by Sheila Finch
Oslo, December 2035
Embarrassing enough that the press was hailing her as the first centenarian to be awarded the prize. Limping across a stage to accept it would never do. Worse still—forgetting what she wanted to say.
Time to look over her speech again. She’d put her extensive notes somewhere in the hotel room when she first arrived, record of a long life of activism. There was a time when Mary hadn’t needed notes to give a speech, but lately she feared her mind was becoming increasingly dreamy.
Where had she put the notes? Her grandson would’ve scolded that she hadn’t committed them to some form of electronic storage. Of all her offspring, and her offspring’s offspring, she’d felt most bonded to this one. In any case, there was something about writing the old-fashioned way with a pen that appealed to her heart.
As if thinking about her grandson called him into existence, the hotel’s comm system pinged. Her heart jolted as she read the name of her caller. The small control panel that had appeared urged her to touch a button, and a small hologram of Gabriel stood on the table before her.
“See, Abuelita,” he said, smiling at her. “Modern technology isn’t so very awful after all.”
“Worth it to see you as well as hear you.”
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t get away to be with you—we were working right up to the last minute. I want you to be the first to know.”
His expression was joyous, bubbling over. She couldn’t make out the room behind him. He was a post doc at Princeton; she really didn’t need to see lab equipment to know that.
She had a sudden thought—maybe he was calling to tell her he was finally engaged? She’d hoped so much to see that!
“Sit down, Abuelita. This is astounding news.”
“Tell me, Gabe, before I have to rush away.”
“Yes, I understand. Such a wonderful honor—you really deserve it.”
A slight tap on her door and Catalina looked in. “Mama—We need to be ready in about an hour!”
If her daughter saw who it was, she’d want to talk too and she wasn’t ready to share Gabriel, even with his mother.
“Have you reviewed your notes?” Catalina came into the room.
Agitated, she tried to block Catalina’s view of the comm unit and its displayed hologram but succeeded only in knocking the thing off the table onto the floor. The hologram vanished.
“Ah! Now look what I’ve done!”
“It’s not broken, Mama,” Catalina said. “Besides you don’t have time right now for chatting. Do you need my help with your notes?”
Irritated, she waved Catalina away.
* * *
Might as well do something while she waited. Reviewing her notes was a good idea. Where had she put them?
Small lights followed her around the hotel room as she searched. The notes weren’t on the coffee table, or in the drawers of the bedside chest. She opened the suitcase still on the folding stand. Empty. Surely she could do this without notes? Doctor Mary Aragon had plenty of experience, often in the heat of crisis! Yet in many ways, she was still a creature of the twentieth century she’d been born in, only reluctantly giving in to the advances that swept over her, a tidal wave of technology engulfing her stubborn insistence on taking care of herself without help. That was nonsense. Hadn’t everything good and useful in the world been accomplished with the support and goodwill of others? Wasn’t that to have been the theme of her speech tonight? Surely she could remember enough to give her speech!
Instead of a flood of memories, there was a sudden terrifying blank in her mind. She slumped into a chair that conformed to her contours.
The sensation ebbed slowly.
Nerves jangling, she sat stiffly in the gilded chair by the window. Outside, the street lamps made golden confetti of the snow. Above them, the dark sky glittered with helicars arriving early for the ceremony. How strange to be in this room, in this city, looking back over a long life of dangers overcome and success achieved, love found and taken away too soon, children and grandchildren, given and taken away.
And now, at the last, this great honor.
* * *
English Channel, December 1944
The next swell threatened to upend the converted fishing trawler and dump them all in the Channel. Harry Forrest’s stomach rose into his throat, and he clenched his teeth to keep from vomiting. If this is what it took to defeat the Nazis, then he’d learn to manage. The Margaret Hyde thumped down into the bottom of the trough in a wall of spray that stung his eyes and nose. The cargo, food supplies for the fort, shifted. A crewman checked on it. The navy seaman took a hand off the steering wheel to adjust his cap. READ MORE
by Neal Asher
Erickson slipped his car out of gear and took the handbrake off to set it rolling down the road. The wheel felt leaden without power steering, but that kicked in when he started up the engine at the bottom of the hill and came to a stop at the junction. He wasn’t sure why he was doing this now. Old Maria had died last year and would no longer be rushing out with her shopping list and endless complaints about her health, and endless detail about her feud with her neighbor Yannis. Maybe it reminded him of past stability and a life rooted in the prosaic.
At the junction he watched a big 4x4 trundle past, uniformed figures inside peering at him suspiciously. There were soldiers in the mountains. This wasn’t exactly an astute observation since just a short drive from his village put him in sight of the “No Photographs” signs, the chainlink fences and the radar installations sitting on some of the mountaintops. But now their presence had become overt. He had seen canvas-backed trucks loaded with them, jeeps driving uniformed bigwigs and once an armored car sitting on a track leading up to one of the wind farms. He had also been turned back on the route to one of his favorite restaurants sitting above a cove on the east coast, and seen soldiers on foot walking in a line through the olive groves. Two had even turned up at the kazani some nights back to drink raki. They had been closed-mouthed about what was occurring, until on their second brizola, by which time the raki had done its work.
Erickson’s Greek wasn’t the best, at least then, but he did manage to catch some of it. Their search related to what all had seen in the skies three nights back. The object had streaked in from the south, lighting up the night, pieces breaking away, and had come down in the mountains to the northwest. Most assumed it was a meteor, though that hadn’t stopped black-clad grannies crossing themselves and querulously calling for their god to protect them from this evil, while some feared that it had been something fired from Libya. He found the memory hilarious. Libya.
“Haven’t they found it?” Yorgos had asked, well into his cups and sitting with the absolute rigidity of someone very drunk.
The soldiers told how they had found the impact site and some pieces, which had been collected up and taken away, but of the main object there was no sign. The army suspected locals had spirited it away for sale. When they had finished relating this they suddenly looked very worried, for they had told too much. The younger one caught his mustachioed companion by the shoulder and whispered urgently in his ear. They put down their glasses and quickly departed, their jeep weaving down the road.
Erickson grimaced, pulled out of the junction and accelerated, but not so fast as to catch up with the 4x4. He didn’t want to be stopped and, apparently, that was happening now. Cars were being searched for pieces of the meteorite, which were now government property. Quite likely they were looking for those fragments, but it was no damned meteorite and hadn’t come from Libya.
No one stopped him on the way down from the mountains, which he now gazed upon with a clarity he had lacked since first coming here, but police had parked at the turn into the coastal village of Makrigialos. Some were local, some were from the nearby town of Sitia, and others were those whose sum purpose was grabbing up illegals. Erickson wondered if the alien fell into the jurisdiction of the last, because certainly someone knew about it. The bullet holes told that tale.
They paused to watch him drive past. It struck him as likely that they had been told to search all cars, but right then it was time for frappe coffee and cigarettes. He drove into the town, the deep blue of the Libyan Sea glimpsed between the buildings to his left, finally pulled into the parking area before the butcher’s, and climbed out. Vegetables he had in plenty; he would also pick up some bread here, but most important was meat and plenty of it. Probably best would be multicellular stuff like liver and kidney. Yes, them and a good load of pork. The proprietors would assume he was stocking up for a kazani barbecue and attempt to sell him stuff on skewers again. Little did they know that none of the meat would get anywhere near hot coals.
Rationality was all.
* * *
The second day after the alleged meteorite came down, and after military vehicles began rushing about, he took a very long walk into the mountains. This time, rather than head up behind his house and through the wind farms, he had crossed the valley and headed up into wilder territory on the other side. The round trip was twenty miles. Before returning he walked a winding track through abandoned olive groves, feeling buoyant from the exercise. He strolled past the iron pylon of an old water pump windmill, fragments of its canvas sails still attached, paused to study a mass of dictamus—the allegedly health-giving Cretan tea—growing in a ruin, then, remembering the area, decided to pause for a rest on the wall of an old cistern that sat down at the bottom of a short track, hidden behind a stand of bamboo. The concrete tank was deep, he remembered, and during heavy rain it did fill up, but that tended to drain away quickly through cracks in the bottom. The only purpose it seemed to serve now in this deserted location was as a trap for unwary animals. One time he had stopped here and seen a small weasel running around in the bottom. He’d put in some lengths of bamboo in the hope it would have the sense to climb up one of them to escape. It hadn’t been there next time he looked. READ MORE