In the Wink of an Eye

IT HADN’T WORKED. Tens of thousands of man-hours, billions of dollars and trillions of computations all culminating in a big, fat nothing. Professor Palmer’s senses returned to her slowly, almost reluctantly. For what felt like a long time her entire awareness had been filled with one overriding thought—the project was over.

She was uncomfortable, lying amongst broken glass and twisted debris, and as this discomfort began to register she tried to rouse herself. A klaxon was howling and she grimaced at its closeness as she struggled into a sitting position. The lights were out and the lab, or what was left of it, shimmered behind a thick veil of acrid, grey smoke. Coughing and gasping for breath, Palmer reached out for a shattered computer housing and used it to pull herself to her feet. There was a deep gash on her forehead and something sharp was embedded in her left shoulder, but apart from that and the headache she was fine. An involuntary laugh sprang to her throat, where it caught and mutated into a racking cough.

“Hans!” she called out, as soon as she was able. “Hans! Are you there?”

There was no answer from the wreckage, but the klaxon was too loud to hear anything else and the smoke and darkness made it impossible to see anything but the broadest details. As she called her colleague’s name out again, she caught sight of the looming bulk of the transmitter in the centre of the devastation. Half of its outer plating had been blasted away and it seemed like the core had shattered.

She cursed. Radiation. End of story. Continue reading


ON VERIDIDIAN, YOU GET USED TO SEEING STRANGE things. If you’re unlucky, it’s in your bathroom mirror first thing in the morning. Verididian moss has been known to take root overnight in the oddest places and it objects loudly to any attempts to move it. I thought I was beyond considering anything strange after fifteen years here. Then, one morning, my mirror made my heart miss a beat.

This isn’t a hideous tale of disfigurement, not at this point anyway. What I saw, reflected, was the hull of an Earth vessel passing over the light well of my bathroom. Strange, because I hadn’t seen one in five years. Stranger still, because I was the Consul-General of Verididian and I didn’t know a thing about it.

“Jeremy, you wretched sloth!” I screamed as I grabbed my ceremonial uniform from a hook, shoved my feet into my boots, and ran out into the tunnel. “Jeremy, you better have a damned good answer for this or I’ll send that rock you use for a head on a long vacation!”

I tried to regain some decorum. I had attracted a fair amount of attention from passersby. But decorum wasn’t easy since I was stumbling down the hall in my underwear, tall boots undone and flapping with every step. I stuffed a loose boob back into my bra and straightened my back. Human anatomy was a bit of a mystery to the locals and with all the eye-swivelling, I began to feel modest for my whole species.

“Jeremy!” I yelled as I charged round a bend in the tunnel. I thumped right into him and sent him and his component rocks rolling across the floor. “Oh Flurst!” I cried gripping my knee. For a little guy, he was solid.

As Jeremy gathered himself together, I spotted an invitation on the floor. Ranek’s—the Royal Advisor—scroll marked the top. I snatched it up and began to read as I pulled on my trousers and fastened my boots. “…to formally welcome Under-Consul Drummond at the arrivals hall tomorrow…”

I turned on the scattered rocks that were Jeremy. “Ranek summoned you to his office to collect this didn’t he?”

Jeremy’s head rock nodded.

“He summoned you yesterday and you’ve been delivering it ever since?”

Jeremy’s head nodded again.

I clenched my fists. “For Flurst’s sake, Jeremy! You have to learn to delegate!” Then remembering it paid to be precise, I added, “And NOT to another rock sloth!” I hobbled on down the tunnel, struggling into my jacket, and cursing Ranek’s attempt to keep me in the dark.

Still wrestling with fastenings and hair I joined the official greeting line in the arrivals hall.

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Earth Sector 19, Sub-Sector 12, Habitation Block 10774, Unit 408. July 12th, 2389: 22:55hrs.

It was not the worst of times that was still to come. Carrie could feel it in her bones, a deep ache of despair that clung to her like a parasite. She assumed everyone else felt the same way but that the social convention of defiance prevented them from saying so. The war had been raging now for five years, and in that time Earth had reduced from a shining hub of commerce to a shantytown, grim and under populated. Today, though, was the worst day so far. It was Isaac’s fourteenth birthday.

The day her son went off to war.

Carrie looked at herself in the bathroom mirror and her forty four year old face stared back impassively. She was so used to her mask of calm that now she couldn’t imagine living without it. She remembered when that face used to laugh and had eyes that knew nothing of loss or despair. The hair had been full and golden, but now was flat and dull, casting a minimal shine from the harsh strip light running along the top of the chipped glass. The lips had been kind and welcoming instead of thin and cold and few of those harsh lines had been there. Countless emotions used to play on that face, unashamed and naked, but now only grim acceptance remained. She washed her face so that if Isaac saw her eyes she could say that she’d got soap in them. 

He had to be back by eleven to pick up his kit bag, and then the bus would come for him at midnight. Carrie wanted to be strong for Isaac, didn’t want him to see her cry. She thought that if she could leave him with a memory of her as a strong and beautiful woman, and as a loving mother then perhaps that memory would help him in the horrors to come. Something to hold on to and keep fixed in his mind, something to fight for and, more than anything else, something to survive for. 

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