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Dara Naraghi's graphic novel Lifelike is now available in both digital and print editions. Click here for more info.

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Welcome back to Panel 350, our occasional foray into flash fiction. Each piece clocks in at 350 words (or less, in this case). I have an extended remix of this story that stretches to 530 words, but I’m not sure you’re missing much.

The first C-Beam struck around Shiraz, Iran, and cut a 2-km trench northeast to the outskirts of Jerusalem. The multitude of targets was lucky. It kept that troubled corner of the world from starting a larger catastrophe.

The Earth rotated into the next shots, striking Siberia and the American Midwest. A fourth beam cut a scar across the moon, visible during the waxing gibbous phase.

An attack from space! But after the initial shots, nothing. Every telescope on Earth searched the sky for invaders, but none came. The shots seemed to come from deep space.

Astronomers finally traced the beams to 323-Naraghi, a Sol-like star about 1.2 million light years away. An amateur telescope in Australia, tied to an open-source skymapping project, recorded five minutes of video from that patch of sky two days before the incident. Two new suns burn next to 323-Naraghi, flashes that weren’t there during the previous survey (two years prior) and are not there today. At the 4:38 mark, a third flash appears.

A new consensus appeared: Earth was hit by “stray bullets” from a battle 1.2 million years ago. An alien civilization wielded sun-sized weapons while we were learning to chip an edge onto both sides of a flint core.

Were two civilizations fighting, or did one civilization destroy itself? What was at issue? Does this prove there is a God, or that there isn’t? Did anyone survive the battle, and are they heading toward Earth? 323-Naraghi emits only radio static now, so Humanity will likely never know.

With the crisis safely 1.2 million years in the past, a malaise settled over the planet. And after that, what emerged wasn’t necessarily peace on Earth, but something close. Several long-running border insurgencies petered out. Terrestrial squabbles that seemed important, seemed worth dying for, now did not. The phrase “It’s not worth destroying the planet over” entered several human languages independently.

The human race was alone before the incident, and it still is. But if we’re the last keepers of the flame of life in the universe, we carry that burden with a new sobriety.

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