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Phoenix Rising

Malia Kawaguchi has always been a writer, from frantically scribbling Lord of the Rings and Lost Boys fanfics in junior high notebooks, to working as a speechwriter for a state Senator in Hawaii, to writing a weekly parenting column for the AOL site Patch.com. This publication in Daily Science Fiction, however, is her first fiction sale. She could not be more delighted.

When not living in her own head, Malia lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, her daughter, two cats, and a dog. As a new author, she does not have much of an online presence yet, but she keeps track of things she adores at liasloves.tumblr.com. Story Notes on Phoenix Rising This story, like all my stories, started with a “What if?” The particular “what if” was triggered by a lunch discussion with fellow writers Carla Dugas, Gordon Bonnet, and Jill Webb during last summer’s Cascade Writer’s Workshop (http://cascadewriters.com). We ate spicy Thai food and mused about how ungodly hot Phoenix is. Why on earth would a city in an already scorching location be designed so poorly that it’s hotter in the city than in the surrounding desert? This base of this story was my answer. Then, in Cat Rambo’s Advanced Story Workshop (http://www.kittywumpus.net), the lead character was added, and the story became complete. My thanks to everyone involved in its creation.
The reporters keep asking how we could possibly have missed them. "Little green men in our backyard, and the eggheads at Steward didn't even notice." The press just eats that story up.
So when I talk publicly, I start with the fact that we're not SETI. We're astronomers. Plus, the observatory is closer to Tucson than Phoenix anyway. Not to mention, it's hard to notice something that's always just there. I mean, they were here for a thousand years.
[My wife was here with me just shy of twenty.]
And those "little green men" weren't green.
Besides, come on. It's not like we're the only ones who missed it. Yes, okay, we were wrong about that star-shaped petroglyph in White Tank Mountain Park. In retrospect, it's more likely that was a drawing of the alien's craft landing than of Supernova 1006. Twenty-twenty hindsight and all that. But there are more than a hundred miles of abandoned canals outside the city that the archeologists got wrong, too.
Of course, when you look back their impact was visible. But we were looking forward.
[Clean house. Happy kid. And the whole universe to distract me.]
They were patient and thorough. Waiting. Yes, they were really good at waiting. But that doesn't mean they didn't interfere.
They must have looked like us, or at least had the ability to, because we never noticed the company. Now that it doesn't matter, the historians tell us that the aliens intermingled the whole time they were here. They were outlaws in the desert in the early days, then sheriffs, city planners, businessmen. They made sure the city grew where and in the way it needed to, shaping it to their needs.
[She changed, the size of her body mirroring the size of her misery. My eyes stayed on the skies. She could not shape me to her needs.]
It tops 110 degrees about twenty days a year outside of Phoenix, yet it was regularly 15 degrees hotter in the city. Just exactly as if the city had been built as a heat amplifier.
As if.
And nobody ever noticed, except to complain. Never really asked why. We called it an Urban Heat Island, and thought that a name was an explanation.
[I never noticed her misery. Never asked why.]
The heat they stored in those devices under the canals must have been incredible. Building up that close to the city for a thousand years, and nobody ever saw.
[It must have felt like a thousand years to her, alone in a marriage. I don't know. I never saw.]
They weren't perfect. They made a mistake in March of 1997. Moved a ship into place at the wrong time. Thousands of people saw it. Even the governor. It could have been the end of secrecy.
It wasn't. Human complacency and insistence on normality triumphed as always. We certainly had our part in that, mocking the witnesses and calling the whole thing ridiculous. A carpenter's square in the sky? Impossible. It was flares. Balloons. Mass hysteria. Any explanation would do.
We looked away.
[She pulled away. Found someone who would notice her. I wonder where she met him. Jesus, could he have been one of them?]
And then, of course, the dust storm in July 2011. The wall of grit 80 kilometers wide and more than 1.5 kilometers tall. So thick, no light could escape. Brutal and gorgeous, it captivated the world. It was so cinematic, so otherworldly, so end of days. Even we astronomers took our eyes off the sky. It drew the attention of all of humanity. To the wrong place.
As it was designed to.
None of us looked up to see the sails unfurling.
[I see it now. In the pictures. She became so beautiful, losing the weight along with the unhappiness. She styled her hair. Smiled more. But all I could talk about was missing out on that promotion. Another distraction.]
And still, they waited. They waited until the planet was at the right point in its orbit. Until the right time of day. Until the city looked straight across the heavens toward their home. Trusting, correctly, in humanity's intentional ignorance.
[At least she waited until our son graduated.]
So now we know. We are not alone in the universe. Hell, until yesterday, we weren't even alone on Earth. We just didn't see them until we were watching them leave. Until all of the cameras of the world focused on the sails of their ships, as they rode the column of heat away from us, out of our atmosphere to the freedom of space, where movement doesn't cost so much. Until everyone on earth, not just us this time, watched the sky as we were left behind.
Until yesterday, we were not alone.
[I am.]
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 7th, 2014


This story, like all my stories, started with a "What if?" The particular "what if" was triggered by a lunch discussion with fellow writers Carla Dugas, Gordon Bonnet, and Jill Webb during last summer's Cascade Writer's Workshop. We ate spicy Thai food and mused about how ungodly hot Phoenix is. Why on earth would a city in an already scorching location be designed so poorly that it's hotter in the city than in the surrounding desert? This base of this story was my answer. Then, in Cat Rambo's Advanced Story Workshop, the lead character was added, and the story became complete. My thanks to everyone involved in its creation.

- Malia Robin Kawaguchi

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