Our Secret

The cabinet meeting room was utterly silent as the members all stared at their President. He leaned back in the chair comfortably, looking for all the world like a man asleep. Other than one rather large detail: his face was open in the middle a very small furry creature sat at a set of controls. It looked out at the room with wide, surprised eyes and a hand hovering near a button it very much hadn’t meant to push. Then the laughter began. The Vice President was doubled over the table laughing so hard that it sounded like hissing. He raised his head at last and reached to remove the device that disguised his nature. For a moment, his skin flickered and then he revealed the pearly scales below. Double-lidded eyes blinking slowly, he looked around the room.
“Alright, tell the truth. Is anyone here human?”
One by one, disguises were removed until not a single human remained in the room. Skins lay discarded over chairs and devices sat powered off on tables. The furry creature commonly known as the President was the first to speak, looking at his three-foot tall, gray Secretary of the Interior.
“Roswell?”
The gray alien groaned expressively.
“That was us. Our craft malfunctioned when exposed to the atmosphere of this planet. It took years to figure out why.”
The reptilian Vice President looked down the table at the seven-foot tall, hairy, ape-like Secretary of Defense.
“Bigfoot is a hoax, huh?” he asked in an accusatory tone.
The Secretary of Defense puffed out his fur, appearing to double in size.
“We consider that term to be quite insulting.”
“Alright, here’s the big one.” crackled a creature made of pure energy who served as Secretary of the Treasury. “Kennedy?”
Head down, the Vice President slowly raised one scaly, clawed hand.
“That’s our bad. The humans did really get to the moon though.”
For a moment, there was quiet, then the Secretary of State tilted their head to the side, bat-like ears quivering.
“What now?
It was the exceptionally tall, blonde Secretary of Education that spoke, her metallic armor rustling oddly as she stood. Her eyes were an ethereal glowing blue as she surveyed her fellow cabinet members.
“We carry on. None of our missions are compromised, I trust, and the All-Father would be most vexed if I returned home now. This will simply be our little secret.”
There was a chorus of agreement before another gray alien, the Secretary of Energy, spoke up.
“What about the Attorney General? He’s not here.”
The creature riding in the head of the President scoffed.
“Him? He’s human.”
The Vice President smiled though.
“Don’t worry, though, we’re scheduled to replace him with a clone later today.”

Going Home

Gwen paced nervously as she waited for the knock on the door she knew was coming. Nessa would be there any minute with dinner. She would have a takeaway bag of their favorite Thai foods and that smile Gwen couldn’t say no to. Except that tonight she would have to say much more than no. Tonight, she would have to say goodbye.

She stopped her pacing for just a moment, leaning against the countertop to stare down at the roll of parchment that had upset the careful balance of her life. It had been a shock when it had appeared beside her bed in the night.

Bitterly, Gwen remembered so many years ago when she had been sent, sobbing, far from her home. It had been for her safety, they had said. They couldn’t guarantee her protection if she stayed. Now they wanted her back, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to go.
Scooping up the offending scroll, she looked one last time at the seal of her house and shoved the whole thing into a cabinet. If tonight had to be the last, then better it be a good memory for them both.

Vanessa knocked not more than a minute later, a smile on her face as she held up the bag.
“I got extra satay since you ate all of mine last time.”
“You’re the best, Nessa.”
Gwen closed the door, trying to figure out what to say and how to say it while Vanessa put the food on the table.
“Hey, Earth to Gwen.”
Vanessa’s giggle drew Gwen out of her thoughts and she looked up to see Vanessa holding plates in one hand and the roll of parchment in the other.
“What’s this, love?”
“It’s…that’s…” Gwen froze, staring at the scroll, then her shoulders slumped. “It’s a royal decree from my mother. I have to go home.”
“A royal decree?” For a moment, Nessa grinned, but slowly the smile vanished. “You’re serious. Oh God, you’re serious.”
Vanessa set the plates on the table and dropped into her chair, reading and re-reading the scroll. Then she set it on the table and looked across at Gwen, her face full of wonder.
“Tell me. Tell me everything.”
For the next two hours, they ate and Gwen told Nessa everything she could remember from those long ago days under the double moons. She told about her mother’s court and the civil war, about the death of her father, the rumors of assassins. Gwen didn’t notice when she set down her fork and didn’t pick it back up, so wrapped up was she in her telling. She painted a picture of words, drawing on every detail of her so-nearly forgotten childhood. She could see it all again from the slightly blue shade of the grass to the light grey sky with the single golden spire of her mother’s castle illuminated against it.
“The war’s over.” The words left Gwen’s mouth quietly, uncertainly. “That means I have to go home. Be the heir.”
“But you don’t want to.”
It wasn’t a question. It was never a question, but Gwen answered it anyway.
“I don’t want to leave you.”
The silence hanging between them in that moment was painful. Then Vanessa tapped the scroll.
“They said there would be a portal? To bring you home?”
Gwen nodded mutely and Vanessa soldiered on.
“You know how this stuff works. Would anything go wrong if we both went through?”

At the stroke of midnight, the portal opened in the throne hall as scheduled. This was the best time, during the conjunction of celestial objects that would put their material existence closest to that where they had hidden the Princess Gwynneth. Tonight, she would be coming home. The court tittered with excitement and the Queen leaned forward on her throne with eager anticipation. A shadow formed in the portal and a shape stepped through, followed closely by a second one. There was no mistaking the princess, even in tattered jeans and an old, oversized t-shirt. It was in her manner and her bearing. She bowed low before her mother and gestured to the woman who stood at her right hand.
“Mother, may I present my love, Lady Vanessa.”
The Queen smiled and nodded as Vanessa sketched a shaky bow. Gwen relaxed inwardly and reached for Vanessa’s hand. Now. Now, she was truly home.

Siege

That was the problem with living out in the hills. When something happened, there wasn’t anyone near enough to help. So when the sky lit up like the Fourth of July in the middle of September, the Mayweather family did the only thing they could do: they prepared. Pa had a shotgun he kept in his closet for days like this and he sat on the porch with it across his lap, waiting to see what might happen. Jimmy sat perched in his window with his 12-gauge leveled on the drive up to the house. Sue Ellen had her little compound hunting bow in her hands as she watched the back yard. Mama only kept an eye to the sky, but she did holster on Pa’s pistol when she went to take down the laundry.
The lights stopped around dusk and they heard something rustling in the bushes at the tree line. Pa watched it and Jimmy took aim. It was a furry little creature about 3 feet tall and darkly purple. It walked towards the house with hands upraised and no expression any of them could read. Jimmy’s hands were shaking and the old dog that usually slept at Pa’s feet let out a howl. A crack echoed through the farm as Jimmy pulled the trigger. The creature flipped in the air, landing on its back. Then it stood again and continued to walk forward. More of them began to appear out of the bushes, each walking like that with their hands up. The Mayweathers hunkered down, pulling the windows and doors closed and hoped the creatures would soon be gone. The creatures leaned against the glass and screens, staring in with their wide yellow eyes and their little hands still in the air. They didn’t make a sound and didn’t move an inch, just stayed there like that for hours. Finally, as the first fingers of dawn appeared on the horizon, they turned and walked away back into the brush.

Misidentification

There are a few different classifications of dead people, and that’s the problem. Most of them, thank whatever, move on. I don’t know where they go. That’s not my job. My job is the other kinds. The never-were, the lost, the malefactors, and the desperate. That’s what I call them. The never-were are the ones I hate to meet the most. They’re a mixed bag of child spirits, some of them died young and some were just wanted so badly that they couldn’t leave. The lost at least don’t know what they are. They keep going about their lives with no idea that anything’s changed. It can get unnerving with the old ones. They don’t know how the newer buildings work and they end up going through them. The malefactors are pretty much what it says on the tin. They’re bad. If it tries to crawl into someone, kill someone, take over and destroy things, then it’s a malefactor. The scariest though, are the desperate. Malefactors do it because they have to, because evil and destruction is their nature. The desperate want to. They’re trying to find a way to cling to life in any way they can. They ride in other people’s bodies and try to reclaim who they were, they refuse to give up their past. All in all, it’s a bad time. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell what kind you’re dealing with. The lines blur and that’s when things get dangerous. That was probably how I ended up backed into a corner with four children smiling up at me. Their eyes weren’t black when I let them in. I know they weren’t. I know the rules. But today, it looked like the rules were being broken.
“Don’t worry. Our parents are on the way.”
I could hear the front door opening and my pulse hammered in my ears, blotting out the rest of what they said. Slow, deliberate footsteps made their way up my stairs and I turned towards the sound, dreading what I might see. My blood ran cold as I stared into my own eyes. The other me smiled slowly and walked forward, placing a hand on the shoulder of the tallest of the children.
“Now don’t worry, dear, there will be more than enough for all of us to feast.”

Trade

He couldn’t have been more than nineteen and yet he was the one sitting behind the desk in the big office at the end of the hall. Opposite him cowered a much older man, hands trembling with nervousness. They both stood there in silence for a moment, while the young man looked over the latest trade deal his man had negotiated for him. Then he took another drag on the cigarette in his hand before snuffing it out on the papers in front of him. The much older man opposite him grabbed for the papers, frantically trying to blow out the small embers where it had nearly caught fire.
“I thought I made myself clear before. I have no interest in the currency of this backwater planet. The deal is to be negotiated for resource rights and nothing else.”
“Of course, sir. I’ll-I’ll fix it right away.”
The young man nodded curtly closed his eyes, considering his next move. With the resource rights of the entire planet in his hands, he could do what his father had failed to do on Homeworld, he would keep them all safe. He could protect this place, this world. He heard the door slam and checked the news holo. Ah yes, the protests had picked up once more. That didn’t matter. None of it mattered. He didn’t expect them to understand what he was doing for them. Not until long after he was gone, anyway.

Tracks

She knew he was from the wrong side of the tracks. But, honestly, when he gave her that cheeky grin and his eyes went all warm and tender just for her, it was hard to care. It didn’t matter that she was from the best part of town and owned dresses worth more than the entire building the apartment he shared with his family was in, not when she lay in his arms and they spent the night looking up at the stars. She wished, sometimes, that he had been born into her world, but she knew in her heart that he wouldn’t be the same person if he had been. He would be like the other boys, the ones who spoke only of things he derided as frippery and pretended they knew how the world really worked. She didn’t care that he was from the wrong side of the tracks, but her mother and father would. They wanted her to make a society match, to marry for the betterment of the family. But she looked into his dancing eyes and then leaped wholeheartedly into them, drowning in a sea of soft green. They promised things they couldn’t and believed their own lies. The railroad tracks had never seemed all that wide, but they were worlds apart. Two worlds that collided and threatened to keep moving to part again. Until the day she appeared at the door of his apartment with a suitcase in her hand, tears in her eyes, and his child under her heart.

Return to Port

She knew she wasn't supposed to go to the docks. They were a rough and vulgar place, or so her grandmother said. But Sarah Alcott was not content to wait at home when sail had been sighted on the horizon. Not when it could be her father coming home. Her brother, Garret, was as bad but despite being five years her junior, the nine year old was considered fit to venture to the socks on his own. All that meant in reality was that Sarah had long since mastered the cleverer routes to the harbor.
"Back again, Missy?"
Sarah climbed down from the low roof to stand on a barrel beside the start of the wharf.
"I heard there were sails, Jimmy. Help me down?"
The old shoreman gave her his hand and Sarah jumped down, landing on the wood of the dock with a flutter of skirt.
"Your Grandmama is going to be one pleased about this."
"I know, but I promised Papa I'd be waiting for him."
A few of the hands nearby heard and shook their heads sadly. Poor girl. Not a one of them had the heart to remind her that her father, the good Captain Alcott, was more than a year overdue now. The odds of the man returning to his family went down with each day that passed. Jimmy just smiled sadly. He was used to Miss Sarah and her ways.
"Well, come have a seat and practice your knots until the ship comes in."
She climbed up onto a crate and fished two lengths of cord out of the small bag she carried.

The sound of a bell ringing was what broke her concentration. She nearly had the marlinspike hitch mastered. Just a bit more practice and she'd have it for sure.
"They've made port, Miss Sarah, and the gangplank's down."
Scrambling, she slid down in a manner she was quite certain didn't befit a girl of her age and station and she didn't care. Her eyes were only for the ship. It was a smaller vessel than her father's and she sailed under the Union Jack. The Catherine Ann, named for Sarah's mother, was a three masted vessel and this girl was a two. Nevertheless, she waited to see if perhaps the captain had news of a Captain Alcott who sailed under the Stars and Stripes.
The crew began to unload cargo and Sarah could hear the officers organizing the effort. She would have to wait until they disembarked. She watched the crates being brought up out of the hold and wondered what they carried. Maybe spices and dyes like her father so often carried. Or the fancy fabrics her mother liked to buy. Then her gaze settled on something that made her blood run cold and her spirits sink. She remembered when her father had had the figurehead installed on the ship with the same bright gold hair and green eyes her mother had, saying this way his Catherine would always keep watch over him. That way, he would always come home to their children. So why did this strange ship have her Papa's figurehead? Protocol and politeness demanded that she wait and speak to the captain when he'd stepped onto the dock. Protocol be damned, she wanted answers. Hiking up her skirts, she ran up the gangplank before anyone could stop her. When she found the captain, he was on the deck yelling down to someone in the hold.
"Be careful! Dammit, man, we got you this far. Don't die on the steps."
"Excuse me, Captain?"
If the captain was surprised to see a young woman standing on his ship, he hid it well.
"Yes, Miss?"
She took a breath, drawing courage as best she could.
"Captain, I was wondering if you could explain why you have my father's figurehead among your cargo."
She did her best to sound calm and to ignore the wood on wood thumping noise coming up from the hold behind her.
"Your father's, you say? Are you Miss Sarah Alcott, then?"
Her eyes widened as the man smiled.
"He's told me quite a bit about you and your brother."
The thumping came faster now and Sarah whirled around to see the source. Her father, leaning on a crutch and making his way to her as quickly as he could.
"Papa!"
She threw her arms around his waist and he held her tightly.
"I told you I'd be back, little one. It just took me a bit."
"Papa, what happened?"
He shook his head a little.
"We went down in a storm. Luckily for me, I grabbed the figurehead when she broke off and we floated to shore. I think your Mama was watching out for me from Heaven. I broke my leg, but I'm home now."