The Little Queen

Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

The royal family is property of The People, and it is The People who determine our fate. When I was eight The People voted to marry brother off to the King of an ore rich moon. He sits now, on a throne of onyx, beside his silent King. When I was ten, the people voted again and my sister was married to two Princes, who each rule half a planet. She lives on the equator, a buckle between the two halves of the world. All of my siblings were bound, earth royal blood, to alien worlds, to distant colonies. Royalty to Royalty. Crown to Crown. We marry so that we do not make war. Blood of violence or blood to bind, there is no peace without blood.

I, the youngest soul, the little Princess all grown, I was left on Earth, to read in the castle libraries, to cut ribbons in ceremonies, to attend dinners. I did nothing but wait, wait until, wait because, wait to be, just wait, biding time, treading time. Oh but then we discovered The World, a life form so large that it covers a planet, all but the poles, a King if there ever was one. The World is a plant, a person, a planet, it grows under two suns, links, stirs, blood as water, skin is green to receive the suns that rotate around their planet , whose million eyes are black like deep ocean water.

On my wedding day I wear a dress, newly made, woven of animal skins, soft against my own flesh. I step on the planet, the bride, a virgin to this space, this world, and the life there is rich – too much oxygen, and I am light headed. You will grow used to it, they say, before they leave me to be wedded to this world. You will grow used to it, they say, before they leave me to be wedded to this world.

I am lighter here. Lighter and light headed, I can step on my husband, my wife, this worlds rich gifts, it’s limbs. I sleep when I am tired, when I am hungry; there is ever fruit and nuts to satisfy me. I need only imagine my hunger, and there is food. My dress begins to shred. It is well made, but after a month, perhaps longer, the sleeves are gone, and the hem is shredded.

I am becoming wild, untamed. The suns never set, but take turns shining in the sky. I am unhinged, a wild thing, a tree animal. My shoes are long ago memories. I cannot remember when the ground was not soft leaves, when the weather was ever imperfect. It rains, and the leaves hurry to cover me, I walk under waterfalls and the water is sweet. The world is my lover, it hastens to care for me. I lay on the soft leaves of my lover, my own, limbs sinking into The World, covered, nearly consumed, and stare up at the two suns ready to receive their light.

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There is No Accounting for Taste

Author : Jason Frank

Satisfied that the “open” side of his small sign was indeed facing outward, Harrison parted the dusty blinds and nervously looked outside. The once crowded downtown sidewalks were empty, as they had been since the Tald-Mart had opened outside of town. The resulting drop off in browsing walk-ins to his small book shop was directly responsible for today’s scheduled visitor, whose eventual presence was directly responsible for Harrison’s current unease.

Harrison had not yet had the opportunity to meet a Taldunian in person. He was quite certain, however, that it was the magnitude of today’s sale that had him on edge and not the species of the buyer. Surely his lifelong immersion in the great works of literature had inculcated Harrison against any sentiments as base as xenophobia. Of course, one’s distaste for another’s actions could exist without an underlying, irrational fear. Harrison had always imagined that whatever alien civilization first contacted the Earth would bring either conquest or enlightenment. He never envisioned their intent of selling a variety of technologically advanced toiletries at ridiculously low rates. There was more than enough crass commercialism on the planet already.

Then again, if one of these interstellar merchants now was interested in purchasing a great work of literature in its first edition, perhaps Harrison had been wrong about them. Perhaps they were no different than any other immigrant group, seeing to their material needs before concerning themselves with matters of taste and refinement.

Harrison turned away from his front window and began walking back to his habitual perch behind the cash register. He had only taken a few steps before the dull chime of the old bell hung high on the poster plastered front door interrupted him.

“Hello,” Harrison said before he had completely turned around. Seeing the Taldunian at the door, he added, “Might you be the customer I had the pleasure of talking with yesterday?”

“Indeed,” the Taldunian answered, “I am here to purchase the edition we discussed.”

“Yes, I have it here. Would you like to browse a bit before_”

“That is not necessary.”

“Let me get that for you.” Harrison hurried over to the counter and picked up the book in question. He gently unwrapped the fragile copy of Wuthering Heights and offered it to his customer.

“Everything seems to be in order here. Your account has been credited the agreed upon amount.”

Harrison felt that a call to his bank would be perceived as rudeness in this circumstance. Besides, there had not been a single instance of a Taldunian failing to follow through on a financial transaction.

The six figure sum the two parties had discussed would ensure the survival of his small operation for a number of years. Still, Harrison couldn’t help feeling the loss of an heirloom that had been in his family for generations. He had chosen to be a bookseller and so sell books he must.

The Taldunian removed a small vial from his tunic and began to liberally sprinkle its contents on the book. Harrison’s assumption that this was some sort of preservative unknown to himself was quickly corrected as the Taldunian lifted the book to his tentacle encircled mouth and took a bite.

“Hmm, it’s not very good,” the Taldunian said, still chewing. “As you humans say, there is no accounting for taste. Perhaps it will be more to my wife’s liking.” With that, the Taldunian turned and walked out. Harrison’s remained standing for some time silently. His mouth, hung agape, was as dry as a pile of sawdust.

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Marshoppers and Birds

Author : L.Hall

Robert Lynch kicked the treads of the small field tractor, clots of dried mud falling off and busting on the ground. He took off his ball cap, looked up in the air and ignored the old man, Paul Gilbert, standing behind him quietly. Bobby, his five year old son, stood near his terrain utility vehicle trying to grab a marshopper. Robert watched him for a moment.. there was no awe on the boy’s face at the genetically engineered insect, designed to cross pollinate plants and burrow into the ground to loosen soil under the Mars biodomes. Just a boy trying to catch an insect. He turned slightly to look at the old man.

“Paul, I gotta tell ya.. Times been tough on everyone.” Robert scratched his chin.

The old man scuffed his boot against the red soil on the dirt road.

“I know, son. But I just can’t see how I can let’er go for less’n fourteen hundred.”

Robert nodded and walked around the tractor, green paint worn off in spots around the hitch. Bobby chased a marshopper closer to Paul while Robert deliberated on the cost.

“You know it ain’t worth eight.” He said, looking across the top of it at the old man. A low chuckle came out of Paul as he shook his head.

“Boy,” he said a bit louder, catching Bobby’s attention. “You hear that bird?”

Bobby started looking around him confused. He’d read about birds in books, but had never seen one, having never been off the Mars agriculture colony. Looking up at Paul, he shook his head. The old man bent down on one knee.

“You don’t hear that bird? Listen.”

Robert leaned against the tractor watching the act. Bobby was straining so hard to hear. Paul held up his hand to his own ear.

“Hear it? It’s going ‘Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!'”

Robert started laughing as Paul stood back up and grinned at him across the tractor. Bobby continued looking around curiously.

“Fine! Tell you what. I’ll give you nine for it, and eight bales of feed.” Robert said, laughingly. Paul grinned as he walked over to the tractor.

“Throw in one of Mary’s pies and maybe supper?” he asked, holding out his hand. Robert shook his hand and clapped Paul on the back.

“Now.. that’s between you and Mary.” he said.

As Robert and Bobby pulled off the Gilbert’s homestead, the young boy looked over at his Daddy curiously. “Daddy, I never did hear that bird.”

Robert laughed as the TUV bumped over the dirt road toward the lights of their own biodome.

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Author : Omkar Wagh

“How many days of funding do I have left?”, I asked.

“Well your thesis has been accepted and you have already been given a Ph.D. degree. So the college is willing to support you for about three more months at least.”

“Damn It! I would have never expected such a toxic species to last so long. Is there no way I could wrap up my work without landing in prison?”

“No I don’t think so. It’s a bit harsh but necessary. You’re going to have to fund the experiment with your own earnings now. I did advise you not to dabble in such experiments though.”

“Sir, but why is this law even in place?”

“Ever since a species in another simulation experiment conducted somewhere across the globe had developed enough to run their own simulation experiment, some blokes somewhere thought they actually had sentience, life even. They had as much a right to life as we did. Which meant a person could not stop such a simlation until all life had terminated.

Now depending on the laws of physics in that universe, this could take any time from months to years.”

There was nothing I could do. The job prospects for a universe simulation graduate were bleak especially with the negative publicity surrounding the research field because of the several casual genocides that were caused. Students would start simulations with random laws of physics, see which ones led to life, publish papers and then terminate them. I was one of the last students to take this line.

All that changed when some simulated species began their own simulations. What if we were a simulation ourselves? Would we want the same fate on us? Hence, we could not stop a simulation without all life terminating of it’s own accord.

I had to hire a talented hacker to bring down our systems from outside the university and delete all data. It was criminal. It was genocide. But at least he could claim he did not know of the simulation within the system. At least he wouldn’t get the death penalty. And I won’t be there to hear their last cries.

I’m not sure I want to play God anymore.

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Author : Gavin Raine

It’s ironic, but I’d been having having such a good day. The children all had their heads down, working on their numbers, and I even had a little time to daydream for once.

Then, I had that strange feeling that my chair had just sunk six inches into the floor – you know the one – and I knew it was real because the children reacted too. I was just about to reassure them that everything was OK when the gravity went off and all the lights went out and everybody started screaming.

The darkness only lasted a few seconds, of course, but it was terrifying for them – and for me too. If I hadn’t been shouting at them to be quiet, I think I would have been screaming myself.

Anyway, the emergency lighting came on and I started grabbing children out of the air and pushing them towards their lockers. They were all very good really and they remembered their drill perfectly, but it’s not easy getting into a pressure suit in zero gee. Most of them were crying and one of the boys was sick and Molly Davis got it in her hair and… well it was just a god awful mess.

We were just about getting organized when that idiot Lieutenant Birch started talking on the PA. “Wow that was a big one!” he said. “The engines have cut out because we’ve got a bit of spin,” he said. “We’re going to have a nice new crater after that one,” he said. He talks to us like were a bunch of kids on a fucking fairground ride! I’m sorry, but it’s just really inappropriate.

Listen, I know we’re inside an asteroid with a shell ten meters thick, but this is happening far too often. Inter-stellar space isn’t as empty as they told us it would be and traveling at 80% of the speed of light is just plain suicidal. We’re still six months from the turn-around and we can’t slow down, or we miss our target, so you know it can only get worse.

I’m sorry Captain, but you’re going to have to find yourself a new schoolteacher. I’ve made my decision and I’m going into the freezers tomorrow. All things considered, I’m not prepared to sit around and wait for the big one. I think it would be better to die in my sleep.

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