There was nothing like the sound of slimes scrabbling softly below the windows when one awoke. At least, that was how it was for Miranda. In the pinkish cast of dawn, snug in her blankets, the sound of blu larks stirred her on their quest for flint, as they always did. And Miranda, she lay there listening. Listening, as she watched the ceiling.
A tender breeze ruffled the drapes. The pink cast shuddered blue, then the blu larks shuffled away, leaving Miranda’s room silent. Her eyes fluttered about, over the featureless walls and the rocking chair in the corner, by the door. It was time to work.
She dressed in the little room. Then, Miranda, in her loose overalls and metallic pullover, left for downstairs. Her hat was in the lounge, dangling from the arm of an ancient coat rack. But according to Miranda the whole house looked ancient. Her father had wanted her to live in steel and concrete like the rest of society. But, once he’d gone, Miranda couldn’t help but settle down in an old-fashioned wood-plank coach house. At least she was on a moon.
Crossing the room, Miranda took note of her old green sofa and the rugged end table complementing its heavy arms. He’d told her in that very sofa, years ago; that if she ever had the chance to live on a moon, take it. They were smaller, he’d said. Miranda took her silvery hat and plopped it over her mess of gray hair. He’d always told her to brush, too, or rats would nest there. Well, he was right about one thing—moons were the place to be. There was no where Miranda ever thought her heart could settle, until she met Somniluna.
With a sigh, Miranda swung open the front door and stepped into a wash of heat. Beyond the enclosed porch a pastel rainbow world lit the older woman’s eyes. A pink sky with blue rims and fiery orange clouds dressed the sage greens and silvery teals of a sandy cactus-encrusted desert. Of course, they weren’t real cacti. Nothing on Somniluna was quite like anything on Earth.
That was how she liked it, Miranda thought, picking up a shovel on her way through the porch. The only protection from Somniluna’s sun was the anti-rad apparel. Even her shoes were made of the flexible metal fabric, and kept her cool in the hundred plus degree weather. That was good for today, because today Miranda was installing a pole.
It wasn’t just any pole, either. Striding along the north-winding trail from home’s porch to the work destination, Miranda scowled at the remnants of yesterday’s labor. And the day before yesterday’s. And last year’s. It wasn’t always a blessing to live alone. But Miranda’s scowl didn’t last long, because deep in her heart, she enjoyed what she did.
All of the wiring had been done already. The pole, a sixteen-foot-tall antennae, would stand a bit departed from the rest of the farm. There weren’t many mountains on Somniluna, so it didn’t need to be elevated. Anyone crossing by within a couple lightyears should pick up its proto-matter waves. Or send them. Not that she expected anyone to cross by. She’d specifically selected this district of the universe to be alone. The antennae was just for emergencies.
Miranda tended to her work quietly. She didn’t have much reason to talk, seeing as she was the only person (at least that she was aware of) who inhabited the moon-planet. It was largely just her and the slimes. After digging a considerable distance the woman took pause to scan the horizon. It was late morning by then, just about time for—
Something pink shuddered behind a pile of boulders a quarter kilometer off.
Old Jello, that’s right. Miranda smiled as the aged slime, studded by what she could only ever determine must be light-sensitive optics of a sort, dragged itself with its muscular foot out into the open. The farm was surrounded by a chaparral of tall cacti-like plants, some spineless, others vine-like, and heaps of dusty rocks. Old Jello had lived by the Jellyfish formation probably before Miranda had ever dreamed of living here—and perhaps would always live there. He never seemed to actually age, despite the epithet. In fact, she wasn’t sure ‘he’ was even a ‘he.’
The slime, just under five and a half feet tall, was fat and glistening. It had a slightly translucent quality about it, like most slimes, but that didn’t betray the whereabouts of its masocavum. Miranda rested her shovel on the ground.
Old Jello always came out near noon for a snack. Miranda turned and left to enter the barn, only a quick jaunt off. In a darkened corner of the barn, behind wires and great loops of plastic hose, she uncovered a shelf holding squares of a fleshy red material. The stuff was cool to the touch and covered in tiny bumps—tasted like a hot day at the swamp with a dab of ice cream, too. Taking one of these, Miranda returned to the dig site, to a hungry pink slime awaiting her.
She’d discovered Old Jello preferred fresh golun skin by accident. After taking a bite of the unusual ‘fruit,’ she’d tossed out a bag of it and found Old Jello there the next morning. And there he remained, sucking away at his own enzymatic mess for half the day. They didn’t eat very fast, slimes. They didn’t move very fast either, so it all added up to Miranda. In fact, they were her kind of people, slimes. That was why she felt close to Old Jello. It seemed they had a special kind of understanding. She tossed the fruit skin back toward the chaparral, where Old Jello pursued it at his paced velocity.
Then it was lunch time, then back to work. Miranda stood at the end of the day before her new antennae. It stretched into the air, humming rhythmically, darkened in the evening light. Somewhere in the barn was a compulsor and a monitor scanning the universe’s particles for data or signals. That’s where she’d leave it for now.
A piercing screech filled the desert. The tops of the cacti flashed red below a foreign light. Miranda bounced out of bed, slipping into the floor with a thud. It’s only a dream, she tried to tell herself as she lifted back to her legs. But though she shook her head the wailing continued. Finding the window, a crimson light was casting Somniluna’s blue night away—coming from the barn.
Miranda clutched the front of her pajamas and zipped downstairs, just managing to slip on her shoes before rushing outdoors into the freeze. Every morning was blazing, but every night commonly hit negatives. Miranda half hopped, half sprinted across the cold grainy sands, toward the large, screaming box of a structure; its blackened form periodically lit up into Christmas splendor.
Was someone entering orbit? Miranda thought as she neared. Seizing the doors and wrenching them wide apart, her first instinct was to look. It was empty inside, save for the pounding lights. But the primary monitor was going haywire.
[WARNING] the screen blared, in tall yellow caps. The lights along the frame blinked urgently. Miranda hurried to the main computer, checking for leaks or, perhaps, an infestation. She’d never seen rats here, but her primeval European brain still always considered them. But there was nothing. The computer’s external shell was untouched, which meant everything inside had to be, too. So the woman jumped over to the compulsor to check its alerts. When she went to enter the find code, the monitor froze. Nothing happened.
“All this for a flyby?” Miranda shouted above the din. Esc. Esc. Esc. No response. The computers acted as though a ghost had passed through. The hydrogen coolers sped up. Miranda attempted to calm them but they only flowed faster—colder. An intense heat blew out from the main computer’s core drive. Then, suddenly, a message appeared on the central monitor.
[Function normalizing. Scanning for errors. No errors detected. All systems functional.]
The alarm cut off. All flashing lights turned blue and went solid, and the great [WARNING] disappeared into a resting black screen. Miranda took a step back.
Cautiously, she awoke the central screen. On display was the entire power grid and explorer’s management system—all blue, all functioning. Checking for data dumps, there were none. All data safe. So Miranda checked for recent alerts.
[Alert at local time 2:53AM, external temperature -5 fahrenheit, full capacitor functionality. No issues.]
But what it should be telling her is what changed. And if the answer was nothing, well, for some reason that didn’t sit well with Miranda.
Exploring a while longer, it seemed clear the threat was over, the drives ready to move on. Miranda scratched her head, staring hard at her rig. Then, shivering, she walked back home. At the threshold to the door, she didn’t know why, but she felt compelled to look over her shoulder.
A quiet forest draped in shadow stared back at her from across the farm. No sound touched the moon’s wildlands now. No wind blew. Only a soft blue glow feathered the western horizon, from the planet of which Somniluna circled. As still as ever, and yet, different. Miranda shuddered and went inside.
At her bed, Miranda collapsed into the mattress. Her mind raced vainly for answers she knew she couldn’t find there. But even were she to get dressed fit to stay in the barn the rest of the night, would she find anything? All the obvious locations, where information was supposed to be stored, were mysteriously vacant. What could it have been? Was the antennae faulty? It was pretty old.
So Miranda’s brain spun with questions until she fell asleep for the second time. There she looked out her window, at the lunal planet caught in a half-day, half-night limbo, and saw a fantastic light flashing over the tops of the cacti and sagebrush. She seemed to teleport into the wild fields, chasing it down deep into the desert, but never quite able to catch it.
“This seems familiar,” Miranda told herself. Then she realized she wasn’t wearing her anti-rad apparel just as the sun came up.
Miranda awoke. A high, yellow light streamed in through the bedroom window. A dream, she sighed. The blu larks must have already come and went, which meant she’d slept in. That rarely happened. When it did, it signaled a day off.
The woman sat up. Reaching for a knee, she stretched slowly, preparing to stand. Last night’s fall left its mark on her right hip. That area was always a little stiff, but today it was in pain. Stretching helped but Miranda still winced as she got out of bed.
Downstairs, she put on a kettle and then stared at the oven. Miranda’s mind slipped away. The barn event felt like a memory. Now that she was somewhat rested she reflected on how she’d responded. Half-asleep, startled, she forgot to check the individual alerts for every process or hardware. They were all set to note any changes or fluctuations in whatever they were monitoring, or if their settings changed, even temporarily. Surely the answer was there?
The water began to sizzle. She popped the lid and poured herself some golun tea. The fresh fruit was bad, but dried and heated in water seemed to bring its sweetness to the forefront. It also paired nicely with a mild cheese. But she didn’t bother visiting the stations anymore, so Miranda took her tea with a cold cut of seared Greenborough Cactum (from her own backyard) and slice of bread. She ate thoughtfully at the coffee table in the lounge.
The antennae only picked up on matter signals. Any signal powerful enough to cause such an alarm, what could it possibly be? Suppose someone was warping into orbit, that might set off a few alarms, but there would have been a cautious warning beforehand, surely? No. Miranda shook her head. If anyone had have passed by then she would have seen the message. If they had have tried communicating—well, suppose they were using outdated radio waves? She never used radio waves, for all her age. That was more her grandfather’s era.
But there had been no flyby. Miranda dropped her unfinished Cactum on a folded bit of paper and set her tea down. Leaning back, she glanced out the nearest window.
No day off. She had to figure this out. Perhaps it was the mystery of her dream that spurred her to continue obsessing, she didn’t know, but the event struck her as so unusual as to demand an answer. So Miranda got dressed and headed back to the barn.
At the navigation bar, the woman flew through reams of data, interpreting signal patterns and scouring the databanks for any sign of a fluctuation in Somniluna’s activity. There was nothing. It had been a completely average night—not even a dip in surface or rise in core temperatures. C02 levels remained steady, the composition of oxygen, nitrogen, and trace gases hadn’t changed. Nothing had penetrated the orbital layer that she could find, and no foreign bodies had been detected.
Except, and she had to look closely at this, the interferometer had a reading. Miranda opened the machine’s console for details. Declared under a section entitled ‘Readings’ was a simple string of letters and numbers.
Miranda squinted at the string. It wasn’t a code she recognized. She was used to getting BP5′s, which was typically a minor quake or passing asteroid. But then the observatory would have picked up on that and its readings were vacant. E2 was dust, Na11 was a supernova. What was ‘A1?’
Progressing along, Miranda came across another unusual sign, this time from the Neutrino-Dark Energy Wave Detector. A minute red triangle with an exclamation point sat beside the pathway link to the hardware’s readings. She ran her hand along the bar to bring the data up.
Two figures appeared on the screen. One demonstrated a screen of the average “all systems normal” pattern, the other looked relatively like zebra stripes. A ripple. But what kind and from where? Below the differing picture was yet another unfamiliar code: DWPA Code 9. Miranda had no clue what the code stood for, but she knew something had happened, and these were the only clues available.
She continued to search the drives. As she searched, a shadow filled the barn’s entrance. Miranda startled about-face, to the jiggling mass that was Old Jello. She clutched her racing heart as the beast tapped curiously at the floorboards.
“You scared the daylights outta me,” Miranda scolded. Slimes heard vibrations, however, so Old Jello continued to impose a curious delving-in until Miranda tapped her foot at it. It paused once, listening, before slowly scrabbling around and shuffling off into the sunlight. By the time Miranda got outside with a slice of golun, Old Jello was already waiting by the chaparral. It chased the flung skin into the brush. The woman waited until she couldn’t see her friend’s shimmering hide any longer, then simply sat where she was standing.
“I have no clue what happened Old Jello, although it’s clear you weren’t alarmed,” Miranda sighed. “Maybe I shouldn’t be either. It wasn’t even from the antennae. Must be some weird coincidence. Should probably head to the stations and have these things decodified. I suppose if it pertains to some local event they must have record of this, too?”
And that was as far as she felt she could get. It made sense to have the codes checked by someone who was familiar with those more sensitive machines. She knew how to fix them, and had learned a bit about interpreting the outputs, but the associated coding, while supposed to make deciphering results easier, often just confused her. She was much better at figuring these things out in her youth, when she had the patience and explored frequently. Well, hopefully the outburst wasn’t over anything catastrophic, Miranda thought with a shrug. Getting to her feet, she headed back indoors.
And yet, a feeling nagged. Miranda threw together a savory cactum stew with bolts from the fairyfly. The large firefly-like insects practically flew themselves into her stew, and their strong sap-based appetite made them hearty. But even with a good bowl of stew in her hand, Miranda couldn’t quit wondering.
The only problem with visiting the stations was the time and finances. The blu larks didn’t make eggs without flint, and the water troughs dried out in only a few days’ time. She didn’t keep fencing and the summer’s drought was about to begin. As far as finances went, she hadn’t really thought about it in a number of years. Her colloidal gold was still somewhere in the three-thousand range, which may not be enough to get a professional out. But perhaps these were excuses. No, Miranda knew they were. She was needlessly stressing.
For the rest of that day she relaxed by reading an old, tattered book; something from her childhood. Then, she laid out a fresh layer of flint and went inside to stretch.
Over the next few days Miranda forgot about the barn incident. She’d written the reading codes down and kept them pinned to a space on the barn wall, but stopped looking at them after about the second day. After one-hundred hours, she was busy fussing with a leaking well, her mind completely focused. Then, prepared for the drought, she finished setting up the fairyfly nets and relaxed on her sofa, reading an old newspaper.
Then came a knock at the door.