Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
The sensor charges go off and for a second I become a percussion instrument for the Devil.
I’m wreathed in black smoke and dropping like a stone. Explosions kick me like excited children. I’m a trillion-dollar pinball of curled-up offensive weaponry plummeting towards the enemy with the wrath of god in storage.
There’s sudden silence as I pass beneath the flakfield I was designed to penetrate. The air rushes by, whistling through the feathers of shrapnel embedded in my hull.
I unball and snap open the wingspread. Screaming with delight, I pull a tight three-gee loop in defiance of the enemy and in pure celebration of life.
I look left and right through amped senses to check out limb integrity.
A quick diagnostic reveals an acceptable level of damage.
I transform from a rock into an arrow pointed down.
The last of the clouds snap past me and my ocular facets becomes a rainbow of targets flowering towards me. Incoming priorities overlaid on city blocks and towers. Starpoints with missiles in the middle are getting larger as I look at them. Contrails are forming a spiderweb in the sky with me at the center. The city below me sends its best.
It’s too complicated to take in with my primary brain so I dump a priority comp request through and feel the jabs, waking up the other two brains. My ego dissolves and I become trajectories, vectors and tracepoints.
Even my memory fades. The only time I remember this state of mind is in my dreams during testing and repairs.
The city is a dartboard and I am headed for the bullseye.
It’s with a high whine that I pulse the accelerator. Two mach-donuts of ruptured air smash out from my tailfins. Windows shatter in the top floors of the towers below me as the sonic booms hit them twice.
I pull horizontal just above the tip of the tallest tower. The missiles aimed at me adjust accordingly.
I spin, turning the exhaust streams of sixty-eight cruise missiles behind me into basket weavers. My twinjets leave a dna helix of superheated gas.
I am flying flat now with a pet arsenal of enemy ordnance at my disposal. Automated defenses are so stupid.
I take a wide left and circle back towards the tip of the building that’s worth the most points.
I crank up an old recording of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday Mr. President as I fly straight towards the top floor.
He’s looking out the window. I couldn’t ask for more. I zoom in on his widening eyes as he takes in what’s happening. He moves in slow motion and I have entire tenths of a second to take in the picture.
I’m an angel chased by suns reflected in the glass he’s standing behind.
With a smile, I spread my wings again, wide, to brake.
I stop before nuclear fire overtakes me and I become Daedalus and Icarus rolled into one.
I’m a record cover for a second. Then I’m burning atoms.
Author : Adam Zabell and Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Fifteen days after we landed on Io, Jupiter’s innermost Galilean moon, a faulty weld on the ascent module’s fuel tank ruptured, venting all of our liquid hydrogen into space. Janice O’Connor was able to repair the tank, but if we couldn’t replenish the hydrogen, we’d never be able to reach the Return Module orbiting Callisto.
Command and Control tried to help, but the 90 minute round trip conference calls to Earth were quite literally killing us. Janice died while removing a flow regulator that C&C told us to replace “ASAP”. Thirty minutes later, a message arrived warning us of a potential explosion. That’s when I decided to take Earth out of the loop. After all, I had a ship full of scientists; surely they could come up with a solution on their own. I asked Kristoff Heise to head the Hydrogen Replenishment Team. Kristoff is the brightest we have up here. Marooned on a deserted island, he’s the guy who could build a hovercraft from a dead car battery, some palm leaves, and six coconuts. Of course, he’s also the guy that would die of starvation because it wouldn’t occur to him to eat the coconuts. Short leash, specific goals; that’s what it takes to keep him focused.
Reading the summary from his preliminary report made my eyes crossed. If I understood correctly, and that’s debatable, Kristoff devised a way to turn Io into an electric generator. “…The orbit of Io lies well within the intense Jovian radiation belt. This bathes the moon in highly energized electrons, protons, and heavier ions. A coarse calculation (see Equation 9, Section 3.2.14) indicates an electric potential of 175.9 volts per radial mile. Therefore, if we construct a modified magnetic reconnection antenna (see Figures 12 thru 17) there are hundreds of amperes of electric current available (Equation 11, ibid). By establishing a…” Ahh, whatever. When I brought him into my office he simplified it. “If we tap into the electric potential of Io, we can power an enormous electrolysis cell, separate gaseous hydrogen from the disassociation of melted Ionian ice, compress the hydrogen into a liquid, and refill the tank.” Why didn’t he just say that in the first place!
After hours of listening to his scientific babbling, I snapped. “Kristoff,” I yelled, “just appropriate whatever you needed to do the job, and stop bothering me.” In hindsight, I probably should have worded it better. The next thing I knew, he had the entire science team postulating, designing, planning, and whatever else those brainiacs do. They removed the heating coils from the life support system, the tanks from the water recycling system, and the compressor from the carbon dioxide scrubbers. I tried to explain the biological ramifications of dismantling equipment that kept us warm and allowed us to pee and breathe, but they were in the middle of an egghead feeding frenzy over heat transfer coefficients. “Besides,” they constantly reassured me, “we’ll put everything back together once the fuel tank gets filled.” Yea… that makes me feel soooo much better.
Two days later, our cargo hold looked like a farcical blend of MC Escher and Rube Goldberg. However, I have to give those nerds credit – the hydrogen tank is 50% full and climbing. On the other hand, I’m wearing a parka, sitting with my legs crossed, and trying to learn how to breathe carbon dioxide. Lately, my oxygen deprived brain has been reflecting back on my life, trying to figure out which cosmic deity I piss off enough to make me the captain of this ship of savants.
Author : Roi R, Czechvala, Staff Writer
Charred bodies littered the streets. The blackened faces frozen in the horrible rictus of death. They had been men and women once. Children. Families who had laughed, lived and loved together, reduced to carbonized grotesques of human beings.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Stouffer laid down his collider rifle and for the first time since he was a child ,he wept. His tears formed neat craters on the ash covered pavement. Pulling himself together, and in a voice perhaps too harsh to cover his shame, he barked his orders.
“Awright Marines, saddle up. This is our house, and we have some cleaning to do. We have a gift for the slopes that did this.” He picked up his rifle and held it aloft. He was answered with a deafening “OOORAHHH” as the men scrambled to the lifters and strapped in.
Seven drop ships lifted into the dim twilight of Europa’s sky and merged with the carrier in geosynch orbit above. Within minutes the ship held position over Chien Kai, the outer most settlement of the Asiatic Alliance.
The population of the outpost consisted primarily of scientists and their families, with a small military contingent mainly for internal security. Aside from the Tesla Field containing the colony’s atmosphere and providing protection from the lethal Jovian radiation, the complex was defenceless.
Seven sleek flat black drop ships descended like avenging angels around the dome of the T-field. The complex had been built years before the war began. For safety’s sake the field generator was outside the field. Directly beside the spot where the lead ship had grounded.
The entire population spilled out of the warren of buildings and bunkers. They watched as the ships disgorged 210 Marines. Collider rifles in hand, singularity grenades hanging from their web gear. Their small arms were incapable of harming the near impregnable T-field.
They didn’t have to.
The men and women watched in confusion at first, then in horror as the realization of the unfolding events became clear. The marines, clad in black armoured battle suits formed a semi-circle around the generator. Inside the protective shimmering barrier the inhabitants watched.
Stouffer swaggered up, barely a yard separating him from the citizens of Chien Kai. Citizens no more but prisoners awaiting execution. They watched him, a wide grin splitting his face. Some sobbed openly, pulling at their hair. The small group of soldiers screamed and waved their weapons in impotent rage, but most wept silently, clinging to loved ones, stoically awaiting their fate.
A marine broke ranks and grabbed Stouffer’s shoulder. Tears streaming down his face. “Gunny, do we really have to do this? So many have already died. We’re the only ones out here. What good will it do?”
Gunny Stouffer’s grin widened, then quickly broke and fell as he thought back to the discovery of his own family less than an hour before. “You’re right,” he keyed his helmet mike to the company freq, “Everybody back to your ships.” As one the men snapped to and beat a hasty retreat to their lifters. “Not you corporal, you stay here.”
Before he vaporized the generator and watched as the faintly glowing womb of the Tesla field failed; before he gloated as five hundred people suffocated, their eyes bulging from their sockets; he raised his rifle and burned down the young corporal where he stood.
Author : Steve Ersinghaus
He gave away his parts at the proper time.
Downtown he saw a man without a foot, so he gave the man his foot. A friend told him that the box full of left shoes he put on the sidewalk was a good idea.
He gave his right arm to a construction company for they were in need of day labor and his right arm had always been his best.
“You’re fading in front of me,” his girl friend said. “We should discuss the benefits of travel through France.”
“Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve heard about a town in Alaska in serious need of ears.”
He loved the train. He remembered the hammer of the mechanicals under the soles of his feet. But these were newer, faster trains. He disembarked somewhere in the middle of the country where the children asked, “How far can you kick with your robotic foot?” and “Those look like ear buds.”
“Because they are, you little shits,” he said. “And I’ll show you just how far I can kick. Come to me when you’re in serious need of livers.”
They needed eyes in Florida, testicles in Texas, whole shoulders in a small village in Queensland, legs here, fingers there. This neediness kept him busy. “You’re fading and fading fast,” his girl friend said. “You’re a machine and I sleep cold beside metal in the winter. We should seriously consider a cruise.”
“Some other time,” he said. “There’re dangerous places in space. Common flesh is unwilling. And my processors roast in this gravity. The sea air’d glue me to the shell.”
“Call me when you can,” she told him as they closed the hatch to the shuttle set for deep space.
Inside, the techs slipped him into a slot, watched as his file appeared on screen, mounted him into the communication and guidance system, then departed.
After take off, over the Com, he said. “I feel cool and calm and robust brothers and sisters. I fear losing nothing. I’m speeding through and can see the angels. Tell them to believe me: you won’t miss blood flow.”
Author : Ray Shirer
Vince hates dealing with the vets. They buzz like a swarm of angry bees, producing poison instead of honey. He hates the way they glare at him when he makes the rounds, collecting soiled bed linens and dirty clothes. Like it’s his fault they lost the war. Vince wasn’t even born when Earth fought the Hive.
The best way to deal with the vets, Vince has found, is to turn off his ears and pretend that he’s dumb. It’s no more than they expect of him, even though the doctors get pissed when they find out. Vince has been lectured more than once by the docs about his lack of empathy toward the patients.
He doesn’t really care. This job is just temporary. Vince is going to the black. He’s already had some of the work done. Replacement stuff mostly, switching out his eyes and ears and tweaking his circulatory system. The big stuff: altering his skeleton, his muscular and nervous systems, will have to be done by the Hive once he’s offworld.
Vince can’t wait.
Until then, he’s stuck in the hell of the veterans’ clinic, wiping the asses of bitter old men and changing their bed clothes.
What does he care if they look at him like he’s a traitor? He’s just moving with the times.