Author : Desmond Hussey
The holy city resembles a colossal dodecahedron two and half thousand kilometers thick. The reflection of a billion suns slip across its twelve quicksilver surfaces as it speeds through space, yet the bowels of the craft remain dark, as it has for millennia.
Then there is light.
Triggered by unseen hands, hidden machines whir into motion performing pre-programmed functions. A complex series of green pinpoints blink on and banks of blue, crystaline eggs flicker to luminescent life. Slowly, the frosty wombs clear revealing sleeping toddlers within.
A sun-like orb flares into being at the center of the craft, illuminating a lush oasis wrapped around the inner walls of the sphere. Twin rivers spiral from an equatorial lake twisting into either hemisphere, flanked on either side by a forest of metallic, tree-like structures rising above dense foliage. Dangling from leafless branches are strange crimson fruit; bulbous, opaque membranes, veined and throbbing with organic fluids. Elsewhere, within a hundred and forty four thousand crystalline eggs, the first born awaken to a new morning.
Gay laughter resounds throughout the enormous garden chamber as naked multi-racial youths frolic under the warm eternal sunlight.
A boy and a girl stand alone by the river looking up in wonder at the pear shaped, fleshy masses hanging from one of the metallic trees.
“What are they?” The girl asks.
“They’re the second born..” The boy answers, studying the veins radiating over the membranous orb, tracing them to where they thicken and pulse at the stem.
“From the Old World?”
“When will they join us?”
“When we’re home.”
They stare at the throbbing fruit. After a time, the girl speaks. “I want to see what’s inside.”
The boy says simply, “It’s forbidden.”
“It can’t hurt to look inside just one. Besides, I’ve seen one fall before,” the girl lies effortlessly, “Long ago. They just shriveled up.”
The boy has no reason to doubt her. There has never been cause to tell a falsehood here. His own curiosity wins out.
Just one. They vow.
Gracefully, the boy scales the thick metal trunk and edges onto a limb. He tugs at the thick, rubbery stem of the nearest fruit, but he cannot dislodge the mass.
“Here!” the girl whispers, waving a sharp stick from a nearby shrub. “Use this.” She lobs the branch up to him.
He plunges the pointed end into the dangling bulb and it bursts open with a gout of reddish brown fluid. The puncture quickly widens from the weight of the sac’s contents and the boy glimpses a figure floating in the remaining ooze. A foreign, earthy odor assaults his senses. He gulps fresh air and leans in for closer inspection.
The figure awakens suddenly, screaming, its pupiless eyes bulging wildly. Startled, the boy loses his grip and falls awkwardly from the branch, smashing his skull against the steel trunk, soaking the turf in dark blood.
Father Rasmussen is yanked from an insensate oblivion into a world of blinding agony as his unformed clone is prematurely awakened in its artificial womb. His undeveloped lungs burn and his body convulses, but his mind is intact, ringing with the last command made by the Armaggeddon Angel who took his life. “Remember”, they ordered. “Remember and teach”. And he does. He remembers everything; humanity’s fateful history, his home destroyed by aliens playing God. He remembers the one hundred and forty four thousand infants found without guile, protected in a vain hope to cure humanity’s Evil. He takes his memories and his knowledge with him as he dies a second time, thousands of light years from home.
Author : Jake Trommer
They called it Nouveau Katanga, a colony world of tremendous mineral wealth and great natural beauty. They said it was the gem of the Outer Colonies, a shining example of what humanity could do when it put its mind to it, colonize and terraform a rockball into a lush garden world.
And when the mining corporations and the planetary government decided to cast off the shackles of the Terran Hegemony, they said much, much nastier things. And the more perceptive amongst them said that those who didn’t read history were doomed to repeat it.
Apparently the Hegemony government didn’t read much history, because when I and many other volunteers answered the call to defend Nouveau Katanga against the inevitable subjugation, they said it was unprecedented, disgusting, piratical. For us, it was simply the best business opportunity my kind had had since the Anh Loa Uprisings in the Nemean Abyss years ago.
There weren’t many of us in the first wave—just the officers and senior non-coms, the nucleus around which the N.K. government could build a proper army, but I recognized most of them. Old Ian Wicks, battle-scarred Dan Carton-Barber, even the buccaneering Johann Mueller, who I hadn’t seen since a Rakharan machine gun crew had lit him up during the Uprisings. The President is—was, I should say—one of the most charismatic men I’d ever met, and by the time he’d finished giving us his glory-or-death speech we actually kinda believed in the “righteousness of the cause”, instead of the cold hard cash we knew we’d be getting for this.
“It’ll never work,” said Mueller, over the lager he was nursing in the capitol city’s bar. We were all there, drinking, catching up on how we’d done since the last contract together. It was a bit awkward—apparently more than a couple of us had been on the opposite sides of one or two. “They outgun us by a considerable margin, and even with the mining interests bankrolling this—”
Dan poured himself another glass’s worth of the carafe wine he and I had acquired a liking for in the Abyss.”Win or lose, we’re still soldiering, still getting paid to do what we love.”
“And getting ourselves killed needlessly in the process?” Mueller shook his balding head. “Remind me again how you scheisskopfs talked me into this again.”
“Dosh, and loads of it,” I said after draining my glass. “I know soft sods like Dan and I are keen on soldiering for soldiering’s sake and all that, but those mining corps you mentioned are gonna make us all very rich men.”
With luck. But none of us were going to say that out loud.
Even so, that seemed to strike home for Johann. He’d always struggled with his personal finances more than the rest of us (though none could compete with Ian, who was so ridiculously scrupulous with his affairs that we were all fond of joking he should’ve been an accountant), so that alone was enough to recommend the job to him.
After a long meditative silence, Johann raised his glass. “A toast, gentlemen. To our hallowed profession.”
And as one we raised our glasses, bottles, tumblers, to belt out the ancient chant that had graced halls where professional soldiers had congregated since time immemorial:
“Vive la mort, vive la guerre, vive le sacré mercenaire!”
Author : A. S. Andrews
Four months ago, it started. Everyone, everywhere, coughing. Day two brought bloody sores and panic, followed by the aches and fever of day three, the vomiting of day four. Day five dawned to thick, red scales, all over, even where your hair and nails used to be. They itched and burned and nothing helped. Day seven, gone. All symptoms vanished, leaving bald heads and bloodied nail beds. Lots of people died, twenty percent they say. More went crazy. Like the theories – aliens, bio-warfare, terrorists, space bugs from the downed satellite.
“Marry me,” you said three months ago. You slipped me your mama’s ring, and Uncle Joe married us.
Two months ago, Uncle Joe left his chapel for the fields, preaching hell and brim fire. Uncle Joe wasn’t the only one.
It’s back. Started a week ago. Difference is, not everyone gets sick the same day. It’s all the same symptoms – coughing, sores, fever, vomiting, scales. Except this time, on day seven, the scales get hard and yellow. And the whites of your eyes yellow and your pupils grow bigger and bigger, until your whole iris is pitch black. People are dying all over, lots of them before they even yellow. Some just disappear. Vaporized, they say.
You’re yellow now, and I have fever. “Let’s go out,” you say, “there’s a party.”
“An end of the world bash?”
You shrug. “Maybe this world.”
We go, we drink, we move through a strange crush of bodies, everyone sick. After, we sit stargazing in Uncle Joe’s field. He’s not preaching today – too weak. The Milky Way glitters above, same as always.
“Uncle Joe – he said to pray,” I say. “When it started up again.”
I think of Uncle Joe’s face, pained and red. He’d clasped his hands together and nodded at me, before another shudder came.
You smile. In the starlight, your eyes are reflective black orbs, surrounded by golden halos. “It’s not over yet,” you whisper. I want to ask what you mean, what you might know, but your soft kiss silences me, the coolness of your scales startling all over again. I close my eyes. “Until death do us part,” you say.
I start to speak, but cough instead. Your hand slips away. When I open my eyes, you’re gone, just like all the others who yellowed. Vanished. I scoop dirt, sifting it through my fingers. It’s gritty and dry, slightly sparkly, smells metallic. No hint of you left.
More theories, no answers. Teleportation, apocalypse, some freak hiding in an underground bunker, laughing. Damn freaks.
Uncle Joe died today.
I’m yellow now, sitting here where we last sat, staring at the stars, thinking of you. I see a shooting star, wish for life. Kiss my ring, it vanishes. Sky pulses, stars flash. The Milky Way shifts, changes, rearranges.
I see it now, written in the stars; my choice. Leave or die. But I have no choice. Wait for me. Until death do us part.
Author : Jules Bowman
Finally, our question was answered – no, you are not alone. We welcomed them with open arms and, strangely, very little trepidation. Beautiful creatures they were – full of poise and serenity, cloaked in delicate robes that changed designs in the most artful fashion as the light shifted into shadow and back. Androgynous and tall, our visitors carried themselves with the grace of African kudus. And when the rays of our Sun illuminated their big lavender eyes, we saw a little bit of God in them and felt nothing but placation.
Cultural exchange, that’s all they wanted. Our leaders rejoiced and hastily organized a myriad of revelries and events. As such, the children of the world danced for them, famous tenors and sopranos serenaded them, and Seven Wonders of the World were shown to them. Our visitors were in awe. The Hermitage, the Louvre, the Smithsonian… In quiet and respectful amazement they were absorbing the summary of everything our kind was proud of. Yet our music seemed to touch them the most. Their pale humanoid faces moistened with tears as they listened to Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Bach. More, they pleaded. So we showcased the musical folklore of many of our cultures. Not enough, they cried. To answer their implorations, we organized rock and heavy metal concerts, using only our best and most talented musicians. Even more concerts followed… R&B, hip hop, jazz… Not a single musical genre was left out. After some time, they started to smile. They were most obliged and wished to pay us back for our hospitality. “We shall organize a concert for YOU,” they said unequivocally. We found the idea to be most charming and agreeable.
Never in the history of human kind had we heard anything like that. They sang for us a cappella, their voices entwined in the most blissful concord. When we first heard them sing, not a single dry eye was left in the world. Our hair stood up on the napes of our necks as gooseflesh rippled across our bodies. We wept in such joy and such sorrow that at the end of their concert we all collapsed to the ground in the most beautiful state of nirvana.
We were addicted. No Earthly music could compare to the heavenly beauty of our visitors’ singing. Their voices reached resonant frequencies of our glass as windows, champagne flutes, and crystal chandeliers exploded around us. What a show! More, we cried, affected by the emotions delivered to us via alpha brain wave emissions along with the sound of their angelic voices. And they obliged. More of them came and sang in our concerto halls and stadiums. Not enough, we bemoaned and pleaded for more visitors. Their spaceships now hovered above every major metropolis, as the mothership patiently orbited the Earth. The ships became part of our sky. Nice large shadows on a hot sunny day.
We were expunged of all worries and concerns. Happiness and liberation – we all felt that. And then they stopped singing rather abruptly, with laconic promises of resuming their regularly scheduled performances really soon. We quickly became dismayed. Dopamine levels dropped, and we went into most severe levels of withdrawal. Billions of us died. But the rest of us are gazing to the sky where their ships hover, waiting for our guests to recommence singing, more eager than ever to continue the cultural exchange between our species. Never mind the conspiracy theorists clamoring that this is an invasion of planetary proportions.
Author : Kevin Crisp
Framed by her cavernous high-backed leather chair, the chairwoman is totally unaware of the glyptodon’s furry beak edging gradually nearer her face. “I’m very disappointed with what’s coming out of Creative, Jerry. I know you’ve been away on your honeymoon — and congratulations, by the way, did you get the personalized gift basket?”
“But while you were gone, we agreed on several key points.”
Why do we call meetings to discuss new ideas when we always end up consensus-voting our way back to the same old course?
The glyptodon’s beak, even as it closes in on her ear, mills and mills; the slobber-covered patches of fur quiver with each rhythmic chomp. Did glyptodons chew their cud?
Voices from down at the other end of the table chorus their sycophantic concurrence. “No one wants to waste their time treading over old ground again. ‘Develop the RF prism lens technology to be driven by brain waves to affect cathartic release for the anxious individual.’” She’s reading from my memo now. Weren’t you the one who told me to bring my ideas to the table now before the process got too far along?
Damn it, my pollakuria is acting up again. Frequent urge to urinate, ideopathic, psychosomatic, formerly pediatric, now ubiquitous. “Our shareholders want to see revenue from this technology in six or nine months, or we bury the project. This reminds me of another time Creative nearly derailed a project by proposing a totally new direction at the eleventh hour…”
I heard they have support groups for adult pollakuria. I bet they get interrupted constantly. I bet they have to hold sessions in the men’s room.
The glyptodon’s beak parts slightly, revealing a scaly, black, pointed tongue. With a subtle twist of its neck, it tears away the chairwoman’s right ear and surrounding tissue, leaving a chunk of torn cartilage and a flap of red, dripping sinew. Her temporomandibular joint is visible now. I recognize it because I grind my teeth when I sleep. She keeps talking: “…which would have been disastrous, Jerry. There’s a time for totally new ideas and a time for little tweaks, and a team player knows which is which.” The glyptodon swallows its mouthful, and tears away a chunk of her scalp.
“Are you listening, Jerry? I feel like you’re mentally still on your honeymoon.”
On the contrary, I’m totally transfixed. A giant, extinct, prehistoric turtle is eating your face.
This must be what those shrinks were trying to accomplish with LSD in the middle of the last century. Trying to get their patients to release psychological tensions for therapeutic purposes seems like a great idea on the couch in the doctor’s office, until those sessions re-emerge as flashbacks during the drive home. I can turn this thing on or off from the switch in my pocket. The electrode cap is subtle, virtually undetectable when combed into a reasonably full head of hair. It detects the increased theta activity in my brain as my aggression waxes. Billions of RF-sensitive prisms embedded in these contact lenses alter what I see but only my wife could tell I’m wearing them. My wife. Wife. Huh, I have a wife.
“So, Jerry, are we through with this? Ready to move on?” No need to go postal anymore. A spike in theta and I start seeing glyptodons. It’s a huge leap forward in anger management methods. This passive-aggressive bitch and her automatons are just too myopic to see it.
“Excuse me,” I say to the headless corpse lying at the feet of the glyptodon. “I need to visit the men’s room.”