by Stephen R. Smith | Jan 31, 2009 | Story
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Revy leaned heavy against the bathroom sink, his reflection in the streaked mirror staring back battered and bruised. Stitches poked through pink flesh behind his jaw and beneath his hairline, bloodshot eyes sunken and dark. How long since he’d slept? He couldn’t remember.
In the corner of his vision lurked the promise of ability. He focused, and a window zoomed into focus. “Status: Online, Idle…” He wished he knew how to make it do something. He winced through the pounding in his head, swinging open the vanity mirror to expose bottles of pills. Mixing a fistful of pain meds and anti-biotics, he dry swallowed them, feeling the fizz as they partially dissolved in his mouth.
Cho said the pain would go away in a few weeks.
Cho. He remembered Cho. He’d bought illegal bio-tech from him a few times, but this was different. “Real serious shit,” Cho had said, “top secret shit. You pay big cash money.”
Revy’s head ached as memories forced themselves to the surface. The money he’d stolen, from whom he couldn’t recall. The operating theatre, Cho gowned and chatty, the nurse counting backwards with him from one hundred. He remembered a recovery room, the feel of his battered face through bandages.
Revy closed the cabinet door and studied himself in the mirror again. The stitches were dry, maybe a week old. They should come out soon.
Cho was dead.
Those memories clawed at the fog inside his head. Cho talking about training, promising to teach him to use his implant. He remembered the silent thunder of booted feet, men shouting. Cho screaming outside his room, words he could hear but not fully comprehend.
He remembered gunfire.
It had been days since he’d found himself curled up on the fire escape of his apartment building outside his kitchen window, bare feet screaming from the cold steel and the snow.
“Status: Online, Scanning…”
Sound overwhelmed him as he stumbled out of the bathroom; the fan in the kitchen, a music player from the floor below, the old recluse coughing from his apartment near the elevator. The noises were amped up, wrapped in soft static. He leaned his head against the thickly papered wall, watching his front door through the haze of his living room as it shimmered in and out of focus. He heard the elevator door open, and the door to the stairwell. He could hear boots, men. Revy closed his eyes, listening as they made their weapons ready while closing the distance to his door, to him. The pounding of his heart increased in frequency. Adrenaline flooded his system, clearing the fog and easing for the moment the throbbing in his head. Revy retreated into the bathroom; the window wasn’t too far from the fire escape, maybe he could jump.
He could hear them with high fidelity now, right outside the door. White light and pain shot through his head and he clutched at his ears in a vain attempt to block out the sensation. Had he been flash banged? Had he waited too long? His eyes squeezed shut, he waited for the heavy hands, for barked orders that didn’t come. Revy opened his eyes tentatively to find himself outside in the hallway, door pushed open to the stairwell, listening. The old man by the elevator was coughing into his phone, wheezing about gunfire and screaming. There was no screaming now. Revy found his hands comfortable on a large assault weapon. Scattered around his apartment doorway Revy counted eight bodies amidst spattered and pooling blood.
“Status: Disengaged, Idle…”
The only thing he knew now for sure was that he couldn’t stay.
by Patricia Stewart | Jan 30, 2009 | Story
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The Deep Space Explorer held its position one kilometer from the anomaly. “What do you make of it, Cortez,” asked the commander?
“If it didn’t sound so stupid, Commander, I’d say it was a massless black hole. It’s spherical, about ten times the diameter of our ship, and is pitch black. But it has no mass that I can detect. I don’t understand how it is able to block the light of the stars that are behind it. There doesn’t appear to be anything there. We should be able to fly right through it.”
“Do you think that’s safe” inquired the commander?
“Honestly, sir, I don’t know. According to our sensors, there isn’t enough energy in that volume of space to melt an ice cube. I don’t see how it could possibly be dangerous. Although my gut says it’s a dumb idea, my brain wants us to enter it. After all, we came out here to explore the unknown.”
“Do we have any more unmanned probes?”
“Sorry, Commander. We launched the last one into the Helix nebula.”
“Then I guess we go in. But let’s minimize our risks. We’ll coast through the anomaly using only our inertia. We’ll set sensors on passive mode, and record everything. After we emerge on the other side, we’ll analyze the data and determine our next move.”
The black circle in the foreground of the main viewscreen began to grow as the ship completed a five second burn of its aft impulse thrusters. The background of stars disappeared one by one as the anomaly expanded to fill the screen. The helmsman announced, “Entering the anomaly in three, two, one…” The image on the black viewscreen suddenly burst into hundreds of fiery purple streaks shooting from the center of the screen toward the periphery, like a continuous fireworks explosion. Several seconds later, the lightshow abruptly ended. It was replaced by a field of stationary stars. The black anomaly was gone.
“Are we through?” asked the commander.
“Negative,” replied the science officer. “That isn’t the original star field. Whoa, sensor data are really bizarre. All of the fundamental universal constants have changed. The speed of light, Planck’s constant, and Boltzmann’s constant are trillions of magnitudes smaller than they should be. Even the four fundamental forces are different. Their ratios are the same, but their absolute magnitudes are way too low.” After a few awkward minutes of silence, he added. “Commander, perhaps the anomaly that we just entered is an independent universe, with different properties than our own. It has billions of galaxies crammed into a few kilometers.”
“That’s crazy,” remarked a navigator. “If that were true, our ship would be millions of light-years long in this universe.”
“Not necessarily. When we crossed the boundary, our matter must have been converted, so that now it is consistent with the fundamental laws of this universe. We’re probably super small now too.”
“Can we get home?” asked the commander.
“We should convert back to normal size when we pass through the boundary going out. Let me see if I can locate it.” After thirty minutes of intense analysis, the science officer reported, “I was afraid of this. It looks like our conversion didn’t occur until the aft end of the ship passed through the boundary. The bow of the ship was over a billion light-years into this universe before we fully converted. Each of those purple streaks must have been a blue shifting galaxy as we flew by. At maximum warp, it will take us over 10,000 years to reach the boundary.”
by submission | Jan 29, 2009 | Story
Author : William Tracy
Eighteen thousand meters up in the sky, two aircraft dance. The larger tanker hovers above the other, and the two vehicles mate. The space plane drinks thirstily, then releases.
The tanker banks to the right, leaving the space plane free to climb. It raises its nose to the sky, and stalls for one heartbeat. Then it shudders as the rocket engages. The sky outside the windows dims, and stars cautiously emerge as the vehicle enters suborbital space. Clouds swirl far below, and the horizon—noticeably curved—is shrouded in a thin veil of atmosphere and crowned by the glimmering aurora borealis.
Inside the cabin, passengers release their safety harnesses and gently rise, weightless. A man in a flowing robe maneuvers to the front, and turns to face his fellow passengers.
He speaks. “Lord, we are gathered here today to become closer to you. Possibly in the physical sense, and certainly in the spiritual sense. We are here to witness Creation, to be awed by its grandeur and by Your power. We look down on the sphere we call home, and we feel small, as we feel small in Your presence. We thank you for this opportunity to experience Your power. We thank You for blessing the engineers with the wisdom and foresight needed to construct this spacecraft, and we thank You for guiding the flight crew to bring us here safely.”
The congregation joins the preacher in saying “Amen.”
Hymns are sung, and prayers are spoken. A sermon is given. The service is carried out in a calm, orderly manner.
As if on cue, moments after the last “amen”, a chime sounds, and the captain speaks. “We have now been in space for two hours, and are ready to begin our descent. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts now. Thank you.”
The craft enters the atmosphere. Its fuel spent, its wings swing into position to aerobrake. The vehicle descends to five thousand meters as it glides toward the landing strip.
Then a shoulder-launched missile leaps into the air and strikes the plane, ripping open the fuselage. The craft tumbles from the sky, and tears a burning gash into the earth.
We praise God as we do His work. Those who turn their backs on the light will taste the sting of Hell. The heretics will be purged from the land, and the true faith will remain pure.
God’s will be done. Hallelujah!
by submission | Jan 28, 2009 | Story
Author : Ivy Tyson
They meet in the ruins of New York City, rather by accident, right in the middle of what used to be Times Square, back when people actually lived there.
They are both armed: she with a pistol strapped to her hip, while he supports a rifle on his shoulder. Both are uneasy with these armaments; there are evidences of new calluses and deep shadows in eyes that have seen too much. They are not soldiers by choice, merely a man and a woman forced into their current position by circumstances far outside of their control. Still, both weapons are firmly pointed towards the other without more than a bare second of hesitation.
“Are you with Them?” the man demands, nervously straightening his glasses with his shoulder even as he holds the rifle.
The woman twitches, the pistol wavering for a moment before she rights it. “Why should I tell you?”
“I could kill you!” the man threatens with a certainty born of sad experience. “I’ve killed men and women both before!”
“So have I,” she says with sadness that he understands. “Anyway, I’m not with Them. Are you?”
That strikes him as an odd question. “Why would I ask you if I was?”
“To save yourself,” she replies. “To make me think you’re not, to keep me from shooting you. They say not to take any prisoners.”
“If you have the slightest doubt of a citizen’s loyalties, you should shoot without hesitation,” the man agrees. The words are rote, because he has heard them and repeated them so many times before.
The woman clicks the pistol’s safety off. “And do you doubt my loyalty?”
He considers this. “Well, I don’t know you. So I suppose I do. Do you doubt mine?”
“I suppose I do. And for the same reason: I don’t know you.”
“Then it seems we’ll both have to shoot,” he says regretfully. He hasn’t seen anyone else for two weeks.
She sighs with matching resignation. “You’re right. I’m sorry that we have to. It was pleasant, seeing another person.”
“Yes, it was,” he agrees with something like a smile. “What’s the protocol for this?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. How about the count of three?”
“That seems fair,” he concurs, despite his disappointment. Then he hesitates. “Say, what if we’re it?”
“How do you mean?”
“What if we are on the same side, right? And supposing we shoot each other, They’d win?”
She considers this. “Well, that couldn’t be so bad.”
She looks down the darkening street. “Well, maybe we’re both lying. And so when we shoot each other, They will be the ones to lose.”
“That’d be worth it,” he admits. He no longer knows who is Us and who is Them. “On three, then?”
“On three,” she agrees. “It was nice, to have this talk with you.”
“And you,” he says. He levels the rifle at her heart. “I’m sorry.”
Her pistol aims at his forehead. “Yes, me too.”
“One,” he says.
“Two,” she echoes.
A second after he whispers Three, he realizes that he does recognize her, from a small cafe back in college. She was ordering a coffee, and he almost asked her on a date. But by then it’s too late.
Two gunshots ring out amidst the ruins of New York City, from the middle of what used to be Times Square.
The war ends.
by submission | Jan 27, 2009 | Story
Author : James C. Clar
“Shit,” Corporal Sean Collins thought out loud. “I’ve got to calm down. My oxygen will be gone in twenty minutes if I don’t. I need to stay low. If I raise my head above the dunes to take a shot, that Martian bastard will vaporize me.”
Collins had gotten separated from his patrol during a violent sandstorm … a storm that, although abating at ground level, was still disrupting communications. Attempting to make his way back to base he became disoriented and wound up alone and with his back against a sheer rock wall. Thank God for the undulating sand dunes that partially protected his position to the front. He fell in love with them, in fact, as soon as the shooting started. A lone ‘Marty – probably separated from his men as well – spotted him an hour ago and began firing. “Son of a bitch,” Collins swore. “My tour’s up in three weeks. I just want to make it home to see Rachel and my baby daughter sometime before she’s ready to go to college! If I’m just patient and wait out the storm, Command will send a flier out to look for me.” Hunkered down and shivering on an inimical, alien landscape, Sean weighed his options.
Meanwhile, Zadok crouched behind some boulders and checked the charge on his pulse rifle; enough left for two, maybe three, bursts. His elevated position gave him a huge advantage over his enemy. The human had nowhere to run and the moment he raised his head above the dunes that sheltered him, Zadok could pick him off with ease. Even now, the Martian soldier saw a flash as sunlight reflected off the helmet or visor of the trapped earthling. It was just a matter of time. Although eager to return to base for the communal meal, Zadok … like most of his ancient race … had learned patience over the long, silent eons. He was more than willing to wait.
In Topeka, Kansas Rachael Collins walked out into her backyard. Her young daughter was in her arms. One of her friends had shown her how to find Mars in the evening sky. She gazed up at the distant planet and thought of her husband. Someone else had tried to explain that the light from Mars took nearly fifteen minutes to reach Earth. Rachael only barely understood what they had been talking about and, to be honest, she didn’t really care. All she knew was that her husband was up there somewhere on that distant, dusty world. When she stood in her yard and looked up at the faint orange glow in the darkening sky, she felt a connection with Sean. His tour was nearly up but it would a year or so before he made it home. It didn’t matter. Unlike her impetuous husband and his crazy Irish relatives, Rachael was infinitely patient. She was more than willing to wait.