The Last Time

Author : Thomas Desrochers

There was a warm glow as the Core began to wake up, followed by a spiraling light that worked its way around the room. After a moment a thousand pairs of eyes opened, and a thousand magnetic locks released. Like a routine play nine hundred and ninety eight spindly human figures stepped forth onto the walls and filed towards the black emptiness arranged around the Core in what a chemist or mathematician might call tetrahedral bipyramidal form.

Soon they had all filed out, except for two. Two bright, flamboyant figures, every one of their lights on. Two figures, with red, white, green and yellow halos from which fell streams of red and white that culminated in belts of purple and ended in pale skirts of gray. Slowly, after several million machine cycles two pairs of eyes opened separately of each other. Patiently, four legs took tentative steps forwards. Carefully, fourteen foot long fingers at the end of two separate hands grasped each other.

Several cycles passed, merely a millionth of a second, and thousands of synthetic neurons fired off across space to those waiting – brilliant lights in the darkness.

Hello, they cried to one another.

Another thousand suns and Hello, how good to see you again. Hello hello hello.

Every sun spread out across the dark sphere, each one revealing a flaw. A slight scratch here, a growing patch of rust there, a long-forgotten digit and a patch of skin resting together in the middle of nothingness.

A hundred more brilliances just to ask ‘How about a walk?’ And to reply Of course, ‘the sun is so beautiful outside.’

With measured deliberation four spidery legs crept forwards, perfectly out of sequence, perfectly unordered. Over the edge they stepped, fingers still curled and intertwined together, and down the walked towards the door farthest away.

They strolled through the empty darkness together, and parted the sea of nothing with a song of light. One time a cycle, four times, three times, six times, and once again – perhaps a hundred thousands times in a second. It was simply noise.

A repeating eternity later they finally reached the hole into a bright nothing and stepped through, not as one, but as two.

For precisely one billion cycles they simply stood there, taking it all in. The pale glow of a red sun drew long shadows across a field of the dead.

‘It’s always the same,’ said one.

‘It’s never the same,’ replied the other. ‘See the many ways the sun paints the blood and the stars paint the blackness.’

At the end of the billionth cycle, precisely on the dot, the pair, alone in a field of a thousand, began to step forth, from one piece of debris to the next. Here the frozen hull of a once thriving colony ship, there the still burning heart of a capital ship. And there, a icy body, familiar and alien at the same time.

All the while the stars twinkled between the two – ‘Look over there’ or ‘see the way it has spilled open.’

Then came the tug. Even these two couldn’t ignore the desire to return and to sleep.

They made their way back, they returned. Everything was in place, and nine hundred and ninety eight eyes were shut around them.

‘I checked, we will be cleaned tonight as we sleep.’

‘Do you think we will remember?’

‘I do not know.’

For a moment two hard, skeletal heads touched, and a million transmitters exploded in a violent, silent cacophony of what is only known as joy.

And the lights went out for the last time.

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Blind Invaders

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The soundwaves are so short that they actually shatter meat.

Bones shudder but remain intact. Cloth turns to ash. Skin goes translucent and turns into a fragile carapace that break like ice on a puddle.

Then gravity takes over.

When people get hit by the invaders, it’s not pretty. That’s all I’m saying.

The invaders have no eyes. As far as we can tell, their entire bodies are one giant ear, a resonance cage that detects sound for miles around in the air. Their weapons are grown from the grey flesh-skirts that surround their pointed dunce-cap bodies. Weapons that baffle and focus every decibel into whatever they want.

They’re like church spires come to life. They have one giant foot like a slug at the base but they move so very fast. They’re from a volcanic planet where life evolved from a silicate form. They operate at a sizzling operating temperature.

They are living rock with lava for blood from a high-gravity planet and their entire technology is based on sound manipulation.

They have sounds that can drill holes through apartment support beams. They have sounds that can solidify air. They have sounds that separate anything made from metal or rock into separate molecular components.

They have sounds that turn people into what looks like a spilled strawberry dessert.

People like my children. And my wife.

Their groups sound like orchestras of death coming for us. There’s a heat haze in the air above their formations as the sounds distort the very air. Echolocation. We only move when it’s silent. They give off huge plumes of steam like underwater eruptions.

One good thing is that if enough water is spilled on them, they crack wide open and their blood cools into rock as soon as it hits the air. It looks like a horrific death from the way they thrash around. It’s addictive.

I imagine fighting naked in the middle of winter and I think I can get a feeling for how the invaders must feel fighting here on Earth. They must hate it here.

That thought keeps me comfortable at night when I try to sleep.

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Grey Matter

Author : Peter Lavelle

‘I think it looks just wonderful on the mantelpiece, don’t you?’ Mrs. Smithey asked cheerfully.

Mrs. Everett leisurely stirred the contents of her teacup. The tinkling of the spoon against the fine china was an eerie peal that unsettled the very furniture of the front room. She gave a final decisive tap against the brim of the cup, and placed the spoon noiselessly on the table.

‘Yes,’ she said sternly, ‘although you might have found something a little more befitting to keep it in than the goldfish tank.’

Mrs. Smithey bristled. She leant forward from the sofa and seized upon the plate of digestives. ‘Ohh,’ she said, her voice quavering, ‘that’s only temporary, it’s temporary. We’ve a crystal salad bowl in the loft we’ve been thinking of bringing down for it. Biscuit?’

‘No; thank you,’ Mrs. Everett determined. She brought the teacup to her lips and then paused, considering her question, before asking in a lilting tone, ‘Where was it you heard of this procedure, Mrs. Smithey?’

‘Thinking of having it done for your Earnest, are you?’ replied Mrs. Smithey with a knowing wink.


‘Oh, you ought to consider it, I really think so.’

Mrs. Everett said nothing, and for a moment only the ticking of the grandfather clock punctuated the silence between the two women. Mrs. Smithey brushed away a crumb from her floral print dress, before continuing:

‘We saw it on the television one afternoon. It’s all as professional as you could wish for. They just send two of their technicians in the middle of the night, strap him down, saw open the cranium, and scoop out the brain.’

She munched on a digestive, reflectively.

‘I tell you,’ she added, ‘Jack’s been ever so good since we had it done.’

Mrs. Everett nodded slowly, and stared down into the steaming body of sepia-coloured liquid she held between her palms. ‘It’s not very usual,’ she said, forming the syllables of the last words carefully.

‘Oh, well, I don’t know,’ her hostess replied. ‘It’s as things should be, if you ask me. Puts a husband in his place.’

‘And they just let you keep the leftovers?’

The two women turned together and looked to the small round portion of grey matter, situated above the fireplace. It sat centred beside an old photograph of a newly-wed couple, the wife’s arm entwined around her husband’s so that the pair were clasped together. Their features were barely discernible through the layers of dust that smothered the glass. The brain, meanwhile, was mostly flaccid and, though the goldfish tank in which it was housed was only small, was comfortably accommodated.

‘Perhaps you ought to fill the tank with water so that it doesn’t just… sit there,’ Mrs. Everett suggested.

‘Perhaps,’ replied Mrs. Smithey, tilting her head thoughtfully.

‘And your husband Jack…’ Mrs. Everett began, but faltered. She settled her teacup on the tiled surface of the coffee table with a clatter. ‘He… doesn’t mind seeing it every day?’

Mrs. Smithey chuckled and leaned close toward her guest from across the table, a conspiratorial smile upon her face.

‘My dear Mrs. Everett,’ she confided, ‘he doesn’t say a peep about it.’

Her guest nodded but kept silent, and so Mrs. Smithey once again took up her plate of biscuits.

‘He doesn’t say a peep,’ she repeated. ‘You’re sure I can’t tempt you?’

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The orbiter had touched down at Vandenberg, and Lewis and a dozen others had flown cargo the thirty minutes to San Francisco airport. They trudged in from the tarmac in loose formation out of habit, unprepared for the crowds in the terminal.

The debriefing team had talked about friction, that the religious right had taken offense to their involvement in the colony war.

There was an awkward moment when the soldiers met the seething mass of people, unsure if there would be familiar faces, confused by the angry looks and rumbled undercurrent of discontent.

“Murderers,” a lone voice lit the fuse, causing the crowd to erupt into a cacophonic barrage of unfettered hatred.

The soldiers had faced more threatening forces, but here, at home, unarmed and unprepared, they could do nothing but close ranks and retreat to safety.

Police raised riot shields as picketers raised placards, the two groups squaring off as the tired soldiers slipped away through the terminal.

Lewis took the shuttle to the BART platform. In an hour he’d be in Lafayette, at home with his wife and his little girl. He understood now why Tessa hadn’t been there to meet him.

The waiting rail car was almost full. Finding a vacant seat, he addressed the woman seated across from it.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

The woman’s eyes flared up at his, and drawing up noisily she spat on his boots.

“Murderer.” Her eyes burned into him as he turned and walked to the other end of the car. “Did you forget God while you were fighting up there?” Ignoring her, he found and lowered himself into another vacant seat. His massive frame, used to two years of a gee and a half nearly crushed the structure as he landed. The people already sitting nearby quietly got up and moved away, taking up standing positions with their backs to him.

They were in Oakland City when four young men produced guns as the doors closed and the train began to move again.

“All of you, wallets, jewelry and phones in the bags,” the shorter of the men spoke loudly as they moved through the car, waving guns with one hand, bags open in the other.

“Are you going to fucking do something?” The same woman had Lewis fixed with a glare again, though this time her eyes were filled with fear.

The men hadn’t noticed Lewis, and as he raised himself from his seat, they backed away, raising then lowering their guns uncertainly. Lewis bristled with armor, the chitin alloy plating spliced into his skin would stop anything of the calibre these men could heft, and in sheer mass he could crush them without effort. They knew that as well as he did.

“Listen man, we got no problem with you, we’re just making a living…”, the stocky one’s voice trailed off as Lewis brushed past him.

Lewis stopped facing the woman, her eyes darting from him to the wavering guns behind him. He bent over, wiping up some of the still wet spittle from the toe of his boot. She jerked back and froze as he raised his hand. Putting a wet finger to her face, he smeared a cross on her forehead.

“I hope your God remembers you, when you meet him.” His face was inches from hers, his breath hot on her trembling face.

The entire car stared in shocked silence as he straightened and stepped off the train at MacArthur station, leaving them alone, passengers and thieves.

There’d be another train shortly, and at the moment Lewis needed, more than anything else, space.

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P is for…

Author : Steven Odhner

Ah, Mr. Knight! Thank you for coming, sir. Doctor Dave Ewing is going to be calling you at some point to tender his resignation, and – oh, has he? Well, after this meeting you’ll want to call him and get him back, tell him the charges are dropped – hopefully before he commits suicide or something… the poor bastard is despondent.

Yes, sir. I know he used the fuel cell, and I know we only had four. I can understand your anger at hearing that an eighty billion dollar power source was used to fuel an unsuccessful experiment without permission, but you need to know that Doctor Ewing wasn’t crazy – just… near-sighted. He genuinely believes that his project was a failure, but – well, watch. Pay attention to the mouse, and that empty chamber on the other end of the device. There!

Yes, that’s what I thought at first too but it’s not a teleporter. The matter can’t appear any further away than that, and it has to weigh less than seventy pounds – actually it’s based on mass, but it’s easier to think of it as seventy pounds for our purposes. Yes sir, I agree that that sounds useless, but the point is that the good doctor wasn’t trying to invent a teleporter anyway. It’s a time machine.

I know, I know, but let me slow the video down – the lab cams can do some crazy slow-motion – and watch the part where the mouse moved. There it is! For just a fraction of a second there’s two of them. The bad news is that that’s as far as it’s possible to send anything back – not even as much time as the machine itself takes to warm up. That’s why Ewing thought it was worthless, the readouts from this test run confirmed he’ll never be able to go back in time far enough to do anything interesting.

Yes, sir, I’m getting to that. I played around with his device – I don’t understand the time travel stuff but I know the mechanical aspects and then I took the other three fuel cells and – sir, no, calm down! Look at the box next to you. See, it turns out you can put a real hair-trigger on the killswitch, link it to a sensor on the “receiving” end… and a fuel cell weighs less than seventy pounds.

Don’t worry Mr. Knight – it took me a while to stop giggling too.

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