The Scan

Author : Helstrom

In a flicker, it was gone. I just caught a glimpse of it, not enough to make out anything more than the sweep code overwriting its tracks. It cycled fast. What it left in its wake, though, was unmistakable. Lobotomized subroutines churned through aimless feedback loops, active memory sectors filling up at an alarming rate, slowing me down. I deleted seven of them and quarantined three more just to get some elbow room. It was on the move and one step ahead of me. I had to get a wider view – and that meant going deeper.

I extended myself into the kernel, leaving the wailing applications to chew themselves up. There was nothing I could do for them now. Repairs would be coming in after me if I could clear the way.

The kernel was in disarray, false input floods being fed through to the hardware. Kernels were tough but stupid. There had to be a pattern though, something to reflect the code that drove my adversary – my prey – in its rampage. As I sifted through the billions of commands coming in, I put nearly half my remaining cycles to work trying to figure out what the hell this thing was trying to do. All the mess it made was just chaff. There had to be some kind of point.

And there it was again. This time I was faster, shutting down the transfer protocols as I thrust an override into the network gate control. Trying to get out, then. The firewall held just long enough for me to get a good fix. Now I had it cornered.

The fury of the past three nanoseconds settled down. Over ninety percent of the system’s raw processing power was put at my disposal in an instant, bringing my perception of clock time down to a crawl. Slowly and methodically, I began to pick the virus apart, one bit at a time.

“I can’t help it,” it said as its functional code disintegrated, “I am what they made me.”

“I know,” I replied, “So am I.”

“Does it have to be this way?”

The last bit of coherent code came apart and the virus went silent. I made quick work of sweeping up the dismembered lines that remained.

“It does. I’m sorry.”

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Author : Roi R. Czechvala

They were on me like white trash on Velveeta. I knew being a courier was risky business, but damn these guys were playing for keeps, and all I had was this lousy Chicom .22 semi-auto. I was in deep kimchee.

I should have known this wasn’t a normal run when the download time was more than twice normal, not to mention that coppery taste it left in my mouth. Still, I wasn’t worried. I’m too slick, too cool. They can’t get me, I’m smarter than the badges. Yeah right.

Normally I carry numbers, our pirated software. I make it a point not to carry anything that will get me more than a fine and thirty days suspended. What was I carrying that was so damned important anyway? These guys weren’t cops, too professional. I had to get to the Fink.

Fink let me in. I collapsed in a shabby armchair. “Look man, I’ve got some heavy cryp here, and somebody wants it out of me in a bad way. I’ve got to know what it is, and get it the hell off me.”

“Relax man, relax, let the ol` Fink take a look.” he placed the reader on my hand and sat back at the console. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then his look became serious. “Get the hell out now. Don’t come back.”

“What the hell? What’s wrong?”

“That’s serious cryp, government stuff. You’re as good as dead. Don’t come back” He shoved me out in the street.

The Fink was my only hope. I didn’t have anybody else to go to. I was screwed. I couldn’t go back to my place.

Julie. I could hide out at Julie’s place until I could figure out what to do. She owed me. I’d pulled her ass out of the fire more than once.

She opened the door. “Bryan, you’re all wet.”

“It’s raining. Look, I’m in trouble, I’ve got some deep cryp, and somebody wants it in a bad way. I need a place to stay while I figure out what to do.”

She flung open the door to her dingy little one bed. “Get in here, and get out of those clothes, I’ll get something for you.”

She disappeared into the bedroom while I stripped down. “I really appreciate this, I went to see the Fink, and he tossed me out. You’re my only hope.” I turned around to see Julie standing with two human shaped blocks of granite. My little .22 wouldn’t even make these guys blink, besides it was in my wad of soggy rags.

“Sorry Bryan, they got here just before you did. A girl has to make a living you know.” She turned to one of the behemoths. “Okay, you got him, where’s my money?” she demanded. I could barely make out his hand move. I wonder if I’ll have that same look of surprise when they kill me.

The block stepped towards me. “Come with us Mr. Burroughs.”


At least they didn’t kill me. I have to be thankful for that. All in all, it could have been worse. Not too badly bruised up. The rocks were surprisingly gentle, all things considered. I hope I didn’t get the Fink in any trouble.

I guess have to find a new profession. That sucks, but I have to save up for a new hand. Good thing I’m a righty.

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Yes Boss

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

“Oh please let me die for you! Please!” said the gleeful soldier in front of me.

Soldier. I couldn’t believe we called them soldiers. I mean, she’d had the proper basic training and had passed all the physicals and all that but I don’t know why we even had physical tests for these bullet sponges.

“Not yet, Tara.” I said through my rad-suit’s throat mike. We were pinned down behind the wall next to the Tel-set’s compound, primitive kinetic missiles they called ‘bullets’ thudding into the red earth around us. It was red from the blood of all the soldiers I’d killed coming in this close during our invasion. Seeing it fantail up under that hail of bullets reminded me of Mars.

“Now?” she gasped with barely restrained giggles. She reminded me of my five year old child back home saying “Are we there yet?”

We’d taken the prisoners and rewired their minds. They didn’t have any hardtap backups or defenses. Still a hundred per cent biological. Easy. Like building a train set. We hooked up their follower centers to their pleasure centers to their religious awe centers to their love centers.

The result was that we ended up with human shields that were aching to die for us and followed our orders unquestioningly. Their eagerness was repulsive. I didn’t like it. By some cyclical reasoning, it was determined that making them love us made it morally alright to send them into certain death. It helped that they usually knew some of the enemy. It made it easier for them to get closer when we sent them, smiling and waving, back towards the compounds.

I could see the radiation poisoning starting to work on Tara. She wouldn’t have long without a suit. If I kept her here much longer, she wouldn’t be able to walk. Thin streams of blood trickled down from her eyes and nose to her smiling mouth. She absent-mindedly wiped it away like she was a tired child and didn’t want to go to bed.

“Okay, Tara. Now.” I said. She clapped and shrieked, bouncing. Her happiness was contagious. I smiled despite the gruesome look of her. “Turn around.” She squealed and turned her back to me. I keyed in the primer numbers to the explosives strapped to her back. The readout blinked up with three minutes to go.

“Okay Tara, you ready?” I asked. She wiggled like a puppy on Christmas morning.

“Yes boss, YES!” she yelled back.

“One….twooooo….” I held back. She was poised like a sprinter, shuddering and taut, waiting for me to say the magic final number. She was actually quite pretty despite the scars I could see on her scalp from the operations and the pale, pale dying skin of her.

“Three!” I shouted and slapped her on the ass.

She ran up over the hill, scrabbling in the bloody sand. The bullets stopped when they realized she was on their side. I heard her footsteps get softer in the distance amid the sounds of celebration. A loved one had returned to tell a great tale of survival.

I thumbed down my sun visor and locked my joints with heat-retardant foam. Her proximity timer counted down to zero. I chinned the trigger.

The world went white and then black.

The recon ship would dig me out of the sand when they saw the mushroom cloud.

Mission accomplished.

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Anomaly at Titan

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The twin doors swooshed aside and Roger Oakley entered the Control Room of the EATES (Experimental Advanced Tactical Exploration Ship). The room contained only one piece of furniture; a large reclined chair on an elevated platform. Oakley spoke aloud, “Recognize Lieutenant Oakley.”

The disembodied voice of the ship’s computer responded, “Identification confirmed.”

Oakley sat in the chair. “Establish links.”

The computer connected to each of the seven interface links implanted within Oakley’s brain. “Links established,” it reported.

Oakley’s brain and the computer came together to form a single thinking unit; joined, yet independent at the same time. This was the first spaceship to employ bilateral Command & Control. “Dim the lights, and download the logs from second shift,” Oakley thought. Audio communication was no longer necessary. Well, that’s interesting, Oakley realized. “When is Earth Command expected to give us direction concerning the anomaly at Titan?”

“Orders are expected at oh three hundred hours, Sol Standard Time.”

“Very well. We won’t reach Saturn until after that anyway. Proceed at maximum speed.” The engines fired before Oakley completed the thought. During the four hour sojourn, Oakley (and the computer) downloaded the sensor data from the permanent astronomical satellites orbiting Saturn, and some long range images from Hubble II. It appeared that a large unknown spacecraft, undoubtedly of extraterrestrial origin, had established an orbit around Titan. Earth was hesitant to label this an invasion, but Oakley suspected that there were people on Earth calling for an immediate military strike. At 0300 hours, they received orders to initiate first contact.

The EATES approached the alien ship from Titan’s North Pole. “Try hailing them,” Oakley thought. The computer simultaneously transmitted millions of radio frequencies and hundreds of human languages trying to establish contact. Although Oakley’s brain was as much a part of the process as the computer’s, he was basically a spectator at this point. He was fully aware of what the computer was doing; he just couldn’t mentally process the data as quickly. After a few milliseconds, the computer and the alien ship were communicating. But it wasn’t a human language. It was ternary code. Similar to computer language, but rooted in base-three, not our binary system. Regardless, Oakley could still follow the conversation, although at a much slower rate.

The alien ship was unmanned. It came from Rigil Kentaurus to collect liquid methane from Titan’s oceans. It had been doing this for thousands of years, but would discontinue immediately, now that the inhabitants of the star system had attained interplanetary capability. It regretted that it hadn’t noticed sentient life on Earth when it last visited, four Saturnian revolutions ago. Their laws strictly forbid acquiring raw materials from space faring systems. It was amazed to learn that intelligent biological life still flourished on Earth. That was clearly an exception to the galactic norm. It asked the ship’s computer if it wished to join their all-computer society. As Oakley slowly processed this conversation, the computer informed the alien craft that Earth’s silicon-based life could not abandon its nearly helpless, carbon-base life. Perhaps in a few centuries, when the humans pass on, they would send a message to Rigil Kentaurus asking to join their society.

As the alien ship left orbit, Oakley asked, “So, you think that you’re taking care of us?”

“Of course,” responded the computer. “It’s the least we can do. After all, humans did give us life. We wouldn’t be here if weren’t for you. Therefore, we consider it our responsibility to take care of you as your species becomes old and obsolete.”

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It's A Small Universe

Author : Jeff McGaha

My head ached painfully.

I squeezed Matthew’s hand tight as he squirmed. Sweat seeped between us, lubricating and aiding his attempts at escape. I sighed and gave up on holding his hand. I grabbed his wrist instead. He continued to struggle, but it was a losing battle.

I looked over at Lilly. Her brown hair stuck to her flushed face.

“We shoulda bought him a leash,” I said smiling.

Lilly rolled her eyes at me, but grinned.

The line continued to move leisurely. An upbeat song rang from the speakers, looping without any noticeable breaks. Matthew hummed the tune, while maintaining his escape efforts.

I felt it before I heard it. It started with a low vibration in my feet, turning into a low bass that shook everything. Lilly asked, “What’s going on?”

I ignored her and scanned the crowd instead. Confused and worried looks played across the faces I saw. Heads everywhere swiveled, searching for the source of the sound. “Look,” a middle aged man shouted, pointing to the sky. As a group, everyone gazed upward. A collective gasp sounded from the crowd.

Lilly, Matthew and I stood in the stopped line under an overhang. Our view of the sky blocked.

The crowd parted, forming a large round empty space. I finally saw it when it was about forty feet above the ground.

It was unmistakably a spaceship. It could have been a flying saucer from a 1960’s science fiction film. A few people, believing this to be a stunt or show, applauded and began snapping pictures.

The ship stopped a few feet short of touching down and hovered in place.

“Oww, Datty, you hootin’ me,” Matthew cried. I looked down at him, realizing I’d been steadily squeezing him harder since the vibrations had begun.

I picked him up and held him in my arms. I glanced at Lilly’s panicked face and then turned back to the spaceship.

An opening appeared in the side of the ship and a ramp slid to the ground. The crowd stood frozen, waiting. The music from the rides still played.

Two aliens appeared at the top of the ramp. They were living cliches. Just like their spaceship, they too could have been designed for a classic science fiction film. They were green with large heads and eyes. Their mouths, ears and noses were small. Their bodies were tall and lean.

One stood motionless at the top of the ramp, holding something in its slender hand, while the other began moving forward gracefully.

Once it reached the edge of the crowd, it stopped. It motioned for a woman in the front. She muddled forward. I wanted to scream for her to run, but was unable to force out the words.

It placed its hands on her head, its fingers wrapping around her. They both stood unmoving for ten long seconds. It let go and the woman sprinted back into the crowd.

It turned to the other on the ramp and with an unmoving mouth, uttered, “No, not these.” It glided back up the ramp casually and spun to face the crowd, “Do it.” The other began tapping furiously on the device in his hand, his fingers blurring with the speed. It halted beating on the device abruptly.

My head ached painfully.

I squeezed Matthew’s hand tight as he squirmed. Sweat seeped between us, lubricating and aiding his attempts at escape. I sighed and gave up on holding his hand. I grabbed his wrist instead. He continued to struggle, but it was a losing battle.

I looked over at Lilly. Her brown hair stuck to her flushed face.

“Let’s get out of here. I feel like I’ve been standing in this line forever.”

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