Drabblecast 354 – DoubleHeader XVIII: Sylvia Spruck Wrigley



Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Drabblecast Alienated / The Front Line by Mary MatticeAlone — but not lonely.

Three days, we’ve been on this planet. Over a year, Earth-time. But we don’t talk about Earth-time anymore. It weakens morale, says Sir Overgeneral Halfish.

My morale went out the window when I found out that I was sentenced to be transported off planet.

 

 

 

 

 

Alienated

By Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

 

 

Alone — but not lonely.

Three days, we’ve been on this planet. Over a year, Earth-time. But we don’t talk about Earth-time anymore. It weakens morale, says Sir Overgeneral Halfish.

My morale went out the window when I found out that I was sentenced to be transported off planet.

I was never one of those little girls with rocket ships and toy telescopes. I had a hermit Barbie with a pink plastic cave in which she kept her 14 pairs of shoes and 13 ball gowns. I was never an explorer. I just wanted a quiet life with pretty things. A pink plastic cave would suit me just fine.

I killed my husband. I got off light: 5 months’ transport and 20 years on the colony. More than twice as long as my marriage lasted. For eight years, I wore thousand-dollar designer dresses and three-inch heels — and silk scarves to hide the bruises on my arms.

Now look at me. Wearing a grey jumpsuit with neon-orange reflectors, digging up stunted purple fingerlings as a part of some insane terraforming project in the middle of system 5088b.

At least we’re not locked up; there’s no chance of escape. We have caches of dried goods and imported water tanks. We also have Sir Overgeneral Halfish, who doesn’t want anyone forgetting that this is punishment.

Orbital solar mirrors were the miracle solution to the Goldilocks problem. They say this place was uninhabitable, no native plants, just desert wasteland and solar winds. Sounds like Albuquerque to me. No one cares what might have come before.

No one but me. I see them. Bright green swirls in the darkness, hovering over the orange-brown dunes. Sir Overgeneral tells me not to worry my pretty little head, it’s just swamp gas. He doesn’t believe anything’s out there because he’s never seen anything. They don’t show up until late-shift, when we’re meant to be indoors with blinds down. They gather on the outskirts of our hovel and they watch.
So I watch back.

My married life taught me to avoid attracting attention. So I sit perfectly still, just the quiet sound of home-made purple fingerling schnapps splashing into my plastic cup. My secret still is why I’ve been out during late-shift in the first place. There’s yeast here too, not that I’ve told anyone. That’s not the point.

The point is, reconnaissance looks the same all over the Universe. They formed an acid-green perimeter around our settlement and shimmered along the vegetable gardens and inched right up to the security blinds. Then they pulled back and melted into the wind-blasted dunes where the Overgeneral keeps telling me no life could survive.

I never saw any need to follow them. I figured I’ve done my bit, telling Overgeneral, Sir, I think you’ll find there was something here first. And now they come up most every ‘night’.

I didn’t know they even knew I was there until Warden Lecter caught me.

I was creeping back into the compound after checking my still when she sprang out from the water tanks. She’s the worst of the wardens; there’s something not quite right about her. I mean, something weird beyond voluntarily relocating to a poisonous planet to bully three dozen women.

I stood tall, hoping she couldn’t hear my heart thudding.

“You should be in your hut,” she growled.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said and turned to go. She put a heavy hand on my shoulder to stop me.

I flinched and held my hands up. When she laughed, I knew I was in trouble. Just then, the green mist shimmered around the edges of the compound.

“Shoulda thought about that before you went sneaking.” She grinned.
The green mist swirled up behind her. I twisted and bolted straight to my hut, slamming the door behind me. The only sound was my pounding heart.

Once I caught my breath, I cracked the door open. There was no sign of Lecter.

The green mist flared and then faded into the hills. I went to bed and stared at the ceiling until first bell.

The compound was in an uproar. Warden Lecter disappeared without a trace, they said. I didn’t say a word. A week later, they found her bones behind the water tanks. Not an ounce of flesh to be found, just her bones, clean as a school experiment.
I stayed inside during late-shift after that. Forget the still, my tastes of freedom. I buckled down to do my time. But the next time Sir Overgeneral Halfish sneered at me as worthless, I started thinking about that night again.

I mean, Lecter must have run when I started running, right? Even if just to catch me. So how come I got away and she didn’t? Other than they were already used to me, sitting outside, sharing the stars.

Or maybe they just don’t like the smell of my schnapps, hell if I know. But it seems like they would be good friends to keep. Shimmery scary friends that eat people, sure. But then, I’m not exactly spoilt for choice.
So now I set my lawn chair out each late-shift, when I know everyone else is safely asleep, and I watch. The mists know I’m here. They whirlpool around my lawn chair. I figure we have a truce, of sorts. And if that truce doesn’t extend to the others, well, that’s not my problem.

The purple fingerlings are growing fine and the water tanks are hooked up with enough water to keep 50 of us going for a decade. There’s no one else due here for a while, just us and the mists. I’m happy to lure the Overgeneral out of his hut if that’ll keep them happy, maybe the rest, too.

Maybe this could be paradise after all.

 

 

Old Flames

by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

 

Gunthar sat in stoic silence, a woolen blanket folded over his lap,
facing the fireplace. Ada set her basket of fabric and lace onto the
frayed rug and eased herself into the chair next to his, pulling it
closer to the fire.

He kept his eyes on the flickering flames. “So, it’s over?”

There was no point in denying it. “Our men have surrendered. The
soldiers have taken the palace.”

He grunted. Outside, a whistling sound and then the bang of a firework.

“The victory celebration begins,” she said, swallowing hard. She
closed the shutters against the scent of gunpowder and tugged her
sewing out of the basket.

“Do you remember when we came to the city? The victory ball? Those
were happy times,” Gunthar said. His face was dreamy with recollection as he rocked back and forth. “You were sixteen.”

“Thirteen,” said Ada. “Just turned.” It wasn’t a victory for the city,
only for them, the occupiers. Ada kept her eyes firmly on stitching
lace edging onto the pale silk piled up in her lap. “But never mind,
it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“It was your first ball. You were nervous.”

“My godmother insisted. She made my dress herself.”

Gunthar picked up a pinecone and tossed it onto the fire. The flames
flared as they devoured it. “You were beautiful,” he said.

She shifted the chair away, so he wouldn’t see the shimmer of tears in
her eyes. “Never mind.”

“I’ll never forget that night. You disappeared just as the grandfather
clock chimed midnight…”

“Duke Theudebald tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I ran.”

“…and all that was left was a single sparkling slipper.”

“Silver sequins. I tripped running down the stairs. I kicked the other
one off when I reached the street.”

He nudged the glowing embers together with the blackened poker. “I was
frantic. I couldn’t believe you had disappeared.”

“My godmother was furious with me, accused me of causing trouble for everyone.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“I was so happy to have finally found you. It was love at first sight.”

“It was protection. For me, for my family. I had no choice.” The
needle pricked her wrinkled fingers and she swore under her breath.

“I was so happy,” he repeated, turning towards her.

Ada just sighed, eyes focused on her stitching.

Another firework exploded in the streets. “It was a long time ago,” he said.

“That’s true.” She put her hands in her lap, looking at him for the
first time. “It was a very long time ago.”

He smiled under her gaze. “What are you making?”

“A dress for Rosamunde,” said Ada. “There will be a ball. I told her
she should go.”

The smile faded from his crinkled face. “Is that wise?”

Ada jabbed at the hem with the needle. “She’ll be fine.” The dying
flames cast shadows across the room.

“But she’s so young.”

“Just turned thirteen,” said Ada. She swiped a tear away and focused
on her stitching. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Play
Alienated first appeared in Nature Physics, October 2014.
Old Flames first appeared in Daily Science Fiction, November 2012.
Episode Art:  Mary Mattice
Read by:  Naomi Mercer

Twabble:  “The alien evolved to be cute and cuddly as a reproductive strategy. That explained the wave of immaculate conceptions. ”  by  groomporter


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