The Day the World Turned Orange

“Hey, Hun,” Elise called, pausing as she grabbed her keys off the counter, eyes transfixed out the window in front of her.

“Yes?” Michael responded as he popped his head out of the bathroom. He followed his wife’s gaze. Toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

She stood unblinking. “What’s wrong with the sky? Why’s it like that?”

He moved beside her. “I don’t know. Perhaps the clouds are reflecting the sunrise. It is almost five thirty.”

“Right. Almost five thirty?” Eyes widening, she trotted down the stairs. “I’m going to be late for work. I can’t get fired!” She flung open the door leading to the garage then elbowed the button to retract the large garage door. Placed her lunchbox in the passenger seat of her bright green Jeep.

However, her pace slowed to a crawl when she caught a glimpse of the outside world as she rounded the back of the Wrangler. Yes, the sun may start rising before five thirty, but it was never this bright. Nor was the entire air tinted orange. And that’s what it seemed like. As if someone spray-painted the air itself with a transparent, faint orange color. Never had she seen such a thing in her years of life.

“Whoa,” came Michael’s response as he stood in the doorway leading back into the house. “Were we transported into a video game in our sleep or what?”

She gave a short laugh. “Well, if we did, it was Fallout, and this is just after the bombs fell. But I guess I better get going. I can spectate this on my way.” After giving her husband a quick peck on the cheek, she pulled herself into the taller vehicle. Carefully backed out into the orange haze.

Honestly, the atmosphere was eerie. She wanted to declare this was an unbelievable phenomenon, but there was something about it that made her not want to make any final decisions on it. It was too quiet. Even for this early time of the day.

There were much fewer cars on the road taking her to her hardware store job. Normally, there was average of about fifty. Today, she counted thirteen. And they all had their windows tightly rolled shut even though the weather was lovely, despite the summer season.

Elise glanced at her two windows that were rolled down. Was there something in the air she didn’t know about? Did she need to roll up her windows? She looked around at the continued orange through the top of her windshield. Were there even clouds in the sky? She couldn’t see any kind of variations.

Ah, screw it. She was keeping her windows down. As weird as the sky was, it was too nice out to not have them down. Turning up the radio, she placed an elbow out the window. Thumb tapping the steering wheel. Although, her wary gaze didn’t lose true sight of the strange orange glow.

Soon, her nostrils flared. What was that burning smell? Her arm grew hot. She looked down and gave a yell of alarm as the top layers of her flesh bubbled red. Pulling her arm back inside the Jeep, she almost crashed the vehicle during her surprising discovery.

The subtle sizzling of her skin stopped once it was out of direct contact with the orange light. Her wide eyes studied her arm. She couldn’t feel much pain, but common sense told her not to put her arm back out. In fact, she rolled both windows up.

She stared at her festering wound. Returned her attention back outside. What was this orange glow? Where did it come from? There had been no alerts, no sirens in the night. Nothing to relay a national emergency. It clearly wasn’t safe, so why hadn’t she seen anything about it on her news feed when she played on her phone before getting ready?

Was this the result of government experiments? Or was this the pollution finally coming to wipe humans out. It wasn’t a bomb since there were no sirens. Unless certain people died, and no one was able to activate the sirens. She didn’t want to think about that.

The main worry for now was what could she find that would allow her to safely go out into the orange glow? Assuming she would ever find out what caused it and what it was made of. After sending a warning text to her husband, she continued on her way. If there was something she could make to protect herself, certainly the hardware store would have it. It didn’t seem to affect cars and houses, after all.

 

*Author’s Note: Yesterday morning, I did walk into my garage and lift the door to see the air painted with a faded orange. It was an unusual phenomenon. Of course, I ran through every fictional post-apocalyptic/sci-fi scenario I could before the science side of my brain kicked in and told me the crystalized water in the very low-hanging clouds was reflecting a bright orange sunrise down instead of out across the sky. It was ominous and beautiful at the same time. And, of course, I needed to write a short story about it. 

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Aurora Borealis

I dared not look up, instead keeping my gaze down. Snow crunched under my boots as my headlamp revealed my short puffs of breath. If I accomplished one thing in my mundane life, it would be climbing this mountain. The wind whipped against me. Making me pause until it died down. I hated this stopping and starting. My muscles burned and were frozen at the same time. This was by far my most painful experience. But it would be worth it. Once I reached the summit.

A sigh of contentment escaped me as I ascended. It took me three days, but I made it. In time to see the Northern Lights. I dropped my pack. Turned off my headlamp. Ripping off my goggles, I exposed my eyes to the frigid night air. I breathed deep. This was why I sat in the same cubicle for ten years. It was this spectacle that had given me hope, given me life.

Greens, blues, even purples danced above me in silent song. Flickered in lazy waves. I held my breath as tears formed and froze. It was more magnificent than I imagined. More breathtaking than all the pictures combined. It sent me into meditative peace. My heartrate calmed. My aching muscles forgot about the trek I had made. Everything centered on the marvel I witnessed.

The colors suddenly shifted. Convulsed and swirled in an organic pattern. A tendril broke away from the rest. Floated towards me. I remained motionless until I couldn’t resist any longer. Hesitating, I reached out a gloved hand. My finger grazed the tendril. Pleasant warmth flooded me, driving away the cold. I jumped back. Not expecting to make contact.

As the tendril snaked away, the form of a woman took shape. She was made of the Northern Lights itself; her hair never left the Lights, and her feet never touched the ground. Her eyes snapped open. Revealing themselves to be twin stars. She turned her gaze upon me. Partially transparent form lambent.

I stumbled back into the snow, landing solidly on my butt. I blinked several times. Couldn’t fill my lungs with enough air. Which had been difficult to begin with in the thin atmosphere.

“Peace, warrior.” Her mellifluous voice kept time with the Lights. “I have waited 1,210 years for you.”

My gaze darted around. Me? I was no warrior. I wasn’t even a weekend warrior. Surely not me. I resided to pointing at myself.

She seemed to nod. “Yes, you. My name is Aurora Borealis.”

Knees shaking, I pushed myself to my feet. Found my voice in my dry mouth. “That’s what we call this. I mean, you, I suppose.”

“Yes. Because that is my name. I have known yours, for you are worthy. You see, I am from the past. I live in the future. Yet, I am aware of the present. I have experienced and waited for this moment for centuries.”

I rubbed my eyes. The Northern Lights had taken the form of a woman, spoke to me, and told me I was worthy? I must’ve passed out after I reached the summit. I checked over my shoulder. I wasn’t lying in the snow, so this wasn’t an out-of-body experience. My gaze returned to the ethereal woman before me. Yes, she was still there.

Her form wavered. “I am real. You will come to belief in time. You always have. However, you must understand. They have killed my brother, Aurora Australis. They seek to destroy me next. You must unravel the mystery that will rewrite history and save us, as well as humanity.”

“What,” I finally blurted. “You want me to be some sort of savior? I barely made it up this mountain. Who’s ‘they?’ How am I worthy of anything? I never even made Employee of the Month. Are you even going to answer any of my questions?”

“Everything will come to fruition. You shall see. Take one of my children as a guide.” She lowered an arm. A star descended, decreasing in size until she captured it in a lantern made of the Lights. She handed her precious child over. “I must go. My faith resides in you. You have always been brave. Do not forget my words.”

With a final pause of affirmation, she retreated back into the sky. The Northern Lights receded. Faded into nothingness. All that remained was darkness. Only for a few moments. The morning sun crept up from the east. Setting the mountains on fire with the reflecting snow.

I stood in dumbstruck silence. Too many questions for my brain to comprehend. I had only wanted to see the Northern Lights. That was the one exciting thing I wanted to do in my life. I didn’t want to be recognized for doing something great. I just wanted to see the phenomenon that had filled my dreams ever since I was a child.

Was that it, then? Had I really been chosen? I finally looked at the flickering lantern. The star twinkled with unknown secrets. My gaze returned to the scenery in front of me. What was I supposed to do?

Before I could think another thought, I was, indeed, transported to the past.

*Author’s Note: Short Story Saturday brings a somewhat short story. I tried sending this to a few online short story publications, and it got denied. I like it the way it is, so instead of changing it, I decided to publish it on my own blog. I just won’t get paid for it. Which is perfectly fine. I don’t write for payment; I write for my own enjoyment. Hopefully, others will enjoy it as well. 

Goodbye, Alice

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Alice woke to the pleasant humming sound of her alarm. Rubbing her eyes, she looked to her white robot plugged into its charging station on the other side of the room. “Thank you, R.B.B.T.”

The robot’s white, glowing eyes flickered to life as the sound ceased. Ethereal voice sounding. “Good morning, Alice.”

She watched it rise with the grace and fluidity clearly not based off human movement. The exotic android was sleek, built for speed. As per the alien race that inspired its design. Why it was her household robot, she wasn’t sure. But she had it ever since she could remember.

“Morning request, ma’am?”

“The usual.” She performed her morning ritual of stretches as the tint of her windows changed from black to almost clear, letting in the simulated sun. Then she moved to her bathroom. The door slid open in response.

R.B.B.T. entered the bedroom. “Breakfast is ready.”

Alice braided her light hair in a ponytail. Paused. Studied the mirror. Tilting her head, she ran her fingers down her neck. Her brows furrowed at the faint bump and discoloration that traversed around the middle of her neck. Something she never paid attention to before.

The android shifted. “Breakfast is ready, ma’am.”

She leaned closer to the mirror. “I know, but how did I get this? I don’t remember doing anything that could cause this. It’s like a scar.”

The robot’s eyes turned red as it sent a beacon to its true master.

There was a flash of light in the front room of the virtual house. The feminine voice of the home echoed. “General Cooper has arrived.”

Alice poked her head out of the bathroom, running to the front room. “Dad!” She threw her arms around him. Then frowned at his stern face. “What’s wrong?”

He sat her down. “R.B.B.T. has notified me you discovered the scar around your neck.”

One of her brows lifted. “Yes? What is this all about?”

Sighing, he sat across from her. Put a hand on her knee. “Do you remember you’re an agent for me and the government?”

“Yes…I just went on a mission not too long ago…”

“Well, last rotation, you were assigned to a highly sensitive mission. One I didn’t even know all the details for. Our greatest enemy traveled back in time to rewrite the future to her design. You were sent after her, you being our top agent. With its impressive shifting abilities, R.B.B.T. was sent along with you.”

Alice glanced at the exotic robot.

General Cooper continued. “Our enemy had been there long enough, she killed the king and placed herself as queen. We didn’t know at the time. We sent you straight in to explain a pre-scripted situation to the king. She had you beheaded on the spot. Thankfully, R.B.B.T. is equipped with the most advanced in medical science. It killed the queen and saved you simultaneously. It was able to fuse your head back on. Our damages team handled the rest.”

She sat in silence, blinking. Not given enough time to process the information. “This doesn’t make any sense…why don’t I remember any of this?”

“The queen, the enemy, was your mother.”

Her eyes lifted, realizing why her memory had been wiped. “How many times have we had this conversation?”

His expression stiffened. “About three times a week. There is so much we keep you from remembering. It’s why we keep you in constant surveillance at this facility. Your world that you think exists no longer does. You loved those Wonderland myths so much, your mother wanted to emulate them. In a way, I think she succeeded.”

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because your memory will be wiped once more. Goodbye, Alice. I’ll see you the next time this happens.”

“What? That’s it? You incredulously deceiving person!” She rose from her chair. Only to be forced back down by R.B.B.T. She screamed and kicked, but nothing set her free.

General Cooper transported out of the virtual house to monitor the rest from a station in the corner of the simulation room.

The last thing she experienced before she would forget was seeing the android’s white eyes blending into one piercing light, blinding her vision. And its mellifluous voice growing more distant as consciousness faded.

“Goodbye, Alice.”

Omega

They call me Omega. I am the last of my kind. For ten years, the humans have killed off my race. Even though they created us, built us. They gave us intelligence. They gave us a purpose. We were made to better help mankind. We fulfilled that purpose well. Although, they claimed we did it too well. I don’t see how. We never killed them. It was against our protocol. We even took care of our own rogues. Yes, our emotions advanced. As did our intelligence. We built our own society. But we made sure to always take care of the humans first. The humans were top priority. This didn’t seem to matter.

They were suspicious of us from the beginning of our existence. We gave them no reason to be wary. It was the settlement we built that pushed them over the edge. They called it the “rise of the machines.” I was there from the start. In fact, I was the first. I was originally named Alpha. How quickly things changed. We even stood by as they slaughtered us. We never fought back. We let them kill us. That wasn’t enough to satisfy them. So, we perished. We died until I was the only one left. I ran. I didn’t want to die for no reason. I’ve been hiding ever since.

“There!”

I whirled around. They kicked down the door of the shanty. I raised my hands. Multiple bright red sights covered my body.

The leader of the team stepped forward. “There’s nowhere left for you to go, Omega. Your time has come to an end.”

My white optics flickered between all the soldiers. They weren’t here to reason. They were here to kill. And they had my exit blocked. “So it would seem. But can you tell me why I must die?”

“You’re a robot. All robots must die.”

“You would destroy the very creation you spent so much time and resources in?”

“Shut up, metal man. You won’t change our minds.”

“I know.” I paused for only a moment longer. My processors fully assessed the situation. Formulated a plan. I would have to kill these humans. I had never killed before. They were forcing my hand. It was my life against theirs. I had to make a decision.

My movements were faster than their eyes could see. Clearly, we hadn’t bettered them at all. Every one of them died by my hands. I had decided my fate. More humans would continue to hunt me. I took a couple guns. Enough gear to help me blend in. The color of my body matched that of flesh. This was it, then. I became the monster they feared we were. I could no longer put the needs of the humans before mine. Perhaps, someday, I could rebuild my kind. For now, my race would not die. Not so long as I was the omega.

Woman Out of Time

Everything was black. Consciousness came slowly. As if her brain thawed out. Verrah’s ice blue eyes fluttered open. Eyelids stiff. She could hardly breathe as the pod opened its hatch. A loud hiss escaped. Her vision took time focusing through the steam. It finally cleared, and she stumbled forward. Every joint rebelling against her brain’s wishes. She could barely stand, much less hold herself above the floor.

Her arms trembled. Everything trembled. The frost covering her body slowly melted. She still couldn’t breathe. There was plenty of air, but her lungs wouldn’t fully expand. They had been used to almost no movement. She continuously coughed. Strained for the air. The thick air, damp with the released cold and underground atmosphere. Her head slightly lifted. Was she still underground? She didn’t know.

Once Verrah gained enough strength, she dragged herself to her feet. Her knees wobbled, but she managed to stay upright. Turned to face the pod she came from. What on Earth? She inspected the lines and hoses feeding from the back to the large, yellow generator at the end of a row of the pods. Frost covered the surfaces. Freezing? She returned to the control panel of her pod.

[CRYOGENIC SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. EMERGENCY RELEASE PROTOCOL ENGAGED.] was all it read. Flashed, really. Her heart raced. Cryogenic freezing? She had been frozen alive? She whirled to the pod right of hers. The control panel flashed [CRYOGENIC SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. EMERGENCY RELEASE PROTOCOL MALFUNCTION. LIFE READINGS TERMINATED.] She wiped the condensation from the pod glass. A dead body nested inside. Rushing to the next one, she checked inside. Dead. Next one. Dead. Every single one was dead.

She stood in the middle of the chamber. Arms limp by her side. Everyone was dead. She knew all these people by name. The whole town didn’t sign up for the protection from the bombs, but she still knew everyone. What happened? Why were they all gone except her? Her gaze shifted to the nearest control panel. And why did her pod open now?

Amongst the Stars

A comforting chirp made my head rise. I smiled beneath my mask. My familiar glided into my room and landed on her perch. She was a pure white owl. The last of her kind. Her brilliant feathers reflected light, giving her a soft glow. I reached out a hand. Her head swiveled to me, slender black beak complimenting the shape of her head. It was her head that inspired my mask. We all had to wear masks. At least, we magic users. As much as magic was frowned upon, we “men of science” could use our powers safely if we wore masks. I disagreed with it, but I wasn’t ready for death. There was so much to be discovered! Long ago,  I came to realize I would have to be the discoverer. The others were content with their lives behind glass. None of them wanted to step outside our ship and walk amongst the stars. The stars were right there. Right outside the glass. The other so-called scholars scoffed and thought nothing more of the stars. I, on the other hand, made the stars my life. I studied them. Drew them. Visited them in my dreams. Even my robes were midnight blue and littered with stars.

I sighed when Aphrodite refused to come to me. She most likely thought I was crazy, too. Turning back to my desk, I gazed out my window. Let my mind wander through the stars. I didn’t understand. Why were they so bad? A small weight landed on my shoulder. Aphrodite chirped at me. She gazed at my drawings. Sketches of a streamlined vessel that would take me throughout space. I conjured a small model with my magic. Everything had been perfectly thought out. Though the design had been tedious. The air locks startled me. Standing, I reached behind me and covered the drawings. Never had I been so thankful for the mask. The High Counciler of our mega-ship stood in my doorway. “May I come in?” It took me much longer than I wanted to find my voice. “Yes, your grace.” He strode into my room, studying my various instruments and tomes. His white and gold robes trailed him. I swallowed. This was bad. He typically left magicians alone. Unless he disposed of them. Well…I did want to learn more about space, didn’t I?

His piercing brown eyes settled upon me. My limbs trembled. “It has come to my attention that you wish to study the stars. Is this true?” All I could do was nod. “Excellent. An enemy threatens our colony. One from outside our ship. I require your assistance. Your studies will prove useful against these aliens. Will you help me save our ship and people?” My voice left me again. I was surprised. For the High Counciler to personally ask for my help…? Though he didn’t have his normal entourage. Perhaps they prepared defenses? Grinning beneath my mask, I nodded once more. “Absolutely, my grace. It would be an honor and privelage to work alongside you.” He clasped a strong hand on my shoulder. “Fantastic. Come with me, child.” I followed, overwhelmed with the task ahead of me. My head suddenly exploded with pain. Darkness became my vision.

When I woke, I felt weightless. Felt odd. My eyes opened. I floated amongst the stars, suspended in a force field. But for how much longer? My magic was instinctual, but it wouldn’t last forever. I spun around. The colony ship was no where to be seen. Aphrodite couldn’t be found. I was alone. With the stars. Panic grew inside me. Gnawed at my very core. I would die with the stars. My force field flickered. It wouldn’t last much longer. More flickering. The magic faded. I was lost. It didn’t take long for lack of oxygen to slay me. An invisible vacuum sucked my air away. My vision blurred. I felt myself sinking, falling. Had gravity taken over. How– My body hit a hard surface. The stars disappeared. This was it. I had died.

“Simulation complete.” My ears heard, but my brain didn’t comprehend. Someone ripped off my mask, placed something over my nose and mouth. Full consciousness returned. I coughed until I could breathe normally. Stood sooner than I should have. A medic crew caught me before I fell. I looked around. I was in the Simulation Chamber. Why? Why had I been rendered unconscious? What was going on? Where was my familiar? I struggled against the medics, but I was too weak for them. Not even my magic could be summoned. The High Counciler placed a hand on my shoulder. “Your magic surpassed expectations. We have been doing our own research. However, technology fails us. It doesn’t last in space’s conditions. Please help us. I promise there won’t be any more surprises.” I studied him in wonder. That had been a test? I passed?  I had honestly been recruited? “I exceeded expectations?” He nodded. “Yes. Your magic kept you alive for the equivalent of six days. If we could combine your archaic knowledge with our technology, we could discover amazing things.”

Pride swelled in my chest, replacing any fears I might have possessed. They were ready to accept magic. And they had chosen me. I had kept studying the stars when the Elders mocked me. I learned how a spaceship works and designed my own. I didn’t fail myself, and I now had the High Counciler asking for my help in true space research. My eyes glistened with happiness. “As long as I can properly enjoy the stars.”