From Earth, With Love

From Earth, With Love

Background: “From Earth, With Love” was written specifically for a call for submissions looking for Terry Pratchett-style humor. I popped this story out and submitted it only to receive a rejection. Since then, I’ve tried submitting it to other magazines, but the weird humor in it doesn’t make it a good fit for most SF/F mags.

As such, I’m officially taking it out of circulation and posting it here! Enjoy my attempt at humor. I’m sure it’s horrible.

— Mike

P.S.

This is my story and isn’t being given away; i.e. all ideas are mine unless otherwise noted. See my copyright page for details.


If my cat hadn’t died when my house fell into the ocean, I wouldn’t be trudging through chest-high sludge on this poor excuse for a colony.

That said, it’s better than paying off the contractors I paid to try and save my house, I guess.

“‘It’s a magical, coastal wonderland,’ they said,” I mutter, voice nasally as I smother my nose with the back of my gauntleted hand. “‘A blissful, pure way to tear off the burnt crust of your old life and start anew,’ they said.”

My guide turns toward me, the thick yellow-brown schmear of miasmic sludge up to the chest plate of his rusted and stained exosuit. “They never mention the smell, miss.”

“They do not!” I shout, forgetting his name again, dragging my leg through the sulfur-infused muck another step, exosuit whining like a spoiled tween finding out they’re grounded. It almost drowns out the constant pop and hiss of this sea of feces. Almost. “Left it off the pamphlet, the fuckers. ‘Smells like God took a sanctimonious shit all over the planet’ doesn’t sell one-way tickets very well, I imagine.”

My guide grunts in the way most people on this planet do, his jaundiced-looking face a mass of crags and crevasses turning away. His own exosuit smokes and grinds as we make our way toward the relative safety of “firm” land.

I take a breath and throw up a little. The sulfur is bad–really bad–but the other semi-toxic chemicals these sludge farms release make it a veritable olfactory menagerie of horrors. Beyond the lumbering form of the man in front of me, a short quarter-mile away now if my damned exosuit doesn’t give out, is a raised terrace of land with a quaint little village perched atop it. If you count gray, printed domes with translucent connecting tubes a village. Or quaint.

Elftown.

There are no elves there, mind you. Elves are fantasy, and this is an outpost in the Trappist-1 system on one of the more unfortunately named planets: Fuch-Feater. Some madman in the late ’20s identified it while high on meth and, thus, naming rights fell to him.

I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

So, here sits the pleasant little village of Elftown, population 467 (about to be 468). It’s my new home after my guide drops me off and, I assume, treks back through this horror show of a “farm.”

Home.

I snort, inhale a particularly virulent cloud of methane, and pass out face-first into Fuch-Feater’s poisonous excuse for liquefied soil.

#

When I come to, I’m in a room with as much character and temperature as a meat locker. My cheeks feel like I popped out into the vacuum of space for a few seconds to “cool down”. There’s a tiny silver blanket spread out over me that isn’t doing much to alleviate the core-cold tremors wracking my otherwise feverishly unhealthy body, let alone keep my nipples from etching my name in the ceiling. The place smells sterile; even the omnipresent stink of rotten eggs is faint.

Opening my eyes is a struggle, mostly because I want to pretend none of this is happening and I’m not actually here. I miss my house on the Nevadan coast. I miss my evening sunsets.

I miss being loved and adored by my cat. No one cared too much for me back on Earth, especially after the “accident”, but that cat. Sneakers. Sneakers loved me. I have the scars to prove it.

Sneakers fell into the ocean with most of my house and, ultimately, my inheritance.

RIP Sneakers.

RIP cushy, rich-girl life.

Hello debt collectors.

It took a lot to convince people the “doctor” in front of my name wasn’t a PhD. Not much use for philosophy doctorates out here in the Trappist colonies.

“Welcome back, Doctor Stousman,” a man says, voice thick with one of those lilted accents from Alpha Centauri that remind me of someone from south Jersey trying, and failing, to do a South African accent. “Are you feeling well, ma’am?”

I take an exaggerated breath of air that smells like a sanitized fart. “Ma’am’s my mother’s name…”

Sitting up is another challenge. The room sways as I do so, but I keep it together long enough to look up at him.

He’s definitely one of those Alpha Centauri folks. Deep brown skin, dark hair, a rather beautifully crafted aquiline nose, and brown eyes catch me. Honestly, he reminds me of pre-space-colonization Middle Eastern folks before most of the population up and noped out of there once the oil was gone.

And I’ve always had a soft spot for dark and handsome. Luckily, tall has always been optional, because he’s not.

I flash my most charming smile and toss my heavy, mud-encrusted ponytail in some semblance of flirtatiousness.

Then I vomit on the floor.

And just like that, he’s gone in a whisper of automatic doors and choking sobs. It takes me a few more minutes to offload the rest of my hearty lunch of “whatever-the-hell-these-are” and “please-God-tell-me-these-are-noodles-and-not-cephalopod-penises” onto the floor. It tastes about as good coming up as it did going down, which is both pleasant and disturbing.

I wipe my face with the sleeve of my drab gray under-suit and climb off the cot my queasy savior placed me on, taking care to avoid extracted gut contents. Luckily, a good puke seems to have gotten my head back, so I get up and do my best jewel thief “casing the joint” impression while humming the James Bond theme song to myself.

And it’s boring. There’s almost nothing special about this place. I’m in one of the pods and it’s the same dreary tone as it looked on the outside, though there’s a distinctly beige undertone to everything. The walls aren’t as smooth as I expected; they’re concrete-rough to the touch, and slightly warm. Well, anything is warm compared to whatever godforsaken temperature they keep this dome at. Besides the “colorful” contents next to the bed, you could plop this place down in the middle of any desert and it’d fit the color palette.

Another glance around the room and I realize my stuff is missing. My mind goes to my journal with my losing lottery ticket in it. I was off by three numbers and they’re burned into my mind.

33, 87, 19.

“Sonuvabitch,” I mutter, stretching out a sudden kink in my back. “They better not’ve messed with my stuff. And my tater tots better be in there still. I only brought the one bag.”

To my right, a pale face appears in the window of the dome door, which slides open with a whisper. It’s not my handsome savior, but rather a pretty little redheaded thing sprinkled with dappled skin like God knocked the cans labeled “Freckles” and “Dimples” over on her. The all-white uniform doesn’t help at all. She’s also carrying one of the original TeleTale InfinityTM tablets. Jesus, those things are almost three years old now. The new ones are basically sheets of paper. That thing might as well weigh a full ounce.

“Can I help you, Pippy?” I ask with a grin.

She doesn’t get the joke, but I don’t blame her too much. Few people care about late 20th and early 21st pop culture references nowadays. Maybe people wouldn’t be so literal if they did.

Story of my life.

She raises a well-crafted eyebrow. “Um, you’re Doctor,” she glances down at a narrow tablet, “Julian Stousman?”

I grimace at that. Mom, drunk, gave me the wrong first name at birth. How I avoided Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I’ll never know. “Yeah. Call me Doc.”

The woman smiles a plastic smile and looks down at her Infinity, lips flattening into a line. “I’m Deirdre Styles. I’ll be coordinating the expedition tomorrow. It’s good you got here in time–“

I blink. Hard. “Wait? What expedition?”

Deirdre either ignores or doesn’t hear me, finger sliding up across the surface of the tablet. “We lost our medical officer to a methane pop last week. It’s wheels up at six standard, so get some food and rest and be ready.”

She turns to leave, but I grab her by a perfect white sleeve just in time. “You need a ‘doctor’ doctor? Like the cut-you-open-and-sew-up-your-insides kind?”

Deirdre looks at my hand until I let go, then cocks her head to the side and locks eyes with me. Hers are green. They’re not pretty, but that might be all the judgement washing over me. “Yes.”

I had a feeling the lying-about-being-a-doctor thing would catch up with me eventually, but I thought it’d take a bit longer than this.

“Sorry,” I say with my most cavalier tone. “But I’m not that kind of doctor.”

“What kind of doctor are you?” Deirdre asks, eyes narrowing.

I cough, small bits of definitely-not-cephalopod-penis tickling my tonsils. “I’ve got a doctorate in Late 20th Century Philosophical Thought.”

Deirdre takes a very visible calming breath. “Then why are you here? We needed a medical doctor.”

I shrug, not mentioning the “deposit” I paid the travel correspondent when they filled out my transfer paperwork. “I’m here to live out my golden years in relative peace and quiet?”

Her mouth drops open, then snaps shut. She looks at the tablet and scrolls furiously to the top of whatever record she has pulled up. “You’re 36!”

“And I planned on them being quite golden given all the sulfur on this planet,” I say with as much indignation as possible, but I know I’m in it deep now. “Apparently we’re both disappointed?”

“Clearly,” Deirdre says, then crosses her arms across her chest, tablet hanging in her vice-like grip like she wants to hit me in the face with it. “Regardless, we’re leaving in the morning and you’re coming. Your contract is explicit.”

I knew I should’ve read the damned thing. “But I’m not a medical doctor!” I exclaim, fully expecting her to cave to my obvious distress.

Unfortunately, like the hill that killed my beloved Sneakers, she doesn’t care how I feel about this.

“Well, I hope you at least know CPR,” she says with a grimace, then does an about-face like a Nazi on Adderall and leaves the room.

I stand there alone for a moment, chewing my lip.

I knew this was a mistake when the travel consultant wouldn’t show me a picture of what these “spectacular blue sunsets” looked like. That spectacularly blue sun through this yellow atmosphere looks like an old 1970s Buick: puke green and racist.

With a groan, I crane my head back and curse.

A heady whiff of my lunch hits me in the face and I dry heave on the floor.

At least they could’ve left me a towel.

#

After a night of dreadful sleep in the meat locker they call my “bedroom”, we’re up ungodly early, pushed into these hunks of metal and plastic that are supposedly exosuits, belted into some slurry-skidder vehicle, and sent on our way.

There’s four of us altogether: myself, Deirdre, Rook (my queasy savior), and Terry, a heavily lidded white guy with a ratty salt-and-pepper beard who looks like he ate the doctor they lost last week before going to his Extreme CrossFit class.

Introductions happen in the cramped confines of the skidder, then it’s silent as Terry drives us wherever we’re going. Despite the stink of sulfur, I doze in and out of sleep through the trip, mostly because I’m tired, but also because I really don’t care. I pick up bits and pieces about some “structure” we’re going to investigate amidst fantasies involving Rook, deep-fried tater tots, and a squid penis wearing a top hat.

The squid penis is very polite and a gentleman.

“Wake up, Doc.”

I’m jarred awake by Rook, his cologne tart and sweet in my nostrils. Then I see Deirdre grinning and thoughts of top hats and fried food fade away.

“Good dreams?” Deirdre asks as the hatch pops open and rotten eggs flood the cabin.

I shrug, nonchalantly rubbing at my eyes. “Better than reality, that’s for sure.”

Deirdre does a weird snort-laugh and hops out of the skidder, exosuit whirring and whizzing.

I stumble out much less gracefully, arms pinwheeling, but catch myself before hitting the ground.

“It’s remarkable,” Rook says, awe clear in his svelte voice.

I crack my neck. “What is?” Then I see it.

It’s a silver spire. An impossibly tall spear of something that reflects the blue sun and yellow sulfur air into green streaks of light. Around it, puffs of gas disturb the clouds of thick air, giving it this otherworldly aspect.

Otherworldy. Ha.

It reminds me of a concert I went to in undergrad after I took a lot of drugs. Ideally, this won’t end up with me engaged to a middle-aged drummer. And the music was better at the concert. Right now, Fuch-Feater is farting its own tune. It’s not very rhythmic or pleasant.

“Helmets up people,” Deirdre calls out as a malleable globe envelops her head from somewhere. She continues talking, voice echoing from a speaker near my neck. “Breathing is going to get dicey here real quick. We don’t want to lose another doctor.

I ignore the sarcasm.

“These things have helmets?” I ask to no one in particular, thinking about the long trek from the drop point to Elftown through the “farm.” “Would’ve been good to know before I passed out and puked all over myself.”

Rook comes over, his helmet already up, and taps a small button at the base of my neck. Immediately, the world twists as the glass–plastic? I have no idea–slides into place. A neat little HUD pops up in the top left with pictures of everyone and some basic health info.

My image is one of those placeholder silhouettes. “Was I supposed to send you a headshot?”

“Nope,” Deirdre mutters. “You’re ‘retired,’ remember?”

There’s a short chorus of laughter and my cheeks get hot, but I hold back any snappy comebacks. For now. I just woke up, after all.

These monsters didn’t even give me coffee.

“This side,” Deirdre says, walking toward the… whatever direction away-from-the-rising-sun is on Fuch-Feater.

Probably west. I think.

As we come around, I run my fingers along the side of the spire, feeling the cool metal through the sensor-replicators on the glove fingertips. A line of grooves rubs across my fingers like Braille. I’m not blind, so I can’t read it. I mean, I could, but why?

Suddenly, the spire collapses in on itself, the air shaking and screaming as it does so. It’s like someone strangling a whale for its lunch money. I curse and jump back, knocking into the block of stone that is Terry.

“Don’t touch anything!” Deirdre shouts way too late to be helpful.

As suddenly as it began, it ends. The spire is now a strange looking box and I can’t help but think it looks like an elevator, replete with two clear silver doors and a huge button with a down arrow.

“It’s an elevator?” Rook mutters, breaking the silence.

Apparently, I’m not the only one.

“We don’t know that,” Deirdre says, but steps up and inspects the button. “No one touch anything.”

She’s leaning in close, trying to take a picture of it with her antiquated Infinity, when the ground shakes and she faceplants into the button.

A resounding ding echoes in the air amidst various curses in what sound like Spanish, then the doors open and flood the area in front of the structure with pure white light.

Rook is inside before Deirdre can complain, followed by Terry. She steps in, voice rising into a fevered pitch at their stupidity. Then the doors start to close.

I have a split second to jump inside or wait.

I really consider waiting. The idea of taking E.T.’s Elevator to HellTM is not appealing, but I’ve never been good at being alone in strange places.

It’s a tight fit–I really need to start jogging or something–but I slide in as the doors close.

“So… what next?” I ask the others, marveling only slightly at how gross and yellowed our exosuits look in this bright light.

Deirdre grimaces. “First–“

She doesn’t finish. The box lurches to the side and we all collapse in a heap of limbs and curses. The force of it keeps increasing, like during the initial takeoff from Earth when I finally booked my flight.

And just like then, I black out.

#

I’m the first one awake, which is a surprise to me, that’s for sure. I figured at least big ol’ Terry would have a faster recovery time than my chunky self, but apparently not. I try to give myself a pat on the back and fail. Flexibility isn’t my strong suit.

You need to discuss Freud and Jung? I’m your gal. Need mayo from the top shelf? Order the taller, more flexible version. She’ll probably look like Deirdre in a brown wig and a lot of makeup covering those freckles.

The doors open as I get to my feet. “Wow.”

The elevator has dumped us into a massive room. It’s a hemisphere, all made of this same silvery metal. Light emanates from everywhere and nowhere at once, which is more than a little bit mind-bending. There’s an ozone tang to the air making my hair stand on end, even inside the helmet. I step into the room and look around. In the center is a raised dais with a large sacrifice-someone-to-a-silver-god altar. Beyond that, there doesn’t appear to be anything else.

“What happened?” Deirdre’s voice chimes in from the speaker at my neck. There’s a little bit of an edge to it now, like she’s trying to keep herself in check. “Where are we?”

I shrug. “Dunno.”

Terry grunts as he gets to his feet and walks past me toward the central altar-thing. “Wherever we are, it seems to have breathable air. 78% nitrogen, 19% oxygen. No toxins according to the readout.”

I glance at the HUD and see the readout he’s talking about. A cartoonish “thumbs up” icon sits underneath a heading titled “Atmospheric Readings.”

“Wonderful,” Rook mutters as he joins me out in the larger room. “But where are we?”

“Here,” I intone with a grin as I spout some philosophical wisdom that usually gets me a couple free drinks back home. “We’re here and always have been here. It’s just our perception of space that changes.”

Rook glances askance at me. “What?”

I shrug. Philistines. “Never mind. I have no idea, but we should check that out, right?” I ask, pointing at the definitely-not-scary-altar.

“Wrong!” Deirdre shouts, voice cracking, stepping in front of Rook and I like she’s some sort of guard dog. “We’ve done enough here without documentation and, and, Jesus. I just need to think for a second.”

“Okay, okay. Damn. Calm down, mom,” I say, rolling my eyes.

Deirdre glares at me but takes another of her exaggerated breaths. “Okay, no one touch any–“

“What’s this?” Terry asks.

Then he explodes with a sound like an old rubber tire blowing out on the highway.

POP!

I’m far enough away only a fine, red mist coats my helmet, leaving the room the shade of puke after drinking a bottle of Rosé. Deirdre, though, looks like someone picked her up and dipped her in a vat of melted red crayons, but the front of her helmet is clear and the look of absolute horror on her face makes me want to howl in laughter for some horrible reason.

Which, despite my best efforts, I do.

“Oh my God!” I shout, half-maniacally. Then I laugh until I fall on my knees and cry. And I try and try to stop, but the pure absurdity of it all has its claws in my stomach and its feathers on the soles of my feet.

I know. I’m a horrible person.

“You’re hurt,” I hear Rook’s voice over the comms between choking gasps for air.

“Yeah, just tie it off,” comes Deirdre’s robot response. “I can’t feel it.”

“Will you shut up?” Rook screams at me over the comms.

Tears blur my vision, so I tap the button to hide the helmet. “I’m trying, oh my G-g-god,” I manage between laughing fits leaving me in hiccups.

“What the hell just happened?” Deirdre screeches in sudden panic, as if the reality of it all just hit her, voice topping out the speaker at my neck in a hissing mess.

Hiccups wracking my body, I walk over toward the altar area, for once being careful not touching anything. Don’t have to tell me–is it four times? Four times.

Anyway.

To the left and right of the altar are two thick rods that pulse and glow. One of them has Terry’s index finger fused to the top of it.

“Don’t touch these,” I say as straight-faced as I can. I spin and throw jazz-hands in the air. “Or–BOOM!”

“Jesus Christ,” Rook whispers, unmoved by my comedic talent. “Terry…”

“Terry’s dead,” Deirdre’s voice is rough with tears. “This is my fault.”

Rook wraps her in a hug. “It’s not, Deirdre.”

“Yes, it is.”

They continue like that for some time, all wah-wah-ing and woe-is-me-ing. Maybe it’s the shock of it all, but I’m looking at the altar by this point and the fact my feet are smearing in what used to be a person doesn’t bother me. I can’t stop thinking about how much it looks like that time I microwaved a tomato for thirty minutes, which makes me giggle more.

I feel like I should apologize to someone but screw it. I shouldn’t even be here.

Somehow, the Terry-spray missed the altar entirely. I lean toward it and a command console rises out of the surface, stretching the metallic surface like it’s latex. It comes to eye-level, then expands into a three-foot by two-foot display.

“Hey guys,” I call over the radio as black characters begin typing across the screen. “It’s talking to me.”

“What?” The sound of booted feet echo behind me and soon they’re next to me, eyes wide.

“It’s… in Courier,” I whisper, more than a little confused.

“Looks like English to me,” Deirdre says heavily, holding tight to her bleeding arm.

I notice her wound for the first time and, Jesus, it’s not good. Looks like part of Terry’s exosuit speared through her arm at an angle.

Yikes.

“Maybe it shows up in different languages for each of us?” Deirdre continues, voice flat and analytical. “Or maybe there’s a more emotional connection that warps what we see–“

“Courier is a font,” I say, cutting her off. “It’s in English for me, too.”

“Me too,” Rook says. “But what does it mean? Is it a riddle?”

“Seems like,” Deirdre mumbles.

Since we’re all reading it silently and Deirdre is starting to bleed everywhere, I figure it might help to read it aloud.

I clear my throat and proceed in my best professor voice: “You know the formulae, the scripture of the cosmos. You know the science of space and time, as well as the way it bends and twists when you use faster-then-light travel. But, due to your most basic selves, you only experience spacetime in one direction: forward.

“With that we posit a single question:

“Do you understand what spacetime is?”

The three of us share a confused glance, then Deirdre scoffs, her pale face sheet-white at this point from lack of blood. She’s a tough lady, that’s for sure.

“Of course, we do,” Deirdre mutters, taking a half-step back. “And who the hell is ‘we?'”

I reread the ending and try to nibble on a fingernail in thought but end up punching myself in the face with a gauntleted hand instead. “Ow,” I grunt, licking at my purpling lip in annoyance, all the humor of the situation drained by my self-abuse.

For the first time, I become distinctly aware the monochrome Jackson Pollock painting to my right used to be a person and a spike of anxiety slams into my chest.

Deirdre shakes her head, then sways. Rook catches her and a little stab of jealousy bites at my stomach. Not that the jealousy is important right now; this little thought experiment has me intrigued. It sounds really familiar.

“It seems like a yes or no answer, right? Fifty-fifty chance of getting it right,” Rook mutters, a small bead of sweat making its way down his forehead and onto his bushy eyebrows. “I’ll give it a try.”

Rook helps Deirdre to the ground where she takes a knee. I barely hear Rook as he approaches the podium. The gears are turning in my head and I’m remembering a particularly boring undergrad class in New Berkeley where we discussed knowledge arguments.

Rook clears his throat. “Yes, we do understand spacetime–“

And then I figure it out: “Wait!”

But I’m too late. The room rings like a gong and the world shudders like we’re standing on a massive tuning fork hit with a hammer. A piercing shriek echoes from my speaker, but I can hear it through the helmet, too.

And then there’s a horrible popping sound and Rook’s exosuit falls to the ground, helmet smeared red and purple. Deirdre screams. I mute her. There’s still a dull echo of her heart-wrenching sobs as I approach the podium, but I put her out of my mind.

It’s time for me to flex this philosophical doctorate of mine for maybe the last time.

After all, I’ve a ginger to save.

“Okay,” I say to myself, then take a deep, calming breath. “It’s just Mary the colorblind neuroscientist. I know this. I can do it.”

Breathe in through the mouth, out through the nose. Or is it the other way? Hell, I can never remember.

I lick at my swollen lip and start into the same undergraduate diatribe that got me an A in Philosophy 202. “Scientifically, we know spacetime, but experientially we don’t,” I say, surprised at the tremor in my voice. “To experience is to engage with the mind in a way no formula can explain. We would need to fold spacetime in a personal way to understand it all and, since we can’t, we’ll never truly experience it.”

That’s some doctoral level exposition right there, I reassure myself, but I close my eyes and wait to get atomized anyway.

A tap on the back of my leg sends me screaming into the air and I land facing Deirdre. She’s crawled forward leaving a trail of mixed scarlet blood on the ground. Her lips are blue as she stares at me and they’re moving, but I can’t hear anything.

Oops. I unmute her.

“–the screen? Can you hear me? Is Rook dead?”

“Err, yeah. Rook is dead,” I say, then turn back to the screen.

The text changes and a sharp tone issues from the altar, like the siren at the end of a high-scoring game of Skee-Ball. The warm feeling of success floods my body and I throw my arms in the air.

You have accepted your ignorance; Moved past your failures.

Now take this gift;

And go.

As the last period appears, a helmet with two silvery straps drops from the bottom of the monitor like a teardrop, then hangs there swaying in an unseen breeze.

“Dude,” I whisper.

It’s clear from the directions scrolling across the screen now the helmet lets me change an event, any event, in time and space.

To experience anything accessible via spacetime.

Anything.

“We can make one thing a reality. We can warp time and space for one thing. This is unreal,” I rasp out.

“We could stop Terry from touching… whatever that is,” Deirdre whispers in awe. “We can save Rook. We could even stop ourselves from getting in the elevator.”

I cringe, since it’s kind of my fault. Hell, if I hadn’t been here, they never would’ve found it in the first place.

A grin creeps across my face.

“I get to choose Mary’s apple.”

Deirdre frowns. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.” I straighten. “I’ve trained my entire life for this moment,” I say, stepping up to the monitor. “Turns out you do need a doctor here. A Doctor of Philosophy!”

She doesn’t respond to my grandiose proclamation, so I lay it out simply. “I’ve studied philosophy and thought experiments just like this for over a decade. Let me fix this.”

We look at each other for a long time. Deirdre, who sits at death’s door and has already rang the doorbell, nods. “Do it.”

I grab the smooth helmet, cool weight reassuring in my hands, and put it on. Then, using all the philosophical know-how my research and studies have taught me, I pick the one thing to change that makes this all better.

The one thing that’ll make sure this never happens.

“I know what to do.” With a grin, I twist reality into a pretzel and sprinkle it with salt.

#

Three weeks later (or six months earlier, I don’t know, I’m not a physicist and manipulating spacetime is hard), I’m sipping Rosé on my deck, a plate of tater-tot crumbs next to me, and the sun setting in glorious waves of magenta and gold across the open ocean. The wind hits me in the face and it smells of salt and the sea. And maybe a little bit of dead seal. But not sulfur. Anything but sulfur.

The sounds of high-end erosion-protection machinery roars below my deck, drowning out even the crashing waves. I don’t mind though. Turns out winning the lottery pays for the equipment to keep your house from falling into the ocean. Crazy turn of events, right?

I raise my glass to the village of Elftown and its miserable denizens, specifically Deirdre and, I assume, Rook and Terry.

“From Earth, with love,” I intone as Sneakers jumps up on my bare lap delicately, gray cat body a-thrum with peaceful purrs under my fingertips.

THE END

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