We're rolling out the red carpet for 2019 with two stories: Leanne A. Styles' "The Spoils of War" and Alison McBain's "Day Trip"! Enjoy!
The Spoils of War
by Leanne A. Styles
“What the hell am I supposed to do with those?” I said, glaring at the frilly pink socks dangling between Hummer’s pincers. “I’m twenty-two, not two.”
He grunted and tossed them over his armor-plated shoulder.
“Just stick to looking for band aids,” I said, and carried on riffling through the racks. “Or even better, try and root out some shower gel. You stink worse than these rotten rags on my feet. Damn this war, and damn you and the rest of those… cockroaches!”
With a swipe of a claw, he smashed the contents of the shelf he’d been picking through to the floor, before snorting and stomping away.
“Hummer, wait!” I called after him as he shot through the exit. “I didn’t mean it! It’s the blisters talking!”
I swept the rest of the ransacked store, and unearthed a battered carton of Hummer’s poison, but no socks.
Outside, on the deserted street, Hummer was in full sulk-mode.
“Peace offering,” I said, holding out the carton of banana milkshake.
He shook his bulbous head and jabbed a claw towards a plume of black smoke rising in the distance.
I sighed, but decided to play the game anyway. “You’re going back to the army?”
“The end of Annie and Hummer, huh?” I tipped my baseball cap. “I’ll be sorry to see you go.”
“Oh, I believe you. Only, you have threatened this before, many times.”
“I just wonder if they’ll take you back. You know, after the whole defecting business. Plus, once they find out you’ve been travelling with the enemy who knows what they’ll do.”
He shrugged and turned his back on me.
A series of explosions went off, the smoke tower growing.
“Sometimes I wonder whether there’ll be anything left once they’re through, anything worth winning. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we should both go back and fight ? get it over with.”
His head snapped around, his beady eyes wide with horror.
I chuckled. “Knew that would get your attention.”
He grunted, snatched the milkshake and stabbed a hole in the top of the carton. As he guzzled, I spotted a figure, a young man wearing a tatty military uniform with a green pack slung over his shoulder, sprinting at us from an alley across the street. He clocked Hummer and pulled a gun from his holster.
“Gun!” I yelled, but it was too late. The man took a shot.
Scales flew as the bullet glanced off Hummer’s upraised arm. He howled and fell to his knees, the milkshake carton flying out of his grasp. I drew my gun and fired back, hitting the man in the shoulder. He sagged, his injured arm drooping, and the pack slid off his shoulder. He stooped to try and snatch it up.
“Don’t even think about it,” I said, aiming my revolver at his head.
He froze, dropped his gun and backed slowly away down the alley, before turning and breaking into a run.
I propped Hummer against the store front and checked him over: some missing scales, nothing serious.
“You’ll live, kid,” I said with a smirk.
He groaned, watching a trail of milkshake trickling down the gutter.
I looked across the street to the abandoned pack, then to Hummer for approval.
I bolted across the street, grabbed the bag, and ran back to Hummer. I unzipped it and started pulling out the contents: a flashlight, a hunting knife, two cans of beans, protein bars, a half-full bottle of rum, and, buried at the bottom, two pairs of socks. They weren’t fresh by any stretch, but heaven compared to the sores.
I cheered and flapped them in the air.
Hummer grumbled, folded his arms and snapped his beak shut.
“For crying out loud. Don’t pout. Look, I’m sorry. We’ll find you some more milkshake.”
He started wailing.
“Alright, alright,” I said, silencing him. “How can I make it up to you?”
His eyes drifted to the socks.
The pair on his feet lasted five seconds before his monstrous hooves tore two gaping holes in the toes. He trudged through every puddle and patch of filth he could find, the second pair I’d wrapped around his “wound” shredding and laying a fluffy cotton trail on the road with every joyful swing of his arms.
I knocked back a mouthful of rum, limping along behind him. “Happy now?”
by Alison McBain
"Not sure it's safe, sir." Harry tapped at the console in front of him, pulling up images the crew had gathered over the week they'd orbited the alien planet. He enlarged the terrain map with a flick of his fingers and pointed at their proposed landing site. But when he looked up at the captain, he noticed that Dumas was picking under his thumb with the forefinger of his other hand. Dumas studied what he'd found for one moment before flicking it to the carpet. He didn't even look up at Harry's screen.
"Nonsense." The captain moved to his other hand without looking up. "We've done extensive research, monitored their transmissions, damn-near translated their great works of literature. We've gone by the book. This alien society is just like ours--peaceful and benevolent. It's time to establish contact."
Harry thought he'd give himself a hernia if he had to stop himself from rolling his eyes again. He recovered only by looking down at the computer console in front of him and typing in a few meaningless characters. The captain glanced over Harry's shoulder and nodded importantly, but didn't seem to notice that the codes Harry was typing were really a list of Cantonese swear words. Of course, Dumas barely knew English.
The door telescoped into the wall and two security guards strode into the control room. The men saluted the captain smartly. Dumas grinned at the acknowledgement and turned away from his technology officer.
"Sir," Harry said. Then, louder, "Sir!" Dumas glanced blankly back at him.
"I wasn't talking about contact with the alien society," Harry said. "I was talking about our landing site. Why on earth would they have a large open area in the middle of their city? They've built their structures very densely together, almost like a beehive, but this central area is very spartan. I think we need more time to survey your... ahem, the choice for touching down."
"The decision has been made." Dumas tapped his wrist with his forefinger and smiled down at his subordinate.
Harry gritted his teeth, but stood up from his chair to follow the man out of the control room and to the shuttle bay. No use arguing with Captain Dumbass, as the crew called him. Harry should know that by now. But Harry swore that he would request a transfer once they got back to Earth. Even working as a steward on a transport ship would be better than taking orders from this self-important idiot.
When they reached the planet's surface and the doors slid open, he couldn't help hanging back as the captain and the two security men strode down the ramp. A native waited about a hundred yards out near a copse of broad-leafed trees remarkably similar to palm trees. Harry had never guessed that he could be xenophobic, but he really didn't like the look of the native. Verging on magenta, covered in scales, it seemed nearly as long as the ship. It moved like a snake, its head bobbing from side to side with sinuous grace as it crept out from under the shade of the trees.
The captain and two guards moved toward it with purpose, but Harry stayed by the ramp, ostensibly to start the maintenance check required each time they landed on a new planet. Although the techies would be out in a moment to take over the routine, and it wasn't really his job as technology officer, Harry fiddled with his handheld scanner and tried to look busy rather than obstinate.
Captain Dumas never waited for him--or even paused. Perhaps he didn't notice his subordinate wasn't with him. He looked more sincere than a politician as he approached the alien, handshake at the ready. Harry kept half an eye on the men, half on his pseudo-job by the ship. The native was just now coming away from the trees and showing very large teeth. If that was a smile, Harry thought, he'd hate to stick around for when it told a joke.
Harry's foot jigged on the ramp before he finally gave in to his conscience. The check could wait. His place was next to the captain, however reluctant. He was halfway down to the ground when Dumas made first contact..
"We come in peace!" Dumas shouted right before the alien ripped him apart.
"Look, honey!" The father lifted up his daughter so she could see over the fence. The last couple of times they'd visited the zoo, they hadn't spotted any of the reclusive carnivores in this enclosure. Now they were in luck--there was a lot of activity in the far field, and even a brand-new hutch for them shaped like a silver teardrop. Some animal rights group must have come through with the funding they were always promising for the zoo.
"It must be feeding time," he guessed.
His daughter smacked her tentacles together, laughing.
About the Creators
Leanne A. Styles is a crime and science fiction author living on the south coast of England. She regularly has short stories and flash fiction pieces published online, with works appearing in Daily Science Fiction, Everyday Fiction and 365tomorrows. In the little spare time she has, she enjoys torturing herself in the gym, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and binging on epic T.V series; zombies and detective dramas and anything with dragons are her favorites.
Alison McBain is an award-winning author with more than seventy short stories and poems published/forthcoming in magazines and anthologies, including Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and On Spec. Her debut YA novel The Rose Queen came out in July 2018. Once in a while, she puts one of several editor hats for the magazine Bewildering Stories, interviews creatives on her blog www.alisonmcbain.com, or draws a webcomic about parenting that you can find at https://twitter.com/Toddler_Ti
World's Shortest Creator Interview
Leanne A. Styles
Removed for your protection.
The Witch who works in my local tanning salon promised the protection spell would work for everything. She didn’t say anything about needing a revealing spell, too. Do you have any idea how much sucking up you have to do to a naked mole rat to convince it to part with ten whiskers? They’re self-conscious enough as it is.
What’s your favorite imaginary emotion?
I’ve often wondered how it would feel just before being blasted to oblivion by a hostile alien race - that mix of terror and sheer elation that would come with the realization that your tin-foil-hat ramblings to exasperated family and friends were completely justified. I think I’d call it ‘told-you-so-terror’, the feeling of exoneration before annihilation.
If all of your creative output was an animal, what animal would it be and why?
My output varies between a sloth and a cheetah. Would that be a slotah? A cheeloth? Once in a blue moon, I can write 10k a day. Other days, I'm lucky to get out of the wrong side of bed, let alone string more than two intelligible words together. Mostly, my creativity depends on coffee intake and my kids' shenanigans.
A wasp has stung you in the face, and is about to fly back to the nest. What message or movie quote do you whisper in its ear to ensure they don't think you are an inferior being that would be ideal as a meat hive for gestation of their young?
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
About the Artists
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and he has a janky retro JRPG on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.