Author : Michael Varian Daly

The city had once been prosperous and beautiful, tall shining towers, broad tree lined boulevards, full of vitality.

Now it was a smashed ruin. Most of that had happened during the Age of Storms, Category Six monsoons scouring those once shining towers, adding their debris to the general destruction of wind and rain.

Battle damage had now been added to that forlorn landscape.

Drajica looked around at the ruins from the wide intersection where she had set up her Tribunal. The helmet of her battle armor was opened ‘on the half shell’ and would snap shut if the suit detected any incoming threat.

In the distance, she could hear the buzz/hum/hiss of Marine weapons, the snapping of century old ex-Soviet assault rifles, the occasional crump of chemical explosives. The air stank of general decay, with an undercurrent of burnt flesh.

Her security team had established a perimeter around the intersection. In its center, a hundred or so local males were lined up, kneeling, hands bound at the small of their backs. A stack of black plastic body bags were in an orderly pile a dozen feet behind them.

“Pathetic,” she thought, “But they had been warned.”

As the Age of Storms slowly abated, the Union of Matrilineal Republics had emerged from North America’s West Coast. The Sisterhood, as it was colloquially known, spread rapidly into the chaotic aftermath.

In the half century since, it had displaced most of the ‘systems’ that had survived the Age of Storms in an essentially peaceful process, and then expanded out into near Earth space.

Some pockets of Phallists had resisted with violence. But with limited capacity to reproduce, they faded quickly. Uterine replicator technology seemed set to reverse that, but unaugmented tank babies were almost universally sociopathic, except for the psychotics, of course. Those societies imploded brutally.

This city was one of the very last strongholds of Phallism. The Sisterhood had compiled evidence of genital mutilation, impregnation rape, and foot amputation for the women who tried to escape before it took action.

Two Warnings were issued. Then came an EMP, followed by a Marine Drop Brigade. Mobile Tribunals did the mopping up.

Drajica walked over to the line prisoners. She’d picked the first one specifically. She knew his type.

He wore a finely knit kufee and a now soiled white robe. His beard was long, but neatly trimmed.

Drajica faced him. “Do you Swear to honor and respect your Sisters?” Her voice was soft, but firm.

He smiled, but his eyes were hard. “There is no God, but God,” he said, “And Mu-”

She pointed at him. An actinic flash burst from her fingertip. A pinhole appeared in his forehead, a thin wisp of smoke puffing upward. He fell over backward, his body jerking. The smell of piss and shit adding to the overall stench.

She sighed. The next in line, a terrified boy no more than seventeen, had already pissed himself. She faced him. “Do you Swear to honor and respect your Sisters?” she repeated in the exact same tone.

“Ye-ye-yes, Mistress,” he blubbered with utter sincerity, “I Swear by my life!”

Two Marines hauled him away to a waiting ground vehicle. His fate would be agricultural resettlement, or possibly servitor augmentation. But that was not for her to determine.

Two other Marines were dragging the mullah’s corpse toward the pile of body bags. He would wind up as DNA harvest. His smug face would haunt her dreams for a while.

Drajica sighed again. “It will all be over soon,” she told herself, and moved down the line.

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Author : Ian Rennie

I don’t want to do this any more.

It’s cold, and we’re all hungry. I knew it would be like this, but that’s the difference between knowing and experiencing.

Nobody talks much any more, Scott least of all. When we were on the way there, he tried to keep people’s spirits up by talking up the grand adventure. When we got to the pole and found we had lost, that all this was for the privilege of being the second team to get there, he sort of withdrew. He doesn’t show how much this has broken him, doesn’t show that he suspects what I know for certain. We are all going to die here.

I knew it would be like this. Observing this is why I came. I’m sure that months from now when I hand in my paper, “A chronosociological survey of the extremes of the human condition, with specific reference to the antarctic explorers”, everyone around me will say what brave and courageous work it was. But it’s not. It’s cowardly. All of these men are going to die, have been dead for centuries. Whatever happens to this body, I will live on.

I stand up, they all turn to look at me. They will call this a supreme sacrifice, but it’s not.

“I’m just going out,” I say, “I may be some time.”

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Instruments of War and Peace

Author : John Logan

Leviathan IV floated in space, amongst the debris of its brother and sister starships, somewhere in close proximity to Alpha Centauri. Inside its massive hull, a team of veterans were preparing for their last mission. They were the last hope for their species and each man felt the weight of responsibility rest heavily on his shoulders.

“Do we have to use these antiques?” asked Stims.

Their leader, a man named Flex, grunted and spoke, “I don’t like it any more than you, but Dakros said we can’t leave any trace of technology on Earth.”

An array of carbine powered rifles lay before them and Stims grudgingly picked up one equipped with a scope and then slung it over his back. “Damn, if they ain’t heavy,” he said.

The other men retrieved a similar weapon and followed Flex down a tight claustrophobic corridor. The walls of the ship began to vibrate, testament to the experimental technology that was powering up to transport the team over four light years distance and six hundred standard years into the past.

The team passed a porthole, the silhouettes of broken ships and suspended corpses painted a bleak picture of devastation.

“They’re all gone,” whispered one man. “All of them.”

Flex turned and scowled, “Shut your mouth, Brack. I don’t want to hear it. Stay focused or I’ll put my foot up your ass.”

The team moved on, each man silent and brooding—lost in his own thoughts. They came to an open chamber where a spherical pod rested half-embedded into the floor. Around it, an eerie crimson light pulsed.

Dakros stood there waiting, his face contorted into a mask of impatience. “Time is running out,” he hissed. “The Earth men have found us. Quickly, all of you gather round.”

Flex nodded to his men, prompting them to form up and stay attentive to Dakros’ words.

“Here is a dossier with all the information you will need concerning the target,” said Dakros, handing it to Flex. “You were all specifically chosen for this mission not just because of your ability to kill, but because of your knowledge of human language and culture.”

Flex studied the dossier. He lifted his head from the printed paper and said, “Are you sure this is gonna work? I mean this is a prototype ship after all—”

“Let me make it clear, gentlemen,” said Dakros. The lines on his face deepened under the shadows of the room. “The human scourge has already annihilated our fleet, next is the home world, your families, loved ones and friends, all of them will die.”

Stims nudged the rifle into a more comfortable position.

“I’m very confident that we can send you to the correct space and time,” continued Dakros. “However, it will be a one-way trip—I’m sorry.”

None of them protested.

Flex plucked out a photograph from the dossier and held it up. “This him?” he asked.

Dakros nodded. “Our historians have worked hard to pinpoint the turning point in the human evolution of space travel. This man…” Dakros pointed an accusatory finger at the photograph, “…is responsible for the human progress that has ultimately led them across the stars to war with us.”

The face of each veteran soured with hatred as they studied the photograph, committing the features to memory.

Dakros suddenly clapped his hands together, shattering the silence. “All aboard now, we have little time,” he said.

They piled into the cramped pod. After a few moments preparation, the pod detached from the Leviathan and hurtled through space, its destination Earth, Dallas, 1963.

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The Electric Olympian

Author : Ken McGrath

John sat down in a corner of the canteen, spread his newspaper out in front of him and began to unpack his lunch.

‘THE ELECTRIC OLYMPIAN’ screamed the headline plastered across the front page of the red top.

“Hey Johnny, have you seen this?” a voice called loudly. John looked up without really needing to, he already knew the source of that booming, self-important voice. Bob, one of the machine operators, stomped up beside him and jabbed a meaty finger down onto the paper.

“This is sick this is. Have you heard about this?”

John shook his head in response. “I’ve only just opened it now,” he replied quietly, “haven’t had a chance to read it yet.”

“Right well, this guy here, Sancho or Sanchez or something, went over to take part in The Olympics and it turns out he’s part robot. So they’ve going to kick him out. He’s got a damn robot leg or something. It’s crazy. These freaks they think they can still act like normal people even though there’s a bit of a machine grafted onto them. I mean, come on, The Olympics is all about people in their physical peak.”

John looked at the massive gut sticking out over Bob’s belt and wondered if he’d ever been the peak of anything. His gaze drifted back upwards. Bob was still mouthing off.

“Think about it for a second right, this guy thinks he can enter, like a real person, even though he’s got this cyber leg that’ll no doubt help him run faster or for longer without getting tired. All the while our guys, real men, not these half-humans, are expected to take part against that. It’s just not fair.”

John quickly scanned the newspaper. “Says here Bob that this guy’s a jockey. I don’t think having a replacement limb is going to make any difference there, do you?” he asked.

“His damn horse is probably all pumped up on steroids or something, anyway it’s just not right, these part-people going in expecting to be treated like you and me. Next thing you know they’ll have them here in the construction yard. They’ll have some robot-armed freak out there doing all the lifting and carrying and there won’t be any need for machine operators, people like you and me. They’ll do away with the heavy goods drivers. That’s what’ll happen. You see what I mean? Folk like you and me’ll be out of work all ‘cause of these robot-freaks with their add on parts.”

John gave Bob one of those looks that suggested agreement, but in reality didn’t say anything at all. Bob gave him a friendly slap on the back then noticed one of his more vocal work-mates entering the canteen. Without a backward glance Bob snatched up the newspaper and started making his way across the room, calling, “Hey Jeff you seen this filth yet?”

John sat back heavily in the plastic seat and let out a relieved sigh. Automatically his hand crept to his right thigh, to the point where the saw had severed his leg. Beneath the rough denim of his work clothes the pseudo-skin wrapped around a replacement limb had never felt so cold, mechanical and heavy before.

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Circus of Grotesques

Author : Q. B. Fox

With her middle finger she idly traced the ragged designer scar that ran across his tanned bicep, but she appeared unimpressed by it and her mind was obviously elsewhere.

He stared at her pale, flawless skin where it stretched over her perfectly proportion pelvis and was equally apathetic; she was, physically, no better than all the outstanding beauties he’d taken to bed.

Perhaps it only mattered now because, this time, he really liked her. She was, he thought, an angel; and literally too at the moment, her wings curled provocatively round her so that the soft, white feathers revealed more than they hid.

“I have an idea,” her voice velvety in the broken silence. “Why don’t we meet…?”

“….outside the system,” he finished her sentence.

Did he imagine that both their avatars were breathing a little quicker?

He looked at himself critically in the fluorescent-lighted mirror, a slight paunch round the middle, ginger hair thinning badly at the crown, and tried to remember the last time he’d stood in front of anyone looking like this; the doctor, two years ago, perhaps.

He travelled to her apartment by the most direct route, and saw only a maintenance crew in the street, poking around behind the covers of an unidentifiable plastic block.

She opened the door, only her head appearing at first, her hair a wild explosion of tan-coloured, tight corkscrew curls. Her eyes were open wide and close-together and her nose small, upturned and piggy above a weak chin. She stepped back to let him in and smiled, horsey, uneven teeth surrounded by thin lips. And he realised that he was beaming back at her.

He was unconscious of the involuntary movement that brought them together, placed his hands on her bony hips and pulled her, flat chested, towards him.

“Oh!” she gasped, her voice high and nasal, and he could restrain himself no longer.

There was a protracted, fumbling fight with real and reluctant garments, but eventually their love making was hurried and sweaty, gulping desperately at lung-fulls of air between slavering, uncontrolled kisses. And, ultimately, it was inadequate and agreeably unsatisfying. They laughed like drains and, as the non-virtual sweat soured on their skin, adding to the queasiness in his stomach, he sighed. This was amazing.

Later, as they lay wrapped in scratchy sheets, her eyes flashing a very ordinary hazel and she cackled, “I have an idea.”

He knew immediately what it was; just as connected to her here as they had been before.

“New avatars,” he whispered, as if fearful of being overheard uttering a great heresy.

They giggled like children when they found a checkbox, hidden deep within the options screen, labelled “turn off limits”. They squealed like pigs at every asymmetry warning and hooted like monkeys as they dragged the sliders hard one way or the other.

It took the rest of the evening, but eventually they added costume to the skinny, mad-haired woman and sagging, balding man on the computer, outfits like the uncoloured, shapeless clothing discarded on the floor.

And then they plugged in and holding hands, both real and virtual, they set off to shock the world.

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