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Tomorrow's Dawn

Milo James Fowler is a junior high English teacher by day and a writer by night. His work has recently appeared in Bards and Sages Quarterly and Ray Gun Revival, and is forthcoming in Shimmer. He currently resides in coastal Southern California with his beloved wife and a head full of potentially good ideas. Visit him anytime: in medias res milojamesfowler.com.

They say you never see the one that kills you. But they might have been referring to weapons fire in an open battlefield, not a plasma charge on a crowded lunar tube.
He sits facing me, and the way he's looking me right in the eye, I have a feeling this will be the end. With the close proximity, I'll see his green hand reach for it, concealed beneath his double-breasted, razor-sharp pressed suit.
These aliens and their penchant for outdated human fashions.
I force a pleasant facial expression even as my intestines seize up, then start to swim. I'm at a loss for words--as if I know how to speak his language and can't think how to begin. Of all the seats on the train, he had to take that one?
The folks standing in the aisle--a cheaper fare, and far less comfortable--grip straps bolted to the transparent plasticon ceiling and sway with the train's movement. They cast wary glances at the creature before me and mutter among themselves, pointing with their eyes as obviously as any three-year-old seeing her first monster.
It's clear to me what they're thinking: This alien gets to ride in a seat while they can only afford to stand, bumping against my shoulder and apologizing every time. But there's really no need. I'm not North American; I have no proximity issues.
Except with this creature staring at me, daring me to make the first move. It's in his yellow cat eyes, the knowledge we share. He's going to kill us all. And the idiots in the aisle care only that a member of a conquered species can afford to sit in comfort.
In the black above, the Eros Nebula swims in slow motion beyond the stark horizon, a cratered landscape devoid of the atmosphere required for spectacular sunsets. Here, the sun goes down and the nebula instantly takes its place on stage. I could stare at the vacillating hues of pink, violet, and crimson for hours if I had the time.
But now I give them only a cursory glance. This suicidal terrorist demands my full attention, sitting as rigid as a monolith with scaly hands on his knees, black claws extended, nearly piercing the thin fabric of his slacks.
When I was a teen, one of these green freaks blew up a tube filled with school children returning from a field trip. Their bodies--what was left of them--flew upward to float out into the cold depths of space, rotating end to end like they were part of some elaborate choreography. I saw the footage online, my kid sister among them.
That was a decade after the Colonial Wars. We'd beaten the green freaks and taken everything they had. We were the explorers from Earth, and they were the indigenous peoples to be subjugated. Only some refused the change in status.
In the past twenty years, there have been isolated incidences of violence, usually tied to a certain faction calling itself their guttural word for liberty. That's what we think it means, anyway. Our Prime Minister has assured us that Lunar Colony Six has nothing to fear. The aliens allowed to live with us have been screened extensively, and they are harmless--our servants, our plumbers, our laborers who break their backs while we watch, knowing they are nothing close to human.
Yet this one who watches me was able to afford a seat on this train--a rarity in itself. And he looks at me as if I am the one who does not belong here, or who won't be here for very long. None of us will, if I'm right about this.
But what can I do? Lunge for him as soon as he makes his move? These things have twice the strength of any man. That's what they tell me, anyway. I'm an accountant; I've never seen combat myself.
I clear my throat and he cocks his head sharply to the side as if curious whether I'm attempting to communicate.
"No, I--" I gesture at my neck region and realize I'm the first to break the silence between us. "Never mind." He wouldn't understand me anyway.
"I have watched you," he croaks in a fair attempt at the Common speech. "You looking nervous."
The folks in the aisle fall silent, as does every other human nearby. Their eyes turn to me, to see what I will say or do next.
"It's been a long day." I loosen my tie. Why am I talking to this thing? I glance back at the nebula through the ceiling. My last chance to enjoy this glorious sight.
"It ending."
I stare into his bulbous eyes, the black stripes of vertical irises impossible to read. "Is that so?" I have to clear my throat again, but I don't have the strength. "Will there be another?"
Seemingly in reply, the creature reaches into his suit just as I imagined, and instead of lunging at him and wrestling away the plasma charge that he or something very much like him used on that school tube twenty years ago, I find myself unable to move, rigid and bearing down on my seat, clenching my teeth together as I await the inevitable blast of bone-crushing heat, cursing my own cowardice in the interim.
Of everyone on board, only I know what will happen next. Yet I do nothing. I am going to let us all die at this alien's green hands.
What a waste of humanity.
"Nine lunar hours." The thing holds an ancient timepiece retrieved from an inside pocket on a fine copper chain. His eyes flick from it to me. His teeth, glistening needles, rows of them without any apparent order, flash in some hideous mockery of a smile. "And tomorrow dawns."
Unwilling to exhale, I nod and dare to hope he's right.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Author Comments

I enjoy serving jury duty as much as the next guy. Last summer, during a lunch break from the courthouse, I took the trolley to one of my favorite taco shops. On the way, three men came aboard and seated themselves around me, speaking in Arabic and drawing wary glances from fellow passengers who whispered among themselves. The men were oblivious, both to me and their surroundings, talking in excited tones and showing each other pens, staplers, T-shirts, and canvas bags, all emblazoned with the same company logo. Each man wore a name tag with the logo on it and JORDAN underneath. My guess: they were in town for a business convention. The way I saw it, I had two options: maintain the invisible wall between us until my stop, or do something to bridge the gap. I chose the latter. And I'll never forget those five minutes that started out tense and awkward--as if I had somehow invaded their self-imposed protective bubble--and ended with laughter, one of them trying to staple my jury pamphlet, and another one offering me a piece of their loot (a pen). Somehow, this experience came to lay the foundation for "Tomorrow's Dawn"--a story about fear, rooted in an unchangeable past, and hope for a future that is not set in stone.

- Milo James Fowler
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