The Jump

Author : Viktor Kuprin

Jump drive, hyper drive, quantum drive, there were many names for the exotic-vacuum engine that propelled our ships to the stars. In the CIS Space Force, we called it the Super-Space Drive, the S-Drive.

Thirty of us lined up outside the training ship’s control-simulator bay, everyone wearing light suits, helmets clipped to our belts. Only a few in our squad had experienced a jump. The rest of us were simultaneously excited and terrified. A jump can affect people in different ways, not all of them pleasant. Anyone who couldn’t take it would be immediately washed out of the astrogator program and reassigned to a non-flying career track.

Someone tugged at my suit’s collar ring. It was Sturms, the cocky, muscle-bound creep who always harassed me when I pulled dorm-guard duty.

“Hey, Kreminov, loan me 500 rubles,” he demanded.

“Nichevo. Forget it, Sturms. You got paid last week just like me.”

He snarled and grabbed my collar ring, pulling me face-to-face to him. “You lousy lickspittle! I’ll be looking for you later!”

Squad leader Medvedkov shoved Sturms away from me. “Belay that or you’ll answer to me!”

He knew better than to cross Medvedkov, but Sturms had to get the last word: “I can’t wait to see you two during jump. You’ll be pissing in your light suits. You’ll scrape paint off junk ships while I’m flying starcruisers!”

Chimes sounded, and the training bay hatch opened. We marched to our stations, each console fitted with a dark-turquoise astrogator-control simulator that we would use to mimic the jump’s setup and execution. I read the destination preset: Epsilon Eridani; Distance: 10.5 light years. I plugged my suit into the flight seat, sealed my helmet, and started my pre-jump checklist. The vacuum alarm blared as the bay’s atmosphere started venting away. No military ship maneuvers when pressurized. Neither did our training ship.

In nine minutes I had my plot. I entered the solution and keyed my console. A green-light reply returned from the instructor. Yes! I was one of the first to finish.

I could feel the ship’s rumbling vibrations as we accelerated. The initial energy that triggers a jump comes from the conventional engines running up at full power, and the greater the acceleration, the less veer during transition.

Then I felt the giddy exhilaration I’d heard about. I inhaled deeply and the walls of the training bay contracted and expanded with my breath!

I began to see the electro-photonic glow around my body, around the other cadets. Next to me, Medvedkov held out his hand. I saw Kirlian sparks leap between our fingertips when I touched him. We laughed hysterically.

On the bay’s huge televisor, the stars began turning blue. Then came the long, terrifying shot-out-of-a-cannon rush of final transition. The screen showed a black void dotted with slowly tumbling colored orbs.

I felt something slam into the deck behind me. It was Sturms, curled up like a hedgehog, his eyes wide, crazy with terror.

Medvedkov keyed his helmet-mike: “Welcome to S-Space.”

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

David closed the door and slid the deadbolt, tossing his keys on the hall stand. He crossed the small parlor to the sideboard, and as he reached for a tumbler and the bottle of Jamesons, he was startled by a voice from the corner.

“I’d prefer you didn’t do that,” a deep, tired sound from the direction of his overstuffed armchair.

David’s hand shook, gripping the glass tightly as he turned to where the man sat hidden in the shadows. “Who the bloody hell are you, and what are you doing in my flat?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid you wouldn’t have let me in if I’d asked.” The figure produced a cigarette from a jacket pocket, and tearing the ignitor open drew deeply before exhaling slowly into the room. “I’m in collections David, and I’m afraid you’re in possession of something that’s no longer yours to keep.”

“Jesus, are you here about the television? I’m only a few days past, and if your lot kept better shop hours, I’d have been able to pay it last week when I was in the city. Here, you can take the cheque and shove off.” He started back towards the hall, but stopped when it was apparent the figure wasn’t moving.

“This isn’t about the television, it’s that body you’re wearing, I’ve come to take it back.”

David stood still, not sure he’d just heard correctly. “You’ve come for what?”

“Do you remember the company you owned, the money you made, before the accident, before…” he paused, waving around the now smokey room, “before this place? Do you remember when you acquired that body?”

Far more words formed in Davids head than made it to his lips. He could only stammer “accident? company?”

“You were quite a powerful man in your day I understand, but you had that thing for experimental aircraft, so your company had you heavily insured,” the cigarette glowed brightly as he inhaled, “and that insurance policy bought you out, reconstituted you in that body you’re wearing now.”

David looked down reflexively, noticed that he still held the glass, and in a daze set it down on the sideboard.

“Of course the condition of the insurance was that you be disassociated with your past, which is how you wound up here. I suppose the insurance company covered the rent.”

“I don’t understand, what do you mean by ‘that body you’re wearing'”

“You see, the insurance company put your policy claim out to tender, and the winning bidder scraped up what was left from your cockpit and installed you into the body you’ve been wandering round in these last few years. The problem is that company’s gone bankrupt, and as they purchased the rights to that body from my employer, and as they never paid for it, my employer’s sent me ’round to pick it up.”

David fingered the glass, and shakily uncapped the bottle of whisky. “My employer, my insurance, won’t they cover what’s owed?” He didn’t believe what was happening, but it was beginning to seem unnervingly familiar.

“We started there, unfortunately the insurance is nearly tapped, and I’m afraid your previous employer doesn’t seem to like you that much.”

“How long have I got, and what then?”

“In a few minutes, when you’re ready, I’ll release you to the ether, and return that body to my employer. It’s not like you weren’t living on borrowed time anyways now, is it?”

David poured a healthy measure from the bottle into his glass. “I think I’ll have that drink if it’s all the same to you, at least the whisky I’m sure I’ve paid for.”

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I remember his wide dead eyes. It was like a fish had been brought back to life and told to pretend to be human. His legs and arms were folded with too many joints into the rocking chair. He slowly creaked back and forth, disturbing the dust motes in the sunlit air. He was wrapped in an old blanket that had been dipped in water. The drip of this blanket and the soft creaking of the rocking chair were the only sounds in the room.

He looked at us. His eyes held no comprehension other than the fact that they had detected movement and were checking it out.

His mouth suddenly gaped loudly open as his body remembered to breathe.

My brother and I screamed. We ran down the stairs to our room and shivered until we started laughing and making fun of each other for being so scared. It was forgotten after that.

I come back to that moment over and over in my head. It plays back in my head in perfect recall. My brother doesn’t remember it.

We had been told to never disturb Grandpa up in his room. What I remember isn’t blown out of proportion. ‘Grandpa’ wasn’t human. His eyes were the size of dinner plates and his thick smooth body had a small number of huge muscles. His head became his neck with no difference in thickness. His neck became his torso in the same way. He was a tube of strong flesh. His long arms and legs were webbed and almost snake-like with the number of joints they possessed. His long fingers were eight to a hand and webbed. He looked like an aquatic life form but he had no problem breathing air.

I remember my parents took turn bathing him about three times a day. I remember thinking that Grandpa just liked baths but now I’m wondering. That’s a lot of baths.

He died when I was eight. I remember his funeral was small and on our property. My parents died when I was twelve in a car accident. Their funeral was in a public cemetery. My brother and I were raised by my uncle. Nothing was ever said about Grandpa.

The reason I’m wondering is that in a few minutes, I’m going to go for a gold medal in Olympic swimming. I’m going to win. I am a full two seconds ahead of the world record and my competitors lag behind me by almost half a length. People are silent around me because of my freakish talent at being in the water. They are a little on edge since I passed all of their drug tests with flying colours. It’s almost unsportsmanlike of me to be beating the other guys by such lengths. I feel no shame. In fact, I’m a little worried at how little I feel these days at all.

My parents never talked about Grandpa. They’re both dead now. And I wonder.

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Author : B. Zedan

The woman on watch stood barefoot, a coil of rope slung ’round her waist. The belt at her hips carried a sheathed hunting knife, the handle carved by her mother. Below the knife, as if in magnification, swung a scarred and keen machete. In perfect balance opposite was a rotary tool, the different bits and attachments in a leather and plastic pouch beside.

Sighing, but quietly, the woman traced the outline of her mobile in its thigh holster, but didn’t remove it. The rules of watch were firm, no distractions, even if you were going crazy with curiosity about the latest translation.

She curled her toes on the crumbling concrete lip of the watchtower and pondered. Bamboo and pines dappled the sun on her hair, shaded the portable monitor screen so the live feeds played out their acts in crisp reality. The archae-translators were probably done running their finds past the council. No reason to get the village excited about what was in the crates if it turned out to be fully useless, like the cameras that didn’t use film. The ancient alchemy of developers and negatives they could make from translated literature. The cameras from just before the Fall sent the images on their own through the air to village consoles. But those earlier relics needed some sort of—thing to be both film and developer, one more incomprehensible lost piece of the ivy and blackberry enshrined broken places the villages had built their foundations on.

Maybe this crate would hold something wonderful, like the atomic batteries that powered their machines and tools. Finds like that didn’t happen often, but—

Movement in the ferns below broke her reverie. The woman brought up her spyglass in an oiled movement, searching for the source. A flicker of tails and ears caught her eye, then two deer stepped into view. Their edges blurred in the hand-ground lenses as they moved velvet jaws, grazing.

She relaxed. It wasn’t the season for bears, but the creatures seemed to like the villages and they were a growing threat.

Soft footsteps rang up the tower’s stairs. Without a word the woman handed the spyglass to her relief and started down, almost skipping with excitement. A voice echoed after her,

“You won’t believe what they found!”

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Quality Time

Author : Peter Carenza

It was a special day; not merely because Bobby opened his eyes to an absolutely picture-perfect sunny surprise straight out of a travel brochure, but because he had been waiting for today for a long, long time. Rubbing the sleepy crust from his eyes, he swung his feet out of bed and ran nose first into a wall of sensory pleasure – the scent of still-sizzling bacon and eggs, browning toast, and Lord knows what else his parents might have conjured before dawn’s eruption.

Taking that as his cue, he jumped up, grabbed a clean shirt, and bounced out the bedroom door, practically fllinging himself down the stairs.

“Good morning, Bobby!” exclaimed Mom, always the first to spot things.

Dad looked up from his newspaper and grinned. Winking knowingly, he motioned to the hot food simmering on the stove, he said, “Help yourself, son. It’s your day! We’re gonna spend some quality time together!”

And of all days, this one was shaping up to be the most perfect.

It was planned for months, a chance for Bobby and his parents to bond, to spend some quality time together. For once, Bobby was asked what he would like to do, where he would like to go… it was as selfless a gift as he could have ever received, and though it happened only once every six months or so, it made him feel valuable, loved.

After a most scrumptious breakfast, one during which Bobby thoroughly stuffed himself, he scampered upstairs to get ready to go. He was pleasantly surprised, though it was typical of his Mom on special days like this, to find a brand new set of clothes beside his bed. Ecstatic, he slipped into his new clothes, stormed down the stairs just as his parents were ready to walk out the door — and so the day began.

This frame in Bobby’s scrapbook, this 24-hour spectacular, was better than any previous special days in his life. It was as if all the most pleasurable activities in a lifetime were crammed into a compressed capsule of time and space, and Bobby existed at its very center. Amusement parks… miniature golf… sumptuous meals…. Yet, like the persistent lap of the ocean waves against the glistening beach sand, all things in time and space ebbed and flowed. And like the deceptively sturdy-looking sand castle Bobby built that day at low tide, all things must soon pass. As the sun settled lower against the infinite horizon, the waves grew closer and closer to the shore and etched larger and larger pieces from the structure, until it finally collapsed.

Bobby heard his parents calling for him. He looked out at the ocean wistfully, silently sobbing under the gulls’ screeches, then turned and solemnly joined his mom on the way back to the car, his head resting against her hip, her hands stroking his sandy hair.

He was weeping uncontrollably by the time he was inside the car, his face red and swollen. He knew what was coming… the consolation, the pleading, before the syringe was pulled from the purse bearing the CDS logo… Cryogenic Disposition Services.

“Why? Why can’t you just find some other jobs or something?”

“Son, we’ve been through this before. We’re working to give you the life you never had, so that someday you and your kids won’t have to go through this.”

Tears blurring his vision, he helplessly watched as they pulled out the needle and injected him.

As he slowly faded into blackness, he wondered what special kind of life awaited him in return for this.

Quality time, indeed.

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