Kalm looked at his two-headed axe lying in front of him on the boardroom table and wished that he hadn’t left his shield at his desk. Armor was out of the question, his helm and chainmail sat uselessly in the trunk of his car in the darkest depths of parking level thirty-three, section D.
“-but who is saying that we need to hire consultants?” The vice-queen’s voice cut through him like a shard of ice killing any further thoughts of his forgotten armaments. You could always hear it in her voice first. The practiced fake charm slithered away to reveal the more suitable growl that lurked underneath.
“Child, keep out of gravestone shadows.” Wendy gave Aiden’s hand a slight tug, dragging him farther from an elongated shadow in the grass.
“I don’t want to die.”
“No one dies in here. Just don’t step in any shadows. The sun’s getting higher. See. The shadows are already disappearing.”
“Will they follow us then?” Aiden stumbled on a root hidden in the uncut weeds.
When the wren first heard the clockwork man’s symphony of pipes in the blooming days of springtime, she was hesitant—his constant whirring and clanking set her feathers on edge—but the music emanating from his metal chest proved too strong a lure. She settled on his window-ledge and joined in the chorus.
He smiled from his workbench, silver eyes gleaming. They spent hours together, his full-bodied tones a perfect counterpoint to her own coloratura. Over time, he took to leaving her daily offerings of string, twigs, or tasty seeds.
Now, months later, autumn glazed the city with frost. The wren had already delayed her departure far longer than she should. Today would have to be her last visit. She would miss their duets, but she took solace in knowing he’d be waiting when she returned with the spring rains.
Welcome to the Doomsday Device Helpdesk! My name is Damien. What seems to be the problem?
Yes sir, I apologize for the hold times. They’re—
Yes, sixteen years is a long time to—
“Go on, dear,” urges Janice, pushing her through the door of the First Contact Community Centre. “Trust me. This is exactly what you need.”
Maya’s not so sure. What she really needs is an evening away from her problems. All those hundreds and thousands of problems scurrying through her cupboards and burrowing under her carpets. Who’d have guessed an alien invasion would have quite so many legs? She shudders, sitting down beside an embarrassed looking lady with thick rimmed glasses and braids, and tries her best to look invisible.
“Welcome,” says the man from the newly formed Inpestation Information Board. “Thank you for coming.”
“Of course I’m not here for me,” Janice tells the people in the next row. Just loudly enough for the entire room to hear. “Maya’s the one with the horrible creatures.”
“They found the body in the alley at the bottom of the fire escape.”
“The one outside my bedroom?” Henry rolled his wide eyes at his cousin. “You’re full of it.”
“All the witnesses said he jumped for the ladder three times before they caught him. He died still reaching up grabbing at anything that came in reach.”
A couch pillow hit Laveral hard enough to snap his head back and stop his story. Henry smiled at his mother. She didn’t notice. She glared at Laveral. He had all her attention.
Stars above shatter and rain down as glittering dust.
Sima peers from her window at the shining dark sky to watch the snow sprinkle down. The tip of her nose grows cold where it presses the glass. Frost forms where she breathes. She scratches a star into the ice with her finger nail.
Every snowflake is different, her mother told her once.
The house breathes quiet. In the basement the furnace rumbles like a purring cat.
“You won’t burn my wedding pictures.” I extended my hand, demanding the memory stick back.
“Naiomi, you plugged this into your work computer?” Carter ground his teeth while taking a deep breath, following it with a sigh. “I’ll have to run a full scan to see what kind of virus you’ve given it. You know the security policies. Your memory stick is now company property. You signed the same NDA we all signed. I’m throwing this memory stick into the incinerator.”
“They’re the only copy of my wedding pictures, and I need to get them off that stick.” I tossed my single, long, blond braid over my shoulder for effect. I doubted tossing my braid looked terrifying. Perhaps if I swung my head around and whipped him across the face with it.
Father first awoke the topiaries the morning after Mother died. Shrubs wriggled loose from their dirt when he passed, dormant bushes burst free and scampered across the countryside. Thus it went for eighteen years. I lived my life knowing that Father could awaken plants, but I did not realize what I, his daughter, could awaken.
“Wow. Well, never say you can’t trust a copper salt merchant,” Connor said.
Ayumi gave him an inquiring glance.
“Is that a common saying?”
“But what did they put it way out here for?” he continued, gesturing the screen where their ship’s camera focused in on the alien structure. “Two jumps in dead space, not so much as an asteroid within a parsec of it.”
“That might be a bit of an exaggeration,” Ayumi said, smiling, as she watched the telemetry unfold. “But, yes. You’re right. We never would’ve found it without the trail of rumors that began with a wine-sodden copper salt merchant.”
“Was he? I didn’t know there was a market for wine-sodden copper salts.”