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Stolen Skies – Part Four (Nanowrimo 2022)

Life in the shell was fucking weird. Obviously, everyone was massively freaked out. The future terror of the space-hole had been utterly forgotten in the face of our novel imprisonment. Aliens had been a popular topic for lunatics and those easily led into ignoring reality. It was therefore a real shame to have to start giving them a hint of credibility. Not that any of their anal-probing little green or grey men had rocked up to claim responsibility or usher us into a planet-sized rectal investigation machine. If it was aliens – and it definitely wasn’t us for one, normal space stuff for two, then it really did leave very little alternative. Not that “aliens” is a small idea either. The loons thought they’d been buzzing our various aerial armed forces for decades and randomly abducting sad people who just happened to also suffer from night terrors (huuuuge surprise), but there had been no concept that aliens might turn up, pop the Earth in a shopping bag and not announce themselves. Perhaps that was the scariest thing – and don’t get me wrong from my generally warm tone – we weren’t just freaked out, we were terrified. Scared like a dog gets with fireworks, a deep soul-puncturing horror as everything we thought was real and important had been ripped away, tossed in  a fire and pissed on by a petrol-urinating god, whose main function in the universe was to offer perpetual fear up as if it was the peace and quiet we were all, deep down, looking for. What a dick. I feel as if we had an expectation that, should doom appear on the human horizon, whether by catastrophic flood, plagues of locusts or murdering all the first-born, someone would at the very least show up to tell us that it was happening. But no one did.

For days our scientists, politicians and media types were heavily invested in alternating between desperately trying to make contact with the shell (or whatever was beyond it), and impressing on us how hopeful our situation was, that everything was cool, honest, and in no way should millions of people around the world be actively rioting and trashing the joint. Humans: we sad, we break stuff. The instant collapse of global law and order did take me by surprise. In between bursts of soul-searing dread, and feeling that the whole thing was vaguely exciting I sank into a calm nihilistic state. My parents would argue that this was my natural state – an extension of stoicism into couldn’t-give-a-fuckism. It’s not that I didn’t care about things, I did, but I’ve got a tolerance level for extreme emotion that just cuts out after a while. It’s tiring. I’m sure others feel this too, but they suck at admitting it. I was still fairly cheerfully following accounts of our total failure efforts to make contact, not just with the shell-aliens, but also anything at all outside the shell. The moon colony was totally unavailable, we couldn’t see the solar system, the stars and moon had vanished, and we couldn’t even use those few satellites that were in near-enough Earth orbit to be trapped inside the shell to see or hear anything outside. Space is noisy, like – really noisy if you’ve got a bunch of giant radio telescopes scattered around the world. But they had fallen totally silent. All the cosmic racket of pulsars and stuff was gone. There was an undeniable glee too, in watching our politicians completely lose their shit. All pretense of genuinely being in charge was gone, and even the bastard trillionaire corporations couldn’t exert any influence beyond dispatching their private armies to shoot the rioters as they laid blame in every direction.

There was so much happening, so much batshit insanity as our entire population lost the plot, as did pretty much every animal. Zoos and nature reserves were not safe places to visit. Hell, even the park outside had become the focal point of a pigeon death-spiral, and no one was walking under the trees any more. The annihilation of our circadian rhythms, routines and sense of time had struck everyone. Even those mad bastards who live right up in the arctic circle and who had some practice with handling twenty-two, or two, hour-long days were feeling the strain. I think it was the colour of the sky. We’d gone from our daytime blues and night-time blacks to this harrowing red-infused grey. It was like staring at the inside of your eyelids with someone wandering about holding a candle in the background. Not a reassuring colour, no matter what paint companies had been trying to persuade us of for years. I like my greys with a hint of lavender.

Still, where would be if we let a little existential dread get us down, eh. On perhaps the third day since the shell had formed around us – I say “perhaps” because even though calendars and dates were obviously still functional, the general shell shock (I know – too perfect!) rolling through the population was erasing our sense of time properly passing – Edithine gave me a ring. Since my days generally revolved around a little light plant mutilation, enjoying the media channels and occasionally nipping out to the pub, the lack of visible days shouldn’t really have kicked me in the nuts so hard. But I’d fallen out of one rut into another, whose sides weren’t even visible. I’d made sure Edithine had my details after I left her in A&E to the tender mercies of their distracted doctors. That whole community feel, you know. As it turned out, her phone call was the absolute highlight of my day and very much the only guiding star I had available to me. She asked if I could nip round, as she was still hobbling and could do with a hand. I was out of the cube almost as soon as I got dressed.

It’s only a quick trip to the other side of the park under normal conditions, but as advertised, the fucked up sky had turned birds fucking mental, and I was rather leery of the foaming squirrels too. So I took the long way around, navigating the streets where trash was already starting to mount up as municipal services took a nosedive. Plus there was all the burned stuff from the riots that had kicked off. That had died down a little around here, but the news was still looking grim. I think our lot had smashed everything that was on hand which wouldn’t actually inconvenience them, like their own homes, or the maybe-haven of the hopefully-temporary murder park. Those poor birds looked knackered – it seemed like they’d been swooping a diving nonstop since the sun did its missing persons act, and they now stumbled about on the ground, or sat dazedly on tree branches, occasionally snapping alert to scream at something. Like me, quietly moving past. With luck the feathery devils would relax a little and not give themselves stress heart attacks or whatever birds have when they’re anxious. I tiptoed past the scorched entrance to a belowground storage centre – the smoke trails seemed to come from all way down deep inside, and the coal blackness was disconcerting. I exchanged tentative nods and waves with the handful of fellow park maintenance folk I spotted, but everyone had the same haunted expression and it made me want to get back off the street.

Edithine’s building wasn’t quite as nice as ours. Where ours used to be some kind of department store, this looked like it might have been a tools and home improvement warehouse. The grey corrugated walls stretched high overhead, with windows regularly chopped out of the bland exterior. No one in the foyer area downstairs, but there were a few smashed open mailboxes. I checked for Edithine’s number (thirty-three) and collected the remaining bits of post. Nothing fancy – one some kind of government circular that I got all the time reminding me to keep up with the social contract and not blow all my cash on drugs. The other was a rarity – personal correspondence. Virtually everything, barring the inevitable paper-based bureaucratic nonsense, had smoothly been added to our digital lives – all the easier to be immediately deleted. Letter writing had never quite vanished, it was always the subject of some fad, fashion or kink or other. The ultimate private repository for one to bear one’s soul directly with another person. Or you could just talk… Either way, this letter was worn and had come from half the world away. It was cute to think that Edithine might have a pen pal in this day and age. From the maudlin state of our neighbours, perhaps this was something we’d all be needing soon enough. I hopped up the steel staircases (a far cry from our lovely marble flooring) which had been installed between the stacks of housing cubes that filled the cavernous interior of the old warehouse. A hiss and the sound of pattering feet suggested that the space between and around the cubes had long been colonised by some of our urban pals. Probably cats, but families of foxes had been found before. All they had to do was stay relatively quiet and no one would give them any grief. It was very much frowned upon to kill a bunch of innocent animals just because they happened to live somewhere we hadn’t planned for them to be. In general, this was enforced quite rigidly – we’d spent too many years pushing wildlife to the brink of extinction, and kicking them out of the attic would just take the piss.

Edithine’s was three up and three along in the first stack of cubes. All I could hear from her neighbours’ cubes was the soft murmur of a TV programme, and the sound of someone crying. There was a lot of that about. The buzzer gave a gentle “bing-bong”, and Edithine opened her door. She ushered me inside, bustling as well as she could with a strapped-up foot. I dropped her post on the table by the door and followed her into the kitchen unit. I liked her place. Photos and pictures covered the walls and almost every item of furniture had a throw or excessive knitted doily draped over it. After some further reassurance that I hadn’t managed to sever anything too important between her metatarsals, I helped shunt seemingly every piece of that decorated furniture into a slightly different configuration. That done, Edithine invited me to sit for a moment and have a cup of tea. It’s well established that nothing is a greater reward for humping chests of drawers around than a cup of tea. Settled, and wettened by the tea, Edithine finally got down to business. We’d chatted a little about how baffling everything felt, and how overwhelming it could feel. She had a refreshingly compatible outlook to mine, taking the view that in the absence of such answers, you really did have to just keep on carrying on. Setting fire to the nearest bus might make you feel better for five minutes – after all, everyone loves a good burn – but the next day you’d be very frustrated because you couldn’t catch your bus to work. It was her next question that kicked my legs out from under me: “so, what are you going to do about it all?”

I hadn’t been looking for an additional parent or grandparent. (Despite my apparent malaise, I had at least checked that my parents weren’t either joining in on burning their cube complex down, or adversely affected by their neighbours attempting the same. They were fine, thanks for asking.) I wasn’t sure what I’d done that might have inspired such a question. Half a dozen possible responses circled in my head, and I had enough of a filter to not outright swear at the lady. I was spared the look of disappointment on Edithine’s face when I inevitably revealed my general apathy and unsuitability, not to mention utter lack of status or connections that make any sort of difference. The news was on – no one turned the news off any more – and our eyes and ears were drawn magnetically to the announcement. The tide had stopped coming in, or out. The vast bodies of water on our world were just sloshing back and forth, no longer held to their usual schedule. The reason? The moon’s mass was no longer dragging the oceans as it whipped around the Earth. We weren’t just unable to see the moon, it wasn’t there any more. The most likely reason, according to the panicky sweat-faced professor being interviewed, was that the Earth was on the move and we’d left the moon behind. First imprisoned, and now kidnapped? Fuck.

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Stolen Skies

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