The first symptom of the virus isn’t the sore throat or the vomiting — it’s denial.
Thirteen-year old Amelie was working at her mom’s video rental store in Avalon, an Outer Banks town with a great view of Earth’s rings. A strange customer arrived, telling tales of an alternate Earth where America won the Cold War and the Soviets never nuked the moon. Despite that, life in his alt-Earth wasn’t so great. He said, if she wanted life on her Earth to be good, she must respect the Octopus and listen to its song.
Yeah, he was a nut, but he was more entertaining than the usual tourist.
Then the pandemic came, a ‘Mommuck’ virus that combined the worst of the Spanish flu and rabies. Most of the people who got it died fast, but others turned into raging monsters who had a talent for eating faces.
Eighteen year-old Amelie, armed with a fast bike, her father’s guns and her mother’s determination, is the sole human survivor in Avalon. Everything is hers, from Dirty Dick’s Crab Shop to Miz Daisy’s mushroom patch.
But something is smashing her octopus traps. It’s fast, smart and it’s coming for her. She figures there’s only one former person it could be — the nutty tourist from the alt-Earth.
[This story was inspired by a somewhat disinterested tourist I saw in Venice]
Life used to be good. On a regular day, I’d get up around noon. Maggie was at work, Angie was in school, I could shower my meaty self and smoke in peace. Then, comb my thick black hair, pray the first novena, put on a pair of sunglasses to cover my bloodshot eyes and go to the cafe. Bang down some high-test espressos. Watch the skirts go by, shoot the shit with Uncle Stanz and the guys.
Before the tourists got in, I’d pack the underside of the seats with bootleg smokes and JoySticks, cover them with a cushion before the cops cruise by. Then wait for our marks, umm … chumps … umm … tourists to show.
On a scale from one to ten, farm girls from Tuscany in town for a bachelorette party were the best tourists, definite nines. Silicon Dendrites from one moon over were my least favorite. They were great trading partners – who else would buy tons of brine waste from our desalinization plants – but they talked in farts and ooze. Not great conversationalists.
Second from the worst were Deepwater Blavoks from two moons over. Educated and urbane, they saw us the way we saw the dendrites; lower creatures. With them it was a short exchange of sharp-toothed pleasantries, swipe the credit card and slither into the water, on their way to a methane spa.
The best, the absolute tens were our lost cousins, the Earthmen.
“Miss Patel’s Holiday” is part of the awesome, futuristic, Visions VI, Galaxies anthology, edited by Carrol Fix.
NASA is taking a multistep approach to its ultimate goal of putting boots on Mars.
The journey begins in low Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which has hosted rotating crews continuously since November 2000. During this time, NASA and its ISS partners have been learning more and more about how to support astronauts on space missions.
This effort took a big step forward this past March, when NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko wrapped up an unprecedented 11-month mission aboard the orbiting lab that gave researchers new data about the physiological and psychological effects of long-duration spaceflight. (A Mars mission will be long-duration; it takes six to nine months to get to the Red Planet using currently available propulsion technology.)
In the next 10 years, NASA plans to extend the reach of human spaceflight out near the moon, to test spaceflight gear — such as the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion crew capsule, both of which are in development — in a “proving ground” in deep space. For example, in the mid-2020s, the agency plans to send astronauts out to lunar orbit, to visit an asteroid boulder dragged there by a robotic spacecraft. (The boulder-snagging first part of this Asteroid Redirect Mission is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s.)
After the proving ground comes the journey to Mars itself. Current plans call for sending astronauts to Mars orbit in the early 2030s, with trips to the surface coming sometime after that. NASA officials have said they hope to eventually set up a small outpost on the Red Planet, where astronauts would search for signs of Mars life and perform other research.
Now, here you are, laying on your back with your arms stretched out. You feel like you’re floating, like you could rise into the sky.
You could be laid flat on the black ice of Devil’s Spit, an asteroid in the dark side of the Kuiper Belt. Or you could be home on Earth, crocked from space lag, night swimming in Lake Pontchartrain.
There’s no sound but your own breath, coming in short bursts. Maybe you’re wheezy because your rebreather crapped out in the middle of nowhere, 7.5 billion klicks from Earth. Or maybe it’s because you’re doing the polar bear thing, going for a chilled dip in December.
The cold bits scraping your skin, yanking on your hair could be the viscous ice that slimes every surface of Devil’s Spit. Or they could be mangrove leaves floating in the water.
Only one thing is certain. You’re lying there, trying to answer the question that’s vexed you your whole life. Can a living organism be in two places at the same time?
If you opened your eyes you’d have the answer, but a voice in your head is telling you to keep those eyes shut.
You should have been here an hour ago. All of MamaSan’s friends in Pirate’s Cove were there for her funeral. We were all cleaned up, for once, in proper black. Palm trees were swaying over her freshly-dug grave. The suns were shining. I’d done a new tattoo for the occasion, drawn from a photo of her hammering the shelf over the bar. She was in her overalls, her short-cropped hair sticking out at all angles, cigar clenched between her teeth. I’d put the tattoo on my left shoulder, the last patch of my skin that was bare. It had sensors that could feel the mood in the air. I didn’t need it to tell me, the mood was sad.
I was at the podium, giving a eulogy for her when the thin, leathery Police Chief Ponseca, (a.k.a. ‘Loco Pete,’ a.k.a. the former Vice President of Charon), stormed in with his battered robocops. He got behind the podium, cuffed me and declared that I, Elizabeth Aguilar (a.k.a. ‘Lady Inked’) was a suspect in the murder of my guardian, Nicole Santos (a.k.a. ‘MamaSan’, proprietor of the High Dive Bar). I was also a ‘person of interest’ in the murders of twenty people who had been crushed to death by a serial killer appropriately known as ‘The Crusher.’
“Who is accusing me?” I cried as he twisted my arms behind my back.
“I am” Ami Watanabe, our head waitress, shouted. She peeked out from behind the robocops, black hair streaming in the wind, her slender frame hidden behind their rusty, dented bodies.
“You jerk!” I said. “I saved your life.” I don’t know why Ami was out to get me. Maybe it was the bad tattoo I gave her. Or the pink shirt I borrowed and never returned.