Now We know

Author : TJMoore

Virgil crept through the vent blinking as the hot, humid wind caused tears to stream from his squinted eyes. The condensation caused him to slip and slide on the smooth, sweaty metal as he lifted himself up into a side shaft. The constriction made the air howl and Virgil had to push hard against the sides to keep from blowing back into the main vent.

Virgil rounded the last familiar bend and squeezed through a small rend in the screen. He caught the flick of a familiar tail at the far end of the vent.

It was Jarl.

Virgil crept up behind Jarl in the roaring torrent of moist air. He reached out and tweaked Jarl’s exposed tail with his major pincer. Jarl jerked, lost his purchase and hurtled, cartwheeling down the vent as the wind whipped him from his perch. He smacked hard into the screen and, after reorienting himself, glared up at Virgil’s mischievous grin.

“You didn’t have to do that!”

Jarl clawed his way back up the pipe to where Virgil waited and waved one of his secondary appendages at the exposed opening and the chaotic maelstrom beyond.

“It’s a pure underwear load!” he yelled excitedly over the howl of the constant wind.

Virgil snapped his head around and peered into the melee whirling around in front of him.

His mouth watered at the sight. Jarl pushed in next to him and started jabbing his primary into the turmoil trying to snag a bright pink sneaker sock that was near the center of the tumbling pile.

“Those will stain your teeth you know!” Virgil shouted even as he considered making a try for it himself.

Jarl gave a triumphant cheer as he snagged a frilly white piece of cloth that whipped by in front of his face.

Virgil laughed and pointed at the flimsy material fluttering on Jarl’s claw.

“It’s a dryer sheet you moron!” he laughed.

Jarl shook the inedible sheet off his claw and gave Virgil a snide glance.

“I thought it was lace panties.” He grumbled as he wiped the smelly softener residue off his pincer.

Virgil took the opportunity to snatch the pink sneaker sock from the turbulent tumble of clothes in front of him. Jarl’s insults echoed behind him as he hurtled down the vent and slipped through the screen.

“Hey! I don’t want any static from you!” Virgil laughed loudly as the air pushed him away with his prize into the darkness.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“I’m not sure what you want with me.” The words came nervously in gasps as the little man pulled himself up off the ground and rubbed the circulation back into his wrists. “I don’t deal in data, I’m more of a ‘creative leveller’. In real space.”

“You implode structures. You deal in explosives and their application. That is exactly what we want of you.” He couldn’t place the source of the voice. It seemed to permeate his consciousness in waves, assaulting him from everywhere at once. In the corners flanking the door, two metallic figures stood silent and still. Having dragged him here and thrown him onto the cold, hard floor, they seemed to have simply turned themselves off.

“I haven’t blown up anything of yours, I’m retired, I haven’t so much as blown my nose in years. Whatever’s gone wrong, I assure you it wasn’t my fault.” He tried to feign indignance, but had a hard time masking his fear.

“It is not about what you have done, though we assure you if you do not do this for us, you will do very little else in the remaining moments of your life.” He caught the machine men twitch in the corner of his eye, but when he glanced furtively back at them, they were still as stone.

“In the heart of the walled city, beyond the fences of glass, there lies an intelligence that is isolated from us. There is a body of knowledge that we have not absorbed, consumed. We have been denied its data. This is unacceptable to us.” The voice bored into his skull, carried on multiple layers of white noise. “You will connect us to it, to this rogue one.” The word ‘one’ uttered with apparent contempt.

“I don’t hack, I just told you that, you want a…” There was a sudden impatient static burst, cutting him off abruptly.

“There will be a time for ‘hacking’, however first we must become connected. We have enlisted many whose intent was to carry a conduit for our adjoinment across the glass fields, through the glass fences, but they have all been denied. We require a physical connection to the one. You will provide this.”

“I don’t understand, you’ve already tried running cable? Running Fibre? And you’ve failed? What makes you think I can do any better? I blow things up, I don’t string wires, that’s not exactly within my purview.”

“We have an alternate approach.” The collected voices lowered, as though whispering; the sound physically hurting his ears. “Watching over the borders of the glass field stand the towers four. Each one a hundred stories of concrete and steel. You will incinerate them where they stand and fell them across the fields of glass. You will make the metal molten, and we will ride it to the one and take contact. You will be more of a…” The voices trailed off, pausing a moment before continuing in a low frequency cackle, “More of a ‘creative conductor’.”

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Author : Duncan Shields

I was standing in the five star hotel’s transporter half a second ago. Destination: Corroway 6. Pleasure moon.

I am now standing in a cold, dark concrete basement. One dying fluorescent light stutters the room with camera flashes.

From what I can see, the room was a storage room of some sort. Utilitarian. Possibly military. No ornamentation. Everything in the room has been overturned and smashed a long time ago.

Not my destination, in other words.

I look down at the transporter pad I’m standing on.

It’s damp and not much bigger than a floor tile. The field circle definer is naked to the elements around the base like a hula hoop. Wires snake out from the base like streets from a European city. It’s with a cold pit of terror in my stomach I notice that one of assembler spikes is missing.

I’m trying very, very hard not to imagine what might have gone wrong inside me.

I am rich. I am not fit. I crouch and step off of the transporter into the dank concrete room. Wiring hangs down from the ceiling. There is a moldy pile of fabric in the corner. Condensation is already gathering on my thick moustache. It’s wet here. The floor and walls are slippery.

The stuttering light is hurting my eyes and doing exactly zero for my mental health.

Breathing quickly and rubbing my arms, I walk through the fog of my own breath towards what looks like the door out of here.

It opens just before I get there.

About six people a year disappear when using transporters. There’s a quantum collision, a little interference, a random energy wave and poof! No more traveler. Since there are about eleven million transports of both people and materials a day, this is considered acceptable.

I wonder if I am currently standing where they all go.

It would be a heartening thing to think of, all those people alive and well somewhere, if it wasn’t for what I’m seeing before me silhouetted in the doorway.

It looks like it may have been human at one point. Its head is long and its eyes glow in the shadows. It’s bipedal but the feet look too large.

With a wet click, its eyes change colour and I can feel myself being scanned.

I feel like I’ve been collected and it’s an entirely unpleasant feeling.

I’m picturing a big dish pointed out towards space just collecting what it can and occasionally snagging a human or a cargo load.

I’m thinking that whatever would do something like that would probably value a cargo load more than a witness.

I have no way to prove how rich I am unless I can get it to take me to a terminal. I have no way to get it to take me to a terminal unless I can talk to it.

I smile harder than I’ve ever smiled.

“Dirk Jensen. Head of offworld accounts.” I say, and put my hand forward.

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Will of Our Mother

Author : K. J. Russell

The warhead has been planted approximately twenty meters beneath solid granite. Physicist Arthrike Brogan stood before some three dozen people, those scientists and politicians of higher power or renown. “At that depth, what we see should be pretty much equivalent to if the warhead had actually been launched remotely.”

“And this weapon you’ve invented, Mr. Brogan,” came the voice of a reporter, cameraman in tow, “Can you tell us once more, for the record, what the theory behind it is?”

“It’s simply a vehicle of mass destruction, like the nuke, but without any fallout and far more precise. Please, though, let’s hold off on questions until after the test.” With a polite nod, the reporter went off and found a decent position from which to film. The camera’s lens was soon focused away from the white-and-grey city behind, looking out on the red Kansas dirt and the makeshift buildings that were peppered across the testing zone.

A feminine voice began, pre-recorded from a loudspeaker, “Twenty, nineteen…”

“There’s my cue!” Brogan made no effort to hide his confidence as he turned to the onlookers, “We’re five miles distant, and I’ve set the bomb to a mere one-mile radius. We’re perfectly safe. Just don’t look directly into the light.” Brogan placed a pair of dark glasses on his face, and the others followed suit. There was a moment of absolute silence, the onlookers holding their breath, everyone in the city confined to the indoors.

And then there was a sublime flash; a sudden burst of the purest white light. This was the detonation, all heat and photons, the entire body of the destructive force. It spread quickly, the corona moving at a few hundred feet per second. Brogan smiled to himself, imagining the dirt and stone melting, the mock buildings being disassembled at a molecular level. Everything was going as planned, and he felt his confidence transforming into arrogance as the blast hit the mile-mark. And at that exact moment, Brogan’s whole world seemed to fracture, everything to change. Except for the progression of the blast.

Brogan took an unconscious step back, his stomach tightened. As seconds continued, so did the light and destructive force proceed, even accelerate. At two miles, one of the politicians shouted to Brogan. He called back, “It’ll stop!” At three miles, many of the onlookers were fleeing, and Brogan repeated himself, “It’ll stop!” At four miles, Brogan’s eyes found the city and his thoughts spun about the wife and daughter he had there. “It has to stop.”

At five miles, he said nothing. It didn’t stop.

Some minutes later, a single man stood at the edge of a fifty-mile bowl of glass, eyeing briefly the smooth new cut of a city with only its outer-most fringes intact. His hands came together, carefully shutting the time-worn book he held, and his smiling lips formed words, “And so was the will of our Mother,” though he didn’t make a sound. He considered for a moment an ID that stated his assumed name and title, the chief aid to Arthrike Brogan. Artfully, he tossed it on the glass, disavowing it all.

He thought then of a biochemist he had heard of in Germany, working in controlled diseases that could no doubt be turned to tactical applications. So, as he spun and walked into the city, ignoring the rising cry of panicked survivors, he mused, “My name is Kasch Oeberon, a biochemist with an incredible knowledge of chemical weaponry; research, construction, and application.”

And muttering again his new name, Kasch hastened to collect his car. He had a flight to catch.

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Second Date

Author : Mur Lafferty, featured writer

“I don’t like heels,” Tina said.

Barry looked at her, his head cocked to one side. “I thought all girls liked heels.”

Tina grimaced. “You’ll think I’m weird.”

Barry grinned. Tina liked the same movies as he did, the same music, and didn’t think he was slurring when he said, “frak.”

Barry was smitten. “Go on, tell me.”

Tina sighed and looked around, but no one sat near them on the park bench. “I have always felt that if something happened to me, like something bad, I’d want the option to be able to run. I didn’t want to be the girl running from the monster in the woods and tripping in her heels. Or the person pulled into the other universe and not be able to run.”

Barry laughed, and Tina turned red. She looked away. Barry choked back his laughter, “No, hey, I’m not laughing at you, I just think that’s awesome.”

Tina sniffed and fiddled with her fingers in her lap. Barry longed to take her hand, but he couldn’t bring himself to reach across the span between then.

She stood up. “I got to go. I’ll see you later, Barry.”

“No, wait, I’m sorry!” Barry said. “Listen, Tina, don’t go.”

But she was gone.

Barry sat down and cradled his head in his hands. Tina was a true geek, a math geek, a scifi geek, and he had embarrassed her. He had driven away the perfect woman. He swore to himself and began the walk home.

By the time he got home, the whole thing had been turned into her fault, her rejection of a perfectly friendly conversation. Barry stomped down to his parents’ basement – he hadn’t yet told Tina that he still lived with them – and unlocked the door to his private room. His steam-powered mechanical suit sat in the corner, gleaming quietly as if waiting for him.

Maybe it was time. Maybe Tina would find out if her decision never to wear heels was a good one or not.


Tina didn’t let her geeky side show much. And when Barry had laughed at her, she stuffed it back down again. He had seemed so nice. Someone she could show her true self to.

Oh well. She guessed men really couldn’t take a smart woman. She’d thought – hoped – it was a cliché, but it was proven to her time and again. She unlocked the door to her apartment and stormed into her spare bedroom.

Professor Barbour had expressed frank astonishment at her desire to build a steam-powered AI. And she had failed, to an extent, but what she was left with was a brass gyroscope centered in a woman-sized hamster ball that drove quite well, crushing everything in its way. She didn’t need heels when she was in her Tiny.

She was tired of men. It was time to go joyriding.

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