Icarus Magazine has accepted my SF shortish story “The Shapes of Shadows”, which tells of intrepid exoarcheologist Professor Gordon Eburuoh and his encounter with a mysterious alien ruin. This is actually the prequel to something bigger–or it might be–and it was a fun little experiment. I’m not sure I was completely successful in doing everything I hoped, but I do think I ended up making something interesting, which I chalk up as a win.
The story will be in the winter issue of Icarus. For those so interested, there is an excerpt under the cut.
The sunsets aren’t like the sunrises. Gordon couldn’t say why, if pressed; it’s the angle and the light through the dull jags of the mountains, the way the shadows cast themselves across the plateau. He’s standing with his back to the pit, trying not to think. After the discovery of the new character, there’s been nothing else in days of excavation, and he’s feeling… he’s not sure. Like something is pressing gently against the inside of his skin, testing for weaknesses. Over the rush of his own breath, he hears the crunch of a step just behind him, and his earpiece crackles. “Nice night.”
Cheyenne. He turns and offers her a smile, though he knows that she’ll only be able to see it in his eyes. Breathmasks change the way you read expressions. They change the way you look at people.
“They’re all pretty nice.”
“Here? Yeah.” She lifts her head, looking up at the softly emerging stars. The constellations here are strange–he had never realized before he came here how much of home is looking up and knowing the shapes the stars make. Here they’ve started to name them, out of a simple desire to make this place theirs. -The Horse. The Sleeping Cat. The Dancer. The Ship.- And then the one that isn’t even a visible star, but instead is only a direction, and sometimes one they can only guess at.
“When do we get the next call?” he asks. He doesn’t have to guess at what she’s thinking. Husband, left behind. That had to have been a choice to make. Far more difficult than his own.
“Sometime in the next week or so.” She sighs, lifts a hand to the short, dark scrub of her hair. “It would be easier if I had something to tell him. That we found something else. That we… cracked the code. Got the message. Something to justify it all.”
“You need something more than that?” He gestures back to the stone, a black monolith against the sky, blotting out the strange stars. At night it almost seems to glow around the edges–though he knows that’s an illusion. Billions of years old, and that they at least know for sure. They are not alone out here… or once, they weren’t.
Many things might happen in a couple of billion years.
“I don’t need something more,” Cheyenne says simply. “But they do.”
Gordon has no answer for that. He looks down at his hands–gloveless now, though the air dries them out so quickly, and dark as the dust under his boots. Dark with the dust. It gets everywhere. He needs a shower and bed. “I’m heading back in,” he says, and a soft grunt is all he gets in response. She’s looking up again, her expression unreadable.
“I wanted proof that we weren’t all there is,” she says. “I don’t know if I have that yet.”
He still has no answer. The shelter is a glowing sprawl ahead of him, beckoning. He turns and makes his way toward it over the gravel and dust, shapes of his own making spinning over his head.
* * *
Gordon dreams the death of stars. Not every death is the same; in this they are much like people. Slow, silent fadings, or violent and glorious explosions of light. Stars have lives. What do they see? Who sees them? Who mourns them, when they’re gone?
In his dream he’s standing on top of the stone, no breathmask to cloud his vision, and the stars are like the points of bright knives. The stone seems higher somehow, but it takes him only a few moments to realize that, no, the ground itself is lower. There is no dig site, no shelter in the distance. He drops into a crouch and runs his hands over the glyphs, the shapes new and fresh and well-defined.
Not with the heat of the warrior twins, he senses. The air of Valmiki is cool tonight. The heat rises up from some deep and unknown interior in a thrum, a giant heartbeat. He knows, in the way that one knows things in dreams, that this is the stone as it truly is, as it was, as they are trying to uncover it now. His fingers trace the carvings. There is a sense there. It’s reaching for him.
He looks up. All around the base of the stone, gathering in twos and threes, are tall, slender figures. He can’t see their eyes, but he can feel them, looking up at him with an expression that humanity has no name for.