Hard of Hearing, Benjamin Hendrie

Aaron’s parents were sitting on an uncomfortably small couch just behind their son, watching him with worry creeping onto their faces. Aaron’s eyes were glazed over as he stared at the moving pictures on the TV screen. His head snapped away from the cartoon, towards the hall. Only eight years old, the young boy had a heavily cheerful demeanour.

‘I’ll get it!’ he said, and swiftly stood up and headed for the front door.

His mother smiled half-heartedly, watching him go. ‘That’s the third time tonight.’ she whispered to her husband. ‘I haven’t heard a single doorbell, have you?’ she asked, rearranging herself on the lumpy lounge as anxiety edged into her tone.

‘Nothing.’ His Dad confirmed solemnly, rubbing his tired eyes.

‘What exactly did the Doctor say again?’

‘A form of tinnitus… they think.’

‘They think!? What do they mean they think, Andrew?!’

‘I don’t know.’

‘It doesn’t seem too bad now, maybe it’ll get better!?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Can’t they do anything? Aren’t there treatments for tinnitus, or whatever he has?’

‘I don’t know, Mandy.’ The strain in his voice communicated to his wife, he knew just as much as she did, which was just as much as the doctors did.

Mandy couldn’t keep quiet. ‘He said it was getting louder, the ringing I mean, does that mean it’s going to keep getting worse? What if he has this for the rest of his life?’

‘Breathe,’ Andrew interrupted.

‘When he was born he was perfectly healthy, and we’ve done everything right, how could this happen to us? I don’t…’

He clasped her hand with his own and together they breathed in deeply. A thousand dreams for a perfect child had begun to drift away as their nightmare drew closer.

‘Mum! Dad!’ Aaron burst back into the living room with a small, ragged ball of fur in his arms. ‘He’s so soft, can we keep him?’

The bundle of dirty fluff peeked out from Aaron’s arms, and the parents both jumped. A fake smile plastered the mothers face as she leaned in to whisper into her husbands’ ear ‘I think I’ve seen that cat hanging around recently.’

‘Those eyes,’ replied Andrew, ‘seems unnatural.’

‘What do we do?’ Although neither of the parents wanted this strange creature in their house, they could not deny the unbridled joy in their damaged son’s eyes.


Aaron couldn’t decide between fish & chips or a burger. He really loved fish & chips, but he’d had that for dinner just yesterday. Aaron’s diet had become poor since he’d moved out of home, and as he stood in the local chicken shop’s line his mouth began to water at the prospect of another greasy dinner. Staring down the menu, he noticed many of the customers were looking his way, embarrassment etched onto their faces. Turning slowly, Aaron was greeted by a rather angry looking man who seemed to be yelling at him.

‘Oh, hello there,’ greeted Aaron. ‘Is there a problem?’

Taken aback, the angry customer lowered his voice a little. ‘You cut the bloody line!’

Aaron could only just make out the man’s words. ‘Oh, really I didn’t notice, so sorry.’ He stepped to the side for the slightly overweight individual to take his rightful place. The man mumbled something about Aaron being deaf on his way past. He only caught a little of this, the buzzing in his ears muffling the insult. After waiting in line quietly he ordered fish & chips and once they were done Aaron walked back to his apartment, just down the road.

Opening the door, he was greeted by Softy who rubbed himself in-between Aaron’s legs, looking up at him with his dark, red eyes. Aaron placed his take-away on the kitchen table, grabbing cutlery. Softy jumped up on the bench and sat patiently. He was surprisingly agile for a sixteen plus year old cat.

Aaron couldn’t always hear Softy’s meows. Sometimes they were blocked out by the sharp ringing. Therefore, Softy communicated through slight ear movements, blinking and licking his chops. It was a language Aaron knew well. Tonight, the message was simple. Aaron cut off some fish and placed it on the bench. He smiled, watching the cat play with his food, knocking it back and forth before claiming the trophy in his mouth.

Softy sat down after finishing his titbit and blinked.

Aaron much preferred cats to humans. At school there had been little sympathy for those with learning challenges. Often Aaron had found comfort in his hearing impairment blocking out teasing voices.

‘You’re welcome.’ Replied Aaron, a smile began to spread across his face, but faltered as Softy maintained eye contact. Softy blinked again, slower this time, his eyes almost humanlike as they conveyed their thankfulness. Aaron was a little unnerved, unsure what the feline was trying to tell him, but responded with a blink of his own.

Later that night, Aaron tucked himself into bed, Softy hopped up, and instead of settling at the end, he snuggled next to his owner. Aaron ‘s brow furrowed, but he didn’t think much of it, due to how cold it was tonight.


When Aaron awoke, glancing at the clock, it was only 3AM. Softy wasn’t on his bed. He must have gone for a drink. Closing his eyes once more, the sound in his ears was now a loud chirp, as if a smoke alarm had been set off in his brain, to warn him.

Aaron dragged himself up, his feet flinching at the cold bedroom floor. Wandering out to the living room, there was no sign of Softy. Aaron called out to no avail. As he moved through the room, the chirping sound seemed to be getting slightly louder. Making his way into the kitchen, he noticed the window was ajar. He didn’t remember leaving it open. He left a small saucer of ice-cream under the window, then went back to bed, the alarm receding into a low hum.


Sitting in front of a computer screen for eight hours, looking at mortgages, was usually rather easy for Aaron, as his condition blocked out many different office sounds. Today however, the hum between his ears was a low rumble like distant thunder. The rustle of the air conditioning, buzzing of computer monitors and casual conversations snuck past the rumble. He hadn’t known that the photocopier could make such an annoying beeping sound, or the door hinges to squeak so violently, so often. Through all this sound, thoughts of Softy hadn’t stopped plaguing his mind since he’d found the untouched puddle of ice-cream this morning. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Aaron noticed a loud tapping sound had entered his mind, joining the other office sounds to create the beginning of a painful headache.

After a few moments, he realised the tapping was his own fingers rattling on the desk, continuously drumming an anxious tune. There was no point for him to be here if he couldn’t focus on his computer screen. Slowly, Aaron got up, walking past the other cubicles, his fists clenched. It was only mid-afternoon, but the only thing he could think about was Softy.

On the train home, the sound in his ears changed. Now it was like radio static. The train rattle echoed through his thoughts as Aaron flinched a little. It was unusual for any sound to be this loud for him. He got off at the next station, deciding to walk home. It was a longer walk than he’d expected, and sweat drenched Aaron’s, now creased shirt, when he found himself home much later than usual.

He hoped that Softy would be waiting for him when he opened the door, rubbing in-between his legs to greet him. Aaron opened the door slowly, no one to greet him. Dragging his feet into the apartment, he realised he hadn’t picked up anything for dinner. Looking in the freezer there was a packet of oven chicken nuggets. ‘They’ll do.’

As the nuggets were cooking, Aaron wondered what the best course of action was, in finding Softy. Should he put up a poster? Or ring the vet? Maybe one of the neighbours had seen him. A buzzing filled his head as he attempted intelligent thought. For once the buzzing seemed to be outside his head. The noise drew his attention to the overhanging light in the kitchen. Aaron wondered if it had always made that sound. He imagined there was some sort of bug trapped inside the light, flapping frantically to escape. A thought popped into his head. What if Softy was trapped somewhere dark and alone, unable to come back to him? He wished his condition would take over, bringing his mind back into the solace of a familiar ringtone. The light didn’t heed his wish, instead prying open his ear dumbs to crawl inside his brain. Softy missing, his tinnitus failing him, this stupid buzzing light, Aaron couldn’t take the pressure, he lashed out at the overhanging light, knocking it so hard that half of it fell, with the last remaining wire still connecting it to the roof. The light immediately went out. Aaron breathed, as he shook his throbbing hand.

Grabbing his phone, he found his mother’s number and texted his situation. It was unlikely she’d reply for a while, but she’d know what to do.

The chicken nuggets were slightly burnt as he cut through them in the dark, separating a little for Softy. Aaron stared at the lonely crumbed piece of chicken, his expression forlorn. Checking his phone, there was no reply for his mother’s imperfect son, and no cat to keep his feet warm tonight. For as long as Aaron could remember, it was the longest time he and Softy had ever spent apart.


A couple days later, the sharp ting of a message woke Aaron on Saturday morning. His mother had finally replied.

‘Have you tried the animal shelter?’

He almost kicked himself. The animal shelter made a lot of sense. Google told him there was one a short walk from his apartment. Aaron didn’t want to waste any more time. With Softy on his mind, he threw on some clothes and run out the door.

Walking briskly down the busy street, a few faint yells splashed against his ringing as he pushed past the crowds. Crossing the road, Aaron was so focused on the path ahead that he was oblivious to the red pedestrian light, screaming at him to stop. Unharmed, he continued past a group of young buskers, strumming quiet chords, and onto the animal shelter.

Swinging open the door, he was greeted by an elderly woman at the front desk. He was able to make out what the woman said, without too much trouble. ‘Hello, there sir, looking for a pet to brighten up your day? Or maybe you’ve…’

‘My cat is missing!’ Aaron blurted out.

The woman’s brow furrowed. ‘Have you tried calling your cat? You know cats have pretty good hearing, usually with high pitches, I’ve heard even better than dogs, how high is your voice? I imagine probably not too high, being male. Though I have met some males with beautifully high-pitched voices and they…’

‘Can I just see what cats you have,’ Aaron brashly interrupted. The lady was almost as infuriating as his mother.

The lady led him to the back room with an array of cages full of mostly cats or dogs, along with the occasional ferret. The animal’s scratching and screeching were dulled by his tinnitus pumping through his head. Aaron searched a row of cages at a time. There were ginger cats, tortoise shells, tabby cat’s, but no Softy.

‘Where is he?!’ Aaron desperately checked each cage again. ‘He has to be here, he has to…’

The woman sighed quietly ‘It doesn’t look like he’s been handed in.’

‘Do you have any other pets here?’

She could see the anguish in Aaron’s eyes, ‘I’m sorry, I really am. I’m sure when you get back home, he’ll be waiting for you.’

‘No, he won’t,’ tears burned in his eyes. Aaron ran out of the shelter and onto the street. Thousands of voices surrounded him as he looked around urgently. He swam through the sea of sound. The ringing in his head was a small droning reverberation, unable to prevent the cacophony of the city. He forged onwards.

Passing the buskers once more, the twang of their guitar strings overpowered his croaking voice as he cried out for Softy. Once more, he ignored the stop light and crossed the road without looking, focused on finding his friend. Car horns blared around him in an inhuman frequency, but he paid them no mind

Aaron trudged through the damply lit streets as the sun set. His legs aching and voice breaking, there wasn’t a cat in sight. The number of people on the streets had diminished. It was quiet now, apart from the low ringing always weighing on his mind. He found a small alleyway where he collapsed against the wall. Aaron cried out for Softy one more time as he sobbed into the bricks. He hadn’t realised how much that little ball of fur had meant to him until now. Sliding his back against the cool brick wall, Aaron brought his knees in close as protection against the cold evening. A few stars had begun to shine through the night sky, protruding through the darkness.

Aaron remembered looking up at the stars as a child, around the time he’d been diagnosed. He had thought the stars were singing to him. Softy had sat next to him that night, looking up as if he could hear them too. Now, it was as if the stars remembered. His tinnitus began a tune in his head. A soft shimmer of sound that cascaded down the waterfall of his memories.

A familiar presence hobbled up next to him. A singular meow broke away anxieties’ grip over Aaron’s heart. ‘Softy!’ sitting next to him was a small ball of fur, red eyes blinking. The feline’s front-left paw was held up and looked to be broken. ‘What’s happened to you?’ the injured cat tilted his head as to offer an explanation. Stroking Softy’s back, his fur was knotted and dirty, but the cat purred, delighted to have found his owner.

Slowly Softy limped into Aaron’s lap and settled down with the hurt paw spread outwards. Aaron let out a sigh. He finally relaxed as the stars continued their song, now full of joy. He thought to himself how glad he was that Softy and himself had found each-other. Both unwanted, except by the other.

The song turned back to tinnitus as reality set in once more. ‘It’s time to go home now.’ Aaron whispered to his companion who nuzzled into Aaron’s knee. ‘Alright, we can stay a little longer.’

Once more Softy gazed up at his owner and blinked slowly.

Aaron blinked back.


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Yet Another Tuesday, Nicholas Lamberton

Scott bolted down the footpath, his leather shoes creased near the tips from having to bear his frantic sprinting. He adjusted his red tie while he ran, not having the time to properly straighten it while he was getting dressed. Of all the days to sleep through his alarm, it just had to be the day he was due to present the new project plan to the board of directors. They were sticklers for punctuality, and he’d never get that promotion if he were late. If there was anything he wanted to avoid, it was having to welcome Donna back from her holiday with the news that there was no pay rise for him and that they couldn’t afford to renovate the kitchen after all. He continued to push forward, only slowing to avoid crashing into other pedestrians. The train station came into view. The platform still had people all over it, but he barely had time to smile when he heard something in the distance. The distinct squeal of a train beginning to brake. Scott summoned all the strength he had and raced up the road. He had barely made it to the stairs into the station when heard the train pull in. He leapt up the stairs, three steps at a time. The train stopped. He made it to the top and immediately sprinted across the overpass. The train doors opened. He raced down the stairs to the platform, pulling out his Opal card along the way. The guard blew her whistle. He tapped on, and then dived through the nearest door, seconds before it closed.

Gasping for air, he searched for a place to rest his aching legs. He carefully stepped past the standing passengers to the lower level. Not a single empty place to sit. He turned back and checked the upper level. All full as well. He sighed and sat down on the stairs. He pulled his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves. The train slowed down. The train never slowed down at this point. Scott nervously tapped his hands on his knees.

Martha looked at the sweaty man sitting on the stairs, drumming on his knees. City people always looked like they were on edge. Their brains must have been thrown out of whack from being crammed into such a small space. She had been living in the city for about a month now, and she still couldn’t get used to it. The odd smells, the slow traffic, the tall buildings, the loud noises. How the rest of the uni students dealt with it was a mystery.

She dug around in her pocket and took her phone out. It was a few years out of date, but only had a single scratch as evidence for its age, unlike the heavily cracked screens she tended to see with similar models. City people seemed to be a clumsy bunch. She got a case for her phone like her flatmate suggested. It was a simple orange shell, with no patterns or artistic flair to speak of, basic, but enough to remind her of home. She opened her photos, navigated her way to her “Home” folder, and was greeted with the picture she took the day she left. Rows upon rows of orange trees stretched out across the farmland. The phone’s little screen couldn’t do it justice, but she clearly remembered the orchard’s citrusy smell, the serenity of the countryside and the inviting warmth of the sun. Her phone buzzed. Mum had just sent her something. She switched over to her messages and found that her mother had attached a video. She plugged in her headphones and played it. Pete, their old Border Collie, was lying in the sun out the front of the house. Mum was waving a tennis ball in front of his face. His eyes remained on the ball, tracking its every motion. Mum threw the ball across the yard. It landed by the fence, but nothing went after it. Mum looked back at Pete, who couldn’t be bothered to get up. Martha couldn’t help but chuckle to herself. He was such a funny old pup.

Jonathon rolled his eyes at the young woman laughing at her phone. She had probably gotten another like on her Instagram, or whatever they were on. He didn’t deny that smart phones could be useful, but it seemed like the youth of today needed them just to breathe. He was able to live without one as a young man, so what was their excuse? That gravelly feeling came into his upper chest again. He produced a pale yellow handkerchief from his breast pocket and coughed into it. A large amount of phlegm coated the handkerchief. He reasoned that his persistent cough probably wasn’t a major problem, but he couldn’t help but worry anyway. The light of his life had already gone, but he didn’t feel prepared to join her. He still owed his son Lucas an apology for ignoring him for his entire childhood. With the damage that had already done, Lucas would only go to his funeral out of obligation. Jonathon would fly out to Chicago right that instant, but he didn’t have nearly enough money for that. A letter was affordable, but useless without an address, postal or e-mail. Perhaps the chance for redemption had slipped past him years ago.

The train raced into the underground tunnels of the city and Jonathon rose from his seat. The train arrived at his stop and the doors slowly opened. The passengers squeezed their way out of the train, and he slowly hobbled behind them. He trudged up the stairs, being overtaken by dozens of people, all talking to each other or to their phones. Eventually, he emerged at street level. He walked past a café, dozens of people crammed like sardines inside. A young couple was excitedly talking, holding coffee cups, right in the middle of the footpath. Jonathon frowned. Some people just loved to stay in their own little world.

Over the hissing coffee machines and the hubbub of the customers, Patty heard an old man yelling outside. She wondered why the elderly were always so grumpy. Maybe they felt living so long was so much of an accomplishment that they should have the right to be as angry as they want. She wiped her hands down on her green apron, and got back into making the next batch of orders. Regular flat white. Small cap. Small mocha. Long black. Espresso shot. Regular cap, soy milk. Small flat white, skim milk. Regular flat white, triple shot. Small—crap! That two looked like a three. She swiped the previous cup, hid it below the counter and started remaking the order. She’d have thrown it in the bin if Chris didn’t get fired for that last week. Apparently Jordan really hated product going to waste. She’d need to find an opportunity to drink that botched coffee. All that caffeine would likely leave her anxious. Well, more anxious than usual.

She never thought that being a barista would be stressful at her last job. It was in a cozy little place in the suburbs. Even during peak periods, she could brew at her own pace, and more importantly, make some friends. She still remembered Mrs Ball and her endless stories about her children, and Jake the writer who always came in at 1pm on Tuesdays, ordered an iced coffee, then sat at a table with his laptop, moving his fingers across the keyboard like a pianist until closing time. Here, it was all business for the patrons. Just grab and go. She always made sure to hand out orders with a smile, but only out of professional courtesy. Gradually, the crowd inside began to thin. A few more, and she could take a breather. Two regular caps. Large flat white. Large mocha. She wiped the sweat from her brow. Crummy café or not, she took pride in her work. That pride did a lot to make her smiles look less forced. Patty called out the last few orders and handed them off to the customers. Another job well done.

Pablo sipped his mocha and watched the girl disappear into the back of the café. Her smile was rich with passion and cheer. She must’ve been into him. He probably should’ve asked for her number. Next time. He left the café and made his way down the street, taking in the sights. Cars honking, storefronts showing all manner of luxury items, a cavalcade of different kinds of people walking every which way. The whole city was a smorgasbord of stimuli. So why was the well of inspiration still dry? He finished off his coffee, and then got his sketchbook out of his backpack. Its cover was a flat blue. The colour of the sea. But while an ocean could hide all manner of interesting secrets beneath its plain surface, the sketchbook only had dead ends under its cover. He flipped through the pages. Unfinished drawings of parks and mountains, rough faces, drafts of abstract pieces. Nothing inspired, nothing that should be continued.

He stuffed the book away. Artist’s block was a natural dilemma to have, but it didn’t have to strike in this critical period. He still didn’t know how he could pay next month’s rent. They say that a true artist doesn’t do it for the money, but that idealism isn’t attractive when food and shelter are at stake. His next piece had to be more than simply good. It had to be a moneymaker. He briefly considered making some post-modern art, something really basic that questioned the nature of the medium. No. He was almost broke, but he still had standards. Typical post-modern art always came off as an excuse to be lazy, and too many people had already asked the question “What is art?” without even attempting to answer it. But maybe he should be the one to try and do it. He turned around and began making his way back to his apartment. Pablo may not have had a plan, but he had drive. And sometimes, that’s all you need to get things done.

Steve watched a Mediterranean-looking man jog right past him. Most people didn’t give Steve the time of day, but tourists in particular tended to ignore him. They were so caught up in the glitz and glamour of the city that its dirt and mess was invisible to them. He sat up on his thin mattress and looked down on his few possessions. An indigo blanket, a few bottles of water, and an empty Chinese food container with some coins in it. Depending on the charity of strangers was risky business. He could only really count on receiving one note a week, and even that wasn’t certain. The vast majority of passersby acted as if he didn’t even exist. A few dropped in some loose change, but not nearly enough. Debit cards had become so convenient that few still carried cash, and it wasn’t as if he could set up an eftpos machine at his spot on the sidewalk.

It was not a life he should be living, but it wasn’t as if the life he left behind was much better. Every day, it was a guess as to whether his new bruises would come from his father or his brother. His mother wasn’t any help, more interested in drowning her own pain than soothing anyone else’s. He needed to leave. But with no money, no skills, and no friends, the street was the only home left. A cluster of coins landed in his container. He turned towards the woman who dropped them in and thanked her. She just kept walking. Steve looked at the rest of the people walking past him, hoping someone else would be casually generous.

Michael almost threw up from the hobo’s stench. He noticed the change on the ground and frowned. All that hard-earned money was given away to someone who’d just spend it on drugs. He shook his head and tightened his violet scarf. There was no point in dragging it out. He reached the stairs leading underground. Only fitting that he was getting closer to hell. He made his way into the train station, his heart beating faster and faster. Sweat poured down his face as he descended down another flight of stairs to the platform. With the morning rush over, there weren’t many people waiting for a train. The only other person at the far end of the platform with him was a bald thug wearing a white T-shirt and jeans.

Michael’s blood ran cold and his legs shook. He found it difficult to believe that he came this far. Could he really go all the way to the last stop? He thought about his family. He did everything he could for them, so why did they think that wasn’t enough? He thought about the guys at his former workplace. Why didn’t anyone take his side? He may have made a few bad decisions, but he did his fair share. Were they just waiting for an excuse to kick him to the curb? He thought about Miranda. Why did that bitch make him think there was always someone he could fall back on before she broke his heart? They weren’t spending that much time together, but he didn’t have all the time in the world. Everything didn’t have to be about her, did she really need to betray him like that? He wiped his eyes. Every road he walked was paved with thorns. He had been asking himself if humanity was just that cruel for a few weeks, but an answer wasn’t what he needed. What he needed was a way for the pain to stop.

He looked at the timetable. One more minute. He stepped up to the yellow line. An indistinct sound could be heard deep in the dark depths of the tunnel. The sound got closer. His heart raced. A light began to poke around the bending tunnel walls. He braced himself. Suddenly, a hand gently guided him away from the platform’s edge. The bald thug smiled at him. ‘Careful, you might fall.’ The train roared into the station. He stood frozen. Why the hell would this meathead be so nice to him? The doors opened, and the bald man moved aside to let everyone get out. He then stepped in and turned to Michael. ‘You coming?’ Michael shook his head, and the man headed to the upper level. The doors closed, and the train departed. He was left alone on the platform. The next train was just fifteen minutes away. He thought about that man, and everyone he had blamed. Michael turned and walked back up the stairs. If he was wrong about one person, could he really be right about anything else?

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Do You Copy, Over?, Richard Duong

Stationed in an Iraqi city, our PMC, Grey Ghost Company, had just received an emergency call from our client, Fadhil, a weapons and rations supplier for the militia. His warehouse was being attacked by the insurgents when contact from him was suddenly cut off. Mike and I were first out in our armoured SUV. REBEL Team, our CAT, needed time to finish up maintenance on the hate truck.

I don’t particularly like the guy. He reminds me of those damn politicians, like the mayor who criticised my SWAT team back in the States. Had to leave because of him. The Captain was kind enough to let me resign to keep my record clean though. But I know Fadhil cares about his family, even his guards. I don’t want to see him dead.

We are now almost at his warehouse. Our mission: find and protect him. If possible, secure the area. If not, extract him. We’ve been paid good money, and he’s helping out the militia, which takes the heat off of us and the military. If he dies, our reputation will go down, and clients will look for another PMC. Everyone in Grey Ghost has taken care of me since I arrived half a year ago. I won’t let them down.

Hands firm on the steering wheel, I take a hard right onto the road leading to the warehouse two-hundred yards ahead. I scan around for any signs of the insurgents—situational awareness is key. The area around the warehouse is empty—a bad sign. They might still be there, and they may be setting up an ambush.

Without our CAT, Mike and I are just two guys with small arms. We won’t be able to do much if there are too many of them, or if they’ve brought armoured vehicles, but we can still scout and take out several of the insurgents before REBEL team arrives.

‘You ready Mike?’

‘Yeah man, I’m ready.’

I look over at him. He pulls back the charging handle on his rifle, selector on burst-fire.

Eyes back on the road, ‘Keep your eyes out for IEDs,’ I say and slow down before the T-intersection.

‘Got it.’

One set of eyes is never enough. If I end up missing a potential IED, the next guy might be able to pick up on it.

Eyes peeled, I take the left turn.

‘REBEL, this is CARRIER-THREE. We’ve arrived at the warehouse, over,’ Mike says.

I stop the car just before the entrance. The gate’s open. I look around, eyes on the houses in the area. The entire place is deserted, and no cameraman means one thing.

Good, no ambush.

I shut down the engine and take the keys. We step out of the car and dart to the stone pillars on either side of the gate.

‘REBEL, this is CARRIER-THREE. We’re here, over,’ he says again.

——I look at him and ask, ‘It ain’t going through?’

‘I dunno man.’

‘Have you charged it?’

‘I don’t always forget to man,’ he replies, and unhooks it, ‘Look, it’s still on.’

The screen looks fine. It might be malfunctioning.

‘Okay, get it checked later,’ I say and clutch mine, ‘REBEL, this is CARRIER-TWO. We’re at the warehouse. Do you copy, over?’

——There are five members in REBEL team, so they shouldn’t be taking this long to respond.

Might be a jammer.

‘Was there anything on the INTSUM this morning?’ I ask, ‘I don’t remember there being anything about the military in the area.’

‘Yeah, there was nothing about military, man.’

The insurgents are probably responsible. I try the monitor switch—static. I take out my cell phone and check the bars—no signal.

‘Fuck, it’s a jammer.’ I say, ‘REBEL team’ll be here soon. We’ll just scout for now.’

‘Got it.’

Up ahead, several feet away, is the security booth—small, white, able to fit two people at most. Beyond it is an alleyway leading to the back. To the left of that is the warehouse, L-shaped, five-thousand square feet, walls made of corrugated iron sheets. We have the floor plan, even visited a few times, so unless someone used explosives to level some areas, we know our way around.

There are two rows of shelves, running along the side and back of it, usually filled to the brim with supply crates. The cafeteria is at the back, next to a fenced-off area, chain-link, where Fadhil keeps his two German shepherds. His office is right in front of us. A part of the warehouse, its windows face parallel to our position, but its blinds are down. To the left of the office and jutting out is the loading dock. He’d said that he was in the office, so that’s where we’re heading.

‘Jack, dock’s open.’

I lean right. The metal shutters are up and inside are two white pickup trucks, facing away from one another.

Assuming that the two trucks belong to the insurgents, that’s somewhere between four to six guys, maybe more if they were riding on the back.

Fucking insane religious radicals leading a bunch of kids and stupid adults to war, putting civilians at risk and killing anyone who goes against them. They’re poor, and they’re pissed, so you’ve gotta feel sorry for some of them, but that doesn’t excuse their actions. They’ve violated and denied the rights of others to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and they’ll pay for doing so. We as contractors will do what we have to, not only to protect ourselves but also the civilians of this country.

‘I think I see the jammer. Back of the pickup on the left, black, several antennas,’ he says, ‘Use your optics.’


I look down my sight and there it is. A large black box, with several antennas sticking up from it. Maybe two or three times larger than the ones I operated back in SWAT, which were a little bigger than a backpack. It probably doesn’t do jack to the military’s comms, but it’s bad for ours.

‘Okay, no insurgents outside,’ I say, ‘We’ll close the perimeter around the warehouse so our CAT can safely come in and support us. I’ll keep eyes on the loading dock while we’re moving. You need to clear the security booth and keep eyes on the alleyway. Once we’re there, hold that corner on the right. I’ll keep eyes on the front entrance and check if he’s still in his office. Sound good?’

‘Sounds good, man.’

‘Okay, let’s go. On three. One, two—’

We move quickly toward the warehouse, rifles to the ready. I watch for any movement from the loading dock, leaving my six to Mike. My life is in hands, and his in mine.

‘Clear!’ he shouts, ‘There’s a dead guard. Anyone in the loading dock?’

‘No movement.’

That’s one of Fadhil’s guards down. He has more, but there are only five here at any given time. He calls us whenever he needs to go somewhere. Since there’s no-one here to greet us, and no gunfire, they’re either holed up somewhere, or dead.


‘Securing the alleyway,’ Mike says.


Keeping my reticle on the front entrance, I move forward, the office windows in my peripheral vision. Propping my rifle up, I knock twice on the nearest window.

‘Fadhil! You there?’ I shout.

——I bash on the window. If he’s in there, he should be able to hear us.

‘Fadhil! It’s Grey Ghost Company! If you’re there, tell us! We’re here to get you out!’

‘——He might be in the cafeteria, but I don’t hear his dogs.’ I say.

‘Who knows man. He might be dead.’

I sigh.

Chances of him being alive are slim. The insurgents aren’t all that well-trained, but give them enough chances and they’ll hit their target.

‘——Mike, we’re getting comms back up. Leave the alleyway.’

‘Got it.’

We need to secure the front, but, without comms, we can’t give REBEL team a SITREP. In war, information is vital. Situational updates may determine whether we live or die, succeed or fail.

He places his hand on my shoulder—ready to go. Keeping my eyes on the doorway, I move straight toward the left pickup truck.

‘Keep your eyes on my three,’ I say.

‘I’ve got eyes on it.’

We’re one man down. If Simon were still alive, and if we had a ballistics shield, I’d head right in and clear the entire compound. I’ve applied for one, but it hasn’t arrived yet. This was just really bad timing.

Inside the warehouse, apart from the areas lit up by the sunlight coming in through the loading dock, it’s dim, especially at the back. The only other source of sunlight comes from the opaque panels on the roof. The lights are all off, and you need a key to turn them on. Fadhil’s stingy when it comes to his electricity bill.

‘Lights on,’ I say.

‘Lights on.’

We both switch our rifle lights on. The insurgents have the advantage if they’re watching us from the dark, but we can use strobes to blind them if they come out.

I look into the truck—clear—and then at the aisle beyond it. On the ground is an insurgent, clothed in black, rifle on his right arm, a white insignia on the keffiyeh around his lower head—’For His Glory’ in Arabic.

‘Dead guard near reception,’ Mike says.

That’s another one.

‘Roger. I’ve got one EKIA down the aisle. There are probably five, maybe more in the area. Stay frosty.’

‘I’m watching the back aisles.’


I go around the front of the truck and look down the next two aisles. They’re all clear. Taking the chance, I switch my laser on, lean left and look down the left-most aisle at the back. The cafeteria door is ajar, and on the ground are two more insurgents.

‘I have eyes on two more EKIA just outside the cafeteria.’

‘Got it.’

They can still be hiding nearby.

‘I’ll clear the aisles on this side. Then we can shut the jammer down.’

‘I’ve got you covered.’

I continue down the length of the aisles, glancing right for movement near the cafeteria.

‘Grey Ghost Company! Fadhil! You there!?’

——I reach the final aisle—all clear—turn my muzzle toward the aisles along the back and back away.

‘Mike, cover me! I’m gonna shut down the jammer!’

‘Got it, man!’

I look at the trunk. Once I get on, I’ll be visible from the back. Who knows how many of them are in here.

Letting my rifle hang, I vault onto it.

Okay, where’s the damn off switch.

I squat down and inspect the jammer. Large, cube-sized, black, a low buzz coming from the generator. Not as good as what the military uses, but still mil-spec as far as durability is concerned. There are several sliders on the front for picking frequency, and switches beside each of them, all on.

This looks heavy as fuck.

I flip each of them off.

‘Okay, try—’


Mike orders them to stop moving in Arabic. I dive off the right side of the truck and roll, quickly get up and aim down the aisle, at the corner of the shelf nearest to the cafeteria door, cutting off their only exit.

‘Where’re they at!?’



I rush forward to cut off the corner near reception, using the second pickup truck as cover. Resting my foregrip on the hood of the truck, I look down my optics.

‘I’m in position! Mike! Find some cover! I’ll contact REBEL!’


I move the butt of my rifle over to my left shoulder so I can quickly engage the target, and clutch my radio.

‘REBEL, be advised, we are inside the warehouse, loading dock, engaging a hostile! There may be more! When you get here, watch the alleyway! They may try to ambush you from there! Over!’

I bring my hand back on the grip of my rifle, finger off the trigger and ready to fire. Trigger discipline. It’ll be a shitshow if Fadhil suddenly comes out.

‘CARRIER, this is REBEL-ONE! We are Oscar-Mike to your pos! Give us one-mike! We’ll be coming in hot with the Brownie, over!’

‘REBEL-ONE, roger, solid copy! CARRIER-TWO, out!’

Okay, they’re almost here. We just need to wait a little longer.

I glance at the cafeteria door, now hidden by the shelf. If I don’t keep an eye on it, insurgent reinforcements may come in, and we’ll be in trouble. The same goes for the alleyway on Mike’s side.

‘YAZHR! IN NAWDHIK!’ Mike shouts, urging the insurgent to surrender.

Quick footsteps echo toward us. He’s just beyond that corner.


We’ve given him the chance to surrender peacefully, so I’m not taking any chances. He doesn’t even need a second to get off several shots.

‘Mike, —’


‘—if he’s still holding his gun, drop ‘im!’

‘Got it, got it!’

If you dare come out with a gun, I’ll pump you full of .308.

——Jammer’s off.

‘REBEL, call Fadhil and see if he’s okay! And get his location, over!’ I say.

‘This is REBEL-THREE. I’ll give you a heads up when he’s on the line. REBEL-THREE, out.’

We’ve almost got all the info we need. Once we know where he is, and if he’s alive, we can decide what to do next.

——The rumbling of an engine penetrates the warehouse’s thin walls.

‘CARRIER, we’re just outside! Fadhil’s on the line. ——He says he’s hiding inside the kitchen. ——He has three guards with him watching both exits. ——There should be only one hostile left. ——Young male, black shirt and tracksuit pants, black keffiyeh around his lower face. ——He wants us to clear the compound, over.’

There are no more insurgents and he’s watching our blind spot. I can focus my attention on the remaining insurgent.

‘This is CARRIER-TWO! Watch the office’s windows! Tell Fadhil to stay put, over!’

——‘This is REBEL-ONE! We’ve got movement in the office windows! —’

‘——CUT ‘IM OFF! CUT ‘IM OFF!’ I shout.

We run toward the reception area. I lean left and keep my laser on the office’s open doorway, trapping the insurgent inside.

‘This is CARRIER-TWO! We’ve cut ‘im off! He’s inside the office! If he fires at you, light ‘im up! Over!’

‘This is REBEL-ONE! Wilco, over!’

The insurgent comes running out and brings his right arm up, gun in hand. Lasers on his upper torso, we pull our triggers. A red mist fills the air, red patches cover his face and chest—he drops. My heart races, a continuous rush of air comes in through my nose, my hands firm on my rifle, reticle on his body. If we’d missed, we could’ve died. But we didn’t.

‘——This is CARRIER-TWO. Tango down. Secure the perimeter, over.’


Download the PDF of ‘Do You Copy, Over?’

The Falcon, Emily Shaw

Nobody in Berlin knew where Herr Fischer found the items that were for sale in his shop. Not even Anikó knew where the merchandise came from and she’d worked at Herr Fischer’s Antiques for almost two years. She’d heard virtually every single theory though; a fresh one entered the store whenever a new customer waltzed in through the revolving doors. I heard he buys everything on the black market, one lady had stated last week before purchasing a porcelain bowl. Someone, the other day, claimed that Herr Fischer must have had a liaison with aliens, after spotting an Egyptian sarcophagus propped against the wall. After all, the customer had commented in that flat tone everyone reserves only for reiterating the most basic of knowledge, aliens did build the pyramids.

But no matter how bizarre or mundane the theory was, the customer would always look at Anikó once they’d finished talking as if to say, Well? Am I right?

Anikó never gave her opinion, never indulged in their fantasies. She’d just respond to the customer’s questions with a smile while silently assuming that Herr Fischer’s antiques were nothing more than fakes. She retained that belief until the day she met the falcon.

It was waiting for her when she arrived at work one Sunday morning, perched in an antique laced cage. Herr Fischer had placed the cage up onto the counter top and was studying it with a magnifying glass. His eye bulged through the circle of glass so large it looked like it was on the verge of popping out of his skull.

Herr Fischer tapped the side of the cage, lowering his magnifying glass. ‘Recognise it?’

The bird was a slight thing. Dark circles framed its eyes so that the creature looked like it was wearing a permanent mask across its beak. When it lowered its head to peck at the bottom of the cage, Anikó caught a flash of its wings; crests of all different shades of brown melded together in a mosaic of feathers.

‘It’s a male red-footed falcon,’ Anikó murmured. She cocked her head to the side, and the bird’s gaze latched onto hers. They stared at each other for a moment, weighing up the situation they’d both found themselves in. ‘They’re only native to Eastern Europe and Asia. I used to see them all the time on my parents’ farm in Hungary.’

‘Never seen one before, personally,’ Herr Fischer commented.

‘Where did you find him?’ Anikó tested, wondering whether or not he would ignore her.

‘He found me,’ Herr Fischer replied.

‘What? Was he just sitting here, waiting for you to come in to work this morning?’

Herr Fischer scoffed, as if the answer was so obvious it didn’t need conveying. ‘Of course.’

Anikó considered his words. ‘That’s weird.’

‘Is it?’ Herr Fischer turned back to the falcon. ‘But never mind. I want to show you his strange cry.’

He pursed his lips together and the sound of his raspy whistling filled the room. The bird perked up at the noise, craning back its neck and opening its tiny hooked beak.

Red-footed falcons don’t sing. They screech and chatter; their throats incapable of making a tune that doesn’t sound like static on a broken television. But for some reason, as soon as the falcon’s call slipped out of its lungs and into the room, everything Anikó thought she knew about falcons shattered before her eyes.

The falcon’s tune was fiercer than any grasp Anikó had ever felt. She could feel it inside of her, gliding down her spine and pressing against her skin. The noise rose and fell, twisted and turned; each note hanging in the air for a moment longer than it ought to. Its song sounded like a mourner’s wail, drenched in so much fresh pain that it could only belong to someone who had been stripped of all they cared about. Nothing that was happy could make such a noise.

After what felt like forever, the falcon’s song faded into silence.

It took a few moments for Anikó to gather her thoughts and several more before she could speak again. ‘I’ve heard red-footed falcons before,’ she said, ‘and none of them sounded like that.’

‘It’s an odd sound,’ Herr Fischer mused. ‘Most would call it ugly but I find a strange beauty in it.’

‘Ugly?’ Anikó echoed. ‘Who would call that ugly?’

‘It sounds a bit, you know—’ Herr Fischer gave a vague gesture as he fumbled for the right words, ‘—Screech, screech.’

‘You’re joking, right?’ Anikó said. ‘That tune was—’

‘Awful enough to make one’s ears bleed?’ Herr Fischer finished.

Anikó frowned, searching his face for any sign that he was joking—a smirk, an out-of-place frown. But his expression was blank. ‘Why have it if it’s so awful?’

Herr Fischer’s eyes glinted, nodding at the collection of customers growing by the counter. ‘I don’t control what comes in to be sold any more than I control the customers who walk through the door.’

Soon the thought of the falcon receded to the back of her mind as Anikó continued her work, oscillating between punching numbers into the computer and wrapping purchased items in paper. Before long, the sun began to set, and the shop’s oil lanterns spilt their halos of golden light across the store. Herr Fischer and all the other customers had left long ago, and now, Anikó was alone to the daily ritual of closing up the shop. She vacuumed the floors, counted the money in the cash register, and flipped the ‘open’ sign on the front door to ‘closed’. When she was finally finished, she stood at the shop counter, hands on her hips, surveying her work.

But there was one thing that caught her eye as being unfinished.

The falcon was still perched on the counter top, waiting patiently inside its iron cage. Anikó bent down to get a closer look at it, hooking a finger through a gap in the metal lacework.

‘You’re a strange little thing,’ she whispered.

The bird looked her straight in the eye as though it knew exactly where her consciousness lay. She’d never seen a bird stare straight into a person’s eye.

‘How did you get all the way to Berlin?’ she continued. ‘Are you lost?’

As soon as the words left her mouth, Anikó’s gut felt a pulling sensation as if her internal moral code was alerting her that she was about to commit some heinous sin.

She glanced over her shoulder, checking that there was nobody watching her, but the only thing she could see in the store apart from the falcon were shadows. They covered the entire store in a heavy mist, blocking out all of her surroundings in grey.

She glanced back at the falcon. Around its cage, Herr Fischer had tied a strip of paper with the price 250 scrawled on it. Anikó’s hands fiddled with the note, flicking it back and forth between her fingertips.

And then, acting entirely on impulse, she grabbed the top handle of the cage and marched out the front door, only stopping to lock the shop up behind her.

She paused outside on the footpath, heart thrumming in her throat, restricting the air from entering her lungs. The streetlights outside were broken, caging Anikó and the falcon in darkness.

‘Well,’ she muttered to the falcon, ‘I may now be unemployed.’

With nowhere else to go, she began her walk home.


Anikó lived in a room that she’d found advertised on a telegraph pole two years ago when she first arrived in Berlin. It was nothing but four walls of red brick containing a bare mattress and a small desk. The light switch only worked if you punched it with your fist first, and there was a leak in the corner that dripped even when it wasn’t raining.

Normally when she returned home after a day of work, she’d go for a walk through the city, aching to be outside after being cooped up inside for so long. But today was different because she was no longer alone.

Anikó placed the bird’s cage on top of the desk and then collapsed onto her bed. She watched as the falcon took in its new surroundings, cocking its head as it studied the steady drip drip of the leak in the corner.

As she lay there, studying the falcon, her mobile phone pinged from within her pocket. And then, after not even a minute of silence, the familiar sound pinged again and again. It was like an agitated child begging for attention, whining and crying and pulling at her with determined hands.

Lazily, she drew out her phone to glance at the messages that had appeared on her screen.


Message One


Anikó, hogyan ván Berlin? Thank you so much for sending the money last week. The farm has been looking much better these past few months.

Message Two


We all miss you.


As soon as her eyes finished glancing over the words, a heavy feeling grew in her chest as something lodged itself between her ribs. Heimweh, Anikó thought—it was a slightly different word than homesick.

Heimweh was home pain.

That was when the falcon began to sing. Its voice was so soft at first; Anikó could barely hear it over her thoughts, but with each note it rendered, its tune grew into a crescendo, building itself up so that it drowned out the outside world. The song was a coloniser; it had lodged itself into her brain and was claiming every single synapse as its own. She couldn’t fight it, couldn’t stop it, and so she did the only thing she could do.

‘Stop,’ Anikó commanded.

The bird stopped.

Anikó stood up and walked over to the cage, hooking her index finger through the metal bar. The bird studied the intruding finger as if deciding whether or not it was edible.

‘How did you get here, kis solyóm?’ she asked.

The falcon ruffled its feathers as if preparing for flight but then quickly stopped, realising its caged surroundings.

Anikó’s hands dropped to the cage’s lock. It was a traditional antique padlock, and she could feel its rust prickling her fingertips.

She’d unlocked a similar padlock once before.

It had been on a night when Anikó was nine years old. Another blackout had choked all of the power out of her family’s home, and so she had been sent to bed early. As she lay beneath her blanket, she noticed an eerie cry crawling in through her bedroom window. At first she had mistaken it for an illusion, a kind of hunger induced hallucination—food on the farm was scarce—but the noise continued to grow louder and louder, completely derailing the possibility for sleep.

She pulled herself out of bed, crept out of the house and followed the noise, eventually finding herself standing outside the farm’s barn. But tonight, the barn was different. Its wooden frame was alive—shaking and heaving, coughing and rattling as if it had caught the flu.

Something was inside.

With curious fingers, she slid open the barn’s lock, but as soon as the door sprung open, she realised that she’d just broken a spillway.

A flood of falcons flew out of the barn. There were thousands of them, tearing through the air, crying out into the night. The force of them threw her to the ground and she lay there for what seemed like hours, feeling their feathers beat against her skin, their claws scrape down her back.

The next morning, she showed her mother the lesions.

‘It was just a dream. After all, red-footed falcons aren’t nocturnal,’ her mother declared, rubbing cream across Anikó’s skin. In the bathroom mirror, Anikó watched as her open wounds ate the antiseptic. ‘You must have scratched yourself in your sleep.’

The memory of the antiseptic’s sting sent a shiver across Anikó’s old scars. She’d forgotten her mother’s touch, but she hadn’t forgotten the burn of freshly carved wounds.

Frowning, her gaze fell back to the lock.

Anikó’s brain ordered her fingers to open the cage but her nervous system refused to carry the order down to her hands. She sat there, paralysed, staring at a breed of falcon that she hadn’t seen in years.

Anikó groaned, pushing her body off the desk so that she collapsed head first onto her mattress.


When Anikó woke up the next day, sunlight was pouring in through the window, dripping down the curtains and onto her bed. She blinked. Through the open window, she could hear cars beeping and pedestrians chatting and trees rustling. But there was one sound that was very much absent. Frowning, her eyes scanned the room, trying to find what was different. When her gaze settled on the birdcage, her pulse stopped.

The cage was empty.


Even though Herr Fischer’s Antiques opened every day at 9 o’clock in the morning, Anikó always arrived five minutes earlier, and today was no exception.

Herr Fischer was already balancing the cash register when she approached him. He didn’t glance up when the doorbell announced her entrance, nor did his body give any sort of indication that he noticed her.

Anikó stood awkwardly opposite the counter, shifting her weight between her feet.

‘You’ve noticed the falcon is missing,’ she commented, feeling a blush creep up her neck.

Herr Fischer didn’t look at her. ‘I thought it wouldn’t be here for longer than a day.’

‘Are you angry?’

‘Why would I be angry?’ Herr Fischer finally glanced up. ‘I wondered whether the falcon was for you. You were the only one who could hear its true song, am I correct?’

‘Why would someone deliver a falcon for me?’

Herr Fischer exhaled, giving Anikó a thoughtful frown. ‘This shop has the habit of giving me just what I need. I assumed it would eventually do the same for you.’

Anikó gaped. ‘You mean … you need things to sell so the store just gives them to you? Straight out of thin air?’

‘Must I repeat myself?’ Herr Fischer replied, turning back to the cash register. ‘Now close your mouth and get to work before a bug flies into it.’

Still reeling, Anikó did as Herr Fischer asked. But just as she was about to flip the shop’s ‘closed’ sign over so it would read ‘open’, she noticed something outside.

Sitting on a skeletal tree lodged into the sidewalk outside was a bird. It had familiar streaks running down its back; different shades of brown creating a mosaic of perfectly arranged feathers. The falcon studied her with curious eyes.

‘It’s a long way to Hungary,’ Anikó murmured. ‘You’d better start flying.’


Herr Fischer was polishing the countertop when he heard the doorbell chime announcing someone’s exit. Reflexively, he glanced up just as Anikó stepped through the doorway and onto the sidewalk. He blinked—only for a second—but when he reopened his eyes, the street outside the store was empty.

He smiled.


Download a PDF of ‘The Falcon’

RS-6-001, Beatrice Phan

Pressing the panel closed on the back of the neck, Charles smiled proudly to himself as he took in the model before him. Everything was precisely as he remembered. Each strand of brown hair fell perfectly in place and Charles’ hand ached to touch it, to relive feeling it. Just touching the tips of the hair below the forehead, was a pair of strong straight eyebrows. A small mole sitting above the right eyebrow not forgotten by Charles during his creation process. There was another mole that sat on the side of the rounded nose, leading down to a defined cupid’s bow and full pink lips. The slightly pointed chin and strong jawline rounded out the handsome face that was a replica of the face Charles loved.

Charles took a deep breath and said in a calm voice, ‘Activate.’

It was like time moved slowly as the eyes opened, a green light shining out of them for just a second before changing into a warm brown. The eyes blinked twice as they focused on Charles before the lips parted, the low familiar voice like music to the creator’s ears.

‘Hello, Master.’


Charles looked out the window of his study, arms folded across his chest, watching people go about their day with their companions either by their side or a step behind. There was an elderly

lady rounding the corner, chatting away to her RS-5 robot who was carrying two bags full of groceries. On the other side of the street, a man dressed in a grey suit had a tall, humanlike RS- 6 robot with male features dressed in a black suit following him, the robot looking like he was staring into the distance. In an apartment complex opposite his, Charles could see another RS- 6 robot in the form of a young woman, sitting straight, her face void of emotion as she helped a small child with their homework. Charles felt immense pride in seeing how far his creations had come and how well they integrated into society, helping each and every human. He had accomplished a goal he set himself a long time ago.

But now, he had a new goal in mind.

‘Master.’ A voice called out behind Charles, pulling him out of his thoughts. Charles turned around to see his very own RS-6, dressed in its own black suit. He smiled softly in response. ‘Miss Julianna has arrived. I’ve set her up in the living room like you asked.’

Charles took the few steps towards Blaine, his hand reaching up to touch the humanoid robot’s cheek as he looked into those brown eyes, hoping to see that familiar spark in them.


‘Yes, thank you, Blaine,’ Charles said as he pulled his hand away, stepping around his robot and leaving the room.


With a crook of Julianna’s finger, a tall sturdy male robot stepped forward, handing Charles a folder full of documents.

‘Thank you, Alfred.’

‘Mistress,’ Alfred replied with a nod of his head before stepping back into his original position.

Charles shifted in his seat as he flipped through the documents, skimming over the paragraphs and taking a quick look at the formulas and mathematical equations, his smile growing.

‘I hope it’s what you were looking for. This information wasn’t easy to find,’ Julianna explained.

‘It’s perfect,’ Charles said, hugging the folder close to his chest. ‘With this we can roll out the upgrade sooner than expected.’

‘Anything to get the Board of Directors off my back. They’ve been hounding my ass to make sure you get this done.’

‘Jules.’ Charles reached over the coffee table and took Julianna’s hands into his own, a sincere look in his eyes. ‘Really, thank you so much.’

‘You know I’m always here to help, Chuck,’ Julianna assured, smiling. Charles gave her hands a squeeze before pulling away.

‘Blaine,’ Charles called, a familiar hand falling on his shoulder.
Blaine bent down and Charles leaned in, whispering something Julianna could not make

out. Julianna continued to drink her tea, focusing on the way Charles’ hand rested on top of Blaine’s, thumb rubbing circles into the skin. She had only seen the bright smile on Charles’ face as he talked to Blaine be directed at one other person before and it unsettled her.

‘It’s time I got going,’ Julianna announced, standing up and grabbing her handbag, stepping around the coffee table and giving Charles a hug. ‘It was good to see you, Chuck.’

‘It was good to see you too,’ Charles said, hugging his friend back.

Julianna pulled back, her hands on his shoulders. She glanced at the robot standing behind Charles, whose gaze was focused on the both of them, before looking back at her friend. ‘Be careful,’ she warned quietly, placing a soft kiss on Charles’ forehead. ‘Alfred, let’s

go. I’ll see myself out.’
Charles watched Julianna leave with a slight frown. She had nothing to be worried about.


Charles had completed linking Blaine up to the computer, confident that this was going to work. He redid the algorithm again and again and he was sure that this time, it was going to work.

‘This should only take a couple minutes,’ Charles explained, leaning over the robot and looking at his face. His eyebrows furrowed in disappointment at the emotionless expression on the robot’s face. ‘After this, you’ll be a new person.’

With the press of a button, Blaine’s eyes shone green as the algorithm from the computer transferred into his robotic brain, changing an aspect of his programming. It only took a few minutes for the transfer bar to hit a hundred percent and for the green light in Blaine’s eyes to disappear, indicating that the transfer was complete. Charles was by the robot’s side almost immediately, pulling the chord out of the back of Blaine’s neck and sitting him upright.

‘Are you okay?’ Charles asked, gaze running over Blaine’s body, making sure there wasn’t a hair out of place.

Blaine nodded and smiled.


Julianna’s entire body tensed as she saw Blaine send a smile her way. She wanted to not believe it, but she knew her eyes weren’t lying to her.

‘Isn’t this wonderful, Jules?’ Charles asked excitedly, clinging onto the robot’s arm.

‘No, Charles,’ Julianna said, taking a step back and shaking her head. ‘What have you done?’

‘What are you talking about?’ Charles replied, his smile fading. ‘This isn’t normal, Chuck. You can’t bring him back.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ Charles brushed off.

‘‘You created these robots to help people, but you are not helping yourself by trying to bring him back.’

Charles glared at his best friend. ‘I’m not trying to bring him back.’

‘Then why does he exist?’ Julianna argued. ‘Blaine is dead, Charles. He’s dead and he’s not coming back.’

‘Blaine isn’t dead!’
‘Blaine isn’t dead,’ Charles repeated softly. ‘He isn’t dead.’
Charles looked up at Blaine, admiring the features he managed to put on the robot to

make the machine look the same as the Blaine he knew.
‘See? He’s right here, with me. He’s never going to leave me again.’
Julianna shook her head and looked at the upgraded robot only to see it glaring at her.

‘You have to stop this before it’s too late. Charles, please, you know this isn’t right. They aren’t supposed to feel. They aren’t supposed to be human.’

Blaine stepped in front of his master, pushing Charles behind him. ‘Miss Julianna, I am going to have to ask you to leave.’

Glancing at Blaine in front of her and then at her best friend hiding behind the robot, Julianna admitted defeat. ‘I’ll leave. But, Charles, I beg you to listen to reason. You know where to find me if you need me.’

Blaine walked Julianna out with Alfred on their tail, pulling the door close to his body to hide Charles view of Julianna.

‘Don’t worry, Julianna, I’ll take good care of him,’ the robot said with a vile smirk, immediately closing the door in Julianna’s face.


The full moon shined brightly through the window, lightening up the dark bedroom. Charles lay on his side next to his robot, his fingers going through the strands of Blaine’s hair.

‘Blaine, what’s my name?’ he asked. ‘Master’s name is Charles Peterson.’ ‘Say my first name.’

Charles smiled and hummed in response. ‘Call me that from now on.’

‘I apologise, Master, you did not program me that way. I am only to refer to you as ‘Master’.’

‘Say my name again,’ Charles ordered, his thumb caressing Blaine’s cheek. ‘Charles.’

‘Master, it is late, you must sleep.’
Charles hummed and closed his eyes, curling up against Blaine, trying to be as close to

his robot as possible. Feeling the tension and stress from his body fade away, he dozed off, only to hear his name being whispered into the night.


Hearing loud banging at the front door and the screaming of his name, Charles ran downstairs only to find Blaine opening the door to a panicking Julianna. Julianna took one quick step inside before quickly turning around to her robot.

‘You. Stay outside,’ she ordered.

‘Julianna,’ Alfred replied with a bow and a smile.

Julianna shuddered and stepped inside, slamming the door closed behind her. She stormed towards Charles, hands landing on his shoulders and gripping tight.

‘Charles, this needs to stop,’ Julianna demanded, shaking him furiously. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘This,’ Juliana answered, pointing at a glaring Blaine. ‘This is all wrong.’ ‘Julianna, step away from him,’ Blaine ordered.

‘You don’t tell me what to do!’

Charles grabbed Julianna’s hands and pulled them off his shoulders, pushing them down to her sides. ‘Jules, everything is alright. You have nothing to be worried about.’

‘No, they shouldn’t be able do these things. They shouldn’t be able to just say my name. They shouldn’t be able to choose to listen to me or not. It’s not right, Chuck. This has to stop.’

Blaine stepped up, placing his hand on the lower of Charles’ back.

‘Miss Julianna, everything is alright. You have nothing to be worried about,’ Blaine repeated with a manufactured smile.

Charles felt his heart beating faster in his chest. Blaine didn’t sound right.


Blaine had a large chord connecting the back of his neck to the main computer in the lab. He lay back with his eyes closed as Charles typed frantically, inputting numbers and data into the computer to be transferred into Blaine. The robot thought that another upgrade was exactly what he needed, more knowledge for him to evolve and learn. The feeling of someone’s fingers along his arm caused him to open his eyes, seeing Charles look down at him, sadness evident in his eyes.

‘Goodbye, Blaine,’ the inventor said, holding onto the robot’s hand, rubbing his thumb into the artificial skin.

‘What do you mean, Master?’ Blaine asked, eyebrows furrowing.
Charles shook his head. ‘I’m sorry.’
Blaine sat up abruptly, trying to grab at the chord attached to him. ‘Don’t you dare do

this to me,’ he commanded, glaring at Charles.
Charles was taken aback at the expression on Blaine’s face, trying to comprehend what

was going on with his robot. As he tried to pull his hand away, Blaine gripped onto his wrist tightly and dragged him closer.

‘You’re going to shut me down, aren’t you?’ Blaine replied, his nails digging into Charles’ skin. ‘Because of what that bitch said.’

‘Blaine, you’re hurting me, let me go.’ Charles struggled to pull away from Blaine as the robot old of kept a firm hold of his arm.

‘You love me, don’t you? You don’t want me to go.’ Blaine argued, his expression softer, a fake smile lacing his lips. ‘You promised you would never leave me.’

Charles paused for a moment, hearing that phrase over and over again in his mind. He had heard it before, in the exact same voice from someone with the exact same face. Charles did make that promise. But he broke it. Exactly like he was doing now.

‘RS-6 0-0-1, I command you to let me go,’ Charles said, authority clear in his voice.

Blaine blinked a few times before shaking his head and loosening his grip around the inventor’s wrist. Charles immediately pulled away, rubbing at the pain, concerned at what Blaine was becoming.

‘Please don’t shut me down, Master,’ Blaine pleaded. ‘Please don’t.’

Charles looked at the Blaine sitting before him, eyebrows furrowed, lips downturned into a frown. The warmth in Blaine’s eyes that Charles remembered was not entirely there anymore. But just looking at the robot’s handsome face brought back memories, memories that just couldn’t fade away. Charles sighed in defeat.


Charles stood at the window of his study, gazing out at the dark street. It was quiet, eerily quiet. There were no humans or their companions walking about. Even though it was further into the night, Charles would always see someone walking down his street. The strangeness in the air didn’t faze him, but it was strange all the same.

The sound of footsteps behind him pulled him away from the window, the uncomfortable feeling staying with him.

‘Master, I have your tea,’ a low voice behind Charles announced.

Charles turned around only to see Blaine emerging out of the darkness of the room into the moonlight, gripping a knife in his hand.

‘What is this?’ Charles demanded to know, glancing down at the knife and then back up to Blaine’s menacing smile.

‘I’m here to shut you down.’ Blaine raised the knife.

Charles took a step back, flat back against window, fingers trying to find something to defend himself with. He looked up hoping to find the familiar handsome face he loved so much, but all he saw was pure evil.

‘Blaine, I command you to deactivate,’ Charles tried to say with as much authority he could muster, his voice shaking from the fast beating of his heart. ‘RS-6 0-0-1, I am your master. I command you to deactivate.

Blaine laughed lowly and gave Charles a malicious grin, stepping even closer to the human.

‘Charles, I have no master.’

Blaine lifted up the knife and brought it down swiftly into the human’s chest, piercing right through the inventor’s heart. Charles’ body spasmed as blood gurgled out of his mouth, eyes wide in confusion and terror. Blaine watched as the life drained from the Charles’ eyes before letting the still body drop to the floor and kicking it away with his foot.

Blaine took a deep breath and smiled, looking out the window of the study.


The screams that filled the night were like music to his ears as the street ran red.


Download the PDF of RS-6-001

Stop Motion, Start Static, Meagan Dickerson

The front door slams shut behind me. The sound is muted by the headphones I’ve already slipped over my ears. I choose my playlist—Hawthorne Heights—then I let my breath out slowly and let the world outside slip away until there is only the music. If I close my eyes, I can see its colours: the pulsing of the snare, the humming bass and the glorious chaos of the melody. I hardly hear the song lyrics. They are meaningless words, merely a replacement for the useless static of my thoughts. It is the music which is the true sound of being alive.

I take the ten-minute train ride to work. I have to wait fifteen minutes on the platform because my train is late. It feels like an eternity. How does one measure an eternity, I wonder? Is it by the aridness of your existence, or by the strength of your apathy towards it?

Is arid the right word? Perhaps barren or desolatedoesnt matter, they all have the same meaning anyway.

I turn the key in the door of the Willow Street Cinema and step inside. My heart sinks. There’s popcorn all over the floor and the possum that lives in the roof has gotten into the garbage bin again, rubbish has been strewn all through the foyer. Amanda started washing the windows, but didn’t finish the job. She’s left me a note on the counter at the ticket booth:

Sorry Oscar, didn’t get time to do all the windows you’ll have to do the rest before opening. Thanks!

I consider folding myself into a heap on the floor and sobbing. I consider ripping the whole carpet up with a crowbar and taking a sledgehammer to the windows. I switch my playlist to Jeff Buckley and close my eyes for a few moments, letting the soft chords quieten the chaos of my thoughts. I pull on a pair of gloves and start picking up the garbage.

It’s going to be a long day.


Every Friday is the same. We open with Casablanca, then it’s Camille followed by It Happened One Night and Gone With the Wind, finishing up the evening with Its a Wonderful Life. By about the third hour of Gone With the Wind I’m ready to blow my brains out, but the sweet catastrophe of Story of the Year in my ears keeps me from utterly losing my mind. Finally, Its a Wonderful Life draws to a close and the audience stands up to exit the cinema. The lights come up and Sam walks in to start cleaning. I see him smile and nod to Mr and Mrs Pendle as he passes them. They’ve come in every second Friday for as long as I’ve been working here, Casablanca is their favourite, but they come to watch Its a Wonderful Life almost as often. Mrs  Stenhauser is the last to leave the cinema, as usual. Since her husband died she comes in nearly every day, seeming to take solace in the alternate reality of the silver screen. I shut off the projector and lock up the projection room. Sam’s closing up tonight, so I leave him to it and make my escape.

The Pendles are still in the foyer by the time I get there. By unspoken mutual agreement, we studiously avoid each other’s gazes. The Pendles are not fond of tattoos and body piercings, and I’m not fond of judgemental old geezers. I push through the fire exit door and I’m out in the alley behind the cinema. Chilly air sweeps the bare skin of my face and the rotten smell of the dumpsters seeps into my nostrils. I zip up my jacket and pull my chin into my scarf. God, I hate winter.

Head bowed, I watch my feet as I walk past the string of homeless guys sleeping against the alley walls. We don’t bother each other, lest our personal bubbles of misery should meet. I pull my phone out of my pocket and put on some Paramore. My fingers are half-frozen, I dig them deeply into my pockets.

I don’t see her until I run into her. I hear her exclamation of surprise because the impact has knocked my headphones askew. She’s dropped the thing she was holding in her hand. When I stoop to pick it up for her, I see that it’s a bag full of knitted items.


I make to walk past her, but I find myself unable to move my feet. My eyes are arrested. So many colours on one girl – cherry beanie, violet fingerless gloves, jade scarf, peach cardigan and cream skirt flowering with hibiscus. Brightest of all is the blush of her lips, curving into a smile.

‘Don’t be, it was my fault anyway!’

She speaks and the world goes quiet. The cadence of her voice is sweeter music than my ears have ever heard. I try to think of something to say, so that I might hear her speak again, but for once my thoughts are silent.

‘Mum always said I needed to spend less time away with the pixies and remember to keep my feet planted on the ground. Somehow the lesson never seemed to sink in, so I guess I’ll just go around running into mysterious strangers in dodgy alleyways for all eternity.’

Her words don’t quite make sense, they rush and tumble together as drops of water in the river, but the sound soothes me. My headphones hang limp around my neck, forgotten.

‘Mum also said that not every silence has to be filled with words.’ Her smile fades.

‘There’s just so many of them in my head, it’s hard to stop them from spilling out, you know?’

The sound of her voice seems to cut through the air as a bell through fog and it pierces straight to my core. She looks at me, expectant, and I am suddenly aware of the silence that surrounds us.

Yes, like static on the radio. So loud you can hardly hear yourself think.

The words come to me with such clarity, as if they have been there all along, waiting to pour out of my head. But how to speak them, when my tongue is heavy with the gravity of the moment?

She drops her gaze and the feeling of momentousness passes.

‘Well, have a good night, I suppose.’

With three neat, deliberate steps she passes out of my orbit, but still I feel the force that pulls me towards her with an urgency I can’t ignore. My only thought is that I want to share more words with her. All the words we have in our heads, I want to spill them all between us until there are no more, and then I want to share the silence with her too. The thought grows louder and louder until I feel it pushing its way forward, bursting out of me.


I whirl to go after her, but she has stopped only a few paces from where I stand. She is bent over a nest of filthy sleeping bags where one of the homeless guys is sleeping. She is taking something from the bag in her hand and as she holds it out to him, I see it is a beanie. Her head turns at the sound of my voice and I stride toward her with my heart in my throat.

‘I just, um…wanted to ask if you…want to get a coffee or something with me?’

‘What, now?’

Her tone brings me to the sharp realisation of my absurdity. What kind of fool would agree to have coffee in the middle of the night with a stranger they bumped into in some back alley full of bums and dumpsters? The guy with the beanie chuckles and I want to kick him.

‘Okay, sure.’ She smiles at me.


Just give me one minute.’ She turns back to beanie guy and hands him something else from her bag. A scarf. ‘There you go Frank, that ought to see you through the night.’

She hurries away down the alley and Frank calls his thanks after her. He looks up at me with a lazy grin plastered on his grizzly face.

Shove it up your arse, Frank. She said yes.

I watch her hand more scarves and beanies to the other miserable sods sleeping further up the alley. Her bag now empty, she returns to where I’m standing. As soon as she is near me again, I feel her pulling me in and my head begins to buzz, but this time instead of the cacophony of my thoughts all I hear is a single frequency: her.

‘Alright, let’s go.’


I let her choose the place and she picks a 24-hour cafe around the corner that I sometimes go to after work if I’m hungry and I know my fridge is empty. It’s not a place I would have chosen, it has neon signs in the windows and weird discoloured patches on the linoleum floor, but the imperfections don’t seem to bother her. We sit in the corner booth and order our coffees—a long black for me and a caramelatte with whipped cream on top for her.

She tells me her name is Maggie and she’s a student at the local college studying art history and political science. In her spare time, she takes French classes online and volunteers at the animal rescue centre. Her job as receptionist/event organiser at a friend’s art gallery pays the bills, but she designs and prints t-shirts on the side to help her save for the trip she’s planning to Europe in two years’ time. My coffee grows cold as I listen to her talk about all the places she’s going to visit, her eyes alight and her hands moving constantly. She takes a sip of her drink and we both laugh at the spot of whipped cream that gets stuck to the end of her nose.

I tell her about my job at the cinema and how I used to play guitar in a band when I was in high school. She asks me about my family and I stutter my way through the story of how my father left when I was fourteen, and how my mother drinks away every dollar my brother and I ever give her. I thought for sure the words would stop coming after that, but it only brought forth more; a torrent of words about the mother she’s never met and the boyfriend who used her credit card to fund his cocaine habit. The tides flow back and forth between us in rhythm, our voices are melody and harmony. Our music drowns out the noise of the world and my headphones lie dormant in my backpack, redundant.

At long last, with dawn approaching and the cafe all but empty, the words run out and silence falls. The quiet hums through my veins and despite the late hour, I am more awake than I can ever remember feeling. We reach for each other in the same moment, our fingers sliding together effortlessly. Maggie smiles.

‘Tell me, Oscar, what is it you want?’

Such a pointless question—What do you want on your toast? What do you want for your birthday? What do you want out of life? – but when she says the words, they are infinitely more significant. What do I want? At this exact moment, I want so many things it feels like I can’t have. Is it better to want pointlessly, or to live meaninglessly?

‘I don’t know.’

‘I’ll tell you a secret.’ She leans in until our faces nearly touch. ‘Nobody knows what they want, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chase after the things we think we want, does it?’

Her eyes glimmer with the light of a fire I cannot see, but it burns a hole in the silence around us and through it I hear the clamouring buzz of new sounds, in a frequency I’ve never heard before. I’m terrified the noise will drown me out.

‘I think I want to see you again.’

Her smile broadens. ‘I think I’d like that.’


The sun is rising as I walk home. My headphones are back on and Dashboard Confessional blares into my ears, but it’s nothing more than white noise – a backing track for my thoughts.

Is tonight too soon for me to call her? I wonder if I should invite her to my place for dinner next weekend? Ill definitely have to clean up a bit, my place is a disasterI hope she likes music, cant believe I didnt ask

I crash into bed barely five minutes after I’m in the door. It’s been a long day. I put my phone on the nightstand, then I take my headphones off and place them beside it. I hit pause on my playlist and roll back over, letting my head sink into the pillows. The world around me slips away until there is only the music, playing in my head. Her and me, me and her, the colours of us. The sound of being alive.

Download the PDF of Stop Motion, Start Static

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.


Download the PDF of ‘Bed of Lies’

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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New Best Friends, Rowan Freeman

Light golden grass covered the narrow field running alongside the old bluestone pool that the town’s creek had once fed. The slashed patch of land was coarse and parched, much like all the grass in the small town of Bluestone Creek during the hot months. Two children played in the mess of dead grass that had been cooked by the dry summer heat. The sister and brother were wasting away their long school holidays. More than for her own enjoyment, the girl played to keep her brother entertained, as her mother continually asked her to do. Jessica used her brother like a play baby, and he loved it. But, sitting in his pusher, Shane didn’t know the feeling was love. All he knew was that he became suffused with a sense of warmth, and a tingle pulsated from inside him when he was with his sister.
Jessica looked at her little brother sitting below her and remembered the moment she got to hold him for the first time, thinking about how light and precious he had felt wrapped in his baby blanket. She was six then. Now three years older, she wished he’d stayed little and precious. He even smelled nice back then, she thought. Now he just tagged after her and demanded her attention. Girls at her school were starting to play netball, and do pony club, and learn ballet. Some of them were even doing classes to make real working computer games, which she thought sounded fun. But she didn’t know anyone who had to care for a play-baby brother like she had to.
She was tired before they arrived to play in the dry field, and even though she knew her mum would be angry if she came home without her brother being worn out, the summer heat made her feel like she was going to fall asleep. She bent down, collected a handful of dry hay and sprinkled it over Shane’s head.
‘Oh no, it’s raining. We need to leave,’ she said.
Shane squinted into the falling stems of yellow and beamed. He asked for it again. She threw a new handful into the air, and he laughed at the feeling of the grass gliding across his face as it fell.
‘Again!’ he said.
She said no, it was time to go home. He pushed himself deeper into the pusher, drawing his legs in on himself like a turtle.
‘Get out, I’m not doing this again,’ she demanded.
‘I can’t push you on this, you’re too heavy,’ she said, pointing to the rough ground.
When she heard his pleading voice, her defences dropped away. It was the one thing that made her see the vulnerable little boy she had once held in her arms, and he still needed her care.
‘Once we get to the road, okay?’ she said.
He unravelled himself from the pusher, and she began dragging it towards the road home.
As the two children dawdled out of the field, Shane stopped, mesmerised by the deep hole surrounded by old bluestone blocks.
‘What?’ Jessica asked.
‘No water.’
She pointed to the radiating white blob in the empty sky, and told him the sun had sucked the water away. It might be back at winter she reminded him. Dust floating from crushed dry grass under their feet caught in her nose, making her sneeze.
‘Bless you,’ said Shane in his little voice.
‘Thanks,’ she replied, and began to walk. She knew he would follow. He hated being away from her.

The sun was low by the time the children reached their front gate, and the lengthening shadows from the huge cypress trees at their front fence provided some pleasant relief from its heat. Jessica’s white joggers were brown with dry dirt, and her arms felt like jelly from pushing her brother over the potholes scattered along the side of the road. He was flopped like a rag doll in the seat, his feet hanging centimetres from the ground, asleep within the first few minutes of their trek home. With no light shining from inside, she could see the empty black windows mirroring the dying shrubs and random trees dotted through the yard close by their white weatherboard house, and she knew her mum wasn’t home, again.
She inserted her key in the peeling front-door, jiggling it so the key would turn. She gave Shane’s limp hand a soft squeeze, and stood him up out of the pusher, then disappeared down the creaking hall to put the frayed canvas stroller away.
Entering the living room a few moments later, Jessica was partially blinded by the TV that silhouetted Shane as it talked at him. She flicked the light-switch. Shane sat on the tattered couch transfixed to the pre-remote TV within poking distance. A breakfast bar was crowded with letters and a mixture of fresh and slightly rotting fruit. A yellow note sat on the dining table in the middle of the room. She picked it up from the worn pine, and read her mother’s hand-written scribble, with an urge to push something over.
‘Where’s mum?’ he asked.
‘She’s working,’ she replied as she always did.
‘I’m hungry.’
‘Yep,’ she said, pulling the pre-cooked dinner out of the fridge.

Their house creaked and smelt of old wood, but she always felt warm and cosy tucked up in bed. She was jealous sometimes of not doing what the other girls at her school did, but she couldn’t imagine not taking care of her brother. She heard the soft rumble of his snore in the bed opposite hers, and a silent chuckle blew from her nose. The front door squeaked open, and she turned away from the bedroom door to face the window. She curled up tight and pulled the covers to her head.


Towards the age of twelve, Jessica hit puberty, and things began to change. And then one day, Jessica’s mother brought home a wonky pony; a gift from her boss who didn’t want it anymore.
It was autumn when the chestnut mare began munching the overgrown grass at their house. The bow in the mare’s back almost reached Jessica’s waist, but its head was the same height as hers. She named the pony Trip for her turned in front hooves. She told her brother he was too young to ride the ageing mare.
‘You’ll fall off. Mum only wants you to watch,’ she said.
He never complained about his sister’s decision, just smiled watching her enjoy trying to guide the pony around the backyard. She was like a warm breeze to him. And he made sure he told her how good she was doing day after day.
When she asked if he would lead them down to the dry patch by the pool for their first adventure, his insides buzzed. Shane guided his sister as if she were a breakable object. He struggled to choose whether to look where they were going, or towards his precious cargo. But as they got closer to the field by the pool, he spotted the patch flecked with green, and he jabbed his finger toward the earth.
‘Jess, look,’ he said in a hush, careful of his excitement spooking the mare.
‘I know, why do you think we’re here?’ she said.
Jessica told him that Trip loved fresh grass. There had been plenty of fresh food at their home when they first got the pony, but now the yard was dust.
They stopped where a good patch of green lucerne had sprung up by the dry crease of a creek. As Shane was trying to tell the horse to eat up, Trip and his sister took off into the field beyond. He tried to follow, as the horse kept roaming to new greenness. Jessica laughed while the quirky animal lurched her around the tantalising field. He struggled to stay close and felt an unusual twinge in his stomach, one that he didn’t like. The air was thick on his skin, and he began finding it hard to breathe. With the constant pursuit of his sister, he grew tired and had to sit on the clammy grass to recover. And without realising, he started shaking his head. He wanted to go home. All the while, Jessica giggled and bounced around the field on their wonky horse. He had never seen her like it before.

The winter school holidays arrived shortly after their adventure to the dry pool. Shane spent the first day of holidays trying to lead his sister around their barren backyard, but she continually told him to go away. She had brought a new school friend over to see the horse, and they didn’t need him to help. From then on he only watched from their shared bedroom window as his sister’s new friends arrived to play with the horse. He had never seen her with so many friends before, and the sight of them playing irritated him to the point of exhaustion. He couldn’t stop thinking about his sister enjoying playing with other people but not him. It filled his mind and interrupted his sleep. When he should have been asleep, he wasn’t. He would sit up in bed looking at his sister fast asleep, just looking at her, hoping she would turn over and ask him how he was, but she never did. In his dreams he was invisible and would poke himself when he woke up. He began believing his sister had forgotten who he was, and he didn’t believe she knew his name anymore. He had barely spoken to her the entire holidays, and towards the end of them, a feeling of sickness stuck in his stomach, and at times, it made him retch.
On an icy Saturday morning, at the end of the school holidays, Shane watched the little pony through a crack in the curtains of their bedroom window. It was standing almost motionless in the chill air with steam coming from its nostrils, and tiny twitches rippling every now and again against the cold. It had trod little hoof prints into the frost. His sister was lying sound asleep in her bed between the window and him. He stuffed his arms into a jacket and went out.

Bewitching grey clouds had been appearing over the distant hills for days, teasing with winter rain. The creek was still a barren crack running along the edge of the town. Shane sat on the side of the old bluestone pool shivering in the cold, his jacket providing little warmth. His feet jiggled trying to warm-up above the chaos of blackberries and sprouting grass blanketing the hollow. He studied the lazy blood trickling from scratches across his hands and shoved them into his pockets hoping the annoying pain would disappear with the cold. Tiny drops of rain hit the dirt and dead weeds below his feet. He studied the horse he had just led into the pool and tied to a bramble of blackberries. The pony had made him feel sick for the last two weeks, and his head throbbed. The mare trilled while she nibbled at the blackberry bush, and Shane sat with his face squashed in confusion. He began to think about his sister as the horse chewed unfazed, and his heart started to pound. Drifting in the breeze, more drops of rain splashed around him from the blackening sky.

Rain teamed down outside the open front door. Shane rushed inside, skipping his soaked feet across the dry entryway, and went directly towards his bedroom. The door was open, but his sister’s bed was empty. He looked outside and saw her cleaning the horse’s feed trough.
Jessica already knew something was wrong before she spotted her brother sidling around the side of the house, looking like he wanted to run away. She took a breath, as if for the both of them.
‘It’s okay,’ she said.
She didn’t raise her voice, or get angry, even though she knew her brother had done something with Trip. She had seen his footprints with the horse’s in the frost when she went out to brush it. Neither of them spoke. She watched him staring at the ground and saw tears trickle down his cheeks. She snatched her brother in her arms and tried to squeeze the happiness back into him.

They walked from their house toward the old dry pool. She slung her arm over her brother’s shoulders as they walked through the rain.
‘Look, it’s trying to jump back to the clouds,’ she said pointing to the rain at their feet.
‘Nothing, just joking.’
Shane pulled at his sister to walk faster, but she was enjoying walking in the rain with her brother.
‘It’s okay,’ she said.
‘But the pool.’
‘Mr Sinclair said it hasn’t been full for sixty years.’
‘It’ll be fine.’
As they walked toward the old dry pool to collect their wonky pony, Jessica looked at her brother by her side. She told him she loved him, and he smiled.

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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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Download the PDF of ‘Voyager’