Time of the Phoenix
By Carrol Fix
I WAS THE FIRST to make contact. I awoke from my dreaming slumber to hear the screeching collapse of my distant siblings. Fear gripped me and slowed my folding processes, making my leaves tremble as I drew them inward to protect them within my firm branch fiber. I could almost feel my sap congeal in terror as I began the process of bending my denuded branches downward against my trunk. As I waited, the sounds of death continued. Reluctantly, I began withdrawing my roots from the nourishing soil, pulling them upward into my root hand, while disengaging my working hand from the side of my trunk. When five walking branches remained, I bent my trunk, resting them firmly on the ground. I straightened my other half, drawing my root arm down, my “face,” as the humans call it, near the top in the position we use when migrating and meeting others of our kind.
Humans came to our planet in the year 9, when we were fully arisen, and they found our world lush and promising. They began clearing space for their settlements and thousands of my family perished before I managed to communicate our intelligence. Our process of Inversion takes nearly an hour to complete; one of them could cut down six of us before we could walk among them. They say we look like birch trees and, once killed, our bodies function in the same manner as their wood.
I managed to make the humans understand me, even though our sounds were nothing alike in the beginning. They ceased murdering us and eventually we could speak together. I learned their language and a few of my siblings also were willing to make the effort. For many years, we maintained an uneasy coexistence. More and more humans arrived and our own population increased, causing conflicts over choice land, where the humans invariably prevailed.
By the year 58, there were open disputes; the humans found minerals they considered valuable, but which were life-sustaining elements for us. The inevitable happened and despite some protests from the original humans, new arrivals began killing us to clear the land they wanted to exploit. They built structures from our bodies, burned us for fuel, and drove us from our rich food sources.
Lacking the mineral nourishment they needed, my brothers and sisters closest to human settlements began deteriorating; losing rational thought processes. In year 89, a large group of my nearly wild siblings attacked a human colony, inflicting devastation upon their tormentors. Because human lives were lost, the resultant backlash saw hundreds of thousands of us destroyed. We lost our homes to the invaders, who continued to pillage our planet to satisfy their greed, slaying us without mercy. For the next ten years, we gradually fled to the barren slopes of the mountains, eking out a miserly existence.
As always, we began our celebration in the year 99. Only a hundred thousand of us remained, but we gleaned enough sheddings of leaves and unwanted branches to light the ritual fires. Each night, we watched our tiny line of dancing flames, while our grandmothers told stories of the Times Before. New sprouts of This Time listened raptly. We all waited in anticipation.
This is the year 100 and it has begun. At first the ground trembles. Plumes of smoke and steam from the mountaintops waft softly against the blue sky. Across our planet, the volcanoes awaken from their 100-year sleep. For 1,000 days, the mountains will pour forth rivers of flaming lava. They will cause the ground to shudder and shake and to break open vast chasms to devour the humans. Before the volcanoes return to their century-long rest, their mighty wrath will cleanse our planet of the alien infestation.
The conflagration will consume us, as well; the volcanoes’ blessings will replenish our food sources and my family and I will rise from the ashes. When, in our eternal cycle, we arise again and tell of this Time Before, we vow that our world always will belong only to us.
Carrol Fix is a multi-tasker with a passion for science fiction-reading and writing. She is a former computer consultant and resides in San Diego.
A Pustule From Mars
By Allen Quintana
PUBERTY IS ABOUT as subtle as a wrecking ball. Oh, not at first. But give it time. Yes. Time. That’s what puberty really is. It’s telling you that your body, your one companion you can never run away from, the one being that lets you know when you’re sick, hungry, cold, sweaty, in love. It lets you know when you have butterflies, bad pizza, bad breath, headache, heartache and just about anything—perfectly communicating without saying a word to the brain—which essentially sits atop this shell and takes credit for the good things. For the bad things, word of mouth will relay to other bodies that it was the spicy goulash.
Anyhow this wrecking ball of life came to this one fella at Fremont Middle School and struck him straight on the end of his nose. But by the time it was all over, this event had such a following the student body didn’t know whether to associate with this guy or avoid him like the proverbial plague.
This happened to a guy named Raymond. Now Ray was a bit of a queer fellow. No, it wasn’t his lifestyle that was odd—he was odd, no way around it. Raymond was short, as lean as my pockets after Ben had swiped my lunch money on regular occasions, and sort of greenish. He was a sort of fatigue green, the type of green that’s not found in your standard eight Crayola Crayon box, and probably even challenged the 64 package, equipped with the sharpener. Not that this sheen of off-olive was sharp, to be sure, and it was tough to place, because Ray’s natural green color sort of changed depending of the weather. On bright clear days Ray sort of had that symptomatic phlegm shade—you know the type that toddlers with colds have oozing onto their upper lips whose parents are either clueless or tissueless. On cloudy days Ray was one big dark side of deep green that made you secure in thinking at least he wasn’t that contagious-like phlegm color and probably okay to be around—at least for now. But green was green and that had earned him the nickname: "Martian.”
But Ray did have a good sense of humor and he was okay with it. And this had no connection whatsoever with the fact that this green guy presently was some seventy-two million miles from the red planet. But when the gears of the rumor-mill had a good revving up during the next few days, anything was possible.
The thing that got the mill in motion began on a hot day near the beginning of summer break. Between the weather and adolescent glands, there it combines with each other to begin the process of “bio-fluidics” which would be the term used by Martians, you would think. On Earth, we non-advanced middle-school-fare-thee-wells would call it a zit. And Ray was already saving for a rainy day with this one.
It began as what any warm-blooded youth would get. First, a slight bump, then a small discoloration, then self-consciousness and vanity and self-preservation would see something of the magnitude of Mount Everest and then take to assaulting its heights like Sir Hillary and for the same reasons, then try to shear its contours from whatever plain of flesh it was upwelling from like the volcanic Isle of Surtsey exploding from the depths. If somewhat successful in trying to cut out the pimple during its growth cycle, what was left was a dermal catastrophe that stood out more than the original welt.
Described by a comedian, “the young person can turn a simple zit ... into an exit wound.”
Martian was different. The thing forming at the end of his proboscis caught all but his attention to it. He didn’t seem phased by it and when others talked to him were challenged to maintain eye contact and usually failed, zeroing in on that jobber that could, in a short time, and had he been born a thoroughbred instead of an alleged alien, would decisively win Ray the loving cup in a nose-to-nose race.
And a funny thing though, all of us seemed telepathically linked and kept our mouths shut in pointing out this playground wonder to Ray. Perhaps there was something to this guy we called Martian that maybe ... he and the red planet ... silencing our observations ... it was good for more gossip!
I could not contain my imagination! I lay in bed one night (making certain the closet door was shut so that nothing unimaginable could venture out of it in the dark) and couldn’t help but think of Ray’s origins or question his lineage. Maybe, just maybe, Ray—if that was his real name—was the genuine article, and that “Ray” was something totally different and he was actually a scout for the invading vanguard of world doom! Just his name Ray could be a weapon!
Those were my last thoughts before slumber mercifully enclosed on me.
It was growing.
It got bigger every day. And ... it was beautiful.
It glowed like a jewel at the end if his nose. A pearly, verdant opalescence that shimmered and swirled as Ray moved, talked, even breathed.
Spectators were hypnotically drawn to it, yet still didn’t voice its obviousness. Some said in whispered tones after the episode was fading from memory, “I could see myself in it!”
Lunch money started exchanging hands on an estimated D-Day on when Ray’s nose would erupt. It was the Olympus Mons of mounds; it was the Pompeii of pus; it was the Black Hills of blackheads. All I could think of when that day happened, humanity was at an end.
I struggled to think of what those Martians truly looked like in their natural form. Would they be monstrous, as big as bears with gooey, dripping V-shaped mouths with skin like wet leather as from the Wells’ story of a hundred years ago, or would they pretend to blend in like Ray and catch us off guard and then strike with their ... with their heat rays? It made perfect sense! Perhaps they were small. Maybe they were too small to see. Maybe, they were already here, already forming our demise. Here! Perhaps they were among us en masse. Right under our noses!
Yes. That must be it. They controlled Ray from the end of his nose. They lived in a microverse. It wasn’t that Ray was growing a zit; it was an incubator and Ray was the growth from it!
Deep inside that hypnotically-attractive dome worked the evil of the Red Planet. The entire complex was being run from there. It was The Bridge on his bridge; it was the node on his nose. The time was nearly at hand for the Earth as we know it to fall under the foot of the Martians, never knowing what peace was like again to live under a beautiful blue sky which could be unterraformed to a pale crimson. I could see the invasion in my mind. It was at Sixth Street ... Fifth Street ... a hundred yards away ... fifty feet ...
And then Ray sniffled.
That in itself was not much of anything from an Earthling scale but to a Martian, it was near global catastrophe. Just imagine, from that proboscis complex, the alarms that blared, the relays that kicked in, the redundant systems that came online as a result. The pressure that suddenly went off the scale caused levers and switches to be thrown to open up vents to relieve the sudden build up in steam and other bio-fluidics from this event. It couldn’t happen at a worst time for these invaders.
Ray twitched his nose.
More alarms rang out, suddenly putting the controllers in a panic. Communiqués were sent out to other units in the complex to coordinate and contain the event. Calls went out to all duty shifts to report to their stations. The Martians were now in Fail Safe mode. There was a definite danger of a melt down. Diagnostics were being run on worst-case scenarios. It didn’t look good.
Ray felt a tickle in his nose.
Martians froze in their work. That sudden inhalation of Ray paled the din of alarms and steam vents. For the first time in their quest to conquer the Earth, Martians experienced fear.
That second one shook them out of their frozen state and they fought at their stations to take control the situation.
Many Martians pounded at their controls, yelled for back up; some sat back and gave up, believing that it was the inevitable. Needles on dials slammed into their stops, well above the red line. Howling alarms made it impossible to think.
“AAHH ... CHOO!”
The dome split and oozed out. Its pustulent product was all that could be seen off Ray’s beak. At the microverse scale, a mushroom cloud of mucus erupted on that relative horizon obliterating that invading horde from the face of Ray and the Earth as well.
Ray sniffled again.
“Excuse me,” Ray said. Then he raised his arm to his face and wiped his nose with his sleeve.
Earth was saved.
For the ensuing few days, things got almost back to normal. Ray was fighting a cold and was scarce after that. He eventually moved away. It seemed he was the shadow of his former green self those last few days we saw him.
I can remember with clarity of those times that we thought Earth had no hope. I recall one morning getting ready for school and brushing my teeth of that heady time. I was in the midst of flossing a bicuspid when I saw it in the mirror. It was there—an upwelling on my forehead.
That murder of crows scattered in terror from the tree next to our bathroom window, startled by a high-pitched scream whose noise was picked up subsonically by dogs twenty miles away ...
Allen Quintana is a wordsmith by trade, loves history, gumshoe pulp, and likes to make science fiction sound scientific. He lives and writes in the Golden State.
By Melanie Rees
ROCHELLE SMEARED ON a fresh coat of lip-gloss and waltzed into the therapist’s office. With cherry-scented breath, she leaned over his desk and whispered in his ear. “I can’t stop playing.”
The therapist looked her up and down and raised an eyebrow. “Erm ... take a seat.”
Sweeping her long skirt to one side, she sat on the couch and perched oversized sunglasses on top of her honeycomb hair.
A touch of red graced the doctor’s chubby cheeks.
“Well, good morning, doctor.” She smiled and sat up straight. With a bit of grace and charm it was all too easy to make men’s knees quiver. “You can call me Rochelle. Or Madame, if you prefer.” She winked, feeling his gaze upon her long glittered eyelashes.
The doctor looked at what he assumed was her patient file and returned her gaze. “Erm ...”
Rochelle leaned across his desk and with a long fuchsia coloured fingernail shut his jaw. “Gaping does nothing for your jawline. You’ll end up with wrinkles.”
The therapist shook his head as if coming out of daydream. “So um ... you’re—”
“Yes,” she interrupted. “I am her.”
“Performer, honey. Performer.” Rochelle slunk back in the chair and crossed her legs. Uncomfortable, she uncrossed them again.
“Sorry, my mistake,” the doctor said.
Rochelle detected a hint of derision in his voice. Someone of his status could never appreciate the life of a star.
“So how can I help you ... Rochelle?” The doctor asked, chewing on a biro.
Rochelle removed her sunglasses and placed them with her purse on the therapist’s desk. “To be clear, my appointments are in the strictest of confidence.”
The therapist nodded. “Trust me. I’d have a hard time discussing this appointment even if I were permitted to do so.”
“Meaning?” she prompted.
“Never mind. Please tell me how I can help you.”
Rochelle stood and paced the room. The skirting board was covered in dust, there was a bookcase with actual books, and the doctor’s degrees were displayed in plastic frames hung unevenly on the beige striped wallpaper. The place was so old-fashioned. And cheap.
“I normally wouldn’t come to a place like ...” Rochelle glanced at the motley carpet and shuddered. “Like ... this. But I have to be discrete. With my status, I’m under the media’s scrutiny every second of the day.”
The doctor covered his mouth as if hiding a snigger. “I can imagine.”
“Oh, honey. You have no idea what it’s like to be me.”
“No. I’m sure no one does.”
Again, Rochelle noted the sarcastic tones.
“Sorry, how can I help you?” he asked.
Rochelle sat down again and leaned in towards the desk. “I can’t stop,” she whispered. “I’ve been playing all hours of the morning. I can’t get off the system, and when I do I come out of it feeling like the character I’m playing.”
“The imprinting has been known to affect people ... differently,” said the doctor.
“I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation. I’ve been playing the Mary-Jane Evans program. I was ... I mean she was a twentieth century peasant girl.”
The doctor cast his eyes down and shuffled paper into a lopsided pile. “I don’t think they called them peasants in those days. But continue.”
“Slapper, trailer trash, bogon. She’s common. I left the house the other day still thinking I was her. I was wearing tracksuit pants and ugg boots. Ugg boots!” Rochelle clasped her head in her hands. “If anyone were to see me wearing such garb I would literally die of embarrassment.”
“Uh, yes. That would be embarrassing.” Wide-eyed, the doctor chomped down on his pen, the blue ink staining his teeth.
Rochelle gave him a subtle hint, wiping her lips.
He touched his mouth and looked at the blue ink on his fingers. “Oh.” He pulled out a handkerchief, dabbed his teeth and then patted sweat on his brow, smearing blue across his temples.
The poor bumbling buffoon, thought Rochelle.
“I think I can help.” He rolled his chair to his filing cabinet, took something from his files and returned.
Rochelle couldn’t believe how old-fashioned this guy was with his files and cluttered room. He could do with as much help as her. “Have you ever played?” she asked.
“Once. It wasn’t for me.”
“Who did you play?”
“I received imprinting from former Prime Minister Maxwell Shimming. I don’t think I’d try it again. I didn’t like playing his emotions and memories.”
“Gosh, no wonder you don’t like it. I came out of that game hating myself.”
The doctor stared at her for a long time. Rochelle felt his eyes prying for answers. “Anyway.” He plonked down a pamphlet. “I suggest you read this.”
“Dealing with virtual gaming addiction,” she cited. “This is your genius solution?”
“It’s a start.” He adjusted his shirt collar and tie, squeezing his beefy neck like a tourniquet. “My colleague had a similar case last year,” he continued. “A patient spent two days hooked up to the VR game with a neural program that allowed him to experience the life and thoughts of a banker and he came out of the game and jumped off a bridge.”
“Oh, my. I’m not that bad. I’m only on it at night. And wearing ugg boots is nothing compared to that. Is there not just some high-tech neural implant you could prescribe?”
“Let’s take it one step at a time.” Sweat stains radiated from his underarms. The poor sweet soul must’ve felt so daunted by her presence. She smiled, trying to put him at ease.
“Err ... I want to see you ... weekly,” his tongue stumbled over the words.
“Weekly? I want to see you again too, honey,” she teased. “But do you really think it’s that serious?” Rochelle pushed back her shoulders and pouted her lips. “It isn’t just an excuse to see me more frequently?”
Blood drained from the therapist’s face.
“Sorry,” said Rochelle. “I can be a tease at times.” She popped on her sunnies and tucked her purse under one arm. “I guess the amount of time I spend playing makes the issue serious. Playing a common girl and feeling her thoughts is one thing. What if I was playing an assassin or policewoman ...?”
“... or singer or movie star,” said the doctor.
Thoughts blurred in Rochelle’s head but she brushed them aside. “I’ll see you later then. And thanks for this.” She held up the pamphlet.
“That’s okay. Oh and Mister Callaghan,” the doctor said as Rochelle went to leave.
For some reason she turned. She looked around at the vacant room and then at the doctor. “Were you addressing me?”
The doctor shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’ll see you later ... Rochelle.”
Melanie Rees is an Australian author whose work has appeared in “Daily Science Fiction,” “Penumbra,” “Cosmos,” and “Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.”