Happy Birthday

Author : Uri Kurlianchik

She didn’t have a throat to sing or speakers to talk. Her only means of vocalization were small devices that vibrated and gyrated as she drilled and scraped barren soil in search of remnants of past life or possibilities of future life. She traveled a quarter million miles of vacuum to land among endless plains of red rock and winds of frost and fire. She was alone.

Her only memory of home were the words “good luck” written on her metal carapace in childish hand and illustrated with butterflies and flowers. The letters were colorful once, but the baking sun robbed the words of their hue and nuance, leaving them white and parched. She worked days and nights.

Days, when the orange sun was so vast and hot it boiled rocks and melted metal and interfered with her sensitive sensors. Nights, when sunlight was replaced with a void that sucked all heat from the world and threatened to freeze and break her delicate machinery.

She was a dutiful explorer, but she did not work all the time. She had one holiday per year. It was a short holiday, only 80 seconds long. During these long seconds, she would cease her stoic toil and hum “happy birthday to me” with a drill and a saw. These were the best 80 seconds of the year.

Her ultimate mission was to reach a great mountain, a mountain so colossal it loomed over her from a thousand miles away. The way was long and harsh, but she never considered abandoning her mission. How could she? Her existence had no other purpose.

The years went by and she rolled and worked and rolled and worked and for 80 seconds each year she hummed a birthday song to herself and the mountain grew ever closer, ever closer, so much closer, but still so vast, still so distant, still unbeatable. Dust blew with indifferent ferocity and sandblasted the childish words, leaving just a plain surface. It blasted some more, and smooth metal became as rough and scarred as the skin of a very old woman.

She rolled on. The mountain filled the sky. Avalanches broke her antennae. Earthquakes twisted her chassis. She rolled on.

On her seventh birthday, she hummed the song one last time. The red bar blinked and blinked and blinked and went dark and never blinked again. The lights died, the lenses shut, and the wheels stopped. She transmitted her last signal and became no different from a million millions other rocks that lay in the shadow of the great mountain. The wind and the sun and the cold broke her without ever noticing her ephemeral presence.

Two thin hands, green and scaly and so very old, grabbed the still explorer and carried her across the last stretch to a cave where pictures of friends and family, dead these past million years hung, in neat frames. It was the sort of neatness you find only in the homes of very old people, people so old that the neatness of their homes is the only thing that keeps their minds and bodies from crumbling into dust. The owner of the hands was old and alone. It almost never ventured forth to see if it had visitors, but tonight was a special night.

It placed the explorer on an old sofa by an ancient table. It threw a colorful party hat on her. It lit countless candles on a small cake (why would it need a big cake? It always ate alone) and blew a party horn and then blew the candles and did not wish for anything because it was so happy. For the first time in a million years, it did not celebrate alone.

Common Enemy

Author : Beck Dacus

From the window of his cabin in the I.P.S. Red Baron, Admiral Mortigna sipped coffee and watched as the last repairs were made on Jupiter’s dynamic orbital ring. A hoop of solid material twirled around the planet at speeds faster than needed to maintain orbit at its altitude, creating a net-outward force on the habitat ring built around it and on the tops of the space elevators hanging from below it. This kept it suspened above Jupiter without requiring its inhabitants to be in freefall. While humanity was fighting the Knorotoks, enemies from another star, this vast construct had been destroyed, cutting the Solar System off from vital elements used in fusion reactors. Now it was coming back together. Mortigna had been smiling at that all morning.

Then he received a message.

A petty officer rang his door chime, and the Admiral nodded to the camera above the door. The cabin bot slid the door open and the officer walked in. “Sir?”

“Yes?”

“I have some things to show you on my tablet.”

“You couldn’t have just sent them to me?”

“We agreed that you should have someone here who can answer all your questions. And we didn’t want to do a video conference, since that’s not physical and sincere enough for what you’re about to see.”

“Okay… what am I about to see?”

The man stepped forward and crouched next to his superior, who had forgotten to offer him a seat. He started playing a video of rioting and gunfire, with crowd control teams barely managing to hold the civilians back with their phono-shields.

Mortigna looked at the blue, bright sky in the video’s background. “Where… is this Venus?”

“Yes, sir. They’re in front of the United Solar Authority’s local control palace. Saying they’re not being fairly represented.”

“But it got them through wartime! It got everyone through!”

“Yes sir. But it’s not wartime anymore. They’re reacting to that.”

“My God.”

“There’s more,” said the petty officer, switching to a video from what looked like the surface of Callisto. A placid dome sat in the foreground, before a sudden explosion forced a cloud of valuable breathing air out of the habitat like a hurricane.

Mortigna looked back out the window. He could see Callisto from his seat, coming out from behind its giant parent planet. He was awestruck. “All this, because of the United Solar Authority?” he whimpered. “All this because the war’s over?”

The petty officer shrugged.

Mortigna was silent for a long time. Then he said, “Maybe… maybe we found something.”

The officer raised an eyebrow.

“Maybe we found a mysterious object outside the Solar System. Strange energy signals. Coming in fast by the look of it.”

“But sir, we haven’t–”

“Maybe it looks like a scout. Maybe the Knorotoks had colonies around the galaxy, and word has started to reach them about the recent Knorotok defeat here. Maybe another attack is only a couple years away, with the speed of their ships.”

The petty officer’s mouth was agape. “A… a conspiracy, sir? Is that what you’re proposing?”

That question was never answered directly. Mortigna just said, “Get Earth Central Headquarters. Make some data that looks like an incoming scout probe from the stars. And make sure word of that gets around the System ASAP. We have some reunification to do.”

When the petty officer left, the Admiral relaxed in his chair once again, looked out the window at the dull reds and yellows of Jupiter, and smiled.

DreamMaster

Author : David Henson

“Honey, are you going to use the DreamMaster tonight?” Sally says to her husband.

“You bet. I’ve scripted a football match,” Jim says, laying the DreamTablet on his bedside table. “Big hero.” He taps his thumb to his chest. “You?”

“Think I’ll take a break tonight. Have you brushed your teeth?”

“Oops. ‘Bout forgot.” Jim goes into the bathroom. When he returns, Sally is scooting back to her side of the bed. “Well, good night,” he says, leaning over and kissing her.

“Night yourself,” Sally says.

Jim connects a wire from the DreamMaster controller to a contact at the base of his skull, turns off the light, and quickly falls asleep.

“We welcome the mighty earthling Jim to our planet, Sensuria. I am Queen.” says the statuesque woman wearing only a see-through chiffon gown. It is our custom that I and my 20 beautiful handmaidens welcome you with a night of wild lovemaking.” Jim quickly removes his spacesuit and follows the beautiful Queen into her chambers.

Adhering to the custom of Sensuria, Jim makes passionate love to the 20 beautiful handmaidens, saving his best for the Queen. “There has never been a man on this world who has pleased me so,” the Queen says hours later. She climbs on top of him.

“OK, one more time,” Jim says. “I know I’m hard to resist.”

The Queen leans down as if she’s going to kiss Jim. “We have another custom,” she says, turning into a giant spider. Its drooling jaws gape open and chomp his head.

Jim wakes up screaming. His wife is holding the DreamTablet. “Football match, huh?” she says. “How’d you like the little surprise I put at the end?”

“I…I don’t know what you’re talking about, Honey. I just scored the winning goal is all. Honest.”

Sally nods at the tablet. “I saw what you wrote ‘mighty earthling.’ You know I hate it when you lie to me…But I forgive you. I wish you’d show some of that endurance and creativity with me.”

“I will. I promise. I think I’m addicted to this thing. Let’s put it in the basement.”

“Good idea. I’ll give you some encouragement,” Sally says. She leans over to kiss Jim and suddenly becomes a giant spider, gaping, drooling jaws opening around his head. He wakes up screaming.

“What…What’s happening?” He yanks the wire from his neck. “OK. Disconnected. Not dreaming.”

“Are you sure? Maybe I put that in your DreamScript — ‘Jim removes wire.’ ”

“No…that wouldn’t… Wait, it would…” Jim pinches his arm. “Ow! That hurt. I must be awake.”

“In the script.”

Jim pinches his arm twice more. “Ow! Ow!”

“Script script.”

“Wake up! Ow!”

“Does it hurt? Let Sally kiss and make it better.”

“No! Ow!”

Jim squeezes his eyes closed as Sally gives him a long kiss. Then they have passionate sex.

“That was wonderful, Honey,” Jim says. “I thought for sure…” He clicks his teeth.

“Don’t be silly,” Sally says, yawning. “Let’s get some sleep. I can barely keep my eyes open.”

Sally leans in to kiss her husband. As she does, Jim’s head turns into a jack-in-the-box and pops. Sally gasps and wakes up. Jim is holding the DreamTablet.

“Jim! What?”

“Turnabout is fair play. At least I didn’t chomp your head off.”

“OK, OK. I guess I had that coming. Really now. Sleep.”

The two lean in to kiss — stop, eye each other suspiciously, then turn over and say good night.

.

Lounge Lizards

Author : M. Irene Hill

September 8, 2040, Special Area Babylon, Planet Earth:

Control center: “We are offline and shield is down. Initiate cataclysm.”

The last vestiges of rosy light disappeared behind giant cumulonimbus clouds which rolled in from the four cardinal directions, converging above the massive base. Outside the reinforced glass of the launch control center, the pastel sky turned gunpowder grey, and thunder ricocheted through the valley. Golf ball-sized hail pounded the dusty red earth.

Within a fifty-mile radius, the storm wreaked havoc, and consequently, no civilians witnessed the titanic egg-shaped craft enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Trajectory is good. Cleared for landing.”

North of control center, a giant crater in the dusty red earth opened its maw and swallowed the incoming extraterrestrial vessel. The rumbling ceased and cloud cover dispersed, unveiling a starry sky, and a slice of moon.

With the egg safely in its nest, standby EVAC crafts returned to base hangars.

Thousands of feet under Babylon, visiting dignitaries of the Grey and Draco Nations were greeted ceremoniously by many of Earth’s highest-ranking officials and monarchy.

The travelers were ushered to the Libra Lounge where half-human, half-reptilian servers in prismatic outfits offered them burnt toddlers, and virgin plasma cocktails, with brightly colored straws to sip from.

Assembled members of Akkad Confederacy discussed interplanetary matters, new technologies and business relating to soul farming on Earth.

The recently cryo-resuscitated Elvis Presley quit the stage for the evening and sat at the bar, drinking a glass of buttermilk with his grilled PB&B, while hybrid-reptilian dancers twerked to the music pumping out of the sound system.

At half past eight, a female Grey dignitary named Tiamat motioned for attention.

The music hushed and the dancers discreetly exited the lounge. Tiamat took a quick sip of her plasma cocktail before speaking.

“Asteroid Apophis was a complete f@*k-up, leading to the situation we are in now.”

Sighs and expletives issued from the assembly.

“The Planetary Council has claimed responsibility for defeating our undersea bases on the West and East Coasts. Thousands of our members have been brutally slaughtered; many more cross-breeds have been captured and relocated to other star systems where they are being deprogrammed by the Planetary Council.”

More murmurs and heavy sighs.

Tiamet’s voice softened: “I know – it’s discouraging, but we still have operatives positioned in all levels of government and military. The implantation program has been very successful to date, and we are working on a new vaccination that will allow for greater modification of the human brain in utero. The soul farms on Earth and other colonies continue to thrive, as we learn new cultivation technologies and seed the cosmos with our bloodlines.”

Tiamet noisily sucked though her purple straw, her big black eyes blinked several times. Her words rang out boldly:

“Moon, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter have all come together in a golden conjunction – an event that was foretold hundreds of centuries ago, predicting our victory in the House of Libra.”

Tiamat made a three-fingered salute, and the gold band on her middle finger shone brightly, projecting a holographic image of a fish and a dove on the ceiling.

Ecstatic sighs and reverent murmurs.

Tiamat’s puckered, o-ring mouth spread in a gruesome grin.

On cue, several tall, pale-skinned hybrid beings wearing white sarongs served red wine and biscuits inscribed with Odin’s cross to the gathered patrons of The Libra Lounge.

Tiamat waited for everyone to be served, and tasted a tiny morsel of her biscuit. She raised her wine glass and toasted the crowd:

“We may have lost the battle, but we will win the war.”

SPOF

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The prototype bodyguard robot stands over both of us, waiting for emergency services that will arrive too late.

“Git.” John’s voice is a whisper.

I’ve never seen anyone with an expression like his: confused and peeved.

Whilst the expression is novel, it is entirely justified. After all, I’ve just knifed him.

“I’d say I was sorry, but it’d be a lie. Instead, I’ll go with ‘I told you so’.”

The whisper is weaker, but suffused with anger.

“You stabbed me!”

“Five times, all perforating wounds. You’re a dead genius talking. Proven wrong in the most authoritative case of empirical testing for some while to come, I suspect.”

“Bastar- What?” His eyes widen as my words register with his fading consciousness.

“You wouldn’t accept that your design had a massive flaw. Most murders are committed by persons known to the victim. And, aside from America where they gun each other down over the slightest thing, the weapon of choice is a knife. Usually of a household variety.”

“I allowed for that.”

“No, you didn’t. You allowed for a ‘trusted friends’ list. You actually installed a single point of failure in a system where a single failure is one too many.”

“What are you blathering about?”

“Look, I know the light is dimming, but try to grasp this: most murders are committed by people known to the victim. Therefore, having a trusted list allows those most likely to kill you to bypass the bodyguard robot’s vetting. Darwin is turning in his grave.”

“Darwinism is some delusional justification?”

“Actually, I’m a sociopath. Justification is always a moot point. Anyway, the Darwin reference was to highlight the fundamental nature of your design flaw. It really is a dead-end feature for your creation. And, yet again, you failed to grasp that.”

“You utter nutter.”

“Really? I walk by your defender, get a knife from the kitchen, come back past it with a blade in my hand, then shiv you up and down. I thought you’d be grateful for the insight. Your bodyguard is, in effect, partially blind.”

“You killed me to prove a point? You’re crazy.”

I look down at the blood streaming from the smoking hole blown through my shirt and abdomen: “Says the man who ignored the obvious but programmed a ‘retaliate’ function in.”

Amusement glints in his eyes as he replies: “Fuck you.”

He dies. The grin remains after his eyes lose their vitality.

Bastard.

Father’s Day

Author : D.J. Rozell

Agent Jackson sat down across the table from the bio-hacker and started in before the guy had a chance to size him up, “We’re not here to collect evidence – we’ve got plenty of that – but to discuss motives. Clearly you are a genius.” The agent was priming the pump. “So, why use your considerable talents for this?”

“Well, as the media correctly surmised, my little experiment had a social agenda. I decided to give the world a nudge in the right direction.”

“That was some nudge,” Agent Jackson remained polite despite the annoying false modesty.

“True, my expectations have been exceeded.”

“How so?”

“Well, as you know, the virus copies the genetic material of an infected male to a subsequent infected male’s sperm, but only those with Y chromosomes. The result is male offspring with random paternal genetic origin, but female offspring that still bear the original parents’ genes. This manages to preserve both the traditional mate selection process and the basis for families while at the same time elevating the status of females in society. I’m pleased to see that nobody prefers male children anymore.”

“Except for families in isolationist compounds and the wealthy who can afford sorted in vitro fertilization.”

“One virus can’t fix every problem…”

“Yeah, back to the main point. Did you actually think you could end sexism with a viral infection?”

“End, no. Greatly diminish, yes.” The bio-hacker was getting more animated. “The current generation of children already accepts the new paradigm. Unless a vaccine is developed soon, motivation to return to the old ways will quickly fade.”

“What about men with genetic diseases who were ostracized or worse?”

The bio-hacker inspected the table, “Every technology has unintended consequences.”

“Unintended consequences?” said the speaker in the wall. Agent Williams was standing on the other side of the mirrored glass. His marriage had been part of the early collateral damage of the virus before scientists realized what was happening.

Agent Jackson segued, “Yes, one unintended consequence has been for our profession. Violence has emptied some countries of bioengineers, while others are stockpiling them like weapons. So, the real reason we have you here is to offer you a job.”

“Why?” The bio-hacker was faking surprise.

“Reformed bio-hackers are the best security specialists.”

“What if I say no?” Now he was trying to bargain.

“We go public with your identity. Long trial. Life in prison.” There was a long pause.

“OK, I’m in.”

“Good. The official story will be that the virus was created by a scientist that died three years ago. Case closed. Meanwhile, you create a treatment and vaccine.” The bio-hacker’s eyes narrowed. “Consider it the appropriate conclusion of your ‘experiment.’ A good scientist always cleans up when done. Right?”

The bio-hacker brightened and leaned in, “Actually, now that we’re colleagues, I think you’ll be more interested in what I’ve been working on since the first release. It’s a benign bacterium that will end religious conflict.”

“Very interesting. Excuse me for a moment.”

Agent Jackson and Williams had a brief discussion and then sent the bio-hacker home with a handshake and some paperwork to complete. Agent Williams made a phone call. Later that evening, the bio-hacker would be abducted by an isolationists group in black ninja-like biohazard suits. Agent Williams said it was apropos – vigilante justice for vigilante science. Meanwhile, Agent Jackson erased all records of the day. Then, both agents went home to enjoy their Father’s Day weekend.