Nov 032013

Story_Cubes_-_20137222321By Sarah Anderson

The destruction of Earth took us all by surprise. In our telescopes we saw the lines of multicolored light that tore through the Earth, slicing it to pieces—and by the time we did, we knew we were already twenty minutes too late.

There were only a few hundred of us at the Mars colony, probably not enough to sustain a viable population. Suddenly every other concern seemed so petty: the conflict over the colony between the American, Russian, and Chinese factions; the various romances and animosities between us; even the very purpose of our project here, the FTL drive that was supposed to carry humanity to the stars.

It was Zhukov’s idea. Though he was of course Russian and I American, he and I had always gotten along rather well, perhaps because we’re both astrophysicists. I had always found more to talk about with Zhukov than with most of the American team.

We were all in the cafeteria, forcing ourselves to eat. No one spoke, and all that could be heard was the futile clanking of flatware against plates.

Suddenly Zhukov stood up. “It is not too late!”

At the next table, Jacobs—director of quantum physics—gave him a disdainful stare. “What are you talking about, you crazy old Russkie?”

“Time… it is relative, is it not? There are reference frames, even now, for which it is before the… the… well, what happened. It could still be prevented.”

“But to reach them, you’d have to go…” I slapped my forehead. “Yes, of course. Faster Than Light.

“Precisely,” he said. “And that, my friends, is exactly what we are able to do, assuming we finish the prototype.”

Jacobs stood up to meet him eye-to-eye. “You’re insane. We can’t change the past, even if our FTL drive could be made to work. It already happened.

“Jacobs,” I asked, “aren’t you the one always saying how the universe is non-deterministic, that anything can happen?”

“Well—that’s not exactly—”

Zhukov laughed sardonically. “Is worth a try, is it not? In worst-case scenario we fail to prevent and must find another solution. But in best-case scenario, we are greatest heroes world has ever seen!”

* * *

We finished the drive ahead of schedule—something about being humanity’s last hope has a way of focusing the mind. We had originally planned to build a colony ship to hold a crew of hundreds, but none of us wanted to wait that long.

So instead we improvised, attaching the drive to a passenger transport, normally used to ferry to Earth and back. After being gutted to mount the drive, it only had enough space for a crew of 4. Somehow that ended up being me, Zhukov, Jacobs, and… Karen Marks. She certainly was our best pilot, I couldn’t dispute that; but she and I had history, a fight over one Sam Tyler. She was a major reason I didn’t like hanging out with the quantum team.

Yet oddly, I felt much less ill will toward her today than usual. It just seemed so stupid, so small to care that Sam had cheated on me with her. What did that matter now? We had a world to save. She really was our best pilot, and we needed her.

During the launch, Zhukov and I went over our the spacetime trajectory one last time. We were basically drawing a Z-shape; I proposed to call it the Zhukov curve. He pointed out that the Russian Z looks nothing like that; but we couldn’t well call it the Anderson curve after me, now could we?

We would spent the most ‘time’—proper time, strictly speaking—in the strangest part of our journey, the FTL jump itself. None of us had any idea what to expect; we all knew hyperspace existed, but nothing larger than an antiproton had actually been there. All we could do was push the button—and hope.

* * *

I had an experience of waking up. What I saw around me… well frankly, it made no sense at all.

I couldn’t see the rest of the crew, or the walls of the transport, or even my own hands in front of my face. This would have made some sense if I’d been surrounded in darkness, but I wasn’t. There were bright lights everywhere, in all different colors; there were even colors I don’t think I had ever seen before and can’t describe.

Nothing was where it should be. The parts of everything were jumbled and disorganized; I felt like I had floated into a Cubist painting. I wondered how I was even still alive, if I had been similarly broken into pieces. Suddenly it occurred to me: Hyperspace was non-Euclidean. Our ordinary notions of left and right, back and forth, up and down, no longer applied. Things could be adjacent, but not adjacent; aligned, but not aligned. This had happened to the ship and everything on it, including me.

I saw something in ‘front’ of me, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Unlike us, it actually looked like a coherent whole in this strange folded space; it was a sort of shiny, multicolored beast, with discernible tentacles, and mouths, and eyes—so many eyes. It was huge in size, though I could hardly measure precisely. It reached out its long, twisting tentacles to touch me; they felt like electricity. It studied me with its innumerable eyes, their pupils like checkerboards with squares that grew and shrank. Then suddenly all its mouths opened at once and bared jagged, angular teeth in what seemed to my naïve Euclidean mind to be rage. Then it slithered and swam and twisted away, far into whatever passes for distance in this dimension.

My calculations had said that the FTL jump would last about an hour in our proper time, but as I floated and twisted in hyperspace, I could tell no difference between a moment and eternity.

We returned to normal space; I have never felt so relieved. I let out a deep breath, and I heard the others do the same. After that, there was a long silence.

“Well, that was… interesting,” Zhukov finally said.

Marks glared at me. “Why didn’t you tell us it would be so horrifying?”

“Honestly… we didn’t know. No one has ever been to hyperspace before. The math said that we would survive, and we did, didn’t we?”

“Well, physically anyway,” she scoffed.

I looked around plaintively. “So uh, I know this sounds weird… but did any of you see a giant… tentacle-monster thing, or was that just me?”

Jacobs raised his eyebrow at me. “I didn’t see anything like that. Honestly, it was all just psychedelic kaleidoscope.”

There was much murmuring, and then Zhukov spoke again. “It seems that none of us saw what you saw. But this does not mean it was not real; I am sure our accounts of what we saw will not all be the same either.”

“I don’t know,” Marks said. “I feel like ‘psychedelic kaleidoscope’ is a pretty good description. ‘Tentacle-monster’? Not so much. Maybe it triggered a latent psychosis.”

“Psychosis!?” I tried to stamp my foot down, but it didn’t really work because we were still in microgravity, strapped into our seats. “I am not psychotic! I know what I saw.”
“Isn’t that what you’d say if you were?”

“I for one believe she saw what she saw,” Zhukov said.

Jacobs was still raising his eyebrow. “Whatever, it’s done. Now we need to figure out what happened to the Earth and what we can do to stop it.”

I sighed. “Yeah, did anybody figure out how we were going to actually save the Earth?”
“Have hope,” Zhukov said. “The jump took us back to several days before the event; in that time we can locate its cause and prevent it. I believe it was a rogue black hole.”

“If that’s the case… how do you stop a black hole?”

“You do not stop it, Dr. Marks; you deflect it, even just slightly. Black holes may seem exotic, but they still must obey conservation of momentum. Crash something into it very fast, and it must change direction.”

“Aren’t black holes huge?” Jacobs asked.

“Not necessarily. If it were stellar-sized, yes, there would be nothing we could do to deflect it. But if that were the case we would have seen distortions in the rest of the solar system. It must therefore be rather small, perhaps the mass of an asteroid. And that we might be able to deflect, at least by a few minutes of arc.”

“How big would it be, then?”
“Well, suppose it is about 10 to the 16 kilograms. The event horizon radius would be about 10 to the minus 11 meters.”

“How could something so small cause so much damage?”

“Well, it is a black hole, after all; and it has the mass of Deimos.”

Jacobs sighed, but finally put his eyebrow down. “So let me get this straight. We’re looking for something the size of a helium atom… with the mass of a moon.”

“Yes, that is approximately correct.”

“And you propose to do this… how?”

“Ah ha, that is where our time machine yields great advantage.” Zhukov produced a notebook from the chest pocket of his spacesuit. “I have calculated what its trajectory must have been. This narrows down its current position substantially.”
“How substantially?” Marks asked.

“Within a sphere 10,000 kilometers in diameter, to 90% confidence.”

She laid her head in her hands. “Now we only need to search an area the size of the Earth for something that is tiny and invisible and will destroy us if we get too close.”

“Is better than nothing?”

Jacobs scoffed. “And what do we do once we find it, if we find it?”

“There is only one answer, my friends. We must override the FTL engine to produce relativistic speed in normal space, and collide with the black hole. We will all die painful deaths by tidal forces; but humanity will be saved.”
“Well that sounds delightful.
I bared my teeth at him—reminding myself of the hyperspace beast. Maybe I really was going crazy? “You got a better idea, Jacobs?”

* * *

So we searched Zhukov’s projected coordinates—which of course were moving at his projected velocity of 20,000 kilometers per second. We searched for days and found nothing. We moved ever closer toward the Earth, following the projected location of something we could not see and were not certain even existed.

By day 7—the day before the Earth was scheduled to end—we were all desperate. “What if it’s not a black hole?” Marks asked.

“It must be,” Zhukov said. “Only a black hole could be so destructive and so difficult to find.”

But he was wrong. How terribly, terribly wrong. For when day 8 arrived and the time came, what I saw was even more terrible.

It was in jumbled pieces, a mirror of what we had been in hyperspace; but its vastness and its twisting tentacles and unending eyes were unmistakable. The beast had followed us into our own space. It struck out with its tentacles, folded in so many dimensions, and the result was rips and tears in space itself. We watched the Earth destroyed, again, this time with front-row seats. Why it chose to destroy us now and not millennia before, I cannot say for certain; but I think it was because we intruded into its space. It could not see us as an enemy—that would give us far too much credit. I believe that it saw us as vermin, as mosquitoes come to spread the disease of Euclidean space. And what do you do with vermin?

We all sat in silence, staring out the windows of the transport at the fracturing Earth below.

And then the monster turned its eyes toward me.

Oct 192013

2013-09-05 09.05.10By Porrick Rasdole

I’m in front of a door. It’s dripping with green ichor running from deep veins of engraved masonry. It’s growing each step I take towards it. It takes deep breaths and exhales a sickly mist from vents along its top. My legs trembled and I fall to my knees. My arm is weak as I reach to run my fingers along the door’s stone. My fingers make contact then my arm falls back limp to the mud.  Sprawled, I watch the engraved shapes of the door ripple from my touch. Gulleys of stone grind across its noxious surface. Tessellating patterns form. A hole appears and a leathery hand reaches out.  It pushes beclawed fingers into my forehead and my vision falters. Cutting through my skin, I can feel the fingers scraping along the inside of my skull, searching and grasping. The hand remerges from my open head holding a golden orb. The hand crushes the orb and a bronze gas spreads up across the door. The hand disappears as the gas forms into a rod which inserts itself into the door. The masonry tumbles away revealing an endless bridge spanning multi-colored nebula. I start to crawl onto the bridge when a hand shakes me.

I awake in the seat of a plane.

“Hey! Dinner is coming! Hey! Wake-up, you’ve been asleep since take-off”, my wife, Sarah continued to shake me as I opened my eyes.

The plane was dim. Dark, save for dull orange lights along the floor of the aisles. A legginged stewardess is bowing forward with trays of food several rows in front of me.

“Thanks. I’m starving,” I smiled at her, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom before I’m trapped by tray of food,” I squeezed Sarah’s shoulder as I got up and shuffled past her.

According to the screen above the chairs we were flying across the Atlantic Ocean. Outside the tiny windows there was no light save the blinking tip of the wing. As I groggily stumbled towards the cubicle I saw most of the passengers were asleep. Many were fitfully jerking. I wondered if they were having similar visions to mine. I ran my fingers along my forehead and was surprised to feel it burning with heat. I splashed water on my face as the violent sucking noise erupted from the plane toilet behind me. Did the plane just shoot out the waste into the ocean or save it all until landing? My thoughts were interrupted by a scream from the plane.

I peered out from the plastic door and saw a food splattered stewardess staring aghast at a man crouched in front of her. He was shoveling the contents of the upturned food tray into his mouth with a savagery that alarmed the passengers around him. He grunted and growled as he gnawed the food. I made eye contact with Sarah behind the shocked stewardess. Then my wife screamed as a hand reached at her neck and squeezed. A boggle-eyed man was behind her, staring at the back of her head as he throttled her. I ran towards Sarah, kicking past the man grunting at the food. To either side of me people were rising up from their seats. Maddened figures launched at their neighbors, veins popping out of their necks, hands tightly clawed. I punched the man with his hands around my wife’s neck. I punched him flat in the face. My fist stung as he slumped against the back of a chair, frothing at the mouth.

I put my arm around Sarah, looking around the plane. Pandemonium had broken out. Passengers madly clawed at one another or the furniture. Shreds of leather, clothing and food flew through the air. I looked for the stewardess but she was gone. The curtain sealing first class from economy was being pulled closed. I motioned Sarah towards it and we fled as the man I had punched woke up. He launched himself at a woman biting an armrest.

Behind the curtain, things were calm. Passengers slept fitfully and a group of stewardess huddled, their faces pale. Behind them I could see an elderly man intently poring over a scrappy leather bound book. My arm around Sarah I asked the group of stewardesses to explain what was happening. They were confused, upset and afraid at the eruption of wild behaviour, not having seen anything like it before. As I was asking them if the pilots knew what was happening, I felt my stomach turn and my legs brace. The plane had taken a steep dip in its altitude, dropping suddenly. One of the stewardess let out a sob and I could now hear a disturbing whining in the pitch of the plane’s engines. Looking over at the man reading his book I saw him completely unperturbed by the calamities around him. He was mouthing the words he was reading. Some of the first class passengers had started to wake after the plane’s jerking. I watched as they came to, wondering if  they would act in the same madness as the jibbering people behind me.

The plane dipped again, this time causing the hostess’s to let out a slight shriek of panic. The first class passengers that had woken up looked befuddled, looking over at me and the shrieking hostess’s and hearing the jumble of chaos coming from behind the first class curtain. I told Sarah to wait with the hostess and I pushed past them towards the old man reading his book. He had yet to react to the dipping altitude of the plane. As I moved closer I could hear him reading aloud the words, a low mumble underneath the clattering din of the plane. I felt a hand clutch at my shoulder and it spin me around to face the bespittled mouth of a crazed passenger. His mouth was coming towards my face as if to bite it and I wrenched back, snatching the hand away from my shoulder. I pushed the crazed man back and he fell. His legs slipped up above his head and he squeezed into the gap between the two seats. I could see that some of the other first class passengers were in a similar mind frame to my attacker. I looked back at my wife and saw her eyes wide open with horror, realizing that we were no longer safe behind the curtain.

A hostess let out another shriek as the separating curtain was wretched aside, revealing a blood smeared face. I ran back towards Sarah and the hostess’s. The hostess’s had picked up trays and magazines as rudimentary weapons against the blood covered figures crawling towards them. I grabbed Sarah, kicking past the half asleep and crazed passengers that were starting to paw at us. One of the hostess’s had kicked the man from economy class and he was sprawled on his back. Behind him I saw a scene of carnage as the economy class passengers tore one another apart. Moving towards the cockpit with Sarah I saw the old man still undisturbed as he read his book aloud. To the sides of us the first class passengers had started to scrabble with one another, clawing, biting and tumbling over the plush leather chairs. Spittle and flecks of blood were flying through the air. We were ignored by the fighting passengers and the hostess too were left alone as the maddened passengers turned on one another. Reaching the old man I looked down at his book and saw the pages filled with a swirling script I had never seen before. He was tracing his fingers below each line, and mumbling out each word. I shook his shoulder and his head wobbled as he looked at me. As he stared up I saw he had a pair of old hearing aids, with the manual volume control pushed all the way down. He mouthed words and a guttural voice I could barely understand escaped his lips. He motioned at his ears and I could hear Sarah behind me say, “He’s deaf, get him up and we will move to the cockpit, maybe we will be safe there.”

The old man’s head was swiveling on it’s shoulders as he turned around to take in the scene behind him. I offered him my hand. He closed his book and I read the front cover, it was an ancient guide on learning short-hand. He stood up, clearly aghast and confused. As he stood the plane dipped violently a third time and started to rumble with turbulence. The lights flickered off, plunging the plane into darkness. The three of us, shaky on our feet, got to the cockpit door. I pulled it open and saw one of the pilots collapsed over the control panel, blood dripping across the buttons. The other was concentrating on steering, his face bruised and battered.

“What the hell is going on out there?” the conscious pilot demanded, “I had to knock him out,” motioning towards his passed out co-pilot, “he went crazy trying to fly the plane into the ocean.” I looked across the ocean, which the plane had got much closer to. I could see it churning and a massive dark shape moving beneath the waves.

The shape that lurked beneath those waves was much larger than the plane. We were on course to plummet beneath the dark ocean. I hoped that the thing underneath us was a submarine, but it’s angles and the twisting, grasping, tentacles lead me to believe it wasn’t. The old man looked out across the ocean in horror and when a purple hued tentacle broke the surface of the water and reached up towards the plane he feinted. I ducked to help him, turned him on his side. As I did so Sara yelled at the pilot, “Fly upwards! Get away from that thing!” I could hear him jostling with the controls, “I’m trying! I’m trying! She just keeps dipping!” The the floor of the plane was buffeting us around violently. I tried to keep the old man’s head and body still as we bounced through the air. I looked back down the aisles of the plane and saw that the hostess were fighting with the crazed passengers. One of them had fallen to the ground, her arm bloodied I reached out and grabbed Sarah’s hand. I held it just as a massive tentacle smashed through cockpit window. It squashed the pilots torso against the back of the cockpit and his chest exploded, splattering my wife with blood. I stood, feeling the plane finally move upwards through the air as another tentacle hit the side of the plane and raised it. I wrapped my arms around Sarah as the tentacles whipped the plane through the air. The plane was sideways and we were falling back down the aisles, I looked up and saw the cockpit window completely smashed. I looked down and was wrenched back in the other direction and felt icy cold air on my face as I was flung outside of the plane.

As I fell through the water, I saw a door obscured by a golden mist. Sarah stood next to me, holding my hand.

Aug 132013

GMS diceBy Ishi Shen

To lovers of history, the hidden and the arcane,

I give you the story of Minerva, recorded for posterity.

I was born on the human constructed planet called Minerva. Nowadays astro-construction seems just ordinary, but Minerva was the first of its kind. My parents signed up to the all-American adverts, the promise of a new life, all made possible through our ever growing grasp of the fundamentals of physics. A planet that was literally held together by a clever combination of string theory and magnetism. No, you won’t have heard of it. It isn’t on any maps. Be patient, I’ll get to that part.

The history of the planet determined how its culture developed. Unlike Mars, first populated by the military, and growing into an autocracy designed to meet the needs of the population, or the hippy population of Saturn’s orbital, Titan, descended from scientists, or even from those middle of the road non-pioneering but non-felonious folks left on Earth, the inhabitants of Minerva were forward thinking, all-modern, high flying business people. Minerva quickly became a centre for commerce, seguing naturally into luxury tourism.

Aged about ten, I discovered that I did not belong on Minerva. I did not fit in and the usual path was locked to me. Your typical Minervan ten year old was industrious, ambitious and entrepreneurial. I was a loner, dreamy and artistic. Many of the over-achieving Minervan younglings played musical instruments as a hobby, but by age ten I knew that for me it was more than a hobby. I was a musician; I could feel it in my bones. My instrument was the flat, stringed Sundari and I was approaching the level of a master.

Coupled with my incongruous personal gifts was an uneasy sense that the whole of the Minervan economy was based on sand. The money changing hands was a pointless, circular motion that was no longer representing value. It was a facsimile of a functioning Earth country, lacking the creative core. This sense grew throughout my early life, and one day, when I was seventeen years old, my unusual habits saved me from the destruction of that society. Let me tell you about it. It started with a book.

I had few friends on Minerva. I did not join clubs, or schemes. I listened to the orchestral tours that came from Earth, Saturn and elsewhere and I visited bookshops. Bookshops seemed to be the one area of Minervan life that touched on the cultural. At the front of every shop, of course, were economics textbooks, and biographies of millionaires. Yet even these topics had more substance in book form than those espoused by the cardboard cut outs I met in daily life. And when you ventured to the back of the more enlightened shops, it was literally as if you were transported to another planet.

In the best shop, the beautifully named “Secrets of Learning”, a tangled and darkened interior contained books from Saturn, the outer colonies and elsewhere in the inhabited Galaxy. Yet my favourite books, by a long way, were the ancient, the truly ancient tomes from Old Earth. There were books about long forgotten wars, and strategies for how to win them. There were crumbling picture books of archaic artworks. I longed to buy every single book of music that had not been heard for centuries, to take the books home and live surrounded by them, to transpose the music to play on the Sundari and in my own musical way awaken the dead.

The books on Old Earth religions were separated off from the others. This was the section in which I most often hid to read the books without buying and take away the secrets of the ancients without parting with money that I did not possess. In these books I learned of the beauty of the verse in the Gita, the moving stories of the humans chosen as messengers for the gods and the calm serenity of the Buddha. I learned too of the dark side of religion, referred to as craft or magic although I could never uncover any practical tips in this area that I could combine with my music to wreak destruction on Minerva.

The book that changed my life was a large, dusty volume, hidden at the back of a shelf as if drawn to the shadows. The leather binding was faded, worn-through in places and hanging away from the spine. Even looking at just the exposed edge, in the darkness, the disintegrating gold leaf indicated that it was an important book, a highly regarded one. I consider all books to have a power that comes from the knowledge contained inside and I feel keen anticipation of this when regarding them. This book went further. It seemed to have an actual physical power. My hand was drawn to it as if by a magnet and I was, somehow, surprised as I closed my fingers on it that they did not sizzle and burn. The name remained partially visible in gold leaf but yet it made no sense to me: N_C_O_OMI_ON. The pages inside were made of soft vellum. Although the pages were worn and several were missing, the dark black ink, unfaded unlike the gold leaf on the binding, looked as if the words had been scorched into the skin.

I spent many days pouring over this book, which is peculiar considering that it was written in a language that I did not understand and was full of symbols that I could not comprehend. I leafed through it as if in a kind of mystical trance. I would study a single page for hours trying to find pronunciations for the words written there, trying to get a sense of what the chapter could refer to. The book contained pictures as well as words, but their meaning was not easier to glean. There were about a thousand pages in total and of these two hundred were illustrated.

I returned to the Secrets of Learning daily for a couple of weeks, leafing through the pages at random and stopping when something caught my attention. As I grew more used to the book the compulsion and strange sense of power diminished, as a pain does with aspirin. It was still there but I had become desensitised, part of it. Towards the end of the second week, my established pattern was disrupted by a page that held my gaze with an unexpected force. My interest can be readily explained by the fact that inside a book written in a foreign and probably dead tongue, in clear English alphabet, capitalised, MINERVA was written across the top of the page, and at the time I felt as if the book had guided me to the page, as if I had been meant to read it.

There were no words on this page and more illustration than average, in fact the page consisted of a tableau of several incomprehensible pictures. The first was a rough cityscape, constructed using a small number of hand drawn lines. At the time I instantly recognised the view from the small park behind the town hall across and down to the ocean, but now, looking back I think on balance that there were so few lines in the drawing it could have been taken for a representation of any modern city. A shooting star burned through the air above one of the tower blocks.

The second picture showed a classic invasion scene, a scene that could have been taken wholesale from the cover of a science fiction novel. Behind the (I assume) Minervan high rises, were a series of silvery saucer shaped discs that grew larger as they approached the foreground. At the very front of the picture, an opening could be seen in the largest disc from which reptilian creatures were emerging. They looked strong, mean and alert. There was no doubt that they were conquistadores.

The third panel in the triptych showed more of these snake like monsters, set amidst bodies of the natives strewn across the ground. This was an unsurprising sequence to follow the previous plate. What was surprising was a small gap amongst the aliens where a small girl could be seen playing a Sundari. It was not clear whether she was destined to join the bodies around her, yet the aspect of the creatures towards her seemed somehow less menacing.

Needless to say, I found this whole experience incredibly disturbing. I shut the book with a sharp snap, painfully audible in the quiet bookshop interior. I left the store and didn’t return.


Weeks passed, then months, then years. It wouldn’t be correct to say that I forgot the book, but the vividness of the memory faded. For a while, every month or so I would walk past the Secrets of Learning and visualise the book inside. Then the shop seemed to disappear from the physical street as gradually as it had faded from my interest. I hadn’t seen it close; there had been no Closing Down or Sale 50% Off signs in the windows at any point. The first time I missed it, I hadn’t been down this way for several weeks and I found I could no longer remember exactly where the shop had been. When I noticed its absence, I assumed it had been on a slightly different one of the densely packed streets. I assumed that I had mis-remembered. The next time I went that way I chose another path, but still no Secrets of Learning. In this meandering way, over the period of several months, I came to realise that the shop was no longer there. There remained not a trace of it.

As I am writing this now, what happened then, in the year of my 17th birthday, still seems unbelievable. The shooting star came and I saw it across from the park behind the town hall. As I caught the movement, the scene seemed to crystallise into the hand drawn picture I had witnessed many years before, like when you change the effect on a picture using a graphics package to render it as a drawing. I half cried out, and sank down to my knees.

I knew what to do. It was truly truly surreal to wait for the invasion. With one part of my brain I told myself that “waiting for the invasion” was not at all what I was doing, that I had a seen a star and it had reminded me of an old forgotten book. I pretended to shrug it off. Yet in another part of my mind I knew what was coming. I went down to the harbour with my Sundari and I played. I attracted a few coins from people who thought I was begging. I left them on the pavement.

The noise of the ships was terrible, but I kept playing. I don’t know how their weapons were made, but the combination of the visceral atmosphere of fear and the actual smell of burning flesh was unbelievable. But I kept playing and I was saved. I had been the girl in the last picture, as I had known all along.

And that is the story of Minerva. I know now, as will have been obvious to you from birth, the invading Gaozh were good people, talented musical people and I found my place amongst them even as a small, strangely-formed alien. You will know this because they are, of course, your people.

Natasha Laetana 4th August 2101 (old time), Sundari player and last Minervan.

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