Thursday, August 29, 2019

8/29/19

Seed to Root
By Phoebe Wagner


On the day you are born, beneath the shade of drought-dead leaves, the families wait, singing and sewing, sawing and painting, as we build your first solar panel, your first solar blanket. The panel is small, light enough on found aluminum cans cut open, folded together, edges softened with bark and moss, for you to carry on your back, a husk like the cicada’s shell that you will shed and expand and learn how sunlight leads to life.

Like all young ones, the weight of the battery will annoy you. You will want to leave it behind, to run the fields free. We will smile and understand and remember how even laws couldn’t make us change. Now, we teach the word necessity; we teach the story of small things, small changes.

As your blood parent births, we stain shards with life colors—river brown, juniper blue, mushroom white. We spell what the families will call you until you decide differently. An idea you will see half-consumed in dirt, cloaked in bark, an underthing. A reminder to you and us of the finite. A reminder it is not up to you alone, but as part of a whole.

Cambium, we taste the word as we stitch and stick the solar shards—cool dark, slow breaths, a hum at the tip of the tongue. Will you go by Cam, or Bi? Cambi, one says. Perhaps.

For many days, it will be a nonsense word among the languages you construct to name yourself and the world. When you begin to walk, your solar blanket glittering and clinking like chimes, we will take you to a fallen tree and poke into the split trunk.

Cambium once held this tree high. Cambium helped it grow and green. It’s so small you can’t see it, but combined with sun and water and soil, see what the invisible can do.

When we walk and tell the story of your name, you will be so young, unable to know summer never ends, the strangeness of hot dark instead of breezy evenings. Only the old ones will tell tales of a different time and you will not understand why they are sad. They will tell how you help them breathe.

Oh, Cambium, Cambium, we hear you crying, we hear you taking root. Welcome.


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Phoebe Wagner holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment and currently pursues a PhD from University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Nonbinary Review, and 365Tomorrows.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

8/22/19

Nowt
By Artyv K


The sky rumbled with his stomach.

Nascent lay spreadeagled on the roof of what had once been a radio tower, surrounded by pots of exotic mushrooms and a half circle of fire ants that wound their way around him: crawling, skittering, only to disappear into a crevice in the wall. He didn’t really mind the critters; for there was very little that Nascent minded (moldy sandwiches being a sound exception in the scheme, which explained why his stomach kept rumbling to the tune of hunger).

Nascent’s needs of the moment were simple— he wanted to hightail it out of the planet. Because this one, yes, this little speck of blue didn’t quite feel like home. And he wasn’t certain when and why he began feeling this way.

Bringing a hand up to his head, the boy scratched his nape and squinted at the cloud-ridden sky above him.

Grey.

Grey as far as the eyes could see. Grey as the bottom of the abyss. But Nascent saw something more to the deception. And he kept waiting for that something more. He counted down the seconds in his head for the passing of Nowt90X, a satellite bound to go over Tetron. Three years ago, the privately-owned satellite had shot to fame for being the only junk orbital in history to pull away from its tethers and slip into a course of its own making. No one had ever heard of a machine acting up. No one (save for fear mongers, doomsday enthusiasts and science fiction roonies) had ever considered the possibility that a machine could even act up. So, what motivated this rebellion against its makers? What plot conspired in its cheap quantum cells? Why did it reject every maneuver for reset? Most importantly, where was it heading and why?

When Nowt’s malfunction hit headlines and baffled engineers across the world— Nascent went to work on his own. He went to his room, pulled the scrap papers out and started the math to keep up with the renegade. When he wasn’t scavenging his drowned city, he charted Nowt’s course, penned down limericks, and remained intrigued by the mystery that was Nowt’s trajectory. When he finally managed to map out its coordinates on the wall-sized world map of his and realized what the shores the satellite was up to, the boy had a revelation. He’d solved the mystery, he decided, and cackled like a seagull at his success. Thus, began his strange ritual of visiting the roof of the radio tower every fortnight, all on the lookout for his wonderful alumina god.

The limerick stuck too.

In and out of sight, the Gods drift

Stars doing the blues and red shift

When nowt is all you can do,

What can you do,

But wait for the sink.



Nascent stared into the sky of Tetron, aware of the ants soldiering on around him. Ants, which exhibited more determination and pragmatism than he ever could. He suspected the critters were a far more nuanced specie than his; concerned wholly about food and sustenance, they didn’t chase celestial objects like humankind did. The boy looked up and scanned the heavens again. When nowt is all you can do, what can you do, he wondered, reciting the limerick a second time under his breath. The sky rumbled behind its thick cover of storm clouds; his shoulders slumped in defeat.

He knew it was no good. There was no way he’d catch a glimpse of Nowt in this rotten weather. Yet, he made no effort to move. Nascent kept waiting. Because it was the human thing to do, to be a stick in the mud and to keep believing.

And so, his watch beeped anyway; he looked up at the sky anyway, and the world kept turning anyway. Nowt90X arrived right on time. It drifted into his corner of the world for exactly ten heartbeats. Hello, his stray god whispered to him.

‘Hello,’ he greeted it back like that old Adele song.

And Nowt kept drifting.

When it was finally gone and his watch finished ringing the last of those beeps, the roof of the radio tower fell silent.

Though it had been a disappointing day, though he caught sight of nothing more than the wings of a passing gull, though he felt the intolerable vacuity of the universe in that simple moment, Nascent let a smile unfurl on his lips.

Because, in the end, wasn’t it also human to lose and to keep losing?

He raised a gloved hand and waved his goodbye to the wanderer, his face turning from triumph into one of melancholy.

“Something’s happening somewhere,” he said aloud. “And I’m not there,” the philosopher rued into the silence. “I’m not there at all.”


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Artyv K is a writer of speculative prose from Chennai. Her works have been published in Strange Horizons, NILVX, Luna Station Quarterly and others.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

8/15/19

A BOY GROUNDED
By John Grey


Between this world
and the stars,
I have so much ground to make up.
My imagination can only take me so far.
Now I need something
to cocoon me from the dangers
but open my eyes to the wonders –
a ship of course,
capable of impossible speeds,
powered by a fuel not yet invented.
Without this,
I am just another hopeless case,
spending days and nights in my room,
scribbling stories in notebooks,
sketching aliens and planets,
suns and galaxies,
everything in my head,
but nothing anywhere else.
I am born a thousand years too soon.
Future man has stolen my dreams.
And he doesn’t even have to dream them.


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John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

8/8/19

Yorkshire Alien
By Richard Stevenson


Ix-nay on names.
Know what I’m sayin’?
The little green guy got away,
whooshed off in a saucer.

I got an out-of-focus tosser shot
of the bipedal imp on the moors
above White Wells, near Ilkley. U.K.
just before the booger scampered away.

Didn’t get a shot of the saucer, no.
Whaddaya want me to say?
I was flummoxed and befuddled.
Not so Quick Draw McGraw on the camera.

Sorry. Damn ex would have you believe
I fabricated the imp out of chicken wire.
Tried to create a photo I could sell
to the tabloids. Says I needed cash.

Horse manure! I was after landscape shots.
Was shooting in foggy conditions
where Santa don’t fly missions
in ’87 BCP – Before Cell Phones, doofus.

It had a melon head, stood maybe four-foot four
(looks like a topiary leaf mesh critter
in the photo, I grant you.) As I say,
I snapped it on the fly. Was already turning away…


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Richard Stevenson has recently retired from a thirty-year teaching gig at Lethbridge College and has published thirty books and a CD of jazz and poetry in that time. His most recent books are Rock, Scissors, Paper: The Clifford Olson Murders, a long poem sequence from Dreaming Big Publications in the US (2016), and A Gaggle of Geese, haikai poems and sequences from Alba Publications in the UK (2017).

Thursday, August 1, 2019

8/1/19

Philogelos
By David Barber


This is the Ada Swann, limping into Vesta Dock on manual, which is illegal, but there was no way Perry was paying tug fees, so with automated systems blinking on and off, she eased the big Ceres Series Four into dock by eye.

Dockside’s not handshaking your autopilot, Ada Swann.

“Maybe you’ve got a software issue,” said Perry, powering down. Previous owners of her ship had tinkered endlessly and she guessed this cascade failure was their doing.

No more cowboy spacer tricks, Ada Swann. Sort it out.

Later, making her way across the cavernous dock, a Jirt appeared at her elbow. “You got stuff need fixing, boss?”

Perry halted, and encouraged, the Jirt edged closer. “Fix electrics. Fix machines. Fix...”

Dockside crew were passing and one aimed a kick at the Jirt. It squealed and darted away.

The man saw the look on Perry’s face. “They’ve been told to keep off Dock,” he shrugged. “Don’t encourage them.”

Perry spent the morning trying to source obsolete electronics, and came back in a bad mood. More Jirt loitered on the Dock.

“Hear ship broke boss.” Perhaps it was the one from earlier.

Jirt were fixers of things, all manner of things, this being their gift. Otherwise, a short, timid folk with faces cleft where noses ought to be, known for their feeble six-fingered grasp of money.

“These my Jirt. All good at fixing broke ship.”

It was their smell, a damp-rot odour, like a mushroom cellar. Perry first noticed that stink on Pallas when she piloted short-haul, now they were here too, their shanties round docks and spaceports in a diaspora of usefulness and poverty.

Going out again, the Jirt were still waiting, and she waded through them, waist deep. But then she took an outsize in vac suits and had forearms like hams.

The Weather Inn had seen better days; even the trademark holos of Earthside climate weren't like she remembered. It was playing rain rattling against windows, like someone tossing handfuls of gravel.

Didn't there used to be a wet green smell? she asked the barman. The barman was new. He shrugged. What you see is what you get.

Spacers ended up places like this, loners recognising one another, telling their tales of breakdowns out in the dark, deals that went sour, the run of bad luck since the ice rush ended.

She learned about Jacob and Ada Swann, brother and sister, previous owners of her ship, before Ada escaped down a gravity well to get married.

Bet he never saw that coming, said the spacer with the prosthetic eye.

The Ada Swann was a six-berth, but the boards had been rigged so everything could be run from the pilot's seat. Opinion was unhelpful. Maybe a problem in that maze of add-ons. There were shrugs. Even Perry, who wasn’t good at this sort of thing, sensed an undercurrent of resentment. The way she’d acquired her ship smacked of undeserved good fortune.

By now most of the spacers at the bar were wasted, and when she mentioned the Jirt on dockside they began to argue blearily back and forth.

Saw one make an old compressor purr so smooth, you put a drink on it and the ice-cubes hardly tinkled.

Maybe be natural fixers, but the smell.

Anyway, spacers fix their own stuff, always had.

Let `em onto your ship, you’ll never get `em out. Like roaches in the walls. Have to open the whole ship to space.

Did a vacuum clean-up like that once, someone began. The conversation wandered away.

“Jirt like being around us,” the spacer confided to Perry, his lens gleaming. “That thing with jokes, you know?”

Perry blinked with both eyes, that thing she did when put on the spot.

One-liners pop flashbulbs in the Jirt brain. A glimpse of something cosmic, he’d heard. In exchange, they fixed stuff for free. Just keep a few jokes handy, like loose change for tips.

Her face settled into a frown. Those years out in the dark, who would she have told jokes to?

And don’t listen to this bunch, he added. All they have is the past.

“You know you’re not leaving here on manual,” the Dock Manager told Perry next day. “Not without a Certificate.”

And paying dock fees until she went broke, the woman meant. Which wouldn’t be long. Again pull-out modules tested green, then crashed when put back. Perry rarely got angry, but she put down her tools very carefully and went for a walk.

The commotion out on the Dock was Jirt squealing. Dock crew going off duty had cornered the bunch hanging round the Ada Swann.

Hey, warned Perry, stepping between them. She motioned towards her open airlock and the Jirt scrambled aboard.

You’ll regret that, a docker told Perry, and she stared him out until he shrugged and walked off.

While its fellows swarmed through the Ada Swann, chasing cables and peering at motherboards, one Jirt stayed close to Perry.

They admired our human things, it said. Less fiddly than the tiny Shrax, not as brutal in their tonnage as the gadgets of Behemoths. At least, that’s what Perry thought it said.

It stroked Perry’s hand. Only humans were funny, it added. This being our gift.

And when the Ada Swann glided out of Vesta Dock on autopilot, Perry knew she would never be able to unravel the fix-arounds these Jirt had improvised. They were her crew now, their nest in an unused cabin loud with addicts huddled round old comedy shows, drunk on punch lines.

Show us, they pleaded with her sometimes, the damp-rot odour thickening in anticipation of the moment when the god seized them.

Perry would have to learn some jokes. This Jirt has no nose. Then how does it smell?

Tell us how you do it, they pleaded, as if some accidental molecule in a flower might teach dreams; as if this was how poppies might feel, if they knew.


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