Author : John Kuhn
Bata stood beside Danny and held out his soda. The game blared in front of him.
Danny glanced at her.
“Thanks,” he smiled, wondering if the smile really mattered.
He took the drink and relished the sound of ice cubes clinking against the glass. His gaze reverted instantly to the game; kindness lingered in his eyes even after he’d forgotten she was there.
She was hesitant to interrupt, but this was important. Danny looked at her.
“Danny, I want to learn to paint.”
Danny’s world stopped. “What?”
The man dropped his drink on the floor.
He swore, but not about the spill.
Danny stood and squeezed Bata’s shoulder, and she slept. He lay the lithe creature in a heap in the back seat of his car and set the navigator on a course for the Ministry building.
Danny stood outside the double doors holding her in his arms. She was lighter than a human her size. A man in blue coveralls came out.
“What’s the problem, sir?” he asked.
“Desire,” Danny replied sadly.
The man nodded and seized a radio from his belt. “We have a 504 in the front,” he said.
“Take it on back to the processor,” crackled an androgynous reply.
“Can I watch?” Danny asked before the man could take her away.
The man looked him in the eyes. He had gone through a customer sensitivity update the day before.
“Sure,” he said softly.
Danny followed the man in blue coveralls through a powered gate to the back of the building, onto a cracked cement parking lot punctuated with hardscrabble weeds. The processor hummed in the center of the lot–it was a huge tin box with a conveyor belt jutting in front and a rusting bin in the back. Danny showed no emotion, lest the laborer think him an idiot.
The man in blue lay Bata on the conveyor belt and flipped a switch. The box came to life and Danny watched as the conveyor pulled her into its gnashing teeth. The titanium under her artificial skin squealed, and glinting sparks dove in arcing flight away from the destruction.
He drove home in brokenhearted silence.
“Bata,” he whispered over the soft music playing in the car.
The house welcomed him by echoing his every footstep across the cold kitchen tiles, its emptiness exaggerated by her missing standard welcome.
Author : Luke Chmelik
We were about to set in for refitting in the drydocks of Neptune when Capitaine Merroux of the Frégate Royaux Joyeuse came forth with a grand announcement. There would be a night of revelry in her private quarters, a formal ball to commemorate the engagement of le Prince du Sang Amelanchier le Troisième de Lucannes to the Lady Celène Sauvette. All officers were to attend in full dress uniform. As a lowly officier subalterne, this was a rare chance to rub shoulders with the upper echelons of la noblesse militaire, and an even rarer chance to see the beautiful Capitaine Isabelle Merroux. I simply hoped not to be dazzled into foolishness by a flagship’s complement of polished brass.
The enlisted crew had also been infected by the electric atmosphere. Notices were posted, giving an evening’s leave to all non-essential staff, and parties were rapidly organized, far from the eyes and ears of the officers. Certain elements of the rank and file, the ones with musical talent, had even been given special dispensation to perform as a chamber ensemble for the officers. The sounds of viola and harpsichord drifted through the corridors long into the night as each would-be virtuoso sought to outdo the others. It was a rare privilege for them to be allowed to dine with la belle capitaine, and they knew it may never be extended again.
At last the evening came and, resplendent in the indigo serge and gold brocade of an officer of le Marine Solaire, I arrived at the Capitaine’s quarters. The band was playing La Marseillaise, and my chest swelled with pride at what we had achieved this year: The English and Dutch routed, the Spaniards banished to the Kuiper Belt, and the inner planets brought under the control of Amelanchier le Deuxième de Lucannes, le Roi Solaire. With the love of King and country burning in my heart, I cast my eyes upon Capitaine Isabelle Merroux.
She was standing before a vast window opening out onto space, the blue orb of Neptune rising behind her, and the stars glowed like faerie fire amongst her copper curls. She wore a gown of burgundy satin, lavish beyond all compare, and white satin gloves to her shoulders. Our eyes met, across the milling crowd, and I thought I saw her smile before an eddy of fellow subalternes swept me away. I tried to find her throughout the night, but too soon it grew late, and I began to despair.
It was past midnight when I made to leave. The band had struck up a waltz, a slow, sweet song by a Hungarian named Liszt from centuries before. As I turned to go, a satin-gloved hand lit upon my shoulder, and I looked up into the face of Isabelle Merroux. She smiled at me, her face aglow, and words I shall never forget slipped from her crimson lips:
“Danser avec moi, Monsieur Beaujolais?”
Time seemed to stand still. I was enthralled, enraptured by the very closeness of her. The song neared its end, and I groaned inwardly, wishing it would go on forever. As the last melodies faded away, I heard a bustle from the doorway. Turning, I saw a cadre of enlisted men as they broke through the door. Their leader leveled a meson rifle at the Capitaine and hissed through clenched teeth, “Pour la révolution!”
Automatically I pushed Isabelle away, my hand traveling to my hip. Full dress uniform included an epée. There were many of them, and better armed, but some things are worth dying for.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Johnny pointed his broomstick “phaser rifle” at Tommy and squeezed the imaginary trigger. In his mind’s eye, the evil alien from the planet Zircon vaporized in a flash of light. But Tommy kept on running. “I got you Tommy,” he yelled. “You need to lie down and count to thirty. That’s the rule.”
“I had my force field on,” Tommy replied as he ducked behind a tree. “Besides, you missed.”
As the argument digressed into the perfunctory “Did not, did to, did not” phase, the relative quiet of the West Virginia forest was interrupted by the roar of the descent thrusters of a small spacecraft. A temporary truce was quickly agreed upon, and the six children ran to the small clearing where the spacecraft had landed. As they peeked around the trunks of the tall pine trees, they saw another child, or perhaps a small alien, walk down the exit ramp of the spaceship. Since this new “invader” was actually smaller than any of the boys, they felt reasonably safe in challenging him. (Presumably, it would be a “him,” since all warriors were male.)
“Hey, you” Johnny yelled, “stop right there!”
The small alien stopped, and looked up at the six Earthlings approaching him. He noticed that they were all carrying weapons. Apparently, he realized, the intelligence reports about the dominant species of this planet were correct. But something wasn’t right. These surroundings didn’t look like the Administrative Center of the most powerful nation on the planet. After brief consideration, he decided that it would be best if he allowed this “welcoming committee” to escort him to the head of state. “Greetings, I come in peace,” he said. “Take me to your leader.”
Johnny took a few steps forward, and leveled his phaser-stick at the alien. He proudly proclaimed “I am the President of The United Earth Alliance.” This was a true statement because Joey and Eric had both picked him to be President during their current war against the Zircon Empire.
“Really,” replied the little alien skeptically, “I was beginning to think that I had landed at the wrong location. Do you know if your magnetic North Pole shifts over time?”
“Of course it don’t shift,” Johnny snapped indignantly. “It’s always north. What do you want, alien?”
“I’m Uremeni,” replied the alien. “I am here to negotiate. We would like to acquire some of your planet’s…”
The alien didn’t get to finish his opening statement, probably because it sounded like he said “I’m your enemy,” and because Johnny knew the word ‘acquire’ meant ‘take.’ “Hold on mister,” he interrupted. “You ain’t takin’ none of our stuff. Now get back into your spaceship, and get out of here before I vaporize you.”
“I think you misunderstand our intentions, Mister President. We want this to be a friendly transaction. However, I assure you, we have the ability to take whatever we want, with or without you consent.”
“You just try it,” Johnny snapped. “We’ll blast you back to Pluto, or wherever you came from. Com’on men, let’s get ‘em.” The six boys began to charge the ship.
The alien scrambled up the ramp and secured the hatch. Bewildered, he returned to the mother ship with the disheartening news. They were hoping to trade advanced medical technology for the nuclear material stored in the Yucca Mountains. Their offer would have been quite generous, since the nuclear material was very valuable on their homeworld. But now, he concluded, they would just take it by force. How unfortunate, he lamented. He pressed the intercom button “Prepare to launch the fighters,” he ordered.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
My family became meat farmers in the spring of ’22.
Like a lot of city dwellers, we tired of the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. We sold our possessions, liquidated our assets, and bought a stake in Canada that was ready for reforesting. There was a lot of land up for grabs at that point. After The Crash but before The Rush as my daddy likes to say.
Mad Cow’s Revenge was followed by the Lamb of God virus. Avian Flu became gestational and starting skipping to humans, especially children and old people. The fish started dying near all the coastlines. It was like the Earth was trying to force us all to become vegetarians.
Drastic measures needed to be taken.
The bigwigs in the laboratories found that they could splice tree cells and meat cells.
We grow our meat now.
Entire forests of furry oaksteak trees point silently at the sky. Porkpine, elmbacon, and maplechops stand a quiet vigil. Long hair keeps the trees warm. Touching one is like petting a warm dog. Thick, red blood pumps slowly through their veins.
The lower branches are boneless and hang down like fat boa constrictors covered in soft, wispy, orange orangutan hair. The upper branches have elbows and reach for the warmth of the sun with fingerbone twigs.
The forests shiver in the cold.
When they’re harvested, they regenerate. The stumps scab over and the new meat starts forming in small lumps like an amputee growing new arms.
Tonight, I’m looking forward to some ground willowmeat and some fine cuts of sprucebeef. Daddy says that he’s a cowboy and a farmer all rolled into one.
I enjoy the country life.
Author : Ian Rennie
The puddles of rainwater reflected neon and sodium up from the streets as the two men stood at the taxi rank. One waited, the other waited with him.
“Shame you have to leave so early, Tom. The evening was just getting started.”
“Sorry Jake, it’s Barney’s storytime, you know how it is with kids.”
Jake looked uncomfortable for a moment, but continued.
“You coming out this weekend? Tanya is having a party at her house. Marie’s going to be there. You know, she really likes you. All week she was asking about you and making sure you would be here tonight. I don’t think she expected you to duck out after an hour.”
“I can’t. It’s Barney’s birthday this weekend.”
The discomfort turned to dismay on Jake’s face and he put a gentle hand on Tom’s shoulder.
“Tom, mate, it’s been six years. You have to let it go. You never come out any more. I know what happened, and it’s a tragedy, but you’re letting it eat your life up.”
Tom shook the hand off. Before Jake could say any more, the next cab arrived. Tom got into it without a word, as if Jake had simply been switched off.
When he got home, the lights were off throughout the house. He stood in the dark hall and looked for a moment at the shadows lacing through the open doors of the other rooms. He tried to remember the last time he had had visitors here, then shook the thought off as irrelevant, and headed upstairs to Barney’s room.
Barney was already lying on his bed. Tom was used to the lack of blanket by now. It didn’t break the scene for him any more.
The voice was perfect, a computer recreation based on five years of recordings the house had made. In fact, everything about the projection was as close to perfect as he could get. He upgraded the software every time something better came out, and had even had some parts of it custom written. The result was as close as he could get to what he had lost.
Barney was five. He had been five for six years, now. He couldn’t get any older and Tom didn’t want him to. He pulled the book from the bedside table and started reading.
“Once upon a time,” he said, “There was a little boy…”