Author : Glenn Blakeslee

Lisa called me that afternoon. I was standing in the rain in front of the In-Situ Laboratory, watching deer run beneath the elevated walkway.

“I just wanted to say,” she said. “Sam… I’m sorry about Saturday.” Her voice was quiet. She sounded tired.

“I was going to call you to say I was sorry,” I said.

“You don’t have to apologize,” she said, “I do.” This was where Lisa, had I said the same, would have asked me what, exactly, I had to apologize for. I could hear the low slowness of her voice, and asking would have been heartless.

“I know you need someone to listen, sometimes. I didn’t do a good job of that,” I said. “When you tell me these things I want to do something, but I don’t know how to help you.”

“I didn’t know how to ask for help,” she said. “I don’t know what you could do to help me.” I stood in the rain and watched the deer, my cell phone to my head. A doe stood on the sloping ground, next to the walkway, watching me. Her hide was wet and her eyes were huge. Her nostrils flared. She took a tentative step toward the walkway, watching me.

“I just got back from the hospital,” Lisa said. “I was there three days.”

“Oh Lisa, I’m so sorry. What…?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “Did you take pills?” The doe’s forelegs jerked, trembling, and she bolted under the walkway, beneath me. I could smell the rain-soaked sogginess of her hide. I pulled out my cigarettes, and then put them away without trying to light one. I could see the hood of the first of the Security vans as it pulled in behind the lab. Those bastards.

“My son took me in,” Lisa said. “I was in ICU.”

“Lisa,” I said.

“And I got out today. I’m just sitting here, and the kids will come home soon, and I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’m afraid to be here by myself, and I’m afraid to see anyone. I’m afraid to talk to anyone and I’m afraid to not have anyone to talk to.” It was raining harder, and more deer were running beneath the walkway, jumping across the retaining wall beyond the slope. I could hear the clatter of their hooves across the patio that lay sheltered beneath the overhanging floors of the In-Situ Laboratory. The rain ran down my forehead, into my eyes. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Lisa said.

If I loved her I would have run to her. I would have run to my car, wound down through the ways of the University, clutching my wet, fatal briefcase to my chest. I would have kept my phone to my ear, my voice to her heart. I would have left my job, and my little mournful life and the end of it all, and drove to her. I would have run to her.

I would have given her the thing she really desired. I picked my briefcase up from the walkway, held it under my arm.

“Honey…” I said.

“You’re at work,” she said. “I should let you go.”

“Well…” I began. “I love you,” I lied. “Keep your head up. I’ll call you tonight,” I said, but I never did.

Instead I dropped my briefcase from the walkway, heard the tinkle of breaking glass, and watched as the deer on the patio of the In-Situ Laboratory began to drop dead.

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Of or Relating to Sound

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Marshal’s great grandfather had taken up the guitar as a older man, and played it as though he simply always had done so. He had passed this love onto his son, Marshal’s grandfather, before the Departure. Marshal’s family had always been tradesman, and his grandfather used his degrees in micro-fabrication to get on the ship, and his skill at coaxing sounds from his stringed instrument to secure not only a wife, but a place in the social scene on Discovery when she set off into the stars.

Marshal’s grandfather had one child on the voyage, a daughter, and she grew up always at her father’s side, basking in the warmth of his music. She took up chemistry, and divided her time between misusing chemicals in defiance of the ships authority, and caressing deep rhythm and blues from the guitar her father had left her.

When Marshal was born, it was clear his mother’s chemical abuse had affected him, but she didn’t survive his birth to make amends.

Marshal grew in the care of the crew to be a stoic but directionless young man. He dabbled in chemistry, in microbiology, and settled on psiono-sonics as a field of study. He found he had a heightened sensitivity in communications, and was tasked with reaching out across the void of space to the other star ships en route to new star systems.

In time, the voices grew harder and harder to find through the darkness, and communications duty became an eternity of projecting into nothingness, deafened by the silence returned.

When the star drive began to fail, Marshal felt it before anyone. He tried to describe to the Captain how the engine was losing its rhythm, how he worried it would stop beating.

He’d been thrown off the bridge, and confined to his quarters.

When the star drive went out, the captain locked himself in his own cabin, refusing to acknowledge it was true.

Marshal had spent very little time in his own cabin, having not grown up there, and finding it unsettling to be in the room this mother he had never known had once called home. He could never connect himself to the space, but now, confined there as he was, he found himself idly picking through her things, discovering the woman who had made him and then left him here alone.

He flipped through frames of images, some single and still, some sequenced and moving. He heard laughter, saw a smile he recognized sometimes from the mirror, and felt a rhythm that resonated somewhere inside.

When he found her guitar, it fit his hands like well worn gloves, filled a hole he hadn’t realized existed. His fingers found the chords to a song he’d never heard. A to C sharp, to G sustained, back to A. Words drifted into his head with impossible clarity, “If you can just get your mind together, then come on across to me.” Across the ship each psionicly projected note from Marshal’s guitar turned every surface capable of vibrating into a point of amplification. Everyone stopped, and listened. “We’ll hold hands and then we’ll watch the sunrise,” people spilled into the hallways, “from the bottom of the sea.”

Marshal felt long closed doors open in his mind as he reached out into the depths of space. He felt the wave come back a hundred strong, and the Discovery reeled as unseen voices chimed in “But First, are you experienced?” In his cabin, the Captain closed his eyes, tears streaming down his face. They may be lost, but they were no longer alone.

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The Cirrillian Campaign

Author : Paul Starkey

Villam’s first campaign began at 29:15; within minutes he was a veteran.

A third of his squad died within seconds of disembarking, victims of the Cirrillian psionic artillery, the heavy bombardment shattering their synapses and boiling their brains within their skulls like potatoes in a pot.

Sniper fire was the next danger, the Cirrillian marksmen were using hyper-reality bullets. Marsom was Villam’s best friend, they’d enlisted together …now, as he was hit, the unremitting truths that all men hide, even from themselves, overwhelmed him, crushing his spirit as surely as pressure would have crushed his body, and before Villam could stop him he’d blown his brains out with his sidearm.

Only half of them reached the Cirrillian trenches. Villam had turned his ankle trying stop Marsom, and so was lagging behind the rest of the squad. This saved his life.

Fazerthorn trees exist on every world, not that you’d ever know it. They bloom in another reality, invisible to all but sophisticated scanners. The realities are separate, and never the twain should meet…except Cirrillian scientists had discovered a way to compact the two together. Suddenly the clear ground the troopers raced through became a heaving forest.

Despite the thump and wail of battle around him, all Villam could hear were screams as fazerthorns materialised inside his comrades. The lucky ones died instantly, from organ failure or just plain shock. The strong ones lasted longer, thorns ripping through their skin, tearing eyeballs, slicing arteries and rupturing blood vessels.

Sergeant Coog was the toughest S.O.B in the unit, so Villam wasn’t surprised when he charged onwards, despite the blood haemorrhaging out around the branch that had erupted from his back. In the end though he’d taken too much damage, he fell mere metres from the Cirrillians.

Villam’s luck was twofold. Not only had he avoided the fazerthorns, but their appearance obscured him from the Cirrillian troopers who would have gunned him down otherwise. Now, belly to the dusty floor, he shuffled around the tangle of fazerthorns and corpses, until he drew level with the trench.

There were dozens of them, foul green creatures who lacked a head, a single eye stalk protruding from their necks. They were naked, six brains pulsating beneath the skin along their spines, reproduction tentacles drooping between their legs like elongated udders.

Villam crept closer. He didn’t want to, they truly were vile, but he needed to be nearer to throw the J-Bomb into their midst. He unclipped it from his belt, a fat disc of weightless metal, yet more powerful than anything the enemy had.

Too late a Cirrillian saw him, a whine of alarm echoing from its shoulder gills. He’d already thrown the J-Bomb though, clamping his hands over his head as it detonated.

He’d been conditioned to deal with the effects of the J-Bomb, but still the overlapping cacophony of musical tunes, of advertising taglines, and the whirlwind of special offer announcements almost drove him mad….The effect of the Jingle Bomb on the Cirrillians was more pronounced. To a creature they dropped their weapons and clambered out of the trench, fighting each other to gain a few moments’ advantage in getting to the Department Ship before all the bargains were gone.

Advertising was a harsh game, with more and more species rebelling again the psychic onslaught of the sales companies. The Cirrillians, like so many others, shielded their planet from orbital advertising assaults, so the only way to campaign was to go trench to trench, street to street, door to door. Villam returned to the ship alone, a veteran salesman after just one campaign.

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Old Joe

Author : Glenn Blakeslee

It’s another damn fine desert day, and Old Joe sits on the dilapidated Lazy Boy on the porch in front of his trailer. He’s got his feet up and a pint bottle of cheap wine in his hand, and he’s thinking lazy desert thoughts. He’s got his chores done, tended his little forty-acres of nowhere, and he’s relaxing in the relative luxury of his porch.

His looks to the horizon, where county road S65 cuts a straight line through the sagebrush, up to the hills. He can see dust plumes rising in the still afternoon air. Here they come again.

He’s posted dozens of No Trespassing signs on his property, but the damn dirt bike riders ignore them. Might as well post signs that read Welcome To Paradise, he thinks. They don’t bother reading them anyhow.

It’s only desert, but it’s his desert. Riders have cut trail across it where no trails should be. Every autumn flash flood gouges those trails deeper. Soon his place will be nothing but gouges, he thinks.

Maybe they’ll veer off, Old Joe thinks. Maybe I won’t have to reach for the gun.

The dust plumes rise higher. Soon he hears the buzz of motors, sees flashy helmets above the sagebrush. Sure enough, the riders are off the road, weaving through the brush toward his little trailer home.

Old Joe creaks forward in the Lazy Boy and groans to his feet. He puts his bottle down and reaches for his old Remington 12 gauge. He’s in the driveway before the riders can see him, holding the rusty old gun across his chest like a western hero. When the riders come out of the brush and onto the dusty drive, he swivels the barrel and fires a round into the air, over their heads.

The riders come to a sliding stop in the driveway. They look at Old Joe holding the gun, and look at each other. Old Joe yells “Get offa my land!,” and he levels the shotgun at them.

That’s all it takes. The first rider drags a donut across the driveway, throwing up dust, and heads out to the road before Old Joe can finish yelling. The second pushes his motorcycle backward, downshifts and roars off.

Old Joe blasts the shotgun in their direction, just for good measure, and staggers back to the shade of his porch, his Lazy Boy, and his bottle. He props the shotgun against the trailer.

“Damn bikers,” he mutters.

Old Joe has dozed off, and he wakes to eerie sounds and bright lights. A pulsing bright globe sits over the sagebrush on the side of the driveway, and as it descends he’s suddenly awake and reaching for the shotgun.

The globe glows, and sheets of static flow across its surface. It emits a disharmonic hum that gives Old Joe goosebumps. He steps away from the porch, shotgun across his chest, shouts “Get offa my land,” and fires a shot into the air

The globe touches the sagebrush and then bounces, falling and rising. Lines of red light circle the globe’s equator, and the hum rises in pitch and then drops to a basso rumble. Joe takes steps toward the globe and aims the shotgun.

The globes rises and swoops down the driveway, lighting the sagebrush and the sand as it dwindles into the distance. Old Joe fires a shot after it, just for good measure.

He watches for a little while, until the thing disappears altogether. He turns and stumps back to the porch.

“Damn aliens,” he mutters, and reclines his Lazy Boy into the perfect desert night.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

There’s a hole in the roof of my mouth that I can’t fix. A black putrescent liquid that hasn’t stopped for hours is dripping slowly onto my tongue. It tastes salty and smells a little like melting rubber. I’m still alive.

The plague killed the biological parts of me. I am rotting. I don’t know if that will eventually kill the manufactured parts of me. Myself and five other people in this building had enough metal and plastic implanted in us that we survived.

We’re police dispatchers.

We had all been badly injured in the line of duty and brought back to ‘working condition’ with the help of current technology. After we had been repaired, we were put on desk jobs with good pay.

The reason that the six of us were still moving and thinking is that our brains and bodies have been rebuilt as a result of our long-ago injuries. Us six in particular had all sustained massive cranial damage in the line of duty. Our nervous systems had been automated and our movements were controlled by the thin bodycages that we wore. Our memories had been saved and digitized during our surgery but our imaginations were limited.

Just a few days ago, we were the stupid ones. Now we’re the survivors.

Ted had his entire body burned to a crisp in his line-of-duty accident ten years ago. He was the most mobile of us now because of all his muscle-work but unfortunately, he had the bare minimum of police dispatch silicon in his brain. His metal body is at his desk taking sips from a coffee cup long gone dry

We were all amped up to handle the flow of calls coming in from the massive populace of the west coast. There were four hundred of us. The flow of data was constant and huge. It’s down to a trickle now and most of the incoming calls are automated which is okay since we’ve gone from four hundred down to the six of us.

Our country has been wiped out.

Fortunately, the plague had left us mostly-silicate demi-borgs alive. Unfortunately, the motors of our brains and bodies were running on backup batteries that would run out in sixteen hours.

There is a stink in this office of the other dead operators. It’s the ghost of Christmas future for us. We’re trying to come up with plans but it’s difficult with our limited imaginations. We’ve effectively become machine intelligences. We have no urge to panic and we have no real ideas on how to proceed.

It’s frustrating to think of all the money and time that our country had used to prepare for a giant EMP of some kind and the enemy bastards went and released the biologicals.

Those of us that are mobile are going to leave this office and search for batteries. We will try to find weapons. We will fight the invaders.

We will be automated zombies guarding what’s left of our country. I am good at math. We will fail.

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