Antique

Author : Curtis C. Chen

I brushed away more leaves. There was a hard surface beneath. Ceramic armor. I ran my hand along it until I found the edge, then pointed my flashlight. I stared into a dark mass of machinery– joints, gears, struts, wires. There was a serial number engraved on the interior surface of the casing.

“I don’t believe it,” I muttered.

“What the hell is it?” Embeck called from below. He had insisted on staying at ground level, scanning the landscape, his finger on the trigger of our only blaster.

“It’s a mech,” I called back.

“A what?”

I rolled my eyes. “A giant robot.”

“You’re kidding.”

I lifted one leg and kicked the hidden mass beside me. My boot clanged against the armor, and leaves fell like rain. I pulled away the remaining vines so my co-pilot could see the huge metal arm.

“I don’t believe it,” he said.

“Get up here and help me clear this stuff away.”

“What if we’re attacked?”

“Then you’ll have the high ground. Hurry up.”

He secured the blaster in his hip holster and climbed slowly. Very slowly. He was the cautious one now. Funny.

I was sitting on the mech’s shoulder by the time he got halfway up the torso. The main antenna array had been crushed a long time ago. Rust, bird droppings, and other stains streaked down to the middle of the mech’s back.

“I don’t suppose you’ve ever driven one of these things,” I said.

Embeck shook his head. “Never even seen one in person. When were these last used in combat? Fifty, sixty years ago?”

I grimaced. “Christ, Embeck, I’m not THAT old.”

“You were a mech driver?”

“I got the training. I was a Starbird candidate, you know.”

He smirked. “How the mighty have fallen.”

I saved my breath. “Let’s get this canopy open. Maybe we won’t have to walk back to the crash site after all.”

We found the emergency release latches around the opaqued chest cavity of the mech, following the seam just above the window slit. I remembered being sealed into one of these things, being overwhelmed by a dizzying array of displays, nearly losing my lunch as the mech lurched around the training field. The narrow band of sunlight coming in through that window was the only thing that had helped steady me.

When we opened the seal, a cloud of dust puffed away from the mech, with a sound like a sigh. Mech cabins are airtight, to protect the driver from biochemical attack. It smelled stale. We lifted the creaking canopy and locked it into place, then leaned over and looked inside the cabin.

This mech’s driver was still strapped into his seat. Something must have made it through the ventilation filters. He just had time to park the mech in this grove to hide it from the enemy. His fingers were still touching the throttle.

Embeck vomited into the cabin.

“You’re cleaning that up,” I said.

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Solo

Author : Pyai (aka Megan Hoffman)

She fingered the tendons in her arms. They were the echo of guitar strings and as she bent her fingers she could strum out different notes. She sighed, and the air rushing through her vocal chords sounded like a soft string section warming up, a quiet hum of a 440 A. A hand from the man lying next to her reached over to splay his fingers on her bare chest. They caressed their way down to her ribs, where each one, if lightly stroked, would sound like a piano key. She carried the pentatonic scale on the left side of her chest, and the in-between notes on her right. The man leaned over and kissed her C.

Her body had already played a symphony with the man lying next to her, his silent body a continual mystery to her. She couldn’t imagine how sad and lonely it must be to not carry such music within oneself.

Instead he would just marvel at her own notes, worshiping and composing with the same touches over her skin. She couldn’t bear the thought of silence, and sometimes very late at night she would hold her breath and long for the sound of a duet.

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Reluctant

Author : R. A. Jackson

“What do you think their response is going to be?” The Commander paced in front of the many consoles.

“I don’t know. You’d think it’d be obvious, but the Observer wasn’t optimistic.” Drayden joined the Commander at the viewing panels. They displayed the planetary analysis of a beautiful world. Vital data such as topography, climate, industry, population, and ecology were shown in great detail.

“Damn. These creatures seem to become more and more stubborn the further we travel in this arm of the galaxy. What have we got so far?”

“She’s made contact with the leaders of the major factions. The ones with the necessary resources have been given the offer. Now it’s just a matter of time before we hear their decisions. Unfortunately, from what she reports, they have a lot in common with the Lycaon.”

“Bureaucratic, greedy lot they were.” The Commander grunted at the memory.

“Glad to be rid of them, myself. Could you imagine our race sharing a planet with them? I had hoped that among these billions there’d be a few leaders with sense. Anyway from what the Observer says, I’m not sure they could commit either way in the end.”

“I almost pity them. They have what everyone wants, but they cannot keep it. They cannot unlock the secret to their own treasure because they do not want to share it. What do they call this planet?”

“You’ll find it amusing, sir. It’s called ‘earth.’”

“Terrific. If they accept our offer, do we have to be known as ‘sky’ people? How we keep finding these backward planets is beyond me. I wonder, are you aware that I am the only Commander in the fleet to fail in securing symbiosis upon every contact? I have not succeeded even once. No doubt, it means that my armada is unparalleled in its planetary conquest experience. Nevertheless, it’s rather embarrassing that so many would choose death over sharing their lives with us.”

“You cannot control their decision. It has to come from them. And as I have witnessed time after time, the decision they make on their own is always the right one. To live or to die should always be a matter of choice. No one wants to live with a species that never committed to change in the first place.”

“Quite right, of course.”

The Commander walked back to his chair in the center of the room and sat down heavily. Drayden moved to the communications console as it signalled an incoming message. “It’s the Observer.”

“Answer her.” The image of the Observer appeared on the monitor across from the Commander’s chair.

“Hello, Commander. I’m heading back to you now, sir.”

“Does that mean we have our response?”

“It does, sir. They said no.”

“Better luck next time, Commander.” Drayden smiled grimly as he alerted the fighters to start the invasion. “Think of it this way: there’s no fighting destiny.”

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Getting Your Moneys Worth

Author : Trevor Fitch

“Listen Captain, I’ve saved up years for this trip, and if you don’t get me there on time, I’m going to have your head! The rest of the passengers and I are in complete agreement on this. We paid for a trip of a lifetime and we want our moneys worth. My lawyer and my representative of the Intergalactic Senate will be hearing from me!” Finishing his rant, the irate customer stormed off the bridge.

With a sigh, Captain Diggs looked out into the nothingness just ahead of the ship. There were no stars, no planets, no space dust… just nothing.

“Captain, sensors still aren’t showing anything out there. Energy… matter… radiation sensors, all register a null reading. I had the sensors tested for errors, but everything checks out.”

“ETA until we drift into the… whatever that is?”

“Approximately 10 minutes sir.”

The Captain sighed. The cruise had been a miserable one. Over 500 passengers were on board on their way to see the Rings of New Saturn. These trips were extremely popular because as the planet approached the systems sun, the ice crystals in the ring began to sparkle brightly. It was quite beautiful. This trip was to be extra special as a comet was going to impact the planet while they were there. The impact and plumes of dust would be visible from space. A once in a lifetime experience.

However things had not gone well. They had left a day late due to engine trouble, and only a few hours before they were going to approach the prime viewing spot the hasty repairs had failed. To make matters worse, this trip represented the last of Captain Diggs’ money.

He had mortgaged everything he owned to make this trip. Business had slowed as more competitors had appeared and started taking passengers to the Rings. Now that it seemed likely that he would not make it to the Rings on time, the thought of more complaining customers and their eventual request for refunds gave him a migraine. At the moment he could not think of a way to keep the ship, home for him and his crew, from being put on the auction block.

Now this. Out of nowhere, a “hole” in space had appeared directly in front of them. Ships had been encountering these from time to time over the last few hundred years. But the “holes” did not last long, usually a day or two at most. And they were rare, so little hard data existed about them, and no one had dared enter one.

Without engine power, the ship was drifting directly towards it.

“Does the computer have any idea of what these things are?” The Captain asked.

“Nothing certain. We could be looking at a parallel dimension or some sort of rip in space-time. Maybe even some sort of portal.”

“What happens if we enter it.”

“I don’t know. The potential outcomes range from ceasing to exist, to coming out somewhere else in the universe, to entering a parallel universe. The possibilities are endless.”

“Cease to exist?”

“Possible… but unlikely. Most of the data that we have says they lead somewhere, they are just too rare and short lived to get an empirical answer.”

“What is our engine status?”

“We’re working on it. We have maybe 10% of maximum power available. I don’t think it’s enough to stop our drift in time.”

The Captain paused for a moment. “Take us in.”

“Sir?”

“Like the man said, they paid for the trip of a lifetime, let’s give them their moneys worth.”

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Furious Thunder of Silence

Author : Kimberly Raiser

She stood there, in the middle of the empty street. The first snow of the season just beginning to enter the path of the street lights. Not a sound. Not a cry. Not a single human to be found. The street was bare of chaos, bare of life. It was as if nothing had happened, and nothing ever would again.

They came in the night, the night before. She couldn’t remember where she was when it happened, she only remembered waking up to the silence, and the cold. There were scorch marks on the pavement, on the sidewalks; perhaps where people had once been walking, or shopping. Cars were parked in the streets, like a still snapshot in a photo album, but with no people. Only cars.

The snow was beginning to accumulate.

She kept walking, hoping to see someone, or some thing that resembled life. There was nothing but more scorch marks. She noticed the lights on in the bakery. She walked inside. There were pies and cookies and cakes on display on top of the counter. Plates on tables of half eaten pastries, with half empty glasses of milk, and tea. But no people. Again, scorch marks. On the chairs, and the floor and one single faint handprint on the counter. It looked small, like it had belonged to a child. A tear formed in each of her eyes. She held her hand over the tiny handprint.

A sharp pain had ripped through her side. She felt wet, but when she looked, it was nothing.

She walked from the store. She heard a faint humming, but nothing in sight.

She continued down the empty, dark street. She turned the corner. Ahead was where she once lived. A beautiful little flat with pine flooring on the second story, overlooking the city park gates. It was quaint, but it had been a nice place to call home. She wanted dearly to be under her warm covers once again. She longed to hear the hustle and bustle of the streets, or something, anything.

Anything but the silence.

***

Death can come with a furious thunder or it can envelope with the sweet scent of jasmine wrapped in the wings of an angel.

***

She lay there. Under that street light. The gaping wound in her side cauterized by the brilliant heat of the robots unseen laser, yet she bled, furiously. She had blinked her eyes just once more, looking down the street at the emptiness, seeing everything in one single instant. The snow was falling above her, onto her, the streetlight warming her face. Somehow she had been missed, slightly. Somehow she had lived one second long enough to see that she was the last, and then—she was gone.

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