by Tony Noland
"Prepare to leave orbit, Lieutenant. It's time we went home."
"Yes, my lord."
Captain Luraleth hooked his way to his cabin, passed through the
curtain and sealed it behind him. He stretched out of his uniform
collar and bent backwards, straining until he felt the vertebrae pop
and the skin crack underneath his dorsal scales. Too long on this trip,
he thought, far too long.
Hanging from the ceiling loops, he looked at himself in the reflection
pool and knew that he was lying to himself.
The fact was, he was too long in this job, too long in the service of
his queen... too long as a male. It was time, he thought. Time to go
home, to go down into the deep caverns and surrender himself to the
The captain let himself go limp, felt the loops cut into his talons,
digging into his flesh and helping him to relax. Yes, he thought, he'd
seen fifty years in this body, and fifty-five in his last one, also
male. Would he come out of the LifeDeath as a male again, or as a
female? There was no way to know. It was a gambler's chance one way or
He hoped it would be female. He'd heard that being female was easier.
Not that he'd ever been afraid of hard work, far from it, but... he
was tired. They'd been on this boring damned survey mission, hiding
above this boring damned planet for two years (more than eighteen
local years). The aliens were stupid, misshapen and ugly, as always.
With a sigh, he reached for the nosemask of his private methane tank.
He was almost out, had been hitting it harder than he have should of late.
Even off duty, it was no way for an officer to behave, let alone the
captain. Yes, he thought again, it's time to go home.
Four local days later, the ship made ready to break orbit. The
lightdrive engineers slotted in the reprocessed fuel rods for the
condensed fusion generators and confirmed that all was working
properly. They cycled the airlock and dumped the slag from the
reprocessing reactor core, a loose, pebbly grit of useless heavy
elements. With a twisting of space only faintly detectable to the
alien's satellite network, the ship was gone.
The slag fell and incinerated in the atmosphere, reduced to
microparticulates of dust. One hundred and fifty thousand feet above
the ground, one microscopic mote ran into an ice crystal, melted and
refroze, sticking fast. At one hundred thousand feet above the ground,
the ice crystal grew and fell through the troposphere. At fifty
thousand feet above the ground, the ice crystals extended uniformly in
six directions, accreting and growing still heavier, falling faster
through the cold air.
And at five feet, ten inches above the ground, it fell onto the
outstretched tongue of Kyle McAllister, much to the shrieking delight
of his four year old daughter, Henrietta.
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