Author : Malcolm Carvalho
“Do you have to leave so soon, Arun?”
Arun slipped an arm under Eliya’s head, allowing her to snuggle closer to him.
“Eli, that’s the nature of my job. I can’t stop at just one place.”
“Hell, why not?” Eliya said. “You’ve already set up the inhabitation of seven planets.”
“Whatever. And spent around 200 years on each. Add to it, how old you were when you left Earth, and that makes you…”
“1892 years old,” he said with a wink.
“Listen, hun. How far can you go on like this?”
“This is my job. Finding habitable planets, setting up a human colony, watching it prosper over a century or two. Ensure the new settlers can take care of their world, and my work is done there. Then I must go wherever the Planet Finder directs me.”
“You think you are young enough for this now?”
“Doesn’t matter. So long as my brain functions well enough, I’ve got all the organ harvesting devices on board Columbus. And every now and then, I run into a planet with enough silicon to replenish my reserves. Enough to synthesize organs for another five hundred years.”
Eliya sat up and shook his shoulder. “Seems like you’ve got this all covered. Ever thought about me?”
“I wish I could take you along, if only that was possible. You were born here on Alferan, you’ve lived all your life here. Twenty-six years. You’ve adapted to this world. Leave the planet, and you’ll struggle like an Earthly fish out of water.”
“What if I go for a transplant of those synthetic organs from your lab?”
“That’s not possible. The organs are regenerated using my stem cells and can only be used in my body. Transplanting them in another body would result in chaos. You won’t survive for more than a week.”
“Fine then, go about this adventurous job of yours. Settle planets, feel like a god, and find a new woman on every world.”
“Eli, darling, listen to me. I know it seems like I’m shrugging you off. You might even think I’m a player. But that’s not true.” He pressed her lower lip with his thumb and kissed her. “I love you. We both have been marked out for our place in the galaxy. Me for advancing colonization, and you for running the administration on Alferan. This is our calling. Who knows, someday I might be done with this job and come back to be with you.”
“Excuse me, you’re the immortal one. Not me. By the time you come back, I might be resting in a grave. A memorial if I am lucky.”
She pushed him away. “It would be good if you just leave tomorrow without letting me know. Would save me further heartache.”
He stood by the bed and watched her fall asleep. How many women would he have to leave behind like this? But no, he could do something about it now. The Galactic Council would not approve of it, but they would never know either.
He drew out a scalpel and scraped the skin off her thumb onto a dish. That would be enough. Columbus already had a good stock of egg cells he used for establishing colonies.
He was being selfish. So be it. There was no way he could stay on Alferan and be with Eliya. This could work out though.
He bent and kissed her forehead. He’d have to wait for just a year. What after that?
Would the clone love him just like Eliya did? No one knew. He’d be the first to find out.
Author : R. W. Warwick
I ran from the parking area up to the back of the queue. It was huge. I tapped the shoulder of the woman in front of me.
“Why is it so busy today?” I asked.
She half turned but didn’t face me.
“What rock have you been under? It’s always busy here after election day”.
I was agitated and in a hurry. I reached into my pocket and took out my therapist’s calling card. I pushed my thumb into the print scanner and his face flickered onto the small, square screen.
“Martin, is everything alright?” he asked
“I’m here,” I snapped “I came to the clinic like you said, but there’s a huge queue”.
“I see,” he remarked. “Well, what do you expect the day after election day?”
His voice was soft and slow, it irritated the hell out of me.
“That’s what this woman in front of me just said. It’s not helpful”.
“Lots of people undergo thought reconditioning after the election, it helps them to live with the results”.
“Well shouldn’t I be get priority or something?”
“Why?” he asked “Most people think that their problems are bigger than everyone else’s”.
I scoffed and hung up, and then marched to the front of the queue. The man at the front was in his late sixties, large, and wore a baseball cap which read ‘We did it!’ He looked at me and I glared at the cap.
“You, what chu want?” he grumbled.
“I’m in a hurry. It looks like your guy won, why do you need thought reconditioning?”
“Ma cat died this mornin”
It took everything I had to restrain myself from hitting him.
“Out” I snapped.
He stared at me with a blank expression on his face.
“You heard me, out, I’m taking your place. You don’t need reconditioning”.
Before he could respond, a security guard who had been listening to our exchange sauntered over.
“I think you need to get back to your place in the queue sir”.
I looked at him in disbelief.
“My need is greater than his, I can’t wait through this whole queue I’ll be here until tomorrow”.
“Sir, I won’t ask you again” he put his hand on my shoulder.
“But I lost” I replied.
“We know sir, everyone knows”.
I turned around. Everyone was watching quietly.
“But doesn’t anybody care?”
“Clearly they do sir, that’s why they’re all here to be reconditioned”.
In my state of anxiety I could still see that the situation had escalated beyond by control. I took one more look at the baseball cap and stepped back.
“I’ll just have to fix this the old-fashioned way then, I can try again in four more years”.
“Fraid not sir,” there was a hint of amusement in the security guard’s voice.
“All that business will be done away with soon. This was the last election for a while”.
I didn’t bother looking back. I hung my head and shuffled all the way to the back of the queue.
Author : Travis Gregg
The snow was falling gently all around, big thick snowflakes that stuck to everything. It was the first real snow of winter and in a few weeks the whole area would be under a couple feet. I’d been out an hour before sunrise, my joints stiff and aching from the cold, my feet numb. After following a familiar trail deep into the forest I’d found a good spot where I could nestle down and try to keep warm while I waited.
It was two hours of patiently keeping still before the buck ambled into the clearing. As he casually strode through I slowly readied my bow and waited for the deer to turn broadside. When he was almost out of range, right on the cusp of the distance I could reliably shoot, something caught his attention and for just a brief moment he turned. I squeezed the pull while exhaling and the arrow flew true, impacting just behind the shoulder. The buck let out a wheeze, his breath visible in the cold air.
It didn’t take long to dress the deer and I headed back to the cabin with a pack full of fresh meat. Even though it was getting cooler we’d need to smoke it soon.
As I made my way up the trail I heard something I hadn’t heard in years, something that chilled me to the bone. I squinted against the bright morning sun and there, way off in the distance was an unmistakable iridescent ovoid. It was flying low and very slow, just skimming the tree line, and I could barely make out the sound of the engine as it passed to the south.
It had been three hundred years, but still they’d found me. I’d gone full native this time, didn’t even have medi-nanos. Years and years of living in these mountains, living off the land, and staying as inconspicuous as possible. I even looked just like these barely sentient ape men but still they’d found me. I hustled back to the cabin, abandoning the kill to the bears that roamed the mountain, hoping there was still time to get off planet.
Rounding the last corner up the trail to the cabin I froze. Something was wrong but in a way I couldn’t easily define. Someone watching me? The birds had gone quiet which was a bad sign. Standing still I scanned the familiar scene, looking for something out of place, some source for the wrongness. Too late I realized my mistake. I’d thought it had been pure luck spotting the craft this morning but now it was clear that I was meant to see that ship. Three hundred years had made me too soft.
Crouched down deep in the leaves I’d seen my prey leave hours before the sun rose. I hadn’t been ready for him then but my photon suit ensured I remained unseen. Now he was back and I calmly leveled my sights, waiting for him to come a little closer.
Author : Tim McDaniel
The ceiling opened and the Priest Judge Arbitrator descended into the Control Center. Tloygruu bobbed his head up and down the correct number of times, but one hand snuck down to tug on his genitalia.
There was no need for concern or worry, he reminded himself. He had been told that at a certain point in the voyage the Priest Judge Arbitrator would appear, after all. But no one had explained to him exactly when that would happen, or what the Priest Judge Arbitrator would do.
The Pilot flapped a hand in his direction, and Tloygruu realized that he was still pulling on his genitalia. He ceased and sent a fluttering gratitude.
The Priest Judge Arbitrator, not looking in his direction, moved to the back of the room to stand in the alcove reserved for it, and inserted the inputs. Its mottlings were a neutral purple and brown. Tloygruu glanced at the polished metal surface of the display stand in front of him and noted that he himself was swirling with orange and blue.
“Frontro, tell us all when you expect that we will reach the new world.”
The Pilot turned to look at Tloygruu. She swirled orange and green, even around her neck fin – the Priest Judge Arbitrator had unnerved her, as well! “The estimate is four percent, all.”
Four percent. Ninety-six percent of the journey lay behind them. So long ago it had been, and Tloygruu but a Trainee Commander, when the signals had been detected – a new world of life, intelligence! Such a thing had not been seen for two hundred years. And so soon, they would be the first to see the new species, to learn and teach, and exchange. To meet The Other, and to realize themselves through The Other’s eyes. The Other would benefit in the same way, and could also expect advances in energy, medicine, and transportation.
The excitement spread throughout the Control Center. Frontro, Chali and Zhingi, and Tloygruu himself, became nearly translucent. Only the Priest Judge Arbitrator remained passive.
“Command,” the Priest Judge Arbitrator said. “Alter course. The new world will not be visited.”
The translucence was swept away by a dark tide.
“Priest Judge Arbitrator?” Tloygruu finally managed to say. “All would like to respectfully inquire as to the reason.”
The Priest Judge Arbitrator left the alcove and returned to the center of the room. As the ceiling opened and its platform began to ascend, it said merely, “With the lessening of distance, the transmissions of the senders have become readable.”
The ceiling closed behind it.
“Course is altered,” Frontro said. “We return to starting point.”
“To clarify,” Chali said, “our descendents will return to starting point, not us.”
“Zhingi,” Tloygruu said, “display for all the transmissions from the new world.”
In the air before them shimmered pictures. Bipedal creatures with multicolored, flapping skins moved about, operated machines, interacted with one another.
“They’re beautiful,” said Frontro.
And they were. So different, so new.
The pictures changed, and a large group of the beings were seen surrounding a single one, who sat and did nothing unexpected.
The picture changed again. Large structures loomed, and the creatures moved among them. Then the creatures were inside a structure, interacting with one another.
“There are accompanying sounds as well,” Zhingi said. “They include more than random noise, and the machines have translated the meaningful strings.”
Tloygruu could almost feel a tendril of orange snaking across his skin. “Let all hear the translations.”
They watched, and listened.
“What is that recurring noise – that one, which we just heard?”
“The laughter of many,” Zhingi said.
“In unison?” Tloygruu asked. “Are they a hive? Or is it that they require leadership, even in this?”
Soon they understood.
“Can we continue to watch, with the sound off?” Frontro asked.
Author : Gray Blix
Glastonbury Tor was cordoned off by military, of course, but one hundred and fifty metres below tens of thousands coursed through the town and fields east, where a festival was underway. Costumed performers from Renaissance faires, popular in Somerset, entertained the masses, who gave little thought to the historical inaccuracies, given that the occupant of the shiny capsule next to St. Michael’s Church claimed to be from an era predating Elizabeth I by nearly a millennium. He presented himself as none other than the legendary King Arthur come to life, or more precisely, come home from a journey across the cosmos.
If he had wandered into town and made such a claim, he would have been ridiculed. But having arrived in a shiny capsule the size of St. Michael’s tower, disgorged on the Tor from a triangular alien spacecraft whose shadow darkened the town as it passed over, he was accorded the status of, well, not the reigning monarch he desired, but that of a galactic rock star.
Communicating through a viewscreen which materialized on the exterior surface of the capsule, he looked to be humanoid, middle aged, of modest height but regal posture, whose muscled physique was apparent beneath his gold-flecked robe. He spoke in a quiet yet compelling tone in a language first taken to be extraterrestrial but recognized as Old English by a local scholar who’d heard his statement that he was displeased to find a foreign army occupying his kingdom. He warned that if they could not bring him a translator he would have to forego negotiations and proceed directly to the task of reconquest with weaponry and wiccecraeft they could not even comprehend much less resist.
The scholar hastened to what appeared to be twin towers on the Tor where, as soldiers pointed guns and military aircraft circled, she exchanged words with Arthur through the viewscreen and was invited within. She did not emerge for thirteen days and would later write a best selling book, “My Fortnight with King Arthur.” Suffice to say, Arthur was besotted and Gwynn was beguiled. She let him call her “Gwenhwyfar,” after his Guinevere, and her book described in prurient detail everything she had done to please him and make up for the period, lengthy in Earth time but just a few years by his, in which he had lacked female… companionship.
As her other book, “King Arthur in Space,” explained, the wounded monarch had been abducted from a 6th century battlefield and taken at near lightspeed to a faraway planet to heal. Old English lacks words to describe all the wondrous things he had witnessed and experienced, so she made a lot of it up. Who could contradict her, now that he had departed, the triangular spacecraft having returned to beam up the capsule and rocket away moments after she had left him?
And, yes, she did indeed leave him, screaming Old English swear words as she exited the capsule and stomped down the hill. Although pride and book royalties wouldn’t allow her to admit it, he was a fraud. Something he had said, a casual comment as they lay together, looking up at a viewscreen of an Earth torn by wars, polluted by poisons, and transforming into a planet of desert islands surrounded by warm and lifeless seas, had broken the spell he had on her, something about even a wizard as powerful as himself being unable to change the course of human events and an Eorthe gone mad. At that moment she had realized it wasn’t Arthur who had enchanted her but someone else from that tima… Merlin.