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art by Ron Sanders

Wedding Day

Brian Trent is a 2013 winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Competition for his story "War Hero," and has since sold fiction to Apex, COSMOS, Escape Pod, Electric Velocipede and Galaxy's Edge. His story "Sparg" appeared in Daily Science Fiction's August 6, 2013 edition. He writes in a wide variety of subgenres from military sci-fi to alternate history, and his nonfiction work has been published in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and Humanist magazine. Trent resides in Connecticut where, in addition to writing science-fiction novels, he works in film. His website is briantrent.com.

During the wedding in Niantic Falls, people tried not to look at the white light in the sky. The overcast heavens reflected on the lake like a massive gray mirror, but the grassy embankment where the wedding party assembled seemed as bright as emerald. Even the pale lawn chairs glowed softly.
There had been some discussion of dispelling with the tradition of keeping brides' side and grooms' side separate, particularly since the two groups were so wildly uneven. A full hundred attendees crowded the chairs on the brides' side of the green hill. They gazed wonderingly across the aisle to the mere two dozen guests of the grooms who had come to their lakeside village.
Adding to the wonder were the manners of the visitors. Their antics bordered on the bizarre. One frail old guest was heard muttering, "The water! The basin is filled with so much water!" Others continually sniffed at the flower arrangements and marveled at fruit platters and the musicians in the nearby gazebo. The grooms themselves were more discreet, but still odd. They were, despite their sharp suits (given and fitted to them that morning by the town as part of the arrangement) a famished, hard-tumbled lot with desperate eyes and worn skin.
"They act like they've never seen food before!" Mrs. Hastings, gossip of Niantic Falls, snorted.
But then she felt the hand of Father Labelle on her shoulder. His red face, with its penumbra of white beard clinging to his jawline, admonished her.
"These people are our guests," he said sternly. "Let us show them Niantic Falls hospitality."
Mrs. Hastings squinted in the white light of the sky, looking ready to argue with the priest. But she ultimately bowed and glanced away. Father Labelle patted her shoulders affectionately and headed to the microphone stand at the pulpit.
Weddings were often a teary affair and this day was no different. There was even a minor scandal. Ten brides stood to Father Labelle's right, and ten out-of-town grooms formed a line to his left; when the priest reached the point in the ceremony where he asked if anyone present had reason to object, young Krystina Dahms leapt up and cried, "Please let me be a bride! Please! I can farm! I studied architecture! I can contribute!"
She was quickly escorted off premises while she babbled and wept that her infertility shouldn't make her ineligible to marry the visitors.
Father Labelle paused to gaze across the quiet lake. Oaks and sycamores and pines thrust against the horizon like the wall of a mythical city. Krystina Dahms' cry seemed to hover in the breeze.
"You can't take her with you?" Father Labelle asked the nearest groom, in a voice so soft that it might have been a rustle of leaves.
The groom shook his head. "I am sorry, Father. There aren't enough resources for someone who--"
The stranger trailed off. Finally, he too looked at the gray water reflecting a gray sky and the white light above all.
The ceremony continued. The trees began to sway, and the lake breeze transformed into a fierce gust.
Twenty repetitions of "I do" followed with an urgency that made everyone uncomfortable. Father Labelle nodded to the musicians as the newly betrothed led the way to dinner. Here, Mrs. Hastings' snide remarks about the visitors' manners proved justified. Ten grooms stuffed their faces with fruits and vegetables and fine meats. Some were even seen filling their pockets.
Krystina Dahms was finally allowed to return to the ceremony. To her credit, she carried herself with head held high, and the jokes at her expense quickly melted away, replaced by respect and sympathy. She went to her sister, a fertile bride with knowledge of medicine, and kissed her, and then she kissed the groom's cheek. As she did, she was seen to whisper something in his ear, and to clutch his hand, and people murmured that she was making one last appeal to go with them. And when her sister's husband whispered something back to her, and she stifled a new cry, the tension in the audience was tight enough to nearly snap. But she retired quietly to the refreshments table, and began to drink.
As the last of the desserts was eaten (or else stuffed into the pockets of the grooms), Father Labelle gathered the out-of-towners into a huddle.
"You'll take good care of them," he said. A question, and an insistence.
"We shall, Father. We need them. I wish we could take all of you."
"You can't?"
"We can only sustain a small population."
The priest sighed. "God be with you."
"And also..." the groom stopped, looking flustered and embarrassed. The two men beheld each other. The priest was twenty years older, but he seemed a cherubic child near the pitted, emaciated visitors. The bruise-colored sky deepened to evening. The white light in the sky washed the hill and lake and guests in harsh, cruel radiance.
"My best, Father," the groom offered.
"No," Father Labelle said softly, "You're taking our best. Doctors, farmers, craftswomen, engineers..."
"We'll give them the chance at life they don't have here. In return, they'll help all of us. They'll help everyone... everyone who remains."
One by one, the newly married wives bid farewell to their families. One by one, they crossed over to the grooms' side of the aisle.
The frail old man who had shown such amazement at the lake twisted a strange contraption on his wrist.
The air grew heavy. There was a loud buzz and crackle. The grooms' party vanished. The empty lawn chairs scattered and toppled.
Father Labelle wiped his eyes and whispered, "The future now has our best. May that bring them hope."
The white light in the sky bleached the shadows. At long last, everyone looked up. Krystina Dahms, her eyes full of bitterness, raised her champagne glass in a mocking toast.
And the asteroid struck.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Author Comments

Most of my stories grow out of a setting; in this case, it was the real-life locale of a good friend's wedding weekend. Held by a lakeside in a remote, mountainous corner of Connecticut, the ceremony might have inspired a painter to render the scene in oil on canvas. Or, if you're a science-fiction writer, it might inspire images of a searing light growing brighter in the sky... and a group of out-of-timers with a grim bargain to offer.

- Brian Trent
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