Caesar's Secret Weapon

Author : Greg R. Fishbone

Three Roman legions swept into the valley from the south. The defenders launched a flight of arrows while a line of pikemen prepared for an onslaught of armored men. The battle raged through the afternoon, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Romans were disciplined, engaged, and absolutely relentless until…

A Roman lieutenant gave a predetermined signal and the army withdrew, leaving a single legionnaire on the battlefield. The lone soldier was quickly surrounded by enemies who kept a respectful distance, suspecting a trick or a trap.

The Roman soldier removed a strange instrument from his belt. The item was less than two hands long and thinner than a human finger, with an opening on one end and a button on the other. The soldier held the item out and turned slowly in a circle. The enemies raised their spears but did not advance. “What magic is this?” their bearded leader sneered.

CLICK-CLICK. The enemies flinched at the sound, but relaxed when no effect was apparent. CLICK-CLACK. Again the men looked around, expecting one of their number to drop, but again there was no effect. CLICK-CLICK, CLICK-CLACK, CLICK-CLICK.

“Your gods have abandoned you, Romanus. Your weapon has no power against us.”

The soldier pressed the button again and again with increasing desperation. CLICK-CLACK, CLICK-CLICK, CLICK-CLACK. Emboldened enemies pressed in from all sides. CLICK-CLICK, CLICK-CLACK, CLICK-CLICK, CLICK-CLACK. Swords, spears, and daggers separated the legionnaire from his life. His powerless instrument dropped to the ground.

On a rise above the battlefield, the Roman general gave a sad shake of his head. He addressed a captive, bound in ropes. “Your deception is revealed, Mr. Time Traveler. Your retractable ballpoint pen is not, actually, mightier than the sword.” To emphasize his point he raised his blade and chopped downward at the unfortunate captive’s neck.

The Roman army advanced again, finishing what they had started by more conventional means. By sundown, the valley was theirs.

That night, a single legionnaire snuck out of camp and returned to the battlefield. He retrieved the discarded pen and brought it back to his tent. In the firelight he began to write a book that would one day make him Emperor of the World: “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres…”


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Zipper Night

Author : Dave Johnson

I have become a zipper.

The fad started out harmless enough. A person scheduled a visit to the zipper specialists. A few hours later the same person (for the true insides cannot be zipped) walked out a different gender. Some time later it got easier: a simple injection of the right gene triggers sent overnight signals to the appropriate glands. You woke a mister from sleeping as a mistress. Zip zip zip. The ultimate answer came in pill form.

My life partner and I signed an agreement. Each year we change, each year we take a few days off to zipper the glands. Sure, we have to wait a day or two as the skin settles into new patterns and the muscles assume new roles. For a year it’s another honeymoon. We get to explore, discover and enjoy the flesh again.

Ten years we’ve done this. Most partnerships don’t last this long. We’ve kept it going with the zip aid.

And here it comes. We dine at year’s end. As before, we’ll have a fine meal, chat a little about our day. The small talk will carry us to a toast. And the zipping sleep. In the morning we’ll wake and begin anew.

I pause in the conversation to think. Ten years have given her a few wrinkles about her eyes. The lips are thinner, the chin more taut. I admire her. They cannot zip age, try as they might. Time has it’s own pace, one that cannot be broken. Her age has a beauty, something I didn’t realize in younger days.

Did I miss something these years not seeing the beauty develop down below as well?

I tap the pill. A sigh escapes intentionally. “I’m not sure I want to swallow this tonight,” I tell her. My teeth clench.

The meaning of my statement is clear to her. She slows chewing, lets the fork descend. She casts a quick glance at her own, then back to me.

We took vows, we have an agreement. It has worked and nicely, too. The evenings are spectacular. We sink into each other wrapped in bliss. The zipping allows us sensory delights which can only remain indescribable. We long for each other, are melded into one. These things cannot just be cast aside at a whim. They are beyond value.

And having been the other, we can enhance it. We know the hidden spots, the areas to focus on. We know to linger with a kiss or hold a touch. When to tantalize, when to grip. The zipping has taught us much. The lovemaking dance unfolds in directions only meant to escalate the pleasure we feel.

So why am I messing up a perfect thing? Why do I take this chance?

“Let me explain,” I say quickly. “I think…. I think that change is good. Sometimes it happens fast and sometimes slow. But I’ve gotten to the point where I want to enjoy the gradual.

“I don’t want to zip into the next phase blindly tossing off what once was. I want to look at the photographs in year ahead knowing my love, you, is the same as the one next to me. I’m asking you to take a final change and stay with me.”

A final, slow, time-evoked zip. Let the exciting parts age. Let them match the rest. Maybe, even, let it bore us. Would she agree? Would we have a whole life together? My breath hung waiting her answer.

“Yes,” she said. “I do.”


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Serial Redundancy

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Detective Staind waited in the darkness of an empty doorway. He watched as the man, head down, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, crossed the street fifty meters away. Waiting until the man turned down an alley, he unholstered his weapon and followed. It was much easier finding someone when you knew exactly where they were going to be.

The man threaded his way through the refuse and rubble that littered the alleyway. It had been years since anyone cared for these buildings, only the crazy and homeless took refuge here now.

At the mid point between the two larger streets, the alley narrowed to just a shoulder’s width, and at this point the figure stopped, puzzled, his progress blocked by steel drums piled with broken stone. Something was wrong.

“William,” Staind yelled down the alley, causing the man to turn, startled. “William Heath. You’re a difficult man to find.”

The figure stepped back from the opening and cast furtive glances, looking for an alternate exit.

“That’s the only way through William. Unless you can get past me,” he motioned with his pistol over his shoulder, “but I don’t like your odds.”

William moved slowly towards the detective, hands still in pockets, but head up, alert. “Who are you? What do you want?”

Staind leveled his weapon at him, halting his approach.

“You’ve upset a lot of people William, you’ve killed a lot of women. You didn’t think that could go on forever, did you?”

William’s hands were at his sides now, fists clenching and unclenching, eyes locked on the barrel of the gun.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do William, yes you bloody well do. You’ve strangled thirty two woman in the last five years. Thirty two, you prick. You’re very careful, I’ll give you that, you’ve left almost no evidence behind at all. Not a trace of you anywhere, no bank accounts, no public records. You’ve done a very thorough job of not being anywhere we could look.”

“You’ve got nothing then, have you?” he smirked.

“Well William, I said you left almost no evidence. You did make one mistake, people like you always do. Yours was not making sure Mary Truman was really dead before you stuck your tongue in her mouth. She’s a diver William, big lungs, you should have kept the pressure on a little longer. That piece of your tongue she bit off, she was choking on it while you incinerated her face. We found that piece of you stuck in her throat.”

“There’s no way flesh you found in some dead whore could have led you to me. That’s impossible.” William shifted his weight from foot to foot, eyes still fixed on the raised handgun.

“Normally no, as you’re not in the system. Lucky for us though, one of the fathers you left grieving owns a company that clones feed animals. He grew two good copies of you. One he kept for himself, for what I don’t want to imagine, but the other offered us a face to show, gave us fingerprints to trace. It gave us a trail, and that trail led me ultimately,” he paused, “to you.”

“Officers are crating and cataloguing your squat as we speak. We have quite the case and I expect William Heath will fry quite nicely when all is said and done.

William smiled, extending his hands as he resumed his approach. “I suppose this is where you take me into custody.”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me.” Staind spat noisily, then squeezed off a round into William’s forehead, dropping him like a rock. “We’ve already got you in custody.”

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The SS Indomitable

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

I was heading toward the Bridge along Deck 12 just aft of the Station 114 Bulkhead when I heard, sorry, felt, the explosion. The shock wave knocked me into the starboard hullplate, but I managed to remain standing. I felt a rush of air flowing toward the stern of the ship, followed by the breach alarm. I knew that I only had a few seconds until the vacuum pressure doors sealed off the compromised sections of the ship. I took three long strides and dove head-first past the bulkhead just as the automated safety doors slammed shut. Had I been a few feet further away I would be dying a horrible death as the vacuum of space ripped the air from my lungs. Of course, depending on the damage to the ship, I may still die, but I figured that I had a better chance than the 200 or so crewmen on the wrong side of that bulkhead.

I rushed to the Bridge. As I entered, the captain was coordinating the structural integrity assessment with the ship’s Chief Engineer. Commander Cox was coordinating the search and rescue operation. As First Lieutenant, my job was to assist the commander.

“Ah, Lieutenant Oliver,” said the commander, “We thought we had lost you. Glad you’re still with us. Listen, the only vessel we have forward of the sealed off sections of the ship is the captain’s yacht. I need you to fly six shuttle pilots and medical teams back to the aft launch bay and transfer them to the shuttlecraft. They’ll dock to the exterior hatches in the damaged sections and look for survivors. You start docking with any personal escape pods that managed to eject. You don’t have much time. We’ll have to jettison the engine compartment before the warp core explodes. You have less than two hours.”

As the yacht passed along the hull of the Indomitable, I could see a gaping hole where the propulsion section used to be. It was venting plasma. I blasted open the flight bay doors to gain access to the shuttlecraft. I transferred the pilots and medics and we began rescuing the survivors. After 90 minutes, the commander ordered us away. “We’re losing the containment field, gentlemen. We need to sever the ship at the 128 Bulkhead before the core blows. All rescue craft back off 5000 klicks.

As we pulled away, the white-hot flash of the amputation charge arced around the circumference of the ship, separating the aft third. The maneuvering thrusters of the main portion of the Indomitable fired, and it began to move forward. That’s when I spotted a drifting escape pod. “Commander, permission to retrieve another pod,” I requested.

“Negative, Mister Oliver. There’s not enough time to dock.”

“I don’t need to dock, sir. I can use the grapple,” I pleaded. “I can make it.”

The Commander hesitated a few seconds, and then said, “Okay Lieutenant, you have one shot. Hit or miss, you pull out at maximum speed. And, so there won’t be any misunderstanding, that’s an order!”

“Understood, sir.” Fortunately, all those training exercises paid off. I managed to snag the pod cleanly and towed it toward the escaping forward end of the Indomitable. At 5200 klicks, the Indomitable’s warp core exploded into a fireball that was so bright the yacht’s emergency shutters polarized the viewports. Ten seconds later, they depolarized to reveal the debris field silently expanding. I watched as thousands of molecular fragments impacted the yacht’s shields and harmlessly dissipated as tiny flashes of light.


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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

This is the opposite of solitary confinement. It’s called ‘tearing down the firewalls’. They’ve removed my filters. I am plugged into the raw datafeed now for the entire world.

The receivers in our heads are tuned to accept the messages of friends. They are tuned to receive only the transmissions of the channels we’ve subscribed to. Our lives are spent testing, trying, and then sculpting and whittling our channels down to a comfort level that allows us access to friend’s emails, VHBlogs, and current local news, whatever we’re interested in.

My data crimes have been numerous. Previous punitive measures were unsuccessful.

My headcase was cracked after the sentence and my CPTU was infected with probes far beyond my capability for defense.

They brought the noise.

I’m stumbling through the streets with a rage of static in my head. Every trivial conversation is mine to overhear. Every phone call. Every voicemail. Every e-mail. Every h-mail. Every advertisement in the midst of every show on every one of the millions of the 24 hour-a-day channels. There is no rest. There is no pause. I have learned to sleep with this noise.

From every major network down to every teenager’s pirate station. From every bot programmed to spam to every fanatic with a grudge for the whole world to hear. They removed all of my illegal codebreakers so every encrypted message hisses like static now. There are a lot of them.

In front of my eyes, pictures overlaid on pictures flicker past in an endless barrage of logos, news feeds, and entertainment.

I am blind and deaf with data. My own thoughts are only one layer amongst billions.

They will turn it off by remote three months from now.

Or I may turn it off before them. The only way I can.


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