Live & Die in Starlight (Aerials)
Part 7 of Aerials
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We hide in bathrooms–
snipers aim at UFOs–
Wait for the all clear.
Ro and I hunkered down in my bathroom and watched mildew build up in the grout lines. Events once again transpired elsewhere in the world without my knowledge or consent. How rude!
~ ~ ~
Earlier that morning…
A spaceship rode low on the ecliptic, just cruising as its lone occupant snapped a few last images in the infrared spectrum. An advanced scout ship, the pilot kept his vessel well away from the electronic eyes peering space-wards from Earth’s blue-green ball and the satellites that swarmed around it like flies. Its matte black hull deflected visual contact and its low power consumption ensured that it didn’t show up on any other scopes. Not that the primitive software aimed in its direction could detect a ship as advanced as this.
Lloyd leaned back in his acceleration couch and stretched. Maybe he’d take a brief nap before reporting in. Several of the screens before him flickered with intercepted signals–a smattering of cable tv channels. One of them freeze framed at the exact moment a lightning bolt juiced up the delorean in Back to the Future. The picture disintegrated into a shower of pixels. He cursed and tapped the screen with his index finger to shake the picture back into focus. It didn’t work. Something had interrupted the signal.
That something turned out to be another ship, this one with lights that ran up its bottom and across its radius illuminating a cross-shape. Its hull momentarily deflected the cable signal. Grapeshot strafed his ship. It pounded his hull like iron rain hurled thousands of miles per second and it hit the bow, flipping the ship end over end through a field of fast flying debris.
Mission Control had not planned for any space battles and why would they? No one on that mud ball had the capability. This was a surveillance mission hence the ship’s polymer construction. No depleted uranium plating, no steel either to reinforce its structure. So the ship shredded in the crossfire as a second UFO started pumping out grapeshot.
Chance of survival had dropped to 12% when Lloyd mashed his fist down on the red eject button. Electronics whirred as the dying computer initiated the launch sequence after sealing off his couch into an escape pod. Part of the forward hull buckled and burst giving him a path into a field of debris. Thrusters punched, throwing his pod clear of the ravaged ship.
Grapeshot caught up in Earth’s gravity well battered his pod until they both hit atmosphere shattering the pod like the plastic egg it was. Damned subcontractors and their shoddy workmanship…
Gravity seized Lloyd and yanked him out of the remnants of his ship, battering him in the process. His fish-bowl helmet cracked, springing a slow leak of his air supply. He’d come to the end of the line. There’d be no alien corpse discovered on that blue-green world spiraling up to meet him. He’d burn up in the atmosphere. His superiors would be glad of that though his family wouldn’t. They’d have nothing but ash to bury; ash that would become part of this world he had spied on and thieved cable programming from for the past two years.
A world he had composed 154 sonnets to in honor of The Great Will, who had originated the form. All gone now like digital refuse dumped with the computer memory when the circuitry fried. Standard procedure that to keep the species under surveillance from gleaning knowledge they shouldn’t have. The communication chip would survive–not as anything recognizable to anyone except his people, but its design guaranteed that it wouldn’t burn up. Plus it had a locator built into it. He keyed his mike and prepared to dictate his last sonnet.
“Final log, star date–not important,” he said into the helmet’s tinny mike. Then he started reciting, working on the fly before oxygen deprivation made it impossible to think in meter and rhyme.
To live and die in starlight—my dark tomb
I await as my last breath space swallows.
Static–no rescue from this chill’d, stark womb.
No shining rebirth as stars do follows
this silent end of asphyxiation.”
Llyod paused, gasped for breath to go on, to speak the last nine lines but what he breathed in held not enough oxygen to sustain speech. He choked on air that had thinned and that streamed away from him through the star-shaped hole in his helmet. He died thirty seconds later.
On the bridge of the second UFO, another alien picked up the sonnet and finished it. Her voice issued into space’s cold void, chasing after the fading sight of that unknown scout. She recounted every star flier’s fear in a clear and reverent voice, turning the remaining lines of the sonnet into a eulogy:
“No state funeral, no six gun salute–
An alien felled me for my nation.
No blanket of flags to warm my spacesuit.
My ship, my headstone, one more asteroid,
ablaze amid earth’s atmosphere, streaming
ash from astronaut Lloyd, dead in the void.
He lived and died in starlight bleak and cold,
No warmth of flesh, no smile to behold.”
Then both UFOs banked and one cut a curving path towards Earth that avoided the ambush’s debris. Its wake caught the shattered pieces of ship, pod, grapeshot and Lloyd’s body like an invisible net that dragged all of them down towards Earth.The other UFO peeled off without a word to search and destroy any other prying eyes.
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Meanwhile, all that debris hurled down at a slice of New York State near Croton-on-Hudson. Its trajectory aimed for the tract of hill where my garden apartment complex nestled.
Ro and I heard the screams and the sniper fire and then shouts of a real fire from inside my bathroom. We stared at each other.
Which danger’s greater–
bullets, aliens or fire?
death or abduction?
~ ~ ~
Find out next Friday.
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