Dreadnought

Author : Jae Miles

“Twenty-nine, twenty-eight…”

She felt the first bead of sweat follow the knap of her close cropped hair before running cool and smooth down her jaw and into her uniform collar. It was so quiet on the bridge; she swore that her exec had heard it.

“Twenty-five, twenty-four…”

Sixty people made less noise than a creeping cat as they watched the dizzying host of screens. Beyond the shutters, warp space sang to their dreams. No-one had slept much in the last eight months.

“Twenty-one, twenty…”

It had taken twenty years to reverse engineer Borsen warp technology, five more to work out navigation. Four years to build the first warp dreadnought. Even now, the Borsen still did things with warp that made grown scientists cry.

“Seventeen, sixteen…”

This was the crux. The first warp dreadnought, Excalibur, hurled like a vengeful spear at the Borsen homeworld, loaded with atmosphere igniters and stealth fighters for a genocide raid to finish the war that mankind was no longer confident of winning.

“Thirteen, twelve…”

Providing the bastardised warp technology brought them out at all, of course. Command had decided that since the Romala debacle, speed was of the essence. This test flight would also be the greatest raid at the furthest distance by the biggest warship ever built.

“Nine, eight…”

She thought of spring in Providence, her daughter playing on the swing while her husband made Irish coffee on the range. This was why they all fought. For all the families, ensuring their children had a world to grow up on and a future worth living.

“Five, four…”

A vibration ran through the two kilometres of the Excalibur, causing wide eyes and white knuckles for every one of the thousand plus crew. She prayed to a god hopefully nearby that they would see real space again.

“One. Phase transit.”

With a disconcerting lurch, the Excalibur arrived in the Borsen system. Sensors awakening galvanized people into frantic motion. They had to be on target in moments. She smiled a thin smile as the shutters withdrew. Time to see what colour your air is, you bastards.

“Oh god. Sir?”

At first, she just could not absorb it. The system had no planets. The reason was right there, waiting. It reflected the distant sunlight from its myriad surfaces, and she was sure that she could see the Excalibur reflected in one of the facets facing them. She gathered herself, years of training and bitter, bloody combat culminating in a defining command moment of grace under pressure;

“Exec. Shipwide, please.”

The general broadcast fanfare rang hollow.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived and I am sure you see what I do. No-one could have envisioned this. Please, stand down and make your peace with whatever gods you hold dear.”

She regarded it. So big. Could you call something the size of Jupiter a spaceship? The movement and weapons detectors homed in on the behemoth’s one acknowledgement of the Excalibur’s presence. The figures coming from the mass detector alone lit the board red with scale queries. Her second expressed the thoughts of all present with the rendingly appropriate line of defiance, prayer and dark humour;

“Sweet Lord, for what we are about to receive…”

She felt her face become calm as she watched a railgun the length of Texas send a projectile the size of Rhode Island at them. Her words ended the data stream that reached Earth eighteen years too late;

“Dear John, remember me. Raise Millie well. Love from Captain Mum.”

 

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A Moment of Creation

Author : Phil Manning

The light above the door flashed green and she stepped into the hall. Synthetic grass covered the floor, a lush carpet which sprang up, undamaged, after each of her hesitant steps. A vast pool lay in the centre of the hall; the scent of salt water touched her nostrils.

Her yellow skin gleamed under the harsh fluorescent light, a simulation of a life bringing star long extinguished. The yellow skin was tattooed with a swirling mixture of codes and writing blended together to create an alien set of tribal markings.

On the edge of the pool a dull grey box began to shake and break free of the floor. Rising up to the height of her chest two black cables emerged from the sides of the box. The box’s grey exterior began to darken to an earthen brown and the once smooth surfaces were now scarred with texture. The cables snaked on the floor until she stood in front of the earthy pillar then lifted into the air to attach securely to her temples.

She took handfuls of earth and began to rub them slowly onto the top of her skull. Instead of falling to the floor the earth clung to her strands of hair. As she placed more of the mound of earth onto her skull her hair began to rise. The hair formed the outline of mountains and valleys which shifted and writhed, filling with trees and vegetation. When the mound was half broken away she stopped placing the earth onto herself. Taking small handfuls she cast the earth out over the pool. Islands and continents were shaped, shifting against one another before coming to rest in odd and beautiful land masses. The cables fell from her temples into the pool. They swirled and drifted beneath the surface of the water. Waves crashed against the newly formed land further changing and shaping the formations.

Sitting beside the pool she hummed as she cropped at the synthetic grass with her hand and tossed random handfuls of her harvest over the pool and newly formed surface. As her humming grew louder, the tune became more complex. The shape which had formed on top of her skull began to slow in its growth. The markings on her skin began to shift, dancing in and around each other. Changing patterns, words, codes, language swam on her skin. She opened her mouth and broke into a crescendo of song which harmonised with the sound of her humming still echoing throughout the hall. Small creatures began to appear in the mountains and valleys which sat upon her head. The patterns on her body danced up her skin and disappeared into her temples. Blue electricity crackled above her head as her body drained itself of the markings. The small creatures began to evolve; some grew wings, others leapt for the pool, and they began to hide and hunt. A small group began to think and stumble forward, upright and afraid.

She finished singing and started to whistle softly as she stood and reached for the shape now pulsating with life atop her head. As she broke the shape away from her skull it fell into four pieces. She floated each one toward a different area of the pool and the newly formed pieces of land. As life began to take hold and shape itself she slowly walked around the pool, whistling soft gusts over the once empty surface.

 

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Gently Used

Author : Z. J. Woods

There seemed nothing wrong with the guy when he backed through the door. A little nervous, maybe. A little too long since he’d shaven. But otherwise? And for whom were such descriptions untrue?

Sloan produced glasses from a breast pocket and fingered them up the bridge of his nose. He put a fist over his mouth, cleared his throat. He said, “What can I do for you?”

The guy swung a denim sack up onto the counter. He untied it, reached in, produced books. Four books. Four hardcovers bound in honest-to-god cardboard and paper. Sloan pressed his glasses against his face, hard, for a moment. He watched as the guy arranged the books beside one another. Carefully.

The guy said, “I wanna — I need to, to sell these.”

“Well.” Sloan took up the rightmost, navy blue, thin, maybe two hundred pages, maybe less. He opened to the title page. It’d been torn out — not an unexpected defect. “Well,” Sloan said, “this is a lot of books,” and in fact he hoped he could endure the expense. “I could give you more if there were dust jackets. But, still –”

He brought the blue book close. On the front cover, near the spine — a dark rectangle, maybe damp. He pressed a thumb into it, pulled away and met resistance. Pressed thumb and forefinger together once, twice.

He set the book down.

He said, “You stole these from a library.”

“No — no,” the guy said. “They were — in a library — before. Before before.”

“That’s relatively new glue,” Sloan said, pointing. “There was a barcode there.” He eyed the rightmost corner of the counter, the telephone. “I can’t take these.”

The guy did not look up. Had not made eye contact since entering. He set about stowing his books. “Then — I guess — I’ll take these somewhere else.”

“No,” Sloan said. He reached for the phone.

The guy contemplated for a moment. For a moment Sloan was still, three fingers on the plastic handset, wondering if he’d misjudged, if the guy had a weapon after all. He began to withdraw.

The guy turned and ran.

He was halfway to the door when the shotgun pump stopped him.

Every time Sloan looked down that foreshortened barrel he became convinced that it had rusted more since the previous time. But what did it matter? The nice thing about a shotgun was that it could do enough from five paces mostly regardless of its general state of repair.

The guy turned, slowly. He held the denim sack to his chest. Now he made eye contact with Sloan, or with the cycloptic weapon; it didn’t seem to matter. He said, “Fucking — readers. Goddamn fucking readers.”

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Coincidences

Author : K. Clarke

One could’ve happened by accident. When the first one appeared, I was eating cereal. His machine had plowed across half the basement and stopped against the wall, nested in the remains of the treadmill and the dryer and most of the plumbing. It looked like a submarine and it was way too big to have gotten in by the door, even in parts. Standing in the middle of the floor, the pile of twisted metal behind him and me at the top of the stairs in boxers and wrinkled socks, pointing a milky spoon at him –I guess in that situation it’s hard to come up with a good lie, and he just admitted he was a time traveler. His name is Tim.

Two could have been random chance. Harrelson arrived two days later, in the backyard. His machine was more advanced and a bit smaller, and only took out a ten foot gouge out of my lawn.

Even three might have been coincidence. Or, actually, four. Sonya and Peter showed up in the living room with a handheld machine and didn’t destroy anything at all. They were wearing matching silver jumpsuits though.

The next day it was Gehris, then Jacob, and Terry the day after that. And Kevin and Dr. Morris and the one whose name I forgot, and Dewey and another Peter and all the ones that came after I stopped even asking their names. They must have some special way of recognizing their own kind, because they go out and bring back even more time travelers. I can’t have friends over anymore because of all the future people camped out in my house. There’s one upstairs who says his name is AoooOooOOooooOoo who won’t even get out of the bathtub. They laugh at how primitive the widescreen I just spent $700 on is and give huge complicated explanations I can’t understand when I ask them questions, and I know they’re doing it on purpose because they talk with a lot smaller words when they think I’m not around.

Well maybe I’m not a genius time-travelling scientist, but I’m not an idiot. Tim says my house is a lab when he’s from, and Dr. Morris told me there’s a power plant next door all convenient for him. Jacob has a factory in his time. AoooOooOOooooOoo says the house built here in 500 years is a very nice shade of green. Probably they’re all telling the truth. There’s a lot of time in the future for stuff to happen in, and I’m not surprised if some of it happens here. But one month is not a lot of time for fifty time travelers to all end up in. Even if none of them will own up to it, they know something.

They all came to now for a reason. Something’s about to happen. Something big.

 

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A Shared Interest in History

Author : Juliette Harrisson

She rifled through the library’s card catalogue, shivering in the winter cold. A fire was burning back in the main reading room, but its warmth could not reach this drafty spot on the edge of the stacks.

The door to the stacks was open and the dark shelves stretched away for dusty yards beyond her. A low sound drifted through from somewhere over to the right – indistinct, but clearly a human voice accompanied by rhythmic thumps and a second, higher tone squeaking in time with it. Somebody – some people – had found a way to keep warm in the stacks.

She wiped a lone tear from her face and went back to the card catalogue. There it was – ‘A History of the Twenty-First Century’. She pulled the card out, her fingerless gloves catching on a splinter as she closed the drawer. She picked up her lamp and scrutinised the dying light – hardly any oil left. Cursing, she hurried into the stacks.

She could hear scurrying noises as she trotted down the aisles, and hoped it was mice and not spiders. Trying to navigate the labyrinth of shelves too quickly, she tripped on a floorboard and her satchel went flying. Papers and inkwells went flying and as she bent to pick them up, the lamp went out.

She wondered if she should just ask someone for help. Perhaps if they’d finished, the couple on the other side of the doorway could lend her a candle. She thought about calling out for a librarian, but they were all huddled around the fire in the reading room, keeping warm.

A shadow moved in the darkness and every ghost story she’d ever read came flooding back to her in a surge of creaking doors, white shapes and creepy woodcuts. A new sound entered the stacks – footsteps. Gently falling, prowling through the shelves towards her, getting closer… She sank to her knees in a pile of paper and leaned against the nearest shelf, hearing only her own too quick breathing and the insistent plod, plod plod.

‘Are you all right?’ A smiling face emerged from the darkness, uplit by a thick, smoky candle. She screamed.

‘I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! I saw you come in here with a low lamp and I just wanted to check on you.’ He held out a chivalrous hand and helped her to her feet.

‘I thought I’d never see you again,’ she mumbled.

‘I only stayed six months,’ he said. ‘I managed to scrape together enough money for a steerage ticket on a liner and, well, here I am.’ He hesitated, chewing his lower lip in that nervous manner she knew so well. ‘So, um, what are you doing in the stacks?’

‘I’m researching a History essay,’ she said, unable to look him in the eye. ‘It’s on the sudden disappearance of books in the early twenty-first century. I have a theory – ’ She stopped, embarrassed.

‘Yes?’ he said, sounding genuinely interested.

She finally looked right up at him. ‘Well, I think maybe they had some kind of… machines… and they – they stored the books in those…’ she trailed off awkwardly. ‘It’s silly.’

‘I don’t think it’s silly.’

A shudder ran through her body. To cover it up, she said ‘It’s so cold in here!’

‘You know,’ he said slowly, carefully, ‘I passed a couple on the way in who seemed to have found a way to keep warm.’ He smiled *that* smile.

He blew out the candle and they kept each other warm in the pile of spilled papers.

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