After the Bomb Fell

Author : Adam Zabell

In one of those rare moments of unity, the nation sits in stunned silence at the scene laid out before them. A few short seconds from now three different wild howls of exclamation will be broadcast from two billion different voices.

A third of those voices will be shrill with anger, proclaiming to their chosen Gods how vile that scene was, how crude, wrong and immoral. In time, prayers will be spoken and letters written to politicians and newsfeeds about how Something Must Be Done. Some of these folk will demand retribution; a pound of flesh that must be extracted from those who brought this terror to their homes, their families and their children.

Another third will be aghast with despair, certain that yet another pointless and fruitless war is about to be waged. A war filled with violent rhetoric that will prove nothing and divide the people ever further into the camps of the extremists. Most of these folk will hunker down in their shelters, intellectualizing what they saw and afraid to act for what they see as the path towards a greater good.

The final third, the youngest third, are probably the most profoundly affected. They know what is supposed to happen, and where, and know what they saw today totally flies in the face of those rules. Deep in their souls they know that what they saw today has changed, will change their life forever. And they will be the ones who cry out the loudest, their voices from chuckle and chortle to bray and bellow. And all the inevitable conversations on their electronic chatspaces and in their personal stomping grounds will boil down to a single, visceral sentence.

“Dude, can you even say ‘fuck’ on hypercast?!”

No One Knows

Author : Gabrielle Kinsman

The transport completed its descent and settled onto the ground. The landing gear clamped to the landing pad, like a bug latching onto a leaf. The hatch opened and people started filing out almost before it touched ground. There were scores of people; many of them were specialists, workers for the newly-terraformed planet Arian. Another large portion were business men; both rich and poor, looking to start anew or create another branch to their prospering business. But the bulk of the people were ordinary folk, settlers who had volunteered (or been volunteered) to populate the new colony.

Samantha Headford was among the ordinary colonists. Her swollen belly differentiated her from the other passengers; she was just under the maximum length pregnancy allowed on the trip, and well over the recommended length. She had been worried, but she couldn’t stay where she had been before. She wasn’t safe there, and neither was the baby.

The baby’s father walked next to her, gripping her hand. Grant was three inches taller than her, had the same sandy blond hair as she, and was currently suffering from a broken nose. It would heal up in a day or two — they couldn’t afford the treatment that would heal it within hours — but in the meantime he wore an unsightly bandage over the middle of his face.

She stood off to the side and waited for him while he retrieved information on their assigned living quarters. Mothers with their children gave her knowing smiles when they passed by; she smiled back, a little wary, but happy. None of these people knew who she was. All they saw was a pregnant woman waiting for her husband.

One overly friendly woman walked up to her and smiled at the little package. “Oh, how far along are you, dearie?”

“Uh, five months,” Sam said.

“Ooh, he’s coming along soon, isn’t he?” The woman grinned at her.

“She,” Sam said, her smile growing.

“Oh, pardon. Hard to tell from out here, you know.”

Sam laughed. “Do you have any of your own?”

“Ah, yes, but they’re all grown up.” Sam noticed the gray strands in the woman’s hair. “Angry at me for adventuring out into the great black unknown again, likely. Oh, pardon, I’ve forgotten all about my manners. Name’s Haley.” She offered her hand; Sam shook it.

“Samantha.”

“Such a pretty name. Do you know where you’ll be staying?”

“Thank you. Um, not yet, my, the baby’s father is finding out right now.” Sam gestured towards where Grant was staring at a screen.

“Ah, I see.” Haley winked at her. “You ever need any help with that little one, you let me know. I have a bit of experience under my belt, raising little ones in far off places.”

“I will, thank you.” The women smiled at each other, and Haley left her alone.

Grant returned, grinning, took her hand and led her away.

“We’re on the east side,” he told her. “The sun rises in the east here, just like on Earth. You’re going to love the view.”

The walk wasn’t very long, but it seemed much longer to her tired body. At the moment she didn’t much care about the view; she was more interested in the bed, and how much sleeping she would get done in it.

Her ambivalence remained until they were in the living room, and Grant hit a button next to the opaque windows, making them clear. She’d never realized that people meant the word ‘breathtaking’ literally; for a moment she really did forget how to breathe.

“Grant, it’s…”

“See? Told you.” He grinned at her, like a boy at Christmas. “It’s as beautiful as you are.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop.”

He came up and hugged her from the side. “We’re going to be okay here.” He put his hand over her belly. “We’ll be safe.”

She leaned into him and smiled. “Yes.” She put her hand over her brother’s and said, “No one knows who we are.”

Fate of Our Future Past

Author : Michael “Freeman” Herbaugh

“This skull has been carbon dated at being 3 million years old. Yet, clearly it is the skull of a 20th century homo-sapiens. You’ve been trained for the last five years because of the discovery of THIS skull.”

Cartwright listened to the director of The Program as he spoke solemnly. The skull had indeed been found five years later at an archeological site in Brazil. It took quite a bit of doing but the US government had managed to keep it relatively quiet. Because of the skull, they learned that time travel was indeed possible, at least into the past. Someone had done it, though it cost his or her life. The US was determined to be the ones to discover the secret and launched “The Program”.

Assembled here was Cartwright’s team, being let in for the first time on the biggest secret known to man. They had known they were being trained for a trip that was far from ordinary but had no idea until today just how far they would have to go. The three women and two men would be the first to use the monstrous time machine that had been assembled to send them back three million years.

As the director finished explaining the discovery and motivation of the US government to the team, Cartwright could see the shock and realization come over their faces. By the time the briefing was done, he would swear Summer’s face had an expression of pure joy on it, juxtaposed with Leon’s look of solemn fear.

“That’s all, people,” finished the director. “You launch in 48 hours. Cartwright, as team leader I need you to stay behind for a final briefing. The rest of you dismissed. Enjoy your day of leave, then back here.”

As Cartwright settled into a chair opposite the director’s desk, the director’s tone changed, becoming soft. “There is one last objective for this mission, which is why a soldier like you was chosen to lead it,” he said. “This is not easy to say nor will it be easy for you to carry out. The scientists studying the skull have finally matched dental records as of last year. The team’s botanist, Gloria Hartigan–this skull is hers.”

The director took a pistol from his desk. “Make sure she doesn’t come back.”

The Unequivocal

Author : S.Clough

You’ve heard of the Unequivocal, right?

Okay, then. I’ll assume you’ve been living under a rock since before you were born. The Unequivocal was the very first flagship of the Earth fleet. One of the early-pattern destroyers: It was lost in its fourth year of service, holding off a half-dozen Beamer ships by itself, buying time for a freighter convoy to get through from Deimos to Earth.

Now when I say ‘lost’, I don’t mean destroyed. I mean lost. There’s no real evidence as to what happened to it, but everybody thought that it was destroyed.

The Beamers signed the treaty, and everyone forgot about the Unequivocal. When Free Celestia declared their tax war, and Earth was forced to defend itself again… the Unequivocal showed up. A freight-courier was blasting the run from Eros, and an entire Celestia wolfpack was right there waiting. Now, freight-couriers are hardly defenceless, but even an ECS variant armed to the teeth would have issues with such a wolfpack; a merchant navy variant had no chance.

They’d lost shields, and most of their weapons when the Unequivocal blindsided the wolfpack. It was a real laser show – big weapons: old thermonukes, hard beams, Wraitii caps, and some other stuff even Earth Central can’t identify. The Celestians were wiped out, and the Freight-Courier limped home. Its sensor arrays had been badly damaged, but it had recorded the battle in high enough quality to confirm that the only known ship which matched that hull configuration was the Unequivocal. Of course, it could just be an old destroyer, modified over time to resemble the old flagship. But spacers, being spacers, would prefer for their saviour to be a revenant from the past rather than a modern-day phenomenon.

Now, the rumour goes that in that fight near Deimos, the Unequivocal was hit by a Beamer secret weapon, and something odd happened – isolated spacetime bubbles and transference are the popular theories. To be honest, I don’t care. I don’t know if it is that same ship that disappeared all those years ago, but I know pilots and captains which owe their lives to it. It never communicates anything, never stops, and has no known base. It just appears, fights, (most often against overwhelming odds), and leaves. Untraceable.

Every Earther who strays beyond their homeworld’s ecliptic has hope now. If everything turns against them, the Unequivocal might show. They’re not scared to face up to those who would deny them the system.

And that, my friend, is why I believe the stories.