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Author: Garrett Frechette

We have called ourselves a great number of names over the course of these many years. At times, we presented ourselves as federations and republics, our history records our imperial conquests and peaceful coalitions. We are Milky-Wayans, we are Solans, we are everywhere.
We are Human.

Humanity has faced many obstacles that were unconquerable. Sweeping plagues that were wiping us from existence without a cure in sight. Yet, we conquered. We cured. There were civil wars that divided us at our core and was once thought impossible to reach an accord. And still, treaties brought us together many times. No other paths were seen when our machines rose up, at an intelligence greater than ours, against us. Now, they are our greatest brethren. Our arms spread wide across these galaxies, altering physics, playing with time, redefining gravity, and even bending cosmic strings to our will. Our minds can know of nothing that can stop us.

In the many millennia that have passed since we first shed our infancy and left Earth’s atmosphere, we have never found any other sentient life. There was the occasional resemblance to mammals and reptile-like creatures that intrigued our curiosity. Never a hint of civilization and certainly nothing to give us reason to believe anything ascended to the stars such as humans did.

Humanity changed again when we rose from our infancy for the second time. One of our exploratory vessels happened upon a massive galaxy that appeared to be infinitely larger than any of the millions of others that we had colonized and surveyed. We had made our way to the center of the cosmos, the center of the universe. The galaxy was a super attractor, pulling everything towards it. It was a nexus to other universes, filled with a mecca of thousands of other intelligent species that made a similar journey here.

The other sentient species congratulated humanity on passing the test and making it to the ranks of other Class 5 civilizations and petitioned us to join them. To come home.

“This was all a test?”

“We thought ourselves to be alone for this? All these years, such loneliness.”

“Do they think of us as children to be patronized?”

The commanders, generals, and admirals of our greatest militaries convened. They assembled humanity’s largest armada of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. We gathered an anger and resentment that could not be quailed, so we went to war. We went home.
We are human.

Crossing the Line

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Trent sat in the small office cradling the cup of hours-old coffee until the clock showed twelve. He then unfolded himself from his chair, collected his flashlight and his hat and started his rounds.

Every hour, on the hour. Up the east stairwell on the even hours to the second floor, clockwise around the perimeter before midnight, counterclockwise after. Back down the same stairs, around the ground floor then to the basement, then back to the office to sip crappy coffee. On the odd hours, he’d go down the east stairwell and work from the basement up.

There wasn’t anything to see, there wasn’t ever anything to see. The complex had three-meter perimeter fencing iced with razorwire, and there were guards with guns at the corners and the gate. His position was largely ceremonial.

Trent had cleared the second and the ground floors and had just rounded the corner at the west stairwell when something moved.

He blinked, then shone his flashlight directly towards the source of the motion, but there wasn’t anything there.

He blinked again, checked quickly behind him and switched the flashlight to his left hand, then loosened his Glock in its holster.

He swung the light back and forth along the empty hallway. Nothing. No, wait, there was something. A line on the wall from the floor two-thirds of the way to the ceiling that he’d not noticed before. He put his back to the far wall and moved forward. Someone had clearly drawn a stick figure on the wall, a long body with a head that was just the line bent at an angle, where he would have drawn a circle. The legs bent in a slight crouch, and arms akimbo.

This wasn’t here an hour earlier, of that he was positive. Someone was in the building or had been. His gun was out now, barrel held parallel to the flashlight as he moved slowly down the hallway, shining the light back and forth. The doors were flush to the wall, so there were no shadows in which someone might hide, and he crisscrossed the hall carefully trying each door to make sure they were all locked.

None opened, and none appeared to have been tampered with.

He walked a full revolution of the basement hall, stopping at the east stairwell and listening for any sound, then back to the west stairwell.

He couldn’t hear anyone.

The stick figure just stood there, arms crossed. Silent.

He should radio this in, but he didn’t relish the thought of explaining how someone managed to slip into the building and graffiti the walls on his wa…

Arms crossed?

Trent turned and brought the flashlight and gun back to chest level.

The stick figure was crouched, but its arms now were extended out from the wall.

“What the f…”

There was a sound, like a wet towel snapping in a locker room and the line bridged the distance from the wall and hit Trent hard in the face, knocking him off his feet to land with a wheeze on the concrete floor. The flashlight and gun landed somewhere out of reach, and as he blinked to get his wind and his bearings back he saw the line elongate from the floor and hang in the air above him. It bent slightly where its waist might have been, as though regarding him, before raising one thin line above his head and stomping down, knocking Trent unconscious.

Anyone watching would have squirmed at the sight of the stick figure stretching out on the floor and inserting its stick legs into Trent’s tipped back head, through his gaping mouth and down his throat. The shadowy stick creature pulled Trent on like a suit, and then stood him up and lumbered up and down the hall for a few minutes, until it had a feel for him.

Stick Trent retrieved the gun and the flashlight, perched his hat back on his head and wandered back upstairs.

When Lewis relieved him at six am, he said nothing, he just watched him start his rounds from his position in the doorway of the office, slightly crouched, arms akimbo with his head bent at a slight angle.

Smile

Author: Joachim Heijndermans

Darren rushed into the bathroom as if hell was on his heels. With his shoulder, he slammed the door open. From the corner of his eye, he spotted a figure that stood before the sink, greeting him with a “Pardon me! Growing a tail here!” as he bolted into the stall.
Hunched over the metal bowl, he cursed himself for drinking all that coffee earlier. Seven cups! He swore that, from now on, crisis or no crisis, he’d stick to water or a nice herbal tea.
He cleaned himself off, buckled his pants, flushed and headed to the soap dispenser. It was then that he recognized the man by the sink. And after the morning they had, he doubted he’d ever forget that face.
“Hey! Carter. Jeez, sorry about that. Too much coffee. And the wife has me on this fiber-rich diet and…well, you know what I mean,” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” Tom Carter mumbled weakly.
“You doing all right? I don’t know if the bosses mentioned it, but you’ve been cleared for leave of duty. No limit. Come back whenever you’re up for it. No rush, you hear?”
“Yeah,” Carter muttered.
Darren washed his hands, letting the warm water pour over his stubby fingers. “Can I ask you something?” he said.
“What?” Carter replied.
“What was it like? I mean, being snapped loose like that? Tumbling around out there, with nothing to slow you down? Christ, I’d piss myself all the long way. That’s why I signed up for command deck duty. I could never do the walk. Space scares the piss out of me.”
Carter shivered, his head hung limply as his chin touched his clavicles. “I…” he muttered.
“Jeez. I’m sorry. I never know when to shut up. The wife always gets on my case about that. I just wanted to say how glad we all are you managed to get back to the ship. One in a million chance, right?”
Carter turned to Darren. His lip trembled as a lone tear rolled down his face.
“Jeez. I’ll…I’ll just leave you be. Take all the time you need, all right?” Darren said.
“I’m sorry.”
“What?”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to…but I was so scared. Cooped up in my suit. Falling forever. I just wanted to come home.”
“Of course you were scared. It’s space. Anyone would be scared. What do you have to be–?”
“I said yes. I said yes to him…her…it..”
“What?” Darren whispered, recoiling as Tom Cater’s left eye turned a mix of red and purple.
“It couldn’t get onboard. I was terrified. I didn’t want to die. It offered to get me back to the ship if I would let it…” Tom said, his voice cracked in agony. “I couldn’t say no.”
“Say no to who? Carter, what happe–,” Darren began before his voice gave out from shock. He stammered, unable to find the words, while Carter’s eye-sockets expanded to the size of dinner plates. Darren peered into the void that leaked from Carter’s eyes, whose lips quivered as if he stood in an ice storm.
“I…I can’t stop it,” Carter stammered, as he fought to suppress the smile that slowly grew on his face. He failed. His face shattered into pieces, while the void within him crawled into their reality.
“Hey, Darren,” said a different voice, cutting through Darren’s eardrums like a knife, as it peeled the layers of matter and reality around them apart, flaying all that ever could be. “Smile.”

One More Time

Author: Suzanne Borchers

I pinch my arm. “Ouch!” It’s real! I might have met him only a few hours ago, but I know.

I’m traveling to Xeron with my soul mate.

“It’s not going to happen,” my friends chant, mired in the gooey slime here on Syren. They are so wrong. That party, filled with its brilliant lights, mind-jolting drinks, and his kisses on my neck and breasts, convinced me that I have to catch the ship to Xeron with my love.

Well, I am on my way. Suited up and ready. I’m laughing. Even with the heavy supplies’ pack on my back, I feel light and drawn to his ship. It’s only a few hundred paces away. He’s waiting for me. Or he would be if he knew I was coming. But he must know I’m coming. He must feel it.

I am invincible! I lust for him! So what if Xeron is a mining planet of muscle-bound Puritans? My lover and I have more than enough passion to withstand all odds.

My boots suck farts as I pull them out of the mud, pushing toward the ship and my life-mate. Step by step, I stride toward my ship of dreams.

The fuel plumes tickle up the ship toward the sky. The engines rumble, anxiously awaiting my tread up the ladder to the open doorway.

How many heavy steps will I have to make?

Cripes, it’s getting hard to breathe. My feet are coated with tons of muck. Each time I haul my foot up I sway before I slap it down again in the slurry. Then I heave the next one in the air. Over and over, slower and slower; my breath punctuated with shallow coughs at each step.

Is the ship farther away than when I started this feckless march? Does it smirk at me? The plumes mock me with their dances up the shiny ship’s body. So much erotic energy compared to my plodding, painful steps.

I’m crushed! The weight on my back is too heavy. I can’t take one more step.

I tumble my backpack of supplies into the muck at my feet.

Lighter, I push on with a giant step toward the ship. His welcoming arms will embrace me.

I overbalance!

My face sinks into the soupy earth. Oh, what a soft pillow. My body feels caressed by its enveloping richness.

Engines pound and he ascends, leaving me alone.

Alone!

How could he leave me here? In his choice between my life-giving love and his selfish career, how could he choose so wrong? I’m awesome!

He’s a fool.

I hope you enjoy your back-breaking work on that sterile planet. I hope you enjoy your slab of rock. You’re a fool, sucker. You could have enjoyed me.

I lie in the mud.

I breathe.

I think.

I know where there’s another party happening in the settlement tonight. Perhaps I’ll meet my true love in the crush of lonely travelers seeking pleasure.

Cripes, I need a shower.

I labor to my feet and turn toward my friends.

Maybe I’ll wear the golden slip tonight with green highlights in my hair.

My Lucky Day

Author: Gerard Hutchings

The postman was early and had left something for me. I threw on an old tracksuit to go out and check the letterbox. As I approached I noticed a dollar coin on the footpath, so I went to pick it up. The cord on my pants decided it was the right time to break, so as I bent down I revealed a lot more than was decent.

A woman walking on the path caught an eyeful, screamed, took a photo with her mobile and phoned the police, apparently, all at the same time. I quickly stood up and held my pants in place with one hand and clutched the coin in the other.

A spacecraft that had been cruising above the city trying to identify some form of leadership had obviously misinterpreted the severe embarrassment and agitation we were both feeling. Next thing we had been transported aboard and were being approached by something with tentacles carrying what looked like some form of a probe.

The woman screamed again and fainted. The alien, therefore, turned to me, inserted the probe into my nose and there was a slight pinching in my nasal cavity before the probe was removed. I could immediately understand what the alien wanted, though it did seem bizarre.

It indicated it needed approximately two square metres of soil as fuel, and requested my permission to transport it onboard. Naturally, I agreed and a section of turf appeared near my feet, proof that they had taken only what was agreed.

At this point my hay fever caused me to have a huge sneeze, the small device was ripped from my nasal cavity and shot into the turf at my feet. I noticed blood coming from my nose, so grabbed a hanky with the hand holding the coin, losing my grip on it and dropping it onto the turf.

The alien may have made some other comment, however, I could no longer understand him, and the next thing I was again standing on the footpath as a police car was pulling up.

The policeman approached and asked what was going on. I thought of myself clutching my pants with one hand, a bloody hankie held to my nose with the other, then noticed the unconscious woman at my feet to the side of the path in what appeared to be a shallow grave. I looked up in time to see a huge explosion high above and wondered whether the coin or nasal insert had caused the problem.

I really had no idea what I should say to the police.

Vegetable Process

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Have you ever grown your own computer? It’s not like they show on MeVee. There’s a lot more liquid blend used because spillages occur all the time. The damn things sweat out unused elements constantly, overflowing the moulds. On a hot night, it can even overflow the trays you stand the moulds in. And that image of the girl in her skimpies leaping lithely across the room to get cloths to mop a spill? Utter tosh. Any leakage puts a near-frictionless layer between skin and any surface. You crawl to the towels with your hands and knees wrapped in stray clothing. If clothes are out of reach, duvet or sheets will do.
Very important: you’d better be using nanomachine-enhanced detergent or you’ll fuse the dryer and your element-soaked laundry into a whorled sculpture. Great conversation piece at parties, but it isn’t covered by your home insurance.
For pity’s sake don’t use the ‘quicksilver fastwiring’ hack. It does work, but, mercury is poisonous and doing this – unless you’re growing somewhere with always-on industrial extraction fans – turns the element sweat and its fumes toxic. You will die, along with your family, and possibly take the neighbours with you!
And, last but by no means least, we come to those fumes. The term ‘godawful stench’ doesn’t quite capture the sheer horror that overwhelms everyone on first encounter. It’s appalling and has the ability – like the odours of some cooked food – to impregnate certain clothing fibres. Unlike the cooking odours, it doesn’t wash out. Not even a commercial nanowash can shift “the smell that can make a Litran Skunk-horse puke”, to quote one victim. It also reacts to heat. That’s right, your stinking clothing will only smell worse if you wear it or hang it somewhere warm.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t grow your own. It’s the only affordable way to get access to the Versingloban datanet, and for remote outposts, it can transform communications and entertainment, providing desperately needed mental resources and a way to secure physical assistance on demand.
(Speaking of remote outposts reminded me: if you’ve got old interfaces, just slot examples into the ‘connectors’ mould during the ‘populate’ stage, remembering to etch how many of each you want onto the ‘iterate’ substrate.)
I’m just saying you should be aware of the real costs. Depending on your colony’s cultural background, you might encounter problems. My mainly Euro-origin colony was horrified when they found the computer that made their lives better needed a diet of fresh meat. I was catching rodents and feeding them to my computer for months before the colony council insisted that ‘humane considerations’ should take precedence.
Yes, I live on Prospect, home of the politico-religious drive to ban Versingloban carniculture technology as it’s ‘an unnatural way to perpetuate digital dependency’. I’m not going to get into the ‘blood machines’ arguments here. I’m just getting some real-life details out there for anyone who wants to grow their own.
Now, any Versingloban will happily give you a seed, it’s a goodwill custom of theirs to carry and give. However, because of my homeworld’s actions, it’s probably not a good idea to make a big thing of getting one. Find it at a location away from your local haunts and be dead snaky on your way home. No need to make it easy for any fanatics to follow you.
That’s it. Good luck, grow well, give freely. Remember to check-in at carniputers.everywhere on v.Earthnet and say hello when you’re up and running.