Meat Market

Author : Dylan Otto Krider

Talmey is not a pervert, just very lonely. He tried to get dates, really he did. With the computer business, he didn’t have time. Plus, he was shy and — he could admit this – ugly. But a guy has certain needs; for sex, yes, of course, but female companionship above all.

He tried ordering one of those latex dolls, which were cold and inanimate. Then he tried VR, but had to strap on a vibrator, which buzzed and wasn’t the way he imagined it.

Then he came across this ad for something called Meat Market. They advertised “living flesh,” which grossed him out at first until they explained it: it was a human clone, essentially, minus the brain. Well, a tiny brain, a reptilian brain, so it was like owning a pet, So, there was nothing unethical about it.

When it arrived, it was fine to have sex with, but he was a romantic. He wanted something to love him, and which he could love back. This… this was… well, it didn’t even seem to be there, really, mentally. All it wanted was to sleep and eat. It wasn’t potty trained either, so you had to change adult diapers, which was gross and not at all what he paid for.

He tried to return it, but the operator told him there was a new, smarter model coming out, one smart enough to flush the toilet. One bred to adore you, the way dogs were bred. Dogs wanted to be with you. Nothing cruel about it.

When she arrived, she loved him almost immediately. She followed him around the house, and was always underfoot. She wanted attention constantly.

He returned her almost immediately.

He guessed he was a feminist. He didn’t want someone just to have sex with. He wanted more than that. He wanted someone to talk with, share his dreams and fears, discuss movies. His equal. Who would go out with him. His equal who would go out with him. That’s what he really wanted.

So, he tried a sort of mail order bride service, which wasn’t really a mail order bride service, but sort of was. They found you a woman from a third world country who was willing to overlook his ugliness for citizenship. They sent him a woman from someplace with arranged marriages, so it wasn’t weird at all. She was great at first, but eventually stopped having sex with him, and nagged him all the time, and once she got citizenship, she ran off with his brother.

He forswore all women after that. Some people aren’t meant to couple. But Meat Market kept calling, trying to get back his business.

“We have a premier sentient model coming out; one who is bred to want to be there, but can leave at any time,” the salesman said, “but won’t.”

They talked him into one last try.

She arrived at his apartment under her own recognizance. She smiled at him. It didn’t even seem to matter that he was ugly. She did all the talking at first, to draw him out.

They had the best conversations after that. They had arguments, too, sure, but she never got mad, and when they came to an impasse, would defer. She didn’t nag. She wanted to make love, and loved him, but not in a needy way. When he came home, she ran up and kissed him and would say, “I have been thinking about you all day.” She wanted to be there, and was his equal as she was engineered to be.

And she was all his.

The Sky Belongs

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It has always been the way that the skies inspired images of freedom and escape from the troubles of the now. “The sky belongs to none”, as my grandfather used to say.
We’ve had Eflubian motherships and Targamor raidcraft, Claflandian God-discs and Rablag Hulks. Nothing changed the facts that the skies remained free and humanity regarded the sky as their property no matter what came thundering through it to place a claim upon our resurgently verdant planet.

It was nineteen months after the last Rablag Hulk fell, taking the last of our militaries with it, when someone noticed that the birds were flying low. That may not seem like much, but those who observed eagles and similar high flying species agreed: the birds didn’t ascend as far.

Then David Meocrid flew his aircar above one-thousand feet and something tore him to pieces inside the craft, as he chatted on videocam with his business partners. Without that video, chances are we would have carried on for a while before anything was spotted as unusual.

There’s something in the sky, and it doesn’t like life, in any form, trying to share its airspace. We even sent up some geraniums in a basket slung under a balloon. It was all very scenic until one-thousand-an-one-feet up, whereupon the flowers became confetti. Within a month of what was named ‘the Meocrid Incident’, anything that ascended above a thousand feet had any organic ‘components’ shredded.

A year later, mankind had adapted and sea travel was burgeoning again. Then the sky started turning purple in places. While many powerful or curious people tried to work out what was ‘up there’, most people just changed their way of doing things. The tourism industries took a hit, and anything that depended on flying went under. Apart from the occasional sensationalist news pieces and the odd prophet or two, things seemed to be business as usual.

Except we knew that the skies weren’t ours anymore. People don’t look up to the heavens these days. We just go about our business and stay under open skies for as short a time as possible. Something else owns our sky and too many of us spend too much time worrying and waiting for the day it decides that the heavens are not enough.

Two Red Lights

Author : Anthony Francis

Hariq realized she’d wandered into their territory the moment it was too late to go back. She’d turned too early, into the alley to the abandoned school, a blasted block of creaking swings and dirty chainlink the city had let fall to them. Not even human!

In her forevermurk, she’d mistaken a glimmer down this dark crevasse as her signpost to safety, but the brick alley stretched on too long, the haloed streetlight passed over too quickly, and she found herself in true darkness … while quiet steps crept behind.

There would be no help: the police were afraid of them. She had to turn back—but heard a curse. That voice! Half child, more animal, the snarled insult revealed her pursuer knew she was blind. Hariq walked faster—but blurred fencing loomed.

A T-junction. Turn right, circling the school: a block through their territory—or cut left, shortcutting through a perilous alley: a straight shot to the subway.

Then Hariq froze: she no longer heard footsteps, but breathing.

Hariq bolted to the left, cane clacking her way through debris and Dumpster, buttress and barricade. No curses mocked, no footsteps followed—but that breathing grew closer.

Hariq’s bag caught on a drainpipe, swinging her around, knocking her cane from her hand—and that breathing was upon her. Hariq turned back towards the murky jumble of dark shapes and haloed taillights. “Why are you chasing me?”

“I was tryin’ to get by ya.” An unseen voice. “Don’t like being hassled.”

“You’re afraid,” Hariq laughed, forced, “that I’ll hassle you?”

“Yeah. Okay, I’ll give ya a treat. See the two red lights? Look close.”

Hariq stared—were those taillights? Those haloed lights surged forward, and Hariq drew back. An unseen presence loomed, a tang of cinnamon—and animal musk. God, one of them, too close. Shadows rippled … and the red lights yellowed, and became eyes.

“So your eyes glow.” Little showoff. “So what?”

“Huh. You—fahkk—couldn’t see me turn visible?”

You see I have a cane.” Hariq clenched her fist. “Had one, before—”

“You gots it worse than my mentor,” said the blur. Hariq’s cane pressed into her hand, a whisper of claws brushing against her fingers. “Nota bene, most lykes can’t turn invisible. Just me. Why ya scuttin’ in this alley? Can’t Pythagoras square blocks—”

“I should be able to go where I want.”

“Funny that, I feel the same way,” said the shape—pressing Hariq’s hand to her cheek. The face of a child, warm and smooth … but with the prickle of whiskers. “Don’t be scared. You can feel, can’t ya? Here’s another treat.”

Sharp cracks popped. Fur burst beneath Hariq’s fingers. Hariq laughed, wondrous, as the child’s face bloomed, rising until Hariq stood with her hand in the cheek ruff of a tiger, bigger than any of its natural kind … yet with those same glowing eyes.

“YYOU’Rrre TRRESSpassin,’” rumbled the weretiger, its voice quickly firming up. “You missed—faahkk—the signs, might not even have sussed lycanthrope glyphs if ya coulda seen ’em. No biggie, but I don’t want ya hassled—or snoopin’. I’ll lead ya out.”

“You called me a blind mouse. I didn’t like that—”

“Funny that, neither did I, but, hey, Tourette’s is Tourette’s.”

“Oh!” Hariq said. Obvious, now, the bursty exhalations, so different than a normal voice. Hariq let her fingers sink into the thick fur: this monster had its own struggles. “I guess you won’t eat me. I’m Hariq.”

“Wasn’t plannin’ on it,” said the tiger. “Spine goes far with lykes, Hariq. I’m Cinnamon. MARTA’s a block. Stay close?”

Mission Failure

Author : David C. Nutt

“Give me a good reason why I should not demote you, Sub-lieutenant.”

“Excellency, I followed the mission parameters to the letter. I do not understand why the creatures reacted so violently.”

“Did you manifest as an older white male with upper mandible facial hair?”

“Mustache sir. The area indigenous term for it. Affirmative. I even put on the ocular enhancers called ‘spectacles’ and had the cranial hair appear thinning so as to be more non-threatening.”

“And the fossil fuel vehicle. Did you purchase one large enough to conduct an interview?”

“Yes sir. I purchased what they area indigenous call a “van.” Given our sensitivity to their sun, I chose one without windows in the rear compartment. Even though I would be seeking out their pupa- or rather their young, at the crepuscular cycle- what they commonly call dusk- I felt the dark interior would have a calming effect. This species goes into a state of torpor in darkness. I believe like our scientists that this may be a regeneration cycle to-“

“I do not need a remedial science lecture Sub-lieutenant. I also attended the briefings and trained for this mission. Skip over the details and describe what happened after you selected the subject.”

“Well sir, upon parking the fossil fuel vehicle near the youth recreation equipment area I then selected one of the young to approach for an interview. It was a male and it seemed more independent as it left its peer group and began walking toward my hiding place in the vegetation. I stepped out before him and offered him nourishment- confection they call it- no sir not quite right…candy! I offered him candy.”

“Did the pupa, er, young accept your good will offering?”

“No sir! It had a panic reaction. It began an excruciating sonic emanation display and it ran from me.”

“Did you try to calm it?”

“Yes sir. I firmly but gently held the subject and brought it back to the ‘van.’ My rational was the dark interior would calm it and I could conduct the interview.”

“Did the dark ‘van’ calm the subject?”

“No sir, it had just the opposite reaction! The creature increased its sonic agitation and began using its phalanges and mandibles to tear at my ocular ports and epidermis! It wanted to inflict pain upon my being! I had to release it and I just barely escaped some agitated adult monitors who almost stopped me from reaching the extraction point.”

“Astounding! This is the 54th system we have engaged for first contact and never have we had such difficulty. Our research section is must be missing some crucial socio-cultural rituals. Any ideas on how to proceed Sub-lieutenant?”

“Well sir, I have put the matter to much thought. I believe the manifestation as the white male, spectacles, mustache and balding to be non-threatening. Their literature and digital records confirm this. I believe where we erred was the target.”

“What do you suggest?”

“That the next target be female.”

“Will you give her a food offering as well, this candy item?”

“Negative sir. I will offer her some of their trade indicators.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes sir. I will offer the female what they call ‘money’ to go with me in the dark van.”

“Brilliant Sub-lieutenant! I cannot wait to hear your next report.”

UFO Club

Author : Kraig Conkin

The gray skinned youths standing at the edge of the platform cheered when the silver saucer broke the clouds and descended towards them.

Upon landing, Winkus popped from the hatch and ran to meet his schoolmates.

“Did you do it?” Tizdic, leader of the UFOs, asked. Of all the saucer clubs at Omega Academy, the UFO’s were the coolest, and the most secretive. Winkus had been waiting for a chance to try out since freshman year .

“Got it all on my image score, if you don’t believe me,” he said. The UFOs didn’t like wimps.

Tizdic shrugged. “Just tell us what happened.”

“I did like you said and found one of their military bases. Hovered above it, flashing my lights and tweaking my g-field stabilizers so I’d show up on their radar.”

“Oh yeah?” Tizdic’s skepticism coated his words. “Then what happened?

“They freaked out. The base went full alert- alarms, spotlights- just like you said they would.”

A few of the UFO’s laughed and slapped their tiny hands together in high-fours.

“Did they try to chase you?” Tizdic asked.

“That was the cool part,” Winkus’s tiny mouth curved into a smile. “Their ships are hilarious- so slow and loud. I had a hard time going slow enough they could keep up. Then- when I got bored- I buzzed them a couple times. Scared them so bad one craft almost crashed into a mountain. Then I came back.”

“Good job, 12,” Tizdic smacked Winkus on the shoulder. “So, we showed you the planet, you want to become a UFO or not?”

“I thought I just became a UFO.”

“That’s just the first step,” Tizdic shook his ovoid head. “You’ve got to pass the initiation.”

Winkus narrowed his black eyes and a serious expression took hold of delicate features. “I was wondering, on the way back, isn’t it kind of wrong, you know, messing with a primitive species, or whatever?”

“You saw it. That planet’s a total mess. What are we going to do to them that they aren’t already doing to themselves?”

Tizdic laughed, a sound similar to air escaping a balloon, but Winkus could tell his question had bothered him.

Winkus forced a laugh. “I don’t really care, I definitely want to be in the UFOs. What do I have to do for initiation?”

“It’s a test to see if you’ve got what it takes to be a UFO. You’ll go back with me a couple other senior UFOs. We’ll kinda show you the ropes- dissect the humans’ livestock, carve a few undecipherable, geometric patterns in their grain fields, our usual stuff.”

“That sounds cool.”

Tizdic and the other UFOs laughed at some unspoken joke.

“What’s so funny?” Winkus asked.

“Then we abduct one of the humans and then you have to . . .”

“Then I have to what?”

“Probe them.”

The UFOs laughed again.

“Gross!” Winkus searched the shiny black eyes of the club members, hoping this was a joke. “Why would you want to do something like that?”

“You wouldn’t,” Tizdic explained. “That’s why it’s the initiation. You in or not?”

Winkus nodded and started walking back to his saucer. “Let’s go.”

The gray skinned youths raised another cheer and followed him onto the platform.

For His Ship To Come In

Author : David C. Nutt

“You think I’m crazy?”

Sammy stopped hammering the board he was working on and turned to the old man. “Just because your building a boat dock in the middle of a Kansas wheat field, 417 miles from the ocean? Let’s just say I think you’re a tad bit eccentric and leave it at that Gramps.”

The old man chuckled. “Sense of humor will carry you far Sammy, so will your patience. For what it’s worth, thank you for helping me with my little project. If it makes you feel better consider the whole thing performance art. That way I get to be eccentric and avant-garde instead of bat shit crazy.”

It was Sammy’s turn to chuckle. In spite of everything he loved the old man “OK Grandpa, I give up? Why a dock? Why not a Gazebo or a shack?”

“I grew up in Maine, by the sea. My whole life revolved around the ocean. More rights of passage than I can tell you in a year and a day. Thought I would live and die there just like all my kin before me. Then I met your grandmother and we came out here. Haven’t regretted coming out here for a New York minute, but I miss sittin’ on the dock and just dangling my feet over the edge.” The old man shook his head. “That’s the most of it.”

They worked on in silence, and finally hammered the last board in. Sammy and his Grandfather put their tools down. Both sat on the end of the dock dangling their feet over the edge. Again, Sammy broke the silence. “You said that the dangling your feet thing was ‘most of it’; what’s the rest of it.”

His grandfather smiled. “You always did listen with more than your ears Sammy. The ‘rest of it’ is what my gramps said to me when I told the family I was leaving the ocean for the plains. He said ‘where will you go to meet your ship?’ Unlike me gramps was crazy. But even a broken clock is right twice a day. Thing that came back to me since, was something I took for granted, livin’ by the coast. I didn’t think about until just the other day. It seems to me that no matter where a dock was, eventually a ship would stop there.”

Sammy threw the tools in the back and helped his grandfather into his pickup. “You expecting your ship to come in?”

His grandfather sighed. “Don’t rightly know. Just don’t want miss it for lack of a place to dock.” They drove back to the farmhouse in silence.

Two days later the sky darkened late in the day heralding what could only be a tornado, but the sirens never warned of an approaching twister. Just heavy fog, heavier air; thunder and lightning. When the storm lifted they couldn’t find the old man. Sammy’s Aunt thought she saw him go out to the dock. Sammy and the others fanned out over the field. The only thing they found was his bandana, carefully folded and left on the edge of the dock. The presiding theory was he was swept away by a twister; one that nobody saw coming. It made some sense. Certainly the low air pressure they experienced felt like a tornado. Sammy knew different. He stood on the end of the dock and looked out on the waves of grain. He smiled. They finished just in time.