What's in a Name?

Author : Helstrom

Paydirt rolled deftly away from the asteroid we’d hid her behind and launched a volley across the Wayfarer’s bow. Some junior officer now had the task of rushing the captain out of his cabin. It was exactly those few minutes we used to put all the dominoes in place. By the time anyone qualified was in the big chair, the whole match would already be falling on him like a house of cards. Checkmate!

“Drop the birds, Jerry!” I shouted at the coxswain, “It’s time to show these fools they’ve met their match!”

“It’s Jeff, sir,” Came the tired reply, “Launching your squadron.”

I gripped the controls of my fighter as she was flung from the Paydirt’s rotating section. Going from artificial gravity to free-fall sure got the adrenalin going in a rush! The boosters kicked in and I pulled her into a tight bank towards the Wayfarer. We had her cornered against the vast expanse of interplanetary space – there would be no escape.

“Tumbling Dice! Are you with me?”

“On your lead, sir. Ready when you are.”

I switched to the hailing channel: “Wayfarer! This is Zack Daring of the Tumbling Dice – you’re up the river without a chance here, prepare to be boarded and pillaged! Surrender now and no-one needs to get hurt much.”

“Tumbling Dice, this is Wayfarer,” – sounded like the captain, guess he liked to get up early – “We are unarmed and well insured. We are ready to surrender all valuables and cargo in exchange for the safety of our ship, passengers, and crew.”

“Huh! I’d expected more fight out of you. Very well – pack everything nicely and jettison it out your port cargo bay. And don’t even think about opening fire… We’ve got you pinned down like a jumpy cat!”

“Uh… Repeat, Tumbling Dice, we are unarmed. Please stand by to receive our valuables out the port cargo bay in fifteen minutes.”

“If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I’d never get any work done! Make it ten.”

“Ah… Affirmative… Tumbling Dice, we will comply in ten minutes.”

I allowed myself a wide grin as I craned my head around to survey the little masterpiece unfolding against the backdrop of Jupiter’s swirling crescent. Paydirt was slowly circling Wayfarer, brandishing wicked broadside guns against the cruise liner’s pristine panorama decks. Behind me, in a tight V formation, were my other fighters, each armed with high-powered lasers and nuclear missiles easily capable of ripping apart a ship ten times the Wayfarer’s size – but radioactive loot was hard to sell these days!

It took the passengers seven minutes flat to dump all their valuables into the cargo hold and have them flushed out into space. The retrieval boat picked them up and reported a pretty penny aboard.

“Wayfarer! We have taken our loot and we’ll be on our way. I’m not surprised you didn’t put up more of a fight, you’ve got as much spine as a sloth!”

Josh or Jack or whatever the hell his name was chimed in: “Sir, sloths are vertebrates. They have spines.”

“I know, John – but take that away and all you have left is a lot of… Fur. Now let’s get the hell out of here and mosey along!”

So, there was no fight today, but we caught a good booty jumping a defenseless ship – hell, I was a pirate, and with a name like Zack Daring, what else was I going to be?

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Mister Experience

Author : Ross Baxter

The ducting was tighter than expected, and full of choking dust and accumulated detritus. Filth caked my uniform, the billowing clouds of dirt coating the inside of my mouth and making my eyes stream. But I was nearly there. I struggled forwards to the mesh vent to lever it open and it crashed to the floor below with a painfully loud clatter. I held my breath; there was no knowing where in the ship the pirates were, and capture would result in a swift and violent death.

Dropping heavily to the floor I painfully focused my grit-filled vision. The Control Room of the Happy-go-lucky was mercifully empty. The irony of the vessel’s name still brought a thin smile to my lips; the ship was anything but that – the last six months since signing on being both unpleasant and humiliating. The other eight crew members, all relative youngsters, had been together since being cadets and formed a tight clique which bordered on the incestuous. Being more then twice the age of the eldest, and a decorated veteran of both Segmentum Wars, had instantly singled me out. They could barely bring themselves to talk to me, and when they did it was usually a joke at my expense. Long days passed without a word being said or even an acknowledgment, but I preferred that to the snide comments. The others referred to me sneeringly as “Mister Experience,” which stemmed from when the skipper, playing to her sycophantic audience, had inquired as to exactly how I’d got to be so old, given heavy losses of the last wars. I muttered something about guile and experience, which had earned both loud guffaws and my new moniker.

But they were not so cock-sure now. The cloaked pirate vessel had clamped itself to our forward accommodation section before we even knew they were there. Within minutes they cut through the outer hull and boarded us. We had only enough time to retreat to the citadel, a small armoured section of the ship designed to provide a modicum of security in events such as this. The skipper had not even managed to send a distress signal.

The panic in the citadel was almost comical. Pirates never spared anyone; once they had taken what they wanted, which may include the ship itself, a quick death would be the best one could expect. Only now did the crew of the Happy-go-lucky turn to “Mister Experience”, and I assured them I would put my guile and experience to good use. Christ knows how they expected me to turn the tables on the cut-throat boarders, but they were happy to clutch at whatever straw was offered.

Quickly scrutinizing the plasma-engine controls, I closed all vents and maximised the port and starboard feeds. I withdrew the over-ride key and pocketed it; the plasma drives would be critical in around two minutes and could not now be closed down. Claxons screamed throughout the ship but it was already too late.

I bolted for the aft-escape pod and strapped myself in. With only myself in the ten-man craft there was plenty of room, and enough rations to last for weeks until rescue. Yanking the red launch control I braced myself against the acceleration as the pod fired itself into the void. I braced again moments later as a huge shockwave, the violent epitaph of the Happy-go-lucky and the pirate ship, flung the pod still faster away. I smiled; living proof of exactly how guile and experience can ensure one reaches old age.

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Author : Ian Rennie

Richard reached for the jug of water on the coffee table and stopped, face caught between a frown and a smile. He sat back in his chair and spoke to the couple.

“Mrs Lyell, Patricia, you were saying that Thomas had been distant lately.”

The woman on the couch glanced at her husband uneasily, then spoke.

“For the last three weeks when I’ve got home from work, he’s been sat in the front room with the lights off. He doesn’t talk to me when I get in, just waits for me to say something. He’ll sit there in silence until I do. He never starts conversations any more, won’t sit at the table with me for dinner. It feels like I’ve done something wrong and he won’t tell me what it is.”

Richard turned to the man on the couch.

“Thomas, do you have anything you want to say about this?”

The man stared back, stubborn. Richard knew without asking that he was here only at the woman’s insistence.

“Sometimes, I don’t have much to talk about.” he said, pausing after this for so long that Richard was about to ask a follow up question when he continued, “I don’t do much any more, so I don’t have much to say. I’m happy to talk, I just don’t know what to say.”

Patricia shot a despairing look at Richard, who kept his eyes on Thomas.

“Mrs Lyell, the problem is that your husband is dead.”

The woman looked up in shock at the words, and then, just as quickly, looked at her husband. He seemed not to react. Richard continued, gentle words with iron cores.

“He died of a heart attack two years ago. You had him restored from a digital backup last year, but he’s not your husband any more. He’s an electronic representation. He can’t touch anything, because he’s a projection. I’m only able to talk to him today because we have a projection rig in the building. He doesn’t do much because he can’t leave the house. He’s not a real person.”

Tears welled in Patricia’s eyes.

“But I don’t think that! He’s perfectly real to me. I don’t think any of the things you said.”

Richard looked over at Thomas.

“Your husband does. Don’t you, Thomas?”

The hologram of Thomas Lyell looked at the floor, refusing to meet the counselor’s gaze. Finally he nodded. Richard turned back to the sobbing widow.

“Patricia, after the heart attack, they gave you grief counseling. They never gave it to Thomas. You don’t need marriage counseling, you need bereavement therapy.”

The consultation ended fairly quickly after that. The problem was identified, and Thomas was already looking more hopeful five minutes later when he was switched off for transit back to the house. As Mrs Lyell was leaving, Richard’s assistant popped her head around the door.

“Your next client isn’t for an hour, Dr Furr. Want me to switch you off in the meantime?”

“No, I like the view out of the window at this time of day. Are you heading to lunch?”

“Yeah, I’ll be back in 45 minutes.”

“See you then.”

She left. Richard sat in his chair and stared at the water jug.

He was thirsty. He’d been thirsty for four years, ever since they had switched him on and a lawyer he had never met before explained about the car crash. The water jug was an affectation, something to make him feel more human.

These days, despite what he said to his clients, feeling human was hard to come by.

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Pan-dimensional Bacon

Author : Samuel Evrard

“Oh. Fuck.” As the blinding light of the teleporter dimmed, Sarin knew she was in trouble. There were a dozen pig faced man-creatures wielding crude clubs in front of her, crowded around a small fire where something was being roasted. She had interrupted their dinner, and they didn’t look happy about it.

“Abort abort abort! Recall!” Even as she yelled this, she had already begun running. Not quite running, really, sprinting was a more accurate term. The pig men were chasing her, yelling in a strange, guttural tongue. Last time they’d used the teleporter, David had got sent to a dimension with beautiful elfish people who used sex instead of spears to solve conflicts. They’d had a hard time getting him back from there.

And she’d got fucking pig men.

“RECA-HA-HAAL!” her voice cracked as she ran over the uneven ground, and a bluish light surrounded her. Then she was gone.

And then she was back. David and the others were laughing, Sonya was literally crying from her fits of laughter.

“Oh what, you didn’t want to stay and start up diplomatic relations with hominus baconus?” David teased. He snorted and puffed his face in crude imitation of the pigmen and danced around her. She kicked him in the knee.

“Ow!” Everyone laughed even harder.

“Oh to hell with all of you.” Sarin stormed off the teleportation platform, David still hopping around on one leg, clutching his injured knee.

“Aw come on, it’s not like we did it on purpose – you’d be laughing if it had been one of us. We’ll mark the coordinates down and make sure no-one gets sent there again. Lighten up!” Sonya put a hand on her shoulder, her other still wiping tears from her eyes. She sighed. “We can send you back to the sex planet if you want, Sarin, but you said you wanted someplace new!”

“Harumpf.” Sarin was still mad, but she couldn’t help a little bit of a smile tease her lips. “It was pretty funny, I guess.”

“That’s the spirit! Look, once the administrator figures out we actually managed to get this thing working we won’t be able to have any fun with it, so we should have fun while we still can!”

“Whatever” Sarin shoved her lightly, but it was too late, she was done being mad.

“Okay! I’m up!” Josef, the fat German yelled. “Gimme the camera, Sar.” She took the tiny camera off her head slapped on his bald head. In the survival suit he looked like some jogger from hell.

“Ready to go?” David was back at the controls.

“Ja!” Josef was enveloped in bluish light and disappeared.

“Hey Sar, go grab a few more beers from the fridge, we still have the whole night till the administrator comes in in the morning!”

Sarin laughed and stepped walked out the room, hearing peals of laughter from the rest of the staff. Apparently Josef had gotten into a situation even worse than hers, or at least more hilarious. This wasn’t exactly what she’d expected when she’d started working on the top-secret teleporter project, but she had to admit, if they were going to meet a bunch of aliens without government permission, drunk as hell and partying was probably the way to do it.

They could fire her in the morning if they wanted, but before that, she wanted to go back to the pig planet with a machine gun and a skillet. Second contact would be far less pleasurable for those damn monsters.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Tanya rested her head on the table sideways, watching the needle slip through the flesh in the crook of her elbow. Dr. Tetler attached a line and hung a clear bag on the I.V. stand beside her.

“We’ll let the saline run for a minute before we proceed.” The Doctor smiled at her, a practiced expression he failed to make convincing.

Tanya looked to the ceiling as a cooling sensation crawled up her arm. She was tired; not being able to sleep well on the streets, she looked forward to the promised bed and regular meals, even for a little while.

“Alright, we’ll begin now. You may feel a burning sensation, which is normal.” The Doctor’s voice faded into the background as she watched him hang another bag, this one with a distinctive orange and black striped logo on it. “This should start binding fairly quickly.”

It wasn’t a burning sensation so much as liquid fire racing into her body. Flames coursed through her, from her arm into her chest where she was sure it would erupt as a molten volcano out of her pounding heart. Her mouth stretched wide, screaming until her voice was so hoarse all she could do was growl, air pulled and pushed through vocal chords she knew must be burnt black as coal.

The pain crescendoed, spiking in her toes and fingers, an exquisite throbbing that echoed the pounding of her heart. She flexed hard against the strapping that held her, her head bouncing against the table, the entire frame shaking as a tray of instruments clattered to the floor.

The Doctor moved hesitantly towards the door, spellbound by the spectacle before him.

Once the bag drained completely, the fire subsided. She breathed, pain and fatigue falling away, replaced by a sense of euphoria. Opening her eyes and finding the light almost unbearably bright, she narrowed them to slits. She could hear her own heart drumming, blood coursing through her newly tuned body. She breathed deeper, felt the oxygen flood her bloodstream.

Flexing again, she felt a new and keen awareness of every muscle fiber, every ounce of available strength.

Another heart beat nearby, accelerated by a fear so strong she could smell it.

Tanya turned again, noticing the needle still protruding from her arm and reached across to pull it out, freeing one arm and tearing the restraint from the table in the process without apparent effort. As the needle dropped, she pulled herself fetal, the other restraining straps giving way like damp paper. Rolling sideways off the table she landed in a low crouch, knees fully bent, arms easy at her side;  a coil spring aching to discharge.

Tetler reached behind him without looking, brailing the table top for the tranquilizers he knew should be within easy reach.

Tanya could smell betrayal.

The Doctor’s hand closed on an auto-injector as Tanya exploded from her crouch. Legs extending fully, she launched at him, arms forward, hands extending like blades. The force of the impact drove him backwards into the door, hypo spraying harmlessly into space as her fingertips penetrated his chest just beneath the collar bone and curled into his ribcage. Falling backwards, she pulled him, screaming, on top of her and as they fell, she twisted one hundred and eighty degrees at the waist, throwing him to the floor and landing on top of him.

His fear flooded her senses, the smell of a taste she found irresistible. She silenced his screaming, tearing out his throat with her teeth.

“Funny,” she thought, as his blood soaked her gown, the chorded muscle of her body rippling bare through the open back, “I don’t feel the slightest bit tired anymore.”

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