Author : Christopher Kueffner
The ocean swell was enough to induce the whisky to move back and forth in the glass, but just barely. This spectacle occupied the close attention of Arlen Tidmore, Systems Assurance Specialist II. The minutely swaying liquid in the glass was distilled on the other side of the world in the Orkney Islands, and some of it was already relaxing Tidmore’s brain. The door opened.
“Drinking your dirt-flavored paint thinner, I see,” boomed Tim Frampton, Navigation Specialist I.
“And it seems you just got out of asshole practice,” Tidmore replied. “It’s definitely working.”
Frampton chuckled and sat down at the table. He set a large beer bottle and a glass in front of himself. “The rain is starting to clear up. I thought I’d enjoy this change in weather, but it’s a drag.”
“We’ll probably make our turn tomorrow. That typhoon shoved the boundary of The Garbage Patch over a bit.” He poured the clear, golden beer into the glass.
“Three weeks ‘til the break.”
“Yep.” Tidmore leaned back in his chair and took a sip of his scotch. “I do believe I’m officially bored out of my damned mind.”
“It’s taken this long?”
“I don’t know how I’ve done these plastic reclamation tours for this long, but some switch has flipped. I need to find something else to do. The machines on this tub don’t break often enough to keep me focused.”
“That’s some people’s idea of a dream job,” Frampton said between gulps.
“How can you drink that piss?” Tidmore grimaced at Frampton’s beer bottle. “You can only bring so much crap out here on the plane, and you bring light beer? We’re surrounded by water that’s free.”
“It’s too salty and full of plastic, Your Highness. You should talk, with all your books and god-awful scotch.”
“Slowly filling the hold with carbon nodules isn’t enough to keep me entertained.”
“Let’s not forget the chlorine. That spices things up, doesn’t it? And what about the nitrogen?
“Nitrogen’s boring. And it’s too bad we use the hydrogen for fuel; we could fill a balloon with it and float out of here.”
“Quit whining,” Frampton droned. “When you applied for a job that consists of sailing back and forth in the middle of the Pacific, scooping up plastic, were you expecting big-city night life? The Horse Latitudes Symphony Goddamn Orchestra or something?”
“I knew what I was signing up for. I wanted the chance to get sick of something besides my relatives and neighbors. I got that. And I wanted to do something good. I’m cleaning up the ocean, and that’s cool, but this ship… I’m over it.”
“You’re cleaning the ocean and saving the world only because somebody invented a way to scoop up the plastic, separate it into its elements, and make money at it.”
“It wouldn’t be profitable without the government subsidies,” Tidmore pointed out.
“Same difference. Nothing big gets done unless it’s profitable or fashionable, preferably both.” He poured the rest of the beer from the bottle. “Funny that we don’t have anything on this ship that handles glass.”
“Hmm. Lemme have that.” Tidmore took the bottle and walked out the door. Several minutes later, he returned and picked up his glass from the table and headed back out the door. The bottle was corked.
“What are you doing?” Frampton got up and followed him. Up on deck, the sun had come out. Tidmore threw the bottle over the railing and took another sip of scotch. “What was in that bottle?”
“I wrote my resignation this morning. This way, it should take a couple of years for it to take effect.”
“You don’t like change, do you?”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
A few hours after Tom and I had the science module operational, we decided to explore the terrain around the base camp. Silex IV was a warm, barren, desolate planet. There was no oxygen in the atmosphere, and no water anywhere, surface or subsurface. So, imagine our surprise when we found a walking rock. It was bipedal and about a foot tall. It was relatively light, so we took it back to the science module. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “DON’T DO IT! That’s the fatal mistake all explorers make in sci-fi movies.” But, come on, it’s just a rock.
To make a long story shorter, when we placed the creature on the examination bench, it began to tremble. Seconds later, it started to crack and split apart. A white liquid began to ooze out of the cracks. It was a viscose fluid that had a strong ammonia smell. The liquid began to boil almost immediately. We pried open one of the cracks to discover that the rock-like exterior was just a thin shell, presumably an exoskeleton. Tom analyzed the fluid, and it turned out to be predominately Silanes (long hydrosilicon chains analogous to the hydrocarbon chains present in Earth’s carbon-based biology). On Earth, however, Silanes are extremely unstable because of our oxidizing atmosphere. The oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere would destroy them instantly. But, on Silex IV, with an Oxygen-to-Silicon ratio less than two, silicon-base life was apparently possible because there was no free oxygen to react with the Silanes. As we watched, the oxygen in the lab reacted exothermically with the silicon atoms in the Silane molecules, and turned the creature’s insides into a boiling caldron of liquefied sand.
As we stood there in shock, the science module began to sway on its base as though there was a planetquake. We looked out the ports and saw a dozen eight foot tall rock creatures pushing at the airlock. The realization that we probably just killed an alien child sent a cold shiver up my spine. Then it dawned on me that the adult population was now intent on reaping their revenge. We were in big trouble. Tom said, “Crap, what are we going to do? This place wasn’t meant to withstand a siege from a bunch of rock creatures. If we can make it to the ship, we can take off. Do you think we can outrun them? Damn, we don’t have any weapons.”
“Perhaps we do have a weapon,” I replied. “Put your suit back on. We’ll fight our way to the ship.”
“Are you nuts? Look at the size of those things.”
“Oxygen kills them, right?”
“Have you forgotten? The oxygen tanks are stored outside, with the rock guys. And the ship is more than 200 meters away.”
“Trust me. We have plenty of available oxygen in here. It’s all about bond energy and kinetics. And, if I remember my thermodynamics, on this planet, we should have a spontaneous reaction. Now, where do we keep the surgical gloves?”
Fifteen minutes later, we were suited up and ready to fight our way to the ship. We opened the inner door of the airlock. I handed Tom two dozen ‘bombs.’ “Okay,” I said resolutely, “Open the outer door. I’ll start to clear us a path.”
The door slid open and the escaping air momentarily pushed the lead creature back a few steps. It regained its balance and charged forward. I reached into my sack and grabbed a water filled surgical glove, and let ‘er fly.
Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer
Joseph’s Grandfather knocked down the cabin door, and stood silhouetted in the blue morning light of Io. Inside, Joseph and Thomas and Betti and Lil lay sprawled over the king sized bed, naked. The room smelled like sex and sweet wine.
Joseph sat up in bed and Thomas squealed, pulling the covers off of Bettie and Lil to cover his naked body. Lil rolled out of bed and Betti rolled over, unaffected by the sudden noise.
“Granddad!” cried Joseph.
“Joseph Hieronymus Gabriel Nightingale Dashhound!” cried his Grandfather. “This is just as I suspected.” Josephs Grandfather, Bartholomew Rubin Sora Flashrim Dashhound, was tall and imposing, a man with a beard to his shoulders and a wide brimmed hat.
Around the corner of the door came Lil’s mother, wielding a laser rifle. “Lil!” she said, “I’m so ashamed of you. I didn’t want to believe that you and your husband were sleeping around, but here it is.” She shook her head, her brown curls bouncing. “Just wait till your father hears about this. You have shamed our family. ”
“Keep your head on Gretel,” said Bartholomew.
“What are you doing here, mom?” said Lil, standing, full naked and defiant in front of the two elders.
“Bartholomew told me that he saw you and Thomas coming up to the cabin night after night, and I didn’t believe him . . .I told him it was innocent.” She sobbed, her rifle shaking. “But now I feel so blind! So foolish!”
“We can do as we like,” said Lil, standing tall, her hands on her wide hips.
“Young woman, this is not Earth. This is the Dark Side of Io. I moved away from the cesspit Earth so that my family could live in a community with moral standards,” said Bartholomew. “You cannot just go fooling’ around here. Not after how hard we worked to make Io a moral place.”
Joseph finally found his voice. “What are you saying, Grandpa?”
“I’m saying that you aught to make an honest woman and man and woman out of these people!”
“I mean it!” said Bartholomew “I’ve already sent for the Pastor. She’s on her way up here to make it official.”
“But Mom!” said Lil “It didn’t mean anything. It was just for fun.”
“This was the first, time, I swear!” squealed Thomas, clutching the sheets. Betti had finally woken up and was clinging to Thomas’s waist, eyes on Gretel’s laser pistol.
“Don’t listen to them, Gretel,” said Bartholomew. “We’ve got to be strong. I know they’ve been at this for a while. I’ve seen them coming up here, night after night, with wine.”
“Wine doesn’t prove anything,” said Thomas.
“You think I need proof after seeing this?” said Gretel.
“I’m not ready to have a husband and second wife,” said Joseph. “I’m too young!”
“If you’re going to fool around like this then you aren’t too young,” said Bartholomew.
“You can’t force us to marry,” said Lil, crossing her arms over her considerable chest.
“Oh can’t I?” said Gretel, flicking a switch to power up the laser pistol “I think you’ll be getting married today, you all like it or not.”
“You’re going to need a bigger cabin Joseph,” said Thomas.
Author : William Tracy
A stranger walked through the door of the diner. The man sported sunglasses and a comb over. He was sweaty from driving through the desert in his suit. His collar was disheveled; his tie was loose. He must have been lost—people like him were not common in this corner of New Mexico.
Another man stepped up behind the counter, wiping his hands on a ragged towel. “Hi, I’m Larry. What can I get you?” Sweat and grease struggled to dominate his odor, and stubble adorned his round chin.
The stranger asked for the special; Larry shouted the order back into the kitchen, then went back to scrubbing the counter. Larry quizzed the stranger about his business, got no response, and proceeded to alternate between extolling the virtues of small town life and singing along with the radio.
The food was ready. Larry laid the plate and a tall glass of cola in front the stranger. The stranger proceeded to eat.
“We get all sorts of people out here,” Larry announced. “You wouldn’t believe what sorts we get.”
The stranger ate for several minutes, while Larry cleaned and rambled. The stranger had worked his way through most of the meal when Larry leaned forward, elbows on the counter, and added conspiratorially, “They say over in Roswell that space aliens crashed in the desert a while back.”
The stranger studied his food with renewed interest.
Larry continued. “Some say that the aliens have been visiting us for many years now. They think the aliens disguise themselves as people, to study us, and that anyone you meet could be an alien.”
The stranger failed to acknowledge the information.
Larry looked over the other customers in the diner. They all had heard Larry’s stories before.
Larry leaned closer still—his halitosis was palpable—and whispered, “There’s an alien right here, right now. You wanna know how I can tell?” he looked around the room again, and added, “I’ve been inside one of the flying saucers.”
The stranger stood up abruptly, and cleared his throat loudly. “I would like to pay my bill, please.”
“Certainly, sir.” Larry rang up the sale.
As the stranger walked out the door, Larry yelled, “Come again soon!” The stranger did not speak, or look back. Larry whistled as he worked his way to the end of the counter with his ragged towel.
“I’m going on break!” he shouted back into the kitchen, and ducked into the men’s room.
Larry locked the door, and smiled into the mirror. His flesh rippled, and his body flowed into its natural form. The creature that called itself Larry drained its distended fluid sacs into the toilet, then flushed.
Reverse psychology works very well on these humans.
Author : Jacinta A. Meyers
He had a reputation from the time he brought in his first kill from the lush planet. Walked through the warden’s office lugging the thing in a sack over his shoulder. Everyone involuntarily gasped when they felt the floor shudder, heard the thunder of his steps and looked up.
Before he was a hunter, he had been a builder. You could tell by the enormous honed muscles, his foul speech, his burly way of leaning. He dropped the sack to the floor and leaned over the counter, making it creak with his weight. “Got one,” he said.
“Right,” I said, pulling out a form. “What kind of an entry?”
Ah. “Weighing some brains today?” My fingers twittered over the keyboard, entering the order. To my right a little door in the wall hissed open, allowing a tray to ease forth with a prepared canister full of preserving fluids. “Why don’t you bring it around.”
He hefted the sack up over the counter. Well, that was one way to do it. I undid the tie. And gasped.
It was the biggest cranium I had ever seen.
My tools were ready. I brought down the hose to suck up the noxious fumes of death while I worked. My hands were deft; sever the head from the body, incision here, incision here, and the skin pulled away clean. Insert the chisel here, between the two primary skull plates. Quick bump and open. Use the tubes to suck up excess fluids, pry away veins and capillaries…
At last, my gloved hands slipped the prize from its nest. I carried the gooey mass to the scales and set it down.
“Bastard. You don’t got the stem!”
“It’s the rules, mister. Stems don’t count toward the final measurement.” I focused hard on the numbers as they slowly stopped moving up.
1,672.12 grams. “A new record,” I breathed. Picking the brain back up, I carefully moved it to the canister and set it down into its new home. I shook my head. “That’ll make some trophy.”
The hunter was still leaning against the counter, picking at his pointy teeth with one large claw. He straightened a little when he saw me take my place again behind the keyboard. “Well?”
“I have confirmed the record. Congratulations,” I said. “Now we just have to finish the forms. Can I see your system license?”
He belched before passing a chip across the counter to me.
“Great.” I cringed and flicked it into the computer drive. “Sentient-intelligent. Specimen, brain. Species, homo sapien. Oh…” I looked up. “Where on Earth did you say you bagged this one, again?”