The Blessing

Author : Viktor Kuprin

The priest’s pointed helmet hung at his side. His vac suit was completely black.

Engineer Beketov didn’t get it. It was too strange, too … medieval. The holy man waved the crucifix over the salt package and recited a prayer. Beketov had been told the salt was for cooking a lamb stew that would be shared by all the dockyard’s techs and engineers.

“Father Toyan, it’s time for us to EVA. Let’s go.” The priest nodded and followed to the airlock.

“How far did you travel to get here?” Beketov asked.

“From Earth, from the Great Ararat Monastery, to be exact.” The priest’s voice was reedy, and his beard bunched against the visor of his strangely-shaped helmet.

“I’ve never been to Earth,” said the engineer. “Father, I’m curious, why is your helmet peaked on top? When other priests visit the station, their helmets aren’t like yours.”

“Priests who are not married wear these, my son. The peak symbolizes our dedication to the Lord,” he explained.

The airlock hatch slid open, and the bright light of Dustri’s star made their visors darken. They slowly moved toward the dockyards, their boots’ magnetic soles clicking with each step.

“How long have you been working in the yards, my son?”

Beketov laughed. “Close to a year, but it seems like forever, Father. The one we’re going to was just an empty shell with I first arrived. Look at him now.”

One of the dumb servo-mechanoids rumbled toward them. Beketov gently grasped the priest’s shoulder to stop him from entering its path. It wobbled past with no sign of notice.

“Father Toyan, no disrespect, but how do you feel about this? Coming all the way out here to, well, to bless …”

“An engine of destruction? Actually, the church’s blessing is for the crew, to humbly ask God for their safety and protection, and that they will always be in His grace.”

As they walked, Beketov watched the priest’s gold crucifix sparkle in the starlight. A transparent pouch filled with small plastic globlets hung from his belt: Holy Water for the ceremony.

“Here he is, Father.” Beketov could see people watching them, crowded together in the observation blisters and viewports surrounding the dockyard.

“Are you a believer, Engineer Beketov?” the priest asked.

“I don’t know, Father. Sometimes it’s hard not to be when you look up and see all this,” the engineer said, pointing toward the stars. “I do know that a man needs all the help he can get, right?”

Toyan nodded. “Fair enough. Now, if you will, let us pray.” The priest keyed the comm controls on his suit sleeve and began to broadcast.

“Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people. Guide, I pray, all the worlds and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace … ”

The priest made the sign of the cross in front of the new starship’s gigantic gray hull.

Staying Home

Author : Eric Willey

The Colony Ship New Eden moved closer to the world that was her destination as the last pilot opened the door to a murderer.

“You can’t kill me. No one else to fly this crate.” He turned and walked over to his personal kitchenette, poured two cups of coffee and didn’t bother to look back at the gun before asking, “Cream, sugar?”

“None for me, thanks. And you’re overestimating your value to this mission.” The killer moved into the room and kept the gun centered on his target as the pressurized door automatically slid shut.

He leaned against the counter and blew gently on the coffee before taking a sip. “No. Stevens fell down the stairwell and broke his neck. Hodgkins had that rather unfortunate suicide business. And Yates isn’t fully trained. Which makes me the only one who can navigate this boat to and then land on New Providence Five.”

“Wrong again. Stevens was pushed down a stairwell and had his neck broken. Hodgkins was strung up from that plasma conduit after he died. And Mister Yates is currently in the simulator, doing a very credible impersonation of a man with two gunshot wounds to the head. You died the second you opened the door.”

“Wait…” They both winced as the gun exploded in the small room. A second sound cut through the ringing in their ears as the coffee cup hit the floor. He walked across the room and put the remaining four bullets into the body of the last pilot, tossed his gun on the corpse and walked out. He wouldn’t need the gun anymore anyway.

There would be an investigation of course, for the sake of appearances. No one would ever figure out he did it, because it was something they all wanted to do. With the last pilot dead, they could all breathe a sigh of relief. Their great grandparents had set out for New Providence Five over 104 years ago, looking for a new world. They died long ago, of old age and the myriad ailments that came with time.

Their descendants had never known a life other than the one they had aboard the colony ship. A life where the ship took care of everything, where there was no need to harvest crops or dig ditches. He went back to his room, washed his hands, laid down on his bed and looked at the titanium sky above him until he fell asleep.

The New Eden slipped silently through space without a destination. The crew were already home, and they weren’t going anywhere.

60 Seconds

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Levon regarded the timepiece in his hand carefully, balanced on an open palm as if weighing it, he frowned, then spoke. “Sixty seconds,” his words brought nods and murmurs of agreement from the small crowd gathered around him, the sounds rolling away to be swallowed by the blackness of the parking garage where they’d chosen to gather on this night.

He carefully wound the outer ring of the watch face one complete turn, feeling rather than hearing it click through the seconds. He paused a moment, letting the tension in the crowd steep, feeling the weight of their gaze upon him. With a practiced motion he depressed the crown and rolled it forward slowly, deliberately, until it could be wound no more. He could feel the energy of the tightly compressed spring, quivering with anticipation within the case in his hand.  “Ready?” it was unclear if the question was directed at the crowd, or himself, but there were a few more hurried exchanges, then a nod from Charlie and two thumbs up.

It was time.

Levon made sure the watch’s tether was wrapped tightly around his wrist, then plunged both hands into the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie. His eyes clenched tightly shut, he tugged the crown back into position, setting the works of the timepiece into motion.  He could feel the energy flow through him as the tight coil began to unwind. He reeled for only a moment with the dizzying nausea that always accompanied the ticking of this particular clock. He knew better than to open his eyes, he’d made that mistake only once, and had waking nightmares for months after. The human mind was not meant to see some things.

The momentary yaw and pitch ceased, and new sounds and sensations leaked into his consciousness, begging him to open his eyes. Disoriented, he felt his feet sink slightly into wet sand, and then the air was suddenly alive with staccato snapping as it blistered and split all around him.  He froze as men in uniforms sprinted past him up a beach, only to stagger back and fall in a relentless hailstorm of bullets.  A sudden impact from behind knocked him to the ground, and winded he could barely hear the voice screaming as a figure clambered over him “Get your bloody head down, or you’ll get it shot…” the remainder of the warning was torn violently away in a barrage of gunfire.

Levon curled up on the ground, trying to disappear into the blood slick sand. ’55, 54, 53…’ A boy, no older than he fell backwards to land upside down and face to face with him, his eyes filled with the terror that comes with one’s last seconds ’50, 49, 48…’ The stench of immediate death burned his nose, the screams of the dying assailed his ears mercilessly. All around the frantic yelling of men trying hopelessly to stay alive. Levon squeezed his eyes shut tight, but could do nothing to block out the image of this dying boys eyes, bright, blue, vacant. His ears offered no protection against the deafening audible horror all around. ’40, 39, 38…’ He was sure that he was going to die here, on a beach he had no reason to see, in a time in which he didn’t belong, and for what? A couple of hundred dollars and a brief rush of adrenaline? ’25, 24, 23…’ This was pure insanity, every other time had been fields of flowers, landscapes painted in snow. He’d never seen a soul before. ’18, 17, 16…’ Levon opened his eyes, the boy still staring, lifeless, the color in his eyes having run out. The dirt coated face and the bloodied lips etched themselves into Levon’s mind, forming a caricature of a life blown apart, and those eyes… ’13, 12, 11…’ Reflexively he squeezed his own eyes shut again, ‘5, 4, 3…’ this boy just one of many that had died so Levon could have the freedoms he’d enjoyed his whole life. And this was the best he could do, using stolen tools and mocking these sacrifices for beer money?

He did his best to compose himself as he snapped back into the crowded parking space. Half hearted praise, the sounds of money begrudgingly changing hands, these things leaked in muted tones into his consciousness. These noises were meant for another Levon, the Levon he’d left on a beach in some other time. He knew there were things the human mind was not meant to see, for once seen one could never look at the world in the same way again.

“Double or nothing,”  Charlie’s voice slipped in through the haze, “double or nothing?”.

“No,” his voice came from somewhere else too, “no, I’m done, I’m all out of time.”

The Creature Under the Bridge

Author : JR Blackwell, Staff Writer

“I don’t want to go to the United States.” Wilkin slumped, his head falling into the cradle of his arms. His lawyer, the Silver Cyborg, as he liked to be called, put a heavy sympathetic hand on Wilkin’s shoulder.

“Sorry Willi, I wish I could appeal this again, but it looks like they’ve made a final decision on your case.”

Willi looked up from the metal table. The skin around his eyes was red and puffy. “Tell them that if I have to leave the European Union, I will kill myself.”

The Silver Cyborg shook his gleaming head. “Willi, don’t be rash.”

“Have you heard what they do over there? They eat animals and kill each other for diesel fuels.”

“They have a different way of living. I’m sure you’ll become accustomed to it.”

“This is cruel and unusual punishment! They can’t do this to me!”

“Willi, calm down.”

“God, you were my lawyer. You were supposed to keep this from happening!”

“Wilkin, and I don’t want to be too forward here, but I’ve been curious. What did you think would happen when you started leaving those abusive messages all over the network? What did you think would happen when you were sending those e-mails to those girls or pretending to be a girl yourself and taking people’s money? What, honestly, did you think would happen?”

“I don’t know. I thought, maybe, I would get fine or something, a net ticket or whatever.”

“Willi, they’ve been deporting Trolls to the U.S. for fifteen years now. I don’t know why you thought you could get away with this.”

When Willi heard the word Troll, it made him slump in his chair. “It just got ahead of me. I would see something and I just couldn’t help but comment, track the poster down and really get to them, I don’t know. I couldn’t help myself.” Willi’s face brightened. “Say, do you think you could push this off as a psychological problem? We could tell people I’ve got an addictive personality. You think you could appeal on that?”

The Silver Cyborg picked up his data pad, which was modified to have a silver surface that matched the Cyborg’s own skin. “Honestly? No.”

Willi pounded the table. “What if I have a nervous breakdown?”

The Silver Cyborg knocked on the wall, signaling the guard to unlock the hidden door. “Have a nice flight to the U.S. Willi. I hope people enjoy your flames over there.”

Winged Victory

Author : Clifford Hebner

They met at the Imperial Academy, her slight and boyish, the youngest woman ever admitted, and he old, with the face and toothy grin of an ape. They were outcast, too young or old to be useful to anyone, but by the time she accepted her first commission, serving as ensign on a tiny scout ship, their legend had already started to grow. When she was promoted to the Captaincy, and given her own battleship, it was his ancient Admiral’s hands that pressed the pin to her breast and drew the ceremonial drops of blood, said to seal sailor to Emperor forever.

History, in its wisdom, called the rebellion inevitable, the Emperor’s arrogance and madness driving fully a third of his armies from him in desperate revolt. The rebels, outmanned and outgunned, were hounded across space, until, at a worthless piece of rock called Martin’s Folly, the ape-faced former Admiral marshaled what forces were left to stand and die. The Imperial fleet came on and the first thousand ships flamed and died in the embrace of minefields and artillery orbiting The Folly; but she, who had been both student and lover, held her third back, and when they fell from hyperspace and in among the rebel ships it was with the whispered voice of Death.

In the end the Admiral, his ship crippled and burning, ordered all power to the engines and forward shields, seeking to lance the flagship, and it was without the thought of tears that she maneuvered around and sent him to a death in fire and a grave in the void they both loved so deeply.

She gathered up what ships were left to her, after the old ape had ambushed them so mercilessly, and limped on home with her men singing celebration and feast-day songs. She sailed through an infinity of stars and into the heartworld of a grateful empire, and then through an ocean of courtiers to the Emperor’s audience chamber. He, in his lust, and his madness, came down from his throne, where no man could kill him, and sought her embrace; and she, with her lover’s ugly face first in her mind, drove seven inches of the finest Imperial steel into his blackened heart, stilling it on the spot.

She left the Emperor on the floor, dead and discarded, and with him all the names and honorifics she had ever been given. She walked back to her ship, and the armies followed her once more, back out into the infinite ocean, always seeking new conquest. From that day forward she was called only Victory, and her name was battle-hymn and funeral-hymn on the lips of her men, who loved her- but she, who had killed both her lover and her God-King? Haunted by the memory of an ape-faced old Admiral, she loved nothing at all.