Monday Stories

New Fiction Every Monday

Month: September 2016

Vincent Wakes Up

He didn’t write it down; that would have looked like he believed her. But Tremain found that, unconsciously, he was counting the days until Liz’s alleged victim would wake up. It was just a coincidence, there was no way she was as good with the drug she used to actually dose someone accurately. Still, he checked with the hospital a few times a day, despite their promises to alert him as soon as there was any change.

In any case, three days isn’t very long to wait. Unless you’re the one doing the waiting.

The bomb team had gone through Tremain’s apartment, followed by the bug sweepers and even a guy from forensics who wanted to play with a fancy new spectrograph analyzer or whatever it was he said. It was supposed to show up any traces of human interference. All three teams came up clean, not even finding anything to make fun of Alan for. So they teased him for that. His house was neat, tidy, and uncluttered. “You need a wife and kids to make the place look lived in,” the forensics guy said. “At least smear some grape jelly on the arm of the sofa. It’s just not natural.”

But, natural or not, they didn’t find anything to worry about, so the next night Alan slept in his own bed. The third night after he was assigned to the Liz case he lay in his bed, but didn’t sleep. He kept looking at his phone, not expecting it to ring, but wondering if it were going to ring. Of course he didn’t believe it, but it was possible…

the phone rang. “Detective Tremain? Your patient is awake.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen. Thank you, nurse. How his he?”

“Groggy. He’s looking around a little and has accepted some juice, says his mouth is dry.”

“Okay, thank you, let me know if he says anything else. On my way.”

Vincent Davis wasn’t a large man, at five foot eight he was a little shorter than Tremain, but he was built along smaller lines. He had dark hair, and after three days his goatee wasn’t as neatly trimmed as he normally wore it. Also, after three days in a hospital bed his tan was starting to fade. his natural skin color was a light olive shade once the effects of the tanning bed and bronzer wore off. Basically, nobody is at there best in a hospital.

His dark eyes looked up incuriously when Tremain walked in. “Hello Detective,” he said, his voice oddly detached, and yet still seeming sllightly amused.

“Hello, Vincent. It’s good to see you awake.”

Vince just nodded.

“I’d like to talk to you about how you got here. Have the nurses told you what’s going on?”

Vince smiled weakly. “They don’t know what’s going on. But what do you want to know? I don’t remember much.”

“Do you remember being attacked?”

Vince shook his head. “The last thing I remember was coming home from work. I opened the door to my apartment and the next thing I remember is being here.”

Tremain stood breathing quietly for a moment, trying not to grind his teeth. “Do you know someone named Liz?” he asked, and described her as best he could from the descriptions he had been given. Again, Vince smiled weakly. “Yeah, I know Liz. We don’t have what you’d call a healthy relationship. And anyway I haven’t seen her since…since…”

“Since Jenny?”

“Was that her name? Little brunette girl? Yeah, since her.”

“Do you happen to remember Liz’s last name? Or Jenny’s last name?” It was a long shot.

Vince just laughed weakly. “I didn’t even remember Jenny’s first name, what do you think? And no, I never knew Liz’s last name. She was just my girlfriend’s annoying roommate until…”

“Until she beat you up?”

“Is that what she said happened? Naw, it wasn’t like that. I was pretty messed up on….I wasn’t feeling well, and when she got home I guess I’d been pretty rough with Jenny. Don’t look like that. she liked rough treatment. Anyway I guess I’d gone too far, because next thing I know Liz is taking Jenny out the door to the hospital. Somehow Jenny’s arm got broken. That was the last time I saw either of them. I woke up the next morning in their crappy little trailer and when nobody brought any food home that night I went home.”

“I,” Detective Tremain told himself, “am a professional. I do not get emotionally involved in things like this. I will not berate or harm a source of information, especially in a hospital.” Instead he counted to ten and said “How long ago was this?”

Vince shrugged. “Six months? I guess? I dunno man, It’s not like I wrote it down in my journal.”

Tremain nodded. “Okay. Do you know the address of the trailer?”

Vince didn’t know an address, but he gave a pretty good description and direction. Tremain thanked him and walked out the door. Once in the hall he asked the officer on duty, “how much of that did you hear?”

“All of it, Detective, like you asked.”

“Good. Keep our boy here until the police decide he’s clear to go, then take him downtown. We’ll probably have a few more questions for him once he’s put back together. I’m gonna go follow up on the one lead I’ve got.”

“Yes sir.”

The trailer park didn’t deserve the name. Three trailers surrounded by the remains of a fence out in the middle of the desert with one electrical connection shared between the three. There was a noisy pump in the middle of the “park” and some really rough pipework running to the three trailers. The place was just about as off-the-grid as you could get, because the grid didn’t want it.

One of the trailers stood dark and empty, the other two had lights on as Tremain rolled up. One of the lit trailers had the word “manager” spray-painted on the side and a bunch of noisy kids playing outside, so Tremain knocked on that door.

The “Manager” turned out to be a harrassed, sunken-eyed woman with long, greasy hair and another baby on her arm. She definitely remembered Liz and Jenny.

“Yeah, Jenny and her little angry friend. Jenny was a sweet girl.”

“Do you remember either of their last names?”

“Jenny…I want to say Richards. Yeah, that sounds right, Jenny Richards.She’s the one that always paid the rent, so I remember her name. They were the last ones to rent that trailer right over there.”

“The empty one? Mind if I take a look around?” Tremain asked. “Without a warrant,” he didn’t add.

“Nah, go ahead. Why? Is someone in trouble?”

“We found Jenny’s old boyfriend, Vince.”

The manager’s face darkened at the mention of Vince. “Yeah? well, if you’re looking for evidence against him go right ahead.” She grabbed a keyring off a hook by the door. “Here’s the key.”

Inside the trailer was a disaster. A low coffee table lay split in half, the cheap IKEA paper unable to hold up to whatever had been thrown down on it. A futon on one wall was covered in clothing and fast food wrappers. The sink was full of dishes and teh smell of the place said that even in the desert things had stayed wet enough to rot. The only clean place in the entire front room was the dining table. The only thing on that table was an envelope…

With his name on it.

Impatiently he pulled the letter out of the envelope and laid it flat on the table. He snapped a picture of it with his phone and sent it to headquarters, along with a request for a forensics team to get out to his location, with a warrant if possible. And then he sat down on a chair that didn’t quite collapse under him and read what Liz had to say now.

Hey Alan, how’s it going?

If you’re reading this Vince is awake and lying. But at least he gave you this address. He’s not good for much, but at least he did that right. he probably told you about Jenny too. Listen, Jenny’s fine, I told you that a while ago. You don’t need to worry about her. What you should be worrying about is Jenny’s first roommate in this trailer. I found out about this first roomate yesterday, when I called Jenny to tell her what I did to Vince.

“Did you kill him?” she asked me, which is weird for her.

“No, I killed the demon in him.”

“Liz, he didn’t have a demon in him, he was a demon. You should have killed him”

“I can’t do that now, Jenny, I’m an Angel” I told her, but she still doesn’t believe me. She plays along though. “If you’re an Angel, Lizzie, be an avenging angel and get rid of Vince.” She said and the she told me that Vince used to date her roommate, and that he killed her. And then he moved on to Jenny.

So here’s what I want you to do, detective. Walk out the door, walk around to the back of the trailer, and walk 100 feet out into the desert. Then start digging. but use a spade, you’re not going very deep.

I’m leaving Vince in your hands, Detective. See what you can find out about Vince’s poor girl. P.S. the manager never knew me; she only knew the girl you’re about to meet.

Also Jenny knows you’re going to call. She’s willing to talk to you, but be gentle with her; she’s had a bad life.

I’m glad you’re sleeping in your own bed again, Detective. Don’t worry; your home is your castle, and it won’t be violated.

See you soon, talk to you whenever,

Angel Liz

Tremain read the letter and his phone started ringing. It was HQ and apparently they had just finished it as well.

“WE just put two more guards on Vincent’s room, and we’ve got a forensics team with lights and sirens on their way to you. They’re excited, they never get lights and sirens. They’ll be there soon Detective.”

And then Detective Tremain walked out into the desert where he really hoped he wasn’t going to find Jenny’s body.

Something’s Different Here…

The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that the header on this site looks different…strange. Perhaps it’s because it says “Monday” instead of “Friday.” Yes, that could be it.

That’s right, kids and people, Friday Stories has become Monday Stories! I know this is earth shattering, so I’ll lay out the logic in a simple, clear, Q and A style.

Q: Why?

A: For a couple of reasons. First, “real” domains, like, say, mondaystories.net, are better searched and indexed than subdomains like fridaystories.natedickson.com. A second and not unrelated fact is that fridaystories.net was already taken. Third, and perhaps most importantly, posting new stories on Monday gives me the entire weekend to work on them. I’d like to pretend that I’m well out ahead of these stories, but yeah, not so much.

Also, moving out from under the “natedickson.com” domain is another step towards making this a platform where other people can submit work and have their stuff put out for the wider world as well. If you have a story you’d like to tell I’d love to see it, and if it won’t offend my wife or kiddies I’d be happy to put it up on the site!

Q: I’m one of the four people on earth who has ever read your stories, and I have already bookmarked the old domain. Are you going to make me change my bookmark? That sounds like seconds of hard work!

A: Nope! the old domain will redirect to the new domain. Because subdomains are free you can keep using the old one pretty much forever.

Q: What else is changing?

A: That’s pretty much it. New stories will come out on Mondays instead of Fridays. There’s a new domain name, and new stories will come out three days later or four days earlier, depending on where you fall on the pessimism/optimism scale. Just to make it up to you, because I love you guys, I’ll try to have something out this Friday and then something new on the site next Monday, and we’ll be back on schedule. Okay? Okay. We’re good.

I’m glad we had this little talk.

Detective Tremain

Note: everything in They Never Left is included in the letter the detective reads in this story. Okay, as you were.

Detective Tremain read the note found in Liz’s cell and looked up. “Okay. Narcissistic personality, but that’s nothing new. Persecution complex, but those are a cottage industry around here, and it sounds like she came by it honestly. Okay. where did you find this letter?”

“In the cell where the suspect…”

“Liz.”

“…In the cell where Liz had been held after being taken into custody.”

“And where is Liz now?”

“…She’s gone, Detective. That’s why we called you in.”

Tremain sat back. He wasn’t angry, not at the moment anyway. Things happen, people on the force shouldn’t beat each other up when they do. He’d get angry later, maybe, if it was worth it.

“Why don’t you walk me through the events of the night, let’s get a picture of what happened.”

The desk sergeant nodded and looked down at his form.

“At 18:22 we got a call on a domestic dispute in an apartment complex. Officers Brady and Cooper responded. When they arrived they found apartment 21 open, and the suspect…Liz…standing in the room over the prostrate form of the alleged victim…er,” he looked up the name of the alleged victim, trying to avoid getting asked, “Vincent. Emergency services were called and Liz was taken into custody. She was processed and held in the cells. At 21:30 after shift change I made the rounds and found her cell was empty.”

Tremain nodded, running his hands through his sandy hair, wondering irrelevantly if it was time to dye it again. Or maybe it was finally time to let the gray grow out. He focused again. He pretty much knew the answers to the next few questions he was going to ask, but he had to ask them anyway.

“Who was on duty?”

“Cooper. He was talking to the suspect in another cell. He didn’t hear the cell door open or close.” The Sergeant knew what questions were coming as well and rattled off the answers without being asked. “The door seems entirely sound, the lock works and was engaged when the cell was found empty. all keys are present and accounted for. And here’s the security footage.”

He turned his monitor towards Tremain and hit the space bar. The video was already queued up.

It showed a girl sitting in a cell, writing. Presently she finishes and then sets the letter on the pillow of the little bed in her cell. Then she looks at the camera and…

four seconds of static fill the screen. When the static clears everything is the same except there’s no girl sitting in the cell.

Tremain nodded and sat back. “Someone is hoping to make this a very long night for us, Sergeant.” The desk sergeant just nodded. “Okay, so, what do we have? Inside job? Does she have any friends?”

“Doesn’t look like it. She didn’t even have ID on her when we brought her in, so even the name Liz is just what she told us.”

“And the victim, how did she kill him?”

“Um, he’s not dead, Detective.”

“Okay, how did she almost kill him?”

“He’s not even wounded. No physical damage, nothing in his blood, he seems fine…”

“I’m guessing there’s more to it than that…”

“He seems fine except he won’t wake up. There’s nothing in his blood, no narcotics, some alcohol and pot but that’s clearing out. His liver and kidney function are both normalfine, brain shows no signs of trauma. Doctors say it’s like he’s sleeping, even dreaming from time to time. But it’s been hours, and we’ve picked him up and moved him around quite a bit. If he’s just a deep sleeper then he’s a very deep sleeper.”

Tremain sat back and misquoted the most famous detective line ever.

“I’m getting too old for this kind of…”

“We all are, Detective.” The Desk Sergeant had heard it before. Whatever else he was, this sergeant was good, so Tremain picked his brain a bit more.

“What do we know about the victim?”

The sergeant dug out a file and handed it over. “If anyone should be put in a mystery coma, it’s this guy. We can corroborate some of what the sus…Liz…said in her letter. He’s been brought in multiple times for harassment; pretty much once per girlfriend, it seems.”

“What leads do you have? Any Id on this roommate that moved to California? Any idea where Liz might be from?”

“Detective, they could be anyone. We don’t even know which casino Liz worked at, if she worked at one at all. She never gives a last name for her friend, and the only person who knew both of them is currently taking a nice nap. I know you’re just getting up to speed, but we’ve already asked all the easy questions and got nothing. That’s why we called you.”

Tremain just nodded. “okay, do you have Liz Doe’s mug shot?”

“Nope. Just a corrupted image file where it used to be.”

“This is getting frustrating, Sergeant.”

“I’m aware, Detective.”

“Can you tell me what she looks like?”

“She’s still got the Technicolor hair she mentioned in her letter, except now it’s blond, blue, and purple. But obviously don’t expect that to last. Skin tone is somewhere between caramel and milk chocolate, eyes appear copper colored, but that could be contacts. Height, weight, etc. is all in her file. Oh, and one last thing, Detective. She didn’t kill the alleged victim, nor is there any sign of any sort of attack on his person, except for the fact that he’s asleep, and this.”

The Sergeant handed Tremain an evidence bag. inside was a wickedly-curved dagger with a wire-wrapped hilt and an angel-wing motif on the needlessly large crossbar. The blade was stained brownish-red with drying blood.

“Don’t tell me.”

“It’s a perfect match, sir. This is Vincent’s blood. It was wet when we found it.”

“But there’s no…”

“But there’s no matching wound anywhere on the victim. If this is a hoax it’s a good one. But we can’t figure out what else it would be. And, again, without an actual crime, the best we can do is bring her in for questioning. We can’t get a warrant for her arrest. Unless she does something else, she’ll have to come freely.”

“Lovely.”

“I’m glad I’m not you, Detective.”

It would be nice to say that Detective Alan Tremain was the best the LVPD had to offer, that he was the one they went to when all others failed. It wouldn’t be true, but it would be nice.

In reality Tremain just happened to come on shift when this particular case came up. He was assigned to it because he was next on the duty roster.

But if someone had put some thought into it they might have chosen him anyway. Tremain’s specialty, if he could be said to have one, was not getting angry at infuriating suspects. He would sit back, smile, run his fingers through his hair, and just…talk to them. Maybe offer them a doughnut or some pizza. It was like he was doing the whole “good cop bad cop” thing but without the bad cop.

But his style was even more unique than that. He did a lot of work before interviewing people. He would study them, find out as much as he could. He’d read up on their family, look at their tattoos…anything that could give him a sense of who this person was. And then he would walk into the room where the suspect sat, and tell them the story of what happened. But not like a cop. He’d tell it from their perspective. His stories weren’t of the “on the night of April 14 you and several accomplices were seen approaching the bank. At 22:48 an alarm was triggered…” style. Instead he would sit down, look the suspect in the eye, and say, “you’re new in this gang, you’ve gotta get some respect. So when people are talking about how to get some cash you speak up, say you know a bank you can knock over…”

It didn’t always work. He wasn’t always right. Sometimes he got better results when he was at least half wrong. A lot of people would correct him and fill in details, seemingly out of a desire to be recognized, maybe even understood. It annoyed the other detectives no end.

Of course, right now he didn’t have anyone to interview. He went down to the lab, got a look at the knife and asked what tests were being run on the blood samples from the non-victim and the knife. He went over to the hospital and looked a some charts and graphs that said this sleazeball…sorry, possible witness…should be up and awake instead of acting like a vegetable. And finally, around two in the morning, he went home.

There was a letter taped to his door. That was never good. If someone knows where you live you should sleep somewhere else until the boys have a chance to check it out. Knowing this Tremain walked up to the door and ripped the letter off and walked away from his apartment.

The letter read:

Detective Alan Tremain,

Congrats, man. You just got stuck trying to find me. This is gonna be fun. Because you’ve got a lot of questions & I’m not going to answer the ones you want, but the ones you need.

Go ahead, look down at the signature, It’s Liz, of course, and no I’m not going to tell you my last name, you would do things the boring way if I did.

The scumbag you have in the hospital: he’ll be up and around in 3 days, but he won’t be like he was. Turns out 3 is an important number to angels, I guess. Look it up. Anyway he’ll be better than he was, I killed the demon, not the man. I coulda killed both.

Look Alan, I know you think I’m crazy. I would have thought that too, a while ago. But I’m not. And the thing is, you’re going to be part of this, too. I can sense Others now. They have like, a glow. And you’re one of us. Wouldn’t you like to know what you are?

I’ll give you a hint: go try some peyote. I know you have some at the station. Go take it, find a quiet spot in the desert, and let the Holy Smokes bring your spirit animal into focus.

Your apartment is fine, Detective, sleep well tonight, knowing an Angel is watching over you. I’ll see you again soon, but you won’t be ready to see me for a while. But when you are we’ll clean this place up.

No, not Vegas. Vegas can’t be saved. I mean the world. We got a lotta work ahead of us.

–Liz the Angel.

Tremain called the precinct. “Listen, is that cell still empty? The one Liz was in. Look, I got some new evidence for you, and I need a place to sleep tonight. Okay, I’ll be there in twenty.”

Uncharacteristically, the desk sergeant offered up some information freely. “Oh, Detective, news from the lab. They found some,” –here the sergeant rattled off an eight syllable chemical name– “in Vincent’s blood. Not a lot, but they say it could be why he’s out cold. We’re checking the knife to see if it’s got the same chemical.”

Tremain laughed. “So our self-proclaimed angel had some help from a local chemist, huh? Thanks, sergeant. That’s good to know.”

Putting his phone back in his pocket Alan Tremain turned back to the parking lot, not looking around. But behind him, and above him, he heard someone laugh.

Some Words With a Comet

Beep

“Outgoing pulse to comet 4938-B, expected turnaround time: 4 minutes 29 seconds.”

The man who would spend the rest of his life known as “The World’s Most Influential Grad Student” was less than five minutes away from earning that title. At the moment he was still known as Bradley Green, and his thesis work “What if Comets Are Messengers from Extra-solar Intelligences?” was largely mocked and seen as wasted time on some very expensive radio telescopes. His advisor, who would have a career almost as illustrious as soon-to-be-Doctor Green himself, had encoraged him to stand up for his project and get his results, regardless of what everyone else said. And that’s what Brad was doing right now.

Hissss wwwEEEeeeWWEeeeeeooo pop

“Return pulse from comet 6212-C, results in file.”

Brad had the radio results running through his speakers just to give him time points to record in his notes. The computer was listening as well and could make far more of the random hisses and pops that came back from the comets than Brad could.

Even if Brad’s research wasn’t going to change the world in roughly three minutes, he was still getting some good data. The radio signals he was bouncing off of various celestial bodies was returning information about their relative albedos, velocities, likely trajectories, and some preliminary data about their chemical makeup as well. All of this would be added to the collected body of human intelligence, like snowflakes being added to a glacier. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t flashy, but in time it would change the world.

In this case that time would happen right after Brad looked at his outbound signals, when they should return, and decided to go get a Diet Doctor Pepper.

The telescope he was using was in Hawaii, and Bradley wasn’t. So he was all but alone in the Astrophysics department of his university. He nodded to the cleaning staff, mostly undergrad students, and got his soda, then got back to his desk.

He checked Facebook, liked a couple of pictures of his new nephew that his sister had posted, and then sat and looked at the monitor. His time on the telescope would be over in about two hours, which meant he could go to bed. He stretched.

“Beerop EEEEEEEhweeeeeeeeeeeeshhhewereeoooooo…”

“What the…”

Later Brad would wish he had said something more intelligent. This wasn’t a return pulse, this was a long, long signal. He looked at his outbound times and turned the microphone back on.

“Return…signal from 4938-B, on…ongoing.”

the first Return Signal from 4938-B (known thereafter as “RS1”) was seventeen seconds long, and would be played over and over again for years. Brad looked at his data, looked at what the computer was trying to do with that seventeen second signal and hastily re-wrote the program that was scheduled to bounce a pulse of another comet to hit 4938-B again.

“Readings are…anomalous from 4938-B, retrying signal. Outgoing pulse…now.”

Brad’s phone rang. Someone in Hawaii had noticed the results as well. Someone who would get their name on Brad’s doctoral thesis and would even end up as Mrs. Green a few years later.

Various professors were woken up, and had the signal played to them in its entirety. The second pulse resulted in a second signal, almost identical, but tantalizingly different. After a few fevered hours the astrophysicists realized they were out of their depth and started waking up their friends from other departments as well. These return signals were clearly the work of something or someone intelligent, and frustratingly, whoever it was hadn’t sent their message in UTF-8 encoding.

But whatever 4938-B’s message was, it was remarkably willing to share that message with anyone who wanted to hear it. And it was frighteningly accurate. Any satellite that sent a radio ping to the comet got roughly seventeen seconds of something sent back on an astonishingly tight beam, directed to the sender. Bradley Green sent the message “Um. Welcome to the solar system” to the comet and soon that message was encoded in all the responses sent back. The comet, it seemed, was trying to provide a Rosetta Stone.

Gravity is heartless. Before the sun had risen on Brad’s home, humanity knew exactly how long they had before 4938-B would be back out beyond their reach: Four months. 4938-B was traveling quickly, and would achieve perhielion in two months, slingshot around the sun, and then shoot back out of the solar system, back into the nearly empty Oort Cloud, not to return for almost half a century.

This gave rise to a number of uncomfortable questions. How long had the alien or alien artifact been on that comet? Had it been there the last time this comet passed through humanity’s part of the solar system? History, or at least, the part of history that had occurred fifty years ago, suddenly became very important. Humanity was suddenly very self-conscious about anything their parents might have been saying on radio frequencies, hoping their parents hadn’t embarrassed them in front of their new guest.

Four month’s wasn’t enough. Time tables were changed, satellite launches were cancelled, and satellites that had spent decades in planning and construction were hastily modified. We needed to get something out there, to take a look at this thing. Radio signals were useful, but we are a visual race and we needed to see what it was we were talking to. Probes and telescopes were launched to finally get us some visuals of our new friend.

Slowly the image started to form. The comet itself wasn’t anything special. But there, on the side facing Earth, there was the Visitor. Two domes, one roughly twice the size of the other, made of some highly reflective material. No visible portholes or antennae. It was apparently smooth, or perhaps slightly crenelated. Maybe the surface was moving? It was frustratingly hard to tell from the static images that came back agonizingly slowly from all our eyes in the sky.

4938-B was causing waves beyond the scientific community, of course. The comet never ventured too far from our sun, cosmically speaking. Which meant that whoever put The Visitor on that comet had been basically on our doorstep, looked at us, and had decided not to come see us in person. An embarrassed species looked at our behavior and quietly wondered if maybe, metaphorically, the aliens had heard us arguing and decided not to get into the middle of a domestic dispute. Various groups decried the signals as a fake, a plot started by the capitalists. Or the communists. Or the Illuminati, the NSA or CIA or FBI or SS or MI6 or any other of a number of strings of letters and numbers.

But overall humanity learned to accept the Visitor for what it was: a message from someone else, somewhere else. And the question was: what do we say back?

Bradly Green found himself caught up in this discussion. Grad student though he may be, this was his idea, indeed, this was the stated goal of his project. he had tried to contact aliens hitching a lift on comets and had done so. What next?

He was unprepared for this eventuality, of course. But he rallied beautifully. “How hard would it be,” He asked on international television, “To respond in kind? Can we land a probe on 4938-B? Can we settle our probe next to theirs, and tell them we heard them?” Feverishly the engineers, rocket scientists and astrophysicists went to work.

“Nope,” they said. The comet was moving too quickly, was too far away, with no launch windows open to any of the currently available rockets to intercept it.

“But,” said the third-largest private space exploration company in the world, “We can launch a probe that will be within two light-minutes of the comet by the time it passes Pluto.” The “2LM” plan caught the public imagination, and the world worked together to make it a reality. The launch vehicle was set up in Texas, probe modules were built in Russia, China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and India. The modules were then flown, in some cases by military aircraft, to Texas for final assembly. ad hoc treaties to allow these fighters to cross boundaries were signed quickly and the probe was built. Wheels and sometimes palms were greased to get clearance for an untested rocket to bypass a few safety inspections in order to launch on time.

The first and second largest private space exploration companies quietly pointed out that the probe would continue straight out of the solar system when the comet curved back, and that saying “two light minutes” is a way to make “22.35 million miles” sound “close”. But they were largely ignored in an effort to do something, anything, to greet our visitors and welcome them back.

The day approached. The comet had made its turn around the sun. Humanity waited as earth approached the optimal position for launch. Data centers were temporarily converted to streaming relays to handle nearly every person on earth watching the countdown.

A stormy morning notwithstanding, the vehicle was cleared for takeoff. A world watched as it sped skyward. Amateur and professional telescopes were trained on the craft as it separated from its boosters (which were recovered, but nobody much cared, not this time) and sped still outward. The species heaved a sigh of relief when the probe sent back its first telemetry data, confirmed its course and that all systems were functioning.

And then… well, then there wasn’t much else to do. People kept sending messages to 4938-B as it sped away, for as long as they could still get a message to it. And the world kept trying to decipher the messages that came back, but where do you start when you don’t know the code and don’t know what the message will be when you decode it?

And most people just went back to their lives. But something had changed. The skies were open now, and we were being watched. It was time to make a good impression.

Loonies on Mars

Humanity had spread. The people on Mars and Luna were in constant contact, sharing the progress and discoveries they were making, and occasionally sending ships back and forth. The cultures of the two worlds were quite different, however.

The Selenites (as they called themselves. Martians referred to them affectionately as Loonies) were generally quiet, slender, and thoughtful. Their world was largely underground due to the harsh differences between day and night on the surface, but the excavations that housed the lunar colonies were expansive and well appointed. The old, narrow tunnels were almost nowhere to be seen, replaced over centuries by broad corridors, well lit and well ventilated. The nexii where two or more corridors came together were traditionally large bowls with glass domes that looked out on the sky above, albeit with some shielding during the daylight weeks. Green grass and trees grew in the nexii, large, sprawling parks at the center of the bowls. The terraced sides were different, with various artistic and natural formations, either truly selenian formations or copies of the most beautiful parts of Earth. Waterfall Park, one of the newest nexii, was an example of how the two blended beautifully.

A waterfall isn’t something that would ever happen naturally on the moon, of course. For that matter it was only recently that Luna had enough water to allow it to exist now. But a waterfall as beautiful as this one would never occur on earth, either. The reason that Waterfall Park is beautiful and mesmerising is obvious if you think about it.

The gravity on the moon is 1/6th that of earth. That means that the water falls in a leisurely column, twisting and taking its time to reach the bowl below. When it lands it strikes with much less force than it would do on Earth. Drops that jumped up out of the bowl flew higher, fell slower, and were small, beautiful crystals that you could watch for hours, if you didn’t have anywhere to go. Lights from behind the waterfall accentuated the prismatic effects of the water, scattering light in all colors all over the nexus, sparks and glints of color flashing across the face of the person with whom you were strolling. Some bowls were meant for gathering and discussing politics or transacting business. This nexus was for restoring the soul.

Kaylee and Isadora were sitting on one of the benches, looking at the waterfall, occasionally catching the small droplets that flew out close to them. They were laughing and happy and content with life. They had just graduated high school. Selenite custom allowed for a few years between the end of high school and the beginning of college for people to get some perspective and decide what they wanted to do with their lives, and those glorious, free years stretched ahead of the pair of friends.

Kaylee lay her head in Isadora’s lap and looked through the dome above the bowl. Earth was rising and she observed its multicolored splendor the same way she had watched the water droplets a few moments earlier. The Earthrise, the water, they were all one. They didn’t mean anything, they were just pretty.

Isadora was still laughing at the joke Kaylee had just told. She started stroking her friend’s hair and looking quietly back into the water. But Kaylee’s thoughts had flown upward, through that light, up to the surface of Earth.

They all knew the history of Earth, they all knew where they came from, and were scared by the teacher’s explanation of the oppressive gravity there. But there must be so much more to the place, Kaylee thought.

“We should go to Earth someday,” Kaylee said, more to elicit a reaction than out of any real conviction. Isadora knew this of course, and her olive-skinned face didn’t move a muscle as she took this in. Then she let a small smile play on her face for a moment before responding.

“All right. You go schedule a lander and explain the fuel costs to the launch manager. ‘I wanted to go down to Earth to show my friend that I can do crazy stuff. Yes, I know it’s as expensive to come back up from the surface as it is to go to Phobos, but she’ll be REALLY impressed!’ would it go something like that, maybe?”

Kaylee was in a strange mood. “They’d let me. The launch masters are all space-crazy anyway, and if they can come on a launch they’ll let you go anywhere. And anyway, we wouldn’t stay long.”

“We’d stay forever. Set one foot out of the lander and PLOP we’re both flat on our backs looking up at the sky for the rest of our lives. And don’t think the launch master would be much help, he’d be flat on his back inside the lander.”

“We’d build exo-suits, like the ones they use on the surface, but made to hold us up. And we could leave the tops off, because we can breathe that air.”

“Topless exo-suits? Kaylee you’re funny. What would you want to do down there anyway? Is this just because your parents want you to head out to Mars for a year?”

“No! I just wonder what it’s like. There’s hundreds of kinds of trees, and animals other than cats and dogs and chickens and alpacas.”

“What are those little things in the tree over there? Alpacas? No? Oh, that’s right. Wrens.”

“You know what I mean, Iz. We’ve got one hundred seven species of terran creatures here on Luna. Mars has seventy that have adapted so far. Someday they may have their own, or one of the deep ships might come back with something from far away, but I’m not holding my breath. There’s no life anywhere else in the universe, except for up there.”

Isadora looked up. It was a strange contradiction, she had to admit. The most beautiful place in the solar system was unreachable to both of the civilized planets, because the gravity would pin them down and wear their hearts out in a matter of months. Someone could possibly get acclimatized, but it would take years, maybe generations, and it wasn’t worth it. Trips that were sent down there stayed long enough to collect some water, or some new specimens that might help flesh out the ecologies on Luna or Mars, and Earth’s long-estranged children never felt so much as a breeze when they visited her. For some reason this made Isadora inexpressibly sad.

“Oh, Iz, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to depress you,” Kaylee sat up and put an arm around her friend’s shoulders.

“It’s okay, Kay.” She laid her friend on Kaylee’s shoulder and sat quiet for a moment, watching the drops dancing up into the air sliding lazily back down into the pool.

“Maybe we should both go to Mars for a year. They’ve got that one open dome; well, kind of open. You know, the ion-shielded one, where you can go out into the low crevasses and there’s nothing over your head but sky. It’d be a lot like Earth.”

“Yeah, that’d be an experience. We could pretend we’re up there, on Earth. Maybe we could take a new species to Mars and help it integrate.”

Their talk turned to the unlikely animals that they would want on Mars, and eventually back to the pointless and happy friendly banter that they’d shared since they were little girls. They laughed their way to the Launch Master’s office, and two months later held hands as their shuttle left the shallow gravity well of Luna and began the long glide to Phobos Base. The Red Planet wasn’t the blue-green jewel of Earth, but it was starting to turn green, and it would do for now.


Isadora and Kaylee landed at Phobos station and were shown where to go to acclimatize themselves to the higher gravity once they went down to the surface, then were shown to their quarters while they were at Phobos. They asked to be able to stay in the same room, for moral support.

Turns out that wasn’t a problem; Phobos isn’t all that big, and one of the other rooms was being held for some explorer that was getting emergency-lifted out of the wilds.

The next lander wouldn’t be going down for another five days; so they had some time to explore and get spend time in the acclimatization booth. The booth was miserable; everything was heavy, slow, and it was hard to breathe. They were young and strong, though, and the doctors had no doubt that by the end of a month on the surface they’d be right at home. Lunar children often came to Mars on exchange. The Martians enjoyed the quiet, methodical Selenite children, and it was always enjoyable to watch them slowly find their strength, and resume the lyrical, graceful movements that defined their people.

As bad as the time in the acclimatization booth was, the rest of Phobos was delightful. It was built using the Martian style of construction: large, geodesic domes of clear material, so that the red planet was visible at all times. They were also able to watch all the launches and landings, though there weren’t many of these; just traffic between Phobos and Deimos bases. The launcher was fun to watch, though, as the shuttles were loaded onto the mag-rail track, positioned, charged, then flung out of Phobos’ gravity well to glide through the empty space to the other moon.

They met the incoming explorer, who greeted them only tersely, then oversaw the unloading of his cargo from the lander. The crews argued that it was going to go back down on the same lander, but he wouldn’t hear of leaving it in cargo.

He patiently explained to the girls what he had found, where and how had found it, and his plans to restore it, then build the equipment to receive and interpret it’s signals. It would be criminal, he said, to shut it back down, after all these years that it’s waited to send its messages and have someone interpret them.

Gabriel was a loner, by and large, but nobody could keep quiet with such an enthusiastic audience. The lunar girls were excited and in awe of the older man, his adventures. In time his reverence for the Spirit rover translated itself to them. By the end of the first day they were willing helpers, cleaning and polishing the rover carefully, listening with rapt attention to his explanations of how the Ancients had launched the lander to explore Mars, to help them find a place to live, and how this was his goal as well.

The Phobos crew watched, first with astonishment, then with fond amusement, as the two girls did something that nobody else had been able to do: Get Gabriel to actually open up to another person. He positively stewed during their acclimatization sessions, and he would just pace and wander until they emerged. The girls were only dimly aware of his behavior, and even if they did know that they were as admired as they were admiring they made no hint of returning his more personal feelings. Lunar/Martian pairings were not unheard of, but Explorer/Lunar pairings were. And maybe they wouldn’t ever happen. Still, bets were made for and against Gabriel being on the flight Luna one year from this time.


“Welcome to Mars, darlings! Stacie, get their bags, can’t you see their exhausted? Come, come, dears. The transport is just this way.” Mrs. Whitmore had taken in a number of Lunar exchange students, and was a professional now. Stacie Whitmore had seen a lot of very weak, very tired people take up the spare rooms in her home, but she too was a patient sort. She had found that Lunar girls usually made good friends after a while. Lunar boys, on the other hand, were so painfully shy around her that they never were much fun to talk to at all.

“Thank you, Mrs. Whitmore,” Isadora whispered. They’d been on the surface for less than an hour, and the pressure was so inescapable. Stacie saw how Isadora tried hard to keep Kaylee moving forward, even as she was herself nearly falling down, and easily lifted Isadora’s arm, then stood between the two Lunar girls and half-carried both of them to the transport.

“What’s so special about outside?” Stacie asked. They were sitting in the room the girls were sharing. Well, she was sitting, Kaylee was leaning hard against the wall, and Isadora was laying flat on her back. Stacie brushed her brown, straight hair back from her eyes and watched the two critically. She was working hard to keep them from feeling the claustrophobia that Selenites often started feeling about three days in.

“Well, we don’t have an outside we can visit easily in Luna,” Isadora said. “No chance of holding an atmosphere, not even with an ion shield.”

“And we’d like to see the sky.” Kaylee said heavily.

“Kay wanted to go to Earth, but if we’re having this much trouble here…” Isadora said and smiled a little. “I don’t think we would have survived even a few minutes on Earth.”

“Nonsense. You’ll both be up and around in a day or so. It’s just something you get used to.”

“Yeah, but something twice as heavy as this? I don’t know if I’d make it a couple of days down there.”

“Is it really so bad? I mean, I know it’s all what you’re used to, but I’ve never seen what the big problem is. I guess you don’t float around as easily here…”

“It’s like being covered in lead. Rocks. Lead rocks. And it’s downright dangerous, weighing this much.”

Stacie swallowed a laugh. The girls were slender, almost fragile looking things. She guessed she weighed about as much as both of them put together, and she was slender by Martian standards (which meant she was tiny by Earthling standards. The Lunar girls would have been seen as emaciated had they ever ventured to earth). Isadora caught her expression—that girl was far too good at reading people—and smiled forgivingly. “I can see why Lunar boys find you so interesting, Stacie. You’re happy, and down to earth…hah. That’s not really a phrase that any of us have any business using, is it?”

“But I look like a cow compared to you Loonies.”

“We like healthy-looking people in Luna. Tiny little things like us are practically invisible. You’d have a line of suitors as long as my arm five minutes after you walked through an airlock back home.”

Kaylee was asleep, pressed against the wall. With great effort Iz stood up, walked haltingly to Kaylee’s bed, and laid her down. She was sweating at the effort, and required Stacie’s help to get back to a chair.

“Mom’s going to kill both of us for letting her go to sleep before dinner.” Stacie said quietly. Iz just smiled. “Kay told me last night she doesn’t mind going down to dinner, but coming back up stairs afterwards to get ready for bed is murder. She’s considering going on a diet.”

“I guess that’s one way to turn invisible.”


Two weeks later Iz and Kay were much more acclimatized, and had even gained a bit of fame. The neighbors were used to the Whitmore family hosting Loonies and except for a few of the boys paid them no mind. However, when Gabriel the Explorer visited to see how they were settling in that got the neighborhood’s attention. When it came out that they had helped clean up Spirit after Gabriel’s famous crash they were suddenly the talk of the town. The socializing had helped them keep their minds off of the gravity, and had also gotten them to move around more than even Mrs. Whitmore could have done.

They were walking, even skipping from time to time, and Kay had started eating real meals again. Her diet threats had been somewhat worrying to Iz, but Mrs. Whitmore knew what she was doing. But today wasn’t just a good day, today was THE day. They were going outside. Mrs. Whitmore, Stacie, one of Stacie’s cousins (who just happened to be male and just happened to like skinny girls…) were all packing a picnic lunch (another novelty that the Selenite girls had never heard of before.) Isadora was walking quietly around the room, moving in slow bounds instead of steps. That seemed to be a Lunar habit that was hard to break.

Kaylee walked more “normally” but still seemed to take twice as many steps as were absolutely necessary. Of the two, Isadora seemed to be faster at understanding local customs, but she incorporated them into her own idioms. Kaylee, once she caught onto something, embraced it wholeheartedly.

The most visible example of this was skirts. They just simply weren’t worn on—Mrs. Whitmore corrected herself out of long habit—that is, in, Luna. But Martians liked them. Kaylee, once she realized that the majority of Martians wore skirts the majority of the time, purchased three and started wearing them constantly. A few days later Stacie and Mrs. Whitmore presented her with three more, which were slightly longer and had a few small weights in the hem for modesty’s sake. Selenite motion and Martian atmosphere meant that Kaylee’s skirts spent a lot of time billowing impressively around her.

The walk to the park wasn’t long, but the girls still tired quickly. They both insisted on carrying something, a thing that made Mrs. Whitmore happy. She had seen a few Loonies that refused to really do anything during their stay, and they went home much the same as they had come. These two would change, and would make both worlds better for it.

Kaylee was carrying the picnic blanket; a thick, heavy thing that could double as a tent in an emergency, not that either of the girls needed to know that. She switched shoulders frequently, a sure sign that it was a bit much for the slender redhead. But she never complained.

Isadora walked a step behind Kaylee, and Bran, Stacie’s cousin, walked to Kaylee’s left. Isadora’s face was clouded, but she still spoke pleasantly with Mrs. Whitmore and Stacie.

“We really wanted to see Earth, see the blue sky, the trees…oh, but Mars is beautiful. I’m glad we got to come here.” Stacie laughed a little bit, and was surprised to see Iz blush a little. “That didn’t come out so well, did it? I am sorry.”

“No, we understand Iz. Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but what you get is better than you could have imagined, is that it?” Isadora nodded and her blush faded a little. “Well, if you like the domes, wait until you see the park,” Stacie said and pressed the button to cycle the airlock.

“Hey, I thought the atmosphere outside was breathable! Why the airlock?” Kaylee asked.

“We haven’t taken it out yet. It’d be expensive, and what’s wrong with a safeguard?” Bran said. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine out there.”

They shuffled into the airlock and the door behind them closed, the door in front of them opened and…

There was the sky. It wasn’t the blue sky of all those videos of earth. Instead it was the pale orange-red of Mars, with a faintly iridescent sheen from the ion shield.

But the color wasn’t the big thing. The big thing for the Lunar girls was that there wasn’t anything solid over their heads. The experience is best likened to a roller coaster: they were mostly sure they were safe, there were other people around, and the other people weren’t worried, so they shouldn’t be either. All the same, there was something wrong, some sense that if you didn’t follow the rules you could fall forever, straight up, straight into that sky. Instinctively their hands found one another as they stared straight up, barely breathing.

They Never Left

It became obvious, once I knew what I was looking for.

Humans have always had stories about others, elves and fairies and trolls and the like, right? Those who are like us and yet different. And it seems like up until the last century or so, we all knew they were out there.

And then science happened. Science tells us that there aren’t any other intelligent beings on Earth, that humans are all there is. No fairies, no trolls, no gods, no angels. But I know better. I learned better.

I started seeing them when I was riding the bus one day outside of Tucson. I had my hair tied back in a tight ponytail. I had bleached and straightened and dyed it in Flagstaff, so it was a riot of blonde & red & purple, saying yeah, I’m a girl but I’m one of those girls and not worth the trouble. I was trying to catch some sleep while all the other passengers were old people on the boring part of the trip instead of the scum that would get on board when we got closer to Vegas. I had my backpack on my lap and my arms tight around it so nobody wouldn’t steal it. I woke up when someone sat down on my seat.

He was pale and had red hair and a wild red beard and green eyes, like, crazy green. He smiled at me when I woke up and said “Don’t worry, today’s your lucky day”. His voice wasn’t like one of those drunk oily pickup men, he meant it, it sounded like lucky. So I went back to sleep and slept all the way to Vegas and when I woke up all my stuff was still in my backpack & someone had shoved $50 in my hand. That’s when I realized that there were still sprites and leprechauns. I mean, what else could he be?

So I started looking around. And man, if you know what you’re looking for they’re everywhere. Not just leprechauns. All of ’em. That glitzy girl who looks like she’s flying when she dances and seems to sparkle, she’s obviously a fairy. That bouncer who takes a beer bottle to the back of the head and just turns around is all “sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave”, I mean, come on, he’s a troll.

Or like, part troll. I think they all got interbred with humans, so now it’s like, some dude’s got more fairy in him than normal and people call him metro. Or whatever, like we all just have all of it in us, after so long.

I wonder how many people know what they are underneath. Seems like everyone’s so stupid about it, just, like, saying “no, he’s just strong, it’s not a big deal”. And I’m like, “strong doesn’t make you not get cut when you get hit with a bottle”. So yeah, wake up.

Anyway my friend Jenny was definitely one. We lived together for a while in a crappy little trailer outside Vegas while we were trying to get enough money to go anywhere else. And once I knew what I was looking for it was obvious. Jenny was totally an elf. She doesn’t have like, pointy ears but her eyes are a weird color, like, copper gray? And she’s tiny tiny. I’m only like, five eight, and she makes me feel like a giant. But what makes it real obvious is how much she needs trees.

Vegas was killing Jenny. It’s all flat and dead and she couldn’t get whatever it was she needed from deserts. She came from, like, Canada or Idaho or somewhere that’s all pine trees and dirt, and all the sand was just drying her out. I guess she ran away when her dad went psycho and this was as far as her money took her. It’s like, everyone can get to Vegas, but nobody can get out of Vegas.

Anyway on really bad days when Jenny was crying and shaking I would try to get her to come with me to one of the Casinos that had an indoor park with real trees and Jenny would sit on a bench and cry, but it would be different, like, she wouldn’t be so crazy. And after a while she would just be breathing deep and then she’d say something like “These trees are crap, Liz” and we’d go home.

Oh and its not just the good ones that exist, you know. The bad ones are still around too. But they get all the movies and books and crap. Vampires and werewolves and demons and whatever. Everyone thinks they’re so cool. They’re not. Jenny was dating a demon, I’m sure of it. He said his name was Vince, but who knows in Vegas? But he was always in all fancy silk shirts and pants and had a car even though he worked at a crappy bar off the strip. And anyone could see that they were wrong for each other. Anyone but Jenny, because he used some demon spell to make her think he was the greatest guy ever.

Me, I started to suspect when we went to the beach. He never got hot. It’d be like, a hundred degrees outside and Jenny and I were sweating and exhausted and he was all “oh is it hot out here?” and he’d smile that smile of his under those sunglasses he thought were so cool. He was never any good for Jenny, I think he kind of hated her? But she was pretty, so he dated her. Kind of. He would have killed her if I hadn’t come home early that night, but I scared him off and fixed her up. I’ve always been good at fixing folks up.

But things worked out; I was making more at work now that I knew how to play the gamblers for tips and so Jenny and I moved out of that trailer and into an apartment the next day. I guess spending more on rent kept me in Vegas longer, but I had to do it, you know?

And anyway that apartment was where all the good times happened. We were both making more now, and we had money to get smart phones. And we came up with The Plan.

It wasn’t a fancy plan. We would just sit around after work and look for places for Jenny to live. She didn’t want to go back up where she came from; but she thought northern California looked like a nice place with all the redwoods and stuff, so we would look at apartments she could rent there and figure out how much it would cost for her to move there. Then one day some boy tipped Jenny $300 because he won a bunch and then some other guy sold me his laptop for $300 because he needed to “win it all back”. So Jenny and I made her a real resume in Word and we spell checked it and everything. Then we started sending it to jobs in some of the cities she wanted to live in.

It was right around then that I noticed something weird. Once you knew what you were looking for you saw that a lot of people were others, but it was always just the poor people like me. You never saw a casino manager and thought “he’s a goblin”, or a middle class tourist with their family and thought “oh, she’s a mermaid!” No, it was always the dealers, croupiers, dancers, bouncers, waiters, those were the people who were something other. Sometimes I kinda wondered if I was, too.

Anyway Jenny got a phone interview for one of those jobs and they agreed to hire her. I didn’t want to go to California. I kinda wanted to go back home Louisiana, but on the other hand I kinda didn’t. So I told Jenny I was just going to find a new roommate or whatever. I didn’t have a real plan or anything. Jenny kissed me on the cheek when she got on the bus for California and said “thank you so much, Lizzie. You’re an angel!” And then she was gone.

Walking home I thought about what she said. I wasn’t the usual blonde and blue-eyed kind, but why couldn’t I be an angel? My Granny always said I was, but that’s just what grannies say, right? But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I’ve always been blessed; you know, lucky. Like with that leprechaun. And I’ve always loved helping people, and I got a killer singing voice from my mamma.

Well, I got to thinking about it, and I realized that if there’s all these people around me that are other, whose to say I’m not an angel? If Vince was a demon, and I knew hew was, why wouldn’t angels be around as well? I don’t know about church stuff, maybe angels and demons exist outside of church stuff.

And that got me thinking. Some angels are all about singing and just being good, right? But others come down and get things done. And that’s when it clicked. That’s the kind I am. I’m the kind of angel that makes things better. And once I knew that, well, I knew what I had to do.

So that’s why I did what I did. Vince was a demon, and an angel’s first job is to fight off demons. And that’s why I let you catch me. I’ve got a job to do, and I wanted to let you all know. You regular people, you’ve been pushing us others into the shadows and ignoring us for a long time. So long you forgot we were real. So long even we forgot we were real, most days. Even now you don’t believe me, but that’s fine. You can believe what you want. I’m just going to give you my message and then I’m out of here.

You thought we were gone. You thought we were stories. Some of you hoped you could bring us back. But you know what?

We never left.

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