This week’s stories feature some brave, brilliant women who aren’t afraid to communicate with aliens—or face their own mortality.

By the Numbers by Lynn Kilmore | Crossed Genres Magazine

Mel liked it that the new mathematics building on campus had three steps up to the main doors. She liked how it squatted rectangular under the thin dry air of New Mexico; its whitewashed adobe walls were stark against the pale blue sky of winter.

The mysterious alien object couldn’t be seen in the sky at the moment, but she knew it was there in orbit, just like everyone else did.

The object had arrived sixteen days ago at an 80 degree angle to the elliptical plane of the solar system, but as yet there had been no contact or signal or anything. It just waited, silent, a featureless octagonal prism (except for the engines upon one octagon face that had maneuvered the object into Earth orbit) that measured 5.12 kilometers on each side, circling the Earth three times a day.

She liked how 512 was equal to eight cubed. Maybe the aliens had built the object and chosen its behavior to deliberately reflect the number eight to humans.

Maybe not.

When aliens finally come, the mathematicians are going to be the ones to make successful first contact. After all, it’s far easier to convey numbers without common language.

That’s not all of what this story is about, though. I like the way technology enhances the protagonist’s life and makes it easier for her to understand people different from her without giving the impression that tech has “fixed” her or even that she needs fixing.

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Image Credit: red numbers by DaveBleasdale on Flickr


Further North by Kay Chronister | Clarkesworld Magazine

In Turkey, we loved the animals we tended; in Alaska, we hope they won’t wake when we ride past them. Asleep, with their bodies buried in the snow and their eyes frozen shut, the helminths look more like landforms than hookworms. But if temperatures rise too much, if they wake up—

We siphon a lot of blood from their bodies, trying to cure the disease they spread. They wake up hungry and anemic and furious.

Halfway between Juneau and Circlet, the route I take home, there’s this pile of stones stacked up beside the road. A graveyard for mammoths, according to local legend. In truth, a graveyard for Russian trappers who froze trying to push further north than anyone had before. The monument spooks Alaskans, the descendants of those few Russians who survived the tundra, but I am not Alaskan and I am cold wherever I go and I’m always relieved to see the stones. Up in Circlet, where we built the homestead, the helminths almost never thaw out.

When I come home, untack my pony, and stomp the snow from my boots, my sister Aliye has a hot bath and a pot of spiced coffee waiting for me: her way of saying sorry that I have to ride out and check the enclosures alone. The first thing she does when I come inside, after she shoves a towel into the crack beneath the doorframe, is check all of my fingertips for frostbite. “Remember that blood-buyer in Anchorage with six-and-a-half fingers?” she says if I argue.

“I remember,” I say, and spread my tingling fingertips out to the heat of the stove.

“If you ever feel like you need me with you,” she says, “tell me, and I’ll go.”

We both know that Aliye will never go. Before we left Turkey, when we lived among our goats like they were family, the hook stole her legs and half of the muscles in her face. Now she tends the homestead and I look after the animals. We have no other choice. But she has to say it, and I have to act like I believe her.

So many different things woven into this story, it’s difficult to summarize without spoilers. Culture overlaps SFnal disaster overlaps economics overlaps family, and that’s just the surface. It’s a beautiful story as well as a sad one, and well worth reading for both aspects.

Honorable Mentions

Her Data Like Fingerprints by Ashley M. Hill | Luna Station Quarterly

Sponsored

Empire of Dirt by K B Sluss | Luna Station Quarterly

Snakes by Yoon Ha Lee | Clarkesworld Magazine

More Fire Than Earth by Dr. R. Abdulrehman | Omenana


K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, and issuer of the Tempest Challenge. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.