Author : Sad Sama

“You’re serious?” The Rear Admiral of the Arizona Fleet questions his superior for the first time in twelve years.

First Resident Menos stands with hands clasped behind his back, morosely watching the field of stars passing the windows of the command deck of the fleet’s capital cruiser. “Of course I am.” His voice was like reverberating lead.

“But the planet is barren. Over 90% of the population has been wiped out by internal biological warfare. It’s defenseless. It poses no threat to us or to anyone.”

“Precisely.” Out of the corner of his eyelids Menos stares at his Rear Admiral. “I need to send a message to the Senate. Something to inspire enough fear so that they’ll finally start taking my threats seriously.”

“With all due respect sir, the prototype Core Disseminator on this ship can disrupt the core of any world regardless of their defenses. Wouldn’t the destruction of a full militarily defended planet send a stronger message? A tactical strike that tells them their defenses are useless perhaps?”

“Perhaps…” Slowly turning on one foot “But if the target is properly defended, there will be many whom will speculate that I destroyed the planet as the result of escalating combat measures during a fight. If I destroy a proper military target there will still be many that think I play by the rules. A man who plays by the rules is a man that the Galactic Senate thinks they can reason or negotiate with.”

Menos looks sideways at the field of stars. “My demands are non-negotiable.”

Returning his gaze to the unnerved Admiral he continues, “However, if I destroy a planet of weak, abused, and utterly defenseless civilians…” The edges of his lips tilt upwards ever so slightly, “There won’t be anyone that doubts me as to how far I’m willing to go. I’ll let my other battles support my courage, but this one… yes, this one will support my threats.”

Attempting to retain composure the Admiral raises his last question, “But what if the fear you create tempers the enemy nations to band together and redouble their efforts against you.”

First Resident Menos returns to his stance overlooking the command deck, “Fear only catalyzes so much. Not enough and the enemy grows stronger. With enough though, everyone has their breaking point. Everyone.”

Five minutes later roughly one billion screams of homeless and starving refugees echo up through the skies of the planet below. Quickly they are silenced as the planet crumbles in upon itself, becoming a sphere of magma. Menos inwardly calculates the number of Senate Seats that would wet themselves when they find out.

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Mega Flare

Author : Patricia Stewart

The ship had left Earth orbit 77 days ago. They just passed the halfway point on their supply mission to the Lowell Colony on Mars when the solar flare warning alarm began its variable whine. “Computer, deactivate the alarm,” instructed the captain. Then, with the poise of an officer who had weathered numerous solar storms during his career, “What’s the magnitude of the flare, and how long before the coronal mass ejection reaches us?”

A disembodied voice replied “S9 on the NOAA Space Weather Scale. The…”

“What! That’s impossible!” interrupted the captain. “The scale only goes to S5.”

“True, captain. But, the scale was never intended to be all-inclusive. It’s logarithmic. It is a simple matter of extrapolation. Since the flux level of this flare is 12,000 times more intense that an S5, it’s classified as an S9. To answer to your second question, the leading edge of the ionized particles will arrive in approximately 31 hours.”

“Twelve thousand times! Will we be safe in the Panic Room?”

“Negative, captain. The areal density in the shielded isolation room will not be able to attenuate the 400 Giga-rems associated with a proton storm of this magnitude.”

“What if we orient the ship with the thrusters aimed at the sun? Will the exhaust cones, auxiliary fuel tanks, and cargo bay provide enough extra shielding?”

“Perhaps, but you’re missing the big picture, captain. Even if we can protect the crew, the electromagnetic shock wave from the mass ejection will fry every electronic circuit on this ship, including my own. Without power and life support, you’ll all die of carbon dioxide poisoning, in the dark, at near freezing temperatures, in less than a week.”

“So it’s all for one and one for all, heh computer? OK, do you have any ideas that can save us both?”

“I can conceive of only one option, although I don’t have enough information in my files to know if it is even possible. I need to access NASA’s PHA database on NEA objects. Please stand by.”

As the captain waited, he wrestled with how he would notify the crew. Then he heard the computer’s voice on the ship’s intercom. “Attention crew. Brace yourselves for an immediate course change.” The ship suddenly lurched starboard, knocking the captain to the floor. Before he could get up, the twin 17.8 million lbf thrust engines pinned him there with a force of approximately 3-gees.

“Captain, I am sorry that I took unauthorized control of the helm, but time is critical. I was searching NASA’s Asteroids database looking for a nearby Apollo object that we could hide behind. As luck would have it, Asteroid Eros 433 is very close to our current position. At maximum velocity we can reach it in just under 32 hours, limiting our exposure to less than one hour. When I stop this burn in 64.2 minutes, you’ll need to jettison the cargo and all non-essential equipment. Every kilogram of mass we loose will reduce our ETA by 0.4 seconds.”

The captain and crew watched the flickering monitors in the isolation room as the ship approached Eros. As the computer attempted to position the ship within Eros’ shadow, the plasma storm seemed to intensify. The captain closed his eyes again to monitor the flashing streaks of light caused by speeding atomic nuclei as they ripped through the water-filled chambers of his eye sockets. Their frequency was increasing, and he was beginning to feel nauseous. Unwilling to watch the flashing conveyors of death any longer, he opened his eyes, and continued to pray as the night side of Eros very slowly began to enter the view screen.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“Son of a bitch!”. The Station Chief cut off comms with his boss, dropping back heavily in his chair before planting two battered boots against the desk frame and propelling himself away from it in disgust.

“They want us to stop digging Tom?” The shorter of the two men spoke softly, stuffing bear paw hands deep into the pockets of his jumpsuit.

“Bastards!” Tom peeled off his helmet with one hand and tossed it at the desk, angrily scratching the cross hatch of scars in the stubble of his scalp. “Yeah, they want us to stop.” Pausing for a moment, he examined a fragment of skin peeled loose by a grimy fingernail. “Forty years we’ve been digging holes in these rocks, Skip, forty bloody years and no one’s ever had the balls to order us up short. This is bullshit. I’ll guarantee that if we dig shallow and this thing doesn’t stay standing, it’ll be our ass in a sling Skip, yours and mine, not theirs.”

The Crew Chief shuffled away from the wall, boots dragging on the alloy of the cabin floor. “What’s their problem? There’s no water down there, no gas pockets. The crust’s been as uniform as we’ve ever seen past five hundred meters.” His face an emotional vacancy, his tone a perfect match. “The only trouble may be a few hundred meters of high density rock. That’ll be tough to get through, sure, but it’s nothing we haven’t done before.”

“I know, I told them. Seems Corporate’s had a visit from some friggin’ General, an the military’s all up in their ass on this one. He says we stop at six hundred meters or else he’ll be up here to tear us a new one. Arrogant prick.” Locking one gnarled set of fingers into the other, he systematically cracked each knuckle in turn. “Wants us to make up the extra above the surface, pile and pack the rubble. They pay us to dig, not build. Bugger ’em. We’re so far out on the rim, nobody’s coming to check.”

“So, we keep goin’ down then’?” The Chief’s intonation was quizzical though he already had his answer.

“Keep diggin’. The drill spec says eight hundred, so we go eight hundred straight down.” Tom closed his eyes, trying to will his blood pressure back to normal as the cabin door whooshed open and sucked closed behind his Crew Chief.

Eleven days of drilling passed without incident, the huge Wormz boring into the crust, tearing holes into the depths of the planet and venting rock dust and shrapnel up the shafts and into the atmosphere. The Station Commander found himself sitting up in his bunk, rubbing sleep from bleary eyes, unsure for a moment what had woken him. The constant rhythmic thrumming of the giant bores had stopped, and an eerie silence blanketed everything, unfamiliar and disturbing. It took a moment for the lack of noise to register, and a while longer before he recognized that as a problem. He was slowly dragging himself out of the haze when the squawking of his comlink brought him fully back to consciousness

“What? What the hell’s going on? We can’t be at depth already.” His voice rasped and rattled, coarse with fatigue and dry from the ever-present dust that sifted past even the scrubbers.

“You’d better get down to seven Tom, you’re going to want to see this.” The Crew Chief’s voice rang with unfamiliar urgency, and an unmistakable tremor of fear.

“What the hell’s gone wrong? I’m coming, give me a minute.” He stumbled pulling his boots on, hurrying. “Why aren’t we digging?”

Skip’s voice reached up from an obvious distance. “Turk took rig seven down past seven hundred meters, and he punched clear on through.” The comlink sputtered as Tom half jogged down the barracks hall. “The whole rig, everything, it just fell into the planet. We’ve still got coms, but he figures he tore through almost a kilometer of scaffold before he could shut down the bore, and he’s caught up now in some sort of cable mass.”

“Scaffold? Cable? What the hell…?” He was at the lift now, maniacally pounding the call button.

“Tom. You might want to start thinking of something to tell that General when he gets here.”

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The Inspirer

Author : J. S. Kachelries

As Archimedes lowered himself into his bath, water lapped over the top edge and spilled onto the floor. “Damn it, you fool,” he cursed aloud, “You overfilled the tub again.”

“Not necessarily, master,” I pointed out. “It’s not too full; you just displaced too much water.”

“What’s that Jamicles? Are you saying that I am too FAT?”

“Not at all, master. I was merely pointing out that had your body been denser, you would have displaced less water.”

“Now I’ve got too much blubber, and not enough muscle, heh Jamicles?”

This was taking longer than I had anticipated. This is the third straight night the tub overflowed, and he still wasn’t getting it. “What I am saying, master, is that if you know the weight and density of an object, you should be able to predict the volume of water it will displace. That’s all.”

“What are you babbling about? Wait. That’s it. I’ve got it, I’ve got it.” Archimedes jumped out of the tub, and ran out the front door in his birthday suit, yelling to the townsfolk. As I faded out of this timeline, I could hear him proclaim, “Eureka, eureka…”

Later that day…

“Dmitri,” I said, “why do you insist on grouping them by multiples of atomic weight? Other scientists have already tried that. There has to be a simpler way to arrange them.”

Dmitri Mendeleev looked down at the 63 pieces of paper spread across his kitchen table. Each piece contained the name of a known element. “Perhaps you are right, Jiminka. I am getting tired anyway. I give up. I think I will head off to bed.”

“Ah, before you go, Dmitri, let’s play a game. You know, just to help you relax, before you go to sleep.”

“What kind of game?”

“It’s a type of card game. Something I played as a child. It’s called ‘Concentration’.”

“How is it played?”

“We can use these pieces of paper. We’ll put them in the middle of the table, face down. Then we take turns flipping them over, two at a time. If they match, you put them in front of you. The person with the most matches at the end wins.”

“Match? Match, how? They are all different.”

“Yes, obviously. But, Dmitri, some of these elements must have something in common. Something that will make them appear similar in some way?”

“Well, sure. For example, sodium and potassium bond very strongly to chlorine or bromine. I guess we could group them by similarity of properties.”

“Great. That works for me. You can go first.”

After four hours of intense concentration, Dmitri was exhausted. “I must go to bed, my friend. I played this new game so long; I’ll be dreaming about chemical similarities all night. Do you mind showing yourself out?”

“Not at all, Dmitri.” I rose from my seat and headed toward the door to start my next mission. On my way out, I picked up a piece of fruit from a basket next to the door. “Dmitri, I have a long trip ahead of me. I’m going to a farm in Lincolnshire, England. Mind if I take an apple?”

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In Memory of Persistence

Author : Duncan Shields

I’d like to remember her the way most ex-boyfriends remember their exes. That is to say, when I’m drunk and missing her, I want to remember that space right under her ear, her easy smile, and that way that she’d hiccup if she laughed too much. When I’m angry at her and hurt, I want to remember that time she kissed the bouncer just to piss me off or how she’d constantly complain no matter how awesome our life was.

Instead, all I can remember is her left hand in the sunlight, hanging out the car window on August 22nd.

I don’t see her face in the memory. I can feel my ear pressed against her chest.

I think the wipers weren’t top of the line. Maybe their schedule had been just that little bit too tight. That little fragment of her hand in the sun had slipped through their nets. I wondered if there were anymore. It’s hard to search for memories that may have been missed during an erasure solely because they had been misfiled. I mean, where did you accidentally put them?

Was the time you wiped strawberry juice off of her unbuttoned white blouse filed under ‘stain removal’ somewhere in your head? Were her instructions on how to get to that store on fifth that sold the cheap eels filed under ‘maps’ and never looked at again?

I like to just let my mind wander and see if it comes across something that stands out by not standing out. I wouldn’t know it if I found a picture of her face. I wouldn’t know it if I remembered a few seconds of her speaking. The only way I’d know is if I had no idea who that person was.

Not knowing her would be the only clue that she might be the woman that I lost.

Sorry, the woman that was taken from me.

Even if it was a cheap rush job, it was still miles away from a bank account like mine. I figure her daddy must have been rich and didn’t want me following her. His little girl had been slumming with me. I had no idea why he didn’t just take her away and shoot me in the leg or something but maybe he had. Maybe he’d tried to take her away a few times before.

Maybe this was the only option left to him. If he could afford a wipe on a gutter rat like me, well, I must have been tenacious and he must have been obscenely rich.

I think the ring on her finger in the memory I keep looking at is an engagement ring. I see its lazy arc up into the sunlight before the flash of light again and it’s over.

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