The Inherited Planet by Lauren Signorino
The following story can be found in the Brick Moon Fiction Annual Volume 1 available on Amazon and featuring the best in next wave speculative fiction.
Cigars, leather, and seared steak, the familiar smell of Salia’s father’s study. She could never quite grasp where the seared steak scent came from until she took her first space walk. Marcus Morrison always carried the scent of space with him since he spent most of his life in the starry void searching for what was yet undiscovered.
This was the first time Salia had set foot in her father’s study since the day she set off for aeronautics training. She’ll never forget the advice he gave her on that day. “Since you’re my daughter they’ll want to take you out first, so never let your guard down. You will be the first woman to score higher than a man at the Academy and they’re going to hate you for it, so remember, if they come at you, kick em’ in the nuts.”
Salia allows herself a smile as she looks at all the pictures of her father on the walls. His sharp silver crew cut and winning smile adorn the cover of Time Magazine. “Marcus Morrison: The Astronaut Entrepreneur” the headline read. In another picture he is surrounded by glamorous movie stars at an awards show. In most of Salia’s memories her father was either in a tux or a spacesuit in the glossy pages of magazines. While Salia scans the framed articles filled with accolades for her father, she can’t help but think of all the tabloids she saw him on the cover that would never be framed to grace these walls. Marcus had an insatiable curiosity that served him well as he discovered and sold most of the planets in the galaxy. Unfortunately, for his wife that curiosity also extended to beautiful women.
She runs her finger across a mahogany armoire and picks up an ornately framed photo of her father and the woman she was told to call mother. Evelyn Van Tallen Morrison came from generations of aristocratic marriages. She was in her fifties when she met Marcus and was instantly enamored by his charm. Marcus was more enamored by Evelyn’s family money but she still had the blush of beauty which was a must for Marcus. They both smiled curtly in their wedding photo. Hoping to slow down her philandering husband, Evelyn became pregnant with twins. Baby pictures of Christoph and Cricket sat on either side of their wedding photo. Evelyn became so focused on spoiling her late-in-life-miracles that Marcus was left to his own devices, which is what led to Salia coming into this world. Salia’s mother was a part time model and full time drug addict. Nine months after her mother slept with Marcus she left Salia on her father’s penthouse doorstep.
Above the fireplace, a framed article about Marcus’ most beloved discovery, the planet Paraxis. This was the last interview Marcus ever gave before he left Earth with Evelyn to live on Paraxis for the rest of his life. Salia memorized every word of the article hoping that she might unlock a clue that would explain why her father left her. Salia wasn’t the only one who read that article with rapt interest. The galaxy wanted to know about the only planet that Marcus refused to sell. The interview itself was very vague. The only candid quotes from Marcus were all thinly veiled threats that if anyone tried to conquer Paraxis, he would fight them to the death, and that is exactly what he did. Galactic gangs banned together to take Paraxis and find out what treasures the planet held. Marcus was able to hold them off but lost his life in the battle. His death was mourned throughout the Galaxy and that’s when the United Galactic Congress stepped in and created a treaty to protect Paraxis.
Salia’s eyes well with tears, she wipes them away before they fall. She can’t help but smile when she sees a smiling stick figure drawing she gave her father on her first day of second grade. Her smile is quick to fade as her half-brother and sister waltz into the study. They had been summoned by the same lawyers who notified them of their father’s passing. Cricket is the first to break the awkward silence. “Oh god, they called you too? You’re barely family.”
Christoph gives Salia the once over. “Of course the prodigal bastard would be here. She’s always been good at hanging around where she doesn’t belong.”
Cricket examines herself in the mirror. She adjusts her breasts situated in a low cut black dress. Christoph eyes his sister with disgust. “Jesus Cricket, do you really need to display those things at a moment like this? We’re probably about to be told our mother is dead. Have some decorum.”
Salia finds her voice. “Do you really think she’s passed?”
Cricket rolls her eyes and replies, “Of course that’s what this is about. Mother is like a million years old. Now wipe that fake sadness off your face. You should be happy. She despised your very existence.”
Christoph opens a drawer and pockets some cigars. “And she wasn’t in the best of health when she left Earth. Something on that planet must have kept her going and once I inherit Paraxis I’m going to find out what it is.” There it was, the true reason for Christoph’s feigned grief, the possibility that their mother was dead meant that the mysterious planet of Paraxis would be inherited.
Cricket finishes admiring herself in the mirror. “I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t let me film this for my show. My fans want to be a part of all aspects of my life, including my grief.”
Salia shakes her head and takes a jab at her half-sister. “You really shouldn’t use your mother’s passing to boost ratings for your reality show.”
Christoph’s chuckle settles into a smirk. “Whoa, someone’s found some courage at space camp.”
“It’s not space camp. I’m top of my class at Aeronautics training. The first woman to ever do so.”
“Are we supposed to be impressed? Daddy may have found your little training to be special but I have a viewership of over 20 million on five different planets. Now that’s something he should have been proud of.”
Christoph glances at his watch. “I’m ready to get this show on the road. I’ve got money on a rocket race at my track.”
Never missing an opportunity for a snarky comment Cricket quips, “You’re space track is still open? I thought that lawsuit shut it down.”
Salia jumps in with, “I saw the families of the people who died on the news. You should really honor their wishes and close that death track.”
“Those families are being paid generously. They can’t shut me down because as our family well knows, lawyers and money can make just about anything happen.” With that sentiment a thin grey haired man in an expensive suit glides into the study.
“Good afternoon, my name is Darren Rhodes, and I’m the executor of your family’s estate. Since your father’s death your mother has inhabited Paraxis alone but she was connected to Earth through a heart monitor. Her monitor sent a signal alerting me that her heart has stopped beating. I’m sorry to tell you that your mother has passed away.” Cricket forces out a fake sob.
“Save it for the cameras, Cricket. No one is filming this” Salia snaps. Cricket glares at Salia.
“It was always your parents wish that the three of you one day experience Paraxis. However, they feared that none of you were ready to take on the planet.”
Christoph cuts him off “I was born ready to take on that planet. Now tell us who’s inheriting Paraxis?”
“I’m sorry to say that I do not know. Considering the galaxy wide interest in the last privately owned planet, your mother wanted to tell you herself who would be inheriting it.”
Christoph throws up his arms and exclaims, “How the hell is she going to tell us if she is dead? I mean I think it’s safe to assume that I’m the one who she left it to so we can just go off that.”
“If we don’t know who is inheriting it, then doesn’t that leave the planet vulnerable to government takeover? I don’t want my father to have died protecting Paraxis just to see it fall now.” Salia’s genuine concern is met with an eye roll from Cricket.
“That is why your mother came up with her own way of explaining your inheritance. My purpose here today is to tell you that you will be learning the fate of Paraxis on the planet itself. A spacecraft from your father’s fleet is standing by to take you to the planet.” Salia is bewildered but not surprised. The woman she called mother always had to be in control which is another reason Salia’s existence endlessly irritated her. She was something unplanned in Evelyn’s perfect universe.
Cricket is quick to ask, “Can I bring my camera crew? The galaxy is dying to see Paraxis and this is the perfect opportunity.”
“No. Your parents were adamant that Paraxis remain a private planet.”
“Well if I can’t bring the camera crew then I’m not sure I can go. I need to film my season finale this week.” Cricket never did have any desire for adventure.
Frustrated with his small minded sister Christoph replies, “Cricket, the resources on Paraxis are estimated to be priceless. If I inherit it, then you won’t have to whore yourself out on basic cable ever again. As you are my full blood sibling I will make sure you are taken care of.” It starts to sink in for Salia that she is actually going to see a planet she has dreamt about since she was a little girl. A planet her father loved above all else.
Paparazzi line the fence beyond the tarmac clamoring for a photo to document the departure of the infamous heirs of the Morrison empire leaving for Paraxis. Christoph and Cricket bicker as they board the space craft. Salia refuses to take part in their chatter about what they’re going to do with Paraxis if they inherit it. Despite the circumstances she is excited and eager to leave Earth behind. She has only trained to traverse the galaxy but has never had the opportunity to do so. The autopilot takes hold of the ship and the hibernation vapors funnel into the passenger bay. Christoph and Cricket struggle as they go under, but this is a sensation that Salia has felt hundreds of times before in her training. She surrenders to the vapors; however, this is the first time Salia dreams while being under. Well, it isn’t so much of a dream as it is a memory.
The warmth of sun on her skin, the bright blue of her favorite dress, and the feeling of anxious excitement floods through her mind. She was nine years old and her father was set to return for her birthday from one of his planet discovering expeditions. He had never been home for her birthday before. They gathered in the yard awaiting her father’s ship to land. The grin on Salia’s face as the ship landed could be seen from space. She was squirming with anxiety and Evelyn scolded her to keep still. The docking bay opened and a beautiful Appaloosa horse galloped out and into the yard followed by her father with open arms. Salia ran to her father and he picked her up with a hug. She marveled at the horse, petting it’s mane while thanking her father for the best birthday present ever.
Her beautiful moment with her father was shattered by Crickets wailing. Between sobs she exclaimed that she always wanted a horse. Cricket always got what she wanted so the horse was quickly re-gifted to her. Salia wept in her bedroom as she watched Cricket ride the horse around the yard. Her father sheepishly entered her bedroom and sat next to her. He told her that he was sorry but Cricket had been asking for a horse and he got mixed up and thought Salia wanted one. He wiped the tears from her face and told her that he got her something much better than a horse. Something not of this world. Marcus reached into his pocket and pulled out iridescent pebbles. He told her that these stones came from a very special planet called Paraxis. Salia wiped her tears away and took the stones in her hand. She felt an ethereal connection with them. She thought they were magic. Salia told her father that this was a better gift than the horse. He patted her on the back and left the room.
As she rubbed the stones she heard Marcus and Evelyn arguing in the hall. Marcus wanted Evelyn to tell Salia happy birthday. Evelyn protested but then relented. “Happy Birthday” Evelyn said with disdain.
As Evelyn walked away Salia said “I love you.” To this day she can’t figure out why those words came from her mouth at that moment. Salia had never said those three words to anyone.
Evelyn was paralyzed with shock. She couldn’t bring herself to say it back. She turned to face Salia and all she could manage was “I just… I can’t love you.” Evelyn rushed out of the room leaving Salia devastated.
Salia rouses from hibernation as they land on Paraxis. She tries to brush off the dream but it lingers in her mind as the hibernation vapors wear off. Christoph is about to open the hatch when Salia stops him. She checks the atmosphere on the control panel, they’re safe to exit. They are immediately struck by the wonder of it all, well at least Christoph and Salia are mystified. Cricket yawns. The sky is a magnificent swirling cobalt and canary. The terra firma is comprised of billions of the tiny iridescent pebbles that Salia was given for her ninth birthday. No other signs of life. In the distance is an exact replica of their childhood home. Right down to the columns on either side of the green front door. Cricket and Christoph rush off to the house while Salia lets it all sink in for a moment. For the first time in her life Salia feels as though she belongs somewhere. Paraxis feels like home.
Inside Salia finds Christoph and Cricket lounging in the fancy seating room they were never allowed to step foot in as kids. Christoph has taken the opportunity to put his feet up on the coffee table.
“Everything is exactly the same” remarks Salia.
“Mother, always had to have things just so” Cricket replies as she moves a vase off center. Something flashes by in the corner of Salia’s eye. She peers down a dark hallway but nothing stirs. She feels a presence in the room beyond that of her irritating siblings. There’s an eerie energy in the empty house that Salia can’t put into words. Christoph snaps his fingers in front of a holographic sensor. A green light flashes and a holograph of their mother loads.
She’s much older than Salia remembers. Deep wrinkles crease what were once subtle lines. Evelyn gives a curt smile as she strides to the center of the room. She speaks in a much gentler tone than the woman who used to constantly scold Salia as a child. “I have brought you here to Paraxis to share with you the majesty of this very special planet. I wanted each of you to come here before but I promised your father that he and I would be its only inhabitants until the day we died. Now that I have passed I felt it was time for you to see the immense beauty this planet beholds. I must admit that when your father insisted on bringing me here, I wanted to divorce him. I felt I had shared my husband with the galaxy and I wanted a new beginning. This planet gave that to me.
Being on Paraxis forced us to reconcile and we fell in love for the first time. You see our marriage on Earth was more about status than anything else. To him I was an accessory that gave him increased respect with high society and to me he was a way to become an icon on Earth.”
“She thinks we don’t already know this?” Cricket retorts.
“Our marriage was filled with lies and hatred but Paraxis changed all that. We were forced to let go of our past mistakes in order to protect and maintain the peace of this powerful planet. Moments before your father took his last breath he told me that I should choose which of our children is worthy of inheriting Paraxis. I believe he wanted me to make this decision because this was his final declaration of love and trust in me.”
Christoph barks at the hologram. “Get down to it already you old bat. I’ve got plans for this place.”
“I spent years lamenting over the mistakes I made while raising the three of you. Having come to motherhood late in my life I was just so thankful to have children that I spoiled you instead of molding you. Despite having been off Earth for the past ten years I have still kept an eye on each of you. I followed your failures and your few successes.
Christoph, it seems you have inherited your father’s pension for playboy antics. Your father would have admired your pursuits in hyper speed space travel and so I must acknowledge that you have done well in that regard. However, your need to gamble not only with money but with your life and the lives of others concerns me deeply. I hope that you will heed my words and put your passion to good use.”
Salia smirks and says to Christoph “I can’t believe I’m saying this but you should probably listen to her. She’s got you pegged.” Christoph sneers at Salia.
“Cricket, you have become the most like me in my youth.”
She perks up. “See I told you I had a real chance at getting the planet.”
“You are vain, self absorbed, and most of all hungry for attention. I look back at when I was your age and I think of all I wasted. After your father and I cut you off you turned to that ridiculous television spectacle and disappointed not only yourself but your father’s name. My only hope for you is that this experience on Paraxis may allow you to step outside of yourself and make real changes in your life.”
“Cricket, you really are embarrassing yourself on that show. I tell people you’re the bastard child.” Cricket punches Christoph in the arm. Salia bursts out laughing and Christoph wipes his smirk away. “But I never forget who the real bastard is” Christoph says while looking Salia up and down with disgust. Salia’s face falls. Even after all this time she thought she might have a moment with her brother. As she Salia tries to brush off her disappointment she hears something gently pad down the hall. She peers down the hallway but nothing stirs.
“Holding on to your grudges and mistakes on Paraxis is impossible. The planet won’t allow it. I had to forgive your father but more importantly I had to begin to forgive myself. Salia, of all the terrible moments of my life, you showing up on our doorstep was the hardest.
Cricket leans over to Salia. “She’s going to say she should have sent you back to your whore mother as soon as you arrived.”
“I chose to blame you for my husband’s mistakes even though it was no fault of your own. I refused to love you and I have taken that guilt to my grave.” Salia can’t believe it. Could the woman whose love she wanted her entire life truly be apologizing from the grave?
“Your father insisted that I treat you the same as Cristoph and Cricket but I wasn’t a big enough person and he wasn’t around enough to make sure you felt love in this family and that was his failure. The years on Paraxis pushed me to hold myself accountable for what I had done to you. This planet can act as a mirror if you let it. When I looked in that mirror, I saw you first, Salia. My biggest regret is not telling you this in person and embracing you the way I should have when you were a child. My hope is that being here on Paraxis will allow you to look in that mirror and forgive me, for I will be waiting in the afterlife for that moment. I’m sorry I never said that I love you.”
The hologram cuts out there. Christoph jumps up and shouts at the ghost of the hologram. “What the hell! That’s it. Who inherits the planet?” Christoph begins pacing the room.
Cricket replies “Mother doesn’t wear a conscience well. But true to fashion she had a flare for the dramatics. Salia, I hope you don’t think that death’s door apology means that you will inherit anything at all. The planet will go to either me or Christoph. All that talk of a mirror makes me think that it should be me.”
The hologram blips back on. Evelyn is composed once again. She gives a tight lipped yet telling smile and launches back into her final decree. “Now that I have said my final words it is time I explain your inheritance. By now you may have felt a presence on Paraxis. Your father and I were not only enchanted by the beauty of Paraxis but by the innocent life that flourished here. The pure sweet beings of this planet deserve an understanding and compassionate caretaker. That is why I’ve left the decision for who shall inherit the planet up to the loving and simple creatures your father and I called the Mox.
They have created everything on this planet. The oxygen, the minerals, the atmosphere and the home that you grew up in. You see, they have the gift to create elements. While they can create anything, they are extremely fragile. Negative emotions like anger and resentment confuse them. Be mindful of the Mox for if they are provoked they are capable of unimaginable acts. Guard them with your life as your father and I did.” With that final plea Evelyn cuts out and her three children are left in varying degrees of disbelief.
Christoph is the first to voice his outrage. “She finally lost it. All these years by herself on this planet made her completely insane.”
Cricket chimes in. “She screwed up raising us so badly that she created creatures to mother in her mind. My therapist would say this is common displacement behavior.”
“Well since she’s gone completely coo coo it will be easy to fight this in court. Once we get back to Earth I’ll have my lawyers start drafting an appeal. Don’t worry Cricket darling I’ll take care of the planet.”
Salia is bewildered but she believes that they are not alone. “I think there is something here. I’ve felt it since we first arrived.”
Christoph laughs off Salia’s comment. “Of course you’d say that since little green men would be the only shot in hell you have of inheriting this planet.”
Salia refuses to back down this time. “I believe her. We need to honor her wishes and look for these… Mox… or whatever they are.”
“You’re just as batshit as she is. Make no mistake, you are not one of us just because father took pity on your whore mother and let you live with us. I am the rightful heir of Paraxis!”
Salia nearly falls from her chair, catches herself, and staggers backwards. It’s not Christoph’s harsh words that send her reeling. There they were, the creatures that Evelyn spoke of standing in the hall staring at the three of them. They were no taller than her knee and their eyes blinked so rapidly you could barely catch a glimmer of their ultra violet colored eyeballs. The Mox are hairless with skin the color of still oil, stubby arms, and box like legs. Christoph spins around to see the creatures and clasps his hand over his mouth. Cricket nearly faints and falls into the closest chair. Salia is drawn to them. She takes a cautious step closer when suddenly she is struck with thoughts that are not her own.
The Mox speak to her telepathically using her own voice, as if they are her conscience. “Hurt. Anger. Fear. Evelyn. Gone. Sad.” Salia is baffled for a moment but then realizes this must be how they communicate. She answers out loud.
“It’s just an argument. Everything is okay. Evelyn brought us here to meet you.”
Salia puts her hand to her temple as their collective consciousness speaks in her voice inside her head. “You. Protector.”
“I don’t know about protector but I won’t hurt you.”
Cricket squeaks “How the hell are you talking to them?”
Salia turns to Cricket to answer “They speak to me in my head. In my voice. I don’t quite understand it yet. But keep your temper in check. I think they’re scared.”
Christoph squints inspecting the tiny Mox. “Tell them that I’m in charge. Oh, and tell them to make something. I want to see if what mother was saying is true. Let’s start with gold.”
Cricket adds on her order “I want a diamond as big as my face!”
Salia spent her entire childhood taking orders from her siblings but no more. “No. I won’t let them do anything. They aren’t your slaves.”
“Like hell they aren’t. They live on our family’s planet. So we own them.” Christoph shoves Salia out of the way and kneels down to face the Mox. He yells in their face as if they are deaf. “Make me gold! AU, if you understand elements better. If you don’t do it I’ll be forced to hurt you.”
Salia tries to pull Christoph away from the Mox. “Get away from them! If you hurt them, I swear…”Christoph stands and backhands Salia sending her spiraling to the floor.
“Silly Salia, you can’t do anything. Step back and let Christoph speak to the creatures.”
The Mox speak to Salia again “Hurt. Pain. Death.” Suddenly Christoph grabs his neck gasping for air. He’s struggling to breathe as he turns blue and falls to the floor. The Mox have taken the air from Christoph’s lungs. Cricket frantically tries to resuscitate her brother, but with no skills at all, there’s nothing she can do. She lunges for the Mox who stop her in mid air. Cricket is suspended in gravity and then violently thrown to the floor. She begins to wheeze like Christoph. Salia is stunned. The Mox are killing her siblings. Part of her wants to let them kill the terrible people who tormented her childhood and made her feel undeserving of love but the part of her that heard regret in her mother’s voice makes her want to save them.
Salia yells out “Stop! Please don’t kill them.” The Mox blink in unison as Cricket and Christoph suffocate.
The Mox speak in her mind like the devil on her shoulder. “Mean. Hurt. Bad. Die.”
“Yes, they’re bad but they don’t deserve to die. Evelyn would not want you to kill them. Please let them go.”
“Evil. People. Steal. Paraxis.”
“I won’t let them. I promise. I will protect Praxis. I will protect you.”
The Mox relent. Christoph and Salia are flooded with oxygen. They suck air back into their lungs. The Mox separate but turn to each other silently debating their next move but not allowing Salia to hear.
Salia puts her hand out to help Christoph up, he scrambles to his feet avoiding her outstretched hand. “You told them to kill us. We’re the only family you have!”
Cricket massages her neck with tears in her eyes “You ungrateful bitch. You would let them kill us after all our father did for you!”
“I didn’t tell them to kill you. But maybe I should have let them. I suggest you leave this planet before they change their minds or before I do.”
Cricket grabs Christoph’s arm and cowers behind him as he offers up his final threat to Salia. “I’m not finished fighting for this planet. Now that I know what’s here and what I’m up against, I’ll be better prepared next time. Paraxis will belong to the true heirs of the Morrison fortune.”
Salia smiles as Christoph and Cricket run from the home. She knows he’ll be back but it doesn’t matter because she no longer fears him. Now the only fear she has is for the Mox. They are a force beyond anything else in the galaxy. She must not only protect them but she must protect the rest of the galaxy from them. Salia turns her attention to the Mox as she hears the thrusters of the spaceship fire up.
“Away. Stop. Not. Go. Protect. End. Bad. Lives.” The Mox want to go after her siblings.
Salia sweetly smiles to the Mox, their eyes flutter. They feel her warmth and the goodness in her heart. Salia speaks to them telepathically in their language. “Forgiveness. Protect. Never. Hurt. Only. Love.”
Lauren Signorino is a writer and lover of science fiction, fantasy, and horror who has been writing short stories since childhood. Lauren moved around growing up, but calls San Diego home. After college she moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California where she earned a master’s degree in Professional Writing. Post-graduation, Lauren has worked in the writers office of four television shows. Currently, she is working as a Writers’ Assistant on AMC’s companion series to THE WALKING DEAD. In her spare time, Lauren’s SWAT sniper brother takes her to the gun range to prepare her for the impending zombie apocalypse.