A Second Chance to Die Well
By Cari Z
It’s time to close the crypt. Dayell knows it. Less than two minutes to midnight, and his men are giving him concerned looks. Time to close the crypt, or when Jen’s soul breaks free from his corpse it will seek out the nearest vessel and overwhelm it. It has to be contained, entombed for all eternity, or it will winnow through the living like a scythe as it seeks vengeance. It’s time to close the crypt, but Dayell just can’t do it yet.
Dead by dark magic, denied his rightful journey to the Halls of Valor…it should never have happened this way. Jen had scorned magic, teased Dayell for his precautions against it. “Magic means nothing against hot blood and hard steel,” he’d murmured in the night when Dayell fretted, smiling lips close to his ear. “Magic will fall to will every time.” Magic was a fretful, vulnerable thing, it was true…but even so it was dangerous. Dayell had known how dangerous, but was unable to convince Jen. Unable to save him.
“Day,” his second warns, and he sluggishly rouses himself to lay hands on the cold stone. It’s time to close the crypt, to lock Jen in tight, leave his spirit hopeless and raging…no, he can’t do it. He just can’t. But if he doesn’t, then his men’s lives may be forfeit.
But he can be the vessel, Jen’s second chance for vengeance and valor. Jen won’t hurt him, not after everything they’ve been to each other. He can feel the moment coming, the air thickening with power. He heaves on the stone, rolling it over smoothly, closing off the crypt but leaving just a crack… All he needs is a moment.
It’s midnight. Dayell closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and welcomes Jen’s soul into his bones.
By Mario Kai Lipinski
Bio chroniclers scanned the plant’s DNA, but it won’t grow anywhere else because it needs that unique mix of particles making up Delta Pavonis’ stellar wind. It’ll be gone, the riddle unsolved forever, when the ultra-massive primordial black hole will have ripped apart our sun.
The physicist in me marvels at this singularity defying every model we devised for it. I’m fascinated by the fact that nature is still able to fool oh-so-advanced humanity, is still able to knock us out of our complacency.
The inhabitant of Delta Pavonis IV in me detests the monster that is about to devour my home. The helplessness cripples me.
Twenty-five years ago, it was an adventure to come to this world with its peculiar star when automated drones could’ve provided all the necessary data. Dr. Iain O’Toole embarked on a classical expedition and chose to become an explorer. Granted, not much of the danger remains if every planet in the Thousand Worlds Mesh is one step through a thirteen-dimensional manifold away.
Nonetheless, I found adventure when the Mesh took me to my farm boy, the fifth generation descendant of the original colonists with the same rough charm as our home world. Our friends and families didn’t give us twenty days. Twenty years later, we’re still married. His temples are already graying, but he’ll always be my farm boy. Thinking about it, he’s like the Scent Fern: equally spicy and sweet. This world will live on in him. The riddle can yet be solved.
Home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. Where he is, I will call home. My skin tingles as I step through the Mesh Gate, my farm boy waiting beyond.
By Alicia Nordwell
I huddled into a ball. Men! Where did they come from? Earth was so far away.
“We found another, Zeke.” One crouched down, creeping closer. Another man came in, and I cringed. They were too close. “What’s his file say?”
The new one looked at the square device my captors always carried. “Species deprivation for asexual reprogramming.”
“Sadistic bastards. How long?”
“Seven years, Captain.” The men cursed and stared. I wanted them to stop looking at me like that. “He’s barely eighteen. He was just a kid—still is.”
“You speak? Can you understand me?” Captain was so close I could smell him. Spicy, with a whiff of the scent I got after waking up screaming. It’d been so long. The aliens smelled different, bitter and cold, and they never came into my room.
“I won’t hurt you. Understand?”
I shook my head, sure the green ones were testing me again.
“Sure you do. We’ll get you out of here.” Captain reached out slowly.
“No,” I whimpered. I’d never be free. They’d told me, over and over. Even if I wanted to—
“Just grab him.”
“After what they’ve done? No. He has to decide, if he has any chance of recovery.”
“Don’t got all day, Captain. Reinforcements are coming.”
“Keep looking. I’ll stay here.” Alone now, Captain smiled at me.
I gasped. They’d wiped out most of my memory, but I remembered smiles. And hugs—before they gave me away. Before I’d been turned into an experiment.
“You’re safe.” Captain’s hand ghosted above my arm, so close. So warm. I gasped. The never-ending need, forced down so deep, overflowed. Unable to stop, I launched forward, huddling into Captain’s gentle arms.
I shivered, my heart racing. “Out. Please.”
By Beth Brock
A whistle shot up, and the night exploded into reds, blues, and whites. The light from the fireworks played across our skin, flickering over his golden lashes and illuminating the silver watch at his wrist.
We sat on a grass hill outside the fairgrounds, where I could still hear the music and laughter from the rides. His heavy arm was around me, pulling me close. He smelled of the cotton candy we had shared earlier, and something new and intoxicating, but also deeply familiar. It made sense somehow. Since I saw him by the carousel, it seemed like we’d known each other for an eternity.
Only the day could break this spell. If I had the power to make this night never end, I would. Forever night. Forever this night.
I took a breath of the cool air as I watched the moon rise to its zenith, the festive colors bursting around it. His hand was in my own, warm and strong. We gazed at the moon together.
Yes, I would sacrifice the day for this night. Stop moon, I prayed. Stay still, rest. There is no hurry.
My hand squeezed his. I wondered if his hands would feel cold from working in space. I wondered how the moon would look from that far up in the atmosphere.
“Don’t forget me,” he whispered into my ear. His breath ruffled my hair, and the stubble of his chin scratched my cheek. “When you see the moon, think of me.”
I felt an unseasonal chill and rested my head against his shoulder. “I won’t forget you.”
Though just born to light, my love would not wane.
Today we’re interviewing Dr. Julian Smith,
expert on Argar Exopsychology
By Aldous Mercer
Couples therapy. He said “I ask you how your day went, you see red–”
“I cook,” I interrupted. “I clean. By nightfall, I’ve accomplished nothing, then you ask me about my day? I’m blue, not red.”
Why were the Argar–galactic peacemakers—suddenly interested in marriages?
Peaceful starsystems are not repeat customers. But marriages are a renewable source of conflict.
They cooked up a theory to fix us. See, our philosophers, scientists, keep asking: do others see what I see? For humans, colors are sensations—subjective neurological phenomena. The Himba of Namibia—same word for blue and red, can’t tell ’em apart. But sound? We agree on musical notes, because we have ears, and voice. We self-correct. We sing in harmony.
The Argar theorized that since humans use color-words for emotion, harmonizing color-perception causes emotional reconciliation.
Oh my god. What did they do?
They made little cuts over our penises, grafted on chameleon-like skin. It hurt.
I remember my husband’s hand in mine. He said, “I hate you. But not enough to leave you alone.”
We healed, eventually. Our marriage didn’t. But they wouldn’t let us leave till we reconciled.
Wasn’t going to happen.
So, we started pretending.
Watching how we spoke. Viagra-and-porn sex. It looked like progress; they stopped monitoring.
Then we stole a ship, and ran.
If not on Argar, then where was your marriage actually healed?
In a tiny, stolen, rusty spaceship. Survival depended on the other person’s mood. We kept pretending. By the time we got home…somehow, we’d pretended ourselves whole.
So you wouldn’t recommend Argar Reconciliation to others?
If a couple wants it, after hearing our story? Means there’s still something left in their marriage.
Do they really need Arghar skin grafts to tell them that?
By Kiterie Aine
The monitors went silent and the staleness of the air told her time had stopped. “You again?” V wasn’t surprised the angel was back; her patient wasn’t a likely candidate to survive such a horrific crash.
The angel continued examining the young girl, pacing around the table and passing through nurses with a shimmer of black feathers. “Shall I leave?” The tone gave nothing away.
“No.” Fae were fickle, the angels mercurial, and the one that visited her particularly reticent. “Do you show yourself to all doctors or am I just special.” Her snarkiness was going to be the death of somebody some day, she just hoped this wasn’t that day.
“You’re special.” The tone remained detached, but she glanced up.
V’s heart sped up. With nearly black skin and deep golden-brown hair that floated around her face like a halo, it was hard to deny the angel’s beauty or it’s effect on her.
“There’s a laceration on her liver.”
The words startled her out of her thoughts. They didn’t completely erase the feelings, but they did significantly dampen them. No matter how pretty her angel was, she was still an angel of death, and they could never be friends. She might have said they were enemies, but that was hard to imagine when those piercing blue eyes saw what she would otherwise miss. It was harder still to imagine when such observations were freely provided.
Her angel didn’t look back down; instead she reached out, touched V’s hand, and then disappeared.
She waited for the world to speed back up or for herself to slow down; she was never entirely sure which. The back of her hand tingled where her angel’s touch had been, and she could only stare at it while the universe sorted itself out around her.