The glow of a television never graced two happier faces before that summer day. Aaron was blonde and wide-eyed while next to him, in an almost mirrored image save for the black hair, sat his friend Hamel. Both children were staring at the images of a mad scientist and kid from the 1980’s flying around in a steel contraption through time. One might incorrectly assume there was a science fiction special on. Try the history channel.
With a frustrated look, Hamel turned to his friend and curiously inquired, “I say, do you ever wonder if people have already changed history without us knowing? If, forty years ago, some madman had come and swiped our parents, neither of us would be around. So forty years ago, we could stop existing.”
Aaron raised a brow. “That might be the dumbest idea I have ever heard. People can’t travel in time. If they did, then there would be nuclear wastelands everywhere and bad people would prosper.”
Despite the comment, Hamel just shrugged and turned back to the screen to watch the time-travel shenanigans continue. Both sat in silence until a commercial.
“What if good people had control of the time machine?”
The blonde boy just sighed, “You can’t tell if people are good or bad, dummy. Bad people would eventually get their hands on it anyways.”
Hamel lifted his head up high, his expression unchanged. “No. I believe in a good nation. One with values and a belief that people can be good.”
“Not all people are good. Some people have to do bad things to get to the good.”
Both children shut up for a moment after the movie came back on. The one-liners, the classics shot from the speakers. A voice from the kitchen rang out into the living room interrupting the two and their cinema reverie.
“Aaron Francis Hitler, you have been watching television all day. Get your rear in here and help your father clean the dishes.”
The poor embarrassed youth rolled his eyes and started to get up off the floor, followed by Hamel’s giggles. “Your middle name is funny,” the tall child next to Aaron teased.
Sticking out his tongue, the blonde boy turned to go towards the kitchen, “At least my last name isn’t the same as a car!”
Pouty-faced, the dark-haired boy yelled after Aaron, “At least Lincoln is an American name!”
“Iljek, it’s time for another piece.”
The Interplanetary Artist Laureate, holder of the Sigil of Creativity, founder of the Union of Visionary Crafters, chair of the Board of Humanities at Reykjavik University of the Arts, leaned back in his lounge chair and put his porn on mute, giving his assistant a long-suffering sigh. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Elarii bit her lip and tried to hold Iljek’s upside-down gaze without letting stress get the better of her. Breathe. Breathe. That was what her therapist had told her. Deep, calming breaths. Elarii took a quick sniff of oxygen from the decorative tube affixed to her robes at the shoulder. Calming breaths. “No, Iljek, I’m not. It’s been almost four months since you produced any new art.”
Iljek snorted and glanced back at the holo-dish projecting his entertainment. “So the creative spirit hasn’t hit me yet. Tell the papers I’m sequestered in meditation or whatever.”
“That’s what we told them last month,” Elarii told Iljek, reaching down to surreptitiously turn off the alarm on her blood pressure meter. “Last time it was three months. We can’t just keep stringing them along without anything to show for it. You need product.”
Iljek sighed and sat up in his chair, scratching his head with one hand and his balls with the other. Elarii had been on him for several weeks about this, but the tone in her voice told him she was getting desperate, and that meant it really was time for him to earn his keep. “All right. Bring me a recorder.”
Relief thrumming through her body, Elarii came around to the front of the chair and set down the silver cube she’d had prepared for the last two months. Hesitant to do anything that might break the fitful spell of productivity, she didn’t speak, just turned on the device and backed away. Iljek held out his hand and she pressed a baton into it, the sophisticated tool that would tell the three-dimensional recorder what to paint in the air in response to Iljek’s creative vision.
Standing slowly, Iljek faced the recorder. He was silent for several moments, and the hush over the room was only accented by the soundless ecstasy of the porn star writhing doggie-style in front of the dish. Elarii stayed absolutely still. She wasn’t worried about disturbing Iljek’s ‘creative process,’ but if he got distracted, there might never be anything to show for this brief moment of responsibility.
Suddenly, Iljek’s hand shot out, and a splash of colour appeared in the air in response to the movement and angle of the baton. A quick twist and the shape took on a metallic sheen. With gyrations almost as complicated and random as the image itself, Iljek soon produced a visual cacophony that closely resembled the regurgitated spleen of a Geritenal llama. The artist grinned and stuck the baton into an empty beer can, chucking the contraption through the recording area with a final flourish, creating a puce-gold splotch through the center of the image. “There,” he said triumphantly, putting his hands on his hips and then flopping back into his chair. “How d’ya like that, huh?”
Elarii smiled with pure relief. “It’s perfect, Iljek. True creative vision.” She moved forward and carefully disentangled the baton, turning it off and setting the recorder to freeze.
Iljek grinned like a madman and resettled his underwear over his skinny artist’s stomach. “Now where’s the remote…? Ah, thanks.” He took the device as Elarii offered it and hit the dish back on, settling in with a happy sigh.
Elarii shook her head and carried the recorder away, leaving Iljek to his holo-women and ‘creative juices.’ She locked herself in her office, a room used only once every few months–if she was lucky–and placed the recorder on her desk. When she pressed the button, Iljek’s creation sprang to life, in all its three-dimensional glory. Elarii frowned at it for a few moments, deeply considering the swirls and splotches arrayed chaotically across the canvas of air. Everything was still.
At last, her eyes brightened, and Elarii picked up a stylus and turned on her computer monitor. Across the top of her screen, she scrawled Inverted Innocence–the suffering of the Ternean meteor disaster. Sinking back in her desk chair, Elarii smirked. This one would be easy; the art institutions of the galaxy would have her heart-wrenching interpretation of Iljek’s scribbles within the next forty-eight hours. She’d have to clear her schedule to accommodate the coming lecture circuit.
Stylus in hand, Elarii bent over her tablet, scribbling away. Now the real art could begin.
Herbert Mumble was proud of his house. He had every right to be: he’d spent nearly a decade compiling it. Most of his friends had bought discount single-structure mansions in the Midwest and used a portal to get to work, but Herbert wasn’t the type to buy pre-fab. Herbert was an artist.
It started as a studio in Key West, which was expanded to a one-bedroom when he purchased another studio in Calcutta. While his coworkers were deciding on whether they wanted one or two stories, Herbert Mumble was choosing continents. Now, nearly completed, his house spanned twelve countries and existed in every hemisphere, providing views that included the Eiffel Tower, the shores of Thailand, and the vast expanses of the still-rural Australian Outback. Herbert took pleasure in hosting business dinners in Beijing, or entertaining dates on his balcony in Madrid.
All of the research had been done on his own time: Herbert didn’t hire an agent. He learned the patterns of the market and bought when the time was right, and because of his patience, the house was worth nearly twice what he paid for it. Still, it hadn’t come cheaply.
“It’s beautiful,” a friend said when she came over for dinner. She’d been standing at the window of the living room, looking out over Brazilian beach. “But why didn’t you just install viewscreens?”
Herbert leaned past her and grabbed the edge of the window, pulling up. A gust of hot air pushed through the crack, carrying with it the crisp, salty smell of the sea. “Feel that?” he asked with a smile. “You can’t buy weather like that. Somewhere, it’s always sunny and it’s always summer. The trick is to find that place and build a house.”
Look at you. Take a good look at yourselves. Five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot. You’re not victims, you’re not rookies. You’re human and each and every last bloody one of you is going to let the enemy know that.
You hear them outside the hull? Hear them knocking on our doorstep? You saw the red sirens going off in the corridors on your way down here? You can see their fighters gliding past on the scanners, blasting some other cadet off the roster. Some of you might think they are winning. Some of you might have heard that this is a line of defense; that we are expendable in the defense of our home planet.
Well that’s bureaucratic bullshit. I am here to tell you that no matter what the bloody hell you have heard from the suits and the stars, you are not going out there today to defend. No, cadets, I want you to suit up and go win this fucking war.
For too long we have been plagued by their kind. So many men and women have died in service of United Earth that we can barely bury our dead on their home soil. Command wants me to tell you to defend and to stand ground in honor of our species until God takes you all.
A man once said, “War is not about who survives the longest. It is about how many of the enemy you kill.” We did not go to war to defend, cadets. No, we came here in this carrier to show those slimy bastards that we are fire. We are the fire!
I’ve seen that fear in your eyes before. It’s a gift. That’s right, you have a gift in that fear of yours, soldiers; a gift that you must give to the enemy. Take it with you, hold it tight and don’t you dare let it get away. Give it back to them and make them feel what we have felt over the past decade.
Do not doubt and do not waver. Do not wait for mercy that will not come and in turn do not give that which will not be returned to you. Cadets, suit up.
And rememberâ€¦ for honor, for Earth, and for man!
For a successful space pirate, Valentine Arvossio did not seem particularly intimidating at first glance. His eyes, though smug, were a rather peculiar shade of grey that in another context might have been referred to as “soothing.” It was the sort of grey that one used for office complexes and prison lavatories to keep the inmates subdued. His wiry frame was somewhat lacking in the “mighty thews” department, and his crew had mentioned to him on at least three nonconsecutive occasions that the long, flowing red hair was less “pirate” and more “dilettante.” Valentine ignored these complaints.
On the rare occasions when he could be persuaded to comment on his intimidation factor, Valentine insisted that anyone who was named after a type of gun could be nothing less than fearsome. If pressed, he might be magnanimous enough to tell the story of his conception, which occurred shortly after his mother shot his father with a Valentine .45 SXG handgun–precisely the same gun that Valentine kept strapped to his hip waking and sleeping. He claimed that he planned to find true love in the same way his mother had. It was a fantastic story, and all came away from the telling convinced of this fact, if not of the tale’s veracity.
Valentine had most recently related it to his latest mark, a mild-mannered engineer who owned a ship that Valentine would dearly love to get his hands on. The ship itself wasn’t muchâ€”without an engineer like Claude on board to give her tender, loving care, the thing wouldn’t make it through hyperspace, let alone a battleâ€”but on board was something Valentine coveted. Bounty on empathic species was high, and the pirate had no doubt that such a creature would sell for even higher on the black market. His informants had managed to locate one of them on board Claude’s ship, and Valentine was not about to let a jewel like that get away. The fact that Claude also happened to be the most delectable morsel that Valentine had set eyes on in some time was naturally beside the point.
Unfortunately, at their last meeting, Claude had been far too miserable to fully appreciate the intimidation Valentine intended to work upon him. The morose engineer had been hunched over Retichken vodka in a bar that Valentine happened to frequent, and once he’d gotten over his shock, the pirate had swooped inâ€”to no avail. In his semi-drunken state, Claude had found the story “romantic” and “heartwarming” and had thanked Valentine with a drunken pat on the back that the latter had been too stunned to enjoy. As he reclined in the central chair on his own ship’s bridge, the pirate’s full lips curled into a frown that came off as more of a pout. He was still cursing himself for letting Claude get away that night, in every sense of the word. At the very least, it had been highly unprofessional.
For the three days since his unexpected contact with the engineer, Valentine’s crew had been scouring space for the plucky little ship to no avail. His bridge officers had made themselves scarce, knowing that it was best to stay out of the captain’s way when his will had been thwarted. For all Claude’s drunken amiability, he was a top-notch engineer, and had somehow managed to elude even Valentine’s sophisticated tracking methods. After punching up a series of patiently blank scan screens, Valentine heaved a sigh and pushed his display away. At this rate, he wouldn’t find Claude again until the man once again decided he was in need of a drink. His first officer had sarcastically suggested to the pirate captain that next time he encountered Claude, he should use his ‘manly wiles’ on the quarry. Valentine had dismissed her in annoyance. “Next time,” he muttered to himself, “I’ll just drug the booze.”