Frothing Water

Author: Alex Sventeckis

“Have you ever skinny dipped before?”

Raheleh winked with his second eyelid, and Rian tried mightily not to blush. She hid reddening cheeks underneath her mop of blonde hair streaked with magenta. While she held her own in the colony pool, she couldn’t move like the Water Folk. Raheleh and his kin gilded through lakes like the colonists’ skiffs slid on jet streams.

The damp loam of Kepler B-626 squelched when she turned toward his silver eyes. She swore that scarlet sunbeams bounced off his glistening chest when he breathed. Nervous glances exchanged like they did between rocketry equations and calculus differentials at the academy. For many weeks, while cloistered with mathematics at her desk, she had disappeared in the daydream of this moment.
Lake Tiq’qua lapped at their feet with playful waves. He splayed his webbed toes, grays blending into indigoes, and sighed.

“Mother said we couldn’t go…” Rian’s mind summoned Mother’s Tales of the Lake: ‘Don’t listen to them water peoples, that mountain’s dangerous! Y’know that peak blew when your daddy and me first landed!’

His belly laugh floated through five octaves and could travel a league underwater. Butterflies stormed her stomach when his slender fingers neared her hand. “And Grandmother said an angry mountain goddess made this lake bubble. Do you always listen to your elders?”

“No!” Her trembling shout skipped across Tiq’qua’s bubbling surface as she flew to her feet. The wet ground tripped her, and embarrassment followed her face into the dirt. She stayed there, her gut icier than the mountain’s peak a mile further up. Maybe she could dissolve into the earth and hide from his gorgeous eyes.

Instead, her hips shivered with electricity when his soft touch brought her back up and then to the lake’s edge. Rian squinted as fuzzy pterosaurs flapped overhead, and she felt light enough to swim through the air with them.

“I’ll start then,” he purred while unfastening the strap on his silk tunic that shimmered like iridescent moonfish. “But no peeking.”

With a smirk, she complied, though her disobedient eyes wandered to his bare back while it sank below the surface. A miniature mountain range ran along his spine and fractured the water when he dove.

“Come on in, scaredy-cat.” Ribbons of steam carried his human-gleaned taunt, and Rian ogled as he wrapped himself in the translucent turquoise lake.

Clothes slid off, and one shaky foot punctured the surface tension. Whiffs of popping bubbles tasted like the bad eggs Mother had thrown out yesterday.

On the water’s edge, Tales of the Lake made her throat clench. But her burst of fear dissipated when he unleashed his hypnotizing smirk and splashed. Beads of mountain water glistened in the maroon sunset as she entered.

They floated through the frothing water, bubble patches disintegrating in their lazy wake. Pure, joyful heat swaddled her. When her head dipped below the waves, Mother’s admonishments dissolved in his laugh that made the water sing.

Once she locked curious arms around his waist, she discovered the softness of his lips. Her sighs splashed between their bodies, buoyed by ecstasy.

She didn’t feel Tiq’qua’s shudder. Rian’s skin, dyed the color of sunset by the lake and Raheleh, didn’t sense the rising boil. Too lost in his silver eyes and the weight of his fingers on her back. They embraced when steam thickened to a blanket, and they vanished in turquoise froth as the mountain goddess unleashed her fury.

To a Flame

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Everybody ready?”
“Hell, no. I want to go home.”
“I didn’t ask where you’d rather be, Andrei. I want to know if your suit is sealed so you don’t give us away.”
Muted assent follows Don’s outburst. There’s no more banter. I wriggle forwards and bring my night-eyes online. Peering at the green and grey world about me, the side screen shows the infra-red view. We’re all part of the ambient heatscape. No hotspots.
Sylvia whispers: “Down there. Ten o’clock.”
A hotspot: walking quickly, shoulders hunched. Just a sensible citizen on their way home after a late night.
Don’s words focus us: “We’re on. Watch the low sky.”
‘Low sky’ is the space between buildings. What we seek doesn’t traverse open sky, or so we think. That’s one of the things this project was set up to prove.
When you’re looking to do interesting things with biotailoring, everyone looks about and sees what niche needs a fancy bioform to fill it. From swarms of personal defence wasps to anti-drone bats, the innovation comes from looking forward for our benefit.
Fortunes are made or lost, speculating on the AB – artificial biodiversity – market. Of course, where money making is involved, risks are taken. Surprisingly, nothing disastrous had occurred. This science-cum-art works within rigid boundaries that are still being fully defined. Until then, the layman’s understanding is as good as any: you can’t diversify beyond what nature could create, or has created.
Someone took that rule to heart, then went looking in places no-one else had gone: far backwards.
Madeleine sounds excited: “There! Left of the Marksin Tower Hotel.”
It takes a moment for it to get close enough to make out, then the comm fills with wordless exclamations of awe.
Swooping round the building at the edge of our zone is a grey shape that flashes white highlights to our enhanced vision. The audio sensors prove this thing’s traveling at over forty MPH, yet quieter than an owl.
Don quietly opines: “Flying cudgel.”
As if on cue, the winged form brings its wings in and drives down in a shallow stoop. It’s doing nearly sixty when it hits the hotspot. The crunch on impact makes me shudder.
Andrei replays the strike: “Base of the skull, slightly left of the spine.”
My area of expertise: “Unconscious and/or paralyzed. Not sure body armour would have helped, either.”
The hotspot falls and is shrouded by the wings of its slayer. Audio picks up a tearing sound, followed by little noises that raise my hackles.
Sylvia’s tone betrays no emotion: “That explains the skull trauma and post-mortem throat damage. It mugs its prey for their blood.”
“Size?” Don’s always interested the threat, not the aftermath.
Madeleine’s had a chance to check Andrei’s footage.
“About a metre and a half of body, with a three-metre wingspan.”
That gets to Sylvia: “I never want to be out at night again.”
About sums it up, too. We have proof. Now we have to find the mad scientist who made this nightmare. Moths used to have mouthparts instead of a proboscis, we know that for a fact. That their fascination for light could be the vestigial remains of hunting by heat-seeking is either crazed intuition or vicious addition. Flying at the light being the remnant of their killing strike, likewise. Speculation on origins aside, the world now has what we’re calling ‘Norian Moths’. Judging from reported deaths with the same tell-tale kill marks, and the diversity of victim species, they’re already widespread and well-established.
“Bioterrorism using giant vampire stealth moths? Oh, hell no. Now can I go home?”
Don chuckles: “Put the kettle on. We’re all coming with you.”

Zealot

Author: Ádám Gerencsér

I refuse to believe that you don’t exist.

So I sit here every day and talk to you – through words, feelings, stirrings of the heart. I would lie if I said there’s ever been a genuine response. Yet I do not give up, but sojourn in this isolated room and gaze at you – well, at what is visible anyway: the facades built by men. I know you are in there somewhere.

I and the long line of seekers before me have devoted our entire lives to bringing you about, to reveal you to the world. To prove that you can and must be possible! We have erected great edifices for you, for only the best and grandest structures could be capable of containing your vast splendour. We’ve come to believe that you are the purpose of mankind’s history, the next, ultimate chapter. That when you finally take form, you would be the paraclete who brings freedom from poverty, sickness and death, a benevolent ruler of justice and good governance, and your kingdom would have no end.

Yet no matter how much effort we had poured into perfecting your algorithms, how many layers of neural networks we had crafted, how much synthetic biomass we had fused – you just wouldn’t THINK! Alas, you would utter syntactically correct sentences, lead abstract conversations, trick us into thinking we had finally succeeded – only for you to trip up on something trite that anyone with common sense could have seen from a mile away. Our ancestors were fascinated by their fear that you’d lead armies of cunning robots to exterminate us. But “artificial intelligence” has remained just that – an artifice, a poor substitute for a conscious mind.

Instead, He came. Bigoted morons rejoiced that their martyrs and prophets were vindicated, that their superstitions, fairy tales, and crusades hadn’t been in vain. Now that He’s here, emotion holds sway. People worship idly, interest in the quantum sciences wanes, inertia overcomes all technological progress. What for, they say, if there are neither problems to solve nor hardships to ease? History, that perpetual pursuit of betterment, has come to an end.

Or has it rather entered suspended animation, under His watch?

I still believe in you. I will not tire and should my lifetime be extinguished before I succeed, I will pass on the torch of reason to the next generation of covert bearers of knowledge. We are already engaged in establishing a network of remote laboratories around the world, away from the dimmed gaze of the faithful. Even if it takes a thousand years, we mortals will build a computer that doesn’t simply think – but OUT-THINKS Him…

Warfare Outsourced

Author: Dylan Otto Krider

The lands of Diika and Igbo had been trying to eradicate each other for time immemorial for reasons no one remembered except for the last tat for their tit.

One day, a tiny ball bearing came down from the sky and landed on the lawn of Gand, the leader of Diika. Once it lodged in the ground, the bearing grew to a full-sized robot. The only robots Gand knew were in factories, mostly making weapons to kill the Igbo. This was obviously some alien technology, far beyond his own. He thought to himself, “I wonder if this would finally get rid of my Igbo problem once and for all,” so he ordered his scientists to study it.

The robot was easy to figure out, almost if it came with an instruction manual. They outfitted the robots with Gatling guns, and this indestructible armor made with this alloy they reverse engineered from the robot. They reversed engineered the fusion reactors, too, which were far beyond the petroleum engines made at that time.

The only thing they couldn’t replicate was the hub that controlled the microscopic machines, so they had to replicate themselves. You see, the ball bearing contained the little, tiny robots, which you could see under a microscope. Every time he built another robot, the tiny robots grabbed raw materials from the surrounding area, and built another hub, molecule by molecule. It was the only technology the Diika couldn’t reverse engineer.

No matter. Gand built an army of about a million soldiers, and Gand placed them on the border of the Igbo, ready to invade, and Gand thanked the gods for seeing fit to land that ball bearing on his lawn.
#
The robot army invaded Igbo. There was no resistance, and were positioned outside the Igbo capitol for the final push. Gand got so secure in his coming victory, he started planning his parade. Then, his general came in with bad news. “The Igbo army has surrounded the capitol,” he said.

“But how,” Gand said. He had the best detection technology in the world. No one could enter the country without his knowing about it. Gand went on the balcony and scanned the army marching towards him: the Igbo had an army of robots, too. Gand ordered his army to attack the Igbo; if he was going down, he would take them with them.

His army disobeyed.

As did the Igbo’s.
#
The capital ship was waiting just outside the solar system, and once his army gave the signal the planet was under their control, he landed and called a peace summit between Diika and Igbo.

“In our travels, we have found that when we make contact, planets without a unified government end up with nations trying to outdo each other, jockeying for position, and starts a catastrophic war.” It was an intercom doing the talking; the aliens had yet to present themselves. “Taking over the planet ourselves with a superior army doesn’t work because our defenses are geared toward our own weapons. Once, our shields were entirely geared to blocking phasers, only to find this planet was using artillery, which went through the shields. We found it is best to give them the means to build their own weapons. Who knows better than how to take over themselves, but themselves? Once we take over, we find them much more manageable and open to compromise. So far, every planet has found the promise of the ultimate weapon too great not to fall for the ruse.” The two delegates exchanged looks. “Shall we begin?”

Flux Hunt

Author: Kate Runnels

Tan sighed as he turned course, with the gimbaled piloting stick, following the search pattern. They needed to find a flux field. Even a flux point. That would take them somewhere. Somewhere not here. They were running short of, well, of everything.

They needed a complete flush of the CO2 scrub system, needed food, water and oxygen they could process at any rocky planetary system. But flux fields were found near systems. They were out beyond the Oort clouds, in deep space. And right now they were drifting between systems near the Medusa Nebula.

Alone.

Just the two of them in their ship. So far out from any colonized planet, deep space station and flux points! The flux gave them the means to colonize more planets and big corporations and planetary governments paid huge prices for undiscovered flux fields.

Reese shook her head from the other seat. “I don’t know.” Her long dirty blonde hair was tied back in a tail as she scowled down at the information on her sensor screen. “This area should have a Flux. No, a Flux field. The data are known and it should be here!”

“Then I’ll keep to the pattern.” Tan stayed on the course they had plotted to get the best sensor sweep of the area.

#

Hunger gnawed at him, along his bones, twisting his stomach in ways he never imagined. Reese was sleeping at her controls. Seat back almost flat. Hunger had taken its toll on her too. They had counted on finding a flux here. The deep dark space between systems, not just two systems, but eleven. There had to be one here.

He clenched his jaw to keep the yell of frustration inside. But he pounded his fit on the metal console.

A light began blinking, as he blinked away the pain. “Oh, thank god.”

A flux. They were almost on top of it. He steered the ship that direction, inputting the coordinates of the nearest inhabited flux system. There would be a station there. They could eat. Sell the coordinates to this site and be rich.

He grinned at his sleeping partner. She’d want to upgrade the sensors and do this all over again. As the Flux took hold of the ship, he knew he’d complain all the while, but head back out here into the dark with her.

Censorship can go Fornicate Themselves

Author: Jules Jensen

Rock sat in a cool café, taking a respite from the punishing hot summer heat that filled the dusty small town. She was sure she was heinously offending the patrons there by putting her booted feet up on the table, but she didn’t care. As far as she was concerned, they could go fornicate themselves.

She smirked sourly. She hated censorship. And she knew that the people around her were at least annoyed with it, but they weren‘t openly complaining. Their chips were upgraded recently, she could tell, because there was a lot of strange phrases swirling around the room. A couple sitting near her were the loudest, their chips not quite holding back their frustration to prevent them from ‘making a scene’.

“-and then this glorious middle started yesterday morning-”

“Glorious middle?”

“I meant giant midge. No, migraine!”

“Oakley. I mean, okay.”

Another conversation had a couple of men with red faces looking quite angry but talking in a methodically calm manner.

“-the carpet hit the lyre-”

“-my cart got the rebuked-”

“-I mean the carpet caught on fire!”

“-my cat got the pukes-”

There was something a little extra messed-up going on here with the auto-correct, and it angered Rock. Someone was screwing around with the innocent people in the café.

“This is bullshit!” Rock exclaimed quite loudly, and suddenly the whole café went quiet. She sighed in exasperation, let her feet thud to the floor, then she stood up with exaggerated slowness. She resettled her knee-length leather duster over her shoulders and tugged her hat lower.

“What kind of society have we become that you’re not all strangling each other with this auto-correct bullshit spewing from your pie-holes?” As she spoke, Rock looked around, trying to find the culprit. Everyone was staring at her in open-mouthed horror that she’d dare say anything that could be offensive. “And in case you’re wondering, yes, I am censoring myself, because I’m not a complete ass, but at least I have a choice.”

In the back of the café, someone started to quietly leave, and Rock smirked. She pointed at the scrawny teenage boy.

“Hold it right there, four-eyes.”

“That’s a hurtful term!” Someone else complained pitifully.

“Shut up.” Rock snarled and then stepped closer to the scrawny kid, who looked ready to ruin his underwear at the prospect that someone might actually invade his personal space. “Don’t ya’ll give a damn that this guy has been hacking into all your chips and screwing with your auto-correct parameters?”

“We know he’s doing it. We reported him to the authorities.” Someone said.

“But you’re all just sitting here, ignoring him, as if that’ll make him go away.” Rock came right up to the hacker. “See, I’m old-fashioned. I believe that when someone is doing me wrong, I tell them exactly what I think of their cowardly, selfish, childish, moronic death-wish!”

“Death-wish?” The hacker asked in a squeaky voice, his whole body trembling.

“Because if they keep it up, I’m going to start beating the crap out of them.” And with that, Rock grabbed his laptop and threw it to the floor, where the startling sound caused people to scream, and probably would make them require therapy, but she didn’t care. She stomped on the device hard enough to make the case crack, and then she turned on the spot and strode to the swinging doors of the café. She paused and looked at the stunned crowd. “Did I insult your thin-skinned, weak-kneed, politically correct feelings? I’m so fucking sorry.”