resting on anything at all – perhaps I am not in my cabin. But where? I can’t open my eyes – they’re too heavy. I can only see the dark and mysterious colours that light forms on a closed eyelid. I can move my arms though; they are heavy too but soon surrender into the air. I think… although I can’t quite believe it… I think I’m in water. The water is thick and custardy – perhaps it is custard? Eventually my fingertips reach an edge.

The thoughts begin to spill through suddenly like the water through a broken damn. My name is Fenn, a student at the University of Pure Sight. Wait. The former university. It blew up. I saw it. The shade released the airlock and I saw the vast space-station start to explode. I was with the Professor and Ter. We understood the monster, it only wanted to come and learn but it had killed everyone. Including it seemed – me. Then where am I now?

My eyes flip open suddenly. I am in liquid but it doesn’t sting or fill my eyes I can just about see into it. About a foot in front of me is a swirling fleshy surface. Greens and black form and reform into organic maps. I have been reincarnated – have I? Seems unlikely – I was always a woman of science but maybe I was… the word tastes bitter even as a thought… wrong. But I feel fully-grown. Ugh! What am I then? Some terrible creature from the badlands. No Fenn mustn’t be prejudice – what if I’m some terrible undesignated species from the Sector 6. That’s better. Oh god though what if I’m a lizard monster or a gas whale or something I don’t know! I look down as best I can. I can see my hands and flex out the claws. From round my back my tail snakes round. Thanks goodness as – far as I can see I’m still a Fal-Tap.

I keep my claws out and draw them down the fleshy surface. It comes away like wet tissue paper. I start scraping wildly at it disturbing the liquid into bubble streams all around. Layer after layer comes off until light starts to appear. Proper light though and not just the coloured darkness. With one last pierce like the popping of a balloon the wall breaks and the light floods my vision.

I splutter and take in lungfuls of air at syncopated intervals. The water drips off me and the warm air takes control. I can finally see where I am.

It is a bright day and a warm one too and I’m on a planet that’s for sure. There’s dusty rock everywhere and a sun in the sky. Here and there are dark stains where the water from the pod has exploded out. It’s quiet. I shake out my fur to dry myself and look around. On the horizon is a constant stream of black smoke, its like the rubbish planets you here of where the capitol sector sends its waste. Desolate planets left to cook by constant rubbish tip infernos. I appear to be on a hill, only a slight one though and on one side there is a forest, if you could call it that, of dead twig like trees. Am I here alone? Surely there is someone else? I will head to the fire, unless it’s a volcano it had mean some form of civilisation surely. I set off.

Shit. I feel something grab my ankle. Shit shit shit. Fuck. I look down. It has, something has grabbed my ankle and is pulling. I can’t quite see because of the mud. It could be a root. I’m stuck fast. Fuck.

Suddenly I’m on the floor, toppled over by a huge force, presumably from the root or hand or whatever the hell it was. Great – just come back to life and now I’m going to be eaten by some monster. But I’m wrong. Emerging out of the ground clawing an tearing at it, is Ter, my friend. Xyr blue skin is tinged red until he spots me and it fades into softer green.

‘Fenn, what is going on?’ xe says and wildly shakes off the same fluid still half-clinging to me.

‘Ter I’m so glad its you,’ I say and embrace xyr. ‘I don’t know. All I can remember is the lecture hall and then…’

‘Yes we were in space, unprotected. How are we here?’

There is another rustle from nearby. Professor Zanflip the Walran emerges from the ground dripping like us.

‘Fascinating,’ he says seemingly unperturbed. ‘That you gang? You been in the womb too? Did it feel like that for you? I feel like I’ve just been birthed but was conscious. Disgusting really but an experience nonetheless. Goodness – wait weren’t we?’

‘Yes Professor we were just saying that,’ I say. The Professor gets up on his flippers and sniffs the air.

‘Then how can we have…?’ He begins to say but is cut short. From behind comes a cold, steel-hard voice.

‘It was me. I saved you.’

 

Act 2

To my surprise and from what I can gather it begins to cry. It is certainly the creature from the university. It shut off the lights and then the gravity and then the place began to crash. I’m not sure if it is crying or screaming actually. It looks like a painting of a demon. It is vaguely humanoid (or fal-taprian I should say, bloody galactic education conditioning), but it as if it is formed by black smoke. Its face is like a skull, the eyes hollow and sunken but with a tight muscular mouth. But it is certainly upset. Next to me is a dry, sharp looking stick, I drag it from the ground and hold it up like a sword. I feel ridiculous but it’s the best I can do. I feel the Professor move a step forward a wave his flipper to say lower your weapon.

‘It is you isn’t it?’ he says. ‘From the university. What is your name?’

He’s amazing the Professor. He says this so calmly. I can tell it isn’t from fear either, he is simply concerned.

‘My name?’

‘Yes, yes. What is your name?’

‘I don’t know.’

The Professor gives me a warning nod of his eyebrow to stay back.

‘Was it the crash? Can you remember anything?’

‘I can remember everything. It’s just I’ve never had a name. My species we move in packs, or clans. We do not need names.’

‘Ah now we’re getting somewhere!’ The Professor smiles at me and winks. I respect the Prof’s kindness but I can feel hot rage boiling inside me.

‘Professor if you wouldn’t mind that’s the thing that crashed the university. The greatest seat of learning in the galaxy. I don’t think we should be talking to it.’ I can feel my claws slide out from my paws.

‘I am not an it. I am a he,’ it says towards me. Its voice is deeper now and raspier.

‘Calm down, calm down. That will not get us anywhere.’

‘And why? Because they wouldn’t let you in!’ I ignore the professor. ‘There must be thousands of people across the galaxy who haven’t got in – and you decide to crash it – how many people are dead…’ the sentence chokes me. It’s like I’ve suddenly been plunged into icy water.

‘It wasn’t my ability. It’s not that I didn’t get the grades. It was because they were scared, scared of me – scared of what they didn’t know…’ there is a shaky tone to its voice again, as if it has remembered it is upset.

‘I’m not bloody surprised. They probably saw it coming. What are upset for? Regret is it. I should think so too.’

I turn away for a moment and look out to the horizon. There’s the smoke again, over the hill, forming in a big funnel up into the atmosphere. Apart from that there is nothing, the rocky landscape stretching out forever. It looks like there aren’t even any animals here or even plants. No wonder the empire left it unregistered. Move on. Nothing to see here at all. I turn and see the shade on the other side of the dusty crater where we woke up. The Professor and Ter are standing awkwardly in the middle.

‘Fenn, Fenn.’ Ter says and looks at me with xyr round, blue face.

‘I’m sorry Ter, we should never be here. What are we going to do now?’ I say and feel hot stinging tears prick my eyes.

‘It’s not regret. The shade, the thing, he’s not feeling regret.’

‘Then what is it feeling?’ I shout. ‘Pride? Happiness? What else could any sentient being be feeling after this but regret?’ Why the hell did you save us – what so you can gloat? Is that it?’

Ter turns a deep shade of crimson and I immediately feel terrible.

‘I saved you because you understood. My body it can morph and fly. That’s how I entered the university through its systems and that’s how I brought you back down here.’

‘This is your home? This is where you’re from isn’t it?’ The professor says.

‘We call it Xcvervx. The Stone-Sphere. We live off the gas here in the earth and survive as the only species here.’

The shade separates and explodes into long tendrils of black smoke. The streams disappear into the earth and then shoot back out again and form back into a body.

‘Do you think I’m impressed?’ I say sounding like a little girl but meaning it.

‘I mean I am,’ The Professor says innocently.

‘I’ve had enough I really have. If you want to hang out with this terrorist unregistered than you can do.’

I clamber up the hill towards the funnel of black smoke. Eventually my hands reach the crest and I pull myself upwards. Before me is the source of the smoke. As if I could not have realised before. There in the valley below is the wreckage of the University of Pure Sight. A vast expanse of tunnels and huge hangers cracked and pulled open by the force of impact. I can glimpse piles of flesh within. In the middle there, the engine pulsates giving off waves of amber energy. It makes me sick to my stomach. There is a sound of air beside and I look to see the skull face of the shade.

‘I don’t feel regret. They deserved it. The galaxy deserves it. Your empire deserves it.’

‘Then why are you so sad?’ I say flatly.

‘It seems my people have gone. They have abandoned the planet. I am alone.’

‘Good. That’s all you deserve. Now leave us alone too.’

The shade disappears and I am left with the quiet throb of the dying space station.

 

Interlude

…I hear the word sanctions but I don’t know what it means.

 

There are no days anymore.

 

My teacher was a Walran but she is not my teacher anymore.

 

My tongue is the rocks of the land, it has become the same.

 

In the children’s home we are separated from those who are not Fal-Tap. Greddy throws rocks at them over the fence.

 

My eyes open and close at random. They are not mine anymore.

 

The playground beyond the fence is empty today and we are told it is ours again. Greddy starts throwing the rocks at us instead.

 

That thing saved us for nothing. He shouldn’t have save us at all.

 

I overhear the teachers in the corridor. ‘He’s got exactly what he wanted’, ‘We’ll never leave the planet again.’

 

This is it then, delayed but it is here at last. It was an epilogue on the story not a new chapter after all.

 

It was not their time. It was that someone else decided for them. I punch Greddy in the face and drag my claws through his skin.

 

I feel a trickle of liquid into my mouth. Water, water of life.

 

Act 3

The Walrans and the Sonva, the races of the Professor and Ter respectively are notably hardier than your basic intelligent humanoid shapes. Humans of course, Fal-Taps, the Creatise and Glooshas historically had short-form evolutions. They gained intelligence very quickly, relatively speaking, and haven’t really evolved since. But the races that were long-form, like tended to never stop going. They spent longer in various phases of their history, planet-bound, basic space etc. but their bodies adapted more cleanly and more strongly because they took their time.

In a desolate rock planet, with an energy seeping wreck of a space station my frail evolution soon started to wither until Ter and the Professor managed to find some water tanks spilling out over the earth. Their hardy skin blocked the radiation and finally they had found a tank closed and uncontaminated that brought me back from the cusp of another death.

‘It was creepy down there. The bodies looked like they were shifting. It’s the wreckage I’m sure but…’

They had found impact supply pods for such an emergency. Full of old-fashioned space food, all tubes and pastes. Ter squeezed some unappetizing grey matter into xyr mouth.

‘Did you feel anything?’ I say, perhaps tactlessly, I’m still not sure of the standard manners protocol around asking.

‘Nothing, there is no one there.’

‘This place would be fascinating to study, alas…’ the Professor said.

‘Alas what?’ I say.

‘Alas there’s no university, no equipment, not even pen and paper to write on.’

We sit for a moment in the soft light of the setting sun. We are sat in a circle, a three sided one at least. It feels like we are the very last people in the universe. We are on the last planet watching the last star die. Throughout my life, I’ve always looked up at the sky and felt it was bristling with life. I could always feel the spaceships fizzing through the sky off to central space to join the throng of the Capitol. But here on this planet, with the only civilisation it has ever known smoking and burning in the distance, it feels as if it all that life could be across the void – in another universe itself. What did I do to be so lost?

‘Then we start again. We make the equipment. Well I mean first we could make you know more pressing things like beds and a roof and a kettle but we could aim for it Professor what do you think?’

‘What’s the point,’ I say and mean it too. Ter is my friend but that idealism was fine for the university but now it just feels pathetic. I won’t say it though. ‘I mean people will be coming won’t they? A whole university falls out of the sky surely people will come and investigate? We wait.’

‘The nights are pretty cold and the impact pod won’t last forever. You’re still angry Ms. Fenn I don’t have to be a sonva to see that. But think of the Empire. It is bureaucracy at its best they won’t step in here unless they can be sure it is stamped, crossed and double checked. Anyway in unmarked space, they will think some outlying race has attacked. I wouldn’t be surprised if they leave it be. Pop up a false news comm. and forget it. We can’t rely on them.’

‘You’re right,’ I say. ‘The what do we do?’

‘Get you a spacesuit.’

 

*            *            *

 

I see the two little dots grow limbs and detail and eventually become people. They’ve done it I can see. Draped over the Professor’s shoulder is the limp spacesuit ready to be filled and Ter is holding the helmet tight in xyr arms, like a squirrel with a nut. I’m impatient because I want to get going. They are moving so slowly. The professor in typical Walran fashion waddles along stiffly. Oh shit – I realise. I’m a dick. He’s old. He must be what? 150? In standard years that’s about 80. He’s just gone into a broken down spaceship, possibly the most unstable place in the galaxy just to help me out. Right, I’m going to help. I am, I need to.

The plan is to salvage. It’s a concept we’re not used to on the central planets. Everything is always made new there and waste shipped off planet. They say in the old days they had to find waste deposits on world – must have been hell all that piling up. But here, in this barren world – the salvage is our salvation. We decided to start with one building. Four walls that’s all – and a roof. We fill it with everything we can. The impact pods should have held the cargo at least. The crash was sudden, but the buffers on those are on all the time. We decided as one to put all thoughts of the future on hold apart from this. This was my idea. If we think of the rest of our lives we will despair I know it. We start with one building.

‘Land ho!’ shouts the Professor with his flipper raised.

‘We’re on land,’ I laugh and run down the hill.

‘Ah yes. Well Spacesuit ho! Here we are Fenn,’ He passes me the spacesuit and I pull it on over my increasingly dirt clothes.

‘Someone’s a little more cheerful?’ he says.

‘Yes I noticed that,’ Ter says and turns a deep shade of blue.

‘Well you know, just thought I’d best get on with it. I’m still mad don’t get me wrong but the Shade seems to have cleared off and this isn’t our fault is it? We need to keep on.’

‘Just one building,’ The Professor taps his head.

‘Just one building,’ I smile back. ‘How was it in there?’

‘Weird,’ Ter says. ‘There were dark lumps of bodies in corners. And scorch marks on the roof. Some rooms were upside down and corridors on their end like towers. How can we make our home from that?’

Xyr skin folds in crimson red and then fiery orange. It is the sonva colour of upset that’s for sure but its more than upset. The colours are so complex and changing I think it is – impossibility, despair even.

‘Ter we start with just one building. Remember that. We’ll just start with the one.’

 

* * *

 

The corridor is dark apart from the squares of light marking the floor, the sun through former windows. We have four walls, dragged through the dirt like tank tracks in a war. There’s been no sign of the shade. If that thing ever came back I’m not sure what I’d do. But he’s gone and he’s never coming back.

‘Ter stay near me,’ I whisper.

‘Are we close?’

‘Yes not far off.’

We pass into a square of light and my face fur bristles with the sudden illumination through the screen. I’ve begin to live with a dirtiness I’ve never experienced. Each strand is coarse and wiry – parts of it on my legs have started to fall out although that might be just the radiation. The thought of a shower everyday now seems like an impossible luxury – one I will never have again. I step back into the shadows. The roof is just ahead. The Professor remembered the panelling used in office buildings. The cutthroat, sensitive world of academia seemed to be so brutal that the offices would change all the time in size and grandeur. When the new university was built they decided a more practical measure was needed so retractable glass panels were built that could be stretched and changed according to where the wind blew. To us though it would be glass to remind us to return to the sky once more.

‘What was that?’ xe says behind. Xyr right, there was a crash beyond the wall.

‘Nothing. There’s things breaking off everywhere. It’ll just be that.’

Ter takes my hand.

‘Let’s get the roof and get out of here.’

‘We’re fine. Yeah just up ahead.

Ter will be able to feel it that I’m scared. The Professor heard it too, the wreckage is full of noises that shouldn’t be there. Scratching. Moaning. Slamming of doors. We’ve not seen any survivors because there aren’t any. There can’t be any. Up ahead is the door to the cargo. Inside we have dragged day by day the food parcels, breaking through until we reach the glass panels. I heave open the door to the hold and go inside. The place is still full of things we don’t need. Mainly huge crates of books. Most people used their comm. units of course but the solid articles could also be requested. They are like tombstones now crowding in the dark.

‘It’s there at the back. We need three reams of it should be enough.’

‘And a glow-cube if there is one. The Professor said they should still be perpetuating.’

‘Ah yes. Will be nice to have some hot, well hotter at least food,’ I say and smile. Ter keeps on staring into the dark.

We walk through the cargo graveyard and I pick up a few glow-cubes that are scattered between bookshelves knocked over like a line of dominos.

‘They’re here, the roof is here,’ Ter shouts from beyond.

‘I’m coming!’ In my spacesuit everything feels heavy. It makes my breath like a broken vent. Wearing a spacesuit on a planet is like returning to the dark ages. Everything in history has been just a project to make things easier. The little things. Forget the politics the quests for meaning, it’s all just so we can breathe easier and go to sleep in a comfortable bed, I’m sure of it.

‘Fenn, come quick. Please, I’ve found the roof panels.’

‘I’m coming, I’m coming’

‘Fenn there’s something else here. Come quick.’

‘Shit what?’

I leap onto the bookcases and they start rolling from under me. I run along the top and feel each one drop from under me. Ter is just over the next set of crates. From above comes a deafening creak. The roof is going. I can see the cracks forming like the crust on a loaf. Shit. I leap over and see Ter cowering beneath the glass folded glass panels. I look around – there’s no one about I can see. On the panel of my helmet I see a line of dust form. I leap downwards, I know what’s coming. Above me the ceiling falls through bringing a vent or a corridor hurtling though. I slide through under the criss-cross forest of shelves.

‘Ter – I’m coming – what is it? What’s there?’

‘I don’t know. I can’t see it but I can feel it. It’s close.

‘What can you feel?’ I shout. Above the crates lurch under the new weight of the collapsed ceiling. I can just see a hole through if I crawl through the shelves.

‘I don’t know. Its like it doesn’t know. Its confused I think but angry. Like a child but its remembering that it isn’t. I don’t know.’

‘Don’t worry – I’m coming.’

I grab a rogue bar above and swing through kicking a mesh panel out the way. Behind me the collapsed ceiling rumbles and breaks through another floor.

‘Shit the floors gone behind.’

‘Take an extra glass panel – we can throw it across.’

I reach Ter and embrace xyr tight. I grab a few reams of the flexible glass and strap them to my back keeping one spare.

‘Is it still here?’

‘No I don’t think so. It might have been beneath the floor. I imagine the collapse…’

‘We’ll worry about it later – we need to get out first.’

The quiet cargo hold is now as mass of fire and fizzing jets of steam. Its like the crash has happened all over again. Through holes in walls I can see other parts crashing and cracking. Former lectures theatres turned to dust by engines above them. Living quarters smashing into kitchens. Everywhere heat and metal and fire.

‘Come on!’ I take xyr hand and head to the ceiling crater.

Below is what looks a map of the lower decks with a dirty streak obscuring the middle. It is a part of the top engine that has fallen through; the cargo shield must have finally given way. It’s like an open metal toothed jaw ready to swallow us up. This is last moments for the university – its final dying breath. I throw the glass panels out and it snaps into a long, clear bridge.

‘You’re not scared,’ Ter says matter of factly.

‘What of course I am!’

‘Well you are but you’re excited. I can feel it remember. Scared and excited. And you know what I think I am too.’

I smile at my gentle friend and we run out of the fiery jaws of the university and back into the wasteland.

 

Interlude.

The teacher in the school is angry with me.

 

The stars are so bright.

 

And suddenly I am angry with her. It comes from nowhere like a sudden volcano.

 

How can they say this is an outlying planet? We are at the centre of everything.

 

I draw my claws and she steps back. Her tails stiffens. ‘You sit down now Fenn, NOW!’

 

I wonder where the shade is now. Does he feel regret now? Does he still wallow?

 

I drag them along the table instead. She says clearly ‘You’ll never amount to anything with an attitude like that.’

 

The blankets we have made are coarse but comforting.

 

Everyday I work harder. I have nothing else to do. No family. Barely any friends. Just the work – the refreshing work to get me through.

 

Here on the stone-sphere I can be queen of this new world. My eyelids are heavy…

 

I remember it so clearly. There on my comm. unit. ‘Welcome to the University of Pure Sight…’

 

Act 4

It is the evening after we erected the roof. The Professor has proved his genius time and again. Deftly cutting shapes and panels into things we needed that hadn’t even crossed my mind. Like a chimney for an inside fire. We sit on dusty chairs in the sandy dirt that makes the floor of our simple shack round the crackling warmth. Since the collapse in the store room the mood has been sombre. Everything we have is now here and it won’t last forever. Boxes line the walls and are stacked up high with salvaged materials. The past few days all we have talked about has been practicalities. Now the basics were in place and our lives are suddenly stretching out in front of us. At least I don’t have to wear the spacesuit here.

‘I wonder where the shade has got to?’ Ter says.

‘I don’t care,’ I say back. I don’t mean to snarl at xyr but I do.

‘He said that his people were gone. He was on his own now.’

‘Good. He’s got what he deserved.’

‘I don’t know Fenn, if we look at it from his perspective…,’ Says the Professor like a typical academic.

‘From his perspective? He is a terrorist. He didn’t get what he wanted so he throws his dummies out of the pram.’ I can feel my voice rising and choking with emotion. ‘We survived. But only on his whim! Think of all the people down there who have died. You’re friends, colleagues. All dead. His perspective means nothing.’

I suddenly start to cry in huge heaving gulps. The Professor waddles over to me.

‘What is it? Fenn, tell me what is it?’

I run away, out of the scraggy door covered with an old tarpaulin and out into the chilly night. My tail is stiff and alert. The memories flood through and suddenly they are all around me like a dream. A dream that has no end and no beginning. It is constant and forever. The night is silent apart from the soft shifting of sands on the horizon. In the sky burns a bright purple moon colouring the night like a painting.

‘Fenn, you’re hurting. This is not about the shade is it?’

It is Ter, who has coloured light gentle pink, making him look almost like a human. Behind xyr is the Professor, his old face lined with hurt.

‘I’m so sorry Professor, I didn’t mean…’ I throw my arms around the old Walran and squeeze hard.

‘Not too tight my dear I am a 150,’ He smiles and then frowns again. ‘This is not about the shade is it?’

We return to the fire and sit on the chairs.

‘I… When I was a youngling… I… Professor do you remember the attack on the Fal-Tapria?’

‘How could I forget? The single greatest political event I the last 10 standards. It took the Empire years to even get the Fal-Tap Royal House to let non-indigenous shuttles through their airspace.’

Ter looked on gravely. Everyone knew of the attack. A hover-truck full of explosives had somehow sped through from the upper atmosphere and launched into the palace of my race’s home planet. Thousands died. It was pinned on an undesignated species from sector 6. If the case for the Empire’s expansion hadn’t been cemented already – it was now.

‘My parents were there when the truck hit the palace. They worked in the kitchens right above where it hit. If the impact didn’t get them the explosion certainly would’ve done. I dream about it every night. I didn’t understand it for years. But now I do…’

‘I’m so sorry Fenn, often us academics can forget that are people at the centre of these events not just politics,’ the Professor says and lays a warm flipper on my shoulder. ‘If the Shade comes back there will be no mercy! No forgiveness! I will fashion a defence system – something to keep him away.’

I notice, as the Professor speaks that Ter is turning shades of green and red. I’m not sure what it means. Suddenly xe bursts out.

‘The shade didn’t mean it. Not really. I’m sorry about your parents Fenn but the shade is young like you and me. It was rash and made a mistake. When we woke up I felt it – I felt it all. He must have been putting it on later. I was confused.’

‘I don’t care what you felt Ter,’ I say hotly. ‘ I agree with the professor, tomorrow we’ll start some defences.’

The night rustles in the background and we head to bed in silence.

 

* * *

 

I wake with a start. Its Ter shaking me awake.

‘Fenn,’ xe says. ‘Fenn, I can feel it again – the same thing from the university –it’s here.’

‘What? What are you talking about?’ I say blearily.

I sit up and see the Professor hastily putting on a dressing gown. Where in the galaxy did he get that? Never mind.

‘Professor,’ I say. ‘Is there any chance anything could have survived the crash?’

‘I mean we did for starters.’

‘No but anything inside?’

‘The impact pods wouldn’t have helped – they’d have crushed the people around them – the storage units are too big. I’m not sure. All sorts went on at the university. If there were even slight survivors – people on the brink of death perhaps they could have been affected. This is all theoretical of course.’

‘What do you mean affected?’

‘Well the place, while damaged, was still full of medibots, nanomedics, radiation of all sorts. I’m not sure. Perhaps something did survive – something that didn’t pick up on the scans.’

‘Shit,’ I say and run outside – it’s all darkness, the purple moon has left the sky.

‘Quick, turn on the lights outside Professor.’

He waddles over and heaves down a heavy switch on the floor. Immediately illuminated are figures on the horizon. They are deep black and grey as if charred and burnt. They are stumbling forward like zombies.

‘You were right. Something survived,’ I shout. ‘Ter what are they feeling?’

I can see Ter is holding xyr head in pain. ‘I can’t…So many voices, so many feelings. I’m not used to it.’

The creatures stumble and crawl. Some are without legs or arms. Cracks in their bodies glow with different colours. Some ooze dark liquids over their dry bodies.

‘Ter what is it?’

‘They are… ahhhhh….hungry.’

‘Can we help them?’ The Professor says.

‘No – they’re hungry for – us.’

They’re getting closer and closer. They’re in the crater now. We’ve have no defences. Barely a building even. These are the people of the university. Or what’s left of them. There are hundreds of them coming over the hill. Clawing and reaching towards us. They must have sensed us when we got the supplies. I wonder what they will do to us?

‘They’re on every side,’ Ter shouts.

‘Professor inside!’

‘I can’t think Fenn, I’m not a solider – I’m an academic. I don’t know.’

‘It’s okay – we’ve had more time than we should have anyway. Time to go I think. Join the fellow students,’ I say and cling to my friends in the dark shack. The hands are breaking through the walls and a figure stumbles through the door. Suddenly, just as I resign myself to my delayed death there it is again. The first time, it was the cause and now it is the solution. The air is filled with black smoke. The creature through the door is propelled back by it. It howls a nightmare scream. The grabbing charred hands shoot backwards through their holes. I run to the door. There is a swirling, shooting line of black smoke like a wall round our shack.

‘Its him – it’s the shade!’ Ter shouts.

I can see the creatures scramble and crawl over the edges of the crater. They are retreating. The shade forms again in front of me.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I really am.’

‘You saved us again,’ I whisper. ‘Thank you.’

‘He’s telling the truth,’ Ter says. ‘He feels regret.’

‘I do,’ he says. ‘I know this world, I can help you. Help you start again.

I look to the Professor and then to Ter. Their faces are dark in the shack but even without being a Sonva I can tell what they are feeling.

I brush my hands over the fur on my ears.

‘You answer to me. Fenn.’ I say, pointing. ‘Do you understand?’

In its skull face, it is hard to tell, but I think I detect a hint of a smile. Four of us then, four unlikely friends starting our new world.

 

Epilogue.

My parents, a grey-furred strong Dad and a gentle amber mother. They smile down at me and point at the starships whizzing through the sky from the flat window. ‘You’ll be there one day my love,’ they say and squeeze me tight. ‘You can be anything you want to be. A Captain, an adventurer, a queen of your own world…’