The Unequivocal

Author : S.Clough

You’ve heard of the Unequivocal, right?

Okay, then. I’ll assume you’ve been living under a rock since before you were born. The Unequivocal was the very first flagship of the Earth fleet. One of the early-pattern destroyers: It was lost in its fourth year of service, holding off a half-dozen Beamer ships by itself, buying time for a freighter convoy to get through from Deimos to Earth.

Now when I say ‘lost’, I don’t mean destroyed. I mean lost. There’s no real evidence as to what happened to it, but everybody thought that it was destroyed.

The Beamers signed the treaty, and everyone forgot about the Unequivocal. When Free Celestia declared their tax war, and Earth was forced to defend itself again… the Unequivocal showed up. A freight-courier was blasting the run from Eros, and an entire Celestia wolfpack was right there waiting. Now, freight-couriers are hardly defenceless, but even an ECS variant armed to the teeth would have issues with such a wolfpack; a merchant navy variant had no chance.

They’d lost shields, and most of their weapons when the Unequivocal blindsided the wolfpack. It was a real laser show – big weapons: old thermonukes, hard beams, Wraitii caps, and some other stuff even Earth Central can’t identify. The Celestians were wiped out, and the Freight-Courier limped home. Its sensor arrays had been badly damaged, but it had recorded the battle in high enough quality to confirm that the only known ship which matched that hull configuration was the Unequivocal. Of course, it could just be an old destroyer, modified over time to resemble the old flagship. But spacers, being spacers, would prefer for their saviour to be a revenant from the past rather than a modern-day phenomenon.

Now, the rumour goes that in that fight near Deimos, the Unequivocal was hit by a Beamer secret weapon, and something odd happened – isolated spacetime bubbles and transference are the popular theories. To be honest, I don’t care. I don’t know if it is that same ship that disappeared all those years ago, but I know pilots and captains which owe their lives to it. It never communicates anything, never stops, and has no known base. It just appears, fights, (most often against overwhelming odds), and leaves. Untraceable.

Every Earther who strays beyond their homeworld’s ecliptic has hope now. If everything turns against them, the Unequivocal might show. They’re not scared to face up to those who would deny them the system.

And that, my friend, is why I believe the stories.

Made in Korea

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“Man – this is awesome!” John was in a state of constant verbal barrage, his voice unnaturally loud above the diner chatter as he overcompensated for the music playing in his head. “I’m telling you, these Koreans know how to make implants.”

Scott sat across the table, sucking absently at a milkshake and visibly not sharing his friend’s enthusiasm. Lenny was still in line at the counter, which left Scott as the unwilling sole recipient of John’s manic discourse.

“I’m listening to the new Chilies – it’s not even out here, and I’ve just downloaded it right into my head” John was still in the honeymoon phase with his new cerebral implant, a Korean unit he’d bought from a friend of a friend and had implanted that morning. He hadn’t shut up about it since. “Hang on – I’m going to message Josie and see if she wants to meet us. She was on the mmorpg a few minutes ago – I’m sure she’s still online. This is so cool – I’m mmorpging, messaging and jackin’ tunes all at the same time. Your AmCo. ‘plant’s got nothing on this.”

Scott hit the bottom of his shake with a sudden noisy suck of air, which he continued for a moment for it’s sheer irritation factor. When it was obvious it wasn’t having the desired effect, he gave up and pushed it aside. Leaning across the table, he tried to penetrate his friend’s state of distracted euphoria.

“Listen buddy – would you stop yelling – I can hear you – I’m right here. The whole freakin’ diner can hear you, and honestly, you’re not that interesting.”

John continued to wave absently at windows in his field of vision that only he could see, while Scott resisted the urge to slap him, instead slumping back into his seat. “Don’t you think it might have been a good idea to get that thing tested before you had it installed? I mean you can barely hear me – isn’t it a little loud in there?”

John’s waving became more frantic, and his eyes were starting to become unfocused. “Damn – goad_theRedRocket keeps trying to chat with me. I can’t make him stop.”

“Just jam him on your filter list.” Scott was the king of stating the obvious.

“I can’t – the screens are all in Korean. Oh, crap – I opened one – crap, crap, crap – I can’t see – he’s popup bombing me… I’m getting flooded with pink pocket monsters. Not cool at all.” Johns arms flailed wildly about the space in front of his face, his elbows coming dangerously close to upsetting his Coke and fries, which Scott quickly moved to safety. “Now the audio’s screwed – it’s all static – these stupid popups must’ve overrun the buffer… I can’t see a thing, there’s too many windows open – and I can’t get the stupid avatar to switch to English. How the hell am I supposed to…” John’s eyes abruptly glazed over, his face going slack and his arms falling limp first onto the table, and then coming to rest on the bench at his sides.

Lenny picked this as the perfect moment to arrive, slamming his shake on the table and dropping heavily onto the bench beside Scott.

“What’s up with him?” Lenny jerked a thumb towards their limp friend.

“Korean implant. Probably still in beta, he got spammed and it wigged out. He’s in total head crash.” Scott retrieved the now abandoned Coke and began drinking it. “It should reboot in a bit, hopefully. He won’t be too happy if we’ve got to EMP the thing to unfreeze his head.”

“Bummer… that’s why I always buy domestic. Hey, are you going to eat his fries?”

The Last Question

The Sears catalogue offers dozens of models of BlogBots, but it claims that its most popular is the X451, used to conduct remote interviews. During an average three years of service, the X451 BlogBot will recite hundreds of questions posted to its forum and transcribe the answers of over 50 interviewees. Some interviewees are celebrities, and some are politicians. Many are general surveys, where the BlogBot is positioned in a public space and repeats the same question to a given number of pedestrians.

Once, the legend goes, a kid asked his favorite site’s BlogBot to interview another BlogBot, this one belonging to a fiction site, and provided it with a single question: “Why do you do it?” A BlogBot’s programming is rudimentary by conventional standards, and it’s considered slightly less intelligent than the average car. When the question was posed to the fiction BlogBot, it nearly crashed, but its adaptive software saved it by processing the question as an incomplete answer rather than an inquiry.

People say science fiction is prophetic, but that isn’t entirely true. Science fiction isn’t about the future. It’s about the world we live in now, which is constant and constantly changing. The specifics change, from hovercars and ray guns to genetic engineering and cyberspace, but at the center of every science fiction story there’s something alive, something human. And that never changes.

The first answer was not an answer. The second BlogBot coolly repeated the words it had been given, and the BlogBot conducting the interview lapsed into a similar state. For several minutes, the room was filled with two voices as the BlogBots recited the question over and over. Each repetition was classified as a follow-up question, and in accordance with its programming, nothing could be converted to text until a final answer had been given.

Of course, it’s difficult to come up with ideas sometimes. You get discouraged, or feel like everything’s been done before. Often, it has. Sometimes the ideas are wonderful, and sometimes they’re less than wonderful. But you do it anyways, because that’s what writing is about.

It took the webmaster over an hour to realize that something was wrong, and it took three days to find the missing BlogBots. When they were recovered they were still locked in battle, though their words were now slurred by dying batteries. Not a single word had been converted to text. The question was never answered.

When readers try to thank me for writing, I never understand it. On their own, words are nothing but lead and ink and pixels. Telling a story is a circle: the writer writes, the reader reads, and worlds are created. I’m constantly thanking my readers. Sometimes, it’s just more obvious than others.

Information about the upcoming year of 365

The Pleasure Dome

Brody looked at the puppies frolicking in the flower garden and beyond them, to where a professional cuteologist, complete with a lab coat and kitten ears, was giving children rides on a friendly lion. Brody shuddered, shoving his hands into his trench coat. “I hate this place.”

Chinjin punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Christ Brody, how can you be cranky in Cute Land?”

“It’s just that everything here has a face. It’s creepy.”

Chinjin rolled her eyes. “Everything does not have a face.”

“No, seriously, everything has a face. Look, the clouds have faces, the rides have faces, even the food has faces. That kid over there is licking an ice-cream cone with a face!”

“Aw, I think it’s cute. Look at the way the ice cream’s nose scrunches up when the kid licks it.”

“Baby, he is killing that face, one lick at a time, it’s creepy.” Brody waved his arms around “This place is cute porn. Any minute now I will barf glitter.”

Chinjin turned away from him. Brody saw her wipe at her face with her hands.

Brody sighed. “I’m sorry babe. I didn’t mean -” He reached for her, but she pulled away.

“I’m fine.” She said, looking down at the rubber rainbow floor.

“Baby, you’re not fine, and I’m sorry.” He reached for her again, and she hugged him, pressing her cheek on his sloping shoulder. “I know you arranged this vacation for me and I really appreciate it. Cute Land just isn’t my thing. I’m sure we can find someplace in the Pleasure Dome to have a good time.” He looked up at a candy signpost, which was whistling merrily. “Look, that way is Gremlin Town; I bet we could have a lot of fun in Gremlin Town.”

Chinjin put her arms around his neck.“Yeah?”

“Yeah, and then later, maybe we can go down to the Love Lagoon.” He tickled her waist and she giggled. “All the animatronics there are fully functional, and no kids allowed.”

Chinjin grinned. “Now that does sound like fun.”

He squeezed her waist. “Off to Gremlin Town we go.”

The signpost winked.

The End of All Things

We have given you so much.

We have, for your entire lifetime, watched over you and found you to be needing of our help. In the end, however, you became what you were designed to become. We never made you but we knew your purpose.

When you were born of cells we gave you dense matter with which to cease the life of your food. With this we taught you to take the covering of the dead and use them for warmth. In these times we taught you how the sky could combust and bring to you fire. With this fire we taught you how to sterilize the organisms whose life you extinguished to survive.

Time went by and we soon thought to bring you denser molecules from your world deep beneath the crust. We taught you how to use the fire from previous years to bend the dense molecules to make them sharp and deadly. We did not send you to kill others with these evolutions of weapons. You did that, because it was part of your purpose.

More time would pass in a blink of our existence and we could show you then how to float upon the sodium-chloride liquid of your globe. We taught you how the cycles of your atmosphere would move you across the liquid to find other masses of geography. It was you who conquered, however. It was you who decided to take and not share.

When the matter from these vessels deteriorated we began to teach you of chemicals. We sought to enlighten you through written text and allowed you to see inside yourselves through the science of your making and existence. You strayed from your paths, however, and began to make flammable powder from chemicals to harm your own species over land, over belief, over nothing.

As you began to progress much faster, we had to teach you more than we ever thought we should. Your purpose had been made clear by our lesson over atomic energies and quantum physics. The minds of men twisted the ideas to make devices capable of destructive awe. We watched as you created webs of bickering and gossip over waves of energy and light. Observing your transposed ideas of peace over a world rife with conflict we knew that in these times your purpose was made manifest to even you.

Later we showed you how to communicate instantly with one another. You used this to coordinate strikes and attacks. We showed you how to venture outside your atmosphere in search of something greater than yourselves. With that knowledge you conquered above other men to hold in greed what was never and will never be yours.

In the times to come we saw the façade peeled back to reveal your purpose even to yourselves. When shown condensed light for building and healing you turned it to weapons. When we showed you how to find other life forms within other atmospheres, you conquered and enslaved rather than make peace. As many of your species fell to others of their kind, we watched you strangle yourself. When we watched you, when we helped and showed you all that we could, we saw what your purpose truly was.

As the black voids of our existence draw us in and compact us into unknown pressurized masses, we look upon you and wonder why you were there for us to show so many ideas.

We have no weapons here, no quarrels and no animosity. Science is our purpose and it has no prejudice. On a cold desolate planet, you live the last of your days and here, at the end of all things, do we thank you for showing us what we might have become.

All in a Day's Work

When I found her she was seated at the entrance to the 8th street NR station, looking like Huckleberry Finn in faded overalls with a wooden fishing pole resting over her shoulder. She’d been waiting for me, of course, because I was the one with the BB gun, and she damn well wasn’t going hunting on her own. Dawn was cocky, sure, but she wasn’t stupid. You never know what can happen down there.

“Ready?” she asked, grinning like a cartoon pumpkin. I nodded and she swung the fishing pole out to grab hold of the line, which was tied around the usual candle. Dawn lit both ends then bounced down the stairs, disappearing into the black subway entrance as if it were the mouth of a cave. I followed, the BB gun brushing against my hip.

As usual, the swarm of small fries dashed away from Dawn’s candle with a clatter of hundreds of claws against cement. These were three, maybe four inches…not the type we wasted ammo on. The quickest gutterbrats could catch them by tossing nets, but Dawn and I, we hunted serious game. She thrust the fishing pole into my hands as she hopped the turnstile, and my eyes followed the watery light over the familiar space. Hulking figures of old, dark ticket machines, and the plexiglass windows of the chamber that, for some reason, had never been looted. All trains cancelled, the whiteboard read in marker unaffected by the last decade.

“Downtown this time?” Dawn asked. She took the pole back so that I could swing myself over the barrier, and when I landed, I nodded. We passed the pole again to jump down into the tracks, and the flame flickered, almost going out from the movement. The candle was vital to tunnelhunting. Aside from providing light, it warned us when we were coming up on a patch of dead air. When we stood still we could hear them in the distance, crawling through the tunnels. The big fish, trackrabbits the size of cats.

Dawn stopped, and the candle bobbed. This was the place. I hurled the Styrofoam containers onto the next track over and heard the snap and wet crash of half-rotten bait, then I backed beside her to wait. They heard it. They always did.

The first ones were small, a little smaller than a cat. In the flickering light of the candle they were emaciated grey shapes trailing bent tails, sometimes bulging with tumors. The water’s poison, down here. We wait patiently, Dawn dangling the candle a few feet ahead as I level the gun at the swarm of rats. The big ones come later, ambling on crooked legs. Those are the ones we want.

The shots are clean, like my shots always are, and the rest of the trackrabbits scatter like pigeons. When Dawn and I get over, three of them are laying on the tracks, and one of them’s still twitching. “Nice,” she says, and I nod in agreement. One’s almost the size of a dog…it’ll fetch good money topside.

Dawn grabs the smallest one by the fattest part of the tail and starts dragging, steadying the fishing pole by tucking it under her arm and holding it straight with her free hand. I grab the other two and we head back to the sunlight, pulling our spoils behind us.