edited by Jason McCall
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction • Jason McCall
The Psalm of Trees • John C. Mannone
Lunar Census 3030 • LeRoy Gorman
Fairies vs. Robot Aliens • F.J. Bergmann
First Contact • Lynette Mejía
When the Alien Sat Down Next to Me • Bruce Boston
Horror Comics • Jeannine Hall Gailey
Mermaid, On Land • Jeannine Hall Gailey
Introduction to Alien Autopsy • Jeannine Hall Gailey
warmth • Ang Si Min
For the Cause • Beth Cato
The Psalm of Trees
After “The Battle of the Trees” (Book of Taliesin)
I have been many forms.
I have been a broken branch
forked and slithered
I have been javelin shaft
and shield of bark
prickly as crocodile’s
I have been eagle
soaring above all trees:
higher than the mighty
oaks, above the cedars
of Lebanon whose needles
brush the skies higher than
the stars where angels fly.
I have been the bright and shining
star fallen from heaven
before the time of times
I have been the strength of ships,
my plank and grain bent
into bow slipping
through the flood
I have been the young lion
in Serengeti, leeping
faster than sprung branches
that rasp as claws.
I have been ancient leviathan
hulking Silurian seas
with necks as broad as trunks,
teeth, broad & splinter-sharp.
I will rule over you, olive tree,
and wallow in your opulence.
I will rule over you, fig tree.
Bring me the baskets of your succulence.
I will rule over you, great vine.
I will drink red nectar—the essence
Gather under my sway. Trust my shadow
for shade: my briars and thistles, thorns and burrs
will not harm you.
I will be your king; you will worship me.
And I will protect you
from all fire.
A redux of the “Parable of Trees” (Book of Judges, Judges 9)
—John C. Mannone
Lunar Census 3030
PART A— ETHNICITY
SELECT ONE ONLY
Fairies vs. Robot Aliens
We had no common languages, and even
the simplest gestures, such as the prick
of a spindle or the turn of a screw,
were misunderstood. But our grudges
mirrored each other.
Blaming mankind came naturally.
We tracked them beneath black and blue
skies, chained them with gold or gadolinium.
Some of us took them apart to see how
they worked; some engaged in dismemberment
for its own sake.
We were not nice. We stole each others’ wands
and ansibles. We mated on the sly, under battle
conditions, writhing in a haze of illusion
and oily smoke. We substituted the deformed
embryos or ruffled tetraploids we had birthed
for human children.
As our mutual spawn matured, we looked
for familial resemblances, cropped their wings,
and modified their genomes retroactively whenever
disturbances manifested until they were reduced
to single cells, then only molecules oxidizing
to release the scent of almonds and asphodel.
And then we stopped believing
in each other.
to contemplate the ways
in which the microscopic other falls
short the astronaut instead constructs
an analogue, a frame of familiar
reference points blinking through
what might be eyes regarding
him like mirrors.
Untrammeled by the alien
society and its conventions,
the niceties of polite attempts
at conversation, alone he
fearlessly holds to the conviction
of his courage, the surety
of history nudging him
to take hold like a fledgling
moss on foreign soil.
When the Alien Sat Down Next to Me
When the alien sat down next to me,
if they hadn’t told me he was alien,
if I didn’t know about such things,
I would have taken him for human.
But they did tell me, and I do know,
so I stood up and walked away.
first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction in 2004
“I don’t read horror comics.” Lost Boys, 1987
You don’t read horror comics, not because you don’t want to be scared but because their gore and excess becomes boring. These days all vampires are teenagers swooning with love, or werewolves with a conscience, or ghosts who are trying to solve crime mysteries or something. Horror comics can’t be what they used to with all these damn sparkling vampires.
You don’t read horror comics, but you really do believe you are a vampire, because from an early age you were allergic to garlic, are photosensitive, and crave undercooked red meat. You used to suck on the gold crucifix your grandmother gave you because you liked the taste of metal. In college you liked to dissect things, maybe a little too much, that feeling of power from ripping something apart. And look at those little sharp teeth in your mouth, the dentist says they’re from grinding, but you know you’ve always had them. A drop of blood on your tongue when you touch the tip to them.
You don’t read horror comics, because you’ve always pictured yourself as more of a vampire slayer than a vampire, but to be honest, you know you’re more monster than heroine. Your do-gooding has been a mask all along. Wait by the docks at night, for the strong men who come home tired and sweaty and smelling like salt and iron. They are delicious.
You don’t read horror comics. They never get the details right.
—Jeannine Hall Gailey
Mermaid, on Land
My husband pushes me around all day
in a metal contraption, a shawl over my lap.
I’m not much of a dancer, but I’m told
I have a lovely voice. My hair is usually tangled
with seawater, my eyes washed out by the light.
I gave everything to be here, and though the “toes
in the sand” fantasy never quite came true,
I feel okay with the bargain. If, sometimes, I’ll sit
on the bench on the pier, whispering to the waves…
don’t bother me. I’m already approaching the hours
when I’ll be nothing but seafoam on the beach,
because these spells never last. My faux-legs shriveling,
muscles wasting back to thin fin, my feet the nerve’s knife
against flesh. My husband holds my hand, strokes my face,
sleeps on the floor to avoid brushing against me in the night.
The fantasies still sequins in my eyes,
the sea birds look askance; at the edge of sand and water,
I’m the compromise, the ache between body, ocean, sky.
Introduction to Alien Autopsy
When you find the third heart beneath his carapace,
you start to wonder about the miracles of the system,
the circuits that keep our parts in place.
Once more, the trachea spasms, and he swallows;
once more, the gas bladder fills with air.
Is there anything more beautiful than this,
a foreign masterpiece, a secret hiding place
for all the universe? What will be revealed
by following this map into life on other planets?
For now, you listen to the whir and tick of his magnetic
insides, hear the engineers next door banging clumsily
on the outside of the metal spaceship, which refuses to divulge
its cargo. Dissection is an art; taking things apart
is ultimately an exercise in putting things back together.
—Jeannine Hall Gailey
this is weird,”
she starts uncertainly.
“We seem to always only meet
in the common toilet,”
comes the amused whirring reply.
“Yes! Oh man,
we’re like shower buddies.”
“Oh yes, quite.”
The north wind glides through
on the way to freezing the world.
Jane turns off the tap.
“I was not aware
that humans could get
a jammed voice box.”
“No, yes, I mean, uh…”
“Just speak your mind.”
“What do you think of that scandal,
the blogger who claimed that
metal people are an alien invasion
and got arrested
for his racist hatred?”
Jane’s words tumbles out in a rush.
Tin’s words surges forth,
“I have nothing but distaste
for that foul creature.
We are people too!
We are of Earth.
We may be silicon based,
and we wear metal instead of cotton,
we may be more varied in form
—not always bipedal—
and we may have differences
but we are still sentient
we consume and produce waste.
We can feel pain
and we have faith and hope.”
“I am unhappy,
I really am.”
The silence is broken
by intermittent squeaking
of sad metal wheels.
There is a scuffle,
a bang, a thud,
and Jane’s head pops up
over the cubicle separation,
and the rest of her
shimmies wetly over.
and somehow lands on her feet,
only to slip on oil
and sits suddenly on the tiles.
Tin stops sobbing
in stunned speechlessness.
Before she could make a click,
the meat girl throws herself
onto the metal girl.
I’m sorry about that horrid man,
I’m sorry about my entire race,
Jane weeps into Tin’s shoulder juncture.
Tin emanates a gentle warmth,
for your kind gesture.
I am grateful
for your empathy…
They sit like that for a while,
the returning north wind.
For the Cause
doctors remove the bandages; at last
she explores the new contours of her body
rippled brown skin, hard and soft at once
her hair in leafy tendrils to the shoulder
human eyes beset in bark
her smile strains an ancient face
she is a statement
there, at the protest to save the trees
hair drinking in light
she brings the axe to her own arm
slices through pale, splintered flesh
she bleeds amber