The Hunt

Author : Waldo van der Waal

The sound of an old-fashioned bugle in his aural signaled the start of the hunt. On cue, the chem depositors in his spine fired a burst of adrenaline. His face flushed from the drug and a mad grin spread across his features. He glanced across at the other skimmers lined up on the barren plain, then he smashed both throttle levers to the full-forward position. With the landscape blurring around his craft, he turned his attention to the sky. God, hunting Omnivians was fun!

He timed his first run perfectly. The giant avians’ massive shadows raced over the ground, and he used them to pace his charge. Then, just as it seemed as if he was racing too far ahead of the shadows, he leant back on the controls in a way that one really shouldn’t do in a craft designed to stay near the surface. The frame groaned as the skimmer bulleted into the sky, rapidly gaining altitude, shedding speed in the process. At the zenith, he let go of the controls completely, turned around smoothly and hoisted the gun to his shoulder. In that single, weightless moment, he aimed down the barrel, a mature Omnivian filling the sights. The sheer size of it stunned him for a heartbeat; but then he squeezed the trigger. Things seemed to slow down for a moment, and thinking back, he was sure he could see the projectile leaving the gun, flying true and hitting the bird in the middle of its flat forehead.

The leviathan’s scream jarred him back into action. He turned away from the mortally wounded beast and wrestled with the controls – the skimmer was in a dangerous tail-stall, and death was approaching at an alarming rate. But he might still survive. The Omnivian would never filter-feed through the skies again, nor would it give birth to live young while on the wing. Its constant migration would finally come to an end, and its shadow would no longer race over the barren plains and dunes below. Man had come to its world.

With the ground rushing in, he hauled backwards on the stick, and somehow managed to bring the skimmer under control just before impact. The other hunters had seen his shot, and made their way to the body of the beast. As his open craft settled, he stepped onto the dusty grey ground, and looked at the graceful, gentle giant he had slain.

Evolution had taken its legs, and what might’ve been a beak eons ago was now a gossamer web designed to catch insects in flight. The eyes looked forward, instead of to the sides, and the wings… The wings were truly astounding, not only for their shear size, but also for their vibrant colours. Omnivians never had anything to fear, since their natural habitat put them well out of harm’s way. That is, until the settlers arrived from the blue-and-green marble they called Earth.

He looked down at what remained of the animal. Then he glanced at the faces of the other hunters that had gathered around, and for a moment he saw in their eyes a mixture of shame and regret. No man can kill without regret. Then someone cheered, and they all raced back to their skimmers for the next run.

From far above came the cries from the rest of the flock. Their melancholy songs reverberated through the skies, but the echoes were growing dim. Soon they would become legend. Nothing more than memories. Memories in the minds of men who hunted, because it was fun.


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Perforce Performance

Author : Adam Zabell

In the darkness of my private soul, I still can’t believe I get away with it. In the light of my studio, I focus on titles.

Honestly, the title is usually the hard part. “SunderS” was brutal and well-received, but too abstract for my personal tastes. “Urinationalization” had the right measure of self-loathing, but never captured the self. They nearly revoked my license for “Waterbored.”

“Decimating” is six years old and remains my favorite. That year, I took a fraction of the grant money and broke it into a month’s wages for a hundred people. Volunteers were pathetically easy to come by. All they had to do was live their life for thirty days; one in ten got a late night visit with benefits, caught on ocular lens as unedited broadcast. The grandmother was anti-climactic, but the construction worker made up for it.

For almost two decades, I’ve pushed buttons and morals and boundaries, safely distancing myself from prosecution under the license that Our Greatest Society gives to their appointed moral compass. They needed me since the war effort made so many other things so justifiable. It’s why they took out the worthless parts of my brain to install the camera and antenna and video compression algorithms, why they raised me to be a forward observer. And maybe why they were so willing to give me the chance to turn my hobby into my passion. I don’t dwell on it much, I’m just glad for the opportunity to work with my hands.

Staying on the leading edge of the Shockwave (it’s what the art critics call my movement – to compartmentalize, trivialize, genericize me) used to be easy. Nobody had the stomach to match my vision, and nobody had my aegis. But now there’s this agrofarm kid who just hit the scene. They say his old man died in a thresher, and the kid couldn’t cope. Sold the farm to pay for his own camera, he’s making his way along the underground circuit. I only found out about him when I hacked my hospital’s records to research “Licensed, Therapist” last season. Slummed my way into his gallery. Clearly derivative, but it’s plain that he’s thrown the gauntlet. That would have been nice, but he’s cheating. All his pieces are “Untitled.” No work, no ingenuity, no soul.

This year, I’m running live for the whole season. Most of the time I’ll be tending a garden, building tension. I’m calling my work “Stalking.”


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The Blue Weed

Author : George Galuschak

The end of the world: we expected mad cows, Y2K, global warming, asteroids, nukes, tidal waves, flu-stricken chickens and angels descending from Starship Christ. What we got was The Blue Weed. We don’t know the delivery method – meteor strike, abandoned spaceship, some geek from another dimension. All we know is that we’ll never know.

Picture this: a light blue flower with black speckles, droopy petals, creamy stamen. A hiker found them, tucked in a crater deep in the Smoky Mountains. She knew something was up right away: thumbing through her Wildflower Guide, finding nothing, working up the nerve to touch them.

A quarter-million sub-microscopic seeds went home with her, attached to every pore of her body. She woke up two days later, saw clumps of the flower growing all over her lawn. They spread from there, filling up parks and vacant lots and the cracks between sidewalks. Indestructible; dump lye on them and more came back the next day.

People shrugged their shoulders – big deal, a new weed – until the grass and trees started to die. Purple Haze: an alien virus, spreading, choking bark and branch in a blanket of fuzz. Purple Haze grew on everything, even human skin, and it was next to impossible to remove.

The alien bugs came: yellow, spiky caterpillar things; dragonflies the size of birds; beetles with weird glyphs on their shells. They rooted around in the Blue Weed, doing God knows what. Completely alien physiology – they had backbones, for starters, and secreted an oil. If you touched one with bare skin, boils, blisters, time for the hospital.

The word invasion became popular. People scratched their heads and wondered when the invaders would arrive, not realizing. Alien grays and little green men and penis-shaped rocket ships made sense, but a bunch of flowers? Gardeners aside, one doesn’t think of weeds as world conquerors.

The government swooped in with an arsenal of pesticides: defoliant, weed killer, DDT. They all worked; none of them worked. The Blue Weed died, and was reborn. The government tried other things: they quarantined people in plague zones, just like a bad horror movie. It didn’t work, because you can’t quarantine the wind.

The Blue Weed grew and grew. The flowers sucked in oxygen and emitted their own bitches’ brew into the atmosphere, changing it. The mass extinctions commenced: 99% of all living species, gone. The ants survived, along with the cockroaches. Humans died in droves: the old, the young and the sick went first. The survivors’ skin took on a tint just like the flowers.

Earth, today: nothing to see but a never-ending plain of The Blue Weed, waist high, swaying gently in the wind. The landscape: crystal jellyfish, drifting through the clouds; small, chattering monkeys with huge ears and wide, unblinking eyes; and the last human, cowering in the long grass, hiding from the carnivorous dragonflies, smothering in a world turned blue.



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Version 5.10

Author : John Logan

Drill Sergeant Harvey K. Buicks watched the line of soldiers as they stood taut and strong. Their backs concave, chests out, muscles rippling. He turned to a small man in a white lab coat who twitched nervously next to him.

“Things were good until about a week ago. I hope you can sort this mess out,” said Buicks.

“Can you tell me exactly how the… uhm… anomaly manifested itself?” said white lab coat. His plastic pen paused over a tiny PDA, the fingers itching to write.

Buicks scowled. “What? Speak plainly man.”

“What happened to make you call us?”

“I’ll show you,” said Buicks and walked over to one of the soldiers. A black balaclava under a helmet of dark alloy covered the soldier’s head. His features were hidden except for two glittering green eyes that stared ahead.

“Soldier,” barked Buicks in his best drill voice. “Shoot this man.” His index finger swept upwards to point at white lab coat.

“Drill Sergeant Buicks!” gasped white lab coat and staggered backwards looking for an escape route.

Buicks face was grim and emotionless, like oven-baked granite. The soldier raised his rifle and fired. The white lab coat was pelted with circles of blue dye as he turned to flee. He staggered only a few paces then came to an abrupt halt.

“Paint,” said Buicks.

White lab coat sighed with relief and then his face turned red with embarrassment. “Was that really necessary?” he squeaked.

Without answering, Buicks handed the same soldier his own pistol. “Fully loaded with live ammo,” he said to the soldier. “Now, kill him.”

The soldier raised the pistol. White lab coat cringed, shielding his face with both arms. The soldier trembled for a second and then at lightning speed turned the gun on himself and fired. His head was driven back by the impact and he crumpled to the ground, a dark stain of blood pooling on the tarmac.

“They’re all like that,” said Buicks as he bent to retrieve the pistol. “The new ones that came in on this batch are all affected the same way.”

White lab coat frowned and stepped cautiously forward. “Curious,” he said and began to flip through his PDA.

“Can you fix it?” said Buicks as he shot a look of utter disgust at the line of helmeted men. “A soldier’s no good if he can’t kill on command. By god I’d rather have the real flesh than these synthetics.”

A few moments passed in which Buicks growled and paced like a caged lion. Then quite suddenly white lab coat spoke, “I have it,” he said. “Looks like a decimal calculation went wrong in the survival programming.”

“And you can fix it, right?” said Buicks.

“Easily,” said white lab coat and tapped the PDA with his pen. “There it’s done. The relay net is already updating the numerical data.” He lifted his gaze to the line of soldiers and spoke, “State version number.”

“Version 5.10,” they said in unison, their voices sounding like a hollow recording.

White lab coat grinned, pleased with how swiftly he had handled the problem. “Now, Drill Sergeant Buicks, is there anything else I can assist you with?”

“Yes,” said Buicks and handed his pistol to the nearest soldier. “Kill this man.”

A red mist sprayed the air as the bullet pierced white lab coat’s skull.


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The Peacock's Tail

Author : Ryan Somma

“Watch this,” Alea smirked at Trin and turned to the four-legged creature dumbly munching on some flamegrass nearby.

“Oti,” Alea chirped to the thing, and a few dozen eyes opened to look at her. “Oti, what is pi?”

A half-dozen orifices sprinkled amidst the eyes opened to emit a flurry of hissing noises and chirping.

Trin’s jaw dropped as he looked at his wrist screen, “3.1415926535… The numbers just keep coming.”

Alea was practically beaming, “I know.”

“It’s speaking in binary,” Trin blinked at her expectantly.

“I know,” Alea nodded.

“Why?” Trin prompted.

Alea shrugged, “It just started doing it. When the digital connection on my computer broke, I had to jury rig a sound connection to signal you in the dropship. In the weeks while I was waiting at base camp for your arrival, I was Web surfing, and next thing I know, this critter starts talking to my computer system. It’s figured out all our protocols, and has been explaining geometry, trigonometry, and calculus to my computer. I’ve been saving it all to log files for the team to review.”

“How is this possible?” Trin blinked and shook his head.

“I have an hypothesis,” Alea looked at the creature, still happily hissing away pi to seemingly endless decimal places. “Ready?”

Trin nodded dumbly.

Alea pointed to a trio of two-legged powder-puffs bouncing around the space cows’ boneless legs. “Females,” she said. “The calculations attract females. They are a mating display.”

“Calculus is a mating display?” Trin frowned skeptically. “That doesn’t make sense. Why would these blobs evolve to understand advanced mathematics just to attract a mate? They obviously aren’t putting that knowledge to any other use. I thought evolution favored minimalism.”

“It’s like the peacock’s tail,” Alea was grinning at the creature. “Male peacocks evolved these long, extravagant tails because female peacocks preferred them. Why do they prefer them? They just do.

“The tail serves no purpose, in fact, it makes the males easier to catch and eat. Birds of Paradise have evolved similar extravagant displays, just because the females are attracted to them.”

“You’re saying this creature has evolved a giant, energy-hungry brain that can perform calculus and talk with our computers, just to get chicks?!?!” Trin was practically sputtering, flabbergasted. “What are the ramifications of that?”

“Profits, my esteemed colleague,” Alea snapped her fingers before Trin’s eyes. “Peacocks’ feathers were nice for Victorian-era fashions, but for our modern information-centric sensibilities, these critters will be all the rage. Are you following me?”

Trin blinked at her dumbly, sitting still. Slowly, a wide smile spread across his face, “Okay.”


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