By T.M. Catron

Sci-Fi, Thriller

Paperback, eBook

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6 mins


CALLA CROUCHED ALONE IN DARKNESS, waiting for the best day of her life. Her whole body tingled. Everything was ready. She was ready.

The air on the ship, usually cold and still, carried an electric charge that echoed the current of anticipation running down to Calla’s bones. Tonight, small warships would break off from Condar and travel to Earth, just like her masters had planned. Tonight, countless covert operations on Earth would culminate into one ultimate mission. Her masters, the Condarri, would descend. Earth would change forever.

All she needed was the signal from her commander.

A twinge of jealousy shot through Calla, and she indulged it a moment, tasting its bitterness on her tongue. Second in command wasn’t good enough. Could never be enough.

Her heartbeat quickened, beating out a staccato inside her chest—quick, hard thumps that forced extra oxygen to her brain and limbs. She tensed, relishing the flow of adrenaline that accompanied it. Dar Ceylin had beaten her out of command, and fairly. She didn’t have to like it.

But she needed to accept it.

To give in to her jealousy was to give in to the DNA that made Calla look like one of the humans below. And she would not be compared to them. Right now, they lived in ignorance. But a ship the size of the Moon waited above, ready to strike. Soon hundreds of smaller ships would split off from Condar and enter Earth’s atmosphere. One command separated the humans from destruction.

And it wasn’t Calla’s to give.

She breathed deeply, forcing the tension to leave her body. Her heart had no room for petty human jealousy. Calla existed to serve the other side of herself, the side containing sacred Condarri DNA. Condar’s will determined her will. And right now, its will was to occupy Earth.

Today was a day of celebration.

Whatever her feelings toward Dar Ceylin, the commander was loyal, unfailing, and unflinching. And Calla decided as long as he stayed out of her way, she would follow his orders.


THE PHONE BUZZED OUT A rhythm at least three times before Mina Surrey realized it was ringing. She turned over in bed with a groan, her hand reaching for the phone as it buzzed again.

Mina didn’t bother to look at the screen before she answered. Only one person ever called her this late—or early, depending on how she looked at it.

“Are you looking at this?” her older brother Lincoln asked.

She hummed, her brain not yet fully awake.

“Mina? Do you think this is real? Do you think they’re real? I mean, of course they are, right?”

“I’m not even sure this conversation is real. What time is it?”

“Ten p.m.”

“I meant what time is it in London?”

“I guess three? Were you sleeping?”

“I generally am at three in the morning.” Mina looked at her phone to confirm the time. The screen’s light blinded her, made her eyes water.

“So are you looking at this?” he repeated.

“Looking at what, Lincoln?” Mina didn’t try too hard to keep the irritation out of her voice.

“The TV. Turn it on.”

“What channel?”

“I don’t think it matters. Any news channel.”

That got her attention. Mina swung her legs out of bed, leaving the warmth of her blankets behind for the cool air of the hotel room. She shivered and groped around for the remote without turning on the lights.

The first station she found was showing helicopters circling a large . . . something . . . sitting in the Thames. Giant spotlights were trained on it. London’s skyline twinkled in the background. The caption scrolling along the screen was reporting a tower-like phenomenon had appeared in the river, just south of the Westminster Bridge.

“What do they mean, appeared?” she asked.

“They don’t know how they got there.”


“They’re all over—every major city in the world. At least fifteen in the US.”

Mina and Lincoln stayed on the phone without talking, each watching their respective stations while more news came in. Eventually, the news outlets had better video. The towers were bastions of rock, tall as any skyscraper, but looking more like giant lumps of coal fallen from a giant’s hand than man-made buildings. Whether they had been thrust up from the Earth’s crust or cast down from above, no one knew.

And they were spreading, like a rampant disease that didn’t acknowledge international boundaries or bodies of water. Reports came trickling, then flooding in about the same occurrences in Australia, China, and Russia. And still no one could explain how they got there. People had gone to bed just like they always did, worried about jobs and school and family. And they woke to sentinels of rock planted outside their cities.

The sun rose while Mina channel surfed. She wanted official information. But no one was offering any.

“Hey, can you find CNN?” Lincoln asked. He hadn’t spoken in over an hour. But for some reason neither of them had been willing to drop the connection.

Mina flipped through the channels—the hotel room TV didn’t have a channel guide—and found it. “. . . but are these human terrorists or extraterrestrials?” a journalist was asking, her eyebrows knitted together as she leaned forward at the table.

“Sorry? I don’t quite follow,” said the man across from her. He glanced at the camera. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead and into his bushy eyebrow.

Mina recognized the journalist—she was from a local British program, one known for dubious speculation on the best of days. Why had CNN had picked it up?

The man sat across the table from the newscaster in jeans and a scruffy beard. The caption below him read George Bentlane, expert on alien intelligence. Mina snorted.

Bentlane picked a piece of lint from his shirt and brushed it onto the table.

“Have you been to see the structure, Mr. Bentlane?” the journalist repeated.

“Yes. I went up this morning before the police brought out the dogs.”

“And would you describe it to our viewers? What was it like up close?”

“It really is like a massive stone wall,” said Bentlane. “Watching on the telly, I thought it looked like a piece of shale sticking up out of the Thames. Like a long shard of rock fell out of the sky and landed nose down in the river. Up close, it still looks like that, only you can see it gleams, really gleams, like polished stone. And it’s black like onyx. And there’s just something about the feeling you get from being around the stone. It’s not quite right. Stone is stone, but this is something more.”

“And that’s why you feel it’s not of human origin?”

“Oh no, can’t be. Tell me, what terrorist group . . . no, no . . . what entity of any sort in the world has the ability to plant these structures overnight without anyone seeing them do it or leaving any evidence behind? I’m surprised anyone’s even considering terrorists.”

“Oh I’m sure someone somewhere will have filmed it. This is a digital world after all. We just have to find the people who are holding out on us. Frankly I’m surprised no one has put up video online yet.”

Bentlane shook his head. “That’s because no one has any. And if extremists placed these walls, they did not discriminate. All countries, regions, and religions are affected.”

The camera cut away from Bentlane to display more helicopter footage of the phenomenon in London, this time showing it in the full light of day. Mina thought the jagged piece of rock really did look like it had sloughed off a larger one. It glimmered dully in the weak evening light. The camera panned around the lip of the black wall, showing an overhang of several hundred feet. The rock reminded Mina of a tangram puzzle, two-dimensional and balancing on its end.

“It’s interesting you should call it a shard of rock,” the newscaster said over the camera footage, “because we have new estimates that this wall—or tower, as people are calling it—is at least as tall as The Shard, which is the tallest building in London, as I’m sure you know. That’s really massive, ladies and gentlemen, really massive. And I hope you’re getting a sense of just how . . .”

“Aliens,” said Lincoln, interrupting. His tone suggested he was joking. But underneath it ran a tenor of worry.

“You mean like all those movies you made me watch as a kid?” Mina asked.


“So aliens land in all the cities of the world, burning as they go, and the only people who can stop it are a mismatched gang of volunteers which includes the most powerful man of a very powerful country. But it turns out the aliens aren’t planning a hostile takeover, just looking for a little baby alien that they lost. And he’s out making friends with a human boy somewhere out in suburbia.”

“You’re mashing together two different movies.”

Mina knew that. She only wanted to annoy Lincoln for taking the theory so seriously, and for scaring her just a little.

“I need to see what’s going on at the University,” she said when she couldn’t tolerate sitting and watching any more of it.

“You’re going back to Oxford?”

“What else should I do?”

Her weekend vacation in London wasn’t exactly going as she’d planned.

The answer hung between them: Come home.

As if to confirm it, the next news segment covered the growing lines at airports and bus stations. Governments had already set up no-fly zones around the towers. How long before they grounded flights altogether?

“There’s no reason to fly to Boston,” Mina said as if they’d been discussing it.


“It would be a waste of money. And my dissertation won’t write itself.” She only had a few months left.


Mina weighed the decision, shifting back and forth on her feet in front of the television. On one hand, the airports were already crowded. Why add one more person to the mix? On the other, what harm would one more person do?

A sudden sense of urgency took hold of Mina, and the wiser option of staying put moved back to a niggling corner of her brain. Her mind made up, she grabbed the first clothes she could find—already-worn jeans, clean tshirt, and favorite gray sweater. Only low-heeled boots to wear. Not exactly the best choice for walking through sprawling airports.

Mina put her brother on speakerphone while she pulled it all on. “So I’ll call you as you soon as I know flight details.”

“Okay. If you have trouble getting through, call my office.”

“I won’t have trouble getting through.”

“I know. But if you do . . .”

“Right, yeah, okay.” She didn’t want Lincoln to finish the thought. Everything would be fine. She would be fine.

“Want me to pick you up at the airport?” he asked.

She glanced in the mirror to make sure she was presentable, no clothes on inside-out or buttons undone. She didn’t bother with make-up—never wore much anyway. Her curly brown hair got piled on top of her head in a messy bun that screamed thirty-year-old graduate student. But no time to worry about it now. If she got to the airport soon, maybe she’d get lucky and get a flight out today.

“Trying to be the dutiful older brother?” she asked.

“I can’t help it, no matter what it does to your feminist sensibilities.”

Lincoln’s jab at her worldview didn’t bother Mina—she was used to it coming from him. And he knew very well that she could work stuff out on her own.

“So do you want me to get you or not?”

“I’ll call you.”

“Okay. Hey, and Mina—”


But she didn’t find out what he was about to say. The connection had been dropped.



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