Noble Work

Author : David Kavanaugh

“First day on the job?” asked the women in the lab coat, twirling a set of digikeys on one finger.

“Yep.”

“You excited?”

“Sure am. I’ve been on the waiting list for ages! It’s funny; there seem to be job openings here all the time, but I put in my application months ago and only just heard back.”

“Yes. Well, we go through a lot of interns.”

She turned and set off down the hallway, keys jingling.

“They quit or something?” asked the intern, jogging to keep up.

“The job certainly takes its toll. But it’s noble work, in my opinion.”

“I’m not worried. I’ve been obsessed with genetically modified creatures since I was a kid. My bedroom was covered in posters of all the best GMC’s: rhinodiles, land orcas, condorosaurs, super grizzlies. I’m psyched about working with them, even if it means cleaning up after them.”

“Oh, we’ll handle the clean up.”

She swiped a key at a set of steel doors which slid silently open. They walked through into a cavernous room, their footsteps echoing of the bare walls. In the center of the room stood a colossal cage constructed of hundreds of crisscross titanium beams. A bright orange DANGER sign was posted dead ahead.

“Oh. My. Freaking. God!” shouted the intern, eyes wide. “A living, breathing komodosaurus! I can’t believe I’m really looking at one. It’s incredible!”

A forked tongue hissed from between the massive jaws. The dark, stony eyes of the twenty-foot monster stared down through the cage bars, curious and cold.

“It’s huge! What do they like to eat, anyway?”

“Mostly underpaid, uninsured interns,” the woman answered wryly.

The intern’s eyes rolled. “Ha. Ha. Seriously.”

“Originally we gave them a variety of meats; venison and pork mostly. But one got loose at the company party last Christmas. Ate a jar of caviar and got all but addicted to the stuff. And that’s a not a joke.”

“So you actually have to feed it caviar now? Wow. Must be really expensive.”

“Oh, the bills were dreadful. But we found something else they like just as much, and the price is far more reasonable.”

“That’s good.”

The woman swiped a second key and, to the intern’s surprise, a doorway on the cage swung open. The beast blinked.

“Is that… safe?”

The woman shrugged. “All part of the job. Come closer.”

The intern smiled nervously and inched forward through the cage’s opening, heart racing.

“Whoa. I think it likes me. See the way it’s looking at me. I’m sure it likes me.”

“No doubt.”

In a single, fluid motion the beast’s scaly head darted downward, snatched the intern in its jaws, and tore the body from the ground. A moment later, with a little belch, the intern was gone. Only a sneaker remained, dangling from a shoelace looped around a yellow tooth.

The woman in the lab coat sighed, locked the cage, and spun her keys as she sauntered from the room.

“Thank god for interns.”

Leader

Author : Madison McSweeney

It was 9:30 AM on a Friday when the Martians landed on Dave McQuilty’s farm. The ship, which was more spherical than saucer-shaped, touched down in the midst of some cows. A long silver platform descended and a little grey man stepped out.

Dave waved. The little grey man made a strange hand gesture and said, “Take me to your leader.”

“What a marvellously egalitarian system the Martians must have!” Dave declared, as he set out to make the arrangements.

He started by calling the office of the Prime Minister, whose number was conveniently listed on the Parliamentary website, and requesting a meeting between himself, the Prime Minister, and a special foreign guest. A pleasant secretary told him that the Prime Minister was very busy, but should his schedule free up they would contact him.

Dave was not surprised by this. The Martian, however, did not understand. “How can this man be your leader if he refuses contact with his citizens?”

Dave shrugged. “I suppose, in a way, it increases his esteem. Perception of exclusivity and all that.”

Dave’s second step was to contact the Government House Leader, who, he figured, had an impressive enough title for the Martian’s purposes. The House Leader, however, was also very busy that day. Dave then tried to call his local Member of Parliament, the provincial Premier, his local Member of Provincial Parliament, and the Mayor. No luck.

He decided that the best he could do was take the Martian on a nice tour of Parliament Hill. So he and the Martian drove an hour to Ottawa and parked in an underground lot. Reading the list of hourly rates, Dave hoped the tour would be quick.

To partake in a public tour of Parliament, visitors must wait in line at a Service Canada building across the street from the Hill. It being a Friday, the building was packed with other tourists waiting for the same thing. Dave and the Martian settled into the back of the line.

After waiting forty-five minutes, Dave reconciled himself to the fact that they would not be getting a tour of the Hill any time soon. He pulled the Martian out of the line and the two walked back to the lot, where Dave paid his $30 parking fee and wondered why the alien could not have landed on the Hill itself and saved them both a lot of trouble.

“So, to summarize,” the Martian said, adjusting his seatbelt, “I travelled fifty-four-point-six million kilometers from the planet Mars on a diplomatic mission to make contact with the Leaders of Earth, and I cannot meet your Prime Minister, your Government House Leader, your Member of Parliament, your Premier, your Member of Provincial Parliament, or your Mayor. I cannot even set foot in your Parliament Building.”

“Listen here,” Dave snapped. “If you wanted any of these meetings you should have called ahead. It’s a Friday, for Pete’s sake. I’m doing the best I can.”

His options exhausted, Dave took the Martian to the Canadian War Museum. The Martian interpreted this as an aggressive act, and an invasion was launched.

Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo-4?

Author : Trevor Doyle

Sex droids don’t do it for me, but I’ve never had a problem with clones.

My most recent Romeo, for instance. The last time I saw him, he was standing on my gold plated balcony, his back to the city that worships at my feet. He looked like a pop star in the clothes that I’d dressed him in.

It’s a thorny problem, of course, getting them to forget everything I’ve done for them without making them tame. The first one forgot too much; the second one, not enough. This one had found his footing somehow on his own.

Memory implants and hypnosis can only do so much, after all. Put a shirt on your clone’s back, and he resents it; teach him to be civil, and he becomes soft, a sorry putty you abhor. I’ve learned the hard way that virility and duplicity are inextricably linked; the noblest man alive will spin incredible yarns in obedience to his first master, that metamorphic creature that he keeps hidden in his pants.

This one was different though. His desire to please was genuine; he was gracious but never fawning, capable of maintaining his self-respect even though he had no place in the world aside from the one I’d made for him. And yet he wasn’t docile or subservient; he could be unpredictable, which I liked, and he was forceful when my mood called for it.

Only last week, the psychiatrists who’d supervised his training and conditioning told me that he’d passed his total personality test. We’d succeeded where others had failed, which meant that we had the complete package, a clone who would be the perfect companion for any woman who could afford him. They showed me the numbers, the graphs that always bore me, and assured me that I was going to be a thousand times wealthier than I already am. But I wasn’t convinced, not entirely. There was one more test he had to pass.

Because it isn’t enough for a man (or a clone) to say that he loves you, is it? This is a fundamental truth, and that’s why I had to ask that all important question while he was standing there on my balcony with the wind roiling his perfect hair.

“So you love me. What would you do to prove it?”

He nodded to show that he understood, and then he turned around. He swung one meaty thigh over the railing, then the other, and he looked at me one last time.

“This,” he said.

And he jumped.

I had to smile. I couldn’t help myself, because it was the ultimate answer, the only answer that could expel my final doubts.

So he was perfect, a little too perfect. But I’ve learned my lesson; true love is overrated anyway.

We’ll do better with Romeo-4.

Tao of the Space Cowgirl

Author : M. Irene Hill

Today’s sunrise is a Chinese watercolor painting, with inky tree branches in the foreground of an ombre sky. Below a band of monochrome cloud, a thin line of cinnabar melts into pink chrysanthemum in rhythmic balance. I imagine that a bird’s eye view would bring harmony to the richness and texture of the landscape. On cue, a profusion of chickadees bursting from their nests can be heard as they cheer on the sun god.

Lacking feather and flight, I can only revere this daily miracle from the comfort of my favorite window seat. My roots have grown deep into the earth since the last time I punched through Earth’s exosphere. People had once called me Space Cowgirl. Now they just call me Marie – or Mommy.

I had played my role in shattering the metaphorical glass ceiling. The number of female space travelers has quadrupled since Cosmonaut Valentina did her first spacewalk so many moons ago. At age 39, I decided it was time to hang up my spacesuit and step aside to make room for my sister space walkers. Space had been like a cornucopia of my wildest dreams. I greedily plucked each asteroid harvesting mission offered to me, but then one day I realized I’d had my fill.

Seeing the orbital sunrise on Earth from a vantage point in space is truly breathtaking, but my perspective is now limited by earthly matters of hearth and home. There is always that transient desire to uproot and set sail on a sea of stars, and I’m not sure it will ever fade completely. But for these briefest moments while my children are soundly sleeping and my mouth is filled with the rich taste of coffee, when the sun god awakens from his slumber and stretches, I am content on this blue planet.

Sun god kisses my lips good morning; his kiss is a song written indelibly upon my heart. I taste its essence, and breathe its color. Its warmth seeds my soul. I am a poet, a painter, a philosopher, a star walker, and a mother – or as Carl Sagan would say, I am star stuff harvesting starlight.

I hear the faintest stirrings of my little star mites. Sigh. I check my solar panel battery indicators on the inside of my wrist: four bars. I stretch my eyelids open wider to harvest more starlight. Five bars – Houston, we are go for launch.

“Who wants blueberry pancakes for breakfast?”

Dance With The Moon

Author : Russell Bert Waters

The moon stares down as I stand on the beach next to what once was the ocean.

Powerless to control the tide, or anything at all, the moon seems sad.

This is conjecture on my part.

The moon hasn’t said anything lately, so for all I know it is full of glee and merriment.

Earlier, after the dehydration and lack of sleep began really playing their tricks, the moon had said plenty.

It wanted to know if it would ever regain its purpose.

I told it, in a cracked and hoarse voice, I didn’t know.

No one knew.

It seemed satisfied by the answer, as though it had known all along what the answer would be.

My nickname in the Army had been “Camel” because I was able to last the longest without worrying about taking a drink from my canteen.

I could hike, march, or run, for miles without worrying about hydration.

Some people are just wired that way, I guess.

But I am worried now, I assure you.

The moon turns its back on me and lets out an audible sigh.

It hasn’t been many days since the water inexplicably began disappearing.

Geologists were concerned it had somehow begun draining into the Earth, but drilling projects and advanced scanning equipment kept turning up nothing.

Bottled water sat on shelves, empty.

Their containers took on a “sunk in” look, as though the water had been sucked out of them.

Lakes, ponds, rivers, oceans, seas, wells, aquifers, all had begun to dry.

The humidity in the air was reduced to less than zero.

People began dropping like flies.

They’d have headaches, delusions, seizures, and one by one they would collapse.

As far as I know I’m the last person alive on Earth, or maybe there are a few more like me out there.

I guarantee none of us are in good shape.

I keep seeing things dancing, just out of sight.

My head hurts.

My mouth and throat are painfully dry and cracked.

My throat feels like a collapsing straw.

The moon looks down on me again, asks me if things will ever be the same.

Asks me if it’s going to be all alone soon.

Asks me if children will ever again watch it follow them in the night sky.

The moon is a bit choked up, as it asks its final question of me.

It wants to know if there will ever be another tide.

“I don’t know” I croak, “I don’t know.”

My first celestial friend seems smaller for the moment, as it continues its dance in the sky.

Before me lies miles of sand, littered with dead starfish, lost tourist sunglasses, the occasional instant camera. All the treasures one could ever want glimmer before me in the vast expanse that was the Pacific.

I would trade it all for one sip of fresh, cold, water.

I walk forward, daring to venture where riptides once ruled.

My final hike is to be one that no one has ventured before; at least not without proper SCUBA or snorkel gear.

“May I have this dance?” I manage to painfully ask.

The moon is game.

It dances in the sky, as I weakly dance on the sandy terrain, kicking the occasional shell, stumbling over driftwood.

I will drop soon, I know that.

But, for now, I will entertain my lonely friend.

For now, we will dance.