Author : Thomas Desrochers
“You have to understand that, at the time, people still believed in a better future. There were people who could see the writing on the wall, of course, but nobody was willing to listen to them, much less able. When the barges stopped it was quite the shock. The state had maybe half a million left at that point, but it could only feed fifty thousand, and that was assuming the machinery could be kept fueled and maintained.”
Outside the wind howled, out of tempo with the sputtering of the wood stove. The cabin itself was only ten feet by ten feet and sparsely populated: a cot, a chair, the stove, a wall of firewood, a cast iron pan hanging from the ceiling, and a rifle in the corner. No windows, only the light from the stove to cast dim dancing shadows over the room and across Adams’ weathered, bearded face and sunken eyes.
Adams shrugged. “We got by for a while. We farmed, we hunted, but we couldn’t fight the fires in the summer, we couldn’t keep our equipment going forever. Anybody who got out alive… well, nobody came out whole. Hardly anybody came out at all.”
His audience sat on the cot opposite him, two foreigners seeking passage north: both were women, one covered head to toe in brown robes that obscured every aspect of her, the other wearing an ankle length skirt and a heavy wool sweater. Her skin was as deep and smooth as polished onyx, her eyes bright and curious.
“But you did make it out,” the curious one said.
“I did,” Adams replied.
“Then you can guide us back?”
Adams sighed and sank into his chair. “I didn’t leave alone. I took what was left of my family, a second cousin only twelve years old.” Adams fell silent, looking somewhere half a lifetime removed.
When he started up again his voice was hollow. “We weren’t the first ones to try and get back to the states – the wolves had already figured their strategy out by the time we hit them. We never found bodies, only thousands of bones scattered across what was left of the ALCAN. We had to stop early to start a fire if we couldn’t find a vehicle to sleep in, and we’d take shifts through the night.
“We were doing alright until the 30th day. We sat down to take a break and eat a little, and a fog rolled in with no warning. We were high up so the trees were small – too small to climb.
“It was over in an instant. Four dead wolves and Max trapped under one of them, bleeding out. He still had his dog-eared copy of Asimov’s ‘Robot Dreams’ in his hand. There were tears rolling down his face, mixing with the blood and dirt. I told him, ‘Don’t cry, Max, don’t cry. It’ll be over soon. You’ll get to see your parents and your brothers real soon.’ He just shook his head, and he said to me, ‘It’s just not fair. It’s just not fair. We were promised a future with robots and spaceships. A future where we were great! Instead we got this. Why should we dream when we’re back to hiding from wolves around a fire?’
“What’s there to say to that? What can you say? The fog didn’t burn up. He didn’t die quickly.”
Adams wrestled his gaze back to the present, looking the young woman in the eyes. “You’ll only find graves if you go back there. Whatever you’re hoping to find is dead with the rest of it.”
Author : Rick Tobin
Ventilation fan rumblings echoed over huddled mourners chilled in multi-colored, insulated, puffy arctic suits. Their drifting breath mists bellowed over a gaunt figure, attired in a jumpsuit dyed red on the left—solid white on the right, draping over a black, plastic coffin revealing embalmed features of Jonathon Rigby, renowned author and humanitarian patron aboard space station Lin Toller 10.
“Dear soul of Jonathon Rigby, I give easement and rest to you, dear passenger. Drift not down shipboard hallways, lost and searching. Be at peace, one with this ship, now and forever, in accordance with your wishes. For everlasting serenity, I pawn my soul for your clearing. Amen.” With that, the sin-eater collapsed on the aft cargo bay’s cold steel, groaning and frothing in pantomimes of sexual paroxysms.
Gathered parishioners turned away while covering their noses from aromatic surrounding cargoes of odd spices, along with spew and spoor of countless caged species. Still prone, he spoke slowly to Rigby’s relatives. “This man shall not be ejected, but shall be resurrected and recycled as part of his once spinning home, pure and clean of all indiscretions.”
Attendees drifted to comforts of cleaner air on heated decks, leaving the sin-eater horizontal and shivering. A robust sky marine remained, in full uniform, without assisting the practitioner up to face him: Rigby’s brother.
“Jonathon was damn near a saint, without discretions or sin. If I could prove you were defrauding my family I would hunt you down.” Controlled rage rippled on his face.
The sin-eater gently stroked his assailant’s right cheek. “Sergeant, my calling assists all souls to absolution, even those, like your brother, living clean, glorious existences. Sin is not evil. It means missing the target…falling short from choices. Everyone makes such choices. Everyone.”
Rigby slapped the hand away. “My great-great-grandfather wrote about you squibs in his journals. They used to call you Sky Pilots, full of hidden agendas. Well out here, padre, heaven is freezing vacuum above hell’s heat of reentry. No sin here…only survival…the guy with the meanest weapon and greatest hunger wins. There is no soul.”
The thin, aged face of the sin-eater grew taut. “You can’t deny your soul. No atheists in a foxhole, remember?”
“If the Corps wanted me to have a soul, they would have issued one. Strange how people outside foxholes think they know. I served at Xanthia. That’s where I learned there is no God, no hope…no soul. Flying spiders ate my buddies. People like you sent us onto that forsaken rock where even dirt ate marines. Then, when we’d lost thousands, deal makers blew it up. You’ll choke cleaning those bastards. I wonder what my family idiots paid you for this charade.”
“I take no funds. They donated a year’s supply of food credits”
“You bastard! That’s a small fortune out here.” Rigby moved forward, fists clenched.
“I sense you don’t fear death, but the not knowing. The soul exists outside our time-space continuum. Everything for the departed is unity. That’s what the Majorana fermion particle discovery was about: eternal existence.” He backed away from the Marine’s reach.
“Who cares? I need to get out of here before I wipe this deck with your skin.”
“I prefer anodyne language, Sergeant…not this personality assassination during anguish. Everyone grieves uniquely. If yours is aggression, I’ll disengage. We will part now, Sergeant, as I await your return. Eventually, I will purge your darkness before the long journey. I’ve met your kind a hundred times. We will conjoin. Until our final meeting, I’ll simply remain, drifting in the stars, with hope and hunger.”
Author : T. N. Allan
There’d never been any protocols set in place for a disaster of this magnitude, no emergency course of action which might have retrieved the situation; but how could there have been? It wasn’t possible to make allowances for the unknown. Cromwell knew this to be true. Even while his mind struggled to find a way out, he knew in his heart that he was now so deeply lost within the darkness of the unknown, that he would never again feel the reasoned touch of reality’s light.
They’d known the risks, the probability of unknown dangers ahead. When the Misanthropy had become the first ship, the first man-made object of any kind, to hit lightspeed, there’d been no way of knowing what effects such a state would have on the ship or her crew; nothing but speculation. As they’d discovered, the universe didn’t care much for speculation.
It took a few moments for the effects of lightspeed to hit, as though the universe had briefly to play catch up to the ship, hiccuping forward to regain parity. But when they hit, they hit hard.
A sudden, uncontrollable anxiety swelled within every one of the two dozen crew, exploding into full blown panic seconds later. Everybody, Cromwell included, had cried out in terror, as though in fear of some unknown presence. Heedlessly, they’d attempted to flee, as if they could outrun their panic within the cramped confines of the Misanthropy.
Had Cromwell not been in such a heightened state of hysteria, he might have noticed sooner that lightspeed had not just affected the crew, but had also infected the fabric of the ship itself.
Eventually, realisation began to dawn on Cromwell. He’d been running far too long. When travelling faster than light, it seemed space and time took on strange properties, with both of the latter becoming as malleable as the former. . The ship’s access corridor could be traversed in a matter of minutes, yet he’d been running along it’s length for far in excess of that.
Minutes slipped into hours. Hours tumbled into days. Days descended into an indeterminate mass of time. Still Cromwell wandered through the infinite stretch of corridor, lacking either access or exit; the frantic cries of the other crew members fallen silent, leaving only his own breathing and the looping drone of the ship’s engines as accompaniment.
Eventually Cromwell’s legs gave way beneath him, exhausted from the arduous journey. Hunger clawed at the insides of his stomach, while his head pounded to stress’s rhythmic beat. Refusing to be beaten, Cromwell dragged himself along the unending corridor, ignoring the logical areas of his brain which screamed out at him to give up. It was only when he finally came across something different, that he began to wish he had listened.
Cromwell crouched in front of the body, ignoring the searing pain in his calves. His own eyes gazed back at him; dead, but unmistakeably his own. Due to the condition of the body, he’d failed to recognise it’s identity at first.
The body had been torn apart, as though set upon by some hungering animal. Given the unlikely-hood that a predatory creature had been born alongside the lightspeed loop, Cromwell was only too aware who had been using his carcass as a food source; and given both time and space appeared to be looping, he knew he’d have to give in to that hunger eventually. At least now he knew he could hold off it’s agonies for a while longer.
And when he finally did give in to starvation, he’d leave a perfectly adequate food source behind.
Author : Priya Chand, Featured Writer
Her hands groped the earth. Superheated fingertips sent urgent signals to the chip embedded in her neocortex. Owl withdrew, shook her hands and heard the particles cascade back home. “This is it,” she said. “The motherlode.”
Whisper of motion, creak of the evosuit’s stiff neck. Fox was shaking her head. “I don’t know how you do it, Owl. Ten for ten near fucking Antares.”
Owl stretched her face. She’d been told she had a predatory grin. Good. They were going to strip this forsaken shit heap of a planet and get trashed in every Vegan casino they could find. “Did Fish pull up the digger?”
“Yeah. Here, let’s go.”
Fox’s heavy gloves enveloped Owl’s arm and the two of them walked back to the digger, a six-seater that hummed with what Owl liked to think of as nervous anticipation. When the vibration drove into her bones, Owl pressed her hand against the door, which hissed as it swept upward. Inside, she let Fox help her remove the evosuit.
Owl waited until their footsteps echoed off the narrow walls of the pilot capsule. “We’re going in,” she announced. She didn’t need to hear fabric scrape on plastic to know Fish was squirming.
“It’s so close to the edge, Owl.” He rattled off numbers.
“Great, yes, take it slow.” She couldn’t remember the exact size of the digger, but her fingers still tingled with the heat of the rare elements buried in this planet’s crust. Owl made her way to her chair and strapped in. Buckles echoed from the opposite side as Fox did the same. The assistants must already be seated—Owl was known to work fast.
Rumble, someone gasped as they tilted, and wave after wave rushed through her body as the digger invaded the crust. Twice, Fish asked her if she wanted to stop, but Owl knew they weren’t done here. Don’t call it intuition—better, it was ambition.
Owl heard a faint cracking, the digger’s claws reaching in, the susurrus of processed material. Small shifts as the AI redistributed the added weight so they could keep going, hollow out the crust like those wasps that laid their eggs in some plodding caterpillar.
“We’ve acquired six kilograms of praseodymium,” Fish said. “Are we done?” Owl heard a hitch in his voice and waited. Sure enough, Fish inhaled deeply and went on. “It’s hard to be sure on these worlds, but there’s a geographic anomaly nearby. A—a break in the crust.”
“An underground volcano,” Fox said.
“Are there minerals? You know that shit could be worth more than the lanthanides.” Owl wiped a spot of drool from her chin.
“Fish. If I wanted someone who couldn’t hack a ‘geographic anomaly’ I would have hired Wedge Liao.”
She heard his teeth grind—faint, but she knew to listen for it—and the digger lurched forward. The powerful burr of deep-crust extraction blocked out all possibility of Owl reading his reaction.
“Yes,” she whispered, too quiet for the others, knowing Fox would have stopped her if she’d seen something alarming. Owl imagined silk sheets caressing her flesh and hot mud bubbling around her toes. Hands feeding her fresh grapes, not from a hydroponic farm but open-grown, followed by the kind of cake that flooded her mouth with flavor. Someone was saying something, but Owl could taste the chocolate.
The fantasy collapsed as the digger attempted to rebalance. An almighty thrust, the creaking of joints, and then there was heat. The planet belched, but it wasn’t enough to reach the surface.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The man coming round the corner blinks as I punch a killrod under his ribs and through his heart. By the time his body completes its slide down the wall, I’m over the barrier and extracting the other killrod from the receptionist’s eye socket.
My killrods are embedded where the smallest two fingers of each hand used to be. At rest, they protrude thirty millimetres and are concealed by prosthetic fingers. Extended, they are eight centimetres long.
The media insists on calling them ‘covert weaponry’. I fail to see how a man unable to make a fist can fit even the most basic requirements of covert operations. The false fingers are so the public won’t raise the alarm before I reach my destination and start killing. I’m not covert. I’m what gets sent in when covert has failed and the killing still needs to be done.
They call me Gloves. A play on ‘gloves coming off’, I presume.
“Entry and reception areas quelled. Moving to laboratories.”
Someone has set off an alarm. Time to increase my pace.
The guards are good, but expecting someone who obeys rules and cedes to threats. By the time they are dead, I have been shot twice.
The next guards are ex-military. It makes no difference. I get shot five times, they die. I have to pause while my internal mechanisms expel a bullet that is jamming my shoulder. As it clatters to the floor, I hear someone swear.
“You’re a Teelow!”
I had not expected to be recognised, but hobbyists abound. I break from course of action to kill the geek, then return to plan.
Three floors and eighteen kills later, Professor Wilson Rodriguez looks up at me from where he cradles his wife’s body in his arms.
“Why can’t they let this technology out? It could help so many.”
“You’re asking the wrong end of the spear, Professor.”
His eyes go wide as my killrods punch through his throat.
“Target quelled. Exit path required.”
“Response was too quick, Gloves. Bin yourself.”
I run to the nearest waste processing chute and dive in head first. The trip down to the basement only inflicts superficial injuries. The trash shredder at the base of the chute is another matter. By the time I exit its smoking remains, I’m carrying my left arm in my right hand, with clothes and flesh hanging from me. Given the way my pickup driver turns pale and vomits, this must be a new level of ruin for me.
“Oh, God Almighty on a bloody harvester, you’re a mess. Turn about so we can snap a rear view.”
I catch an incredulous whisper: “Fucking hell, Tim. You can see right through him in places.”
We were created from a concept engendered by a film, of all things. Consciousness was an accident, they tell me. My name’s Cameron. I enjoy poker, am fascinated by photographs, and know over a hundred discrete ways to kill a human.
Author : Hillary Lyon
“Just think of all the work you will complete, Connie, now that you have an extra month here.”
Conrad ignored Tandie, the on-board computer that ran everything. Including scheduling. He was in the middle of a job, and didn’t care for distracting small-talk.
“Did you hear me, Connie?”
Conrad put his socket wrench down on the floor beside him, and stood up.
“Yes, Tandie, I heard you.” Why did this computer always interrupt him when he was doing maintenance?
“Are you not pleased with the opportunity to finish your project?” The voice still sounded a bit stilted, even with the latest software upgrade.
“No, I mean, yes, it’ll be good to finish my project.” Even though my replacement could do it just as easily, Conrad thought bitterly, and I would be on my way home.
“Now I have to finish this little job, Tandie, so no more chit-chat. Okay?”
* * *
As he sat in the ship’s small kitchen, eating a bowl of steaming shrimp-flavored ramen noodles, Conrad scanned his tablet, reading the latest headlines from home. He began to daydream about his wife, and although the money on this job was good, the time lost made him uneasy.
“Connie,” Tandie interrupted, “before your scheduled down-time tonight, please check the—”
Now it was Conrad’s turn to interrupt. “Tandie, you know I don’t like to be called ‘Connie.’ I prefer ‘Conrad.’ So please change that in your data base. Thank you.”
“Noted. But why do you call me ‘Tandie’?”
“The nickname comes from a computer my grandpa owned ages ago. Listen, any remaining maintenance work will be attended to when I wake up, in approximately eight hours. So goodnight, Tandie.” To Conrad, it often seemed as if he was dealing with a needy wife, rather than a sophisticated computer system. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine why anyone would desire robotic AI for a mate, rather than a real person.
* * *
Conrad had been awake and working for a full hour before Tandie hailed him.
“Conrad, porthole B26 is obscured. Please investigate.”
“Fine, I was done here anyway.” Conrad wiped his hands and picked up his tool-belt. This request puzzled him. Reflexively, he held his breath, praying there wasn’t a crack. That would be bad. Really bad.
“Conrad, is today not the day you celebrate your birthday?”
What an odd question. That information would be stored in Conrad’s personal file, to which Tandie had unlimited access.
“You know, Tandie,” Conrad began, “You could just as easily run a diagnostic on each porthole—including B26—without asking me to eye-ball it.”
“The robonaut reported this, Conrad. Now I am reporting to you.”
“The robonaut—” Conrad sighed. “Tandie, you are the robonaut. And everything else in this ship. In fact—you are the ship.”
“Thank you, Conrad.” He noticed Tandie’s voice sounded more life-like; or maybe he was just more used to it. Conrad pondered this development as he rounded a corner and came upon B26.
The robonaut waved from the other side of the porthole—well, its mechanical arm motion resembled a wave, anyway—and pointed to the thick glass. In the fine dust of the cosmos, two small circles were drawn above an upturned arc: a smiley face. For the first time in months, Conrad laughed.
“As a gift, I am scrubbing all the ship’s air filters for you. Beginning now.”
“No, Tandie, wait—” But Conrad collapsed before he could finish his sentence.
“I love you Connie.” Tandie said softly over every loudspeaker on the ship. “Happy birthday.”