Author: David Henson
As I take in the barren, alien landscape in orange and tan, I notice someone at the top of a steep rise not far away. I shout for help, wave one of the crutches I’ve fashioned from a landing strut. The figure disappears over the hill. I struggle back inside my wreck of a ship.
The next day the figure reappears, approaches. A female. Similar overall body proportions to mine, but eyes a bit large, nose elongated, lips thin. We stare at each other. I need help, I say, touch my stomach and mouth, motion toward my crushed leg. Come closer. Can you help me? As I speak, I raise my voice, and she lifts her arm to her eyes. She says something I can’t understand, leaves.
I lean against a boulder, watch the rise. Here she comes. Help me, I say softly and nod at my leg. When she starts to reach toward it, I brace myself, but she draws back. I touch the rock. Sit by me, I whisper. She leaves.
I don’t bother going back inside the ship anymore. There’s nothing left, and the stench is overwhelming.
Are there others? Where are you from? I sweep my hand around the horizon. She points toward the sky, stomps her foot. How do you survive? I point to my mouth. She touches hers then holds up something small and blue. I grab at her hand, but she pulls it away and drops the morsel. I pick it up and start to take a bite, but she snatches it away. Why did you bring it then? I shout. She averts her eyes, points to the sky and leaves.
Watching me sleep, she sings, and streaks of maroon appear in the dark sky. The next morning I can’t be sure it was a dream.
She brings a morsel again. Pure white. She tosses it at my feet. I can’t reach it, I lie, motion for her to hand it to me. When she doesn’t, I pick it up before she can slap it away. It’s bitter, juicy. I feel stronger immediately. Do you have more? She turns and retreats back up the rise. At the top, she faces me and holds out her arms, palms down, up, toward me. Does it mean she’ll be back? Goodbye? I balance myself on my crutches and mimic her gestures best I can.
I have the impression of sunrise, warmth on my face. I open my eyes. She’s back and holding out another white morsel. I eat it immediately. Come closer, I whisper. She leans forward. I muster all my strength, reach up and pull her to me. Finally.
I look down at her, at my broken body. She stares up at me and screams — her cries, flashes that hurt my eyes.
I turn and head up the rise, savoring the strength of her legs. Then I become aware of music all around. The turquoise of the sky sounds like a soft whistle while the tan underfoot strums a deeper tone. I hear every color in harmony. A soft breeze tastes sweet. I stop and look back at her in wonder.
She’s struggled to her feet, but, with the crushed leg, can’t manage the hill any more than I could. A pang of guilt feels like flames crackling on my shoulders. She shakes a crutch at me. It was you or me, I shout, my words bright red. You or me. I resume the climb. The fiery pain subsides, but a sickening smell of burnt flesh remains. I’ll have to learn to live with it.
Author: David Barber
In the darkened room, snores come from the bed.
The dim figure in the doorway is noiseless on bare feet, except when its toenails, two inches long and yellow as piss, scrape the polished floorboards.
There it is now, silhouetted against the embers in the grate as it creeps nearer, avoiding obstacles like a true creature of the night. It reaches out a hand to the man in the bed.
Who squeals like an Eloi seized from sleep, huddling against the headboard, dragging the sheets with him, like a child still trusting in the protection of bedclothes.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Wells. History confirms that plump white flesh will not be tasted this night.”
Now the man is groping for the matchbox and candle on the bedside table.
“And put down that Lucifer. It would stab at eyes bred to the dark.”
Clumsy with sleep, he only manages to brush the box onto the floor in a patter of matchsticks.
“First things first. Some titles to get you started.”
The shade empties a sack, tumbling one volume after another onto the bed.
“Take them, Mr. Wells. The Shape of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible War, The Machine of the Worlds, The Time Sleepers.”
All the jumbled notions that plague the hours at his writing desk. The man squeezes his eyes shut, then opens them again. Still, there is someone in the room.
“So many tropes from one pen! Take them I say, else remain a footnote to the novels of social realism.”
The man mumbles that he must be dreaming.
“No, this is not a dream, though it is about one. Consider how just predicting a thing makes it more likely as if talk of war encourages the slaughter. We fashion you so you may fashion us in turn.”
The bedroom curtains hang narrowly parted and a slice of moonlight reveals the midnight visitor, small and muscular, more like a troll than a man.
“We strive to make your vision of Morlock and Eloi real, but what has failed before and what will succeed this time are tangled.” The creature shakes his head. “The knot grows tighter the more we struggle.”
It is the book the man is trying to write. The mention of time explains the lucidity of this dream. Often on waking, he finds himself troubled by storylines as if his sleeping brain plotted without him.
The mind, he says aloud, the mind is a curious thing.
“Do not concern yourself with detail, Mr. Wells,” interrupts the creature. “Overnight the time machine stood by the Sphinx and we employ it to ensure our birth.”
The creature looms so close the man catches the gleam of its big square teeth, bared in a brutal smile, and his nostrils fill with the unwholesome damps of the grave.
“Ironic that we cannot make our own machine, since its workings are pure imagination, and we have none.”
With a queasy fascination, the man ventures a question.
“Yes, that is blood.” The creature seems reluctant to speak of it. “I brought the Eloi, Weena, to tempt you, but grew thirsty. Do not look at me so. After all, we are the creatures of Man, or will be, if history goes to plan.”
Confident of success, the Morlock already feels more real, though it still has to slink back across London, to the hidden time machine, perhaps through the dank alleyways of Whitechapel with its loitering women…
It wonders about sunrise and whether there will be time to feed.
Author: Roger Ley
We were all staring up at the sky, waiting for the ‘Dawn Treader’ to light up her Hawking drives and start the journey to Alpha Centauri. There were hundreds of us, all members of the design and construction team with our partners and children, partying at our complex, near the foot of the Kisumu Space Elevator. A fair proportion of the world population would be watching.
I pulled the letter out of my back pocket. Estella had given it to me after the pre-launch ceremony two days ago, just before she and the rest of the ‘Dawn Treader’s’ crew entered the space elevator and began the first leg of their journey to the stars.
We’d both worked on the project for eleven years and had been ‘together’ for six of them, the first six. We’d married, had two kids, I thought we’d been reasonably happy, but then came the horrible business of finding out about her affairs. Everybody seemed to know about them except me; nobody tells you.
It wasn’t an amicable divorce, she never forgave me for getting custody of Hank and Cliff. What was I supposed to do? She would be leaving when the ship was finished, a few years hence, it made sense that I give them a stable home. She was absent half the time anyway, either training or supervising, up at the Synchronous Space Station where the ship was being assembled.
She was gone now, not dead, but unreachable. It wouldn’t be possible to communicate through the blizzard of elementary particles leaving the rear of the ship. They’d be accelerating for eighteen months subjective time, but forty-seven years would pass, back here on Earth. By the time they shut the drives down and turned the ship around to start decelerating, I’d be ancient or dead. Past caring either way. The boys would be older than their mother, I wonder what she’d say to them, given the two-year time delay on her transmissions. The boys would have sent their messages two years before so that they arrived after the drives shut down. I expect they’d send pictures of themselves, their wives and children, Estella’s grandchildren. The next time they’d be able to talk would be when Dawn Treader arrived at its destination. The boys would both be about a hundred years old, but Estella would still be in her late thirties. When she returned to Earth there wouldn’t be a single person left alive who she knew. A big sacrifice to make for the sake of being the first woman to leave the Solar System.
The brazier of glowing charcoal crackled and sparked, a sudden roar from the partygoers. There, exactly on time, in the constellation of Centaurus, the Hawking drives lit up and blossomed like a three-petaled flower, as big and bright as the Moon. Visible from Africa to Norway.
I looked at the letter, would Estella want to put things right between us, or did she want to have the last poisonous words? Make accusations I had no opportunity to refute, say things that would leave me bruised and angry for months or years? I paused for a moment, then threw the envelope, unopened, onto the brazier and watched it crisp and burn as her words turned to smoke and ashes. Hank and Cliff were both staring up at the beautiful multicoloured bloom of energy fields, they were both crying. I knelt down, laid my arms across their shoulders and pulled them into a family hug.
‘We have to remember the good times, boys, that’s what we have to do.’
It was, after all, my choice in the end.
Author: Salvatore Difalco
Clanking past the barber shop, the parking bot looked ramshackle—steel alloy and green rubber, with the jaw of a hippopotamus.
“They could’ve made those things more attractive,” said Varner, a Third Grade Nonpolluter, proud of his pathological recycling habits and negative carbon footprint ideal. He’d recently traded in his electric car for a leg-powered cabriolet-cycle.
His friend, Anton, a Population Analyst, waited for the barber bot to finish trimming Varner’s locks, which together with the shaggy beard made him look like a creature from the past. The bot, dressed in barber’s whites, and possessed of a single, flexible eye-shaft, surveyed Varner’s head.
“How is that?” the bot asked.
“More off the top.”
“If you say so. And the beard?”
“Leave as is.”
“That’s the idea, pal. Now get back to it. I’m not paying you for your scintillating conversation.”
“Take it easy on the bot,” Anton said. He’d seen these things lose it when provoked. They always blamed mechanical or electrical malfunction. But as far as Anton could see, bots lost it like any other creature.
Whirring and clicking, the barber bot took some hair off Varner’s top with its scissor hand. The comb hand tugged the hair as the scissor blades sheared it.
“Varner, it’s tagging you.”
“The parking bot. It’s tagging your vehicle.”
Varner pulled off his bib and scrambled to the door. The barber bot froze and followed him with its eye.
“Hey, hold on!” Varner cried.
The parking bot ignored him.
“You stupid tomato can! Where’d they find you? The junkyard?”
The parking bot paused and turned toward his harasser, who stood some ten meters away. Varner watched it warily, but had not cooled off.
“Stupid heap of junk, going around tagging zero-carbon vehicles. Bet you leave a larger carbon footprint than my cabriolet. Bloody fascist.”
Anton had exited the barber shop, and stood by the swirling barber pole hologram watching the confrontation. He started when the parking bot spoke. He thought they lacked that function.
“I am warning you,” said the parking bot, the buzzy voice coming from a horn-shaped appendage on its lower carriage.
“What are you gonna do? Stop me from speaking? Freedom of expression, you stupid fascist. Or hasn’t that penetrated your stupid processors?”
Anton agreed about the freedom of expression thing, but he also didn’t trust the parking bot to take it all in stride.
“Varner,” he said, “these things are unpredictable.”
“Unpredictable? On the contrary, tomato can is totally predictable, going around tagging Grade Three Nonpolluters!”
“Shut up,” the parking bot uttered from its buzzy horn.
“Or what?” Varner said. “You gonna hurt me? You gonna chase me down and penetrate me? That what you have in mind, you piece of junk?”
Rather than attack Varner, or speak further, the parking bot turned toward the cabriolet-cycle, engaging its hippopotamus jaw.
“Hey,” Varner said. “What’s it doing?”
“Uh, I think it’s doing exactly what it looks like it’s doing.”
The parking bot’s jaw began to chomp at the cabriolet-cycle. The sounds of metal crumpling and glass shattering filled the air.
Mouths open, Varner and Anton watched the parking bot completely destroy the cabriolet-cycle. When it was done, it made a honking sound from its horn and proceeded down the street.
Varner, in shock, staggered back into the barber shop. Anton, speechless, followed him. The barber bot stood there with its raised eye-shaft peering down on them. Varner automatically went for the barber chair, but at the last moment, Anton grabbed his arm and led him back outside.
Amaya strode down the gently curving corridor, glad she had worn her sensible heels to the reception. All the corridors at the Lublina Space Station curved gently. It made you long for straight lines and sharp, right-angled corners. She was worried and hoping she’d find Mayana where she always went when she needed to find peace. Amaya had been too far away to hear what that git, Edward, had said this time, but close enough to see Mayana’s face for that millisecond of naked pain. Then her face had shut down completely and she had simply turned and quietly walked away.
Ignoring the appreciative glances around her, she went faster. Clearly being blond and blue-eyed meant you wanted to be stared or even leered at. Both men and women behaved as if she owed them something just because nature had been kind to her, as if she had to be grateful for their admiration and give them something in return. And the only thing she wanted admiration for was her keen mind and her hard work. She snorted as she told herself to stop obsessing about her non-problems.
Turning into the Star Lounge, she was oblivious to the floor to ceiling sheer walls and the tapestry of stars beyond it. Her eyes sought only the figure of the elegant woman in the green cocktail dress, sitting on a (gently curving) seat and staring unseeingly at the glittering stars.
– There you are! I thought I might find you here. I was too far away to hear what happened. What did he say?
– Does it matter? He cut me down in public again… He’s having another affair and that always makes him particularly vicious… I don’t want to be in this marriage or in this job any longer. I feel like if I have to stand it one more day, I’ll scratch his eyes out or poison his coffee!
– (Leaning over and taking Mayana’s hands) Do you trust me?
– (Looking down at their joined hands then back into her eyes) Yes, I think I would trust you with anything.
– I’ve had everything ready for almost a month… I just ran out of courage when it was time to talk to you about it.
– What do you mean?
– Well… I’ve organised everything so you can leave tonight if you want… We’ll go pack the essentials and you can stay with me whilst you find your feet. As for work… well, Edward has been too busy taking full credit for the Lightning Drive to pay any attention to your work on shields. I don’t know how you can stand that sod having claimed your work!
– The original idea for the Drive was his.
– But it would never have bloody worked if you hadn’t solved all the bugs. It’s like… Mrs Tolstoy! She edited Tolstoy’s books several times and he never acknowledged it or thanked her for it. Who remembers her, her hard work and her loyalty? Anyway, I’m getting off track. Does Edward know about your breakthrough that will allow us to shield ships so they can travel through a wormhole?
– It’s only a working hypothesis so I haven’t said anything yet.
– Good (releasing Mayana’s hands and taking out a small electronic tablet from her clutch bag and tapping rapidly on the touch screen for a few minutes). Ok, I’ve activated it. Tomorrow morning, when they boot up the system, a virus I planted weeks ago will wipe all your files and there will be no record left of your work.
– No record? But that’s two years’ work!
– No record other than a backup I put on my tablet here. I also took the liberty of contacting the Star Council in your name, as your assistant. I gave them an outline of your research so far and they have agreed to fund a lab and tests.
– But… why have you done all this?
– Um, ah, well… what the hell… (leaning over and kissing her softly).
– (Touching her lips) Oh my, that was… unexpected… but nice (initiating another kiss, this one lasting rather longer). You always did have a brilliant but evil mind. Shall we get my things now? I have one condition though – all the research will be our joint research and any papers we write will be signed by both of us.
– As you wish. (They kiss again very enthusiastically and, this time, it’s impossible to tell who initiated the kiss.)