Rue Trembled

by Leslie Starr O'Hara

The People were doing penance. Cloud Chariot had appeared in the ruddy sky. The last days were upon them.

Soulmother’s distress could be felt throughout the village. The people hurried to the sanctuary, where she stood, the Book in her hands. For a long time no one spoke.

Soulmother looked out at the people, her long, silver tresses brushing the Book’s pages, and read: “After a time of lives upon lives, the Methira shall return, and Rue shall tremble at her imminent destruction. If the people have mended the rent in their soulcloth, Cloud Chariot shall ferry them back to blue Motherworld. But if they remain unwhole, the One-soul shall be left drowning in Rue’s red waters.”

Soulmother left her perch and walked down the aisle with palpable purpose. The People followed her. She led them through the village and up a great, craggy hillside. She halted, the People encircling her. “What did the first Soulmother do when the People got lost on Rue’s blighted landscape?”

“She built a tower to the sky,” said a child with skin stained red from bathing in ruewater.

“Why did she build it?”

A hunched elder squared his shoulders and recited: “The Methira entrusted me to lead the banished People to the place where we will await judgement. For ten days we wandered Rue’s desolation. Food was running out. We drank ruewater and fell ill. We erected a tower of communion. At its top we placed a rod, and at the bottom, the silver case of wisdom. We spent a long Rue night in earnest entreaty. Bigmoon fell. I opened the case. A map showed where we were to go. In fifteen days we came to a valley where the winds did not burn so badly and where deep springs of good, clear water bubbled from the ground. Give thanks!”

Soulmother lifted her eyes to the heavens. The dark Cloud Chariot hovered unresponsively.

“We will build a tower of communion. Then we will pray until the Methira send a sign.”

The People set to work, felling trees from the riverbank and hauling them up the hillside to be fashioned into girders and beams. As the day wore on, the tower grew taller. Bigmoon rose and fell, crossing the arc of Smallmoon’s ascent.

When the undertaking was complete, the tower stood tall and strong. A ruecopper rod was fixed at its pinnacle. Soulmother walked solemnly up the mountain path, bearing the silver case. It was small, slim, and it shone like starlight.

“The sacred case has remained unopened since the first tower was built. Tonight, we entreat the stargods for a sign. We know that Cloud Chariot brings judgement. We beseech the Methira to answer us!” She placed the box at the tower’s base and stepped back reverently.

The People prayed through the long night. The broken soul pleaded for restoration.

In the sanguine light of daybreak, Soulmother tiptoed to the silver box. On its lid a glowing pinprick pulsed whitely. Soulmother carefully lifted the lid. The box opened and a sound emerged, a voice of many voices entwined.

“The Methira have judged the people. The soulcloth is mended,” spoke the voice in its myriad tones and timbres. “The People are forgiven for the trespasses of the ancestors, but Rue’s destruction is imminent. The One-soul may now return to the Motherworld. Are the people prepared?”

Soulmother knelt on the ground, genuflecting to the voice. “The people have long awaited this day. We are ready.”

The People fell to their knees, all heads bowed, all eyes shut tight in collective beatitude as Rue trembled beneath them. 

Under the Twin Moons of X2313AR

by Jonathan Moon

Thick purple plumes of exhaust billow from the wreckage of the Jump Pod. As the smoke mingles with the toxins in the atmosphere it turns to rust and falls back to the crumpled metal below. It lands on Dax’s glass face-plate like iodine colored snowflakes drawing his attention from the lightning shaped crack. He blinks his eyes and crawls away from the destroyed spacecraft as commanded by the voice booming in his earpiece. 

“Holey moley, folks! That was a heck of a landing for Team Earth3! How about the thickness of the deadly chemical cloud around the planet, folks? We lost two out of three crew members, on the jump . . .” 

The booming announcer voice fades out and another thinner voice takes over in Dax’s earpiece. He knows the booming voice, the familiar baritone of host Bill Blingtree, will return. Dax will receive his final instructions from the thin voice while they play memorial montages of Tucker and Agatha for the multi-planetary home audience. Dax knows he has up to another three minutes to live, time enough to score his remaining teammates some much needed points. 

The thin quick voice, cold and professional, “Okay, your two other teammates died upon impact, that’s minus twenty-five points apiece. If you can get us a view of the rock outcropping that took you guys down before you die, we’ll give your team one hundred points, minus of course the minimum ten points your death will cost. If you can get us a view of the twin moons, a first for all mankind, we’ll tack on the Mission Jackpot of one hundred thousand points. Two hundred and sixty billion people on four different planets are seeing what you see right now, kid. Get us that shot, huh? We’re back to live in three, two, one . . .”

“Okay, Dax, you are the last hope for Team Earth3 right now! There are still points you can earn. Get us footage of the crag that clipped your jump pod and we’ll double the cost of Agatha and Tucker death penalties in points. Can you hear me Dax?”

Dax doesn’t cease his agonizing crawl, but offers an affirmative grunt into his in-helmet microphone. He tilts his head and his helmet cam scans the sharp arid landscape until he finds the spear-like slab of rock that tore the bottom out of their Jump Pod. Dax hears a boisterous round of applause from his teammates back on the Studio Craft. Blingtree continues.

“Get us a picture of the twin moons and . . .”

Dax leans back into a crevice, his shallow breath fogging his faceplate. Luckily, it doesn’t affect the camera. His eyes glaze over and he doesn’t see the image he sends back to the audience, and they don’t see how his chemical bleached eyes mirror the pale twin moons of X2313AR. 

Success. They cheer. Burning hot tears leak down Dax’s cheeks. Even Bill Blingtree is speechless at the sprawling alien landscape transmitted halfway across the galaxy. The purpled sands and jagged red rocks and previously unknown life forms of X2313AR have never been seen by human eyes, and no one could have predicted how the twin moons would look milky and gray from the surface of the planet when they appear so vibrant orange from the others nearby. 

Dax’s twitching lips curl into a smile as he hears Blingtree announce, “That is amazing folks! Look at those beautiful moons! Intelligent life! FIVE hundred thousand points to Team Earth3! Which puts them into 53rd place!” 

Dax sighs his last breath, content in his sacrifice, under the twin moons of X2313AR. 

We'll Own the Stars

by Alex Kane

Hamedy still remembered the plasma storm that had forged the jagged, glassy rock formations rising skyward all along the canyon rim. The great orbs of lightning that had rained down on Lobel’s Keep in the days of his youth. In those days, he’d been ignorant of war. Innocent, even.

Before a Gallu armada razed the planet from orbit, killing millions . . .

“You should’ve seen this place,” he told Eidessa, resting his hand on her growing belly. “Was a paradise. In its own way.”

She just smiled at him, the same smile she’d worn for the duration of their journey here.

“A fitting home for our child,” he whispered, nostalgia flooding his sense of focus. Then added, “Phoenix. We should call him Phoenix.”

“Hmm. Makes you so sure it’s a boy?” Eidessa teased.

“Just a guess.”

“And if it’s a little girl?” she asked.

“Then all the better. Phoenix would make a beautiful name, regardless. Someone to rebuild our fallen city from the ashes those—”

“Easy,” Eidessa warned. “Relax.”

A pair of gibbous moons hung low in the skies above: blood red, veiled by a gathering of clouds.

Hamedy told her, “I’ve waited for this day a long, long time. My father and mother died on this world. Lot of my friends are buried in the mountain range to the east, or scattered in the desert winds. I owe it to them to begin anew here.”

“Hiding like a colony of fugitives,” she said, then cursed under her breath.

“No.” He shook his head, and watched the other families begin to descend the gangplank at their starship’s narrow aft section. “By the time our child is grown, there’ll be no more war. No more running. Humanity will have regained its footing, and those soulless monstrosities won’t matter anymore. That happens, won’t be any need for hiding. We’ll own the stars.”

“Way you say it, I almost believe you.” Eidessa gave him a soft peck on the lips.

“Gotta believe in somethin’,” he said with a shrug, and set to work on assembling their private tent not far from the vessel’s laser comm array, grinning all the while.