There were no trees on earth but despite this the Martian men took to the metal forest as easily as the native Martian woodlands. They battled the native Earthers in crumbling buildings and industrial towers, dead electrical lines strapped between sprawling cities. On Earth, this urban warfare was measured in inches.

Orion had slept in steel trees for a month now, though sleep wasn’t really the right word for the state of drowsy stillness he felt while resting in his net. Smoky earth days slipped into florescent nights and it was hard to make a clear distinction between them, loss of sleep blurring time. The stimulant pills made his heart thump against his breastbone, but it had stopped clearing the clouds from his mind, and even that nervous anticipation of violence, that fear, was beginning to fade against exhaustion.

Orion’s five companions were weeks dead, and he hadn’t the time to mourn them. Earthers used whatever weapons were available, black market rifles, stolen ray guns; they even unearthed toxins to pour in the path of the Martian forces. Earth was the cradle, earth was the battleground.

Orion climbed the high oilrig, one of the thousands that dotted the small cities, built to drill hopelessly through dry earth. Fixing his net between the iron bars of the rig, he lay and listened, putting his weapon on standby to save battery power. Orion debated taking a stimulant pill but he had only a four left, and wouldn’t get more till he reached the drop point, which could take weeks. Better to save them for the bad nights.

Orion set his motion alarm and tried to doze off, his last stimulant pill still rocking his heart. He imagined his heart must be bruised by now from bumping so hard against his breastbone. As he closed his eyes, his alarm sounded in his inner ear. Orion grabbed his ray gun and switched on his night vision, searching for a heat signature. Nothing. And then- a blur – a heat source climbing towards him. Orion powered up his raygun, shaking it, even though he knew that did nothing. The signature was eight feet from his position. He had three seconds till shot. One. Two. He pulled the trigger. There was a thud, as the heat signature reached the ground. The fear was back. Orion was awake the rest of the night, but there was nothing for those long hours. No more heat, no more movement.

In the morning, Orion climbed down and landed on top of last night’s excitement. The face was turned, and the smooth skin was splattered with blood. It was a child, still gripping a submission ticket, one of the many Martian forces had scattered over Earther settlements. The kid had come to surrender, and Orion has shot him in the face. Blood and bits of bone were matted in his hair. Orion took another stimulant to get through the day, no attention to conservation anymore. His heart pounded hard against its bone cage.


It’s not easy, you know. I’ve had to sit here until they needed me, just like all the rest, but they tell me I’m special. The scientists told me that I would be different than the others, that they pulled me from the plant and opened me up with the cutting edge of science. It’s an honor, of course. I understand this.

I have a beginning. Everything begins somewhere. Humans, machines, war. Unlike the others, though, I have a timer. A half-life. I feel like I’m vibrating and I know it’s because I’m on my way out.

I’ve never seen our enemy. They’re far off and foreign, barbaric and bestial, and dangerously close to building a being like me. The scientists never say that, of course, but I hear the words beneath their voices as they speak over the gears of my body. If it weren’t true, the project wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t be ticking. Thinking. Living.

Today is my day. I should be proud, but I feel sick, and I can’t tell if that sickness if nerves or the glowing matter buried inside of my stomach.

They are putting me on transport and the circuits of the plane beam with excitement at the chance for company. It’s a long flight and we talk about politics and discuss the issues of the day. We both agree that humans are funny. They gave us radio voices to hear their commands and the best technology available, but it never occurred to them that the artificial intelligence used to self-correct our faults might have introduced the greatest fault of all. They meant to build bombs, mindless explosives. They created kamikazes with a fear of death.

People are moving around me now. They are getting out of the way. Good luck, the transport whispers. It’s not luck, I tell him. It’s the glowing stuff inside of me that will be the end of this.

I’m in the chamber. I’m waiting. They’ll drop me out of transport and into the thoughtless embrace of gravity. Falling fast, I’ll feel my circuits flicker like a heart inside of me as I move towards the stopping point of time.

They started a war, but none of them fight it. They interpret our words as bugs in the programming. We are the silent soldiers, the weapons, and only once will our voices be heard. When the distance between the city and my body collapses into nothingness, I’ll scream my name and they’ll understand.


Sally Stardust's Cosmic Celebration ™

I think I was about eight years old when I decided I was going to be a scientist.

When you’re eight, this sounds like the perfect career. I could see myself in a starched white lab coat surrounded by petri dishes and beakers as I looked into an antique microscope all day, and then, at night, charting the courses of stars. One wall of my laboratory would be made up of test tubes and jars, elements carefully isolated and waiting to be combined to dazzling effect. Another would be made of large cages, where impossibly white guinea-rats ran through complicated mazes as their brains sparked with the static of miniature electrodes. The third wall would be for very thick and very heavy books. Actual books, made out of paper and whatever the covers of books were made out of. I had read them a hundred times each. I had even memorized a few. Then, the last wall, my favorite because it had won me three Nobel prizes, was nothing but a green chalkboard covered with equations so complicated that I was the only one who could ever understand them.

This is what a great scientist I was when I was eight: the lab had four walls, and I hadn’t bothered to leave room for the door. Hopefully, one of those Nobel prizes was for a teleporter.

My father encouraged this insanity, and gave me this purple holographic projector that hung the same edufeed over my room every night, over and over. “Sally Stardust’s Cosmic Celebration,” it was called, and Sally Stardust was this bouncy cartoon girl who talked you through the feed with outdated slang and jokes about shopping. Fortunately, there was an option to do away with Sally, so I deleted her, junked the “stellar jewelry kit!!” and stuck her bioluminescent star stickers above my brother’s crib. Without Sally, the air beneath my ceiling flickered with suns and planets, and the facts were read in a hypnotic monotone by some lonely old man.

So I suppose the whole thing was that guy’s fault. Or maybe Hasbro’s fault, for hiring him to do the voice-over on what was really an ill-conceived toy to begin with, but either way, without that grape-colored contraption and its apathetic barrage of facts I might have never realized, on my ninth birthday, that my ninth birthday couldn’t possibly exist.

Here’s how it works: the Earth is revolving around the Sun, and our year is based on where we are in that orbit. So people have this idea that if you stand in a certain spot at a certain time on a certain day for two years in a row, you’re cosmically standing in the same place both times. This is wrong. Really, the sun’s moving around something too, and that something is moving around something and everything is rushing outwards, faster than cars, faster than airplanes, faster than rockets. I was millions of miles away from the place I was born in, but my mother apparently hadn’t heard Sally Stardust’s opinion on the matter, and after a relatively pointless screaming match I ran into my room and slammed my door shut. I wrote a bunch of random letters and pluses and minuses signs on a sheet of paper and pretended that I had worked out the secret of the universe, but after an hour or so I got tired of that. I gave the paper to my mother and told her that I had discovered a new equation that proved her right.

I think I was ten when I figured out that you have to be good at math to do science. After that, I painted Sally Stardust’s Cosmic Celebration a dark shade of blue and gave it to my brother. He was about four, I think. Age doesn’t mean much once you realize that you’re counting an imaginary thing.

Personal Taste

“I’d like one Sephiroth, please.”

The voice of the timid, mousy-haired girl in front of the counter matched her appearance. Maggie sighed as she looked up from her paper. “Do you have an appointment?”

“Ah, no. Was I supposed to?” The shy girl looked uncomfortable and wrung her hands.

“For most of ‘em, no, but Sephiroth is one of our most popular models. We’ve got ten of them operational, and you still need to book a week in advance.” Maggie shook her head. “So sorry, kid, no can do. You need some suggestions? I’ve got the Final Fantasy section of the catalog here,” she offered, pulling out a well-worn and dog-eared magazine that held some of the brothel’s most popular products.

“Oh, no thank you,” said the girl, blushing. “I can pick another one on my own.” She chewed her lip for a moment, then spoke up again timidly. “Do you have, ah, a Spike?”

“Spiegel? You’re in luck, kid. He’s very popular too, but one of our regulars cancelled today. I’ll get him set up in a room for you.” Maggie tapped some numbers into her computer. “Need anything else? Lube, toys, handcuffs, lingerie?”

The girl’s face turned even redder. “Oh… oh, no thank you. I don’t need anything like that. But, ah…” She bit her lip again. “Could I also have… a Vicious?”

Maggie squinted down at the girl over the counter. “A Spike and a Vicious?” She eyed the girl’s slender frame. “They’re both pretty big, sweetheart. Are you sure you want them both on the same day? You might be sore afterwards.”

“Oh, no! No, not like that.” The girl’s eyes widened. “I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t want to… to have them both,” she explained. “I just want them… ah… together.” A small, anticipatory smile spread over her pink lips.

Maggie’s eyebrows rose up into her bangs. It seemed she’d overestimated this girl’s naïveté. “Yaoi fan, huh?” The girl blushed and nodded, grinning wider, and Maggie backspaced over the information on her screen. “You should’ve said something. You’ll need a special chip for that. Those subroutines don’t come standard.”

Maggie reached over into the drawer and pulled out two chips wrapped in plastic, handing them across the counter to the girl. “You just give those to the handler when you get to the room and she’ll install them, okay?”

“Okay,” the girl repeated, nodding. She handed over her credit card and Maggie swiped it through.

“You’re all set, sweetheart,” Maggie told the girl, handing back the card. “You have fun now, you hear?”

The girl’s eyes positively sparkled with anticipation. “Oh, don’t worry. I will.”

Old Man's Moon

Jesse McVeigh had lived long enough to remember a time before the wall was erected, way back before the seawall was necessary to keep back the waters of the Sea of Tranquility from encroaching on the borders of the city of Artemis. Old Jesse McVeigh will tell you about those days, if you ask him. He’ll do it if you don’t, too.

Jesse sits on a rocking chair on the porch of the Armstrong Inn, where his son is the proprietor. Sometimes he’ll sit with the old man, but more often than not he can’t spare the time. He’s heard all of the stories, anyway, he’ll say. Jesse McVeigh, like the moon, has no new stories.

Some stories are too old, even for Jesse. Ask about his life on Earth, for example, and Jesse McVeigh will rub the sleeve that covers the barcode tattooed on his right arm and change the subject.

Jesse McVeigh’s granddaughter, who happens to share his name, dreams of space and visiting Earth. Her father gave her a telescope, and she shows her grandfather the barren fields and jagged canyons of the old planet through the lenses, proudly reciting the names of each one. But old Jesse McVeigh only sees the trenches in which he and his brother hid from the iron colossuses. And he sees the grave of his brother, which he was forced to leave unmarked. Jesse McVeigh smiles and acts impressed with his granddaughter’s memory, but he does not look at Earth for very long.

Sometimes friends of Jesse McVeigh will sit with him. They will not talk about their barcodes, or who they were before the moon. They will talk about the chill in the air off the Sea of Tranquility, how the fish and crab harvest will be affected. They will talk of the hotel business, of recipes for beef stew and jing char siu bau and doro alicha, of pains in new places. They will talk about when Artemis was smaller, of sons and daughters and grandchildren, of the possibilities of moving to warmer New Houston. These topics are as old as the wall itself.

Once once in awhile, a young person will bring up terra-forming Earth back to how it was before the war. That the moon cannot continue to hold the human race, that they were running out of room as it was. That going back to Earth is rapidly becoming the only option. And Jesse McVeigh and his friends will scoff. But they know the truth, that the wall on the edge of the Sea of Tranquility exists to keep the city from drowning the water just as much as it keeps the water from drowning the city. That someday, there will not be enough room. The walls will not be enough.

Jesse McVeigh will not be among those that return. He will stay on the moon, stare into its blue sky, and try very hard to put the Earth behind him.