The Leftovers

This was originally published on Storymoja Festival Blog>
I’m a Xenoarcheologist. I dig up the remains of ancient alien societies and then try to figure out what it is that I had found. 9,999 out of 10,000 times it’s broken, degraded and unusable garbage. The few gems that I find fund missions like this one; to the third planet of a K class star. An orange dwarf that is less luminous than our sun.
Salsbilla is Earth-like , with carbon-based life, close enough that we wear our encounter suits while xenobio makes sure we’ll be alright to go shirtsleeves or not. Gravity is 5.88 m/s2, about 5% lighter than my home planet.

We had made base camp on Salsbilla’s major continent, near the structures. The planetary survey had found this planet forty years ago, and it’s only now that we were able to build a wormhole gate to it. Our initial orbital survey found a ton of sites, so we picked the one closest to the equator and landed.

Now I’m standing here in this canal, and I’m looking at the most intact xeno-site I have ever seen on a planet. OK, it’s a large moon around a super Jovian. It’s smaller than Terra and bigger than Mars. We find more intact sites on proper vacuum scarred moons, but then that’s to be expected.
“Doctor Kerwo,” said Hanson, who was kneeling next to me with his encounter laser carbine, “it’s just…wow.”

“Yes,” I reply, “and that worries me. Something this intact may mean that the previous inhabitants are still around…”

“That would be interesting,” says Hanson. He has a wicked sense of humour.

“It will be when they pounce on us with whatever limps or weapons they posses, Hanson. I would like to see how you like that.” I say.

“Come on Doc, a little bit of apprehension never killed anyone.”

The time we landed coincided with the Orange spot in the sky moving to the other side of the planet so it was growing dark pretty quickly. The combination of the dying light and the presence of three rising moons in the orbit created phantasmagoric shadows cast far and wide from the old rusty structures. Soon the sun was gone and with it the beautiful aura. The shadows became skewed and ghost like. The night vision glasses did not help matters.
Hanson and the team were already poking around and collecting samples. I walked up to the most intact structure to begin my work and see what I could salvage. Usually my tomahawk was enough to destabilize different types of metallic elements, be they be made of lead or complex carbons surpassing diamond. It’s usually an easy job. This was different and it’s ressilience baffled me. The harder I tried to punch through, the tougher it got. I seemed to be actually washing the grit off it’s surface.

”Hanson, I think we have found our match. This is a real gem.” I shouted over my shoulder. I rechecked my equipment just to make sure it was not a malfunction. This was bound to be the hardest and the strongest element I had ever seen in my whole life. It was going to fetch a tidy sum once we broke it down. In every other mission, we collected samples and took them back to the ship for analysis. We then figured out whatever we were dealing with and it’s appliance in the confederate planets. This could build structures to withstand anti-matter bombs. Hell, we could even build dyson spheres and prevent stars from going nova and obliterating every thing surrounding them. It could be the discovery of the century! The excitement let down my guard and made me forget that when we landed the structures seemed extraordinarily intact. It was as if the civilization which had built what I presumed to be cities had left in a hurry.

The structures were not bulging and I decided to bring the lab to them. I checked my phone to activate the drone app and feed instructions to find it completely dead. This was not possible. Not with a phone powered by broken down atoms of Uranium 235. No known object could breach the containment field holding them at the back without extensive knowledge of it’s constituent elements. This thing was powered to outlast any known civilization. Long after we were gone it would still be beeping. It did not just go kaput, not without some outside powerful intervention. The good news was that the team had not dispersed far and wide and I quickly assembled them to the base of the ship.

Nearly half of all devices capable of producing electrons were off with the power completely dead. I was faced with a dilemma. Here was a planet rich with the strongest element I had ever known but it was also sucking the power out of our equipment. Did I say, the robotic drones were dead too. That meant even if we found a way of breaking through, moving copious amounts would be a difficult task. I decided to let every one get a good nights sleep and try to figure out everything in the morning with fresh minds.

The worse was yet to come. I was opening the door to my cabin when the chief engineer rounded up the corridor running and out of breath.
“Doc, we are a sitting duck.” He said between pants. “The engines are dead and they seem to have utilized the reserve power too.”

This was quickly turning into my worst nightmare. I had not bargained for this. Sleep was going to wait. I immediately put the ship on an alert mode. As of that moment there was no way we were leaving Salsbilla. A dead ship meant that soon we were going to run out of supplies and die. The ship was the only thing capable of releasing anti-neutrinos and activating the wormhole once were docked on the orbit. We were farthest from the orbit you could get. Sending distress beacons was out of question. We were more than 100 light years away from the nearest confederate planet or ship. I took comfort in the fact that other than utter lack of any mobility every other ship’s function was still great.
Then disaster struck.

The view panel on my lift flashed red and the automatic distress voice came on announcing that the hull was degrading. Either the atmosphere was corrosive or something was having our ship as a midnight snack. I found Hanson already in the bridge staring into the view screen like it was the first time he was seeing it.
“Doc, didn’t I say it was bound to an interesting adventure?” He asked.
“I hate to disapprove your words but this is hardly what I would call interesting, what’s on the hull?”
“Ben informs me that we have just encountered conductor mites and they mean business.” He said. ”A quick analysis from the database reveals that they feed on neutrons and metallic elements, I do not know which is more delicious to them but we are packing both in abundance.”

His explanation dimmed my hopes. A hull camera brought one to the main view screen. It looked like a giant brown spider with a purple crystalline structure sticking from it’s back. A sphincter below a giant front eye had a gooey slimy liquid flowing out and corroding our hull slowly.
Our options were limited. Sit down and stare as our hope of ever rejoining civilization was consumed or pick up carbines and blast the mites to hell. We chose the later. A bunch of two dozen scientists holding guns and chanting like deranged soldiers does not inspire hope or scenes of heroism. We opened the hatches and spread out. A few minutes into the fight revealed how useless an endeavour it was. We were feeding the mites laser energy directly and they were lapping it up like a baby on a breast. The first option didn’t seem so bad at all now. We decided to regroup on the bridge to figure out our next move.
The first person to step on the bridge was blown up to smithereens by a powerful hand held gun. The aliens did to my thigh what I had been trying to do to the structures all along. Punch a clean hole through. The mites did not even own the planet. They were pets. That was my last realization before I passed out.

Uncanny Issue 1 Cover & Table of Contents!

Originally posted on Uncanny:


Coming in November, THE FIRST ISSUE OF UNCANNY!!!
All of the content will be available in the eBook version on the day of release. The free online content will be released in 2 stages- half on day of release and half in December.

Table of Contents:

Cover by Galen Dara

The Uncanny Valley- Editorial by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas

New Fiction
Maria Dahvana Headley- “If You Were a Tiger, I’d Have to Wear White”
Kat Howard- “Migration”
Max Gladstone- “Late Nights at the Cape and Cane”
Amelia Beamer- “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy”
Ken Liu- “Presence”
Christopher Barzak- “The Boy Who Grew Up”

Classic Fiction
Jay Lake- “Her Fingers Like Whips, Her Eyes Like Razors”

Sarah Kuhn- “Mars (and Moon and Mercury and Jupiter and Venus) Attacks!”
Worldcon Roundtable featuring Emma England, Michael Lee, Helen Montgomery, Steven H Silver, and Pablo Vazquez

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The Collective

This was originally published on Storymoja Festival blog

The first thing that you notice is the smell, nay stench. It hit me smack in the face. I was reeling back when my senses and manners thrust me onwards.  It wasn’t enough to turn me around though.  Soon I got used to it and realized it was not so bad after all. Many guys had lived with it for long I was not special. I could survive. That was my resolve.  A further investigation later revealed that it came from the two bathrooms at the end of the hall.  Rarely washed, they have an open door policy. It gave them a steady stream of characters lining up to avoid the few coins required at the community dump.

Welcome to the ‘hood community creative space’, or simply the collective. Conjures memories of the sadistic, advanced semi-biological alien race from the Star Trek universe, the Borg collective. The main hall is about 30sq ft. The four walls are riddled with mostly badly done graffiti. The colours are peeling and it looks like whoever did it was in a particular hurry or was just horrible at it. A striking one near the middle catches my attention. It looks like a rip off out of a hentai clip. A massive humanoid naked form is depicted chasing a small girl in what I can assume is on a fiery forest.  It is inappropriate and I am sure many people might find it offensive. It is still the most striking piece of the wall art here anyway. In retrospect, that should have been sign enough for me to bolt out running.  But I am an art activist, or the ‘cool’ dress up I preferred then, artivist.  I believed all forms of art must be expressed, even the most offensive ones.  If anybody doesn’t agree it should be shoved up un to their backward faces.  There were several groups scattered all over the place engaged in discussions, singing, dancing or just willing the time away.

‘Are you Erik?’’ Someone tapped me on the shoulder. ‘This way, we were expecting you’. He showed me in to the small office tucked at the corner just next to the washrooms. Joge, as I came to find out his name was, was small in stature. He had broad shoulders and a mean look. His demeanour suggested that in another life he might have been a boxer or a quarterback for a rugby team.  Right now he was just one of the ‘creative’ here with a speciality in playing delirium ridden Kamba traditional drums, ‘kilumi’. He led me in to the office which had a lock-less door. He pushed it open and showed me a seat to perch on. It leaned immediately on one side and were it not for some quick movement I could have a got myself a good dent somewhere on my body. This maybe should have the second sign that I was not meant to be here.

I came to know of the collective community creative space through my buddy Wino. He was a college mate where we were English and Literature majors. He described it as an open space where creative’s meet, strategise and hone their skills with the help of more advanced members. ‘ I mean, we have been in operation for years now and there have been success stories, I know of some musicians who have been getting playing gigs regularly and they are all part of the collective. ‘Wino said to me in explanation.  This sounded pretty cool to a kid fresh out of high school where we saw ourselves as superstars without the opportunity yet. Forming rock and rap groups and coming up with ingenious monikers which now sound really silly when I remember them.  Wino told me they had space for everybody to express their creative genius. As a wannabe writer, I wanted to meet people with similar interests. Get some mentors and who knows, I could even get published there.  I took up the chance immediately. I gave a call to the chairman who told me I could drop in any time I felt like. No appointment, no background checks, nothing. This should have been the third red light which I ignored. When you are 18 you are bound to ignore many things or simply find norm in the absurd.  This was also fuelled by the fact that I was new in the city. A first year in the university who had failed miserably at making friends. I was lonely and homesick so when the only friend I had managed to make came up with a plan I was all for it. Damn the consequences.

After I had steadied myself I looked up to the other side of the desk in front of me. The ‘chairman’ I gave a call was seated there. His voice was no doubt masculine. His appearance wasn’t though. Meet Jean, the resident tomboy and a lesbian to boot. The fact that he was referred to as a ‘he’ perplexed me. She was seated so I couldn’t make out any other features apart from her face which was angular. Perfectly sculpted to bring out her domineering jaw bone. Her pointed nose had hints of Caucasian. Her hair was cropped short completing her ‘manly’ look. She did not spot any make up. Her chest heaved up and down slowly. I was bound to look and it was definitely not masculine. Her smile was inviting and she stretched her hand for me to shake. Definitely a masculine handshake. ‘New blood heh?’ She boomed. I assumed that was meant for me and nodded. ‘Welcome to our cool collective, I believe we talked on the phone, Erik, right? Let me tell you about us….She droned on and on. I took the opportunity to examine my surroundings. There were several guitars hanging precariously on the wall above her. They looked as if they needed a single shove to come crashing on her hair deficient head. There was also a lone nyatiti and two djembes. These guys really loved their music if this was any indication. Unlike the hall, there was no vomit inducing graffiti here. They had gone as far as they could to make it look official. Apart from the music instruments hanging on the wall there was no other wall decorations here. Several shelves stacked up with papers, books and an old computer monitor occupied one wall entirely. ….‘I said you are to refer to me as Chairman, it’s a gender non-sensitive community here’ this brought me back to the one sided conversation. Gender non-sensitive? This was definitely a ploy of her own making to make her feel manlier. I wanted to ask her if they were gender indifferent why was she chairman and not chairperson. I refrained though because when you go to Rome you toe the Roman line. You are not bound to step out of it when you are talking to Caesar. All this time Joge was standing behind me, mean and straight-faced like a bodyguard.

The monologue was soon over and once again my hand was jerked in to a choking grip that was handshake or semblance of to Jean.  Joge took me on a tour of the facility. Artistes and wannabe artistes where everywhere. It was crowded and most of the characters seemed sneaky. I had glimpses of some who I was sure where the ones who taped you on the shoulder in the CBD and proceeded to request you of your belongings amicably. Failure to which they will produce a gun or simply stab you smack in the middle of the street. Agreement occurs because fear is a great motivation and you don’t want to call in their bluff.

I came upon Mwaf, with a goatee which occupied his hands whenever he wasn’t doing anything else. The other thing he did is play a guitar. He was scrawny and outspoken. A sort of person who always has a say in everything, thinks he knows it all yet his superficial trivial knowledge comes out as dumb. Well, his ego took care of this.

I got used to the stench as the days went by. For a lonely country boy who never got around the trick of making friends. It became easier. I could even smile to rough looking ghetto girls who pride in being referred to as hood rats. The guys accepted me and I was part of the collective. Dropping in any time I felt like and I got to feel like a real artiste for the first time in my life. It wasn’t a space conducive for writing though. There was always someone shouting, someone playing some ear-drum shattering instrument. The collective was devoid of any order apart from the ever present Chairman who reminded you time and again that she was one.

The building which housed the collective was an incomplete flat giving it a rather jagged rooftop. It is here that we held parties which spanned weekends. To a casual observer or a naive member like I was, the guys here loved music. This was an unfair observation misplacing credit. Everybody here was a stoner; they loved their weed with divine enthusiasm. Those who strayed away from the smoky pleasures had unparalleled love for the bottle. They sneaked cheap spirits and gins in to practice sessions on daily basis. These are the items which made weekend parties last so long. Come Monday mornings, the bulk of us were hangovered in the main hall. Jean’s booming voice usually came to the rescue, waking us up as her timberland boots made contact with any poor soul’s ribs lying on the way. Looking back at it now it was only lack of funds which made us not seek more potent drugs, say cocaine or heroin.

I do not remember when Wino left the collective but since he had inducted me as a member we had grown apart. My constant complains of ‘the collective’ not being a creative space worth its graffiti put him off. That was until we fell for different misuses, I took up my love for the frothy drinks a notch higher and he smoke his way in to stratosphere. This really thrust a wedge upon us, there was no going back. The old days were forgotten. We saw each other, nodded at each other and that was enough salutation for a week. To this day I have no idea where he went to. That is the least I can say for other members, especially our revered chairman.

Since I joined the collective word was that she usually had sex in her office in the evenings after we had left. Nobody had photographic evidence so it remained an unfounded rumour. I had seen her make out with her girlfriends during the long rooftop parties after several swigs of cheap vodka but that was that.

Approximately a year and a half after I had been inducted I arrived at the collective to find a sizable crowd at the entrance. I shoved my way through to the front where I was confronted with a police crime scene tape. A few meters from the tape lay Jean in a pool of blood which was beginning to cake. A few meters ahead was a scrawny girl wrapped in a towel shivering considerably. I seen her several times but never paid attention to her. She was not striking on any way. In the wee hours of the morning her boyfriend had found Jean having carnal knowledge of her body. Apparently better than he ever did. He was angry and humiliated. He took it up with Jean, they wrestled, broke several guitars. Pummelled each other with anything in sight, the boyfriend was losing the fight. He took it a notch higher and produced a pocket knife and in a matter of seconds the fight was over. The chairman died when the blade tore off the jugular vein. All this while their joint bi-sexual girlfriend was transfixed watching and she only came to her senses when she realised her male boyfriend was making a run for it. Her scream pierced the night echoing through the hall but it was too late. The killer went in to hiding. That was much of the story the police managed to coerce from her before they took her to the station.

That was the screeching halt of the collective. We disappeared with our heads low and tails tucked between our legs never to come again. I have met a few former members down the line. One did make away with my side-mirror while I was willing the time away in the crazy Uhuru highway traffic. I could not forget the face. I let it go for the old time’s sake. I met Joge too, in a seedy strip club at river road where he is a bouncer tasked with making sure that your hands don’t stray. You watch, continue watching and then pay. I was happy for him and threw him a round, at last he had got a career which utilized his ability of standing mean faced his fingers twitching for a punch.

Satao – a legend


I really had to repost this.

Originally posted on Mark Deeble:

Satao - legend just title

When I last wrote about Satao, I felt that I couldn’t use his name. I could refer to him only as a ‘magnificent tusker’ or an ‘iconic Tsavo bull’. I feared that naming him would risk revealing where he lived. Now that I can use it, I wish that that I couldn’t.

On the 30th May, poachers finally caught up with Satao. An arrow smeared with Acokanthera poison hit him in his left flank and penetrated his body cavity. It travelled right through to his vital organs. To begin with, he might have run, to get deeper inside the park, where he felt safe. Running would have made the poison work faster. He didn’t get very far. Eventually he stood still in open ground, not a mile from the park boundary – with the potent cardio-toxin coursing through him. Without any cover to hide his tusks, he’d have felt exposed…

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A weekend to Mombasa, the city of bangs

The good government, for the past not-so-few days has managed to whip up the countrymen and women as well as bigots who have a foot on the fence; into a domestic tourism frenzy.  There is nothing wrong with this and it has all good intentions plastered on the side some crawling in to the microscopic level that is vanity central. Twitter. It all sounds colourful and bound to instigate some sense of pride and patriotism to anyone who for some moment ignores the underlying issues. I don’t.

A certain friend of mine is in huge trouble for watching one too many ‘twende tujivinjari’ commercials and taking them literally. Wonderful animation while we are on the subject and a wrong choice of score if anything from the original song is to go by. Scenes of bestiality with that fat hippo aren’t cute.

He is a proud owner of this Volkswagen GT which is powerful but has a tendency of guzzling too much fuel and breaking down from time to time. He decided to swap it for a jeep to walk the talk of magical Kenya albeit for a few days. A choice which can be admired by a patriot of your calibre. Before then he had paid several uncountable visits to the only place outside of Nairobi which is like most places in Nairobi. Ole-polos, the nyama choma heaven which Nairobians usually mistake for a wildlife park. Rightfully so, that amount of Nyam chom can only be available in a wildlife park for anybody who hasn’t been to any. Many Nairobians haven’t. The KWS ad was a wake up call. His ignorance slumber of his own country had been disturbed. He was not going to take this lying down.  He decided to test the waters from the deep end and promptly signed up for bungee jumping somewhere past Thika. As if driving there with the guidance of Irish whiskey isn’t a danger enough. Rumour is that if you are caught you will be stripped naked, placed in a freezer and your bank accounts raided to pay for the fine of stupidity and blatant ignorance.  He soldiered on.

The bungee jumping was uneventful, as it has been for the thousands of others which happened all over the earth prior to that one. It had a feeling of anticlimax. He got dizzy and disoriented. I was disappointed that the elastic bungee rope did not give in to the forces that be, gravity and wishes. Snapped in half and let him hurtle downwards like a speeding bullet. I gave up my chance and went back to my drink. Karma isn’t trustworthy and could just decide to get back to me by having such an inspired thought.  He had tasted the thrill and was not about to back down. The whole of Kenya had just opened up before him. He looked like a newborn baby who has discovered the only thing standing between him and fulfilment is a flimsy cloth.

Lets backtrack a bit, the major reason why our wrong government is calling upon the poor citizens to start saving for holidays is that Uncle Sam and the ilk withdrew en-masse from the Kenyan coast. Several spirited attacks from the thin, ugly, illiterate but surprisingly persistent militias from Somalia left us dazed. Tourists don’t want to stick in an area where different sorts of explosives go off randomly blowing up stuff to kingdom come. They left. Hotels closed. Kenyans were left broke and jobless. The government took this on stride, called U.K, U.S, France, Australia even N.A.TO bleeding cowards and told them that they had nothing on China who are set to become our premier tourism trade partners. The only slight problem is that the Chinese are not interested in watching wildlife. Which we have in plenty. They have more important uses like dietary supplements’, decorations and medicine. All their uses leave the animals dead. Still, it’s a risk our government has already taken. This worries many patriotic Kenyans, but not my friend. He decided he was just going to replace our departed tourists in a very odd way.

He took a road trip to Garissa. Why Garissa? You may ask. I don’t know either. Garissa as far as Kenyans are concerned is that frontier town holed up in part of Kenya which should be owned by Somalia. This view is also held by some high ranking government officials who are allergic to knowledge. He packed up and set off dragging his sweet Nairobi girlfriend with him. Nairobi girls are a special breed. They are averse to hardships, whether natural or artificial like this one. That is root of his troubles. She had acquired exclusive knowledge from her friends and ‘The Nation’ to some extend that the lonely road stretching from somewhere past Juja up to Garissa is full of bandits. The vomit of the society who will spill your guts while you painfully watch and if you are not dead already feed them to you. All that for some few bottles of water. Apart from these psychopaths there was Al-Hijra and Al-Shabaab who are the authority on this no-man’s land. They are more lenient in that they will set invisible landmines to blow your car to smithereens. Alternatively, they can practice marksmanship with the top of your head. You will not even notice you are about to die before you already are. Her knowledge dictated that the only safe way to drive there is to use Uhuru’s RCV Survivor. Since this was not available, they should have dropped that idea long time ago.

Uhuru's RCV Survivor which is a symbol of the generous amount of security our good government is providing to it's poor citizens.
Uhuru’s RCV Survivor which is a symbol of the generous amount of security our good government is providing to it’s poor citizens.

He chose to ignore the highly informed views and hurtled off to coast via Garissa on a Jeep. There have been a few surprises along the road more so for the girlfriend who hasn’t met any sick bandits yet. Still her heart floats close to the mouth and she has been having persistent stomach rumbles.  They encountered another breed of bandits in the name of Kenyan Police, luck was on their side as they both look like they originate from the innermost part of Bwindi Impenetrable forest and en-route to kenya immersed on coal mines for a good measure. There was no doubt that they were Kenyans of non-somali/arabic origin. Not in any way fit for Kasarani Concentration Camp. Their jeep was ransacked though and they parted with a few thousand shillings. That particular standard procedure has happened several times in the course of their journey.

Garissa was extremely hot. In his own words ”I think I have been a little misled by the magical kenya P.R assault, this heat is depressing and I think I am growing an extra layer of above my epidermis to act as a heat shield. I was under the impression that the whole of Kenya is a magical narnia which improves my sex life as the bonus. This heat is killing me.” He spend several hours on this hazy, dreamy town where you get the feeling of touching the heat physically and they sped off towards Malindi with gloomy faces.

The all-weather road in between has not been kind to them as well as the heat and humidity which seems to multiply by the minute. He is stuck somewhere in Garsen dreaming of the sandy beaches in Malindi. Did I say the girlfriend took a bus back to Nairobi at Garissa?