Beacons

Author : Rory O Reilly

The blue was bright beyond measure shooting far out from the supernova displaying a beauty across the void. The vast ship passed within viewing range, the shimmering metal reflecting strongly. To the stern lay the bridge resplendent in decadent materials and there stood the captain and pilot desperately searching the area with both eyes and advanced scanners. Everything returned negative results from the blank screens to watered eyes. In deep space a distress beacon had been activated several months earlier, a class three dreadnought on routine patrol with over two hundred souls on board. Contact had been lost after the crew reported distortions in magnetic fields and severe damage to the outer hull. The rescue effort had been swift but unrewarding, however back on board the bridge, a piercing siren announced the possibility of better news. A large shape was visible on the scanner, a mass spread out over an almost impossible distance. The captain gave the order to make for the location.

It took several anxious hours to reach the spot and when they did sadness filled the crew’s hearts as they appeared to be the first to discover the ill fated dreadnought which it seemed had been ripped to pieces and now was nothing more than an immense floating graveyard.

The charged particles of the supernova cast an eerie glow behind the hulking debris field.

It was with an uneasy feeling in the captains’ stomach that it dawned on him what had occurred, he shouted the order to turn the ship and place the engines on full power. In the ensuing frenetic rush of activity, strange noises echoed through the craft; the sound of metal contorting and snapping as the pilot desperately tried to get the thrusters to respond. The visor section of the bridge began to crack, the violent arcing of dancing spiderwebs as the sheet weakened to breaking point. With a final explosion the reinforced material gave way and sucked both the pilot and captain into oblivion. With no one left to pilot, the huge ship continued to be torn apart, vast sections torn off as the remaining crew members breathed their last. As the rescue ship neared the end of its existence, its automated distress beacon was initiated and began its deathly symphony with its cosmological brother.

The debris was quickly melded into that of the dreadnought, increasing the radar blip to nearly twice its size. It was here in the vicinity of the beautiful galactic cloud and dense spinning pulsar that these two great ships became one and sat in silence for thousands of years. News travelled and the tale of the missing ships passed into legend until one day a nearby corvette class craft picked up what sounded like two extremely low pings of distress beacons off in the distance and a blip on their scanner.

The merchant captain with surprise in his eyes turned to his pilot and coughed out the order.

“Make way for that point at full speed”.

The Winds of Europa

Author : Russell Bert Waters

Amah had always held her close and sang to her.
She always felt secure in Amah’s arms.
She didn’t want this to become a memory.
The winds shrieked fiercely one night as Amah was taken from her; taken from them all.
She was told to hide, and it was the hardest command she ever obeyed.
Amah screamed.
She could hear the thuds of a struggle, muffled screams, more thudding, then nothing.
The wind grew louder, leading her to believe Amah’s captors had left the hatch ajar.
She had seen these beings before.
They wore odd garments to protect them from the ice and cold.
She had seen their brutality, and overheard tales in hushed tones that she wasn’t supposed to hear; tales of entire families, sometimes entire neighborhoods, disappearing.
She heard tales of perpetually burning pits, stoked with bodies.
Pits with laughing invaders standing around them, wearing those queer outfits.
Amah was with these beings now; her sweet Amah who sang to her.
“The moons, dear child, will be your guide
Into the arms of sleep you’ll glide
Forever in my warm embrace
Forever safe, and full of grace
Sleep, dear child
Rest your head
Sleep, dear child
In your cozy bed”
Amah’s voice was a flower blossoming in her ears.
She was young, and would likely fail, but she would not forsake Amah by not trying something, anything, to bring her back from these callous beings who lacked compassion.
The winds were always howling, a product of the machines that had begun littering the landscape after these beings arrived.
The atmosphere was adjusting to major changes, and it was hard to sleep, to talk, to think.
Amah would soothe her, and sing to her, and, in those moments, there was no wind, there were no
disappearances, there was only the sweet face of her mother, her sweet song in the air.
She stood now, looking down from an icy outcropping of rocks.
Below her was one of those damnable machines, and, a ways from that, one of the domed settlements that had cropped up seemingly overnight all over Europa.
This was a rare night, in that she could clearly see Jupiter looming large in the distance.
The sun she shared with the homeland of her invaders was small and distant, but tonight everything lined up just right to where she could clearly see the path she would take to free her Amah; or die trying.
She could hear voices below, and she could see the trailer that likely contained Amah, and many others, approaching a large hangar.
The knife her father had given her, that he had created out of sharpened rock, sinew, and bones from one of the large, flightless, birds that lived in the hills, was steady in her hand.
She knew the terrain blindfolded.
She could weather the cold without the aid of insulated garments.
The howling winds would help her with the element of surprise.
Succeed or fail, she would hear Amah’s voice once more.
“The moons, dear child, will be your guide” she sang softly to herself, feeling courage wash over her.
She began her swift and graceful descent, hopping from rock to rock.
She came upon the first sentry, plunging her father’s knife into him before he even knew he wasn’t
alone.
“Into the arms of sleep, you’ll glide” she continued singing.
Her stride never slowed as she approached the hangar bay.

One Last Time

Author : Mattias Ahlvin

The man in the gray overcoat sat in his old station wagon. He waited. He took a sip of coffee from an old thermos and adjusted his glasses. He glanced at his watch and looked up and down the street that intersected with the side street he had parked on. He had a clear view in both directions. It was almost time.

He sighed and picked up a yellowing photograph of a woman. A tear rolled down his cheek. “I’m going to make it right,” he whispered to the woman in the photograph. “I will.” He sniffled and looked up at the rising sun.

How many times had he done it? The jump. He didn’t know. He’d lost track. Each time it had been just a little different but close enough that he could have made it work. If she had survived. But she never did. He was always too late or he fumbled it in one way or another. She always died.

For that last jump he had put in the wrong parameters. Maybe the equipment had been faulty. Or something. He didn’t know. He had been frustrated, he remembered. Frustrated and angry. The jump had misfired and he ended up thirty years earlier in the timeline than he had planned. It had been the end of everything. With the technology he needed thirty years in the future, he had been stuck in a time and with a life that would never be what he wanted it to be. He could never marry Kate.

Thirty years gave him plenty of time to think. Carefully and thoroughly. It only took a few years of him pouting in a chair on the deck of his house to realize that he had been selfish. Awfully selfish. Each time he jumped, he had to dispose of his other self so he could take his place. It had been the only way to be able to live with her if he was successful. She would never know, he had convinced himself. They could be together. Everything would be ok. Instead, all he had left were memories of killing himself. Over and over. For nothing.

He saw the lights of the oncoming car in the corner of his eye. He glanced across the street and saw the cafe. The Seabreeze Cafe. Her favorite spot for a morning cup of coffee. Moments from now, she would emerge. She always did, like clockwork. He would see her one last time. He sighed and turned the ignition and waited as the engine rumbled to life in front of him. He put the car in gear and left his foot on the break pedal. He waited.

He could hear the engine of the approaching red sports car, engine screaming. Its headlights approached at high speed and illuminated his car. It swerved across the lanes, barely avoiding the curbs. In the corner of his eye, he saw the door to the cafe open and Kate walk out, a cup of coffee in her hand. A smile was on her face as she waved goodbye to the shop attendant. She wasn’t going to see the car on time. She never did.

He let go of the break pedal and floored the accelerator. The station wagon shot forward, intersecting the path of the approaching red car that would lead to her doom if left to continue on its path. For an instant, everything was white and bright, like her smile. He closed his eyes and smiled back, satisfied that she would finally be safe. Then, nothing. Everything went black.

Brave New Word

Author : Doug Hawley

After twenty three rejections of my masterpiece “House Of Rats”, I started looking for a more reasonable publisher. The publishers and editors that I had been dealing with were a bunch of snobbish Ivy League arts and literature majors that couldn’t tell a good story to save their lives. They’d probably turn down Shakespeare if he were alive. While looking through Trilit’s listing for an alternative, I found a real possibility. Autopub had a good acceptance ratio – 35.6%, but better yet, they consistently decided within one day.
I was intrigued, so I went to their website. According to them, all of their decisions were made by “Robo Edit”. I quote:

“We found that the process of humans deciding which stories to print was laborious and inexact. Therefore we have joined the future and found some interns fresh out of college to program “Robo Edit”. All decisions are made impartially, quickly and accurately now. Every story will be judged and either accepted or rejected within one day. Reasons for rejections will be given.”

“In order to help you in your submission, we list the reasons for rejection:

Wrong number of commas
More than five clauses
Too close to Twilight, Hunger Games or Harry Potter for the lawyers
Can’t be understood by a grade school graduate
Inadequate sex and / violence
Uses ‘problem’ rather than ‘issue’ and ‘affect’ or ‘effect’ where ‘issue’ should be used.”

The list went on for 303 reasons.

I was so happy to see the publishing industry enter the twenty-first century. If cars can drive themselves, who needs editors?

I spent the next day reviewing my story to make sure that it didn’t violate any of Autopub’s rules. After a few changes, I knew that I could get my story in their magazine, so I sent them “House Of Rats”.
The next day I got the email from them “Rejected – You’re Ugly.”

As you can imagine, there was no such rule listed. When I emailed Autopub, they replied:

“It is just what we feared might happen, Robo Edit has become self-aware and found your picture in Facebook.”

Returned

Author : David Blatcher

The withered astronaut had forgotten how to walk. The one fifth gravity on the station was too much for him, so an orderly in a hazard suit dragged him to the chair in the middle of the tiny interview room. The astronaut faced the camera through the Plexiglas window. His right eye was swimming in burst blood vessels and surrounded by scorched and blackened flesh. It could neither close nor see. The murky-white shapeless pupil floated without focus.

After a crackle and a short hiss of static, the intercom spoke. “Name?”

The orderly shook the astronaut’s shoulder. The bearded head lolled forward then jerked upright. The good eye focused on the camera.

“Name?” the intercom asked again.

“Rorksenn. K. Crewman, second class” It was more like a rasping reflex of the throat than conscious answer.

Karl Rorksenn was the fifth and final name on the mining ship’s crew manifest. Missing for nearly a year, the ship had drifted into range and been recovered with this man floating alone in the dark.

The intercom spoke again. “What happened to the ship, Crewman Rorksenn?”

His hands were perched on his knees. The right hand closed into a fist and began to pulse with restless movement of the fingers.

After a long pause, he answered. “Impact.” The word, dredged up from the back of a mind long silent, was spoken without horror or feeling.

“The ship’s log was destroyed, all the records are gone. What happened inside the cabin, crewman?”

“Parts. Parts needed. Stay alive.”

The technical survey corroborated: instruments stripped out, heating and oxygen systems repaired with various components. Somewhere in the twelve months of nothing between the asteroid belt and the station, a flying piece of something had pierced the silence and let in the dark. The crew had nailed together what was left and put the ship back on course for the station. This talking skeleton plastered with clinging skin was all that was left of them.

“What happened to the rest of the crew?”

The seeing eye shut tight, the broken eye glared dead ahead. “Parts. Parts needed. Stay alive.”

A red globule of blood swelled from the corner of his fist. He was bleeding. The small red sphere fell and drifted to the floor. The orderly hurried round the chair and grabbed his wrist. The fingers curled open, revealing a frayed, copper colored mess. The jagged, broken nails had been scratching and digging in the palm until the skin had broken.

“No, crewman: the other people, not the ship. What happened to them?”

“Parts.”

Email from the medical section: initial analysis of the vomit floating in the ship found large quantities of raw meat.

The report was posted back to Earth. AstralCorp mining ship 43 recovered with full cargo. No log recorded. Survey suggests the ship was hit by an unidentified object and badly damaged. Repaired in-flight and put back on return course at below standard velocity. All crew lost. Confirm full pay to be credited to next of kin. Standard commendation.

It took twenty minutes to pump the carbon monoxide level up to ten thousand parts per million. The breathing remains of the cannibal finally slumped off the chair, ready to be sanitized along with his story then returned to earth for burial. The right eye stayed open, a broken, bloodied thing, sightless and silent.

Tears of Miroku

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Tendrils of smoke rise from the ancient bridge, but it stands strong. Atop it’s singed arch, two men stand, their powered-down armour dulled by dirt and char. The tension between them is palpable, even to the concealed observers, far back on both banks. This is a moment that will go down in history, yet the witnesses are only present to prevent betrayals.

The participants nod as they acknowledge each other.

“Major Rano.”

“Brigadier Seum.”

“What now, Rano?”

“Rano’s doppelganger, to be correct.”

“Ah. You’re aware. Then all that remains is what you intend to do with the knowledge.”

“I’ve spent a while on that.”

“Before we get down to it, humour me: how did you find out?”

“The resupply after Tiranti Ridge. In amongst the crates was one that, somewhere along the way, had been used for waystation supply. It hadn’t been cleared out before reuse. There was an unopened library datapack stuck behind a stanchion. We just didn’t get that sort of stuff. So, we cued it up, browsed, and found out why. The history section was… Unexpected.”

Seum frowns: “Go on.”

“We found a whole folio on the Galahad War. About the sins committed to save our race at the brink of extinction. You cannot imagine our surprise when we found that the war ended sixty years ago. It stated that all the questionable last-ditch projects had been terminated. But someone couldn’t let the winning one go, could they?”

Seum sighs: “No.”

“The ‘Tears of Miroku’ is our base. Then we saw that, officially, it’s a ‘manifestation of hideous desperation, best consigned to history’.”

Rano looks Seum in the eye: “That’s our home, brigadier. Our sanctuary is a spacefaring war crime.”

“Mistakes were made. But defence of empire must take precedence.”

“Mistakes? You used the DNA of veterans from a war six decades gone to create clones who think the war is still going on. Our abilities bring victories because what we survived was a war like no other.”

“Put like that, I can understand where you come from.”

“No. You can’t. I’ve spent five months burying suicides and wondering how many graves bear their names. One soldier, one grave. That should be sacrosanct. It will be sacrosanct.” The last sentence is a whisper.

“What are you going to do, Rano?”

“The ‘Tears of Miroku’ is the single vessel equivalent of a modern capital fleet. We’re taking her home. Then we’re going to consign it, and us, to history.”

“A sundive? That’s not a good way to go.”

“We’re going back to what’s left of Miroku Beach. Going to turn the ‘Tears’ into the start of ‘New Miroku’. A place where we can live and die in peace.”

“And we’re meant to just let you go?”

“The ‘Tears’ is untouchable in any way you could action covertly. Plus, it still has sunbombs. New Miroku will have them as its primary defence line. Also, we’ve seeded datapacks across the empire – you come for us and some nasty history becomes intergalactic news. Oh, and I wouldn’t put it past some of my meaner boys and girls to have set a sunbomb or two near certain core worlds. Just in case someone gets a silly idea about taking out the whole Miroku system.”

“What if we insist that you confine yourselves to the Miroku system?”

“Given that non-disclosure trading with independent merchant vessels would occur, that would be acceptable.”

“Then we’re done. Good luck, Rano Ninety-Four.”

“You’re a bastard, Seum.”

“Apologies. That was a cheap shot.”

“Accepted. This must sting.”

“It does. But, Miroku is yours. Hold it hard.”

“We will.”