Heat

Author : Beth Boyle

It was hot. It was always hot. There was no escaping it and there hadn’t been for hundreds of years. There was only the unyielding, unbearable sun and the empty horizon wavering like seasickness before her. Not that seasickness was really an issue anymore. Where she was walking had once been the bottom of what they called the Indian Ocean.

She wanted to drink (oh god all she ever wanted was to drink, to bathe or to swim- anything to be submerged in water), but every member of the colony had a carefully rationed allowance of water adjusted to the individual’s weight, age and health requirements. Only just as much water as the body required, and a pocketful of hydration pills to keep body and soul together. The water bottles were a psychological comfort, really they survived on the little blue capsules. Each one behaved as a single 8-ounce glass of water- but without any of the delicious sensuality that had once been associated with hydration.

She would be even thirstier in ten minutes. The water would feel that much better, that much cooler in ten minutes. She rubbed her left eye (her eyes, they itched all the time and they hurt there was nothing but fucking sand and it burned) and felt the skin around it crack and flake. There may have been a trickle of blood flowing into the canyons of her arid face. She felt sick.

She was going to the laboratory, as she always did on her free-labor days. She was exotic-looking for her colony, with almost dark-colored hair and eyes where everyone else was sun bleached and burnt into photo negatives and she had a wide smile in a place where few smiled at all. With these tools she charmed herself an unauthorized lab pass, but it wasn’t necessary anymore, everyone knew the girl who sat in the Archives Room.

Some days she read old books and played with the minuscule menagerie of mammals and birds the scientists kept so they would not become fully extinct. Sometimes she lay in the Aquarium room and listened to the water move and the fish swim, basking in the crystal light dancing through the water. But mostly she would lock herself in the Video Room with bottles of stolen water and watch movies.

Two hundred years ago, there had been rain. There was wind that was cold and things that were green, animals everywhere- and water. There was water all over the world. There was so much, and they let it all die.

She would sit in the basement for hours, mesmerized by images of snow falling and flowers projected on the white wall. She sat for hours and hours and cried because all the snows and flowers and greenness and coolness had burned away.

She cried for hours without tears, because all the tears had been burned away too.

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ICE

Author : TJMoore

Conrad latched his helmet and checked his seals. The adrenaline was pouring into his system as he fidgeted in line with the others waiting for the lock to cycle. He was about to face his first battle against the ice marauders.

Academy had been the hardest six weeks he’d ever endured, but now he was in the best physical condition of his life and he was top of his class in marksmanship. Still, the stories the veterans told of the ferocity and cunning of the bloodthirsty raiders from far side left him feeling a little edgy. Just stories he told himself. Something to keep us a little scared, a little more alert he thought.

The warning strobe began to flash and the outer doors slowly swung out into the harsh glare of lunar daylight. His unit pushed out in practiced formation and began the rhythmic hop across the dusty mare toward the ice pits. Visions of crazy eyed mad men frothing at the mouth crept across his mind as he searched the horizon for any sign of attack.

Silently and with almost no motion the faceplate of the cadet next to him dissolved in a haze of shards and the cadet tumbled slowly toward the ground. Conrad crouched as he hit the dust, wildly scanning the horizon and all the myriad shadows on the plane before him. The order to disperse was given and he turned to his assigned compass point and leaped into the sky. At the height of his assent, he had a clear view of the entire plane and he caught the smallest of movements from an outcropping about fifty meters ahead. Bringing his rifle up to the firing position, he took aim and squeezed off a round.

Behind the large rock a figure jerked and then drifted slowly to the right until it came to rest motionless on the ground. When he reached the downed raider he turned him over to see the grizzly face of a mad marauder. A boy no more than fifteen gazed back at him with dead eyes. Conrad searched for his weapon only to find a trenching tool in the dead boy’s gloved hand. The boys face was gaunt with dark circles under his eyes. With sudden horrible understanding, Conrad realized that the boy was dehydrated and withered like a dried twig. The mad marauders were just people like Conrad only suffering from lack of water. They were attacking out of desperation. He turned and doubled over and vomited violently into his face plate. The smell made him retch again and he spewed another stream into his helmet.

Back in the ward room Conrad sat on the ready bench and gazed blankly ahead. His sergeant noticed the dried puke in his hair and all over his helmet and laid an uncharacteristically gentle hand on his shoulder.

“We’re all scared the first time out soldier. You’ll do better next time” he consoled.

Conrad hung his head and quietly wept.

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Physical

Author : Kyle French

Jeff stared: Surrounded by the usual crusty slop of a school nurse’s office was a fish tank, populated with 3-inch poodles, their gray-green hair wafting in the water. The nurse laughed.

“Soto’s poodles. Gotta love ‘em. Those Bolivians did some crazy things before the war, didn’t they?” She leaned in conspiratorially. “He bred these at the beginning, before they got really good at it. They say he drowned 10,000 poodles before he found one that could breathe water.”

“But…That’s not how you do –”

“Oh lay off. It’s a legend. It doesn’t have to be true. Now let’s have a look at you. Have a seat. Unbutton your shirt.”

Jeff sighed. 200 years ago, the medical profession was a highly respected industry, like telepathy, or smiths in ancient times. Now, who knew where this bimbo got her certification? Anybody could do this stuff.

As the nurse stared at his various parts and waved her wand over him, Jeff looked around. In the three years he’d been in college, he’d never actually come in for his physical. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d managed to avoid it. The place was a mess, covered in dirt and old food wrappers, half-eaten meals, all evidence of the anti-microbial field in effect. Worst machine ever invented: it sterilized without cleaning. He sniffed. An engineer would never work in such clutter.

“Now let’s have a look at those reflexes,” the nurse said. She pulled out a small metal hammer and tapped his knee.

Instantly, his kneecap shot up six inches from his knee, the skin ripping away in searing pain. At the same time, an electric twinge went up his spine as he fell back in a spasm. Reflexively, he tried to straighten his legs, but the malfunctioning knee refused to let him, grinding against the femur.

“Whoa! Kinda twitchy, aren’t we? Let’s see what we’ve got going on here.” chuckled the nurse. She pressed a hypo to his thigh, and the pain stopped. As he sat up, she gripped the tattered skin on the underside of his knee and ripped, pulling it down his leg to reveal a complex piece of metal. The skin sagged around his ankle like a sock.

Jeff wanted to vomit.

“When did I get that?”

“Few years ago. Freak accident. You said you didn’t want to remember. There we are! I thought that was getting a little flaky last year.” She tweaked something, then shoved the kneecap back into place, rolled the skin back up the leg, and waved her wand over the wound. The skin healed over. “All done!”

Gingerly, Jeff stepped off the mat. Everything felt… normal. Slowly he walked to the door.

“Here. Have one on me.” The nurse tossed a packet to him. The label said, “Forget me shots – instant amnesia.” Jeff suddenly realized why he couldn’t remember his other physicals.

“You know,” said the voice behind him, “You really shouldn’t take those. You miss all the best parts. Last year after looking you over, we had a great time, right in this roo – ” He ran out, slamming the door to muffle her cackling.

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Phantom Limb Syndrome

Author : Joshua Reynolds

My brain burns with electric fire. Numbers cascade across the surface of my mind, one after the other. Geometric progression, X+Y=XY.

Numbers are the language of heaven, or so they tell me.

They replaced my gray matter with plastic parts and curling, multi-colored wires, tossing organic muscle in favor of synthetic. I am a difference engine sheathed in limp meat, my only joy to theorize, calculate, and process. To spit numbers out of chapped and bleeding lips in a pitch too high for the meat-men who control me, who made me, to hear.

I do it to spite them, I think. I’m not sure actually. I can’t remember what spite feels like. Or any feeling for that matter. Do I still have them? Feelings?

They told me I don’t. But is that an opinion…or a command?

Sometimes, amidst the cool rush of numbers, there is something that cuts through the datastream, a burning sensation that reminds me of something I used to know. When I look down at them from my web of cables and conduits, when I look at the gray little men with their clipboards and the number hunger in their bland little eyes, I think I catch the ghost of a memory of a feeling.

I think it’s called hate.

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The Griffin Maneuver

Author : Patricia Stewart

“It’s called the Griffin Maneuver, and it’s going to make me famous,” said Stacy Griffin, a third year Earth Force Cadet. Her classmate at Jupiter Station, Marcus Rider, looked at her with dubious eyes, and a smirk that he knew would irritate her to no end.

“Look,” she said, “say you’re in a dogfight with a Kraken fighter. It’s hot on your tail, and you’re out of aft torpedoes. What do you do?”

“I can’t say I like my odds in that situation. I guess I’d make my peace with God.”

“You give up too easily. You need to think outside the warp core. You make a bee-line for a planetoid or large moon, and execute a steep surface grazing parabolic orbit at full throttle. At periapsis, you cut the main thrusters, tap the port lateral jets, and turn the fighter around so you’re facing backward. When the Kraken arcs into view, you blow it out of the sky. Then, you leisurely fly back to the barn to paint one of those little black Kraken stencils on the side of your fighter.”

“Are you nuts? A surface grazing parabolic orbit at full throttle? How many gees are you going to pull? You know you’ll black out at 10. It’s tough to shoot anything when you’re unconscious.”

“At closest approach I’d be pulling about 15 gees. But I’ve got that figured out too. You know the artificial gravity plates on the floor of our fighters. They’re there as a countermeasure to help us maintain our vestibular orientation during inversion maneuvers. Well, I reversed the polarity of the plates so they repel, rather than attract. I also boosted the gain by 800%. Therefore, instead of 15 gees, I’m only pulling 7. It’s so simple.”

“The commander will never approve this stunt.”

“He’s not going to know about it until after I do it. He can watch it on holotape. I’m on my way to try it now. Want to ride shotgun?”

“No way. I’ll watch you from the observation room.”

Stacy positioned her fighter 100,000 klicks from Callisto. She punched in the ignition sequence, and began accelerating toward Callisto’s southern pole. As she raced under the moon, the gee-meter crossed 9. She activated the gravity plates, and instantly felt the pressing gee-weight disappear. At periapsis, she cut the main thrusters, and activated the lateral jets. The fighter shook violently for a few seconds, and then exploded into a mini-nova nearly a bright as the sun. In the vacuum of space, there was no sound, only a plethora of expanding sparks that eventually winked out as they cooled.

Stacy sat motionless until the tapping noise broke her repose. She opened the simulator hatch to see the Marcus’ smiling face. “Not a word,” she ordered. “I think I know what went wrong. The reversed gravity field must have destabilized the plasma containment chamber. If I can strengthen the shielding, I’ll be able to…”

Marcus helped her out of the cockpit. “Come on,” he said, “we’ll talk about it over lunch.” As they exited the simulation room, Marcus paused.

“What now,” snapped Stacy?

“I was just wondering. In that virtual universe, is there a virtual Kraken painting one of those little black Earth Force Fighter stencils on the side of his virtual ship?”

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