by Jeremiah Tolbert

Topeka’s city lights make the low-hanging autumn rain clouds glow phosphorus orange. Against the clouds, I can see bats no wider than my hand. Not birds or moths. Bats. They make hairpin turns no bird could ever manage, snapping up the mosquitoes that have been so thick this summer. It’s a big happy bug hunt all taking place in the quiet dark.

I have never seen the bats before, even though I go for a walk (doctor’s orders on account of my blood pressure) every night along the same trail. It helps me calm down, and to stop thinking about the trouble I’ve gotten myself into.

It’s kind of freaky how something as simple as weather can reveal hidden truth. It’s not the bats themselves that get to me. I like them and their tricks, and without them, we would all be dying of malaria or something. What bothers me is that all this time, the bats have been flying only inches above my hat, and I just never knew. I didn’t know to look up.

It was the same with the mole men. I didn’t know to look down.
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by Yoon Ha Lee

When General Minkhir returned through the Winged City’s gates, her clay servant Chukash saw the emblem of conquest in her hand. This time it was a bronze crescent, drenched in blood as always. Chukash fell in beside her, holding a basin to catch the blood. The trees to either side of them straightened, the gray-brown limbs flushing to a green-tinged hue, but the street was as dry as it had been before the general’s departure weeks earlier. It was an inauspicious sign when the city’s need for water was still dire.

Chukash kept his head lowered all the way to the temple called the White Bowl. He counted the drops of blood, the red splashes before the basin absorbed all traces of death, or life, or anything human. He liked to think that the blood-beat was his pulse, and that it made him more human.

One time he had stumbled, spilling a drop of blood. It had left a mark on the road like a toeprint. Sometimes the toe on his left foot ached. The general had never reprimanded him for it, but he knew. And the city with its thousand eyes knew.
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by Ruth Nestvold

Cold. No date, no location. So cold, cold and hot, my fingers are burning. Where am I?

Devlin woke, jolting and in pain, and slowly opened his eyes. He was being carried on a stretcher through a white world: not the green-tinged paleness of the sleep chamber he had expected to see on waking, but a cold, earthly white with an orange cast, a white of muffled shapes and shadows. The people carrying the stretcher were bundled in heavy coats in shades of green and orange with hoods covering their heads and hems to their ankles. Furs and thick blankets of some soft material had been thrown over him.

He obviously was not on Jordan. Of course, he couldn’t be on Jordan; they had left Jordan, were on their way to Earth. After leaving the Epsilon Eridani system, the first shift crew had taken over and the rest of them had retired to sleep their way through the stars.

Something had gone wrong. Where was his crew? Where was he?

He decided to try his voice. “What happened?”

Two pairs of eyes trained on him, eyes so dark he could see no pupils in them, in faces coffee-colored like his own but hairier. Eyes that looked human but with an indefinable strangeness to them, other, different, in the middle of features that were familiar yet off somehow.

They spoke rumbling words in a language he’d never heard before. Overwhelmed, Dev allowed unconsciousness to take him again.
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