Business is Good

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

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UNITED DEFENCE – Because your war is our business.

*** Declaration of Fair Warfare ***

In compliance with Concillium statute 904.221.18, UNITED DEFENCE is obliged to ensure that any holder of weapons of devastating mortal threat (WDMT) is also equipped to engage in reactive tactical engagements without recourse to WDMT. Note well that in this case we are only contracted to supply materiel and expertise. We do not provide combat-ready personnel.

Lonely Nomad

Author : Malcolm Carvalho

“Do you have to leave so soon, Arun?”
Arun slipped an arm under Eliya’s head, allowing her to snuggle closer to him.
“Eli, that’s the nature of my job. I can’t stop at just one place.”
“Hell, why not?” Eliya said. “You’ve already set up the inhabitation of seven planets.”
“Nine.”
“Whatever. And spent around 200 years on each. Add to it, how old you were when you left Earth, and that makes you…”
“1892 years old,” he said with a wink.
“Listen, hun. How far can you go on like this?”
“This is my job. Finding habitable planets, setting up a human colony, watching it prosper over a century or two. Ensure the new settlers can take care of their world, and my work is done there. Then I must go wherever the Planet Finder directs me.”
“You think you are young enough for this now?”
“Doesn’t matter. So long as my brain functions well enough, I’ve got all the organ harvesting devices on board Columbus. And every now and then, I run into a planet with enough silicon to replenish my reserves. Enough to synthesize organs for another five hundred years.”
Eliya sat up and shook his shoulder. “Seems like you’ve got this all covered. Ever thought about me?”
“I wish I could take you along, if only that was possible. You were born here on Alferan, you’ve lived all your life here. Twenty-six years. You’ve adapted to this world. Leave the planet, and you’ll struggle like an Earthly fish out of water.”
“What if I go for a transplant of those synthetic organs from your lab?”
“That’s not possible. The organs are regenerated using my stem cells and can only be used in my body. Transplanting them in another body would result in chaos. You won’t survive for more than a week.”
“Fine then, go about this adventurous job of yours. Settle planets, feel like a god, and find a new woman on every world.”
“Eli, darling, listen to me. I know it seems like I’m shrugging you off. You might even think I’m a player. But that’s not true.” He pressed her lower lip with his thumb and kissed her. “I love you. We both have been marked out for our place in the galaxy. Me for advancing colonization, and you for running the administration on Alferan. This is our calling. Who knows, someday I might be done with this job and come back to be with you.”
“Excuse me, you’re the immortal one. Not me. By the time you come back, I might be resting in a grave. A memorial if I am lucky.”
She pushed him away. “It would be good if you just leave tomorrow without letting me know. Would save me further heartache.”
He stood by the bed and watched her fall asleep. How many women would he have to leave behind like this? But no, he could do something about it now. The Galactic Council would not approve of it, but they would never know either.
He drew out a scalpel and scraped the skin off her thumb onto a dish. That would be enough. Columbus already had a good stock of egg cells he used for establishing colonies.
He was being selfish. So be it. There was no way he could stay on Alferan and be with Eliya. This could work out though.
He bent and kissed her forehead. He’d have to wait for just a year. What after that?
Would the clone love him just like Eliya did? No one knew. He’d be the first to find out.

We All Lost

Author : R. W. Warwick

I ran from the parking area up to the back of the queue. It was huge. I tapped the shoulder of the woman in front of me.

“Why is it so busy today?” I asked.

She half turned but didn’t face me.

“What rock have you been under? It’s always busy here after election day”.

I was agitated and in a hurry. I reached into my pocket and took out my therapist’s calling card. I pushed my thumb into the print scanner and his face flickered onto the small, square screen.

“Martin, is everything alright?” he asked

“I’m here,” I snapped “I came to the clinic like you said, but there’s a huge queue”.

“I see,” he remarked. “Well, what do you expect the day after election day?”

His voice was soft and slow, it irritated the hell out of me.

“That’s what this woman in front of me just said. It’s not helpful”.

“Lots of people undergo thought reconditioning after the election, it helps them to live with the results”.

“Well shouldn’t I be get priority or something?”

“Why?” he asked “Most people think that their problems are bigger than everyone else’s”.

I scoffed and hung up, and then marched to the front of the queue. The man at the front was in his late sixties, large, and wore a baseball cap which read ‘We did it!’ He looked at me and I glared at the cap.

“You, what chu want?” he grumbled.

“I’m in a hurry. It looks like your guy won, why do you need thought reconditioning?”

“Ma cat died this mornin”

It took everything I had to restrain myself from hitting him.

“Out” I snapped.

He stared at me with a blank expression on his face.

“You heard me, out, I’m taking your place. You don’t need reconditioning”.

Before he could respond, a security guard who had been listening to our exchange sauntered over.

“I think you need to get back to your place in the queue sir”.

I looked at him in disbelief.

“My need is greater than his, I can’t wait through this whole queue I’ll be here until tomorrow”.

“Sir, I won’t ask you again” he put his hand on my shoulder.

“But I lost” I replied.

“We know sir, everyone knows”.

I turned around. Everyone was watching quietly.

“But doesn’t anybody care?”

“Clearly they do sir, that’s why they’re all here to be reconditioned”.

In my state of anxiety I could still see that the situation had escalated beyond by control. I took one more look at the baseball cap and stepped back.

“I’ll just have to fix this the old-fashioned way then, I can try again in four more years”.

“Fraid not sir,” there was a hint of amusement in the security guard’s voice.

“All that business will be done away with soon. This was the last election for a while”.

I didn’t bother looking back. I hung my head and shuffled all the way to the back of the queue.

The Hunted

Author : Travis Gregg

The snow was falling gently all around, big thick snowflakes that stuck to everything. It was the first real snow of winter and in a few weeks the whole area would be under a couple feet. I’d been out an hour before sunrise, my joints stiff and aching from the cold, my feet numb. After following a familiar trail deep into the forest I’d found a good spot where I could nestle down and try to keep warm while I waited.

It was two hours of patiently keeping still before the buck ambled into the clearing. As he casually strode through I slowly readied my bow and waited for the deer to turn broadside. When he was almost out of range, right on the cusp of the distance I could reliably shoot, something caught his attention and for just a brief moment he turned. I squeezed the pull while exhaling and the arrow flew true, impacting just behind the shoulder. The buck let out a wheeze, his breath visible in the cold air.

It didn’t take long to dress the deer and I headed back to the cabin with a pack full of fresh meat. Even though it was getting cooler we’d need to smoke it soon.

As I made my way up the trail I heard something I hadn’t heard in years, something that chilled me to the bone. I squinted against the bright morning sun and there, way off in the distance was an unmistakable iridescent ovoid. It was flying low and very slow, just skimming the tree line, and I could barely make out the sound of the engine as it passed to the south.

It had been three hundred years, but still they’d found me. I’d gone full native this time, didn’t even have medi-nanos. Years and years of living in these mountains, living off the land, and staying as inconspicuous as possible. I even looked just like these barely sentient ape men but still they’d found me. I hustled back to the cabin, abandoning the kill to the bears that roamed the mountain, hoping there was still time to get off planet.

Rounding the last corner up the trail to the cabin I froze. Something was wrong but in a way I couldn’t easily define. Someone watching me? The birds had gone quiet which was a bad sign. Standing still I scanned the familiar scene, looking for something out of place, some source for the wrongness. Too late I realized my mistake. I’d thought it had been pure luck spotting the craft this morning but now it was clear that I was meant to see that ship. Three hundred years had made me too soft.

***

Crouched down deep in the leaves I’d seen my prey leave hours before the sun rose. I hadn’t been ready for him then but my photon suit ensured I remained unseen. Now he was back and I calmly leveled my sights, waiting for him to come a little closer.

Wayward Son

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

June looked up as the diner door opened. There was Jack, ten-fifteen every morning like clockwork. Same dark, carefully pressed single-breasted suit, always with his trench coat folded over his left arm, fedora perched on top of his head.

“Morning baby-doll, what’s cookin?” He flashed a wide smile that she couldn’t help but return.

“Nothing much Jack,” he took the newspaper she had waiting for him and headed back to his corner booth. “The usual?”

She didn’t have to ask, he ate the exact same breakfast every single day.

“Yes please. Why mess up a good thing?”

June followed him to his seat with a fresh pot of coffee, and placing a mug on the table, filled it almost to the top with a flourish.

Jack picked up the mug and swallowed half the steaming liquid without looking up from the paper, and June waited until he’d put the mug back down before filling it again and heading back to the counter.

Her line cook already had eggs, bacon and home fries in the window, and chased it a moment later with a side plate of white toast. She picked up a bottle of HP sauce in one fist and balanced the toast plate on top, then carried the lot to Jack’s table.

“Thanks a bunch cookie!” That smile again. He’d taken off the hat and placed in on top of his coat on the bench beside him. His hair as always was gelled perfectly. She watched as he doused the plate in sauce, then systematically devoured every morsel, washing it down with the rest of his coffee.

He’d been coming since before she started working at the diner, and she’d originally assumed that he was part of some period movie shoot; always the exact same look, always the exact same clothes. In fact nothing about him ever changed. She’d been serving him nearly a decade now, and she could swear he wasn’t a day older than the thirty years she figured he was when she’d poured him that first cup of coffee. She’d put on a few pounds, and acquired a few wrinkles along the way, but Jack, well Jack was just perfectly Jack.

“Holy mackerel!” Jack’s shout startled her back to the present. “Would you get a load of this!” He was pointing excitedly to a page in the newspaper in the Science & Technology section.

June read the headline, “Scientists Find Seven Earth-like Planets Orbiting Nearby Ultracool Star”.

“That’s pretty exciting,” June watched Jack as he rapidly scanned the page without looking up, “maybe one day we’ll be able to travel there.”

Jack stopped, and stared June right in the eye. She felt cold all over.

He stood, and placed a crisp ten dollar bill beside the empty breakfast plate, lining the edges up exactly square to the corner of the table without averting his gaze.

“I certainly hope so,” he said, finally looking away and collecting his hat and coat from the bench.

“I’m going to need a ride home.”

Putting his hat back on, and folding his coat over his left arm, he started for the door.

“Do you want me to call you a cab?” June asked, her confusion evident in her tone.

Jack didn’t turn as he answered. “Oh baby-doll, no,” he hesitated, then added “but thank you.” Then he disappeared out the door into the mid-morning sunshine.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Author : Tim McDaniel

The ceiling opened and the Priest Judge Arbitrator descended into the Control Center. Tloygruu bobbed his head up and down the correct number of times, but one hand snuck down to tug on his genitalia.

There was no need for concern or worry, he reminded himself. He had been told that at a certain point in the voyage the Priest Judge Arbitrator would appear, after all. But no one had explained to him exactly when that would happen, or what the Priest Judge Arbitrator would do.

The Pilot flapped a hand in his direction, and Tloygruu realized that he was still pulling on his genitalia. He ceased and sent a fluttering gratitude.

The Priest Judge Arbitrator, not looking in his direction, moved to the back of the room to stand in the alcove reserved for it, and inserted the inputs. Its mottlings were a neutral purple and brown. Tloygruu glanced at the polished metal surface of the display stand in front of him and noted that he himself was swirling with orange and blue.

“Frontro, tell us all when you expect that we will reach the new world.”

The Pilot turned to look at Tloygruu. She swirled orange and green, even around her neck fin – the Priest Judge Arbitrator had unnerved her, as well! “The estimate is four percent, all.”

Four percent. Ninety-six percent of the journey lay behind them. So long ago it had been, and Tloygruu but a Trainee Commander, when the signals had been detected – a new world of life, intelligence! Such a thing had not been seen for two hundred years. And so soon, they would be the first to see the new species, to learn and teach, and exchange. To meet The Other, and to realize themselves through The Other’s eyes. The Other would benefit in the same way, and could also expect advances in energy, medicine, and transportation.

The excitement spread throughout the Control Center. Frontro, Chali and Zhingi, and Tloygruu himself, became nearly translucent. Only the Priest Judge Arbitrator remained passive.

“Command,” the Priest Judge Arbitrator said. “Alter course. The new world will not be visited.”

The translucence was swept away by a dark tide.

“Priest Judge Arbitrator?” Tloygruu finally managed to say. “All would like to respectfully inquire as to the reason.”

The Priest Judge Arbitrator left the alcove and returned to the center of the room. As the ceiling opened and its platform began to ascend, it said merely, “With the lessening of distance, the transmissions of the senders have become readable.”

The ceiling closed behind it.

“Course is altered,” Frontro said. “We return to starting point.”

“To clarify,” Chali said, “our descendents will return to starting point, not us.”

“Zhingi,” Tloygruu said, “display for all the transmissions from the new world.”

In the air before them shimmered pictures. Bipedal creatures with multicolored, flapping skins moved about, operated machines, interacted with one another.

“They’re beautiful,” said Frontro.

And they were. So different, so new.

The pictures changed, and a large group of the beings were seen surrounding a single one, who sat and did nothing unexpected.

The picture changed again. Large structures loomed, and the creatures moved among them. Then the creatures were inside a structure, interacting with one another.

“There are accompanying sounds as well,” Zhingi said. “They include more than random noise, and the machines have translated the meaningful strings.”

Tloygruu could almost feel a tendril of orange snaking across his skin. “Let all hear the translations.”

They watched, and listened.

“What is that recurring noise – that one, which we just heard?”

“The laughter of many,” Zhingi said.

“In unison?” Tloygruu asked. “Are they a hive? Or is it that they require leadership, even in this?”

Soon they understood.

“Can we continue to watch, with the sound off?” Frontro asked.