In an infinite universe all things are inevitable. Every beginning finds its end, but the energy behind it is never lost. Rather it takes a new and stranger shape.
Eons ago in a neighboring solar system drifted an insignificant planetoid. It never bore life. The white star whose orbit it followed was faint and cold. Born alone and light years from the nearest system, fate consigned it to idle.
The star was nearing the end of its life. Supernova was imminent. The lonely mass of stone, ice and other elements was doomed. Nobody, not even some far off astronomer would mourn its passing. The universe would not remember. To all appearances the planetoid served no purpose.
After an age of struggle the star tipped into oblivion. The fiery battle in its guts between ceded to gravity. Lingering mass quantified and collapsed on itself. When it did the mass unleashed a wave of force that rolled into the cosmos. No nearby celestial body could withstand its strength, including its planetoid progeny.
The supernova broke it to pieces. Mountains became boulders, and boulders bricks. Pushed from the white star’s graveside the debris broke from its orbital path and flew into the cosmos. None could know where they would land or when, only that an end was inevitable.
For an age longer than dreamed of by mortals the pieces traveled. They hurtled through the void, far along the solar winds, and unencumbered by drag.
Gravity took a tenuous hold. A cluster born of the planetoid discovered a new path through a radioactive cloud. It may well have been deadly if it carried life, but it did not. The unaffected meteors continued their journey into the system of Sol.
* * * *
‘Thank the gods it’s Friday,’ we said, or at least we used to. The end of the school week was like a cage door flying open, and like every other other kid we scrambled to get free. By tradition it was a time for sleepovers, junk food, and crappy teen romcoms. Tanya painted my face and styled my hair, and indulged in the ‘girl stuff’ she didn’t like doing to herself.
But that was before college. A new year meant a new life, and new opportunities; like overdue dates with a hot barista. Tanya and Trix had a good thing when the world kept spinning. Then Dr. Vortex happened, along with my parents losing their minds. In a world without crisis they would have found an apartment and adopted a cat, like all proper queers.
Tanya lifted her brow. “What’s wrong with camping?”
“Nothing’s wrong with camping,” I said, “but not even you are butch enough for camping.”
She laughed. “Screw you.”
I sprawled on the bed and watched Tanya from the other side of the room. How could one woman own so much flannel? She was a stereotype, but I loved her for it. She pressed them into a duffel bag with some pillows, wet wipes, and assorted knick-knacks. I’d never seen her so prepared for anything.
“You’re going to leave me all alone?” I ran a finger down my cheek to the corners of a mock frown.
Tanya threw herself like a pantomime damsel. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll survive,” she said with a giggle. “Maybe I shouldn’t leave you alone. Last time I did you broke into an office building, and it became a thing.”
Like I needed reminding. It was a sore point between us, leaving Tanya to deal with the fallout of my life behind the mask. Long talks followed, and new boundaries set. Laughing about it was a good thing.
“Ugh, I’m over saving the world,” I said. One hand scrolled my cell’s news feed.
“So no Glimmer Girl while I’m gone?”
“Not if I can help it,” I said.
“You should have a babysitter, just in case.” A pillow collided with her face, but she laughed anyway.
I rolled back and traded stares between the ceiling and my cell. Tanya and Trix were overdue for a date, and then some. That’s what they were getting miles away from Glimmer Girl.
* * * *
The people of Earth measure time by the relative position of its nearest star, Sol. In the grander cosmos the passage of time is relative at best. Civilizations rise and fall before the galaxy turns. They are oft forgot between the expanse of one system to the next.
Deep in the void remains of an obliterated world sailed past the red planet. The cluster never had a name, or any use for one. All it contained was inevitable purpose, and a new shape in the atmosphere of a water saturated world. It was a world teeming with life. The fact had no bearing on the meteors trajectory.
Gravity curled the fragments of ice and stone. They followed without intent. Hurtling at unimaginable velocity the cluster remained unaffected. The growing planet did not concern them either.
Scraping along the atmosphere the cluster came into an unseen force. Heat generated by drag burned along the underside. Chunks of dirt fell away and burned into nothingness. Strange radiation, gathered through the stars, stirred in its collective belly. It fell away with the other pieces to no effect on their host.
One at a time the cluster burned away. Disparate clumps sizzled to the ether, now a part of an alien world.
* * * *
Even when new the Beetle was not fit for climbing. Yet Tanya continued to test its endurance against the winding roads. The engine rattled like an old tin can drowned by an old mix tape playing on the back seat boombox. When it groaned so did Tanya. Trix clung to the passenger seat. An old, beaten up car didn’t impress cute enbies, but it was all she could afford.
An hour from Milestone City and past the urban sprawl were the Rockland Hills. It’s name derived from the heavy stone deposits sat under the terrain. Too dense to develop and not rich enough to mine the land was set aside as a nature reserve. It failed to stand out from other parks across the country. Regardless, it attracted local barbequers, campers and most important of all, stargazers.
The turns grated, and so did the lack of conversation. Tanya tightened her grip, loosened her shoulders, and picked the most obvious subject. “I’ve never seen a meteor shower before.”
“I used to watch them all the time with my folks,” Trix said.
Tanya nodded. She didn’t know anything about Trix’s family, and knew better than to ask. So many of their kind had bad relationships with their family. Often it was better to avoid the subject.
“Are you close?”
They brushed a hand over their side cut. “Me and my dads? Sure. Though it’s been a while since I spoke to them.”
It shouldn’t shock anyone in the twenty first century, but Tanya reeled at the news. She knew it happened, but had never met anyone with that kind of family. Her world to that point was so painfully het.
“You’ve got two dads,” she said.
“Three,” Trix said. “And yes, we all love each other, very much.”
Tanya failed to stifle a giggle. She fought to keep her eyes on the road.
Trix raised a curious brow. “You act like that’s weird or something.”
“It’s very weird,” Tanya said. “Nobody has a family that cool!”
They laughed. “Trust me, they are not cool. It’s triple the dad jokes, all the time.”
Darkness crept upon the horizon by the time they reached the campsite. Crickets hummed under the blanket of pine needles. A campfire glowed from nearby. Gathered around were other couples, friends, and families. They kept their distance around the wide ring of stones, but were content enough to let down their guard.
The pair only packed for a single night. Summer was drawing to an end, and neither required a tent. Besides, it would only get in the way of the view. They unfurled their sleeping bags, and opened the snacks. Trix moved them to one side, and shuffled into her date.
Fingers discovered one another and intertwined. Tanya froze. Whenever they got close disaster soon followed, but the forest remained still. She held her breath. Trix relaxed their weight into her and snaked an arm around the small of her back. A slick of green hair tickled Tanya’s nose. It even smelled like peppermint.
Trix hummed. “Did you know that in the 1850s our solar system had thirteen planets?”
Words scrambled to her tongue, but Tanya was still caught in the hand holding. She fumbled a response. “Uh, what? Where are they now?”
“Still there,” Trix said. They tilted to gaze to met Tanya. “Reclassified into planetoids and asteroids like Pluto was. They called Ceres a planet, but it’s only five hundred miles in diameter.”
Her heart stopped. “And now we get to watch one burn up in our atmosphere.”
“No,” they said. “We get to watch meteors burn up. If it was an asteroid we’d be in big trouble. Like ‘end of the world’ trouble.”
“Oh.” Tanya burned beet red. She sounded like an idiot.
Her embarrassment fell to one side when soft lips jumped to snatch hers. Tanya melted into the kiss, her first kiss, claimed by the cutie in her arms. Together they rolled to their side. Foliage crunched under their sleeping bags in tune with the crackling fire. They tasted each others hot breath and swam in the sensation.
After a while Trix pulled away. “Sorry. I should have asked first. Consent is important and-”
“That was fine,” Tanya said. She cupped their cheek. Becoming lost in their eyes was the easiest thing in the world. Everything about Trix sparkled with emerald wonder. “That was a long time coming.”
Trix hummed. “Yeah. It was.”
Their second kiss was more passionate than the first. Less restrained, more confident. It didn’t matter that the lights flew them by. It meant nothing that over their heads meteors evaporated into nothingness. They failed to notice the strange particles raining down for miles. As Tanya and Trix’s relationship took a new form, so did the remains of a distant, nameless rock.
* * * *
Certain aspects of dorm life took getting used to. Among them included strangers wandering the halls in their pajamas. Not only in the morning, but all day long. Well, most of the day; nobody was up before the crack of noon, except for me. It was the perfect time to sneak around without people getting in the way.
We had our own beds, bathrooms, and showers, but everything else counted as shared space. The common area, known to all as the ‘guest bedroom’ had a plasma screen TV and an array of old sofas. Games and blu-rays came from individual owners. Around the corner was a twenty-four hour launderette with machines and dryers. On the bottom floor was a renovated kitchen with an industrial fridge and a row of stools along the main bench. The walls had tiles somewhere under the endless lists of cleaning instructions. Some people needed reminding that toast made crumbs.
The plan was to be in and out in under a minute – bowl, cereal, milk, spoon, leave. But I wasn’t alone. Instead of sleeping in like the hundred others upstairs a bright faced coed bit into her toast. She waved good morning. Don’t ask me who she was, or why she was so happy.
“Hey, I’ve seen you around,” she said.
I lifted my head. It was too early for conversation, so I smiled and opened the cabinet.
She chirped at me. “I’m Tabitha,” she said. “And you’re Kaira, right?”
Weird that she should know my name. I stopped to consider her. She wore a lavender nightshirt and hot pink bottoms. She’d pulled her hair into low pigtails. Her eyes stretched like someone in a perpetual state of surprise.
All I wanted was something in my stomach and time to think. Not a conversation, no matter how friendly. I searched for fridge for milk with a later expiry than the last.
Tabitha leaned over the bench. “Hey, um, can I ask you something kind of personal?”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure.”
“Someone told me that you’re one of those sex change people,” she said.
“Is it true?”
They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but some crossed so far into rude they should ban people for life. Other trans girls on the internet had shared stories, and now I had one of my own. So I said nothing.
Tabitha redoubled her attempt at a smile. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or anything. I’ve never met anyone like that before! It’s really cool!”
“It’s not,” I said.
“So you are?”
I shrugged. It was cereal with a side of twenty questions, and only minutes out of bed.
‘Clean’ is a relative term in a student kitchen. Even a clear bench has something for the cockroaches. The small, brown insect scuttled from the trash toward the far side of the room. Tabitha squealed like a movie damsel. Her bunny slipper came down with a crunch.
She clasped her hands to her chest. “Oh. Em. Gee. That is disgusting. I’m going to complain to the floor manager!”
Lifting her foot with the caution of a lion tamer Tabitha leaned down to inspect the damage. But instead of the guts and bits of exoskeleton another two bugs crawled out and circled her stool. She squealed again and brought her foot down. Then there were four of them!
Her voice cracked into a shriek. “Get them away from me!” Tabitha sprinted from the kitchen without her toast and juice. Her panic echoed through the hall. She was going to bring back an army of feet. Freshmen weren’t going to fix the problem.
I crunched a bug under my flip flop. Two emerged. One crawled up my leg and I swatted it down. Another two popped up. It didn’t take Sherlock to know these weren’t normal cockroaches.
Summoning a laser to my fingertip I pointed at each of the bugs. They fried to a crisp as they would under a magnifying glass. Singed shells littered the linoleum floor with the smell of charcoal. This time they didn’t come back.
Tabitha returned with the shuffling bodies of sleepless students. She hid behind a barrier of boys and poked her head over their shoulders. Their eyes grew wide at the miniature battlefield.
“They… blew up,” I said. “Spontaneous combustion!” It was no less believable than instant multiplication.
Something was very wrong. So much for leaving Glimmer Girl on the shelf.
* * * *
The shadows of skyscrapers reached over the lawns of Centenary Park. A warm breeze blew between the sycamores to stroke the faces of pedestrians. Back and forth they meandered down the cobblestone paths. It was a pleasant morning in every sense.
Sandra Whitmore made a habit of visiting the park. There were no pristine lawns where she’d grown up. Her eighteen month old charge couldn’t get enough time outdoors. Never did she imagine living in an upscale part of town, even as a nanny. Women like her often lived their entire lives in the same ten blocks, but she’d broken free.
Around mid morning the pair ordered a flat white and a babycino from the cafe downstairs. They shopped for groceries, making stops at a fruit stand and ethical butcher. Their last venture was crossing the park on the way home. On most days baby Muhammad pointed at the dogs and made barking noises.
That morning there were no dogs. The wind carried no bird songs. People came and went as normal, and Muhammad bubbled in his stroller, but Sandra was ill at ease. The absence twisted in her chest. Her pace quickened toward the nearest street.
There was a sudden sound; not a song, but screeching. Sandra turned on her heels to the hundreds of knives slicing the air. They moved without discrimination. Cuts opened along the faces of strangers. Muhammad started to cry. What appeared to be sparrows struck the crowd with steel wings.
Sandra ran as fast as she could on platforms. The storm of noise rolled over her back as she did. A boiling stream of agony soaked into her clothes. Her body fell over the stroller to protect the baby, and still she continued to run.
After reaching the sidewalk the swarm turned. Her thoughts swam as though suspended in jelly. Life seeped from her chest, leaving her cold. There were screams all around, but Sandra had only one thought; was Muhammad safe?
The little boy cried and he cried, but remained untouched. Sandra smiled before collapsing to the pavement. She’d done her job.
* * * *
The two sleeping bags zipped together and became one. Tanya and Trix took turns resting on the other. They breathed the scent of each others hair and exhaled on the bare flesh of their necks. Even a bed of twigs and foliage was perfect. Neither would forget that night.
Morning broke through the branches and pried them from sleep. Nature rose at first light and would not wait; not even for lovers curled on the forest floor.
Tanya rolled into Trix’s collarbone. “Just a few more minutes,” she whined into the wall of skin.
Trix stroked her back. “I’ve got to pee.”
“You can go here,” Tanya said. She held tighter.
“That’s super gross,” they giggled, and swatted Tanya away.
Nothing about the forest was convenient. Civilization ended in an open shed with a toilet and running water. Everything else came from home, like the luxury breakfast of beans and jerky. Tanya and Trix took turns digging from the can. They played by offering dripping spoonfuls like it was any kind of romantic.
Most others had started on the hiking trail. Without the prying eyes of strangers to judge their movements Tanya pressed closer. The barriers to touch fell, even if her hands fell on innocent corners. She continued to blush whenever she caught their eye.
Trix beamed. “You are so freaking adorable.”
How was Tanya supposed to argue? She rolled her eyes like it was no big deal, but someone liking her back was huge. That it was someone as amazing and hot as Trix only blew it up further.
“No, you are,” she said.
Trix set the can aside and pulled around her waist. “I see you need more convincing,” they said. Orange lips stained with sauce pressed into Tanya and swept her in another tornado of bliss. Endorphins rolled back and forth. It mingled with the sweat of two bodies in day-old clothes. Neither cared.
A sudden flash jumped across the sky. Tanya and Trix fell apart with the sound of a scream. An object struck the ground with a thud; the body of a squirrel, hair singed, killed in an instant.
Tanya clasped her chest. “What the hell was that?”
An unseen forced tickled their arms. The fine hairs stood on end. Something in the atmosphere sat poised, charged and ready. Trix caught the shimming from the corner of their eye and peered up to the source. Perched between the trees sat a spider as large as their hands. Arcs of electricity rolled through its web.
They fumbled from their sleeping bags to a safe distance. Trix clung to Tanya, and Tanya to Trix. The spider sat idle, at least for the moment. It was something out of a weird wildlife documentary times ten. Since when did arachnids play with lightning?
“We should tell someone,” Tanya said.
Trix squeezed her hand. “A ranger will definitely want to know about this,” they said. After turning on their phone Trix searched for a signal, wifi, anything. “I’ve got no bars.”
Tanya had similar luck with her device.
“Let’s go back to the beetle. We’ll get something closer to the road.”
The spider shifted back into the trees. It’s chelicerae shifted in a way no creature could read as friendly. Tanya and Trix gathered their belongings and rushed to the tourist path. The further they were, the better.
* * * *
I flew by the desolate offices. A lonely chill blew in the air. Milestone City was a ghost town, and I was the only one left. First it was villains, then cockroaches climbing up the food chain. Fate was on the warpath, and we were the ones to suffer.
“Attention. Please evacuate immediately. Return to your homes. For your safety do not go outside. If you have pets isolate them in a separate room and call nine one-one. Attention-”
The recorded voice echoed between buildings. What should have been a vibrant shopping district was stripped of life. Shop doors hung open and half eaten plates of food sat on restaurant tables. Silence shook the pavilions and courts like the aftermath of some rapture.
Snipers sat on the roof of Police Plaza. Their laser sights passed as I entered the barricade. They were the first sign of human life.
I scaled the floors to Ortega’s office and refracted through the window. Phones rang in shrill chorus with not enough hands to answer. The panic of the entire city compressed into a single space.
‘A turtle mounted with a water cannon,’ one said. Then ‘a hound made of skulls’ and ‘I don’t know what it is. But it’s wearing a pillow case and wants me to hold it!’ This new chaos reached every corner. Nobody was safe.
I turned to one of the assistants sprinting across the floor. I’d never seen her before, but of course she knew me.
“Thank god you’re here,” she said. “It’s like the end of days out there. We’re doing our best, but we’re spread so thin-”
“Where’s Captain Ortega?” I clutched her arms to keep her from shaking apart.
She stopped to collect herself. “The Zoo. I can’t tell you how bad it is, but of everyone they’ve got it the worst.”
The pictures in my mind were nightmare enough. Lions, tigers and bears were scary enough without strange abilities to go with them. I launched for the window and shot toward the east side.
But what about the rest? There were as many animals as there were people; more, even! How could anyone hope to contain them?
“One problem at a time,” I said.
To be continued…