Fast Pitch

Penelope's arm spins like a windmill, and the ball sails across the plate, cracking into the catcher's mitt like a gunshot. She doesn't hear the cheering, or the taunts from the bench opposite. She stretches her head from side to side, throws her shoulders back, shakes out her hands, steps back up onto the mound.

The ex is there: the kids wanted to watch the game so he brought them, even though — as he reminded her — it's his weekend. He's talking, nursing a beer, looking around, buried in his phone.

Allison is in the front row, and sees only Penelope.

Look Up

"Mister, can I ask you a question?"

Chuck opened his eyes. The boy couldn't have been more than eight. "Sure."

"Why are you lying in the grass staring up at the sky? Ain't nothing up there."

Chuck laughed. "Sure there is. Stars, lots of stars, clouds of gas and dust, all sorts of other things. You can even see the plane of the galaxy, where the stars are thicker."

The boy threw back his head, mouth open. "Where?"

"There, see? It's called the 'Milky Way', at least around here."

"Aw, I can't see nothing."

The boy must have crossed the field from the well-lit farmhouse, squeezed through a gap in the fence too small for a cow. "You just came from inside, just now? Let your eyes adjust; sit down for a minute." The boy looked at him, sizing him up. He wasn't surprised: people from rural areas were shy of strangers. If only the boy knew how strange Chuck really was. "It's all right. I don't eat little boys. Anyway, even if I did, I'm not really all that hungry."

Eventually the boy sat on the grass, then lay on the grass, just out of reach, staring up. After a short while he said, "I think I see it… lots of stars in a line, like a row of seeds in a furrow."

"Every one of those stars is a sun just like yours. Some of them are bigger, smaller, brighter, hotter. A lot of them, most of them have planets around them, just like yours. Some of their planets have people on them, people like you, but different."

"How'd they get there?"

"They're from there. That's where they were born, where they live. They evolved there."

"How do you know that?"

Chuck laughed. "I just know. It's like I've seen them, all of them, though I've never been. Like somebody else's memories of walking around, exploring, visiting, talking. It's a lot to hold in your head all at once."

"Does it hurt?"

"No, no. My head can hold a lot more. Years and years more."

There came a call from the farmhouse: a boy's name in a mother's voice, time to come in, time to wash up, to get changed, to go to bed.

"Coming, Ma!" The boy shouted at the top of his lungs. To Chuck he asked, "You gonna lie out here all night? Town's not that far…" He pointed up the dirt road.

"I'll get there in a while. There's no hurry. Do you think anyone will mind if I lie here a bit longer?"

The boy shrugged. "I won't tell."

"That's very kind. It was nice to meet you." Chuck held out his hand.

The boy regarded Chuck's hand as a risk, sized it up, then shook it resolutely, like a man, before running off to squeeze back through the fence. Once through, he turned, and asked, "Hey, Mister, where you from?"

Chuck smiled, raised his hand to the sky, and pointed. "That one."

Meet Cute

"That," Mays intoned with an air of respect, "is a big-ass ship." It was a spoked wheel, spinning, presumably for gravity. It had appeared out of nowhere, like a magic trick. "FTL but no gravity plating? Odd…"

ELLE's computerized voice spoke through the comm systems. "This configuration does not appear in Company or Government records. Caution is advised."

"You bet your—"

"Is it possible they have not seen us? Perhaps they are here to mine the asteroid just as we are." Rebbo was at his shoulder; far above his shoulder, actually, at ten feet tall.

"That'd be one hell of a coincidence. ELLE?"

"Insufficient Data."

About what he expected. "Are they on an intercept course?"

"At their current speed and heading they will pass within ten kilometers of this side of the asteroid. So far they have made no detectable adjustments to speed and heading. I suggest a radar scan."

"Just start radiating at them? I don't think so."

A sudden dazzling light; Mays covered his eyes. "We're under attack! Bring up—"

"Searchlight only. They are illuminating a wide area of this face of the asteroid, centered on our position. There is no damage to the hull," ELLE reassured.

Rebbo observed, "It appears they are less concerned with radiation than you."

"Fine, ELLE, scan them. But don't blame me if they start shooting at us."

An hour later Mays was a hundred meters from the ship in a pressure suit, secured to the surface by piton and line, waiting while the visitors made their careful way across the rock towards him. "I can't see into the crawler very well, but I think there's three of them." He dialed his visor lens up a few points. "They're small. Half the size of a man. I wonder how many of them there are in that thing."

"It could be a colony ship," Rebbo observed. "Or a spacegoing colony. It's not unheard of for some species to—"

"I'll be damned."


"One of them is waving."