Category Archives for "Aliens"

95 South

Avery drove down the highway, his arm out the window and bouncing at the mercy of a seventy-five mile an hour wind. He’d survived the onslaught of twelve-hour days and long work-weekends that gathered until April 15th, when they disappeared as darkness does before the dawn. After the deadline, his office turned into a ghost town. Many of the CPAs took vacation, and Avery was no different. Halfway between Richmond and the North Carolina border, all he could think about was the next few days of drinking, eating, and relaxing at his friend Rick’s house. The dashboard clock ticked closer to midnight, and a classic Nineties rock tune strained the speakers.

He ripped his gaze from the hypnotic flash of the white stripes in the center of the road when a single light appeared, as if from a faraway distance, and quickly grew brighter. At first he thought it might be a plane, then a helicopter as it moved closer. And then the light fell from its perch and dropped down into the trees a few miles ahead. The sound of his tires hitting the rumble strips, matching the rushing of his heart, caused him to veer back on the road. Wide-eyed, he looked all around, expecting another car to smash into him, but he was alone.

He turned off the radio and flicked his eyes at the clock again. He decelerated but the ‘happy vacation’ cold six-pack and wine bottle on the passenger seat caught his attention. He hit the gas. Half a mile passed, Avery fidgeting the whole way. He looked at the clock again. “Ah, screw it,” he said.

Avery pulled over at his best guess of where the aircraft fell. He turned his hazards on and pulled out his cell as a truck barreled past. He put the phone down. How come no one else has stopped? he thought to himself. Someone had to have seen it.

He stepped out of his Benz and walked toward the edge of the grass. The full moon lit up a good portion of the periphery of the forest, enough to see thick, hanging branches flush with leaves, but any deeper and all he could see was darkness. No light from a potential fire. Then it dawned on him that he hadn’t heard a sound, either. He imagined the embarrassment of calling nine-one-one and having a cop come out and find nothing. “Been drinking, sir?” Damn it. I must be certain first. I know I saw something.

He returned to his car and pulled out a multi-tool specialty knife and a flashlight from his glove compartment. He had gotten great use out of the knife, one of the best birthday presents he had ever been given. He turned around and aimed for the trees, his car beeping twice as he locked it.

Branches, leaves, and twigs whipped at his lower legs. The crunch beneath his feet reminded him briefly of playing in numerous childhood tree houses. He looked back at his flashing hazards every ten seconds to keep a sense of direction, until the forest swallowed them up. He made a concerted effort not to veer off track, and took mental notes of specific root shapes to use as markers for his return. Just as fear began to spark terrible thoughts of getting lost, a light appeared ahead of him.

There we go! I knew I saw something, he thought.

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Moonset

Harski licked each of his twelve fingers slowly in turn, relishing every drop of the sweet, sticky nectar. The harvest had been especially bountiful, more shining dark purple pods swelling to ripeness at the top of waxy lavender stalks than he had ever seen. The stalks were so heavy with nectar pods they bent toward the ground within easy reach. He had worked long and hard, carefully stripping the glistening globules without damaging the stalks.

The only problem was how to store all those pods. Harski had already filled his two favorite hollow logs and had almost filled a small, dry cave. The cave was far from the stalk field and the pods felt heavier with every trip he made there. He rarely returned to his nest, sleeping in the open under the three Moons to save time. If he hurried, he might be able to find a second cave before moonset to store the abundant nectar. There were still a handful of sleeps to go before he’d have to hunker down in the dark.

He spread his tattered lupt on the carpet of leaves in the shade next to the velvety red trunk of a hraffli tree. Lying on his back, Harski filled his lungs with the fragrant air then exhaled a contented sigh. He untucked his ear flaps, gave them a long, satisfying stretch, and brought them around to cover his eyes, blocking out the dim light filtering through the umbrella of yellow-orange leaves. He wondered if other dreffigs were having the same wonderful harvest in other stalk fields, enjoying full bellies, working hard until moonset. Did they dream, like him, of one day living in a colony with thousands of other Gwims instead of eking out a lonely existence harvesting and trading nectar?

Stop it. No colony wants dreffigs, only nectar. He drifted off, wondering what life in the Great Tree Colony was like, or if he might prefer the Mountain Rocks.

Harski woke with a start, instinctively thrusting his enormous ears straight up. He blinked his large, luminous black eyes, angled his head and twitched both ears searching for the source of the sound. For a moment, all he could hear was the fast thrump-thrumpity-thrump of his pounding heart.

Still a long time before moonset… His nostrils, two vertical slits above his wide mouth, vibrated with terror. Too soon for—

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The Artifact

Relief would come in just a few days. Captain Miles Mason wasn’t looking forward to it. He knew what it would mean. It would mean he and his team had failed. Failed, like the six teams before them.

Mason lifted another of the mykor tubs from the excavation pit and turned to ­carry it to the sorting station. The sunlight made it difficult to see the way. He turned a dial on the side of his suit. ­The screen across the front of his helmet instantly darkened. His vision improved.

He surveyed his surroundings. Thompson and Clark were working the excavator behind him. Up ahead, Neicroft, his second in command, was tapping the screen of her autodater, logging each tub that entered the sorting station, assigning it a bar code, printing and slapping the little, lined stickers on their sides. Inside, Watson and Coleman would scan them when they began sorting through their contents and then again when they finished. It was a smooth operation.

Still, no one was feeling good. The temperatures had been high the last several days, even for Hadon. Mason was still amazed that a planet that was nearly desert everywhere could have seasons. He remembered with longing that time months ago, when winter temperatures were as low as the mid-80’s.

Lately, the cooling systems on everybody’s suits had been struggling to keep up. They’d all be taking more breaks lately, retreating to the living quarters to strip off their support suits, shower, and get a few breaths of oxygen that didn’t come through the little vent in their helmets.

The certainty of failure haunted them all. For 350 days, they had been on this blazing planet, searching for any sign of a civilization long gone. Fifteen more days, and their tour would be up, and they would all go down as one more team who had failed to produce even the tiniest bit of evidence.

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