Changes

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“Transmutation, or more absurdly ‘transmogrification’, that’s the crux of the biscuit, isn’t it?”

The speaker stood in the middle of the room, behind massive horizontal length of stone cantilevered on top of a single metallic spire which rose directly from within the floor, the surface of which was littered with empty glasses and liquor bottles.

“And you’ll keep me here until what, I teach you how to turn water into wine? Lead into gold? What is the end-game exactly, and what becomes of me once you have what you need?”

The visitor had only moments ago extricated himself from the single remaining, mostly functioning elevator in the tower. He was here to confront their Chief Scientist, but instead stuffed his hands deep in his pockets and shook his head.

“Victor, we are very interested in what you discover, of course, but you know, there are lots of people out there that would kidnap you and…”

Victor cut him off abruptly. “And what, exactly? Lock me in the top few floors of a highrise somewhere out of the way and never let me outside again?” He laughed, then poured himself a drink, not offering one for his guest. “Bruno, considering your confidence in my intellect, you really do think I’m stupid, don’t you?”

Bruno unstuffed his hands from his pockets, and held them wide, palms facing forward in what he hoped was a non-threatening, conciliatory gesture.

Victor raised his glass and drained it, placing the empty vessel back on the counter, taking care to position it equidistant from the corner edges.

“The elevators are causing trouble are they?” Victor changed the subject. “Of course as long as you can keep me stocked with bourbon I can’t say I care.”

Bruno visibly relaxed. “There is something wrong with them, yes, maintenance has been called, but getting someone on the weekend is hard.”

“Sorry, expensive? Is that what you said?” Victor chuckled. “Doesn’t matter, here, let me show you something.”

Viktor turned and walked towards the one of the floor to ceiling glass windows that surrounded them on all sides.

“You picked this building because it was a nondescript tower, in a cluster of similarly nondescript towers, in the middle of nothing very interesting.” He turned and fixed Bruno with a stare. “You lot do lack imagination, don’t you?”

Bruno joined him hesitantly, standing to one side, just out of arm’s reach.

“To build a walkway at this height to the nearest building would require a bit of clever engineering, don’t you think? And let’s face it, fifty stories up it would be crazy to build a walkway, it would have to be an enclosed bridge of some sort.”

Bruno regarded him with a perturbed sidelong stare, unsure of where this was going.

“This building, as it happens, carries about four thousand tonnes of reinforced concrete per each of its fifty floors, which is substantially over-engineered, and I’ve been able to strip about twenty five percent of that material out of the building itself, most of which is churning away in your elevator shafts as we speak.” Victor turned away from Bruno, a smile splitting his face from ear to ear. “Do you want to see what I’ve been working on?”

There was a rumbling, and the floor in the middle of the room turned from solid to liquid in an instant, and began to flow in a steady stream from the elevator to the windows. When it reached the glass, it flowed upwards and circled to form a ring, a little over two meters high before extruding itself outwards from the building, taking the circle of glass contained within it as a kind of window. The unwavering tube of suddenly liquid concrete stretched in a straight line towards the next building opposite them, about fifty meters away.

Bruno gaped, fingers twitching uncontrollably, unable to form words.

“You see, old chum, I figured out how to do a great many things quite some time ago, and now its time for me to go out into the world do them.” Victor walked across the room and paused at the mouth of the newly formed tunnel, before pausing to look back. “I considered just leaving, maybe writing a note, a word of warning for those who may come after me, but you’ve been such a persistant and condescending prick over the years, I think I’ll leave a monument to my imprisonment instead.”

Bruno realized too late that the river of concrete had turned towards him, and he writhed as it flowed over his shoes, up his legs, enveloping his body from the floor in a wave, silencing his screams before he even registered the noise he was making.

“I leave you as a word of warning.”

With that Victor stepped out into the tunnel and disappeared into the night, the tunnel itself collapsing into a deadly rain of liquid cement, leaving nothing behind but two gaping wounds in the buildings it had, momentarily, conjoined. Those, and an uncanny likeness of Bruno cast in concrete.

Raze

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

When I came to your world, when I stumbled into your city on the edge of the desert, you paid me no mind.

Your guards bullied me like any other vagabond in the streets, laughing as they tripped me, pounded their chests in fits of bravado.

Your peasants took pity on me, a weary traveler, fed me, gave me water. They knew what it was like to have nothing, and they happily shared what little they had.

When I showed them how to pull water from the ground, when I showed the artisans how to make steel that would never dull, how to fashion glass from the sand, you took notice.

When I talked to them about equality, and rights, and justice, they took turns hiding me while your soldiers searched their homes. They took the beatings without giving up my name, without giving up my whereabouts.

Without giving up.

When I  turned the coal from their kilns and forges into the rarest of diamonds, they fell to their knees and prayed to me.

When I refused to do the same for you, you broke my bones, lashed me to a horse and sent us off into the blowing sand in search of the horizon, and certain death.

That would have been the end of any mortal man.

But only a fool would have mistaken me for a mortal man.

I don’t know how long the beast dragged my unconscious body into the desert before it collapsed. I don’t know how much longer before I awoke.

But I do know that I found your puny little planet in an endless void, do you not think I will find you again in this tiny patch of sand?

Do you believe that one who can summon water from the earth itself, and squeeze dust into diamonds, would struggle with mending this broken suit of flesh and bone?

You will know me when I come for you, astride the noble beast you sacrificed so cruelly. We’ll rise, out of the very sand you thought would protect you from me, to ride through to the heart of your city. You’ll feel the fury rise from the fire I’ve lit in the hearts and minds of your people with my ideas, flames that you’ve been fanning with your abuses and self indulgent lust for power. That inferno will consume you in the ivory towers in which you cower.

I’m going to raze your palaces to the ground and let your peasants pick your carcass clean.

I’ve met you on every world, and in every city, and I’ve never once let you remain.

What makes you think you’re any different?

Elevation

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jack stood a few feet to the side of the station wagon, the door hanging open, the engine having just rattled and coughed into silence.

Ahead, bathed in the yellow glow of the headlights was Celine, barefoot in the jeans and tee she’d been wearing when she disappeared. Head tilted to one side, arms stretched out, not quite above her head.

Jack heard himself chamber a round into the rifle without really registering the decision to do so.

“Don’t you move,” his voice broke, hands shaking, “don’t you fucking move.”

Celine didn’t move, she just hovered there, in the road, toes pointing down to the oil sprayed gravel without actually touching it.

“It’s alright, Jack, everything’s going to be ok.”

Her voice was calm, and it soothed him, as it always did when things seemed out of control. She was ever the rock on which he could anchor his tenuous grasp on reality.

“It’s not alright,” his voice carried easily, all other sound seemed to have been erased around them. “It’s not bloody alright Celine, I saw that thing, saw what it did to you. I saw what you…”

He couldn’t finish the sentence, but instead took a tighter grip on the rifle and fought to steady the barrel before him.

“I’m still the same, Jack. I’m still Celine, I’m still your wife, I’m just something else now too,” she straightened her head and smiled, “something more.”

His mouth opened and closed noiselessly as memories flooded through him, the lights, the smoke surrounding her, penetrating her, consuming her where she stood hanging the washing.

Now here she was, a hundred miles away in the road like nothing was the least bit wrong.

It wasn’t natural.

Movement just outside the range of the headlights brought him back to the moment, and his aim wavered slightly as a pack of wolves crossed the road far beyond her, their silhouettes just barely visible in the fade of the artificial light. Their eyes shone as they paused and looked before continuing on their path into the woods on the other side of the road.

One didn’t turn away, and instead the curious creature padded slowly into the circle of light, ignoring Jack and his rifle, the car and its headlights to circle around Celine, sniffing the air around her legs.

When it had completed several revolutions, it raised itself up on its hind legs and placed its paws on her shoulders, its body equally as long as she was tall, and rubbed its head against hers, before dropping back to the ground and wandering nonchalantly away in the direction the rest of the pack had taken.

She didn’t move, didn’t flinch, and even though she clearly wasn’t anchored to the ground in any way, wasn’t stirred in the slightest by the bulk of the massive animal.

Jack heard the rifle hit the road this time, without really registering the decision to drop it, and he staggered forward, taking slow halting steps with tearing eyes until he stood within inches of her.

“My Celine…”, his voice choked off.

Celine reached out and cradled his head in her hands, staring down into his upturned face and searching eyes.

“You know, Jack, you’re not a wolf,” she smiled, and with a quick twist snapped his neck, letting his lifeless body drop at her feet, “you’re just a man.”

Adapt and Overcome

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Commander Abhrams wasn’t an athlete, but had trained almost maniacally to meet the physical requirements of the space program. He wasn’t the smartest either, and in school most reports included notes suggesting he ‘would do better if he applied himself’. He’d made up the time later though, studied after work and on weekends to get through the entrance exams. Nothing was going to keep him from space once the program opened up.

He got his wings, worked through the ranks and nearly four decades later found himself here, in command of a ship, out among the stars with an ark in orbit and boots on the ground of this new world.

The planet had been bombarded with an advanced terraforming agent while he was still in the academy, and now, with the lander parked on a flat mesa nearby, Abhrams looked with wild wonder at this world around him.

The shelf of the mesa gave way to a beach of tumbled river rock, beyond which a lake reached out to the horizon. Along the edge of the lake, bullrushes reached skyward, and though from a distance he couldn’t be sure, he would swear they were nearly four metres tall.

Nearby, a thicket of what looked like sunflowers grew out from a patch of the river rock. As he watched, a small flying thing – possibly a bird – hovered close to one, reaching in – maybe to pluck a seed – when the flower folded in half with a snick and trapped the flying thing inside.

Motion near the water’s edge caught his eye, and the rocks began, in ones and twos, to unfold themselves, legs extending from inside the protective stony shells to form into a line of ants the size of cats marching up towards the mesa. Abhrams stepped back, but they divided, giving him a metre wide berth before joining up again and closing the distance to the ship.

He took a few steps towards the lander itself, but the rock-ants climbed on top of one another, forming a stationary wall ahead of him, and it didn’t move as he approached, but rather rose higher, the giant ants buttressing the structure from behind and blocking his way. Beyond them he could see the entire surface of the landing craft was moving, a rippling mass of life teaming over its surface, and he could only stare in horror as the ship slowly seemed to shrink in size beneath the weight of these creatures until it was no more.

The flow of ants changed then, turning about face as a singular unit and almost pouring off the mesa  as they returned to the lakeside.

He watched as they passed, and realized that the once grey and rocky surface of their shells now glistened with a fresh white alloy veneer, and as they spread out across the beach, he could almost make out the corporation’s logo spread across a number of their backs, before they rolled back into balls and the ground was still once more.

Somewhere out on the water a large serpentine fish broke the surface, fins extending from its body like legs to sprint across on top of the water. Behind it a blur gave close chase, the pair zig-zagging around the lake until a mouth opened up ahead of the hapless fish, the pursuer having driven it straight into its partner’s jaws. Abhrams gaped at the pair of animals he would have called leopards, as they hung half in and half out of the water face to face, one spitting half its catch into the other’s mouth before both slipped beneath the surface of the lake leaving nothing behind but stillness.

Things had gone terribly awry here, but he’d already made up his mind. Adapt and overcome.

Nothing was going to keep him in space, now that there was a new world opening up.

Zen and the Art of Self Repair

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Mareck’s Sensei had spent countless hours sitting in front of his bonsai tree, studying it, almost communing with it, and occasionally making an almost imperceptible cut.

For years, Mareck thought the old man was crazy.

The sun, having warmed the other side of the earth, was creeping up on the horizon as Mareck returned to the sprawling expanse of stacked and cantilevered shipping containers that he called home.

A warm envelope of soft light followed him from the garage, through the hallways and down the stairs into the basement, leading him with a gentle glow and dissolving into shadows behind him.

In the darkness a whirring disk, sensing the dirt and blood he was trailing behind him, dutifully scrubbed the slate floor back to gleaming, hovering just out of view as its master limped and grunted his way through the house.

The deepest room housed Mareck’s laboratory, and his recovery room, and on entry he began an almost ritualistic deconstruction.

The space was an eclectic hybrid of stone, and bamboo, of stainless steel and ceramic. He removed his clothing, tossing the items into a chute in the corner that whisked them away to be cleaned. Any damage to the fabric would be repaired automatically.

The thin armor suit came off next, its microfibre base-layer relaxing from a skin-tight fit to baggy elastic, allowing him to slide it off his shoulders for it to drop to the floor around his ankles.

The damage to the shoulder and thigh plating was extensive, and would require careful repair.

But not tonight.

In the middle of the room stretched a coffin sized transparent cylinder, hinged on one side, and it was into this that Mareck crawled, the gashes in his thigh and upper body now leaking fluid freely.

Once inside, the lid closed and the unit sealed. There was a moment as the headpiece aligned, and the interface handshaking completed, and then he uplifted into the house itself, the sensation of limitless freedom replacing the throbbing wounds and aching muscles.

His point of view changed from looking up through the glass towards the ceiling, to looking down through the glass at his now sleeping body, its heart-rate slowing as the tank filled with artificial amniotic fluid.

The point of detachment used to unsettle him, but this had become second nature now, he was as much at home in the house as in his own flesh and blood.

Ambient music filled the empty spaces in his consciousness, as the doors and windows all sealed metal-shutter tight for the duration of this recovery.

He would spend countless hours now above and inside his own body, studying it, almost communing with it, reaching inside with the most delicate of tools to repair blood vessels, to neuroglue severed nerve bundles and stitch together muscle and skin.

Anyone who could see him would surely think he was crazy.