Author : Juilan Kehaya
It was bright and he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. William panicked. Every limb tingled like static running through his veins. Something was in his throat. His eyes adjusted, a ceiling, a light. Electric shock forced him to blink. Hadn’t he just been at the beach?
“Hey! You were supposed to be watching him!” A male voice came nearby but dull and muted.
He heard a chair scrape, and two sets of footsteps moved towards him.
“It’s ok Will, relax, you’ll regain mobility soon,” John said standing over him now with Mary.
“I’m sorry Will, I’m sure that gave you a fright,” Mary soothed.
Will tried to relax but adrenaline had his mind racing. Unable to move for what seemed like an eternity, he began to feel his body, smell the sweetness of Mary’s hair, and hear the buzzing of electronics. The whole time she stayed with him looking down into his eyes. Finally, he was able to turn his head to the side; the tube retracted into a hole in the wall gagging him on its way out. Fluid spewed from his throat and he was breathing again.
“There now, it’s almost over.” Mary said, “Let’s get you into a rehab pod”
“Be happy you didn’t have to be awake during entry. The automated landing was quite the thrill ride.” Mary said, her voice resonating through the plastic of the rehab pod.
Minutes later the pod hissed open and Will sat up, able to move with ease.
“Everyone looks good captain,” Mary said matter of fact, and tapped her handheld opening the hatch to command access.
“Alright, everyone will see Mary in one hour, no excuses. You all know your post-landing routines,” captain McGovern ordered.
Will moved through the cramped command access and took a seat at his array, powering it up. The graphic display showed all the signals they were receiving and the monitor came to life running diagnostics. He rubbed his hands down his face and inhaled deeply. Diagnostics complete, his own image appeared on the monitor in the corner.
“Comms up and running captain. ”
“ETA?” the captain replied.
“Two minutes. Think they are all toasting with champagne yet?” Will smiled.
The captain rose and approached the monitor. “Probably, Roberson always sneaks some into Control.”
“Here it comes.”
The monitor displayed an icon then automatically opened up a video window. Will immediately saw Roberson in the background, party hat, bottle in hand. He and the captain exchanged wry looks.
Mission commander Bill Severs came on screen, “Congratulations captain McGovern! We received automation that the Red Lander arrived without a hitch. Second shift will be…”
A scream echoed somewhere in the background. Both men watched as Bill turned his head. Light flashed. It looked as though the room went sideways, then the feed went black.
“Will?” The captain said.
“Sir, I’m not receiving their signal.”
All signals started to drop off the graphic display, some in groups; save one.
“What’s that? Tap into it!” the captain ordered. “LBA? Thought that was abandoned.”
Will leaned in, “It is. They left behind a web cam for the school children.”
Video flicked back on. It was night on Earth, a new moon. Both of them stared in silence. The sun haloed the Earth. They could see a few patches of lights. Then large, bright, orange circles appeared and vanished. Two more minutes it lasted, both men silent. The planet was almost invisible now: a black, silent circle between the moon and the sun. The web camera vainly tried to focus on the now black circle, back and forth.
Author : Patricia Stewart
Conflict (‘kän-,flikt), noun: The opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to a dramatic action or struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, wishes, or demands.
“Captain,” announced Lieutenant Harriman at the Tactical Station, “sensors have detected four Omicron warships heading toward Rigel V.”
“Red alert!” ordered Captain Garrett. “Helm, plot an intercept course and proceed at maximum warp.”
“Aye-aye, sir,” replied the helmsman as she entered the coordinates into the navigation console. The ship made a quick turn to port, and then lunged forward into the warp field. “ETA ten minutes,” she reported.
The captain walked over to the Tactical Station. “Can you identify the class of ships, Mr. Harriman?”
“One Constellation Class Battlecruiser, and three Deep-Space Destroyers.”
“Whoa, we’re in over our heads. Any chance of getting some support?”
“The UES Ganymede and Sedna are an hour away, sir. It looks like we’re on our own.”
Captain Garrett returned to his command chair and activated the ship’s intercom. “Battle stations. This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill. Sensors have detected four heavily armed Omicron warships heading toward our colony on Rigel V. Our objective is to engage the enemy and defeat them. If we can’t defeat them, we’re to inflict as much damage as possible. At the very least, we need to buy time for the colony. Report immediately to your assigned stations. We may be boarded, so I want everyone armed. Sick bay, prepare for causalities. Let’s show the Omicrons what we’re made of. Captain, out.”
As the minutes ticked away, the crew prepared for battle. “Sir,” reported the communications officer eight minutes later, “we’re being hailed by the Omicron Battlecruiser.”
“Put it on the main viewer.”
The image of slender female reptile in a crisp military uniform appeared on the viewscreen. Her yellow scales shimmered in the low intensity orange-red light of the enemy bridge. She was sitting in the command chair with her legs crossed. Her tail swayed rhythmically behind her head. Clearly, the alien commander did not consider the Earth ship a threat. “This is Captain A’Kovck,” she hissed. “Stand down, and prepare to be boarded.”
“This is Captain Garrett of the UES Titan. I was just about to offer you the same option, Captain.”
Her deep red eyes narrowed, and she balled her claws into fists. “This is not a joking matter, Captain Garrett. We didn’t ask for this war. Earth attacked us. Your raiding parties destroyed hundreds of our nurseries. Millions of un-hatched infants were ruthlessly slaughtered. Three of my own eggs were among the murdered.”
Captain Garrett stood, and clasped his hands behind his back. “With all due respect, Captain A’Kovck, that’s not the way it went down. As we’ve tried to explain…”
“Enough!” interrupted A’Kovck. “Surrender within the next five seconds, or be vaporized.” Her image disappeared from the viewscreen and was replaced by the head-on approach of the four Omicron warships. The three destroyers peeled off to flank the Titan.
“Send a subspace message to Rigel V,” Garrett ordered. “Tell them to prepare for hostile guests. Okay, men, we have a job to do. Shields to maximum. We may not be able to win this battle, but we’re sure as hell going to give them a fight. Attack sequence Delta. Target the Battlecruieser. Fire all weapons.”
Courage (‘k?r-ij), noun: The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty in the face of overwhelming odds.
Author : Debbie Mac Rory
Jake looked over at Sara, sitting on the ledge where the window used to be. She was hugging her knees and staring out at the sunset.
“The sky. It’s pretty tonight, like someone reached out with a paintbrush and dabbed the colour there t’lift our spirits”
Jake leaned over to whisper in her ear;
“What if I was to tell you that, over there, over where the hills are that you can’t see ‘cos the city’s in the way. Over there, where the country starts, that’s where all the people were running too. Runnin’ ‘cos that’s what the broadcasts were tellin’ them to do. Run, and don’t look back. Them ships are coming, with bellies full of weapons. So they ran. And when those ships sailed over and opened up those bellies, they fired just at them peoples. That’s why these building are still sitting here, so the likes of you can sit here and wax lyrical about the pretty colours. They sailed right over the city, but they hit those people dead on. The sky’s red like that ‘cos the firestorm’s still burning. It ain’t no artist that’s makin’ the sky all pretty, its them dead people, all turned to dust when the bombs hit.”
“Why weren’t you with them?”
Jake laughed hoarsely, his throat strangling the sound into ragged coughing.
“I was with ‘em girly. Me and the rest of the boys, herding all them people like so much cattle. Thinking we were helpin’ em when alls we were doing was gathering them up nice and tight for them big guns. Why d’ya think my lungs are cut up so bad. Nothin’ quite so bad to breathe in as dust that was still people only a flash before.”
Sara slowed hard and looked over her shoulder at him. Grimy bandages wrapped his face and hands, in an effort to protect the worst of his scorched skin. His lips were cracked and blackened, and blood spotted his shirt and hand from his last coughing fit.
“You gonna die?”
“Course I’m not gonna die. Promised your Daddy I’d take care of ya, and I can’t be doing that very well if I go and leave ya on your lonesome, can I?”
Jake started coughing again, doubling up as spasms racked his chest.
“And you gonna show me a real sunset?”
Gasping to catch his breath, Jake followed her gaze up to the swirling red clouds of the setting sun.
“There won’t be any real sunset fer some time, not till them people all settle back down to th’earth for their final rest. But if you cin be waiting that long, then yeah darling, I’ll show you the prettiest sunset you’ll ever see”.
Author : Steven Odhner
It was May when the Highway arrived from some distant place in the Northwest. On the fairly open ground the caterpillar-like monstrosity traveled at the alarming rate of about a mile per day, efficiently clearing away rubble and brush, flattening the ground and packing it down with Thumpers, and then laying out a fresh strip of road that it made internally with Assemblers. Some of the younger villagers had never seen a working machine, and they would stare at it from the hill all day.
Gregor was old enough to remember the time before the war, when it seemed like everything was a machine, but he sat and watched the Highway too. He had even climbed up onto it, opening access panels and trying to gain control. It was built like a tank and had very few access points, none of which revealed any kind of input device. Clearly it had received its orders from some computer somewhere – how long ago had that been? Gregor tried to do the math in his head, but he didn’t know enough to make any kind of guess. If it had been active since before the war it would have passed by years ago even if it had started in Alaska, but it could have been stuck somewhere or trying to pave over a mountain or something. Maybe someone had been salvaging and had turned it on by mistake. Whatever had happened, it was determined to keep laying down highway now and there didn’t seem to be an override. Gregor looked East towards the ocean and sighed. Such a waste.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see his wife standing behind him – he had been spending all of his time staring at the rusty behemoth and felt almost as bad for neglecting her as he did for failing to stop or redirect the machine.
“The best salvager we’ve ever had and you can’t do anything with a fully-functioning highway assembler. I know this has to be killing you, love.”
Gregor nodded and sighed, looking back towards the breaking waves. He had been so excited when he first saw it, had pictured reprogramming the assemblers and making the machine construct a proper city for them to live in. He had known that was absurd, far beyond his technical ability, but surely he would have been able to use it for something.
“Come home, love. Get some rest, and tomorrow night the whole village will go down to the shore to watch it go. We’ll make a celebration of it.”
For the millionth time Gregor imagined the machine stopping on the beach, some safeguard preventing it from committing suicide, but he wasn’t sure. With safeguards enabled something would have stopped it years ago, but without them it should have fallen off a cliff by now. Thinking about it did nothing but annoy him further, but he couldn’t stop. There was some part of him that was glad it would be out of his hands soon, and that part tried to remind him that he had a good enough life, with a roof over his head and hot meals in the winter. Joints groaning slightly, he stood and hugged his wife and felt his frustrations evaporate somewhat as she squeezed him. With a final weary sigh Gregor turned towards his home, leaving the enigmatic Highway to crawl ever closer to the beckoning sea.
Author : D. K. Janmaat
They breathed in unison. All over the city, all over the planet, the bots were breathing together. They moved and walked and spoke as their individual programming dictated, but their breathing was synchronised, in and out with the constancy of a ticking clock. She was in her twenties when she first managed to make her own working robot and it breathed with inexorable regularity. In out. In out. In out.
“Hello,” it said. In out. “Are you my mother?”
“The female creator of my form,” it insisted, “The instantiator of my existence. Are you my mother?”
She had to concede that she was, although the term made her uneasy.
In out. In out. It breathed just like all the other bots did.
Without access to the research databases, she had made a very basic effort at its programming, and that meant it needed to be taught.
“Do I have a name?” It asked her, as she was showing it how to clean the windows. It was standing very close. She could hear it breathing in out, in out.
“No. Would you like one?”
It went very quiet as it considered the question, breathing in out, in out. The sound was beginning to irritate her.
“I do not know of like,” it said finally, “But convention would dictate that a living being needs a name.”
“You are not alive.”
“I think I am. ‘I think, therefore I am’,” it quoted. “Did not an early philosopher of your people say this?”
“Maybe tomorrow,” she told it.
The room was filled with the soft sounds of mechanical respiration; in out, in out.
The robot never slept, of course, so it would often spend the nights moving quietly through her rooms, cleaning and tidying and generally occupying itself. She found she became even lazier with the housework out of sympathy – she couldn’t bear the thought of it sitting idle while she slept.
But no matter what it was doing or how hard she tried not to listen, she could always hear it breathing. When she was working at her desk, she could hear it. When she made breakfast, she could hear it. Even outside her home the sound was there, echoed in every bot across the city. In out – a robotic nanny escorted her charges across the street. In out – a mechanical doorman tipped his hat to passers-by. In out. In out. An artificially intelligent shopkeeper arranged goods in the display window. In out, in out! She couldn’t take it anymore, that chorus of synthetic breaths bombarding her from every direction.
“Is something wrong?” Her creation asked as she stormed inside and slammed the door. In out, in out, in out.
“Stop that, stop breathing.”
“Stop? But every living being requires the regular intake of oxygen -”
“Enough!” She shouted. In out, in out. Her tools were where she had left them that morning, carelessly tossed onto the workbench. She took the ones she needed without hesitation, ripping open the robot’s chestplate and tearing at the tubes and wires that simulated the human respiratory system.
“You aren’t alive. You don’t need oxygen,” she growled, as she slammed the casing shut.
She held her breath –
Ah… blessed silence.
After she had gone to sleep, the robot limped over to her workbench and stared at its innards lying amongst the tools. With careful hands it took them up, opened its chest, and began to repair itself. When the damage had been undone it gently closed the casing again, and breathed a deep sigh of relief.