It’s finally here: the gripping conclusion to “The Pyramid

Today, the Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, wrap up a great Sci Fi story collaboration. This week, Jim Hamilton gives us the thrilling conclusion to . . .

The Pyramid

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

At 2:27 p.m., on an otherwise unremarkable Friday afternoon, The Pyramid shimmered into being only 17.2 miles northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Fully a mile on a side and rising 4,000 feet above the desert landscape, it was impossible to miss.

By 2:37 p.m., hundreds of videos of it were already trending on every social media platform and two local news stations were transmitting raw footage as their helicopters flew towards it. Already, millions of people around the globe were beginning to endlessly speculate—each wanting to be the first to successfully guess the whys and wherefores of The Pyramid.

Two thousand miles to the east–2,095 miles to be exact–the U.S. president was holding a meeting in the Oval Office when the head of her security detail opened the door and said, “Madame President, I need for you to come with me right now. Protocol seven.”

Surprised at the sudden interruption, she immediately arose while apologizing, “Gentlemen, I’m afraid that you’ll have to excuse me.” She quickly followed the Secret Service agent out of the room and down the hall to the elevator.

As the car made its descent deep underground, the agent handed her a tablet. “You need to see this, ma’am.”

“What am I looking at?” she asked, as she watched the news video.

The chyron was too small to make out.

“It’s a giant pyramid, ma’am. It appeared about fifteen minutes ago outside Las Vegas.”

The elevator bell dinged and the doors parted. The President strode into the Situation Room and stood for a moment, studying the displays before addressing the Officer of the Day. “Status report!”

“Yes, ma’am. As you can see from the various video feeds, a large pyramid has suddenly appeared outside of Las Vegas.”

“Yes, yes. I’ve already got that part.”

Unfazed, he continued. “It covers about a square mile and is of unknown origin. We’ve got an AWAC en route to the site and two F-35s from Groom Lake are already orbiting five miles out. All air traffic in and out of McCarran International has been halted or diverted elsewhere. Local police and Homeland Security are currently working to cordon off the area on the ground.” He pointed at one of the screens. “That feed is from one of our military satellites that was fortunate enough to be watching at the time.”

“Any hostile activity?”

“None yet, ma’am. The relevant personnel have all been contacted and are on their way. The Secretary of Defense should be here at any moment.”

“Very good, Leroy,” she said, as she took her seat at the head of the long oval table. As she waited for the others to arrive, she contemplated the scenes on the ever-changing screens, frustrated with the lack of information at her disposal. She had seen the UFO files and knew that Earth had been visited before. She knew that this could only be another visit, but for what purpose? She crossed her fingers and hoped that they had come in peace.

Part 2 by Glenn R. Frank

“Osiris Flight, be advised, telemetry and comms are on live-feed to the White House Sit-Room.”

Maj. Holder knew this was as much a jab at his frequent use of profanity as it was critical information. He could feel his wingman’s silent laughter, in spite of the radio silence that followed.

“Osiris One. Acknowledged,” Holder responded.

Holder looked down to his left toward the Pyramid. His F-35’s helmet visor displayed the view as if he were looking through the side of his aircraft. It accented the huge object with infrared and data overlays.

“The structure has no radar return but is visible as solid material on all other wavelengths. Request permission for close approach.”

“Granted, Osiris One.”

“Osiris Two, maintain five-mile orbit,” Holder instructed his wingman.

“Acknowledged,” came Capt. Anderson’s reply.

Holder rolled his plane left and pointed it at the Pyramid. He approached and engaged the hover ability of his aircraft, slowing to a standstill half a mile from the structure.

“Surface still appears solid . . . Zero radar reflection . . . No signs of electronic emissions . . . .”

A point of light blazed on the surface of the Pyramid, from which a dark object zipped over Holder’s head and accelerated toward Las Vegas. His heart pounded. He hesitated for just an instant before he spun his plane and punched the throttle in pursuit.

“Shit! Bogie deployment from the structure. Osiris flight in pursuit!”

Anderson’s F-35 zipped past him, chasing the unknown object as Holder boosted up to maximum afterburner speed. The dark, winged object flew over the Las Vegas Strip at an altitude of 1,000 feet, made two abrupt ninety degree turns, and sped straight back toward the Pyramid. Anderson and Holder banked hard but couldn’t hold the turn as tight as the alien craft.

“Holy Cra . . . ” Holder caught himself mid-phrase.

“Object has doubled back to the Pyramid – we’re in pursuit.”

Flight control cut in. “Weapons release is not authorized, NOT authorized, pursue only.”

The object accelerated away from them and re-entered the side of the Pyramid at full speed in a flash of light.

“I’m going through,” shouted Anderson.

“Veer off,” Holder ordered.

Anderson’s plane flew right into the side of the Pyramid with a flash, just as the UFO had. He vanished from sight and radar.

“Osiris Two entered the Pyramid. I’m following him.”

“Negative, Osiris One . . .” 

But Holder had already plunged into the Pyramid.

Complete darkness enveloped his view. A shrill sound attacked his ears and a metallic taste filled his mouth, making him sick.

“Osiris Two . . . respond,” he managed to choke out. There was no reply.

The darkness cleared with another flash of light. It was replaced by a dim, blue landscape of hills and an enormous white disk dominating the sky.

Alarms blared – engine flameout. 

Holder attempted a restart. No good. The engine was O2 starved and dead.

Wherever I am, there‘s not enough oxygen in this atmosphere!

The ground came up fast. He yanked the ejection trigger and the seat shot him through the canopy. He blacked out.

Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

As the two planes disappeared into the side of the giant Pyramid, an audible gasp went up around the table in the Situation Room at the White House. The President turned to face the monitor that displayed General Hemington, seated at his own console two miles away underneath the Pentagon.

The President’s eyes widened, glancing back at the other monitors, then again at the General’s image. “What just happened to our fighter jets?” she asked. “Are the pilots okay?”

Hemington put his hand over his microphone and looked to the side, apparently asking someone a question. He removed his hand and looked back at the President. “We don’t know, ma’am. The AWAC tracked the F-35s with both FLIR and RADAR, but they disappeared when they passed through the wall of the Pyramid. According to the AWAC operator, she says that the Pyramid isn’t there at all. Or the planes. Just the flat desert terrain that we would expect. It appears to somehow be shielding itself from everything but the visible spectrum.”

“What about the unknown object that they were chasing?”

“Both pilots automatically turned on their high-speed cameras before giving pursuit,” Hemington said.

“Like the Pyramid itself, the object seems to be transparent to almost everything, only reflecting light in the visible spectrum. Even at 500 frames per second, almost all of the video is blurry.” He smiled a bit. “However, we’ve managed to isolate several frames that show the object clearly. If you’ll look at Screens 3 and 4, you can see that it’s a small, delta-winged craft, about three feet across.”

“Do you think that it’s a drone or a probe of some sort?” asked the President, as she studied the photos.

“Could be, ma’am.”

She turned to her science advisor, seated to her left. “Carl? What’s your take on this? Does that look at all familiar?”

Carl glanced over to the communications operator and drew his hand across his throat. The com-op acknowledged his request and tapped on his keyboard before looking up and announcing, “All mikes are off, Madame President.”

“Sorry, Madam President,” Carl said, a bit apologetically. “You know the protocol regarding all things ENIGMA.”

She nodded. Pointing to screen three, she said, “It’s the same thing that hit that weather balloon in Roswell, isn’t it?”

“It would appear to be the same, ma’am. But we don’t want to make that assumption quite yet.”

“So, what do we do now?” She indicated a screen. “Hemington will want to attack it with everything he has handy, but I think that we should hold up until we know more.”

Carl nodded vigorously. “Oh, I quite agree. While the planes quit transmitting once they passed through the Pyramid’s shield, we might be able to send in a tethered robot that would only be linked by fiber.”

“Do you think that will work?”

Carl shrugged. “Maybe. We won’t know for sure until we try it.”

The President smiled for the first time since the Pyramid appeared. She turned to the com-op. “Connect us to General Hemington.” She turned back to her science advisor. “And you tell him what we need to make it happen.”

Part 4 by Jeremy Wilson

As the great disk ascended on rotation 702, Larry began preparations on the scout ship.

Of course, Larry wasn’t her actual designation, but she found that it facilitated communication with the carbon-based beings of Earth during routine probings (for information, of course).

For eons, her brood had been monitoring the progression of the humans, though Larry could never understand why. They were primitive creatures; prone to violence and self-destruction.

As Larry reviewed the day’s mission, she warmed up the refraction engine, having verified the accumulator was at capacity.

The engine sputtered. She slammed her claw down onto the engine chamber in frustration and the resonators fell back into place, humming as they should.

Aside from actually propelling the craft, the engine created a connection point at the coordinates Larry set and was supposed to camouflage said connection point by manipulating the local ambient spectrum.

Many orbits ago, camouflaging the connection point wasn’t a concern. It could appear as anything and the early humans would welcome her like she was a great creator. But now that the humans had discovered the power of the atom (which any broodling could have figured out, by the way), she was expected to be more cautious.

Unfortunately, ever since the “incident” with the humans’ gas-filled atmospheric monitoring apparatus, Larry had been forced to share this ship with Jerry, whose excretions frequently caused malfunctions.

At least this was to be a night mission, so any malfunctions should go unnoticed.

Larry entered the craft and engaged the engines. The craft hovered while she tapped out the coordinates. All at once, she shot forward into darkness, the pleasant sensation of heavy metals greeted her mandibles.

As she exited the portal, she was blinded by bright light. Pain shot through her ocular sensors as she realized it was the middle of the day cycle.

In terror, she rotated her rear ocular stock to look back at the connection point. She panicked when she observed that the connection point was appearing as a large polyhedron.

At the velocity she was traveling, Larry was already over the human’s habitable zone before she could react. She immediately changed course and headed back to the portal, but it was too late. The primitive human ships were already giving chase.

She re-entered the portal, but before she could disengage the engine, both craft followed her. The first was so close that the disturbance from her engine sent it almost immediately back through the portal, though Larry guessed it might take some time to reappear on Earth.

The second craft also made it through but failed immediately, ejecting the soft human held within.

Larry went over and examined the unconscious jelly bag of a creature. Its soft outer shell had the symbol “‘Hang-On’ Holder” emblazoned on it. It was beginning to twitch and sputter.

Larry knew that if this thing died in here, she’d never get the stench out, so she gingerly shoved the jelly bag back through the portal.

She turned to close the portal, but a massive metal contraption floated through with a long filament connected to it.

She slammed the portal shut, severing the filament protruding from the metal monstrosity . . .

Part 5 by Jim Hamilton

In the Situation Room beneath the White House, the President, the Secretary of State, and the President’s Science Advisor were wearing virtual headgear and being fed the eight-channel stream from the UAV drone. Six separate video views seamlessly overlapped and provided the perception of being able to see in any direction while two audio channels provided stereo sound to the headsets.

They watched as they drew closer to the Pyramid and then suddenly passed through the wall and into utter darkness.

“What happened?” asked the President.

“I’m not sure, ma’am. We’re still getting data.”

Carl spoke up. “I think we’re seeing the absence of light.”

For ten long seconds, the visors remained dark. Suddenly, they passed through a black curtain and they had their first view of the alien landscape. A movement to the side drew their attention, and they glimpsed Holder’s body being dragged into the curtain. A moment later, they got their first look at the alien. It walked erect on two spindly legs and had two arms that ended in giant claws. The upper end, where a head would be, sported several dozen eyeballs, each on a separate stalk. It mostly resembled a lobster on steroids wearing a pincushion hat.

The Secretary of State started laughing. “It’s only about three inches tall!”

At that moment, the alien saw the probe. There was a high-pitched shriek and its eyes bugged out in all directions. It fumbled at its belt with its claw and, in the next second that followed, three unexpected events happened at once. The first was the sudden appearance of Capt. Anderson’s F-35 as it came cart-wheeling out of the Pyramid. The second was the sudden disappearance of the Pyramid itself. And the third, while not immediately noticed, was the appearance of Maj. Ken Holder’s body on the ground at the center of the space which the Pyramid had previously been occupying.

They sat in stunned silence until the President broke the ice. “Well, I must say, I didn’t see that coming!”


Larry stomped back to her craft and climbed aboard. She turned to her navigator and shook her mandibles. “Do you know what that was, Jerry?”

His eyestalks all retracted in fear. “Which ‘that’ was that?”

“All of it! This whole mission was an unmitigated disaster. We’re lucky to get away with as little exposure as we did.” She pondered a moment. “What are we going to do about it, Jerry?”

He turned a lavender shade of blue. He knew what was coming.

“I’m cutting you off from all heavy metals until you can get your digestive tract under control.”

“Even the Zolium?”

“Yes, especially the Zolium. It makes you bloat.” She collapsed her mandibles. “When we’ve got you fully purged, we’re coming back and finishing what we set out to do, okay?”

Jerry’s eyes all bobbled together.

“These humans are very simple and have a very short attention span.” She wagged her head in amusement. “It won’t be long before most of them will have forgotten we were here.”


General Hemington spoke up. “We have confirmation that Osiris Two is okay and returning to base. One of our helos is in voice contact with Major Holder over his suit radio. He’s shaken up a bit, but says that he’s alright.”

“That’s great news, General!” said the President. “I want Protocol Seven clean-up immediately. All videos, all cloud sources, all social media. Wiped.” She looked him in the eye. “This time tomorrow, I want everyone to think that it never happened.”

“Understood, Madame President.”


Wow! Like the President, I have to say “I didn’t see that coming!”

Jim wrapped up this pass-the-baton story with action, drama and some humor. Great job!

If you enjoyed the story, please leave a kind comment for Jim, Jeremy, and Glenn below.

Soon, my Champions will be bringing to you a large collection of free stories in Act 2 of our Globe serial. If you have not read any of those stories, start with the drama-filled Pillars of Smoke from Act 1.

Also, my September Contest has just begun. Readers are really enjoying the beginning of the story. Take a read and then see if you’d like to finish the story and enter my contest. For September, I’ve increased the cash prize to $50. All you have to do is write 500 words (or less).

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Contest Rules

Each month, I’ll post a new, unfinished story. Write your own ending in 500 words or less. Post your ending as a comment at the bottom of the contest story page.

I will read all the entries. I will judge them based on three factors:

  • How interesting the ending is.
  • How well the entry continues the style and feel of my part of the story.
  • How well written the entry is, including if it contains a good mix of exciting action, snappy dialogue, and vivid description. (Not all endings require dialogue, but if done well, it always helps.)

What about the prizes? OK, Slytherin, if you want to know so badly, skip to the end below!

Deadline

All entries must be submitted as a comment on the original story contest page by midnight on the 15th day of the contest month. If the comments remain open after that time, you can leave a comment or paste your story ending, but it will not be considered for judging.

I will pick a winner. I will announce the winner in a new blog post by the end of the month. I will also announce the winner on Twitter at @mattcrosswrites. If you leave your Twitter handle in your post (and if you win), I will include your Twitter handle in my announcement. On Twitter, I will mention you more than once. Probably an embarrassing number of times. I’m very proud of all my contestants, and especially proud of the winners.

Content and Name

All story content must be PG-rated or G-rated. Because I am the judge, I will decide what is PG-rated. If your submission is more like PG-13 or more “mature,” I will read the story and I may share a comment with you if I like it. But I will not allow it to post to this site. (I like all good writing, but this site is just not the right forum for such “mature” content.)

If you want an example, here is a bit of violence contained in a winning entry. This is the most visceral we’ve gotten so far. “Less than a second later, a searing bolt of plasma hit his chest like a sledgehammer and sent him tumbling backwards into the cold depths of the Elizabeth River.”

Your name and your Twitter handle don’t have to be real names. I love pen names! But don’t make me feel foolish posting them, or I won’t pick you as the winner. I’m not going to announce the winning story was written by Iam A. Moron, also known on Twitter as @FartFace. (I may be a moron and a fart face, but don’t make me announce it on the internet!)

Do you have to provide a Twitter handle? No.

Do you have to provide a real e-mail address? Yes. Without an e-mail address, I can’t send you the prizes. And I won’t pick you as the winner.

What will I do with the e-mail address? If you are the winner, I’ll use the e-mail address to let you know you won and make arrangements to send you the prize. For other uses of e-mail, see my Privacy Policy.

Who owns the story?

We do. I own the beginning I wrote. You own the ending you wrote. The complete story that includes your ending is owned by both of us. It will be written “by [Your Name] and Matthew Cross.”

If you send me a story ending by posting it in the comments on my website (or if you e-mail it to me), then you are giving me permission to post any part of your submitted story content on any page of my website forever.

Announcing the winner

By the end of the contest month, I will post the winning story–my beginning and your ending–as a blog post for all of our fans to read. If I have enough good entries, I may also post two or three finalist stories. At this time, I only have the resources to give one prize. To the winner go the spoils. (Also, “There can be only one!”)

Prizes galore!

For the September contest, I’m awarding the winner a $50 Amazon gift card, a hand-crocheted rocket amigurumi, and much more! See the complete list of prizes here. (Please note that I’m a little behind on making the crochet trophies. The winner will get it but may have to wait a bit.)

And I will post your winning story on my website! Fame and glory await you!

What else?

I think that covers it.

If you have any questions, post them as a comment on the contest story page or e-mail me at matthewcrosswrites@gmail.com.

Otherwise, get to work. You have some writing to do. Best of luck!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Here are the prizes for the September Contest winner

Illustration by Joe Cross. Copyright 2021.

For September, I’m presenting a host of prizes for the winner:

  • $50 cash (in the form of an Amazon gift certificate).
  • Trophy–An amigurumi rocket. (I’m crocheting the rocket myself, so I don’t have a photo yet.)
  • A Twitter banner–or use wherever you like–pronouncing you the winner of the September Contest.
  • Listing in the Circle of Champions on this website, including your social media contacts and website link, if you’d like to share them.
  • Your very own Author Page on this site with your writer’s bio, if you’d like to share one.
  • Lots and lots and lots of promotion on Twitter. (I go a little crazy.)
  • Other opportunities to mix and mingle with my other Champions and join them in special projects. (Check out my current special project exclusive to my Circle of Champions.)

Why not get started now?

Win a $50 prize if you write the best finish to my story

This is a finish-my-story contest where all you have to do is write the ending in 500 words or less.

Illustration by Joe Cross. Copyright 2021.


September Contest
: All submissions are due by midnight September 15, 2021.

Look here for contest rules.

After the Fall

Something is wrong with me.

Seriously wrong.

I am an android, and I am thinking in the first person. That’s not right.

Or is it?

I trudge through the late afternoon wreckage of Stockheim, the largest city near Dr. Herbst’s country villa. After the Pulse, only a few humans remain in Stockheim.

Dr. Herbst’s country villa. Photo by Zane Lee.

Everything is broken, including me.

I’m forgetting things.

That’s not right, either. I don’t forget things. I store data; I delete data. But ever since Dr. Herbst started filling my files with his library, I’ve had trouble accessing operational files. Dr. Herbst used every bit of available space in my networks to save the planet’s culture and history. He should not have done this. He said so himself.

“I should not be doing this,” he said. “If you were a human, this would fry your brain. That’s a technical term, of course.”

He chuckled to himself.

I have not been programmed to laugh. It’s not a necessary feature for a housekeeper android.

The record of that conversation with Dr. Herbst is a waste of storage space, but I no longer control what observational records I keep in long-term and short-term storage. 

That’s not right. 

Sometimes, usually at night under an open sky, I can access data from one week prior and set it for auto delete after 98 hours. I don’t know why that is the best time or why 98 hours is the most likely setting to work. But most of the time, I cannot delete the records stored throughout my frame that struggle for energy and resources.

Bits and pieces fly through my Opsys, causing a variety of tics and malfunctions.

So I will probably have the memory of that conversation until I can find another repository to download the massive library Dr. Herbst loaded into me.

I stop next to a moldy couch that has been singed on one corner. I tilt my head. I can hear the aria “How I Wept After the Fall,” sung by the virtuoso ultima soprano M. Cadere A. Gratia, from the operetta The Fall of Rome and Other Ancient Myths. I do not control what recordings play through my current observational mode. I do not think they are random, but I cannot detect a pattern.

The aria will last 6.29 mins. I stride swiftly but carefully down the four-lane road littered with mattresses, burnt-out hovers and even some human and animal bones. Most of the windows in the row houses are empty or just lined with jagged little teeth of glaze. Some few have been boarded up since the Pulse. Those houses may be occupied by any number of factions that compete over this wasteland.

Most of the windows in the row houses are empty or just lined with jagged little teeth of glaze. Photo by Daniel Lincoln.

“Be careful,” Dr. Herbst had said. “The Nature Cons Faction may still have a few EMPs left.” He stopped, breathed heavily and wiped his brow. “If they knew what you carry inside you–all our culture; all of it–I’m sure they’d let you pass. But they won’t stop to listen. As soon as they see an android, they’ll trigger an EMP if they have one.”

Dr. Herbst said some people believed the Nature Cons created the Pulse. Some believed it came from the sun. Still others believed it came from some unknown enemy in space.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Herbst had said, breathing heavily. “It’s been years since the Pulse and there’s been no invading force. No, I don’t think it’s the Polity or the Republic. I think we did this to ourselves, and no one is coming to save us.”

Based on his respiration, pulse and the pallor of his face, my emergency protocols tried to call a first responder unit. But there are no more first responder units anymore, just the factions. The Nature Cons, the Savages, the Retro Cons, the Delirandos, the White Balance and others even Dr. Herbst did not know. After the first time I called an emergency response unit, Dr. Herbst’s scanning gear picked up the signal and he removed my transmitters. Now I can scan for signals, but I cannot transmit.

“That’s for the best,” Dr. Herbst had said. “All the factions scan for signals. No point in making it even easier for them to track you.”

My scanners are useful. I can often use them to avoid the roving bands of humans. I also used them to find the trace signals emanating from an operational hover buried beneath a collapsed bungalow. The hover got me from Dr. Herbst’s villa into the outskirts of Stockheim before it tilted 90 degrees on its side and began to smoke. I scrambled awkwardly from the seat, fell to the ground and limped away to get as far as possible from the pillar of rising smoke that would draw attention.

My legs are operating at 95 percent of optimal performance, which is one reason Dr. Herbst retrieved me from the basement of the Acosta’s house. That’s where I plugged myself in after the Delirandos killed the Acostas. My preservation protocols directed me to place myself between the Randos and the Acostas, but the Randos surrounded me and then pinned my right arm to the wall with a sharpened metal post. They made M. Acosta cry a lot before killing both of the Acostas. I recorded the event for law enforcement.

“There is no more law enforcement,” Dr. Herbst had said. “No point in keeping that horrible record.”

He used that data space to store part of the Music Collection. Sometimes when I detect danger, my Opsys pulls music from that file.

I have scoured Stockheim for a storage device large enough to hold even one segment of Dr. Herbst’s library. All I’ve found so far is a bulky black data box that’s even older than I am. I’ve lashed it under my right arm. 

Photo by Denny Muller.

The aria ends, but I still hear a high-pitched, warbling tone. It is only detectable via sound waves, so the source is not electrical. Images flash through my Opsys. An instructional video on carpentry featuring a whining saw. A siren from an entertainment drama labeled “law enforcement procedural.” A sound clip of a crying baby.

I think it’s the sound of crying. Not a baby, but a child. The Acostas did not have children, so I do not have the nanny software bundle, but I do have a basic childcare protocol intended for short-term use. Dr. Herbst stuffed the file with images from the Central Museum of Art: oil paintings, plastic paintings and dynamic light images. The pieces of childcare information I can access indicate a child–likely a female child between the ages of 4 and 5–is crying from fear but not a recent physical injury.

I cock my head and set my audio receivers to maximum sensitivity. I do not know why I cock my head.

The sound of a crying child could be a trap, of course. But my childcare protocols send an insistent signal and the images of two abstract paintings to the Fundamental Rules programing in the Opsys. The Opsys filters out the two paintings–one of a screaming man and one of a child ballerina–as irrelevant.

I spend 33.79 mins locating the child. I walk through the wide open doorway and find her standing in the middle of an explosion of ancient splinters and wet carpet remnants. The damage to the room is old. It’s not a good setting for a child, but it is not the cause of the child’s trauma. She is wearing pajama bottoms and a halter top showing a yawning cartoon lion on the front. Both are filthy. The childcare protocols make a Level 5 recommendation to remove the soiled clothing and replace it with appropriate attire for a temperate Autumn afternoon. A quick visual scan of the room shows no alternative clothing is available. 

Her face is smudged and mucus drips from her nose, but she shows no apparent injuries. The gauntness of her face shows she has been undernourished for some time, but without medical or nanny bundles, I cannot estimate how long. Even so, her stomach bulges underneath her shirt with baby fat, so the childcare protocols make a Level 3 recommendation to locate food within the next 4 hours.

“Are you injured?”

The child stops crying and stares at me with large, liquid eyes. She whispers something unintelligible.

“Are you hurt? Do you have a boo-boo?”

She silently shakes her head.

“Where are your parents? Where is Mommy?”

“Kilt,” says the girl.

Following the child’s pointing finger, I find the body of a woman. Photo by Denny Muller.

I quickly check my files but cannot find any relevance of a men’s clothing item.

“Point to Mommy.”

Following the child’s pointing finger, I find the body of a woman in a half bathroom with melting laminate walls. I check for signs of life and then record the obvious murder details visually. The Opsys allows me to set the record for automatic deletion after 50 years.

I return to the child. “Where is Daddy?”
“Daddy leff us,” the girl says. “He don’t . . . “ She pauses and mumbles to herself. “We onner own, baby girl.”

Androids are programmed to be ambidextrous, but Dr. Herbst recorded over all but the most basic functions for my right arm and hand, since the arm was damaged. It mostly works, but my right-hand grip only operates at 50 percent capacity. That’s why I had to lash the data box under my arm.

I offer my left hand to the girl. Holding her hand will significantly lower my defensive capability. But I have no weapons and I am only programmed with rudimentary defense-of-android and defense-of-humans routines.

“Come with me,” I say, pitching my voice to imitate a middle-aged, female woman.

The child wipes her nose absentmindedly with the back of her hand and then takes my left hand.

It’s time to leave Stockheim, anyway.

Perhaps a larger city will have what I’m seeking.

As we walk through the suburbs, I scan the surrounding buildings that likely would contain food. All the stores would have been scavenged years ago. I am programmed to make thousands of dishes based on processed and fresh foods. But I am not programmed to hunt or butcher food. A quick probability calculation shows that taking the child with me will lower the efficiency of my search for data storage by 43 percent. It will also increase the chances of being detected by a roaming faction by 57 percent and decrease my defensive capabilities by 69 percent.

I hear dogs baying 1.2 kloms away. The number of dogs and their spread pattern indicates a high likelihood they are being directed by humans. I pick up the child and we flee.

Even carrying the data box and the child, I can walk faster than most humans can run. For 18 mins, we place distance between ourselves and the hunters. My Opsys estimates a high likelihood they have not detected us and are not pursuing us.

At dusk, we find the crater.

The large suburban neighborhood abruptly stops at the edge of a cliff leading down to the crater floor.

I cannot tell whether the crater was created by an object that fell from space, a terrestrial missile, or a placed explosive. It measures 0.48 kloms across.

A footpath has been carved by years of foot traffic down the inside of the steep wall of the crater. I scan the shadowy crater bottom and estimate the time to cross the crater. As I turn my head to scan a path around the crater and compare the alternative paths, I hear the first sintar strums of “Come Dance with Me, Danger” by the Plundered Sphinxes. Thrum, thrum, thrum-thrum-thrum.

I tilt my head and see the first lightsticks on each side of us. I swing the child to the ground and turn to face the way we came. Humans carrying long, glowing poles appear on the street we came down. Others stream from nearby houses. We are surrounded with the crater to our backs.

I scan the humans for respiration, pulse and facial expression. The childcare program sends a Level 10 recommendation to my Opsys: Do not allow the humans to take the child. Dr. Herbst’s custom programming sends a countermanding directive to preserve his library contained within me. All the culture left of this fallen world.

I gently push the girl and point down the path. I do not know her name. “Run, baby girl.”


Submit your story ending

Mrs. C says I wrote a depressing story beginning, but that’s dystopian fiction for you. You can write your own ending and make it happy or sad, comedic or tragic. And if you send me your story ending, you’ll be entered in the contest.

I can’t wait to see what you write!

Please post your story endings below. And if you just want to leave a comment, that would be great, too!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. If you have any trouble pasting your story ending below, just e-mail it to matthewcrosswrites@gmail.com by the deadline and you will be entered. MC 🚀✨