Issue 49 (Jan. 2016)
Second Lieutenant Steven Michaels lay face down in bed in his quarters in his farspace ship, the Spes, too tired to cry. His colony was a level field of brick-hard mud with three graves–two graves and one memorial–and a sole last piece of equipment left to broadcast the colony’s fate and the identities of the dead. His commander was dead, the two crewmen who outranked him were dead, the farspace colony they had been sent to found had been obliterated by floods and hostile local conditions. Their fields of crops washed away, their buildings swept away, nothing left.
In the taxi going home, Deepak could feel the jet-lag coming on. The tiredness in his bones, the almost drugged sleep, the weird dreams and the subsequent wakefulness that felt like walking through sponges. It might actually have been pleasant, had he not had to return to work soon. It was already the early hours of Monday.
Not a soul was about. The taxi slipped through the streets of Des Moines, the snow on the ground hushing all sound. It passed gas-station convenience stores, drive-through banks, fast-food restaurants, big-box stores – all shuttered, the red-lettered, blue-bordered ‘OPEN’ signs now colourless, silent. An LED sign glowed brightly next to the First National Bank of Iowa logo, alternating between the time and temperature: “00:43” and “5°F” and, incongruously, “-15°C”.
The sand gleamed hard, grey and wet. The wind biting at my cheeks, hands and neck was cold, for April. The three of us stood in a line of trepidation, watching the rotted front of the dilapidated wooden building still soggy from last night’s rain, wondering which of us was to go in first.
Anybody would have been able to tell Thomas and Mina were brother and sister. They had the same dark hair and the same upturned noses. On that particular afternoon I was feeling very left out, very alone, despite the privilege of their company. Anyone would have mistaken me for their incorrigibly short grandfather, as my hair is so pale it is almost like an old man’s. I was born with it, along with the other gift that I have, the one I can’t bring myself to show in public.
One day, Mama came back from town and told Jack that she had brought him new olfaction receptors. Jack nearly overheated. He reached out to touch her, to express his excitement in the only way that he knew.
“Don’t you fret, son. I know you wanna go outside,” she said while lifting up his faceplate to install the receptors. Her voice was heavy, but calm. “You’ll get outta this stuffy old house real soon. Yep. Real soon.”