Most Wanted

I look up. Everything around me is sand. For miles, and miles – just sand. It’s in my eyes, between my breasts, under my fingernails. Hell, it’s even in my lungs. I cough, but I’m so hoarse it hardly sounds like myself. And then there’s the ringing. A piercing, relentless, ringing that somehow I know is coming from inside of my own head.

My wrist is broken. That much is clear. My head has been rattled. My muscles twitch and ache where they shouldn’t. But none of that compares to the damage done to the ship. Metal bits and chunks are laid out upon the sand, a perfect picture of disaster. And that’s when I know for sure, I’m never going home.

The sun is still high, which tells me I have plenty of hours to succumb to dehydration before I even see a desert’s moon. That saddens me. I’ve always wanted to see the moon from the other side. Earth. I almost chuckle. This is not at all how I imagined my grand arrival.

Somehow I find the energy to scrounge for food and water in the heaps of broken ship. I find one water bottle, and it’s only half full. Luckily, I’ve always been a glass half-full woman, so I smile and let a few drips wash over my parched tongue. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a bag of peanuts, and things really start to look up. Because the peanuts aren’t mine.

The dunes are tough to get over. With each step I sink, and have to struggle forward. I engage every muscle, every bone (that isn’t broken), and every corner of my mind. Willpower – there’s nothing like it.

Finally I see a shadow in the distance. I think it’s the shape of a person. The sun is almost set now; it’s cold and I’ve almost finished the water. The peanuts are long gone. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to assure me I’m not hallucinating when the figure starts towards me.

It’s a woman. She’s tall and sturdy, wielding a crossbow. A huntress of the Desert Peoples. She won’t care that I’m interstellar. Desert Peoples are poor, desperate – they have a million other things to worry about besides intergalactic relations. Still, I hold up my index finger to indicate that I come in peace. I hold up a piece of scrap from my ship and point to the sky, then my broken bone. She nods and offers me a hand.

Gaza, as she calls herself, takes me to her home. She is proud of it even though it is small, dark, and sticky. Its walls are decorated with her trophies – the heads of creatures small and large. It catches me off guard. These are species of which I’ve only seen images. They captured their stillness, but this – this is too still. I look away, embarrassed by my weakness. To think, I used to consider myself tough.

“Thora,” Gaza says pointing to me. She is introducing me to her father, an elderly man who creaks when he moves. He nods, but his gaze seems to pass right through me. He’s blind, I realize.

Over the next few weeks I learn to help around the house. Mostly, I load parcels of meat, babying my wrapped wrist bone. I’m not sure what animal it is, and I don’t ask. Gaza and her clan are preparing for a great travel to the city where they trade goods. I will be going with her, she tells me. It will make me useful, she adds.

I fancy the idea of being a useful member of a community and I’m tickled. Back home, I was just a petty thief, in and out of jails. No sense of loyalty, no sense of belonging. I was hardly a blip on anyones newsfeed. Until the hack. Nothing like a good b and e to the Authority’s mainframe to get some attention. That’s all I was looking for, attention. But I found something much bigger. Plans of an intergalactic war. I’m not sure at what moment I decided to become the hero of this story, to come to Earth and warn the people – I guess I just needed a win. Unfortunately, the Authority put me on a most wanted murderers list before my ship had gained enough speed for its spectacular crash landing. My name was all over the newsfeeds then. Yes, it was.

“This way,” Gaza instructs as she rips down a wanted poster of me. We’ve just arrived at the trading post. It’s the first time I’m sure she knows who I am, but neither one of us says a word about it. I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s good to know she’s on my side. I plan to tell some of the traders about the war plans. They’ll be from all over, and I’m sure to find someone who speaks more English than Gaza; maybe even some Lunar.

Inside the post, Gaza goes on with a shorter woman who is plump and (from the looks of it) bored. After Gaza begins raising her voice, a man comes out. They go back and forth for a while in a language I can’t understand and I turn my back on the ordeal. I’m fondling some sparkly trinkets that I don’t recognize when the hand grabs me. I turn to face the large man as he cuffs me. I want to scream but I’m in shock, because I don’t know what’s going on, but from the look on Gaza’s face, I’ve been sold out.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

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67 Days

April 2

“This is agent 445 to command. Agent 445 to command.”

“Static.”

“Ship is under siege. I repeat! Ship is under siege! Commander? Come in.”

“Static.”

May 4

“Agent 445 to command, reporting a crash landing. Agents 177 and 559 down. There’s… something… here. Soldiers – they helped me escape. They… they look just like us.”

May 17

“Soldiers from the planet they call Lux have taken me to water. I do not know my coordinates. I am told there are enemies everywhere. I do not know who to trust.”

June 8 

“…Hel-….. NO…  go of me… wha- wha-… ahhhh! Don’t look! Don’t look at it!… -ay back!…

Static.”

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

 

The Telluric Goodbye

I looked up at Fern, her eyes skimming over the top of my head as her thoughts travelled far away from our now. She was a Telluric; part of the last scoop during the salvage. She had grown up among Astrals and sometimes it was easy to forget that she was from Earth – a different breed altogether – but in these distant moments, it was apparent. In these moments, the ones in which she could be both present and not, I was utterly bewildered by her difference. Part of me knew I only loved her because my curiosity overpowered me. But most of me didn’t care why I loved her, just that I did.

She shivered lightly. Her hair growth was selective, red, sprouting mainly from her head and above her eyes. Some growth occurred under her arms (of which she only had two) and a thin layer covered the rest of her. It gave her a smooth texture that I could only feel in the palms of my four hands. It meant she was often cold, but the adaptation meant it was tolerable. Some of the Astrals had advocated for more salvages overtime when we’d discovered there had still been some scattered survivors on Earth, but they had spent too much time in their natural habitat. They’d freeze to death, we were told.

I think it bothered Fern sometimes, to know there were others stranded down there. She had volunteered for a number of anatomy studies hoping to find a viable solution; some way that Telluric genes could be manipulated once matured. None of it was very promising; but she kept going back to the labs, hoping for different results. That was the definition of insanity. She hated when I’d tell her that, so eventually I stopped, and just let her go on being insane.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she whispered a hint of a smile in her tone.

I shied away, fixing my eyes anywhere else. She sunk her shoulders down and nestled herself under one of my arms so that her head was resting on my chest. She nuzzled her nose into me, burying her face in my fur. I wrapped two more arms around her, offering warmth, and leaned back on my fourth. We gazed out at the vastness before us. It was nice.

The next day when she stepped into the lab with that hopeful grin of hers, I returned it. I had decided to stay in the waiting room this time, even when she insisted I go home. For no particular reason, I wanted to be there with her.

“She’s prone to her Telluric instincts. She has no memories of Earth, but her genetic makeup seems to. It’s fascinating, really.”

I flashed cold eyes at the doctor keeping me company, afraid he was preparing me for news I wouldn’t want to hear. The apologetic eyes he returned told me it was true.

“You’re sending them back?” I asked. The scent of my fear wafted over us.

“Edoc, you knew this was always the plan.”

I winced, as if the truth had a vulgarity to it.

“I didn’t think it would be her.”

“Of course you did.”

“When will you tell her?”

“Edoc, she volunteered; like she always does. She asked me to tell you.”

“Why?” I looked towards the closed off room that she lie behind, being poked and prodded.

“Tellurics hate delivering sad news. I suppose she figured this would be easier.”

“But I won’t be able to share my sadness with her.” My fur rose, searching for the being connected to its emotions.

“I suppose she prefers it that way.”

“No. She likes it when I share.”

“She wants to see Earth,” the doctor continued, ignoring my reaching fur. “You can’t blame her; it’s a deep-seeded instinct. She tried to have us remove it but we couldn’t.”

My fur pulled me up and dragged me to the door, although I did little to fight it. Inside, a shocking scene unfolded before me.

There she was, teary-eyed and quivering lips. Her body vibrating with a combination of nerves and excitement as they bolted her into the launch pod. She caught my eyes, and quickly shut her own. Her long stringy head hairs had been braided behind her to keep them in place when the pod shot her away from me.

I looked at her through the glass, and suddenly, that difference of hers was altogether distasteful. An Astral would never abandon its partner, without so much as a simple sharing. An Astral would never lie about its intentions, or keep secrets. An Astral would never leave home to live among ruins and strangers.

And then it was there, loud and clear – this wasn’t her home. That’s what she had been trying to tell me in all of those present yet not moments. This wasn’t her home.

©Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Silent

Dawn tried to make out her reflection in the pool beneath her bare feet; tried to decide if she was still herself. It was too shallow, though, and instead she glared right through it. Wiggling her toes to disturb the water, Dawn wondered if it would be wise to drink something soon. She had been told she would need much less nourishment on Kakisto – they had altered her system for that to be true. So, no, she was not thirsty. But she did feel an impassioned desire to have the things she once needed and wanted.

Dawn had not been the rebellious type in her past – but that was the past. Nowadays, she often found herself fantasizing about anything that would upset them or disrupt their plans. Kneeling down so that her knees rested upon the rocky surface, Dawn bowed her head to the puddle and took in what little she could. She knew it would not do much to change things, but it felt good to resist. If she had been strong enough to not follow their instructions to begin with, things might have been different. Instead, she had let them steal her from her home, degrade her body and mind, and transport her to a life of endless experiments and hard labor.

It had been a quiet night when they had come. After an arduous journey, Dawn and her sister, Callie, had been hiding out under a mountain’s cliff, trying to get some rest. The troops were coming, but they were always coming, so it was as good a place to stop as any other.

There had been a few things Dawn wanted to tell Callie, but she couldn’t form the words. She was creating a dithyramb in her head, set to a montage of all the good times they had had together. Dawn had known it was coming to an end. How long could they really run for? Their dark skin was beginning to itch and burn in the blazing sun, their voices becoming hoarse in the crass environment.

The government had claimed the Trade was for the better; that the sweltering sun and world water depletion had made our world uninhabitable, but somehow the rich folks were all managing. They were building fancy protective homes – homes they were refusing to share.

All these thoughts and more danced in Dawn’s head as she drifted off.

When they awoke to the Troops hovering over them Callie tried to run but was promptly gunned down. Dawn watched it happen; the sound of the gunfire pierced through her ears and boomed inside of her head. And then, everything fell silent.

Callie’s body bounced up and down before going limp. A blanket of sand swirled about her, subsequently working its way into Dawn’s eyes. She didn’t rub them, didn’t soak them with tears, didn’t breathe. It seemed an eternity before she tried to gasp for air and project her sadness. But even as she did so, the sorrow and shock simply sat there, in her gut. Silent.

Kakisto had no oxygen, false gravity, very little water, and a variety of unrecognizable plant life the Troops claimed would be sufficient sustenance. They also told her that she could stop fighting for air. Dawn tried to gasp again, and again, but could only feel an unenthusiastic pounding against her chest when she did so. There was no sound, and no scream – unless she was sleeping. In her dreams, the screaming never stopped. But then she’d wake; and of course, there would be no sound. There’d only be the gnawing sensation that it was time to get back to work.

Dawn had been on the Harvest squad for a month, and was sadly excited for the day’s rotation. Digging pools would be a welcomed change of pace. That’s how she knew she’d been altered. Dawn was not herself anymore. In fact, Dawn wasn’t sure she was a person at all anymore.

But at the pools she would drink. With pride and resentment, she would drink. Her own silent rebellion.

 

 

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

No Way Out

She had been real at some point; of that, he was almost certain. They had travelled to the New World together. Both had been cautious, aware of the risks, and prepared to face them. There was nothing left for them on Earth; they had agreed. They had looked one another in the eyes and promised that, come what may, they’d never regret the decision.

But Joshua was full of regrets.

Upon their arrival, they had faced a number of disastrous obstacles, not the least of which had been the climate. It had been said that the environment would be reminiscent of Earth and that bodies would naturally adjust to the minor differences. Evolution. But that wasn’t the case. It was cold when it should have been hot, hot when it should have been cold – everything came in extremes.

There were days when the UV rays were so strong that the slightest of exposure would peel away flesh in an instant. It was like acid. The medics couldn’t do much except give you aloe and empty promises of biological adaptation. Similarly, there were days when the cold would create a layer of frost upon the skin that would tug and tear until; once again, the flesh would peel. Again, the medics offered little in the way of healing. Time and adjustment – that was the best an optimist could hope for.

And Joshua was not an optimist.

“Climate change was pretty bad down there, too,” she’d say.

No. It wasn’t, he’d think. No one had known the true ramifications of climate change until they left Earth. Now, it all seemed a bit silly. From overpopulation to barren lands, Joshua had reached an excruciating limit on how well he could cope with extremes. He could feel himself growing resentful. He missed the predictability of Earth, of his job, of his meager day-to-day. He missed climbing into bed with her, burying his body inside of hers after a long hard day. It wasn’t like that in the New World. The work was harder, the days longer, the exhaustion far more detrimental.

Then the new viruses spread.

“You have to send us back! We aren’t equipped for this! It’s not working!” He screamed, pouted, and fought with the hoards of dissatisfied customers in the Diasporic Hell they called the New World.

If this was the future, Joshua wanted nothing to do with it. It was a world built upon lies, an ideology grounded in fantasy. Utopia, as it turns out, just doesn’t exist.

She had convinced him that having a family would make it all worth it, that there were no other options, that this was the way out. He had fallen for it – the illusion of sanctuary. And now, he was paying the price. Their bodies could not function, could not do what they needed them to do. The infertility chips had been removed, but the damage had been done. The damage, in all honesty, was ongoing.

She became weaker every day. Her cough was hoarse; her internal temperature was all over the place, and her raw exposed flesh was too painful to withstand his touch. Meanwhile, his outer layer had become numb and the dull, deep, pain had become a part of him.

Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse, the harsh terrain took her. She was swallowed whole by the lie of a better tomorrow.

And Joshua was full of regrets.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

(This is an independent follow up to: The Way Out)

Cassini

It was not the first time the cumbersome machine had orbited the sky. Initially, nothing seemed conspicuous; but then the machine began an obvious descent. A shadow cast across his face, the Saturnshine all but disappearing.

He dove off the island; fought his way hurriedly through the icy surface until he was enveloped by the cold salty waters. Deeper and deeper he swam until he could rest his body against the rocky ocean surface. And there he would stay, alone, and afraid. There was something out there – something mysterious.

And somehow he just knew, things might never be the same.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

*This micro fiction is inspired by Nasa’s Cassini Plume Dive Mission.

For more information, visit Cassini Solstice Mission

The Way Out

I stood in the middle of the room, gripping the envelope until my fingertips drained of all color. A grave silence filled the surrounding space, from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. It was evening now, and the other household occupants had all headed off to the market to beg and barter for a meal. I had rushed home from work, too eager to put off this moment. And now, finally in it, I felt frozen in time; unable to move forward.

I had been one of the first people to apply for Migration. I did it before the drafting began; there had been more of those than we had expected. As the drafts came in my anticipation built, but the waiting period for applicants was much longer. Many of us had criminal histories and other ‘unsavory’ characteristics, so the Treaty Directors were being extra-thorough. If you were drafted, you had already passed the test.

I set down the envelope to compose myself. For weeks I had been imagining life on another planet; somewhere where I could have freedoms, rights, children. The planet had been being prepped for decades, made to emulate Earth as much as it could. It would be different, there was no doubt about that, but it would be something that we could all recognize. The system was going to be heavily dependent on the social contract, and life was going to be laborious. To me, that meant fulfilling.

And if I had been denied…

I looked at the clock. Josh would be home soon. It would be better to know by then; to practice my expression. If we had made the cut, I’d have to play down my excitement. Josh had always been opposed to leaving. He was convinced it meant giving up on the human race.There were a lot of anti-colonization groups that had been protesting the Migration Project since its conception, but Josh wasn’t like them. The issue was far more superficial for him. He was afraid; afraid to try something so new, so foreign. His white privilege had kept us afloat for a long time down here. We both knew it. Up there, things could be different. We’d both be the Other, and so would our potential children. It didn’t really bother me, though, it was the story of my life.

My mother had been a migrant worker when I was born. She had left Colombia as soon as she found out she was pregnant; afraid that if she put it off we’d be separated, and I’d be killed. At the time, the prospect of colonizing a new planet was real, but the details were still under wraps. Overpopulation was at its worst in Latin America and Asia at that point. North America was catching up, but many people had still been in denial about the inevitability. The American Dream still had a seductive ring to it, and in spite of everything, it still did for a lot of people – but not for me.

My stomach lurched, curling around itself, tugging at my nerves. Snakes. It felt like a hundred snakes wriggling about inside of me, trying to find a comfortable place to coil themselves. But there was no such place. There was just me, and the envelope.

I tore it open on a whim. Quick, like a Band-Aid.

My name, my age, my marital status, my partner’s name…

ACCEPTED.

I stared at the paper. It was real. It even provided a date for us to go in and have our infertility chips removed. It was real.

I read it again, and again.

ACCEPTED.

The door creaked open, snapping me back to life. I blinked, and noticed the tears streaming down my face. Josh entered, lugging a small sack of potatoes from the market. Normally I’d ask what he had bartered, always concerned I’d lose something precious. But not today. Today, I gained something precious.

Josh tried to smile. I tried not to. The silence lingered.

We finally had a way out.

A glint of hope flashed in his eyes.

Our lips met, unsure of what else to do.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©