Tag Archives: Issue #12

Bed of Lies, Domenica Seminara

I sat on my bed, rolling a joint as I listened to the argument unfolding downstairs in the kitchen. I should be used to all of this by now, but I wasn’t, the noise left me anxious and afraid to leave my room. The sudden noise of plates being smashed to the ground made me jump. I hated hearing my mum scream, all I wanted to do was go out there and hit my dad’s face with a bat, but the last time I interfered, I got whipped with a belt. Mum made me promise to never interfere again.

I turned off the lights, laid down on the carpet, lit the joint and took my first puff. The deeper the breaths I took in, the more drowsy I felt. The fighting grew faint and indistinct. The only thing I could hear was the sound of my beating heart gradually calming. I’d thought I would be able to forget what was happening downstairs. But I couldn’t. I flinched at the sound of more plates crashing to the floor. I didn’t want to be alone tonight. I locked my door and quickly called Noah but there was no answer as usual. There was no point waiting for him to call me back. I climbed out the window, and made my way across the balcony, towards the tree at the side of the house; with everything going on downstairs there was little chance I’d be seen. The cold wind sent goosebumps up and down my body. I was slightly stoned but I managed to grip the tree branches tightly with my sweaty hands. I could see my misty breath as I made my way down the tree.

I had a 30-minute walk to Noah’s house, so I jogged to keep warm. I lost feeling in my face after a while. I didn’t realise how stoned I was until I arrived on the main road. The lights were brighter than usual and the cars were a blur as they drove by. The road felt never-ending. I decided to cut through the back streets to reach the park that was located at the bottom of the hill where Noah lives. I knew it was dangerous to be walking in the dark backstreets, but the amount of cars that honked as they drove past made me paranoid. I slowed down to catch my breath before walking up the steep hill.

*

Noah’s house was your typical modern-day mansion. Tall hedges blocked the view of the house from the street, but once you were past these, you could see the sandstone house. The large picture windows at the front of the house meant that anyone could see inside from the driveway. Noah’s parents were both lawyers, they decided two years ago that they would build their forever home before their retirement next year. It must be nice not having to worry about how your parents will pay for the monthly mortgage. I quietly walked to the garage, trying to avoid the sensor lights. I couldn’t hear music coming from the garage, I didn’t know if Noah was editing late again so I went to the side of the house to look into the garage window.

The red light illuminated the whole room, Noah’s computer table faced the window. He was in his pajamas glued to his laptop scre`en. It looked like he hadn’t showered for days, his curly hair was a mess, there were food stains on his grey hoodie and pizza boxes on the floor. Noah was wearing his headphones, I didn’t want to wake up the household so I waved my arms wildly to get his attention. When he finally looked up from his laptop with his big blue eyes, he sighed when he noticed it was only me tapping on the window. Noah walked over to open the side door of the garage.

‘LC, what are you doing here?’ Noah stood in front of me with an annoyed expression.

‘No hi’s?’

He leaned forward to kiss me on the forehead ‘Oh, sorry babe. I’m just a little stressed out at the moment.’

‘I can see that.’ I instinctively walked over to his couch next to the computer table. ‘Anyways, I just thought I would come visit you since I haven’t seen you for two weeks.’

‘It’s 12am. How did you even get here?’ I watched Noah settle himself down on the computer table.

‘I walked’ I said proudly.

‘That’s so far.’

‘It wasn’t too bad.’ All I wanted was for him to ask me why I was even here in the first place. Why was that so hard? I don’t know why I expect so much from him. It only led to disappointment anyways.

Noah frustratedly scratches his hair, ‘Are you going to be sleeping here tonight?’

‘Yeah, if that’s okay.’

My head was spinning again. The weed was still affecting my eyesight and the red light was making it worse. I laid back on the couch and closed my eyes hoping that the spinning would stop.

‘I really don’t have time to hangout right now though. I have so much work to do,’ Noah said in discontent.

‘No surprise there,’ I mumbled, my eyes still shut. I came here wanting my boyfriend’s company but instead, he was hinting for me to go. I should’ve stayed at home.

‘Really?’ Noah said clicking his tongue in disapproval.

‘When do you ever have time for me?’ I rolled my eyes as I turn to lay sideways on the couch to face him.

For the first time, I realised I was looking at a stranger. This wasn’t the person who I fell in love with five years ago. There was a time when seeing Noah would have made me nervous. He could take my breath away with just one glance. I was happy back then. It seems like a lifetime ago now. It was getting harder to hide how I felt about him. The sparks weren’t there anymore.

‘You’ve been here less than five minutes and you’re already starting an argument’, Noah said angrily.

‘Look, I didn’t want to be at home. I didn’t think you would mind if I came over.’ My stomach twisted into a sinkhole, I turned to face the ceiling and bit my tongue to stop myself from crying.

Noah sighs and moves his chair closer to reach for my hands. “I’m sorry.” He pauses, I can see the guilt spreading across his face. ‘What happened tonight?’ he said, his voice full of affection.

I wanted to tell him that I was drowning at home and that I started to smoke again to because I couldn’t handle my anxiety but my mouth wouldn’t move. I could see his eyes wandering back to the computer screen again. I just sat there and smiled weakly.

‘You should probably finish off your work first before we talk’

‘Thank you, baby,’ he said, playfully kissing my hands a couple of times before rolling his chair back to the computer table. ‘When I’m done with this, you can tell me everything.’ Before I could say another word, he turned to his computer and puts his headphones back on.

*

I sat back up quickly, watching Noah quietly. My head finally stopped spinning, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath in and breathed out in an audible sigh. I wanted Noah to turn around, to give me some kind of hope, a sign that there was a chance for our relationship. This cycle was becoming toxic for the both of us. I didn’t know why I always hesitated to let go. What was I afraid of? I couldn’t be worried about being alone because when I’m with him, I feel lonelier than ever.

‘How was work today?’ I ventured.

Nothing. I was talking to a brick wall. Was this his way in telling me he didn’t want to be with me anymore or is he just oblivious to what he’s doing? I didn’t understand. I couldn’t keep trying to defend his actions anymore. I wasn’t going to let him put me and this relationship on the side.

I stormed to grab another computer chair and placed myself on his right-hand side.

Noah’s startled by my actions and lowers the volume on his headphones. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I’m not okay. I haven’t been for a very long time.’ I felt a sensation that vibrated throughout my chest. I paused to control my breathing again, my heart pounded abnormally hard. ‘Do you even want to be in this relationship anymore?’ I didn’t care that I was raising my voice.

‘What? Where is this coming from?’ he said in a confused tone, his mouth slightly open.

There it was. His favourite go to line to use on me whenever I blindsided him. I hated it. I stood up and walked away to contain my anger before I said another word. I calmly turned around and noticed Noah staring blankly at me on his chair.

‘Just put me out of my misery already’ I said faintly.

Noah sternly faces me as he places his headphones on the table. ‘Of course, I want to be in this relationship.’

I shook my head in frustration, pacing around the garage. It was worse than I expected, he just didn’t want to make the effort anymore.

Noah stood up to stop me from moving around. He firmly secured his hands around my wrists. ‘Can you tell me what’s wrong? I’m so confused.’

I’ve been with this guy for five years and he still didn’t know me. He couldn’t read me the way I could read him. He knows what happens at home and yet, he has no clue what to say or do to ensure me everything will be alright. What was I fighting for?

‘If you actually paid attention, you wouldn’t be asking me in the first place’ I said softly. I freed myself from Noah’s grip and walked back to sit on the couch.

‘It’s always about your parents anyways, that’s nothing new.’ I could hear the irritation growing in Noah’s voice as he walked over to kneel down in front of me.

‘I get it now. It’s easy for you to pretend that my problems don’t exist because it’s not happening to you.’ I laugh sarcastically. We weren’t on the same wavelength. Why hadn’t I seen this earlier in our relationship? ‘How could someone with the perfect family home understand what I’m really going through.’

Noah stood on the other side of the garage speechless. I could see in his facial expressions that he was trying to come up with things to say.

‘I don’t give shit if it’s the same shit with my parents, I expect you to be there for me like I am for you.’ My voice cracked, I could feel my body trembling. ‘I know your job is important to you but it doesn’t give you the excuse to stop caring about me and my well-being.’

‘I always see you and when I don’t, I still call you whenever I can. I’ve never stopped caring though.’ Noah says in a panic. He walks over and kneels in front of me.

‘‘No Noah, all I am to you is white noise in the background.’ My breathing was becoming heavy, I thought I could be strong but I failed miserably. I could feel the tears streaming down my face.

‘I’m here now. I’m listening.’ Noah places his head on my lap, his hand clutching my legs.

I didn’t try to comfort him. It was too late for that. It was too late for anything. I was done waiting for him to come to his senses. I would rather be alone than be with someone who made me feel lonely.

Noah’s eyes finally connect with mine, his eyes bloodshot and his cheeks a light shade of pink. I didn’t realise he had been crying on my lap this whole time. He wiped the snort from his nostrils and whispered. ‘I’m sorry. I promise, I’ll do better.’ I really wanted to believe him this time but I heard it before. I would only be a fool if I was to believe him again.

‘There won’t be a next time Noah.’

Noah lets go of my legs in shock and walks away aggressively shaking his head.  ‘No, no, no, no, you can’t just end it like this after five years together.’

‘I’m done Noah.’ I wiped my face and gained back my composure. ‘I’m tired of taking care of my boyfriend when he can’t even take care of me. I’m not your mother, I’m supposed to be your partner.’

‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he said softly. The despair in his tone broke my heart but I needed to tell him the truth. ‘But I love you LC. There’s no one else for me.’

‘I’m not trying to purposely hurt you.’ I looked directly into Noah’s eyes. I observed his face silently before I said another word. I could see his puffy blue eyes filled with tears and his lips quivered. Noah was showing me emotions that I hadn’t seen in a long time.

‘We’re both trying to hold onto something that’s been dead for a very long time. I want to break up now before we end up hating each other.’

‘We’re supposed to be a team though. I don’t know what I’m going to do without you,’ he said quietly as he sat back down on his computer chair, and pressed his face against his palms.

‘We haven’t been a team for a very long time Noah.’

*

I don’t know how long we were sitting there but I couldn’t take the silence between us.

‘I think I should go now.’

‘Yeah, you should.’

Noah didn’t look at me, so I knew there was nothing else to say.

*

As I walked the quiet streets, the piercing icy wind woke me. My mind was clearer than it had ever been before. By the time I arrived home, the house was quiet again, the lights were all turned off. I climbed the tree with no complications and I fell right onto my bed, too tired to even change my clothes. I didn’t expect that to happen tonight. All I wanted was to find some sense of comfort from my boyfriend. I thought I needed someone to save me from myself but in truth, I was only there because being with Noah was familiar to me. I didn’t need to be there at all. I had made it each day without his help and I knew I was going to survive this break up as well.

‘I’m going to be okay.’ I muttered under my breath.

 

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The Surface of Arennah, Sebastian Sparrevohn

Pip heaved the hatch open and stepped out of the crashed pod. She raised her hand, shielding herself from the light flooding through her irises. Stretched out before her was an ocean of sand. Golden dunes rose and fell as they stretched out towards the horizon. Her head spun and she went to lean on the side of the escape pod. Alex caught her, and helped her onto the warmth of the sand.

‘Careful, the shell’s still hot from our entry.’

Pip wasn’t looking at him. Her focus was drawn to the horizon. What had just been the Kentoro mountain range here on Arennah was now a bloody mess. Red-brown liquid oozed out of the volcanoes, drowning the mountains and scarring the horizon. Pip sat silently in the sand, taking it all in. It was hard for her to process what had happened. It didn’t feel real.

Alex watched her. Her red curls framed her face, and her head was in her hands. He decided to give her some space. She would be okay. She was their captain, and she could handle anything. In the distance, hazy from the heat, was a sandstone outcropping.

Alex turned back to the pod as Delian stepped out. Their azure robes danced in the wind.

Delian’s hands clenched and unclenched repeatedly. They darted forward, the sand not appearing to slow their step. They cartwheeled, with a grace and elegance like it had been practiced to perfection. Alex stared in wonder. Delian had been so reserved on the Orbiter. Alex turned back to Pip, running his hand through his mess of black hair.

‘I think we should find some cover in the rocks over there.’ He pointed to the outcropping. ‘Pip, can you walk? I think it’ll do you some good to get out of this heat.’

Pip looked up at him, her blue eyes focused on his furrowed brow. She forced a shaky smile and reached an arm up.

‘Is there anything you need from the pod? I’ve got our water and micro-rations.’

Pip shook her head. ‘The signal went out,’ she said. ‘If anyone’s nearby, they should be able to find us. ‘

‘We won’t stray too far from the pod then.’

*

Delian sunk to their knees and dug their hands into the sand. The top layer was sun-warmed and felt like a kiss on their skin. The sand underneath was cool and refreshing, undisturbed for millennia. Arennah was uninhabited and desolate. There was scarce else than oceans of sand, volcanoes, and rivers of bromine that ran like rusty arteries across the planet. The three-person crew of the Orbiter was a private team analysing and measuring the planet for terraforming. It was to be sold to the highest bidder as a salvation planet for a species that had squandered their resources and rotted their homeworld.

After soaking in the sun for a moment, Delian stood, and returned to their crewmates. Delian approached as Pip was rising.

‘We’re going to walk to the outcropping over there,’ Pip said. She looked a little pale, but then again they had all been stuck on the Orbiter for months.

Delian held out their hand, palm-up, in agreement.

‘Are you both all right?’ they asked.

Pip nodded. ‘Just taking a minute to acclimatise. It’s a strange feeling being planetside. Arennah looks very different from down here.’ She looked up to the sky, imagining she could see their ship in orbit.

‘Sure does,’ Alex agreed. ‘Looks like you’re adjusting well Delian?’

Delian’s hand quivered as their muscles tensed in excitement. They nodded, remembering to use the human custom.

‘Yes it is lovely here. There is always a balance to these things. We watched this place from above for months, bending it to our will. And now it is us that are subjugated.’ Delian saw Pip and Alex’s bleak expressions and hurried to amend their sentiment. ‘But it is not so bad. The sun is shining, and the ground is beneath our feet again. I know it may seem barren to you, but I promise it is not.’ They smiled in an attempt to be reassuring. ‘Come, I will show you.’ They began walking towards the rocks.

Pip wiped the sweat that had accumulated on her brow and gave a weary sigh. ‘Looks pretty barren to me.’

*

As they walked, Pip reflected on their final moments aboard the Orbiter. Her screens flashed red warnings as seismic activity spiked. Through the viewplate she watched as the Kentoro Mountains exploded in red. Force rocked the ship, and she had to brace herself in the pilot’s seat.

Alex had been working at a maintenance panel when he was knocked off his feet. He careened into the wall and jarred his shoulder.

From the floor, he called over the intercom. ‘Pip, what in space was that?’

‘Seismic activity like I’ve ever seen. Get Delian and prep the pod, this isn’t over yet.’

Pip had used every pilot’s trick in the book to try to save them, but the Orbiter was not designed to be manoueverable, and its thrusters were not enough.

‘We’ve lost orbit! The ship’s drifting away from the planet.’ Pip looked at Arennah beneath them. ‘We have to go down there,’ she said.

*

She had failed them. As a captain, and as a pilot, she had let them down. She stared at her feet as each one overtook the other. It was her fault.

‘It’s not your fault.’ Alex’s voice came from behind her. ‘I know you blame yourself, but there was nothing you could do.’

‘Thanks, Alex.’ Her words had no conviction to them. You can’t outrun responsibility. She had brought them here, to this wasteland, and had no clue how to get them home.

Silence descended as they trudged across the sand; each person absorbed by their thoughts. The silence fractured when Pip spoke up again.

‘I’ve never had a ship go down before. Never had a job that went this far sideways. Beyond correction.’

‘You can’t blame yourself Pip,’ Alex said. ‘You’re the best pilot I’ve ever worked with. A seismic event of that scale couldn’t have been predicted. The shape of the whole planet has been changed.’

Pip chuckled. ‘I guess our terraforming data is useless now.’

‘The will of the universe,’ Delian said. They were a few paces ahead of the two humans, leading the charge to the outcropping.

Pip sighed inwardly. She was growing tired of Delian’s chipper attitude. They were stranded, after all.

By the time they reached the shelter of the rocks, Alex and Pip were drenched in sweat. They had both stripped their jumpsuits down to their waists, and their white undershirts were already grimy. Alex collapsed onto his back in the shade of the small cave. He wiped the mat of hair out of his eyes. Pip’s face was as red as her hair as she sat next to him, clutching her knees to her chest. Delian looked lithe, healthier and more olive than they’d seen before. They were pacing, unable to keep still.

‘Rest here, I will go look for something to eat and to replenish our water,’ Delian said, before scaling the lip of the cave and disappearing from view.

‘You don’t actually think there’s water here, do you?’ Pip asked, gesturing at the desert before them. ‘There is literally nothing here.’

Alex shrugged, something only he could do lying down.

‘They seem to want to keep active,’ he said.

‘Yeah, what’s with that?’ A sharp edge crept into her voice.

‘With what?’ Alex climbed onto his elbows.

‘The movement, the gestures, the cartwheels? I never noticed it on the ship, but now it’s too obvious.’

‘Delian is from Axechatta,’ Alex said matter-of-factly.

‘So what?’

‘Axechattans communicate primarily through movement and gestures. Us humans tend to use a lot of words to get a point across. They use a detailed body language to provide nuance.’ He smiled at her. ‘Their happiness runs deeper than a surface smile.’

‘Don’t you find it infuriating,’ she asked, ‘to see them so happy in a situation like this? We’re stuck here, for who knows how long?’

Pip stared back out at the desert they had crossed. Their silver pod was barely perceptible. The wall of red loomed on the horizon. The liquid bromine spreading across the sand looked like a wave of red washing over a beach.

Pip stood up and began pacing in the cave. ‘This place is hell. I’ve brought us to hell.’

‘Come on, you don’t really believe in that old myth do you?’

‘Look around you Alex did you miss the lava? This is a literal hellscape.’ Alex noticed she was breathing quickly and her hands were shaking.

Pip? You okay?’ Alex stood up. His hands clasped hers and her eyes locked onto him.

‘We’re going to get through this. This is not your fault. You are the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Pip, I,’ he hesitated, half-believing he’d come this far. ‘I love you, Pip,’ he finished.

Pip let it hang there, like a feather falling slowly to the earth.

‘I love you,’ Alex said again, a weight lifting off his shoulders as he said it.

Pip looked away.

‘Alex, I…I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.’

Pip stumbled out of the cave, half-seeing, using her arms for balance.

*

Her mind swimming, Pip found Delian towards the back of the outcropping. They were on their hands and knees, reaching into a crevice between two boulders.

‘Delian, are you all right?’ she called.

‘Phillippa, good timing. I have just found some edible vegetation.’ They retrieved their hand and opened the palm to reveal three small leaves.

‘Are you joking? I’ve never seen you joke before.’

‘Quite serious. We call these revivifiers. They are densely rich in vitamins and minerals. All you have to do is put them on your tongue.’ They demonstrated.

Pip squinted. ‘No really, are you joking?’

Delian held out a leaf. Pip took it, and put it on her tongue. It tasted like a leaf. Delian clasped their hands together in gratitude.

‘Wha-ow?’ Pip asked.

Delian removed their leaf. ‘Beg your pardon?’

Pip removed hers. ‘What now?’

‘Oh you can just leave it for 20 minutes or so and you will feel much improved. I will go find some water if you will give this to Alex.’ They held up the third leaf.

‘Actually, maybe you’d better do it,’ Pip said, ‘He’s not taking this whole crash thing too well.’

‘I suppose it is to be expected,’ Delian said. ‘Arennah really is beautiful. I just wish to show you what I see in this place.’

Pip looked around her. There was another mountain range in the distance. She wondered which was going to break first, the mountain or her.

‘The beauty is not always in the big,’ Delian said, ‘sometimes, it is in the minute.’ They held out the leaf again. It was curved to look like a heart, and Pip could see the weave of thin white veins within.

‘If you say so,’ said Pip.

‘And sometimes,’ Delian said, crouching down in the sand again, ‘it is beneath the surface.’

*

Pip took a walk through the outcropping, trying to take in the tiny details of the rocks and the almost invisible life between them. Trying to focus on the most important crisis first: What happens if no one rescues us?

When she returned to the cave, Alex was sitting alone. His eyes were red. He made to speak but Pip cut him off.

‘I’m sorry Alex,’ she began with renewed conviction, ‘but my first priority is getting you and Delian off Arennah safely, and I’m going to need your help. We can talk about the other thing after. I promise.’

Alex wiped his eyes and nodded. Despite how badly today had gone, he wasn’t about to let the others down.

‘I need you to head back to the pod, and try to boost the distress signal. I’ll grab Delian and come and meet you. I’m not ready to sit back and wait to be rescued.’

*

Pip found Delian sitting cross-legged on top of a boulder. Their eyes were closed and their breathing was deep. Pip knew they meditated, but had never seen it before. She sat down as quietly as she could on the stone beside them.

After a minute of silence, Pip cleared her throat.

‘Hello,’ she said softly.

‘Hello,’ Delian said.

‘We need to get back to the pod. I think I can get us off here.’

Delian smiled ruefully. ‘You really are desperate to leave.’

‘I’m sorry Delian, but it’s my fault you’re here. I can’t rest until I get you home safely.’

‘What if I do not wish to leave?’

Pip turned to face Delian. ‘You don’t want to go?’ Why?’

‘Arennah is the closest I’ve seen to home in a very long time.’

‘This place looks like Axechatta?’

‘Almost identical. The system we are currently in is a sister to my own. Axechatta is glimmering and golden just like Arennah. But I have not laid eyes on my home for decades.’

‘Why not?’

Delian hesitated, wringing their hands.

‘I am a heretic. I rejected the traditions of Axechatta, so I was exiled. I glimpsed beauty and destruction in the universe, a terrible balance inherent in all things. Axechatta was drenched in the blood of its neighbours. I was a believer, a soldier. I fought with my commanders, begged them not to bomb Salifax. The war was won, but they couldn’t take any chances, couldn’t see the beauty of that world and its people.’ Delian closed their eyes. ‘I fled to the stars before my trial.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I never thought I would miss it so much.’ They wiped their eyes with the back of their hand.

‘That’s why you took this job?’

‘I told myself I would see home one last time. But in the process I was helping to destroy it. Balance.’

‘Well, if it’s any consolation, I think Arennah is safe from terraforming now. Even if we’re stuck here.’

Delian looked into Pip’s eyes. ‘Balance,’ they said again.

‘But not without beauty.’ Pip held up another of the leaves she had found, and smiled. ‘Do you really want to stay here, Delian? Can you survive out here?’

Delian laughed. It was a light, musical sound and Pip couldn’t help but feel its warmth spread through her body, like stepping out into a wave of sunlight. Delian embraced her in a hug so tight Pip felt her breath leave her lungs.

When Delian finally let go, they said, ‘Of all the humans to have shared in my homecoming, I am glad it was you, Phillippa. I will help you to go home.’

*

A cargo barge picked up Pip and Alex three days later. Delian remained behind, carved out a new home, and lived a life of peace.

 

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Voyager, Josef Pringle

“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space, but the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” – Dr. Carl Sagan

I

On the fifth of September, in the year 1977, a group of scientists from the planet Earth put a message in a bottle. This bottle was an unmanned robotic spacecraft, a probe, which they named ‘Voyager 2’.  The message was etched onto a gold-plated phonograph record, and secured to the outside of the probe.

If a stylus were to be placed in the shallow groove that ran in a gentle spiral from the outer edge of the golden disc to its centre, and the record itself rotated at the appropriate speed, one would receive the message. The message was a collection of sounds and images of life on Earth, greetings in 55 different human languages, and a 90-minute selection of music from a range of cultures and traditions. In short, the message was this:

“We are here, and so are you.”

The Golden Record was protected by an aluminium cover, upon which the earthlings engraved instructions using simple diagrams and binary arithmetic. These instructions detailed how and at what speed the record should be played, as well as how the photographs and drawings encoded onto the record could be viewed.

The bottle was thrown out of the atmosphere from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The arm that threw it was an expendable launch system, a four-stage rocket. The bottle plopped into the cosmic ocean with 2,400,000 pounds of thrust and an almighty roar.

If you were to see Voyager for the first time as it emerged from its capsule, the first thing you’d notice would’ve been the large white reflector dish of its high-gain antenna, sat there atop the squat black body of the probe. At this stage, the rest of its instruments remained tucked tightly beneath the dish, but like a newborn stretching its limbs; Voyager unfolded its robotic arms and soared off into the void.

Voyager sailed through the main asteroid belt separating the inner and outer regions of the Solar System. It spent time observing the enormous gas giants – Jupiter and Saturn – and their moons, relaying data and images back to Earth.

By 1998, Voyager had travelled further from the Sun than any previous mission.

By 2012, it had left the outer limits of the Solar System and crossed into interstellar space.

By 2027, its generators could no longer supply the power needed to operate its scientific equipment. Many of its non-essential systems had already been shut down to conserve power. Its short-term mission was at an end, but its voyage had just begun.

II

Millennia slipped on by, and Voyager drifted into the domain of a young and stable yellow star. If humanity still existed, and were still counting the Earth’s revolutions the way they had been when Voyager left, the year would be 2,072,377. By sheer coincidence, it would have been the fifth of September.

Preserved in the vacuum of space, Voyager looked just as it did the day it was launched. Picture it in this moment, where it sailed along its uncertain path. The light of the nearby star playing along the white dish of its high-gain antenna, flashing like a signalling mirror off the golden record that remains secured to the body of the probe. This flash obscures vision for a split-second, and fades in time to notice the enormous metal claw closing around the probe, as if to crush it. Instead, the ‘fingers’ of the claw come to rest gingerly on the sides of its quarry, and the craft it belongs to swims into view. It is teardrop shaped, smooth and contoured. Cargo doors open—mandible-like—at the front of the ship, and with the greatest of care, the titanic pincer gently deposits Voyager inside.

*

Humanity had always wondered what life beyond their blue planet might look like, how it might behave, if it existed at all. Some even claimed to have seen space aliens up close, and that they looked like reptilian humanoids or pallid, glassy eyed spectres or little green men. That they liked to infiltrate governments, mutilate cattle or kidnap people, sticking things up them for science, or just for the hell of it. Maybe they had, and maybe they did. The people that found Voyager were not intergalactic saboteurs, sadists, or scientific sex-pests. They were however, against all odds, ‘little green men’.

They were ecstatic. These little green men, like the human beings that made Voyager, had an immense catalogue of theory and fiction about alien life. They had never found so much as an amino acid on any other planet, and being far more technologically advanced at this point than humanity was when Voyager was built, they had been to many planets.

When Voyager was first detected on their long-range scanners, the news was met with disbelief. So many of the little green men were sure that alien life simply did not exist, that if it did it would be so distant and so primitive that they would never encounter it, that they were alone in the universe and that they just had to accept that. Visual confirmation prompted system-wide celebration. A crew was promptly dispatched to retrieve the UFO and take it to a remote research facility for study, and the greatest minds of their little green civilisation clamoured for a position on the research team.

In the cargo bay of the teardrop-shaped retrieval vessel, seven green men gathered round voyager. It was primitive, to be sure, but they marvelled at its design nonetheless, carefully inspecting its scientific instruments, its antennae and its radioisotope generators. They babbled and gestured to one another, taking notes and visual recordings. A little green technician gently laid two of his hands on the unblemished aluminium cover of the golden record.

III

The research facility was a tetrahedral orbital station that hung above a small, mineral-rich dwarf planet on the outer fringes of the system. It was the deep-space surveillance team aboard this immense trigonal pyramid that had first detected Voyager’s approach. The little green scientists scanned the probe in order to construct a three-dimensional image for detailed study. After that they began to dismantle Voyager with the utmost of care, taking samples of material from every component to be analysed and catalogued.

The golden record had been removed to be studied in a lab of its own early in the process. The scientists decoded the instructions on the cover with ease and marvelled at their brilliant simplicity. The purpose of the technology was easy to understand, though the little green men had never encountered such a thing themselves. The grooves on this metal disc were recorded soundwaves, and could be played back using the stylus provided.

Little green hands, which were barely able to contain their excitement, gently lifted the record itself from its container and placed it on a spindle that had been fabricated for this purpose. They placed the stylus in the groove in the exact position, and rotated the spindle at the exact speed indicated on the record cover. The bottle was open, the message read.

It should be noted at this point that, despite certain uncanny similarities, the physiology of these little green men was very different to that of the human beings who made Voyager. They had more in common with plants than with animals, subsisting through a process similar to photosynthesis, which allowed them to synthesize all the nutrients they needed using carbon dioxide, water and ultra-violet radiation. In addition, at key points around the bodies of the green men were fine-tuned sensory organs. These small ridgelike appendages were sensitive to nearby vibrations, not unlike the lateral line of a fish. These organs gave them incredible spatial awareness, and facilitated their language of soft words and subtle gestures.

Music came as quite a shock to the little green men. At the moment that the first notes of the Brandenburg Concerto No.2 met with their sensitive ears, their world changed. These little green men, for all their sophisticated technology and know-how, had never had a culture of music. They would often relax in lounges filled with droning, carefully engineered static, designed to create a kind of sensory bliss. Melody was entirely foreign, as was complex rhythm. Bach’s Baroque instrumental was cacophonous, confusing and exciting. They were hooked.

Who were these aliens – so behind the little green men in terms of technology – that had created such divine and diabolical sequences of vibrations? Answers lay carved further towards the centre of that golden disc.

IV

Following the 90 minutes of music on the golden record was a collection of 116 images. Information on humanity’s native star system, diagrams of cell division, of human anatomy and reproduction, photographs of human beings, the planet they lived on and the animals they shared it with.

As they had been encoded as sound, they were indecipherable when played back via the spindle that the little green men had constructed. Each image was preceded by a tone, followed by the image itself, which came in the form of a harsh electrical buzz; like the whine of a band-saw, which sent shivers of discomfort through the little green listeners. Each of these signals traced a sequence of 512 vertical lines which composed a complete image.

Among those images, and likewise etched on the aluminium cover, was a diagram. Straight lines of varying lengths radiated out from a central point. It showed roughly the position of Earth in relation to nearby pulsars; celestial bodies that emitted a constant and distinct pulse of electromagnetic radiation.

The human beings that had made Voyager had attached a map. By listening in deep space for electromagnetic pulses of the same frequency and intensity as those detailed on the pulsar map provided, the little green men located a main-sequence yellow star, which lay halfway along the inside of one of the Galaxy’s long spiral arms.

With permissions granted and navigation locked, the research station began the process of relocating. Inside the pyramid, propulsion systems hummed into action. Excited voices chattered away, relaying and confirming orders. Klaxons sounded and little green men hurried to their assigned positions. In the silence of the vacuum outside, the pyramid withdrew from its current orbit and turned, angling one of its four corners towards its chosen destination. Without a sound, it hurtled off into deep space.

V

The station arrived on the fringes of its target system in a matter of hours, and drifted inexorably towards the planet which lay third from its star. This was not the shimmering blue marble of 1977. This planet was a wasteland. The carcasses of thousands of satellites hung in orbit over arid continents and dull grey seas. Could this truly be where Voyager had come from?

Judging by this planet’s difference to the photographs found on the golden record, the little green men concluded that some immense environmental upheaval had occurred. Preliminary sensor sweeps revealed structures on the planet’s surface, and a team of four was sent down in protective suits to investigate.

The team descended via landing craft to a region where hundreds upon thousands of ruined structures lay strewn across the landscape, landing near a concentration of particularly tall ruins. Plant life had reclaimed the area, but had since withered in the heat of the sun, which seemed to beat down relentlessly upon the crumbling city.

It was then they saw them, a pair of figures slinking from cover to cover, between ruined doorways and the disintegrating husks of what must have once been vehicles. They fled at any sudden movement, only to circle back around, watching curiously. They were filthy, rangy things. At last, when one of the little green men attempted to approach them, arms spread non-threateningly, they scampered off for good.

Over the course of the little green men’s stay in orbit above Earth, more attempts were made at contact with the human beings that slunk among the ruins of their fallen world. Other groups were encountered, but the results remained largely the same. Where the little green men were not met with retreat, they were met with violence. Some humans threw rocks, crude spears, even faeces at the intruders to scare them off.

After every attempt at establishing contact, the little green men returned to their pyramid in dismay. Some suggested abducting one of the humans by force, to study it or to try to create some line of communication. Such ideas were voted down. These were not the people they had come to find, not anymore.

These were human beings who had inherited a world brought to the brink of destruction. They were the descendants of the human beings who had survived the collapse of the old world, had endured the unpredictable cycle of droughts and storms that had wracked their planet for millennia. Most of all they had endured each other. As resources had diminished, competition for those resources had increased. These human beings were not the human beings who had made voyager, nor were they the human beings that had written or performed the beautiful music of the golden record.

But the record endured, thought one little green man, and made his case. The message they received from Voyager had survived into their time. It could survive a little longer, and with a reply, to boot.

So the little green men took the golden record and they copied it. They copied its cover, complete with its instructions, its stylus and its spindle. They etched their own message onto their own phonograph records. In the grooves of these new records were the sights and sounds of their own world and people, their own science, and directions to their own world.

Around the planet they built trigonal pyramids of solid stone, and inside they placed a copy of each record. The structures were then sealed, but not too tightly. It was the little green hope that in time, this world would heal, and its people with it.

 

The message had been taken from its bottle and read, and those that read it had found it worthy of reply. They sealed their reply in bottles of their own and left them on the cosmic shore for someone to find. In short, the message was this:

“We are here, and so are you.”

*

“This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.” – Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America.

 

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Terminal Silence, Deng-Shan Caleb Lee

Jack Lewis was not, and had never been, a man to socialise.

Even when he had been a young boy in elementary school, people had often commented on how quiet he was, how he preferred to keep to himself, and interacted with others only when he had to. This habit had stuck with him all the way to adulthood.

Jack had an opinion of himself as a man of routine, the kind of man who had his life together. Each morning, he would be roused by his alarm clock at precisely seven thirty, eat his breakfast of toast and tea, and then catch the eight o’clock 399 bus to work. He would stay there for the day, stamping documents and filling in forms until precisely seven thirty in the evening. At this point of the day, Jack would pay a visit to the diner that was located conveniently underneath his office block and buy himself dinner. Then he would catch the same bus home, unless it was a Friday. On Fridays he would cross the street to the shopping centre near the bus stop and buy the week’s groceries. Afterwards, he would arrive back at his home in the suburbs, eat his dinner and put away the groceries, the alphabetised order of the jars soothing his soul. Then he would go to sleep.

Each day passed in an identical manner, barring the weekends. On his two days off from work, Jack would take the time to do things that he enjoyed, which mainly consisted of admiring his sizeable aquarium of exotic fish or working on his rather extensive collection of model boats and ships. His routine on the weekends did not differ much from the days on which he was expected to show up to work; he still arose seven thirty, only instead of heading off to the bus stop, he would stay indoors with one of the model ship magazines he wanted to read, or take the train to the nearby aquarium and burn a few hours there looking at the exhibits. Afterwards he would treat himself to a simple dinner of microwaved food, and then would go down to his basement workshop and spend exactly two hours working on his model ships, all the while listening to the somewhat ear-grating and wall-shaking thud thud thud of his neighbour’s music. At least, he assumed it was his neighbour’s music. It certainly came from inside the house next door. He had never been inside the neighbour’s home to confirm, nor did Jack really feel the inclination to. It wasn’t that he did not like his neighbour; Jack really couldn’t think of any reason to dislike the man. It was just that aside from a casual wave and nod to each other when they would occasionally set off for work at the same time, Jack simply felt that he didn’t know the man well enough to ask about his tastes in music. After all the years living side by side, all Jack knew about his neighbour was maybe his name, which he could not recall at the present moment, and that he had a wife and teenaged son, whom he occasionally caught a glimpse of through their windows.

And so, life went on, every day more or less a repeat of the last, just the way that Jack liked it, until one warm Sunday night. Jack settling down in his workshop with a mug of his favorite Earl Grey tea, with exactly one tablespoon of cream and two sugar cubes in it. He was adding some finishing details to the conning tower of one of his prized model aircraft carriers, one which he had just finished assembling the night before. Jack rubbed his hands together in anticipation and unscrewed the lid on a jar of cherry red paint, getting his brush ready.

It was in that moment that a pall of unease settled onto Jack like a cold, clammy mist. Jack stared at his tabletop, frowning. He sipped at his tea, hoping it would calm him down. It did not work.

Jack rose from his workbench, screwing the lid back on his jar of paint. Something was definitely wrong. He looked at his cheap digital watch, adjusting his glasses as he did so. It was three minutes past eight, which was just about the usual time he should be in his workshop, so no problems there.

Had he perhaps forgotten to do something? Jack quickly went over everything he had done that day and couldn’t find anything that he might have missed. He wasn’t wearing anything out of the ordinary: smock, t-shirt, and tracksuit pants. He dressed this way pretty much every time he set to work on his models.

Jack had never been a superstitious man, but right now he could not help but feel as though some hidden sixth sense had sprung in his head, warning him that something was not right. Had someone perhaps broken in without him hearing it?

Keeping as quiet as possible so as not to alert a possible intruder, Jack mounted the steps to the basement, keeping to the sides of the steps to avoid making any creaking noises on the wooden stairs. Once he reached the top, he slowly reached behind the umbrella stand and brought out a wooden cricket bat. Jack had won it in an office raffle, but had always meant to sell or give it away, since he didn’t play cricket. He hefted the bat, feeling its comforting weight in his hands as he tiptoed around, checking all the windows and doors, making sure they were all locked and unbroken.

After a thorough check around the house, establishing it intruder-free, Jack replaced the bat and sat down on the couch, scratching the stubble on his chin and letting the thoughts in his head grind. Something was still off, and he knew that unless he figured it out, he would be up all night bothered by it. In a way, it irritated him that he was feeling this way. Didn’t he have as much right as the next man to a peaceful weekend? He had done everything right, and if it weren’t for the neighbour’s music…

Jack’s hand paused mid-scratch. He jerked his head to the wall that blocked his neighbour’s house from view. Quiet as a grave.

Jack rushed to his front door, throwing on a jacket over his painting smock. He stormed out of his house and onto the sidewalk, making tracks for his neighbour’s own front door. It was past dusk, and therefore a little chilly, but Jack was adamant. He would let nothing stand in his way of finding out just why someone had the nerve to throw a wrench into his well-oiled machine of weekly routine. Jack’s ears grew hot; he was partially infuriated and partially concerned, though mostly for himself.

Jack arrived at his neighbour’s house and raised his hand to knock. What was his neighbour’s name again? Jules? Julien? He decided to risk the former. Jack knocked once, twice, thrice on the wooden door then took a step back, just to be polite.

He heard footsteps within the house, and after a few seconds, Jack’s neighbour was peering at him as though he couldn’t believe his eyes.

‘Jake?’

Jack inhaled, his brow furrowing. There was definitely something wrong here. He could see it in his neighbour’s bloodshot eyes and his unshaven face.

‘It’s Jack, actually,’ Jack corrected. ‘Listen, Jules,’ His neighbour didn’t say anything, so Jack assumed he had been right in guessing the man’s name. ‘I can’t help but, ah, notice, that something’s been off lately,’ Jack said almost accusingly. ‘I don’t suppose you know what?’

Jules’ eyes grew mournful, and Jack began to have second thoughts about whether this venture had been a good idea. Oh well. It was too late to turn back now.

‘I…well…you’d better come in,’ Jules said, stepping into his house and opening the door wide for Jack to enter.

Jack followed Jules into the house, taking note of all the pictures on the walls of Jules and his family, as well as a sizeable collection of strangers whom Jack assumed were friends. Most of the lights were on, and upon passing the kitchen, Jack saw Jules’ wife, a shorter woman with blonde hair, sitting at the table and staring numbly at a collection of papers.

‘It’s nice of you to come by, Jack,’ Jules said absent-mindedly. Even Jack, who did not consider himself very good at reading body language, could tell that his neighbour’s thoughts were a million miles away at the moment. ‘We haven’t told any of our family friends yet…’

‘Yeahhh…’ Jack said slowly. ‘Look. I just came by because, well, things have been, er, quiet. I wanted to know why.’

‘Quiet?’ Jules gave Jack a questioning look before understanding dawned on his face. ‘Oh, you must be talking about Calvin, I mean, our son’s music?’

‘Is that his na-‘Jack caught himself. ‘I mean, yes. The music. Of course. I was wondering where it went.’

Jules sat in silence for a whole minute. Eventually his wife came over with two cups of tea, setting them onto the living room coffee table. Jack took the tea, hoping for something to moisten his dry mouth. This was more human interaction than he’d had at his job for years. He sipped at the tea, which was definitely not Earl Grey, and steeled himself so as to not make a face at the bitter drink. Jules took a fortifying gulp of the hot liquid before continuing.

‘Jack,’ Jules said at last. ‘Calvin’s been sick. He has been for a very long time, ever since he was nine.’

Jack stared at Jules, who was gazing into his cup of tea as if it contained the secrets of the universe. Remembering that it was rude to stare, Jack looked back to his own beverage and took another sip of the horrible tea. His lip twitched as he forced it down.

‘The only thing that kept him going was his music,’ Jules said suddenly. Jack went back to staring at Jules. ‘He always was a snappy little musician. Magic on the turntables, is what his music teachers said about him. Calvin loved making music, and once he got sick, he threw himself into it, always said it made him forget about the pain.’

Jules sighed heavily, his shoulders slumped as though they held the weight of the world on them like Atlas of myth. ‘He made dozens of songs to help pay for his treatment, since he couldn’t bear to let us pay for all of it.’

Jack sat silently, feeling more than a touch irritated, but giving away nothing. He yearned to be back in his workshop painting his aircraft carrier, but no, he just had to find out why the music stopped and now he was in the metaphorical frying pan. Surreptitiously, Jack angled his left arm toward himself and sneaked a peek at his watch.

Jules didn’t seem to notice.

‘But on Saturday night, Calvin-‘ Jules broke off, stifling a sob. ‘Calvin got worse, and had to be taken to the hospital. The doctors are saying they can’t do anything, and that if Calvin g-gets worse, he could, he could…’

‘Die?’ Jack completed slowly. Obviously that was what Jules had meant to say, but Jack was shocked when Jules covered his face with his hands and let out a tearful moan. He almost dropped the cup of tea he had been holding as Jules leaned against him and sobbed into his jacket. Jack awkwardly patted his neighbour on the arm as his eyes darted all around, hoping to find anything to alleviate the situation, whether it be an exit or another topic. He found neither.

By the count of Jack’s watch, they sat like that for ten minutes and thirty-three seconds. At which point Jules’ sobbing had deteriorated into sniffles, and finally into heaving gasps.

‘I’m sorry, Jack,’ Jules sniffled. ‘I don’t mean to break down like this, but Calvin means so much to me and Sarah and I’m just not ready to let him go. No father should have to bury his son.’

Jack nodded slowly as if in agreement. ‘It…it’ll be alright,’ Jack said, remembering from a book that it was the typical thing to say to someone who was sad. He hoped the book hadn’t exaggerated its effectiveness.

Jules gave a rattling sigh and wiped the last of the tears from the corners of his eyes. ‘I hope so, Jack. I really do. Thanks for stopping by, but I need to help Sarah with the hospital forms. I don’t mean to kick you out or anything, but…’

‘Oh, no, it’s fine, it’s fine!’ Jack cajoled. ‘You’ve got a lot on your mind, I get it. I’ll just see myself out.’

Jack was just turning the doorknob on the front door when the patter of footsteps made itself known behind him.

‘Jack, wait!’

Jack inhaled, feeling indignation flare up inside him. What was it now? Jules was at his side, holding up a small silver disc in a transparent case.

‘Jack, I want you to have this. It’s one of Calvin’s albums, and I know it would mean the world to him if he knew someone was still listening to his work, even if he might not make it.’

Jack blankly accepted the disc and tucked it into his jacket pocket. With a final wave, Jack bid Jules goodbye, and he hurried back into his own house and locked the door, glad to finally be alone again.

He checked his watch again. He had wasted at least twenty-five minutes on his little field trip, but perhaps it was worth it. Jack took the disc out of his pocket, staring long and hard at it. He went back down to his basement and put the disc into his CD player. Immediately, loud bass pulses and heavy beats filled the room.

‘Ah, no!’ Jack shouted, slapping the “stop” button on the CD player’s remote control. He would never be able to concentrate on painting with that kind of ruckus. He rubbed his chin and thought. Then he unplugged the boom box and hauled it up the basement steps and into the guest room.

It was a sparsely furnished space, with a single bed, a dresser, and a wardrobe, all empty. Jack lowered the CD player into the bottom drawer of the dresser and closed it, plugging in the wire. Then he pressed “play”.

It worked; the music was now muffled, and would barely register back in his workshop, but its wall-shaking beats and bass drops still made Jack feel at ease. Just like it used to before Calvin had been moved to the hospital.

Now he could, at last, get back to his life in peace.

All was right with the world.

 

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