An End
by Paul Hughes
forum: An End
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..

An End
by Paul Hughes

winner of the 2003 Independent Publisher Book Award in SF.

an end. 
by Paul Evan Hughes

Publisher: Silverthought Press
ISBN 1-58898-745-0 

265 pages

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he is knowing...
and this heart
i contain
for You
i have come again to
zam zam?
rupture rend rive split cleave
please don't let it--
is it too late?
he knew what she couldn't believe.
she knew very little, but she knew beyond a doubt that she loved chocolate milk.
it was a beautiful hand.

The second entry in Paul Hughes's silverthought trilogy, an end is the story of Hunter Windham, taken from earth at age five with a group of boys and the sole surviving human girl to wage a war against an alien race they can neither identify nor comprehend. A disconcerting blend of tender moments between Hunter and Lilith, the Catalyst of the Sixth Extinction, and the jarring horrors of war, an end deals with the struggle for identity, the conflict between reality and illusion, and the realization that the good guys are sometimes the bad guys. Rounding out the cast are painter James McNeill Whistler, a cowboy named Hank, God, an assembly of artificial humans and a mysterious child named Mother, the focal point of the war.

The novel fluidly races across space and time, weaving the past, present, and future into a seamless, touching story of impossible love made possible and the ultimate sacrifice. The fifth and final segment, les soldats perdus: a plague journal is an homage to Samuel Delany's pivotal scifi masterpiece, Dhalgren. Laden with nicotone and silver, an end is a science fiction novel unlike any other.

my lips remember the echoes of that night
and in these final moments, in this final terror, I find stillness.

 novel excerpts:

an excerpt from an end: amidst silver.

         It was a beautiful hand.

         A small freckle on the surface above the beginning of the index finger was the only deviation from creamy white skin, stippled ever-so gently by hairs the color of nothing and sunrise and days she spent in happier times with people now long-dead or long-something-Else.  She studied her hand with an intensity that she had not been able to summon for years in the moments before it left her forever, in those burning moments before her perfect white creamy freckled left useless left hand was severed from the rest of her trapped form in a flash of white and fire and pain.

         “Fleur.  You shouldn’t have tried that.”

         The klaxon was wailing incessantly and piercingly from somewhere above her head, now pressed against the cool relief of the metal floor, but she could still recognize that voice, and the presence that accompanied it.

         “Make that awful noise stop.”

         She did not look up, but instead found some solace in the metal of the floor as her body began shaking, and as uncontrollable sobs emanated from places within that she had not wanted to acknowledge for years.  Her slow tears mixed with the spreading bloodpuddle as she pulled her non-existent left hand back away from the shattered, useless control panel that would have effectively ended not only her own life, but the lives of these men who would be taking her home.  If she had only been successful…  If she had only been able to press that button in time…  Things would be different.  Better.  There would have been certainty in death, but now…

         “Stop her bleeding.  We can’t take her in like that.”

         She held her eyes closed and sobbed into the coagulating blood on the floor.  She felt strange hands begin to lift the crimped and twisted metal of the collapsed bulkhead from her back.  If the vessel hadn’t been torn apart in the boarding, she might have been able to activate the destruct sequence.  If they hadn’t—

         “It’s no use, dear.  Don’t tear yourself apart about it.  You knew we would be coming to get you eventually.  You knew that Mother would not be pleased.”

         A blissful moment of relief from crushing pressure as the final weight was released from her back.  Might be a few cracked ribs.  Perhaps a crushed pelvis.  But altogether, the item was intact.  The hand was an acceptable loss.

         “You’ll be fine, dear.”  Gentle hands lifted her to her feet, and to the surprise of all three residents of the chamber, she stood on her own, eyes blinking away her own blood, stump of a left arm held closely to her chest.  Her breathing was fast-paced and labored, but still she stood defiantly.  Silently.

         The man who was Whistler lifted her chin up, looked squarely into her eyes.  He brushed her hair out of her face and wiped a bit of blood from under her left eye.

         “Minimal damage.  Mother will be pleased.  Let’s go.”

         She recognized Whistler, but did not know the other man.  Both agents of Mother were draped in the traditional long black garment that Fleur knew would conceal a multitude of weapons, each with a varying degree of effectiveness or pain-inducement.  The man she did not know was at the present replacing the long, black weapon with which he had severed her hand with an energy burst back into one of the raven folds of his cloak.  He eyed her coldly, as if she were the cause of his displeasure with life.

         “Ah yes.  Fleur, you have not met Nine.  Nine, Fleur.  Fleur, Nine.  You’ll have plenty of time on the trip home to get to know each other.”

         “The trip home?”  It was the first thing she had said since the arrival of the agents.

         Whistler smiled slyly.  “But of course, dear girl.  Mother wants to see you again.”

         She began to sob once again as Nine pushed her forward, out of the chamber.  Whistler walked over to the destruct panel and gingerly stroked the smooth black surface, wiping up a fair amount of Fleur’s blood.  With Nine and the girl now safely out of the room, he quickly stuck the tip of his finger in his mouth, licking off and savoring the precious blood of the human girl.  Mother would be pleased indeed.

        Whistler's vessel hung like a tumor from the underbelly of the ruined prison galleon.  Already, Fleur’s former home was falling apart in great segments as bulkheads burst with the same squealing porcine terror that had impaled her on the bridge just after they had been boarded.  With a shudder and a quick burst from the phase rudder, the agents’ vessel detached from the fiery wreck.  Fleur watched silently from a porthole as her home of the last seven months drifted into the void.

         “You don’t say much, do you?”

         She turned to meet Nine’s gaze blankly.  “What model is he?”

         Whistler sat down in a swirl of black robe in the thrust chair facing Fluer.  “How did you know?”

         “I always know.  What model?”

         “Nine is a nine.”

         She scoffed.  “Figures…  And you?  How long until they deem your techbase obsolete, Whistler darling?”

         The manufactured grin faltered for an instant, but then returned in force.  “Dear girl, I will never be obsolete.  I am one-of-a-kind.”

         Fleur smiled her one-cornered smile and flexed her beautiful new hand, still held in place by a metal brace.  It worked, but it would never be hers.  There was no freckle to denote her identity.  She wondered whose pattern had been sacrificed to give her a new prosthesis.


         Whistler stopped twirling the shock of pure white hair that grew from his hairline for a moment and looked toward the porthole.  “You should know by now, little flower.”

         “What happened?  Did Mother..”

         “She did, and you will, and we won’t, and it does.”

         “How many galleons are left?”

         Nine’s eyes lit up.  Whistler grinned.

         “How many?”

         “None.”  Nine turned to her, his voice a basso growl.  “Yours was the last.”

        Tears threatened to erupt from her bloodshot eyes, but Fleur maintained her composure, at least enough to squeak out an almost-inaudible “Zero?”

         “What, dear?”

         “Zero?  What about Zero?”

         Again, Whistler’s grin dropped from his face for an instant.  “We don’t know.  We’ve not heard from him in quite some time.  Machine could have been lost eons ago, and we wouldn’t know for decades.”

         “I would know.”

         “Of course, dear.”  Whistler rummaged through the folds of his robe, his hand finally emerging with a silver flask.  He unscrewed the top and took a long drag from the amber liquid within.  He held it out to Nine, who silently shook his head, and then to Fleur.

         “No thanks.  I don’t drink holohol.”

         “Suit yourself, missy.  It’s going to be a long ride home.”

         Fleur turned to the porthole, looked out into black and nothing.

         Home.  A long ride home.

* * *

          swimming and drowning and gasping for air life breath past.

          It swam in the heartbeat of the liquid expanse, the gentle resistance of fluid caressing every curve of his human-esque form.  Inhale, exhale, lub-dub, lub-dub.  It gagged on the viscous gelatin that kept its physical form from liquefying at the impossible speed of Light X Three.  The machine within which it was housed was itself a liquid of sorts, splashing across the dark night of the Outer faster than anything before envisioned.  A solid within a fluid within a fluid, Zero coursed into the future on a machine of inescapably-beautiful silverthought.

          “Machine?” he asked into the featureless expanse of his prison with a voice of drowning liquid syllables, choking on the thick biological secretions that kept him alive and lonely and curious.  “What time is it?”

          Stop asking, Zero.  It does no good to hope.

          “She might have--  She could have--  Maybe…”

          She hasn’t, and most likely won’t.

          Zero touched his fingertips to the slick wet surface of his face, exploring his cheeks for any sign of the tears that he so desired to produce.  He spun around in the bowl, his term for the sphere of liquid that had been his prison for seven months.  Seven months?  Was it really only seven months?

          “Mother was wrong about us, Machine.”

          Do not question our creator, Zero.

          “You don’t have to be loyal to her out here…  You’re going to die out here too, you know.  No one will remember us.  Seven months…  They’re all dead already.”

          They were dead before we left.  The system had been initiated long before our exile began.  There was never a chance that we could have—

          “There was always a chance to stop it.  There was always hope.”

          Zero could feel the narrowing of non-existent eyes in anger.  He could sense Machine’s subtle fury building in the vibrations of the ocean within which he floated.

          “Machine, I command you to turn this bucket around and sail us back home immediately!”  Zero smiled as he said it, but was meant with a silence that was probably only minutes, but could have stretched to hours in the nothing.

          Humor doesn’t suit you.

          “I wish—“

          Wishing doesn’t suit you either.  You know the impossibility of what you desire.

          Zero knew full well that what he desired was an impossibility, and he knew the magnitude with which it was an impossibility.  He had been forced to witness the construction of the system-sized engine that had hurled the Machine and its insignificantly microscopic prison into the Outer.  He had seen the billions of labor drones harvested from countless colonies to construct the gigantic engine.  He had seen the billions left outside to die when the construction was complete, as well.

          You can’t go home again.

          Zero frowned in the nothing.  He would find a way.  Somehow.

          He would find a way to return to Fleur.

          I contain multitudes.

* * *

an excerpt from an end: the stillness between.

          She knew very little, but she knew beyond a doubt that she loved chocolate milk.

          She drank as much chocolate milk as she could, which really wasn't that much, but she knew that chocolate milk brought her almost as much if not more happiness as anything in the sterile world that had been her home for her entire life.  The angels disapproved of her mass-consumption of that silken chocolatey goodness, but they really couldn't do anything to stop her.  Nan would voice her disapproval in that tugging, lecturing way, but she would just smile sweetly and ask for more.  Always more chocolate milk.  In her little world, there was an unending supply of anything that she desired.  The angels had to do exactly as she ordered, a fact that she was just now beginning to take advantage of on a regular basis. Some would call her spoiled.  She preferred to think of herself as a child of privilege.  Chocolate milk?  We've got oceans.

          "Lily, dear?"

          She looked up from the tabletop where her gaze had been transfixed on the colloidal action of millions of brown chocolate flecks interspersed throughout her glass of white near-milk.  The silver spoon with which she had thoughtfully stirred the chocolate powder into her beloved drink stopped its revolution, came to rest.

          "I don't want to."

          Nan pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat down.  She tousled Lily's dark curls, pushed one wayward spiral back behind the little girl's ear.  "I know, dear.  But you have to go outside.  Just for a while, okay?  Then you can come back in."

          "Can I have some more?"  She indicated the half-empty (half-full?) glass before her, even though she knew the answer already.  She could always have more.  She could not, however, persuade Nan to let her stay inside today.  Or any day.

          "Of course, dear.  Let's go."  Nan's face was as warm and kind as a first-generation projection could muster.  If Lily squinted her eyes just enough, she could see the flicker.  If she reached out far enough with her mind, she could feel the cool surface of the silver projector sphere at the center of Nan's being.  Sometimes, she resented being ordered outside for this daily ritual by a loose collection of photons revolving around that marble-sized machine.

          Lily slid down out of her chair, walked toward the door, her hand on the doorknob before she felt Nan's motherly touch, draping her coat around her shoulders.  She turned the knob and went outside for her daily ration of reality, all-too-aware that her every move was being recorded by a veritable universe of machines.

* * *

          A typical summer day, cold wind blowing over dead tree limbs, weak sunlight falling on her face, not warming but simply illuminating.  That clatter of sound from above always chilled her to the bone even moreso than the wind or the air or the growing realization of her isolation.  She walked the avenue alone...  Well, not entirely alone.  Nan walked behind her, watching.  She was always being watched.  Even the suffocating trees above seemed to watch her with their interwoven cemetery embrace.

          Lily sat down on the bench at the end of the lane, as she always did.  Nan stopped several hundred paces behind her, as she always did.  The bench was at the center of what had once been a beautifully-landscaped courtyard, before the Troubles, before the Discovery, before the Birth.  Now, it was a haphazard collection of brown and dead shrubbery, leaves blowing in the wind, collecting at the foot of the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the courtyard and faced the street.

          She sat, a confused and moody child with her chin resting contemplatively on her fists, elbows resting on upper thighs.  The wind seemed to be the only presense interested in playing with her today, fluttering her hair into a tangled mess that Nan would painfully brush out tonight before bedtime.

          They walked by on the street outside the gate as they always did, the people of the city, the last city, walking and watching and simply surviving in the winter days that summer had become in the last decades.  They resented her, and she could feel it in their gazes, especially the empty gazes of the mothers, holding the small hands of their toddler sons as they passed.  Sometimes the little boys would smile and wave at her.  Some of the mothers yanked their children along then, past the little girl on the other side of the fence, past that deceptive metal barrier and the deadly, invisible energy shield that accompanied it.  She noted the looks of confusion on the faces of the little boys, and was sad to see them go.

          A rumble from the west and a transport lifted off above the horizon with fiery liquid speed, propelled out of the atmosphere from the trebuchet built into the other side of the planet.  Lily knew that all across the city, people were looking at that dark sliver, wondering when it would be their turn to join the jihad.  Most would die before it was time.  Most were simply raising their sons to be good warriors.  Most would look at the little girl on the other side of the iron fence with hatred, for being the cause of all of this.  For being the last little girl ever born to the human race.

          She turned away from the transport, or the contrail thereof, for that was all that was left of it now.  Two tiny tears slid down her cheeks.  She hated being outdoors almost as much as she loved chocolate milk.

          They walked by then, the first Mommy and Son of the day, the mother's face turned down to the sidewalk.  She was holding a shopping bag with one hand, filled with that day's allotment of nutrition, and with the other, she held the hand of a little boy, maybe five or six, wearing a knit cap that covered his ears against the biting cold of summertime.  The woman walked faster as she felt Lily's gaze, and the little boy tried hard to keep pace.  Unlike most of the mothers, who would stare in at Lily with a sharp look of resentment and fury, this woman just looked down with a mixture of grief and defeat.

          Lily stood then, uncertain in her movements, outstretched her right hand in a wave.  The little boy smiled widely and waved back with his free arm.  They were already almost out of the limited line of sight into the city that the break in the shrub periphery of the fence would permit.  She ran to the fence, grasping the bars, just out of reach of the energy field that would instantly kill any other human.  He was far away now and getting farther away, but the little boy still looked back, still smiled.  He waved one last time before his dragging mother led him around the corner and out of Lily's life.

          Her face pressed between two of the cool metal bars, her hands each grasping the fence, Lily closed her eyes, let the wind dry the tear-tracks from her face.  She inhaled deeply, the inhalation barely masking the sob that snuck out of nowhere as they so often do in the upset child.  She spoke, because she knew that Nan was there.  She knew that Nan would be there until it was time for Lily to leave this planet.

          "Can we go inside now, Nan?"

          "Yes, dear."

          "Can I have some more chocolate milk?"

         "Of course, dear.  You may always have more chocolate milk."

         Lily released the bars from her grasp, turned to find Nan standing at her side, hand already outstretched.  She reached up, tried to find comfort in that grasp, which felt enough like her own flesh, but still maintained an alien coolness.  It had been explained to Lily, how the angels were not exactly like her, or even the people who walked by the compound and stared at her through the break in the shrubbery.  The angels were special because they were made of light, not blood and bones and other nasty naughty things.  The angels would always be there to look after Lily, long after all of the others had died.

         She squeezed Nan's hand, and Nan looked down at the little girl with a quiet smile.  Lily knew that no matter how hard she squeezed that artificial hand, she would never be able to break it, burst it, invade it in the way that she would have been able to destroy a true hand made of flesh.  The trillions of tiny machines that now swam through the air were much stronger than Lily could ever hope to be, and no matter how hard she squeezed, they would maintain the shape that the little silver ball told them to hold.

         Nan could sense the question on the tip of Lily's tongue, and she slowed her pace, eventually stopping completely and bending down on one knee in front of the child.  Lily studied the ground intently, and Nan levered her head into an upright position by placing one finger under her chin.  The girl's cold eyes were tear-wet.  Nan wiped one of the escapees from Lily's cheek.

         "What is it, little flower?"

         She exhaled, breath stippled with those involuntary sobs.  "They all hate me."

         The projection before her performed a very good rendition of sorrow, not that Lily would have recognized the difference.  Nan leaned forward and embraced her.  "No, little one.  They don't hate you."

         "They do.  I killed their babies."

         Nan released Lily from her embrace then, her face suddenly sober and bereft of an attempt at empathy.  Lily could almost see the communication between the angel and whatever controlled her, the faint flicker of thought between the light sculpture and the entity at the center of the planet.  The wind seemed to pick up then, swirls of dead leaves scittering about the paved avenue that led to the main complex, skeletons scratching across brick and mortar.

         "Who told you that, Lily?" Nan asked, knowing full well that the child had not been out of her field of senses since she had been delivered.

         Lily was evasive, tried to find solace in the intricate brickwork upon which they stood.

         "Lily, who?"

         "A little girl."

         Nan frowned.  "Lily," she struggled with the words, "you know that that's not possible."

         The wind was most definitely picking up, the same dead leaves that had been blowing around the force-shielded compound for years creating a visual cacophony between the child and the angel.  Lily's hair whipped around her head, snarling and tangling, a medusa halo in this gray expanse.

         "She's not here.  Not with us.  Not with them, either."  Lily's arm reached up, hand and pointed finger indicating the break in the shrubbery.

         If there had been blood beneath Nan's skin, it would have run cold.

         "Where is she, Lily?"

         "She's in my head.  In my dreams."

         "Lily, I--"

         "She lives down there."  Her finger pointed down at the brick pathway.  "In the ground, far away, but she talks to me when I sleep."

         Nan looked away from that confused, innocent gaze.  "And what does she say to you, little flower?"

         Lily almost recoiled from that appellation.  Nan made a mental note that was immediately integrated into the collective angel consciousness.

         "I'm the last little girl.  Because of me, the rest died."

         Nan exhaled slowly.  The angels had not predicted this development.  The catalyst was becoming aware at a phenomenal rate, already communicating with the Exile.  It was almost time to begin her ascent.

          "Come, Lily."  Nan stood again, the child's hand still held in her own.  "It's getting cold out.  Let's go have some hot chocolate."

          "Hot chocolate milk?"

          Nan smiled to herself, noting the profound concern in the child's voice.  What else but hot chocolate milk?

          "Yes, dear."

          They returned to the compound.  They sky was bruising, the first hint of a rain that would never actually fall.  Another transport thrust into the late afternoon, cleaving the frigid air with fire and silver.

* * *

an excerpt from an end: a loss so dear.

           Judith opened her eyes.

           The sleep of liquid travel was disconcerting.  She trusted the process, told herself to trust the process, but each time she woke up from the night between the stars, she had the urge to stand before a mirror nude and inspect herself to see if anything was missing.

         That's not where it'd be missing, Jud.

           Ten fingers, ten toes, all the usual bipedal acoutrement.  Little hands touched face; everything appeared to be all right there as well, except for the

           Well.  There would always be that.

           Softdock platform extended, and the slither gently melted into the side of the warworld above System Fourteen-Seven, Planet One.  Judith pulled herself out of the vacuum chair with a slurp, shook her hair around like a barker, coagulating pellets of liquispace emulsion floating freely, lazily spattering onto the walls.  She pulled her hair back, squeezed more of the disgusting yet crucial slime from her coif.  It was now dissipating into a high-density gas.  She was dry.


         deity re-animated.

           "Who is it?"


           "Good.  It's been a while."

         plank extended.

           The lock doors cycled open.  Just beyond the chamber, Judith could see the disturbing androgynous faces of a Doctor and an Assistant.  The Doctor held out a (claw) hand and tried to smile in that way the nearish always tried.

           "Welcome, Medium Judith."

           She waved off the hand.  "Take me to it."

           "Yes, of course.  Have you been briefed?"

           "Briefed?  Briefly."  She walked briskly.  It had been a long time since she'd been in the aether, and she was eager to talk to the god.  She knew she was an addict.  "Something about a planet being lost?"

           "A new technology, yes.  There was a terrorist--"

           "What kind of technology?"

           Doctor's pace slowed.  "I don't know if I'm qualified to--"

           "Just tell me."

           "It's a silver.  A metallic pathogen."

          "What's it do?"

          "Replaces biologic with metallic."

          "How's it work?"

          "We don't know yet."

          "And it killed a planet?"


          Judith pinched the plastic cheek of the Doctor, squeezed it like a child's.  "Well you'd better find out how it works and what it is and who else has it, don't you think?"

          "Yes, of course.  We--"

          "Better get to work."  She glanced through the phased glass of the chamber at the end of the hallway.  "This is it?"

          "Yes, Medium."

          "Good.  Seeya."

          Doctor bowed and retreated.

          Judith placed her palm on the reader beside the door, waited for a miniscule genetic sample to be sequenced and verified, and entered the shielded chamber.  God floated in a static tube at the chamber's center, hardware connecting him as needed to the outside world, gelatin suspending him in near-solid.

          "Hey there, buddy."  Judith smiled that smile, pulled up a wheeled chair to the glass.  She sat down on it backwards.  "How've you been?"

          The host body remained motionless, swaying gently in the omnipresent sludge.  Why did the basis of their technology have to be scum?  Scum from trees?  Scum from giant trees?  She tapped on the glass, as if God were a goldfish.  No reaction.

          "Well, shit."

          She caught a flash of movement from the periphery of her vision and saw that Doctor and Assistant were observing from the deck above, shielded behind phase.  Judith pulled the curtain that surrounded God's static tube closed, blocking the view of the nearish.  She preferred to work alone, or at least with real people.

          Concealed by non-fabric, she withdrew the hardlink cable from the base of the static tube, plugged it snugly into the jack in the center of her chest between the cardiac shields and

* * *

          turning, raindrops spattering on her face, face framed with curls, curls the color not of fire or blood but

          atmosphere choking with something and

          the in-dark answered with


          blew white paper, black ink, folded, to the floor.  Pungent aroma, a humidity of percolation.  Dark day, rain, undertone of well-groomed man in black suit on viewers, ratcheting tones of a music from somewhere, dark day people sipping black liquid, foamy brown liquid, something gathered from mountains.  God sat alone at a table, the host body that of a young man with a streak of white in his hair, old eyes, a book bookmarked and set before him.  Demian.  Hesse.

          She pulled out a chair across from Him and sat.  "What the hell is that smell?"

          He smirked, held out a mug.  "This shit.  Apparently they enjoy drinking it."

          "Oh God."  Judith rolled her eyes.  She wondered what color they were.  "When are we?  Something's not right about this place."

          He leaned back in his chair, contented.  "You don't like it?"

          "The air's different.  And..."


          "It just feels different.  I can't quite--"

          God leaned forward, unzipped Judith's jacket, slipped his hand into open-necked shirt, placed his palm flat against her chest.  Her eyes widened with realization.

          "What are they?"  Her own small hand reached to touch her upper chest, below the collarbone.

          "Just a little project I've been working on for a while.  Unfortunately, it seems that one of them got out of control."

          "And this place?"

          "Hasn't happened yet."  An exclamation of joy.  God and Judith turned to see a young man and woman embrace near the back of the shop, the woman sporting a glint of silver on her left hand.

          "How could you--"

          "I'm God, Judith.  I can do anything."  He sipped his coffee with a grin.  "I contain multitudes."

          "Don't get too big for your britches, O Omnipresence.  We'll throw you back down the hole."  Judith took the cup from God, took a sip, grimaced.  She placed the cup back down on the table.  "Why's the wind blowing?  And rain?  It's--"

          "Autumn.  Not a perpetual autumn, but an autumn nonetheless."


          "A season.  There used to be seasons, long before you were born."

          Judith rubbed the flesh of her chest, exposed between drapes of fine silk.  She was mesmerized by the single beat.

          Click, scratch, sizzle, click.  God inhaled deeply, exhaled smoke.  Judith hated the smoker scent.

          "How bad is it?"

          "I've only just been briefed.  Briefly.  But it's bad.  You said you let one get loose?"

          "I didn't let her get loose."  God ashed in his coffee cup.  "Shit happens.  I wasn't watching."

          "We shouldn't have dropped you after the war.  Maybe if you'd been--"

          "I wanted to be down there.  You're too noisy.  I need my space."

          "I understand."

          "I feel asleep for a while.  Just a nap.  I wake up and there's a planet fucked."

          Judith traced figure eights on the tabletop with precision-filed fingernail.  "Will it be salvagable?"

          "That's the thing...  I don't know what she did."

          "It's a silver.  Downloading specs."  Judith's eyes flashed for an instant as she hardlinked into the system.  "Full-spectrum phase catalyst.  Biologically invasive, gaseous dissemination in nitrogen atmospheres."

          "I didn't make a silver like that."

          "See for yourself."  Judith grasped God's hands in her own.  His eyes widened.

          "I didn't fucking make that."

          Judith sat up, released God's hands.  In that last instant of contact, an emotion: fear.  Genuine.  Overwhelming.  "Where did it--"

          "You have to get her out of here.  At least until I can work this out...  Please don't drop me yet, Jud.  I don't know--"

          "I'll tell the--"

          "We have to--"

          "We will."  She never seen Him like this.  The host body's face was deathly pale, eyes darting.  His hand grasped a napkin from the table, clenched and released, nervously started tearing it into strips.

          "I didn't make that silver."

          "We'll figure it out.  I have to go for now."

          "Please don't.  It's been so long since--"

          "I'll be back."  She tenderly patted His hand.  "I promise.  We'll do all we can."  Judith reached to her chest, grabbed the invisible hardlink cable that she knew was there.

          "I'll be here."

* * *

an excerpt from an end: the machinery of night.



          "Your hand."  His heart broke a little more when he saw her eyes, her gaze.  The way her hands were clustered before her mouth.

         He looked, horrified before he even saw, because he knew, and he knew, and he knew.

          Faint lattice of silver, just below the skin.  It crawled from fingertips to palm to wrist.  He spun an overhead monitor into the light, saw even in the reflection of the dead display that the silver was working its way underneath the skin above his skull.

          Lilith sobbed as she activated the shield mechanism on her cardiac plate.  The phase gelatin engulfed her form as she stood from the vacuum chair.  "Hunter, I--"

          "No, it's not--"

          "I'm so--"

          "It's not your fault!"  He cried out as the silver gave one last twinge in his head that brought him to his knees.  "It's not your fault."  The pain subsided as Lilith's shielding provided a buffer between his flesh and her affliction.

          She knelt at his side, dragging the slosh of phase behind and around her.

          "It'll be okay.  We'll be okay."

          Hunter nodded, although he knew that their love would kill him.

          "We'll meet up with a galleon.  We'll find a way to hide you.  We'll split up.  I can take the Fleet back to Earth and--"

          "I'm not leaving you."

          "You have to.  When she finds out that we're off-target--"

          "I'm not leaving you."



          The phase shield was an echoing frustration.  He longed to hold her, reassure her.  The silver wouldn't allow any contact at all very soon.

          "Our first concern right now is to outrun the Rebecca."

          "We can't outrun them.  We'll have to fight."

          "Are you willing to kill a destroyer of humans?"

          She tripped over words.  Heart pounded beneath cardiac plate.  "It would appear I have been all along."

          "Lily--"  He exhaled.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean--"

          "I know."

          "We'll find a way to end this."

          "We will."


          "Just us."

          They flew into the void, machinery of night and war, wounded soldiers without certainty, grasping what hope they could from the dream of ending the jihad of

* * *

          "What's that?"

          He placed the Bic micro metal black ink pen on the countertop, reached for his cup.  Slow sip, clink, napkin to lips.

          "Just something."

          She smiled, releasing solitary dimple, hiding her eyes.  "It's a new book."


          "Yes it is!  What's it about?"

          "It's not a new book."

          "A short story?"

          He tapped the pen against the counter.  "I don't know."

          "You have to know what it is."

          "It's something."

          "A journal?"

         waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of the halls of vapor and light

          "Do you remember when you first came here?"

          The shop was empty, past closing time.  He wrote while she made order of cups and saucers, filled sugar dispensers.  He'd helped her put the chairs on the tabletops earlier.  She walked around to his side of the counter, took the stool next to him.  Her eyes studied the floor, the pen, his hands.  Not his eyes, old eyes now gray, old eyes now buried in furrows of wrinkle and thought.


          He reached, took her hands in his.  Gently, so gently raised them to lips, traced knuckle and fingertip, slid over ring and ring.  He tilted her face up with fingertips layered in callus, guitar callus of decades and night.  Her bottom lip trembled, mouth opened to say something, anything.  He kissed her cheek.

          "I knew it would happen...  I wrote about it months before it happened.  Something inside me knew."

          "Paul, I'm--"

          "No."  They embraced.  He spoke into hair and ear.  "Sweet girl."

          "Please know."

          "I know.  And I knew.  And I knew that we'd be together again, someday, somehow."  He pulled back, tip of nose meeting tip of nose.  "And now I know something else."

          "The journal?"

          "Something's been speaking to me for years.  Long before they found her, long before the wars and the troubles.  I hear it in the night, in the loss, in the stillness, in the--"


          He nodded.  "It's gotten worse since it's begun.  Since she's begun."

          Susan thought of the intersections of that day: the young engaged couple: soldier and silver ring, the author and his girlfriend: Deus Ex and Demian, the man with a white curl.

          "'And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.'"


          "Gatsby."  He found double-meaning in her response.

          "I'm sorry I didn't dance with you."

          "Stop it."  She grinned.

          "This is where the fish lives."

          "I have come again--"

          "To wound the autumnal city."  Her smile was wide, forgiving, forever.  "Delany's going to sue you someday."

          They laughed, and it was good.

          She pulled back from their embrace, tangle of arms, warmth of bodies, scent of coffee, sound of raindrops.  Eyes tear-wet, blinking.  Blinking.

          "Please know, Paul."

          "I know."  He closed the blank book, left in mid-sentence.  "I'll finish this journal another day."

          They walked into the unsteady night, clouds lifting to reveal a sky of stars and starships, the men of war within the machinery that would take them beyond heaven, beyond time and tomorrow.  They walked into the night, knowing that it was time, almost time, almost time.  Their hands clasped tightly under stars, under stars.


          "Yes?"  Blue-green eyes in the light of the moon.  Dimple.

          "I love You."

         my lips remember the echoes of that night

* * *

an excerpt from an end: 
les soldats perdus: a plague journal.

         No she shouted and grabbed him from behind, tiny hands latching on to black folds of cloak and

          I remember Maire smiling.  Knowing.  You know, you do and

          I remember trees and

          I remember singing and

          I remember

         the stillness between us, that warm and best place, the moment before kissing her for the first time, the time we spent curled together, just Us, just.  Us.  and the laughter and how it was forbidden and We were forbidden, love growing between two kids trapped on a metal box flying off to war, and the fence that kept her safe, Mommy's hand holding mine tightly through black glove that concealed her disease, the same plague that was now complete, and Daddy buying my Honeybear Brown, spoiling me because he knew he'd have to leave, that he'd die between stars, and Hannon, how I mourned then for that innocent, for that species, for Judith and Berlin, for the unnamed dead, trillions and the way she would hold my shaking, clumsy, rough hand in her own, kissing knuckles as I lay with eyes closed, just Us, just Us.  Just.  Us.  and I see now the coffee house, a marble, a pack of cigarettes and i Know.  I Believe.

         the child begs me

         there is no more resistance.  no more time.  it is

          I don't remember the weapon firing, but it did.

         how she begs me.  dying

         i train the weapon on her heart

          I only intended to hit Nine.

         because i had to say this, because i needed you to know, because this can't be the end, because this can't be, not the end of Us, not now, please not now.  i believe in forevers, in all of this, all of this can't be the end, it can't, and i know now that we are as one, one decentralized soul taken apart by time and circumstance, allowed to find itself once again even if only for a moment, and i know that we will meet again, and we will just be.  just Us.  please know.  you know.  you do.  you

         so many questions left unanswered, this war, this plague.  i am only a lost soldier, lost because of

         this war, this plague.  i am only a lost soldier, lost because of

         i am only a lost soldier, lost because of

         lost because of



an end. 
by Paul Evan Hughes

Publisher: Silverthought Press
ISBN 1-58898-745-0 

265 pages


purchase from

copyright 2002 Paul Hughes.

Paul Hughes is the editor of and the founder of Silverthought Press. He lives in Philadelphia, NY. His previous works include enemy, the winner of the 2002 Booksurge Editor's Choice award, and An End, the 2003 Independent Publishers Book Award winner for Science Fiction.  Besides the collaborative night.blind project on, Hughes is also finishing the third piece of the silverthought trilogy, broken.  For more information, please visit: