Fantasy Fiction Science Fiction

Navigation Coordinates J2000 Right Ascension to Saturn (Per the International Celestial Reference System)

On board Spacecraft Module ZK8*11, two of Planet Exo’s top engineers sat together in the Goldilocks Lounge going over the day’s findings.

EKK-&#@ and SPEC-%^+ studied a year’s worth of data points spread before them reflected in graphs and pie-charts. The table surface doubled as a computer screen. The two had their internal telepathy enabled so they could communicate without speaking. This had the advantage of blocking out other sounds in the area and was especially effective when sharing classified business. 

EKK-&#@:   Look. The data supports our initial theory that Earth is, indeed, a doomsday planet, always has been. 

SPEC-%^+:  Yes, but this is new. See this increase? Tells me there's hope.

EKK-&#@:   Those numbers elevated when we initiated the study.  That shift was a direct result of our researchers’ influence; I’d bet my existence on it.

SPEC-%^+:   When can we expect a decision from the Elders?

EKK-&#@:    Anytime now. If the choice is demolition for the greater good, we’ll want our research technicians evacuated. 

SPEC-%^+:   And the alternative?

EKK-&#@:    Do or die; they have to do better or . . .

SPEC-%^+: They can still turn things around. They just have to stop, look and listen.

EKK-&#@: For their sake, at least, let us hope they remember how.

* * *

“Mom? Where’s Zippy?” Chloe yelled from the playroom.

Amanda was in the kitchen attempting to get Chloe’s little sister to eat more cereal.

“I haven’t seen him. Did you check under your bed?”

“He better not be!”

There was only one reason her favorite toy would be under a bed; the family beagle, Oscar, had retreated with the stuffed creature to give it a good chew. Zippy was surprisingly resilient and hadn’t sustained permanent damage by way of rips or tears, but Chloe reasoned there could always be a first time.

Zippy had become the most popular toy the prior holiday season. This was a product that just seemed to appear in practically every toy and department store across the globe one day and became an instant sensation. Every child either had one or relentlessly campaigned for one. 

Zippy came in a multitude of bright colors and sizes, no two exactly alike, but they all had Zippy’s signature ink-blue eyes and helmet with double antenna that, when you squeezed his plush belly, would shoot a harmless electric current back and forth between them.  The doll also doubled as a nightlight and, if you squeezed his nose, would exude a warm glow.

“Oscar! Do you have Zippy?  If I catch. . .”

Oscar scrambled past Chloe as she entered her room.

“Hah! Thought so. Run, you slobbering thief!”

She saw one of Zippy's arms beckoning from under her bed. She quickly went to gather her friend.

“I turn my back for one second . . . no cuts or tears.  Whew, good. But, ugh, slimy . . . gross, Oscar!”

Chloe dangled Zippy between two fingers and took him to Amanda.

“Look, Mom. Zippy’s been slimed again.”

“I told you, Chloe, Oscar doesn’t know any better. If you want Zippy to be out of harm’s way . . .”

“I know. I know. I was just brushing my teeth.”

“Well, why don’t you try washing Zippy this time? You’ve seen me do it. I’ll bet you can manage.”

“Sure! Hey, Zip, how ‘bout a bath?”

Chloe pinched the sky blue material on Zippy’s back and flew him with accompanying jet rocket sounds upstairs to the kids’ bathroom that had a step-stool for her to reach the sink. She ran water.

“Don’t make it too hot.”

Chloe looked around. “Mom?”

Chloe frowned.  She looked at Zippy; he sat, matted and rumpled, on the towel rack where she’d placed him. She turned back to the sink.

“I do not wish to alarm you.”

This time, Chloe caught the flash of current between Zippy's antennae out of the corner of her eye.  She stared in the mirror before her and focused on her stuffed friend, furrowing her brow.

“W-was . . .”

“Amanda always makes the water too hot. She thinks she’s neutralizing the proteobacterial content of the canine’s sputum when, in actuality, she’s spreading actinobacteria to further crevasses in my exterior. Well, not mine, per se . . .”

Chloe stared at the toy with fascination and trepidation in equal measure. She tried closing her eyes and covering her face with her hands.

When I look up again, things will go back the way they were. One . . . two . . .

“I simply have no touch, do I? Forgive me, Chloe. May I call you . . .?”

Chloe slowly opened her eyes to see Zippy sitting up on the towel rack with his silver space boots dangling and two cloth hands adjusting his helmet. “I’ve never done this, you know.”

Chloe turned around. There was no doubt. Zippy was alive, or something along those lines.

“Are you going to hurt us?” Chloe’s voice sounded small as she began crumbling.

Zippy looked up, alarmed. His electric currents buzzed.

“No, no, negative, no. I’ll explain all that I can, but we are here to help you preserve your world.”

Chloe took her toothpaste glass and had a sip of water.

“You know I’m just a kid, right?”

“Negative. You are actually much, much more, Chloe. You are just not aware.”

“But I don’t know where to start.”

Zippy sniffed his elbow and made a face.

“How about a little wash-up?”

Chloe took in the funny little creature that had been her companion for as long as she could remember.  She sighed.

“Bar soap or bubbles?”

*   *   *

EEK-&#@ and SPEC-%^+ sat with other covert project personnel around a long oval conference table.  The esteemed gathering, made up of the galaxy’s top engineers, scientists, philosophers, and architects, prepared for an important announcement that could determine the next course of action in re: Planet Earth, the Doomsday Planet.

*  *  *

Zippy, freshly laundered and blow-dried by seven-year old Chloe, suggested they go to one of Chloe’s secret hiding places to talk more. Chloe packed juice boxes and snack bars in a backpack, placed Zippy in an outside pocket, and yelled to her mother from the kitchen.

“I’m going to play outside, Mom.”

“Take Missy with you.”

Chloe looked at Zippy, who didn’t move. Missy was five years old and Chloe adored her but she could be a handful. Chloe sighed. What am I supposed to do now?

Missy, dressed in pigtails and overalls, bounded into the kitchen. 

“Can I, can I, Coco?”

Chloe smiled.  “Coco” was Missy’s name for her, coined in the days Missy hadn’t yet mastered her “L” sounds.

Tell her it’s all right. 

Chloe startled.

Who’s that? 

She glanced at her backpack and Zippy.

Oh dear, I’ve done it again. I hadn’t told you we can communicate this way, Chloe. It’s called telepathy. If you think something meant for me to hear, I will hear it. All else is private and won’t transmit. Is that acceptable?

Chloe, staring at her pack, slowly nodded.


Chloe shook her head, clearing it, looked back to Missy.

“Oh, yeah, sure. I got us some snacks, Missy. I was going to the clubhouse. You can come if you want.”

Missy jumped up and down, clapping her hands.

Just as they reached the kitchen door that opened out to the backyard, they heard the clattering of toenails.

“Oscar!” Missy knelt to greet the beagle.

Chloe smiled, “Come on, boy!”

Zippy’s voice in her head said, I must warn you that if I should fall out of this portapack, or whatever you call it, we shall need more communication concerning the matter of this bacteria-carrying lifeform that seems to enjoy defacing defenseless objects.

Chloe closed her eyes.

Do you always talk this much?

Well, actually, yes. I have been silent for quite some time, you know. 

They were greeted by a warm summer day, the kind of day that you would bottle, if you could, and keep always. Of course, there was nothing to suggest that all was not right with the world, or the universe for that matter.

*  *  *

The monitor onboard Spacecraft Module ZK8*11 buzzed and sizzled as it came to life, revealing several galactic guards with their identities digitized.  The attendees at the conference table focused their attention on the 5-D screen.


*  *  *

Missy wanted to play on the swing set near the ladder to the clubhouse. Oscar playfully barked at her feet as she swung back and forth, giggling. 

Chloe watched them for a moment before climbing the few steps to the tree-house dubbed NASA Jr.  It had posters of planets, constellations and rockets.  Chloe sat near a window to keep an eye on Missy.

Why now?

Zippy relaxed into himself.

Why . . .

Talk to me? Why now?

One of my assignments was to learn your language proficiently and communicate in a way that you will best be able to comprehend the important message we have for your planet, and you.

I don’t know what you just said. So, you’ve been alive all this time?

Yes. Studying, observing, taking notes, submitting reports . . .

Why? What for? Who for?

Zippy squinted, looking pensive.

Hmm. I might be going too quickly.

Wait a minute. Were you watching the whole time I had chicken pox? And the tummy flu?

Rest assured, you have been a worthy specimen in all categories.

Really?  Can I tell my mom about you?

Zippy shuddered.

We don’t trust adults. None of us do.

But my mom’s nice . . . us? Who’s us?

The beings where I come from. Exo.

How’d you wind up in a toy store?

We were sent to study you.


Children. In my world, you would be considered a pupae. From our experience and information, the adult of your species is the greatest danger facing the universe today.

Oh, c’mon. They’re not that bad.

You, in your present state of development, are perfect, Chloe, I don’t expect you to be able to comprehend the horrors that await at the end of your growth cycle.   

Some of the words you say, Zippy, I really don’t understand.

Trust me, Chloe, don’t tell your mom.

*  *  *

The monitor remained frozen in the conference room, the pixilated guards hadn’t moved a dot.  The words “Stand by” remained fixed on the screen.  Low murmurings began to form and slowly escalate among the gathered participants.

*  *  *

Chloe heard the back door close, then watched as her mother carried a tray to the picnic table. She heard the tinkling of ice and glass.

“Lemonade, girls!” Amanda called.

Missy skidded to a stop and ran from the swing, Oscar close on her heels.

Chloe turned to Zippy.

Wanna come?

Wouldn’t miss it.

Chloe looked at Zippy before picking him up.

Are you ever thirsty? Hungry?

No, we stockpile adequate sustenance before we leave the ship.

How many of you are there?

We are hoping enough to make a difference.

“Chloe, lemonade!”

What is it you want me to do?

Patience, Chloe. I've already given you a lot to think about. Just understand that I want to help, not harm, you or your planet.

That's a relief.

Chloe joined her mom and Missy at the picnic table. She sipped her drink and barely nibbled at a gingersnap, thinking.

“Where’d ya go, Chlo'?”

Chloe’s mother was staring at Chloe as intently as Chloe had been staring into space. 

Missy’s concentration was being used to dip a cookie into her lemonade.  Her little voice echoed, “Where ya go, Coco?”

I still think you’re wrong about my mom.  She’s great; you’ll see.

Be my guest.  Zippy’s voice seemed to shrug.

Chloe reached for a napkin.


“Yes, Chloe.”

“Do you believe in UFO’s?”

“Well, I can’t say I really think about it. There’s enough going on here to fill my attention.”

“Do you believe in aliens?”

“Not having given any real thought to UFO’s, I would put aliens in the same category. I don’t know.”

Zippy entered Chloe’s mind.  Good luck.

Missy looked up. “What, Coco?”

Chloe looked at Missy, puzzled. "What what?"

Amanda reached over with a towel to wipe crumbs from Missy’s chin.

Missy made a face as her mouth was cleaned. “I heard somebody say 'good luck.' Was it you?”

Chloe stared at Missy, surprised.

She heard Zippy’s voice again. Ah, see? The children are all waking up.

Missy looked miffed.  “Not me. I’m already awake.”

Chloe turned to her mother.

“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.”

“What is it, Chloe?”

“Something is happening, I’m not sure exactly what.”

“Did something happen? Can you tell me anything more?”

Tell her Planet Earth is at a tipping point.

Chloe took a deep breath.

“Earth is in trouble, Mom.”

“Oh, honey.”

Amanda slid closer to her daughter.

“That’s really not something that you need to worry about.”

“Aren’t you?  Worried?”

“Have you been watching the news? You have no idea how blown out of proportion things can get.”

Chloe sat quietly, thinking.

“This is different, Mom. These are things I know.”

“Know? Sweetheart, how can you know? You’re letting your imagination run away with you, just like Chicken Little.”

Missy dribbled lemonade, giggling. “The sky is falling!”

Chloe shook her head, “You’re not listening. How can you hear me if you don’t listen?"


Missy was still giggling to herself. “Bingo.”

Amanda cleared her throat. “Since your father left, Chloe, it’s just been us girls. I think we’ve done pretty well.  Remember what I told you? You really only have two things to think about right now.  One, be a good student in school. Two, be the best Chloe you know how to be.”

Chloe sat quietly for another moment.   

“What if there is no school?”


“How can I be the best of something if there’s nothing left?”

*  *  *

That’s when the sirens began. 

“Let’s get in the house, girls, now. Oscar!”

“Mommy, look at the sky!”

Missy was pointing upward. The blue, cloudless sky had been blanketed with thick grey-purple swirls of pending gloom. The edges roiled with static and the low rumble of thunder.

They gathered their things and hurried inside. Amanda turned on the television and was met with crackling static from every station. She held her dread at bay as she gathered candles, radio, batteries and settled Missy with a picture book and some crackers. Oscar would be wherever the crackers were.

Chloe retreated to her room and closed the door. She sat on her bed holding Zippy. 

What’s going to happen?

The electric current between Zippy’s antenna crackled and spat.   

The announcement's been made by the Panel of Elders that Earth currently is a doomsday planet. That’s not a surprise. 

Are we all going to die?

Not necessarily. This can all change with certain steps. Did you notice when you said your mother wouldn’t listen? Listening is the beginning of wisdom. You know that, just as your mother once did. She’s lost touch.

With what?


Can she get herself back?

She’s all there. She just needs to see it. You can’t do it for her but you can help.

Chloe’s door popped open. Missy bounced in.

“I want to help.”

*    *    *

EKK-&#@ lingered after the other project members had dispersed. He looked out into the vastness of space, relishing the natural calm of the universe, glad to play a role in keeping it that way. SPEC-%^+ joined him at the window, handing over a celebratory flute of spirits and raising his.

It might be a little soon to celebrate.

But our calculations were correct. All the feedback supported it.

You know, this study was never about whether earth is headed for self-destruction. The concern’s always been to prevent neighboring or visiting lifeforms from being annihilated along with it. It still seems only a matter of time.

So what have we been doing all this time?

The adults are still in a state of contamination. Some have potential but, for the most part, the Earthlings have dug a hole for themselves, their own black hole, as it were. 

Does anyone really believe the under-developed humans can save their planet?

Who knows?  We’ll need to keep a close eye on them, in any event. With a model ZIP-321 in most homes, they may come out of this intact. Let’s just say it‘s too early to celebrate.

Well, then, let’s recalibrate. Here’s to peace and harmony.

And high ideals.


*  *  * 

Amanda knocked on Chloe’s door.

“Chloe? May I come in?”

Chloe grinned at Missy. “Come in.”

“The storm’s over. That was so sudden! I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

That was just a warning. You should tell her.

Missy ran to Amanda and wrapped her arms around her knees.

“It’s a warning, Mommy.”

Amanda scooped Missy into her arms and kissed her cheek. She then turned her attention to Chloe. Chloe patted the space next to her on the bed. Oscar ran past Amanda and jumped on the bed, wagging his tail furiously and settling in close to Chloe. Amanda sat on the other side of Oscar with Missy in her lap.

“You should listen, Mom. I'm not good at explaining . . .”

“It’s not you, Chloe. You always amaze me with your super smart questions and wild imagination.”

“Not so wild this time, Mom. That’s what I was trying to tell you.”

“I’m sorry, Chloe. Life is a busy blur sometimes, for me anyway, and I think for lots of people. I get stuck. If I didn’t listen to you, it’s because I just didn’t have room for anymore.”

“Anymore what?”

“Anymore anything.”

Missy looked up suddenly, stricken. “What about me?”

Amanda pressed Missy’s sweet, sticky face between her hands. “There’s always room for Missy.”

Chloe appeared to be listening to something. When she looked up, she smiled.

“It’s a good start, Mom. We’re headed in the right direction."

August 10, 2023 20:12

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Ed Baer
02:20 Nov 28, 2023

i've been proposing "t-mail" for the last two decades as the future means of communication but everyone looks at me like i'm nuts! now you write about it like "well doesn't EVERYONE know about t-mail?". how about i share the patent and copyright with you? we're gonna be rich! but don't stop writing...


Susan Catucci
20:09 Nov 28, 2023

Hahaha - well, if we had a Zippy to lead the way, the possibilities are both incredible and terrifying. (not to say I'd be against it) :D I'm happy you enjoyed the tale and thank you, thank you. Listen to the children, people!


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Michał Przywara
21:31 Aug 21, 2023

Far as alien invasions go, disguising themselves as crazy popular toys is a brilliant plan :) Get one in every home and hide in plain sight - what better way to do recon? The plot is relevant to today, on a couple levels. We're largely ignoring our impact on the planet, and we don't really listen any more - to the world, to each other. Banking of the youngest generations fixing things isn't exactly fair, but it's also the way it's always gone, isn't it? My profit today, your debts tomorrow. The story reminded me of some older classic sci...


Susan Catucci
00:14 Aug 22, 2023

I'm so glad to hear your thoughts, Michal. Love to see you dig a little deeper and mine the deeper meaning. Children and parents; have and have not; alien and resident; the contrast is necessary (or at least available) to offer a counterbalance. You shouldn't require an intergalactic initiative to bring that about. Glad you read and wrote, Michal, always. :)


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Delbert Griffith
13:17 Aug 16, 2023

As per, you turn out a riveting tale that's chock-full of important issues. Having alien dolls communicate with the unsullied among us - kids - was a terrific premise, and it allowed for some sparkling dialogue. I'm pretty sure Ken and Barbie aren't here to help us! LOL I think I liked the message of hope the most. I also liked that you concentrated on kids being the earth's salvation, for that is what must happen to save this planet. Again, another sterling insight that was eye opening. Wonderful piece, my good friend. I always look forw...


Susan Catucci
17:08 Aug 16, 2023

I hope you noticed that your signature salute made a guest appearance between the two alien engineers (which guarantees they know a lot of math) and even they said "Cheers." That one was meant for you! Fun stuff, especially if you can make a couple points along the way. Thanks as always, Del.


Delbert Griffith
18:05 Aug 16, 2023

Of course I noticed, Susan! And I am all appreciation and humility. Thank you so much, my friend.


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Ellen Neuborne
17:24 Aug 14, 2023

This was a fun read. And I very much liked the idea that it will take children to turn Earth from its doomsday. Well done.


Susan Catucci
21:03 Aug 14, 2023

This is such a welcome comment, Ellen, thank you. If not themselves, those at the helm could use some basic principles - forgotten, not effective? Whatever - displayed only by children right in front of them (and they can choose to leave the tantrums out of it.) Again, thanks :)


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Karen Corr
03:15 Aug 13, 2023

Aliens disguised as toys that communicate with the children. Good thing they didn't have evil on their agenda. Good read. Thanks Susan.


Susan Catucci
12:50 Aug 13, 2023

Haha, true - that's a whole different story! Happy you liked it. :)


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07:06 Aug 12, 2023

Great Story Susan and absolutely true to Life. No more room for anymore anything just about sums it up as an adult these days. But there is hope! Lovely back and forth conversations here. Thank you! (Ps there's a misspelling of Chloe towards the end, it's in as Cloe)


Susan Catucci
11:47 Aug 12, 2023

Hi Derrick - thanks for your wonderful words. Now, this is an interesting question. The "Cloe" was intentional in that it's meant as a term of endearment by Amanda and it rhymes with "where'd ya go." That's happened before where I use a nickname to show that familiar ease close people can have. How do I make it so it's clear it's not a typo? Your thoughts would be appreciated. :)


12:36 Aug 12, 2023

i think if you put it in italics? that will make it seem intentional and also like the speaker putting emphasis on the word!


Susan Catucci
13:35 Aug 12, 2023

I also tried changing it to "Clo" to make it seem less likely to be a typo. I just have so many thoughts in italics, already, I'll have to make sure it's not more confusing. Hmm, I have an idea . . .


13:38 Aug 12, 2023

Clo works!


Susan Catucci
13:42 Aug 12, 2023

I changed to Chlo'. That should be clear. Yes? (thanks for helping me out here)


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Lily Finch
20:51 Aug 10, 2023

Susan, such a great story. Nice job with weaving in the natural with the alien interaction. It's so true as children we drop all of the guards we carry when we become adults. You demonstrated that fact so well in this story. I enjoyed learning about the family dynamic too. Very enjoyable and well written. Hope these help put you in good stead for the winner's circle. LF6


Susan Catucci
17:06 Aug 11, 2023

A thousand thanks, Lily - I appreciate the comments and suggestions. I'm happy you enjoyed it and grateful you took the extra time to help. You are good people - :)


Lily Finch
18:01 Aug 11, 2023

Anytime sista! LF6


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Unknown User
19:32 Aug 15, 2023

<removed by user>


Susan Catucci
17:15 Aug 16, 2023

Super feedback, Joe, thanks so much. This was fun to write; it really flew in and didn't fight very much going on paper. A real pleasure, so it's especially gratifying if readers who are writers enjoy it. :)


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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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