A Completionist’s Reckoning

Relaxation does not come naturally to me. In fact, it seldom comes at all.

Today is a sterling example of that. It’s Labor Day, a day that is for the express purpose of relaxation and enjoyment. I’m in my house, alone. My wife is traveling for work, our oldest is away at college, and our other three kids are with their parents. I have no responsibilities. And yet, upon awakening, my mind begins its ritual of organizing what need to be done. Task after task fills the list. Within the first few minutes of my day, before I have put my feet on the floor, I have a to-do list. It is in my nature to want to complete things. Not just tasks, but most everything in my life is done in pursuit of completion of some sort.

To that end, I am a utilitarian at heart. Things should serve a purpose, and ideally multiple ones. For instance, how I dress and what clothes I purchase. I have four pairs of shoes: sneakers, work shoes, flip flops, and boots. My sneakers are combination of running and hiking shoes, a sort of cross-trainer shoe. My work shoes are, as their name implies, for work or if I have a need to dress up. Flip flops are for summer. Boots are….well, boots. Each shoe has its purpose. Beyond that, my shorts tend to be cargo style, for the obvious reason that they are versatile. I have two pairs of jeans. I can wear them to work, so again, multi-purpose. My shirts are geared towards comfort and the ability to be worn for a variety of occasions. My wardrobe is built to help me accomplish tasks.

My utilitarian bent pervades my life. This makes it even more difficult to appreciate the moment; any moment, really.

Parenting is like this for me as well. Instead of reveling in the glorious chaos of my teenagers becoming adults, I tend towards extrapolating out their current behaviors into their adult lives. Believing that nearly everything is a life lesson, and it’s my job to imbue those lessons to them. Another box checked.

Even with things I enjoy, I invoke my need to accomplish things. Video games have been part of my life since I was a child, and I still play quite a bit. Except now there are achievements to be had and challenges to complete. My brain simply cannot resist that beacon. As a result, games are not as fun for me as they used to be. When I play multiplayer with friends, I’m able to wrest my attention away from the list of things that are in need of doing. Happiness comes back to me in those games.

To say that me checking off things off my mental checklists is an obsession is a massive understatement. I keep believing that if I just keep plugging away and finish these inventories of jobs that are needing done, then I will find peace. The truth is that list never dwindles. I keep adding in more things to do. I am Sisyphus, and that list is my rock.

Stepping back from this way of living (and it clearly is that, since it rarely cedes control), I find this to be a rather sad system to navigate my days. It’s devoid of presence. I realize this mode of thinking has caused me to miss real moments with family and friends. I could have been engaged. Instead I leave that precious time to figure out ways to make it conform to my endless list.

I am aware of this glaring flaw, but I’m unsure what I can do to strip out the wiring of completionism that has governed me for so long.

I find that meditation helps…if I can force myself to stillness long enough to utilize that tool. Being motionless, coupled with the necessity of clearing one’s mind, feels antithetical to me. Worse, it makes me feel lazy. Even if logically I know this is the sort of self-care I need, conditioning rails against it.

As I age, this has escalated. My hourglass is closer to running out than beginning, so I dread leaving things undone. When I should be embracing the tiny wondrous snippets of life, I choose to plunge forward with yet another task. Why can I not simply enjoy the excitement of something happening in my children’s lives that has them giddy? Or sit in the breeze on the lovely patio we’ve created without plotting what’s next? To sit with my wife without searching for an activity to take me away from her?

Can I even do such a thing as nothing?

Certainly, there are times where I can do exactly that, but they are fleeting. It is never long before my hardwired tendencies overtake me again. Perhaps, I need a wire cutter. New breakers.

Whatever the solution, I hope I can find it soon. My time with my kids grows shorter. The world is opening up for them in many ways, and I want to share in that with them. I can’t do that if my mind is on that hill, stubbornly pushing a boulder that will roll back down.

Photo credit: Rajnish357

Decennium

It was another life.

Freshly separated, sitting in an empty home.

Bitterness still had its sway at this point. It demanded my fealty to singledom, despite my loneliness. I was prone to grand proclamations against coupling in general and marriage specifically.

I was awash in loneliness. In a quiet house, half emptied of furniture and completely emptied of children, I decided I needed some companionship. Online, I joined a site that was free, being that I was broke and broken. I dug in, reaching out to women, and largely getting no replies. Or if I did, their vocabulary was rather lacking. This was not going as I had hoped.

Then a photo captured my eye. A ginger haired lady, face half wreathed in darkness, hat slightly shielding her eyes, mischievous smirk curling the lighted side of her lovely face. There was an allure that was written in nuance, born of more than physical beauty, that enraptured me. I read her profile, and I was smitten. I knew I needed to craft a message that reached her level of intelligence and frivolity. I poured over every word, nervous that the tiniest mishap would ruin the opportunity to learn more of her.

Nerves jangling, I hit send.

I’m not certain, in hind sight, how long it was before I received a response. But I did get one. I could not stop smiling as I read it. She was beyond intriguing. She was beguiling.

Two weeks of long, winding, intense, scintillating conversation ensued. Usually these words flew between us well past the witching hour. Finally, I drew up the courage to ask her to meet. I felt confident that she’d say yes, considering our steamy flirtations and deep discussions on all things. Still, the possibility of her saying no and ending this buoyant euphoria scared me.

Fortunately, you agreed.

We decided to meet in a fast food parking lot, as it was right off the highway. Such was my excitement that I kissed you through a car window. I had not planned that; looking back that seems like a strange place to recount our first kiss. But we did, and I’m not sure if my feet touched the ground on my walk back to my car so you could follow me to our date.

That date was the very best first date I’ve ever had.

That date was also ten years ago. A decade. Decennium.

In the time since, we’ve lived quite a life: raising children and step children, purchased a house, got married, changed jobs, challenging each other and rising to those challenges, traveling (with and without kids), several terrifying moments but more amazing ones, building each other up.

You have been my greatest journey. I thank you for choosing me to weave our way along life’s path. I hope that I’ve been a partner that gives you joy and wonder, as you have been for me.

The years we’ve been collaborators on our story have been a gift beyond my hopes. Let’s keep adding pages and chapters, devotionals to our love and our voyage as one.

Happy decennium, Moon of my Life. Many more await us.

Sky Lessons

My day began at 4 AM. Had to catch a flight to work.

We all offer up pleas for help when we get on an airplane: “Please don’t let someone be sitting next to me. Or at least let it not be someone who I can’t handle being next to on this flying metal tube for the next several hours.”

I boarded and made my way to my seat. I had hit the anti-jackpot: a mother flying solo with a toddler who couldn’t be more than fifteen months old. Internally, I groaned. Externally, I avoided eye contact and put my carry-ons in the storage above. I took my seat.

A funny thing happened then. I sent a wary look to my right, expecting the worst. The little boy was squirmy and curious, having more energy than is rightful at that hour. The mom looked understandably exhausted. The wee one looked my way, and without a hint of hesitation, held his hands out to me, toddler-speak for “pick me up.”

And so I did. The mother looked at me, and I said, “No worries, I have four kids. They’re all too old for this. I’d like to help.”

Her face shed stress in an instant. Relief flowed forth. It could have been from having a person seated next to her who understood her plight. Maybe it was the respite of a few minutes without a tiny human crawling everywhere in a space that demands stillness.

For that hour flight, we took turns holding the child as he threw magazines and stuffed animals. I dutifully picked them up, gave them back only to have them thrown again. Such is entertainment to one so small.

We landed, and I helped her get out ahead of me; she had a connecting flight that they had to make in thirty minutes. She thanked me and I said that I was happy to help, and meant it. They then made their way to their destination.

I tell you all this not for any sort of kudos. I tell you this to share what I got out of this: my renewed desire for patience. I have struggled mightily with this of late, I confess. But like the mom I helped for a small span of time on a plane, most folks are doing the best they can in the moment. I need to do the same. They need me to meet them there, with empathy and patience.

All it took was a rambunctious child sitting next to me on a plane who wanted to play to remind me. Thanks, little one. And thanks, tired mom, for allowing that message to come through.

Photo Credit: Of Gass

Making Space

A confluence of people, largely comprised of fathers, gathered near the Alamo recently. It’s a yearly custom, this gathering. The locale changes, but the goal of it does not: to be better fathers to our children.

The name of this collection of creatives and parents is Dad 2.0. They come from all manner of places: cities, rural communities, other countries. A wide array of viewpoints and opinions descend into one place, seeking out camaraderie and experiences together. Whatever someone is looking to glean from this assemblage of talent, they’re bound to find it. Whether from panels, speakers, or conversation amongst the crowd, there’s limitless perspectives and stories to find and hear.

Ordinarily, the stories are what I relish most. This year’s conference did not disappoint. Some stories elicited laughs, others brought tears. The gamut of emotions was run.

This year was special for me, though.

I was given the opportunity to moderate a panel about a topic I’m incredibly passionate about: gender and sexuality, especially as it pertains to raising children. I was even more fortunate to have a stellar panel: Amber Leventry, a non-binary parent with three kids, including twins, one of whom is transgender; Nick North, a trans male who birthed 4 kids before he transitioned and remarried a woman who had a child from a previous relationship; Jillian Zeigler, my wife and mother to a trans son and a non-binary child; and Brent Almond, a gay father with an adopted son that he parents with his husband.

An hour was simply not enough time to cover the enormous swath of territory that encompasses gender and sexuality, especially in these times where kids are able to articulate who they are at earlier and earlier ages. We made due with the time allotted and spent more time with those who had questions afterwards. It was an incredibly informative panel, and one that I’m proud to have been a part of.

This was near the end of the summit, so I had some time to contemplate that panel session, and one recurrent theme was apparent: making space.

Making space for everyone, no matter their gender identity or sexual identity. More importantly, I need to use my privilege as a straight white male to not only make space for our LGBTQ+ friends, but to maintain and broaden that space wherever possible. We all do. Inclusivity is elastic, and if you don’t stretch its boundaries, it will snap back to its original size. We must use our leverage to expand the space we all inhabit as humans so that everyone has a voice. The LGBTQ+ community is strong, but they need our help to combat the ugliness of bigotry that seeks to shrink their voices and the spaces in which they occupy.

It is incumbent upon us as allies to stand beside our LGBTQ+ brethren, and beyond that, elevate them so their voices are heard and respected. We also need to listen, REALLY listen, to what they are saying and what they need, then amplify their message.

It starts with making space. The next step is expanding that space so that they know they’re being heard and respected. The more we push, the more they will be seen as equals by those that seek to quell their demands for equality.

That’s the thing about elasticity; if given enough time and pressure outward, the elastic breaks. Then the space is truly inclusive, and permanently so.

Keep pushing.

Conspirator

Cleverness is its shield and also its sword.

It camouflages itself as reason. Overrides your better angels. Knowing your fears, it plays upon them, a crescendo that rises to an apex that is impossible to ignore. There are cracks within you, and it inveigles into them, pushes them wider. All the while tricking you into believing you’re something you’re not. Too often, you listen. It whispers to you in a tone only you hear.

Your conspirator misleads you time and time again. After it has worked its alchemy on you, it slithers back to the darkness within, waiting for another opportunity to bring its agenda to the fore. To conspire with you, unwittingly, to follow its whims. Only after the fact can you see the falsity of its claims. Its true genius, though, lies in its ability to rebirth itself again, unseen, and lure you into its trap and plunge you into its morass.

Conspirator, thy name is doubt.

Nowhere is my conspirator more active than in my role as a father, especially as my children edge closer to adulthood. My every statement, every action is subject to its blistering feedback, after which it masterfully rewrites my mental code to assign the source as logic rather than itself.

Doubt is a chameleon.

Teen age years are rife with self-exploration and self-expression. What they are not, by and large, are times where my fatherly advice is needed. The nature of adolescence is discovery, and there’s not much room for my wisdom from a pre-internet time.

That leaves me in an alien role: a parent who isn’t needed constantly. The younger the kids, the more you are needed, an essential piece of their days. Years and experience gained for them means stature lost me. It seems an odd space for me to occupy. This unfamiliarity is where the conspirator finds a foothold yet again and uses fear to bolster itself.

Since I want my kids to become good adults, I believe my thirty years’ experience as human adult qualifies me to dole out those nuggets of insight. Because my capacity as a dad previously commanded their attention, I overestimate their willingness to hear my life lessons. To their credit, they desire to make their own way, to learn as I did: trial and error. The challenge is for me to take my latent expectations out of the equation. The conspirator instigates here as well, playing on my hurt feelings about being needed less and insisting what I have to offer from “real world” experience is in fact required to be given.

Doubt is resourceful.

The truth that my conspirator doesn’t want me to grasp is that I have done an admirable job as a father. My children have been imbued with the morals my wife and I believe to be imperative for operating as a good person in the adult world. They practice these more than I realize, thanks to the deception that doubt weaves into my thoughts. While they can be abrasive and lean towards ignoring advice given to them most times, they truly are good and wonderful people. They are working through how they fit in society, just as I had (and in truth, am still doing). They care. They love. They grow. And oh, how proud I am of them.

I’ll set a watch for that conspirator. It is gifted, and will breach my defenses at times, insinuating itself into my consciousness. More than four decades of deft maneuvering makes it a formidable foe. While I may never be rid of it, perhaps it can be steered in other directions. I certainly have no shortage of insecurities it can latch on to.

Doubt is flexible, after all.

Photo credit: DrCuervo

 

 

 

 

Collision of Moments

There will be moments, even though they are well past the era of affection, when your teenagers will surprise you. Perhaps even elicit a moment of nostalgia.

It happened this weekend in the most unexpected of places.

Our youngest decided to take on basketball this year. Being an enormous fan of the sport myself, I was thrilled. He’s blessed with height; he’s taller than anyone in his class, and the tallest one on his team, despite him playing on the seventh grade team as a sixth grader. It seemed like a natural fit.

His first organized game comes. He plays well, even scores a basket. Needless to say, we’re all proud.

After the game, my wife and I waited for him to come out so we could take him home while his mother and her boyfriend were taking admissions for the next game. We all sat together during the game because we get along. We put the kids’ needs first, and it has made a world of difference.

Out comes our son. He’s smiling. His first words were “I played bad.” Ever the critical one, just like his father.

He didn’t, and we told him so. He gave me a hug, then saw Jill. He walked right up to her, and gave her kiss. Right in the middle of everyone; he wasn’t too cool to give his stepmom a kiss because he loves her.

Deja vu struck. A moment materialized in my mind when this same child, just six years prior at his Kindergarten graduation, found his stepmom and gave her a kiss in front of everyone because she didn’t get a mother’s bouquet. Just when she was feeling upset and out of place, his little heart knew it, and filled that void. It was a tender moment in a public space. Just as this one was, but it felt more like he was expressing his love and appreciation for her sharing in this important moment in his young life.

For the briefest of seconds, I was in that darkened room years before where a young boy kissed his mom when she needed it most. And then I was back, wan smile on my face. Two fleeting instances, six years apart, connected by a kiss.

It was beautiful.

Our day sped up after that, as time always does. We drove home, and life moved along.

Frozen in my mind are those two moments. Snapshots of tenderness, etched into the walls of my memory.

There will be moments, folks. Be sure to pay attention when they come.

Photo: I Am Spheric

An Unexpected Revisiting

Last night we watched the fourth episode of the series The Haunting of Hill House. It was called “The Twin Thing,” and it made me weep.

Not for the death of certain characters. It was for the portrayal of Luke’s addiction. It showed so very well the stages of addiction, the depths of it, the well of dependency you fall in. Above all it perfectly captured the despair.

In the recesses of addiction, at least for me, every moment is spent in wretchedness. You forgo the trust of loved ones to feed its greedy hunger. Over and over again, until they can no longer trust you in any fashion. Then those folks tell you plainly how angry they are at you, and rightfully so. You KNOW you’ve taken an emotional sledgehammer to that relationship, that you may have pushed it into unrecoverable territory. Yet that insidious need requires you to grab that handle and take another swing. And you do, damage and love be damned. Through disappointed and livid stares, you shatter hope.

You travel in spaces reserved for the despondent. Life’s cast offs, scrabbling for satiation in places where none can be found. This is your tribe; you share in their desolation. Your home is in the fringes, your bed is shame. Yet you push on, scheming for ways to at least take an edge off the craving, knowing it will not be the end. Moments are all you have now, moving from one to the next, praying for the pain to go away, if only for that moment.

There’s a freneticism to addition that is exhausting, but such is the power it has over you that you dare not stop. If you rest for even a second, your mind may replay all of the awfulness you’ve inflicted on others. Rarely does that correlate to the damage you’ve done to yourself; the movies your mind will play on a loop have an exclusive fixation on what your actions heaped upon your loved ones’ lives, strangers’ lives. You have no self-worth. You are worse than trash, for at least some of that can be recycled and reused. You don’t deserve any reclamation.

In the end, all you have is the high to make it go away for however brief a time. Nothing else matters. Sobriety is hell, being high is a temporary reprieve from the flames.

I did not expect a horror show like this to hit me so squarely in my past. All the feelings, all the loathing of self, all the utter despair shown on the screen in front of me wasn’t a show. It was me. No matter the fact that it has been over 25 years, it all rushed back, making me feel small and out of control. I was back in that well, scared that was where I belonged. All the years I’ve worked to restore trust, to build a better life, to be the very best man and father I can be, all of that fell away. The despair was front and center. The ugliness hit me, and I cried. A big heavy cry, the type that comes from the depths of self-imposed exile.

Jill, my anchor and the person who values me more than I do myself, turned as I started sobbing. She didn’t know that would hit me that hard either. But her caring face and thoughtful words lessened the demon’s grip, and her holding me brought me back to the life I’ve made. The life I’ve earned.

There were no trigger warnings. It just came in a rush. But when a story can capture something so dark and real that it pulls you into it, that is the sign of excellent story telling.

I never expected that the part of a horror story that would scare and affect me so profoundly would be an addict’s backstory. But let me assure you, that is the scariest thing of all; knowing that you have the capacity for harming those you love and care for, and questioning whether or not you’d be strong enough this time to battle it off if it came for you again.

Photo credit: lisado

Lines

We are the arbiters of lines. Moreover, we are the creators of them.

In nature, lines aren’t permanent; when they do appear they are jagged and fluid, ebbing and flowing with the tides of elemental whims. Mountains can be craggy or rolling, depending on their age and origin. Bodies of water expand and contract and nature adjusts to its transformations. Trees rise from the ground, but their paths to the sky are not straight nor symmetrical. Simply put the natural world is in constant flux, making static lines irrelevant. The geometry of nature is variable, even in its loose claims of solidity.

People, however, resist change. We crave stability and definitions. We abhor alterations to the world we live in. Look at all that we build. Straight lines are seen as desirable. Smooth surfaces are the mandate of manufactured things. We are soothed when we see a structure filled with right angles and flat tops to set objects on. Nature, it seems, runs afoul of our needs.

One might say we crave order. I would say we crave control.

We make lines where none are needed to satisfy our discomfort. This obsession stretches beyond nature.

Borders, arbitrary lines that denote territory, are created to imply ownership by a group of humans in a particular area. Imagined demarcations that cause people to fight over them in the hopes that victory will help them occupy more land that previously had never had ownership for the millions of years Earth’s existence. More lives have been lost over territory that people have coveted than any other cause of death with the exception of disease. All because we made lines.

It gets even more granular than that. We create boundaries between religions. Between races. Between sexuality, gender, wealth, education, and so many more lines we manufacture to cut things up a little finer to push away the fear we have.

These are societal constructs and they do a disservice to us as a species. We have more capacity for love and empathy than nearly any of our fellow inhabitants of our planet. Yet we devise ways to cordon ourselves off from one another, all for the sake of what we perceive as safety.

What is happening at the southwestern border of the United States is an example of our compulsion for lines run amok. The humans who made their way to a place that screamed opportunity from their locus of fear now despair because they’ve had their children taken from them, with little hope of them seeing them again. These people made the grave error of crossing a line in a desert in the hopes for their own safety. A border created by us. People died for that line. These travelers also committed other violations of lines of our own design: skin color, education level, wealth to name a few. These asylum seekers inspire fear in folks that steadfastly believe that these lines keep them safe, despite all of the data to the contrary. To occupants within those lines, it’s irrelevant; they’re told it’s so, and nothing is more comforting than reassurance, true or otherwise.

The trouble with boundaries is that they not only keep others out, they confine you. Physically for certain, but also mentally. If you can’t see anyone who is different than you, you cannot learn from them or understand them. You’ve imprisoned yourself in ignorance. Lined in comfort and isolation.

True empathy knows no such lines. It is boundless, and is to be given freely. But those who have constructed invisible walls due to fear and lack of control need to be enlightened of the virtue of the natural state of the universe. Caring is good and moral. Constraining any one because you are fearful of them as a result of misinformation and misplaced distrust harms us all.

We are the arbiters of lines. Moreover, we can be the erasers of them.

Fleeting Peace

It’s early. Too early for my sleep crusted eyes and cloudy mind. But duty calls: Simon, our Boston Terrier, needs to go outside. Jill fills her part of this morning routine. “The dog needs to go out,” she mumbles, her notification of Simon’s awakening and a call to action for me.

There’s nothing remarkable about this morning. Simon sniffs about the lawn, marking his territory, fierce descendant of wolves that he is. Content that his turf is dutifully claimed, we walk back to the patio and into the house where the kettle is near done warming its contents. Food gets put into the dog’s bowl, and is gone in seconds. Breakfast for Simon is not about enjoyment, it’s all about expediency.

I go about my other morning ritual, then bring both Simon (who’s afraid of stairs and refuses to go up or down them) and our coffee to our bedroom. After depositing Simon in his dog bed, I set the coffees on their respective side tables.

Jill is sleeping. I crawl back into bed, and she snuggles up to me, head on my chest, her breathing barely breaking rhythm. Light breezes come in through our open windows, flung about the room by the ceiling fan, creating the illusion of coolness. The humidity also makes its way in, the light rain outside unable to dampen its effects. We lay like this, Jill sleeping, me drifting off slightly to that blissful little place where you’re not entirely awake, but also not deep enough for dreams to take hold of you and tell you stories. I wake every so often, usually to the dog snoring as he does, snorty and loud. My arm is asleep now, and our skin is sticking to each other’s, another demonstration of humidity’s sly prowess. I’m still not fully awake, but my mind says “This is nice. Don’t move.” Strange notion for someone who is clearly uncomfortable.

The machinery inside my head comes more fully to the fore. I stay still. The sounds of the distant highway, its white noise hum, waft in the windows, too. There’s a few birds chittering and chatting. I open my eyes and look out the window. One of our large oak trees has been serving as a home for wood peckers for three years now as fewer and fewer leaves adorn its branches. A squirrel scurries up its trunk. Life is happening out there. Sometimes I forget that life isn’t just a human thing; there’s a myriad of living creatures moving in and out of our days. Our human experience has rendered these to the background for most. I only notice them when I get out of the constant thrum of thoughts and need to be active. I am a fidgeter by nature, in real life and online. Sitting still is not a skill I’ve had the ability to acquire.

I’m not alone in that. It’s challenging to be present and slow ourselves down, much less be still and take everything in. Incessant news cycles, world injustices, the lure of distraction from the awfulness that can engulf us, the desire to be right and make your points to someone who has no interest in real dialogue, the ever changing landscape of parenting teens and preteens. The bustle is so loud, the quiet doesn’t stand a chance to grab our attention.

There are moments, though, like this. Where natural elements gently remind you that there is more going on in the background, begging for your attention. Where the skin of your loved one is against yours, their trust in you absolute as they sleep in your arms. Where you don’t feel the pull of house projects and the need to be doing something.

They are rare and fleeting. For an hour this morning, I knew gratefulness and peace. I was still and mindful and it was beautiful.

Soon, the world will collapse this small cocoon of joy. The freneticism of life will demand I move, and I will meet its call. Hopefully I’ll take a second or two and recall the moment of this morning, smile, and move on to tackle the next crisis that presents itself. I’ll promise myself to slow down, and take things in. It’s a largely empty promise, as life tends to detest inactivity. But some day I will find it again, bask in it, and wonder why I don’t seek it out more.

Right now, though, I’ll milk this for all it’s worth.

Lunula

Annika Bates made herself a legend even before she saved Earth and the moon.

She was the first person to fly the Moonraker Assault Vessel (MAV for short). It was the first armed ship used to defend Lunula, the Earth’s first –and so far only – terraformed city on the moon. Prior to her piloting gig, Annika led the crew who built the Lunula itself, earning her the praise and admiration of billions for such a monumental task. Before that, she was the youngest to be accepted into NASA’s Astronaut Corps at seventeen years old. While her intelligence was on par with the greats in human history, her physical talents were even more prodigious. But her determination pushed her faster and farther than any astronaut, female or male, ever dreamed.

After the completion of Lunula, Annika returned to Earth to oversee the more daunting undertaking of creating a military presence in space. Lunula was utterly vulnerable with no way to disguise or protect a massive dome on a satellite consisting of nothing but rocks and craters. So, the Universal Military Alliance formed, designed by all of the remaining countries not on fire from conflict or drowned by rising seas, and made their first priority the creation of a defense force able to defend the moon city from any and all threats.

Transport ships were plentiful but ill-suited for anything more than moving supplies and people to Lunula. Engineers, scientists, and pilots worked tirelessly to fashion the right design for assault ships. Plans were finalized, with Annika naming the fleet in homage to her love of James Bond films. Production began.

Four months later, and with a week of intense testing yielded perfect results, the first Moonraker Assault Vessel was completed and ready for a manned test. Annika volunteered, shouting down any who tried to dissuade her. This was her baby, and she alone was going to take it out into the eternal black.

The launch, like the testing, was flawless. It exited the Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 40,000 miles per hour, bursting into space. Annika’s breath was taken away at the vastness of the galaxy before her. It was this way every single time she flew into space, and she never tired of its grandeur.

She started the predetermined flight tests for maneuverability, gliding the MAV in a series of turns and speeds. She marveled at its ability to navigate at advanced speeds and how effortless it felt. The MAV passed all tests with flying colors. Turning towards Lunula, she gunned it to the last of the maneuverability tests. She landed the MAV, pretty as you please, in the bay built for it outside the dome. Tomorrow they would test the weapons systems, far away from home.

Annika just sat down at her desk reviewing the data from earlier when she was hailed by UMA headquarters on Earth.

“Incoming call from General Saito. Incoming call from General Saito,” the computer voice droned in monotone.

Annika sighed. General Eike Saito was Japan’s contribution to the UMA. She was tough and humorless, but damn it all if she wasn’t also thorough. Probably can’t wait to disseminate the results, Annika thought. This’ll be a barrel of laughs for sure.

“Answer call,” Annika said, bracing for a relentless and tedious review.

The video feed popped up. General Saito’s brow was furrowed, more than her usual stern look, and her eyes flicked about with a sense of worry. Pursed lips completed the look telling that something was wrong.

“General Saito,” said Annika with a nod to the camera, her version of a salute.

“Colonel Bates,” the General nodded back, her expression darkening. “There is an unidentified object approaching at speeds never before documented. We have confirmed this is not a comet or meteor. There are multiple heat signatures in the object. Origin unknown. The trajectory takes it directly between Earth and Lunula.”

Images glowed on the display. Something triangular shot across the screen so fast that it almost escaped the camera providing the feed. Annika squinted. “Is that… Jupiter in the background?”

“Yes it is, Colonel.”

That can’t be right. The object moved so quickly Jupiter was a near blur on the screen. But the familiar giant red dot was unmistakable. It was Jupiter, alright.

Eyes narrowed, Annika said, “Orders, General?”

“We must accelerate our weapons testing. Intercept this unknown object and destroy it.”

“But we have no idea what this is, General.”

“Exactly. And we can’t afford finding out.” The screen went blank.

The colonel sighed, making her way to the hanger to suit up and take off.

∞∞∞

The MAV screamed across the void. Annika set her course to intercept the unknown object. They hadn’t calculated for something moving this rapidly, so she wasn’t sure if their weapons could properly target it. Part of her wanted to disobey orders and discover whether this was the chance for contact with another lifeform, but she pushed that to the back of her mind. Orders were orders.

With resolve, she hurtled towards the rendezvous point. A few minutes remained, so she brought her weapons up to bear. The targeting system confirmed two heat signatures in the craft. There was no denying it was a ship of some kind. The signatures were blurry at best, and their tracking system was unsuccessful with locking onto the ship, as she feared.

“MAV 1 to UMA Base. MAV 1 to UMA Base. Confirmed two heat signatures in object. Weapons systems unable to obtain lock. Permission to switch to manual,” Annika said.

Saito’s response was terse, immediate. “Permission granted, MAV 1.”

With one flick of a switch, the weapons were under Annika’s control. She knew she had one chance at this. The ship’s speed was too great for a second round. Eyes narrowed, she pushed the MAV to its limits. Years of training honed her calculations. Readying herself, she fired.

The lasers, casting a diffused blue trail behind, zoomed to the rendezvous point. The unknown thing did too. Annika felt her body tense as both projectiles moved to intercept. A split second before collision, her communications systems blipped. Someone or something wanted to communicate. It wasn’t UMA command. It was something else. Then laser and object met. A brilliant but brief light burst and disappeared. The object was gone, as was the signal she’d received.

∞∞∞

Sitting in her office at Lunula, she mulled over the past few days. The world made her the savior of the Earth and its moon. She’d saved them all from an alien threat, or so it was told to the masses. Yet, she couldn’t stop thinking about that last moment signal before it was vaporized. She felt like it was more than a signal. After her supposed heroics, Annika had not slept well, that looming feeling clouding her thoughts and dreams.

She shook her head and drained her scotch. No use worrying over it now.  Then…her communications unit beeped. A single blip. She went rigid.

Her screens lit up, displaying countless lines of dark triangular objects moving side by side, Saturn and her rings in the background. A computerized voice boomed from the speakers.

“Beings of the third planet: we are contacting you as a mercy. Our race was passing through your galaxy to our new colony. You destroyed our envoy without provocation. It was our guide, not equipped for fighting. By eliminating our envoy, you have declared war. You now must defend or evacuate your civilization, a chance that is more than you gave our guide.”

Her jaw dropped. She watched the screen as the armada shimmered briefly before innumerable red streaks filled her view.

“Oh my god,” she whispered.

She had doomed them all.

Photo Credit: Richard Bizley