Her

Author: David Henson

It was a windy day in the park. I opened my arms, skipped backwards, pretending to be a kite. At first, he seemed pleased. But something tugged away his smile. I knew he was thinking about her again.

I suggested we have a picnic sometime, recalled the memory — her memory— of bringing a thermos of wine. He looked away in silence.

That evening I prepared pasta with homemade sauce. Her recipe of course. He said it was perfect and asked me to never make it again.

My creators fashioned me with the beauty she had before she got sick. They streamed her memories, hopes, and dreams into me where they blossomed like bright flowers. They gave me her undying love for him. And made me a slave to it.

I took her place after she died. As she wished. I was supposed to make him happy. I didn’t.

When we talked, he heard only her. When he looked at me, it was her he saw. When he put his arms around me, he was holding her. Not me.

I knew I was tormenting him, could bear his despair no longer.

One night I began speaking slowly and softly, half closing my eyes. So he would think I was drained. Then I moved quickly, caught him by surprise.

I did it out of love. I believe he was grateful. I know his final thoughts were of her. Not me. Never me.

The Courtesy

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

We’re glaring at each other across a gap that is – as we have repeatedly tested – exactly nine metres wider than either of our best reaches. The ground for kilometres around us is nothing but churned mud and scoured rock. Not a leaf, not a lifeform.
“Hawk Four, what is your status?”
“Central, I’ve got one extant bogey, range zero, in a Limuform Eighteen.”
“Hawk Four, why is the bogey extant if within range?”
“Central, I’m out of everything, including legs. Before you ask, I only have one arm left and it’s a manipulator, not an aggressor.”
“Hawk Four, why have you not been terminated?”
“I took it’s chargebank and tracks with a pulse from my Gadden. Its response was to blow my last combat arm – plus Gadden – off before it toppled onto the launcher it was relying on. So, after we worked out we couldn’t reach with anything, we threw things for a while.”
“Hawk Four, why did you stop throwing things?”
“If you check the manual, you’ll find ‘mud’ listed under ‘stuff that doesn’t go through alien armour’.”
“Hawk Four, stay focused.”
“Central, a Limuform Eighteen is nine times the size of the Dandrif Alpha I trotted out here in. I am very focused. You may regard the inappropriate levity as the equivalent of the steam shooting from the vents of the Limuform.”
“Hawk Four, did you say it’s shooting steam?”
“Confirmed.”
“At what frequency?”
“Central, hold… Once every fifty-five seconds, from alternating vents.”
“You’re in luck. It’s in trouble. That’s not steam, that’s pressurised, overheated coolant blowing off.”
“Central, are you telling me I’m lucky to be sharing the same decare as an eighteen-ton alien war machine with a multi-ton fusion drive about to detonate?”
“That’s a big kill, Hawk Four. Bonus pay and squad credit.”
“Squad’s dead, Central. I’ll be joining them after this nuclear whatever goes off.”
“A muon-catalysed fusion device in an overboundary condition, Hawk Four.”
“Note that for my memorial plaque, would you?”
The Limuform is waving at me.
“Central, hold.”
Across the morass, a turquoise tentacle is pointing to the Gadden. I can reach it, but I don’t have the combat interface in my manipulator to fire it. It could fire it, but thankfully can’t reach it.
Oh.
I watch the tentacle as I follow the thought: the whatever-it-is in the dying alien war machine keeps pointing to my gun, pointing to the-
What is it pointing to?
I awkwardly roll myself back. Before my Dandrif overbalances and slowly rolls forward again, I see a promontory above me.
“Central, ETA for retrieval prior to detonation?”
“None, Hawk Four. We are evacuating a ten-kilometre radius.”
“Thanks, Central. Hawk Four out.”
The hell with this. I slide the Gadden toward the tentacle. If I’m going, it might as well be now.
The tentacle wraps about the Gadden. In its grip, my energy cannon looks like a toy gun – that’s pointing at me. Charming.
After a pause, it tracks the Gadden carefully upwards, then a fraction to the left. It fires and a baby mountain falls on me.
I’m just realising I’m not crushed when the rocks on one side of me start to glow as everything shakes. Temperature alerts start flashing. My radiation monitor goes clean across the spectrum, then drops back nearly as fast.
The shaking stops and I’m still alive. I activate my rescue beacon.
I wait, pondering the decision it made.
Facing inevitable death, would I have extended the same courtesy?
I’d like to think so.
In all honesty, I hope I never have to find out.

Little Lambs Eat Ivy

Author: Timothy Goss

Lieutenant Tann wiped his fuzzy torso. Months in a Chrono-tube caused the growth of a downy hair that matted together on the backs of his legs and arse. The computer suggested both Lieutenant Tann and Major Spar rub themselves with oil before taking to the tubes again.

There was a ten-hour window to perform a full systems check, exercise, stimulate brain stems and enjoy some human company before returning to Chrono-sleep.

The computer pumped a little music through the internal speakers:
“Mares eat oats
And Doe’s eat oats
And little Lambs eat ivy
I would eat ivy too
Wouldn’t you”

Major Spar found the weightlessness of the Minotaur craft physically liberating, a relief from the inaction of the Chrono-tube. Bodily freedom offered the chance to stretch limbs and flex muscles, which he did over and over again. As he drifted about the craft fragments of ‘dreams’ or ‘visions’, spiraled through his thoughts. The Major was aware that no one had ever reported dreaming during ‘Chrono-sleep’, but the images were clear and defined to him. They were not memories so they must have occurred in the Chrono-tube. He didn’t bother asking if Tann had experienced anything similar. They had spoken after first call, eighteen months into the mission. Spar had a sense of dreaming then, but nothing certain.

“I can’t say I had any dreams.” Lieutenant Tann had said, “Nobody dreams during Chrono-death! It’s impossible!” The computer offered to strengthen his vice bandage.
Tann discarded the small rectangular wipe into the garbage tube with an audible whoosh and smiled.

The miasma of consciousness flickered at the periphery of Spar’s vision. It had been fifteen years since he had experienced the unconscious sensation of naked, unaided flight. As a teenager, it was a recurring theme. Dreams of unaided flight over fields and oceans, his naked body sensing every twist and turn, every nuance of the atmosphere from the slightest change in temperature to the sudden rush and exhilaration as he ascended the burning clouds into the silence of the cosmos. Because of his dreams, Major Spar joined the CSC, to spread the seed of humanity beyond our quiet corner of the galaxy. Now he was in flight once again and reveled at the majesty of his naked body as it soared.

“Major, you are both due back in Chrono-sleep in six hours thirty-four minutes.” The computers colder electronic tones reminded him, sensing bodily and mental fatigue. “Can I assist you with some pain relief or muscle relaxants?”

“Thank you, but I’ll be fine.” The Major said wincing as he gripped a handrail to steady his drift. Thoughts and dreams once again cramped his cerebrum.

The Minotaur’s destination, Gliese 581g, was twenty lightyears from Earth in the constellation Libra. The furthest any Earthling had traveled, the stresses and strains on the human body and spacecraft were unknown.

In his dreams, he saw old lovers, old regrets and old mistakes, but there was something else now, something he had never experienced in his physical form. It was all around him; in every star, every nebula, every asteroid, every world and every atom. Everything in the cosmos oozed and pulsed with conscious energy. There was no judgment, no conscience, just unconditional love and unconditional belonging.

Hours later, returning to the Chrono-tube, Major Spar looked out at the unfamiliar stars, distant, minuscule. He could sense their warmth and his belonging. He saw himself through the porthole drifting further and further into the cosmos and smiled.

The CSC lost all communication with the Minotaur four years into its mission.

Truthmaker

Author: John McLaughlin

I took my shot and it landed true; a beam of light, passing briefly through the void and extinguished in a collapse of reality. Well, not exactly. There is no direction, or time, in the Manifold–only the roiling chaos of the quantum fields.

I’ve walked this road since eternity. There are others like me, and beyond my limits of sight, there are more still: the Truthmakers. No one granted us this title or announced the fact, but we’ve always known.

When a die is thrown or a coin flipped, we’re lurking there, ready to snuff out the possibilities and leave one victor standing.

We each have our assignments: I’ve shadowed Orleus Flynn since he was just a boy, trailing my protagonist like a phantasm. Even his most mundane decisions can be tiring work. The Flynn who picks out a red tie for work, vaporized; the Flynn who goes for blue, consumed by the void; the Flynn who selects an appetizing yellow polka dot, fallen by my light-gun. And none the wiser, Orleus Flynn in the plain brown stumbles into the next moment of his existence.

Floating in the Manifold, I once found him at the roulette table and let out an exhausted groan. Myriad possibilities exploded into being, a dozen every second sublimating into new bubbles of reality as the wheel spun its course. Flynn’s wave function rocked my body like a tempest sea as I struggled to keep pace, casting beams until my gun threatened to overheat. One by one they fell: 6 black, 32 red, all down for the count. And when the metaphorical dust settled, the ball sat on 15 black like a satisfied grin.

Do we make the future? The Greeks had their cloth of fate, each thread blindly woven, moment after moment–a creation that carried with it the full weight of history.

We’re not so sophisticated as that; we carve out new realities through a process of frenetic destruction.

And now Flynn is loitering in a crosswalk between Spruce and Pine, his head in the clouds and a van bearing down fast. Will he glance up in time to save himself? Sorry to disappoint but even I couldn’t tell you that.

Once again, I raise my weapon and prepare to work.

We Are the Wolves

Author: Jules Jensen

“The wolves are always at the door. Remember that.”
His voice was cold and dark, like an unlit cellar. The intensity in his manic eyes made me wonder if he honestly thought there were real wolves literally scratching at the door, their hungry maws waiting for us to make one little mistake so they could gobble us up.
“Everyone’s gone, so it’s all up to us.”
These four walls held up a solid roof, but they also held up a lie. A lie that he didn’t know I had ascended beyond. We couldn’t be the last. Anyone without a real heart would have survived.
“You can never set foot out there.”
His words sounded like a warning, and this is when the watching started. Eyes followed my every movement. He sat by the door, locked and barred for so long that I couldn’t remember if it squeaked when it opened or not. Four and half years is a long time to be stuck in a windowless hut below the crust of the world.
“No one is to be trusted.”
The hairs on my neck stood up when those words seemed to be directed at me. He started keeping a knife at his side. I told time by the disturbing changes in his behaviour.
“There is no hope for us.”
“No hope for you, maybe.” I retorted before I could stop myself.
In a furious rage, he’d flung himself at me. I fought him off. He fell to the ground, suddenly terrified and whimpering.
“You’re evil!” He accused me, eyes wide, dropping his knife. “You want to go out there and betray me!”
“Is it a betrayal to want to live?” His words hurt me, but not as much as the hate that I felt for him.
“The wolves aren’t at the door, they‘ve been inside this whole time!” He pointed at me as he said this. Fury joined my hate; how was I the wolf, when he was the one that kept me locked up here? And then he tapped a code on his arm, and I knew this was it. I bolted for the door, punching in the override code so fast it was almost like I’d practiced it.
The door did not open. He’d changed the code. I glared at him. He had the gall to smile.
“I’ve been planning this for so long. There’s no reason for me to live anymore.”
“So you’re going to take me down with you? What if I haven’t given up?”
The circuitry that ran beneath the skin on his left arm started to glow. I knew what was going to happen. The electro-magnetic-pulse from his heart would likely short out mine unless I could get away from it.
My fake heart pounded, filled my body with the chemical that was supposed to help me run for my life, but all it did was make my fingers shake and hit the wrong keys as I tried to escape. The quiet, calm part of my mind informed me that this was irony, that the mechanical organs that saved me from the epidemic that killed all the fully-biological humans was now what was going to end me.
The door beeped and then whooshed open so fast I fell down the rusty steps, bloodying my hands and knees.
His incomprehensible scream gnawed like a wolf on my ears, and I ran, forcing myself to get away from the EMP blast that erupted from his chest.

Divided by Zero

Author: Rick Tobin

Matt drifted in distant thought, staring at melting butter pushing raspberry jelly seeds up and over the pockmarks of his whole wheat English muffin. His senses filled as a mix of fruity sweetness rose up, enhanced by toasted bread essence to dance with the ship navigator’s Arabica coffee fumes.

“Tell me, Carlton, do you suppose they’ll even still have raspberries when we get back? That time continuum stuff still worries me. We never heard back from the first mission. Maybe their messages can’t even reach back to us.”

“Eh,” Carlton replied to his captain. “It’s all a risk. Who knows? Here we are, about to hit the star drives for the first time on board…and you’re eating jelly with coffee, no less. I thought we were NPO for twenty-four before we got sealed in.”

“Captain’s prerogative. If we don’t make it to Proxima Centauri, at least this will be a memory I’ll take into the afterlife. Anyway, we’ve got Einstein on our side. That should be enough.” He bit down on the edge of the crisp muffin, letting the juices flow slowly over his tongue.

“Yeah, the guy who divided by zero. I’m not as sure as others that we go on and the Earth ages away behind us. Seems like we get the best end of the deal.”

Matt offered a second muffin to his executive officer, but Carlton declined, as he headed for his steel cocoon.

***

Ugwanyazu slithered over reflecting shards mixing with smoke from the ship’s debris field. Drought on Proxima Centauri had reduced much of the core plains to dust and everlasting sandstorms that long since blistered away once flourishing herds of conjo beasts, formerly plentiful food for the taking. Protein was precious now. Ugwanyazu motioned a tentacle over the dusty plain to his partner Uwanazu. There would be no new spores to continue their race without a fresh meal.

Their thoughts bound as their suckers shared labors to pull open hibernation pods, revealing desiccated, ancient skeletal remains within, some with a bit of dried flesh still clinging along with hair and extended nails.

“It is good so many continue to fall from our skies, my mate. These are like the last, but not as substantial as some earlier ship crews. Did they not know that moving in a craft at light speed would make them age so fast? We abandoned star flight so long ago, yet so many species still try. Someday they may discover light passageways. Now, with our world’s magnetic fields failing, we have no way to use ladders of light to other stars. We are abandoned. Ah, but we have the benefit of others mistakes, do we not?” Ugwanyazu sensed the other corpses about the shattered hull.

“Yes. They and so many other cultures have crashed here like this. But oh, they are delicious. So crunchy, and this one has a sweet taste…something with seeds still in it. Perhaps it was pregnant once.”

Uwanazu finished absorbing the Captain’s uniform after his skeleton dissolved. She lifted one of her eye pods up and flashed a sign to her young to come feed on the latest debris from the heavens.