Today Steve DeGroof returns with another installment of original fiction for the readers of Sci-Fi. We hope you enjoy this short story, and please remember to follow the links at the bottom to check out more of Steve’s fiction. – Lilyn
Tatiana lay on the floor, drawing her pictures. Scattered around her were crayons and sheets of paper. Real crayons and real paper, mind you. Nothing but the best for their little girl. They’d tried to get her to use a tablet, but she insisted on crayons and paper, so that’s what they gave her.
After all, she was a celebrity – the celebrity. The most famous person on the planet. Irene and Paul had gone to great lengths to ensure Tatiana would be the first child born on Demeter.
It started with arranging to be on the first Hermes colony ship. Then, they made sure that they’d be revived early from stasis. Ten percent of all colonists were taken out of stasis a year before arrival, mainly for planning and preparation, but also because the last thing you want is your entire population landing on a new planet, all suffering from stasis hangovers at once.
During that year, they worked out the logistics of Irene’s pregnancy. They weren’t the only ones shooting for having the first baby born on Demeter, of course. The first human born on any extrasolar planet? Huge deal. And they’d beat all the competition. Irene went into labor while Hermes 1 was entering Demeter’s atmosphere, and gave birth right there on the landing pad.
The First Demeterian! The Miracle Baby!
To be fair, there was nothing particularly miraculous about it, unless you consider a big old shot of oxytocin to be a miracle. They’d paid a lot of money, and timed it just right. You know what they say, you have to spend money to make money. And, they definitely made money out of the deal.
Tatiana-branded merchandise practically sold itself. And the drawings she made with her precious crayons and paper, Irene and Paul could sell those for up to five hundred a pop. The girl was really talented. But five hundred for a crayon drawing? Let’s face it, her celebrity counted for a good percentage of that price.
Not that they were complaining or anything. The merch and the drawings paid the bills, and then some. And, with every colony ship that arrived, there was a new batch of customers, eager to hand over their hard-earned cash. Tatiana had already built up a sizable trust fund, and she was only six years old.
Irene and Paul made sure they kept digital copies of all Tatiana’s artwork. It really was amazing. Paul watched her work, blending the colors with her thumb, making each line and contour just so. If it weren’t for the fact that they were made from wax on paper, you’d swear they were photographs.
All her drawings were landscapes of Demeter, each one amazingly beautiful. Demeter itself was amazingly beautiful. And it looked a lot like Earth. Well, a lot like Earth did before humans poisoned it and paved it over.
The Demeter colonists were trying to do better this time. Keeping things as green as possible. And Demeter was definitely green. The first settlement, Eleusis, where Paul and Irene lived, was nestled between the Pax Ocean and the Verde Mountains. Gentle ocean breezes, amazing sunsets, and some of the best planting soil ever. The seeds the colonists had brought from Earth sprouted immediately, and grew like weeds. Eleusis had more than enough to eat, and plenty of feed for the livestock they’d brought with them in stasis.
Eleusis was, primarily an agricultural settlement, with a lot of high tech discreetly tucked away, out of sight. If you didn’t look at the electric tractors too closely, you’d miss that there wasn’t anyone driving them. Oh, there were plenty of maintenance and service robots around, but they were kept out of sight when not in use. Wouldn’t want to ruin the illusion, after all.
Demeter wasn’t the first extrasolar planet targeted for colonization. Far from it. There were at least a hundred other Earth-like planets currently being terraformed by armies of robots. The thing was, Demeter came ready-made for human settlement. You could’ve plopped a person down just about anywhere on the surface, armed with nothing more than a pocket knife, and they would’ve been able to survive without much trouble.
The planet was amazing. Never mind the near-perfect nitrogen/oxygen atmospheric mix, or the surface gravity that was 99% Earth normal. Most of its land surface was covered in forests, marshes and grassland, and almost every plant had something on it that was edible. The fruit of the peachapple tree, for example, makes the best pie filling or, if your so inclined, the best cider.
And it wasn’t just the native plant life. Even the Earth crops they’d planted here tasted better. Paul had never much liked yellow squash, for example, but here it tasted amazing. Must be something in the soil, he figured.
What little fauna Demeter had was, well, little. The A-1, biggest, baddest apex predator native to Demeter was (drum roll, please), something called the Kangakitty. They were about the size of a rabbit, and hopped like one. OK, they could actually jump about a meter into the air, gliding on membranes of skin that unfolded from their backs. And, yes, they were all needle-sharp teeth and claws. But they were also adorable. Sure, they were pests at times, occasionally getting hold of a chicken and dragging it off. But, think about it, the most dangerous animal on the planet – before humans showed up – was a three-pound ball of fluff that you could disarm by picking it up by the scruff of the neck.
This, more than anything about the planet, drove the ecologists (they had seven so far) completely bonkers. Sure, there was a food chain. Sure, there was a Great Web of Life. But everything on Demeter was either adorable, delicious, or both. They called it Ryder’s Paradox. It was named after Dr. Carl Ryder, whose grad student, Rachel St. Pierre, first noticed it. But, since cool things always seem to get named after old white men, it was called Ryder’s Paradox.
Irene and Paul didn’t give a crap about any of this, though. They were more concerned about making money hand over fist off the other colonists’ obsession. Make no mistake, they loved Tatiana. They gave her the best care, the best education, the best of everything.
Glennis had been caring for Tatiana almost since she’d been born. Well, ever since Irene and Paul began making enough money to afford a full-time, live-in nanny, which wasn’t long after. Glennis was wonderful with Tatiana, tutoring her, keeping her entertained and, most importantly, keeping her grounded. It wasn’t easy, being the parents of the most famous person on the planet. Without Glennis guiding Tatiana (and Paul and Irene, for that matter), they could have easily ended up with an unmanageable monster. Instead, Tatiana was a well-behaved, talented, and thoughtful child.
Paul was still amazed at his daughter’s talent. She could faithfully reproduce a scene she’d only viewed a few times or, in some cases, only once. Both he and Irene were – had been – urban planning specialists. Neither of them had anything you’d consider artistic talent. Fortunately, Glennis had been on hand to help the girl channel her creative energy into something concrete. Even so, Tatiana soon surpassed her teacher in artistic talent.
Irene and Glennis returned from whatever they’d been up to.
Irene smiled and winked at her husband. “How’s our little Picasso?”
“More of a van Eyck, I’d say,” Glennis interjected, nudging Irene playfully.
“Scribbling away, as per usual,” Paul replied. He peered over Tatiana’s shoulder. “Not entirely sure what she’s drawing at the moment, though.”
Tatiana looked up, as if noticing the adults in the room for the first time. “They’re called Zoomers.”
“Why are they called Zoomers?” Glennis asked. The page was almost solid black. Distributed throughout the darkness, fading off into the distance, were hundreds of shiny, black pill-shaped objects. The one Tatiana had placed in the foreground had been drawn in cutaway view. Inside the pill’s casing, what looked like a partially-formed figure slumbered, its limbs tucked into the vague semblance of a fetal position. “They look like they’re all curled up and asleep.”
“Of course they are, silly,” Tatiana giggled. “It’s too cold and dark to wake up yet.”
“Like they’re in stasis,” Irene suggested.
Tatiana glanced at her mother, then looked to Glennis.
“We’ve talked about stasis, remember?” Glennis explained. “All the grownups who live on Demeter, everyone who came here on a ship, had to go into stasis. We slept for hundreds of years while the ships brought us here. We slept in pods much like those,” She gestured to the drawing. “Is that what they are? Are they stasis pods?”
Tatiana’s face scrunched up in concentration. “I suppose so. They sleep for a long time. They only wake up in the summer.”
Paul shot a questioning look at Glennis, who replied with a shrug.
“Tatiana,” Glennis said gently, “you know that Demeter doesn’t have seasons like Earth did, right?”
It was true. Unlike Earth, Demeter had no axial tilt. It and its moon, Arion, were aligned precisely along the orbital plane. All the other planets in the system were perfectly aligned as well. It was all eerily precise. Every new moon brought a solar eclipse; every full moon, a lunar eclipse. And no axial tilt meant no seasons. Demeter was locked in eternal springtime.
“It has summer sometimes,” Tatiana argued.
Paul was taken aback by his daughter’s insistence. He crouched down beside her and hugged her shoulders. “Well I’ve never seen a summer here,” he said softly. “And I’ve been here six whole years. When does summer come, then?”
In response, Tatiana pulled out another drawing from the ones scattered about her. “Tomorrow.”
Paul regarded this new picture. It showed a bright blue sky, with Demeter’s sun, Helios, centered on the page. Blazing white light radiated from it. Positioned in front of Helios, dead-center, was Eos.
Eos was a tiny, dull red star, barely massive enough to manage fusion. Its paltry glow barely contributed to the light that warmed Demeter’s surface. Unlike Demeter, Eos orbited Helios in a wild, wobbling pattern, crossing above or below its disc most times, sometimes grazing its edge, distorting the light slightly.
In the six years they’d been on Demeter, Paul had never heard seen Eos cross directly in front of Helios (not that he spent a lot of time staring at the suns). It must happen occasionally, he supposed.
“That’s a lovely picture, dear,” he said, giving Tatiana a squeeze. “And that’s going to happen tomorrow?”
She nodded. “Mmm hmm.”
“Well, won’t that be a sight!” he said, staring at the picture.
That evening, after Glennis had put Tatiana to bed, the three adults sifted through her drawings, assessing them for marketability.
“She seems to be drifting away from realism, and experimenting in surrealism,” Glennis commented. “Look at this one.”
She held up a picture of the Verde Mountains at night, the sky heavy with storm clouds, bolts of red lightning silhouetting the mountains against the ruddy glow.
“Tatiana’s never seen a thunderstorm,” she said. “We’ve never had anything worse than a light sprinkle here. And, since when is lightning red? It’s not like her to draw something she’s never seen before.”
“First the sleeping ‘Zoomers’, then the whole ‘summer’ thing, now red lightning thunderstorms?” Paul gathered up more of Tatiana’s drawings. “Let’s see what else is in here.”
The pictures she drew during the day were surreal, disturbing, even violent in some cases. Several showed animal carcasses, stripped down to the bone. Others showed trees, broken, torn to splinters.
Several showed Helios, high above the mountains, partially obscured by huge flocks of what looked like birds, their shapes too indistinct to identify. Demeter had no birds. Nothing here flew except a few pollinating insect-like bugs. Kangakitties didn’t really count, of course. They could barely glide more than a dozen meters, even with a decent updraft.
Paul held up the drawing. “What do you think these are supposed to be?”
“She mentioned the Zoomers were waking up,” Glennis noted. “Maybe that’s what they look like when they’re awake.”
“Or maybe those are their ships,” Paul said. “They’re supposed to be in stasis, right?”
Irene shrugged. “Or maybe we’re taking this a bit too seriously,” she said. “These could be just some fantastical musings of a six-year-old. She does have a vivid imagination, after all.”
“Yeah, about that…” Glennis began, scrolling through her teaching tablet. “Apparently, Helios and Eos will be in conjunction tomorrow. It’s a big deal among the astronomy community.”
“We have an astronomy community?” Irene interjected.
“Apparently,” Glennis continued. “They’re planning a viewing party for noon tomorrow. Distributing protective eyewear and everything.”
“A party where everyone stares at the sun,” Paul said, shaking his head. “So, Tatiana somehow knew about the conjunction, even though none of us did?”
“She could have found out about it through the news feeds,” Glennis suggested. “I encourage her to read as much as possible.”
Paul nodded, feeling a little relieved. “So, there’s no reason to assume all of this other stuff is real, then.” He gestured to the sheets containing the considerably more distressing images.
Glennis chuckled. “Not unless a freak thunderstorm with red lightning suddenly crops up overnight.”
Her statement was punctuated by a distant rumble of thunder.
“Shit,” she opined.
They watched through the rear patio doors as the storm gathered over the mountains to the east. Dark clouds lit up with flashes of red lightning. Rain began to spatter on the decking. Concentric rings radiated outward on the surface of the swimming pool where heavy raindrops landed.
“Think we should tell someone?” Paul asked.
Irene snorted. “Tell them what? Oh, hey, our daughter… you know, the famous Tatiana Portner? Yeah, well, not only is she the first person born on Demeter, and a talented artist, but now it turns out she’s a fortune teller too. I know, right? Who’d’ve guessed? Anyway, some creatures called Zoomers are coming out of stasis, and are going to invade Demeter. Real gruesome stuff, I’m afraid. Alien invasion, cattle mutilations, the whole shebang.”
Paul sighed. “When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? So, what do we do, just wait and see what happens?”
“I don’t see how much more we could do,” Glennis said, tapping at her tablet. “But I’m going to put a question out to the astronomy community, asking if the conjunction could be causing the storm, and what, if anything it might have to do with ‘summer’. See if anyone responds.”
It rained all night. Paul tried to get some sleep, but wasn’t very successful. Irene and Glennis seemed to be having similar problems.
Just before dawn, Glennis burst into their bedroom. “Tatiana’s missing. I couldn’t sleep, so I went to check on her. I’ve looked all over the house. I can’t find her anywhere.”
Irene threw on a robe. “OK, let’s go over the house again, inside and out.”
Fifteen frantic minutes later, Paul called out, “Found her!”
Tatiana was in the back yard, just beyond the fenced-in pool, hip-deep in a hole in the ground, still in her pajamas, and covered head-to-toe in mud.
Paul ran out into the yard, his bare feet squelching on the muddy, rain-soaked ground. At least it wasn’t raining anymore. He slipped his hands under Tatiana’s arms, and lifted her out of the hole.
“What are you doing out here, kiddo?” he said.
She stared at him blankly for several seconds, then blinked. “Digging a hole.”
“Why would you want to do that?” he asked.
She shrugged. “It’s summer. You dig holes in summer.”
“Hard to argue with that,” he said. He picked her up again, cradling her in his arms, and carried her back into the house.
When they got inside, he set her on the floor, and looked down. Both of them were covered in mud.
“I’m going to need a shower,” he said. “Glennis, could you help Tatiana clean up, please? She’s in dire need of a bath.”
“I’ll say,” Glennis agreed, and led Tatiana away.
“What was she doing out there?” Irene asked.
“Digging a hole.”
“With her bare hands?”
“Apparently,” Paul replied, stripping off what clothing he had on, and stepping into the shower. “She was making good progress too. Half a meter deep, and big enough for her to lie down in.”
“Ugh, don’t even joke about that,” Irene said, gingerly picking up Paul’s sodden clothes and dumping then in the hamper. “I mean, there’s a time and place for graveyard humor, and this isn’t it.”
“Wasn’t implying she was digging her own grave, dear,” Paul called out from the shower. “Just giving a rough approximation of the hole’s dimensions.”
“Nevertheless,” Irene retorted, “you could have used better phrasing.”
She paused. “What now?”
Paul shut off the water, and grabbed a towel. “What?”
Then he heard it: a distant low, droning hum. “What the hell is that?”
“If I had to guess, and given how things have been going lately,” Irene said, “I’d say it’s the Zoomers, come to invade the planet.”
As the sun rose, Paul noticed the weather was unusually warm. “I guess this would be that ‘summer’ that Tatiana was talking about.”
He glanced over at his daughter, who had her face pressed up against the patio door glass, looking at the mountains to the east.
The droning was getting louder. Whatever was coming would be here soon.
“Yeah, the astronomy buffs are arguing about what’s causing the excess heat,” Glennis said, flipping through her tablet. “They all agree that Eos is focusing Helios’ light on the planet, but there’s a difference of opinion on how it’s doing that. Some say it’s gravitational lensing; others say Eos isn’t massive enough, and that it must be an atmospheric effect.”
Irene shook her head. “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The world’s about to end, and they’re arguing about optical effects.”
“Well, what are we doing about it?” Paul asked.
Irene stepped into the kitchen and pulled out a couple glasses. “Me, I’m breaking out the good wine. Anyone care to join me?”
Paul realized that Irene was probably right. They were facing an unknown threat, and the best they could do was ride it out. On the other hand, he felt her had to do something, even if it turned out to be ultimately unproductive. He wasn’t sure which strategy was better, if he were honest with himself. What if he exhausted himself running around now, only to be too tired to do something when it counted?
By noon, the sun had become blazingly bright, and the droning had become unbearably loud. Paul found it necessary to shout to be heard.
“Well, the world hasn’t ended yet!” he pointed out.
“Give it time!” Irene shouted back, pouring another glass of Demeter’s finest Merlot.
There was a sudden drop in temperature, accompanied by an abrupt dimming of the light outside. Something splashed into the pool.
Paul joined Tatiana at the patio doors to investigate. He pulled her away, just before something large bashed against the glass, causing it to rattle alarmingly. The thing bounded away before Paul could get a good look at it.
Soon enough, though, there were plenty of opportunities to view the creatures. Hundreds, thousands of them swarmed across their property, half-hopping, half-flying, stopping only long enough to eat anything even vaguely edible. Grass, trees, small animals…
Paul recalled Tatiana’s picture of a cow carcass. He tried not to imagine what these things would do to a human out in the open.
“Holy shit!” Glennis exclaimed, staring out the back door.
Paul turned to see the shattered remains of the pool shed falling to the ground, as a Zoomer erupted from beneath it. That could just have easily been a bedroom, or right beneath where he was standing. The Zoomers hadn’t just been buried in the plains east of the mountains, they were in the ground everywhere.
“Everyone stay indoors,” Irene said, as if anyone had any inclination of stepping outside. “Glennis, could you get the word out for people to collect as many plants and animals as possible, and store them in whatever shelter they can? I doubt a wooden barn would stand up to these things, but brick, steel and glass seem to slow them down.” She swept up Tatiana, and headed for an interior room.
Paul and Glennis followed.
Paul had a brief flash of memory from his childhood. Tornado drills. Head for the basement if you have one; an interior room if you don’t.
They had to turn on the lights in the house, even though it was noon. The Zoomers were blotting out the sun, as strong as it was.
Those things out there… they looked like nightmare versions of Kangakitties. They were much larger, for one thing. As big as a small child, so maybe twenty kilos, assuming a similar body density. Paul guessed the house could hold up to that. They didn’t seem to be actively attacking the building, at least. What damage they’d sustained seemed to come from the creatures – the Zoomers – blundering into the house as they ravaged their way through Eleusis.
“Tatiana,” he ventured, “Are those things outside the Zoomers you mentioned yesterday?”
She nodded. “They’re awake now.”
“Yes they are,” Paul agreed. “They were in stasis pods up until summer started, right?”
Another nod. “They sleep until summer.”
“But I didn’t see any space ships,” Paul said. “Did they land their ships on the other side of the mountains?”
Tatiana shook her head. “No, daddy. They didn’t come from ships.”
“Oh, I see,” Paul said. “Do you know where they came from, then?”
“Mmm hmm,” she replied. “Don’t you remember? I showed you the picture. They were in the dark, under the ground.”
Paul felt his mouth go dry. “They’ve been here, on Demeter, the entire time? Ever since we arrived?”
Another nod. “They sleep most of the time. They only wake up for summer.”
“Glennis,” Paul said, his voice shaking, “I don’t suppose those astronomy folks happen to know how often these conjunctions happen, do they?”
“Uh…” Glennis flipped through articles on her tablet. “Looking…”
The lights flickered, went out, then gradually came back to life. One of the Zoomers must have bounced off a transformer.
“Shit,” Glennis muttered. “Lost my connection.”
“Glennis said a bad word,” Tatiana pointed out.
Paul hugged her. “Yes, she did. She’s very upset. We all are.”
“Because of the Zoomers?”
“Yes. Because of the Zoomers.”
“It’s OK, daddy,” Tatiana said. “They’ll go back to sleep tomorrow, when summer’s over.”
“OK, back online,” Glennis announced. “Looks like about every fifteen years, give or take. Eos has to cross the orbital plane at just the right time of year in order to cause the lensing effect. Oh, and Emergency Management is already looking into recovery efforts. It’s going to be a rough couple of months, but we should be OK. Beef’s going to be in short supply for a while, I’m afraid. The next colony ship is due in a couple months. That’ll help replenish the livestock.”
“So, not the end of the world, then,” Irene said. “Should’ve stuck to the cheap wine.”
Paul glanced at her. “You’re being awfully cavalier about all this.”
She waved it off. “We’ll be fine. We’ve got a steady, reliable income, and a ton of cash socked away. Sure, we’ll need to rent some maintenance robots to repair the house, but that’ll barely make a dent. And we’ve got fifteen years to prepare for the next round.”
“Or,” Paul ventured, “we’ve got fifteen years to dig up and destroy all the pods.”
“The ecologists might have something to say about that,” Glennis noted. “After all, we have no idea what sort of effect that would have on Demeter’s other species. For all we know, secretions from those pods they sleep in provide nutrients or microorganisms essential to the survival of the plant life here.”
Paul sighed. “So we could be stuck with them, then. Great. I should’ve known this planet was too good to be true.”
The droning had tapered off as the Zoomers ran out of food and moved on, either down the shoreline, or back towards the mountains. Paul went to the front door and took a peek outside. If it weren’t for the rich, dark soil, he’d have thought he was looking out into a desert. He wondered how long it’d take for the peachapple grove to regrow. Months? Years? Things did seem to grow pretty fast here. Maybe Irene was right. Maybe they’d be OK.
He noticed a few Kangakitties bouncing around. How had they avoided being eaten? Maybe the Zoomers didn’t like the taste of them? Maybe Kangakitties had a way of fighting back?
He noticed a few of them – about half of the ones he could see – were digging in the barren soil. They dug down until they were neck-deep, then pulled the dirt on top of them, burying themselves alive.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Come have a look at this.”
Irene and Glennis came up behind him.
“Huh,” Glennis said. “You don’t suppose they’re going to turn into Zoomers, do you?”
Irene shrugged. “We could wait a few days, dig one up, and see if the little bugger’s spun a pod around itself, I suppose.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Paul said.
Glennis stared out the front door, watching the Kangakitties. “So, now what?”
“First thing, I’m going to call for some maintenance robots to patch up the house,” Irene said. “Best to get on the waiting list as soon as possible. Maybe slip a bit of cash into the right hands, to get bumped up in the queue.”
Paul nodded. “Oh! And make sure they fill in that hole in the back yard. Don’t want anyone falling in.”
By late afternoon, there were maintenance robots climbing all over the house, patching up dents, replacing broken glass. Irene must have slipped quite a lot of cash into the right hands.
By the time they’d finished dinner, things seemed pretty much back to normal, as long as you ignored the fact that the world outside the house was almost completely devoid of life.
Exhausted, everyone went to bed early, and slept in the following morning.
“Has anyone seen Tatiana?” Glennis asked. “She’s not in her bed.”
“Oh no, not again,” Paul grumbled, heading for the back yard.
But, no, Tatiana wasn’t digging a hole in the yard. Then where was she?
After they’d combed through the house and surrounding property, Glennis called the police and reported her missing.
“It’s not just Tatiana,” she said. “The police have already received dozens of reports of missing children this morning. And, get this, all of them are six or younger.”
Paul stared at her.
Six or younger. All born on Demeter. What was it about this planet? First, ravenous monsters that swarm every fifteen years before buggering off to their graves again. And now, what, something comes in the middle of the night and kidnaps all the kids born here?
Big enough for her to lie down in.
No no no.
Paul rushed out the back door, and fell to his knees clawing at the dirt.
He caught Glennis out of the corner of his eye.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” he snapped. “Get some help.”
“Oh shit,” Glennis breathed. She turned and ran back inside.
A few minutes later, a maintenance robot showed up, and started digging, under Paul’s directions.
“Be careful,” he told it. “She could still be alive down there.”
He watched on, along with Irene and Glennis, as the robot scraped away dirt, layer by layer.
The robot’s claws clacked against something hard and smooth.
“OK, stop,” Paul commanded, and the robot backed away.
Paul scraped the remaining dirt away with his hands, and wrestled the pod out of the hole.
“So it’s just some Kangakitty that happened to dig in the same spot,” Irene said.
“It looks too big to be a Kangakitty,” Glennis pointed out.
“It can’t be Tatiana,” Irene protested. “It’s a pod. Six year old children can’t just spin a cocoon around themselves. How would she even know how to do that?”
For all we know, secretions from those pods they sleep in provide nutrients or microorganisms…
Paul heard voices at the front door.
“I also called for medical assistance,” Glennis explained. “Just in case.”
She went to greet the med techs, and bring them into the back yard.
One of the med techs crouched down, and ran a scanner wand over the pod’s surface, watching intently as a 3D view assembled itself on its viewscreen.
She looked up. “I don’t know. All that’s showing up is a mass of cells, no differentiation. Could be anything in there.”
“See?” Irene said, desperation creeping into her voice. “It could be anything.”
Paul nodded. It could be anything. And Irene was right, human children didn’t go around spinning themselves into cocoons. Earth children didn’t, anyway.
But Tatiana and the other missing children had spent their entire lives on Demeter. Breathing its air, drinking its water, eating its food. Demeter was in every cell of their bodies.
Must be something in the soil…
No, children couldn’t spin cocoons around themselves. But children didn’t suddenly know about conjunctions and thunderstorms and plagues of Zoomers, either.
Zoomers looked like nightmare versions of Kangakitties, and he’d just yesterday witnessed Kangakitties burying themselves. So, what, did Kangakitties bury themselves in the ground and, fifteen years later, Zoomers come out?
Paul recalled how caterpillars, inside their cocoons, turned into goo before re-forming themselves into butterflies. But Zoomers were nothing like butterflies. More like locusts. Big, grotesque locusts, all teeth and claws.
He looked down at the pod, its smooth, shiny, black surface yielding no clues to what, or who, was inside.
Yes, anything could be in there, but it was probably Tatiana.
He was finding it all so difficult to process. He’d lost his little girl. Right now, he didn’t give two shits about the fame or the money. He just wanted his little girl back.
He’d lost Tatiana, but here she was, right in front of him. She wasn’t gone, not really. It was so easy, so seductive, to think of Tatiana tucked away in there, in stasis, his little sleeping princess.
A mass of cells, no differentiation…
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. No. Whatever was in this pod wasn’t Tatiana. No more than what was in a cocoon was a caterpillar. And what it would become was anyone’s guess. Probably not a butterfly, though.
He tried to imagine what would come out of these pods – the ones containing the colonists’ children – when they hatched fifteen years from now. Would they recognize their parents? Even if they did, would they show them any deference, any mercy?
Paul sat there, in the mud, staring at the ground, gently caressing the pod’s carapace, waves of grief and dread alternately washing over him. He decided, on the whole, that he wasn’t really looking forward to next summer.
Steve DeGroof is an expat Canadian who now lives in North Carolina. He has worked, at one time or other, as: a TV repairman, a security guard at a children’s hospital, and a janitor in a strip club. His current day job is as a computer programmer for a bank. He has a patent for a “Folding Stereoscopic Computer Display”, which sounds a lot more impressive than it really is. His first book, “Dandelion Seeds”, was written largely by accident (it’s… complicated).
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
Though no longer involved with Ladies of Horror Fiction due to other responsibilities and a too-full plate, she was one of the original 4 co-founders.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.