Author : Phill English
‘Gaeriy, I’ve got some bad news.’
‘What’s that Broux?’
‘Well, I’ve finished the calculations and it turns out that in order for us to co-habit this planet, we’re going to have to wipe out half of them.’
‘Oh, wow, that’s a bit of a bummer isn’t it? Don’t you think that we could just, y’know, “accidentally” wipe them all this time?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, it’s against the preservation laws to extinguish any more life than–‘
‘–is absolutely necessary to begin co-habitation. Yes, I know. In that case, how do you plan to split them up?’
‘That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. At first I thought gender, but then I remembered the trouble Mihrv had with Grabble-4.’
‘Yes, I can’t believe he managed to choose the one gender that was essential to reproduction. Out of fifty three! Got to feel for the poor guy, the preservationists weren’t happy.’
‘Exactly. As such, we need something completely arbitrary and inconsequential so those guys don’t drop a sanction on our planet fall.’
‘Okay, how about a physical feature? Ocular pigmentation?’
‘No, I’ve done some research on the matter and it appears there’s no clear divide on the pigmentation spectrum. The majority of their body features are similarly unsuitable due to mutations throughout their evolution.’
‘Oh. How inconvenient. Actually, have we mapped their neural networks yet?’
‘Yes, quite extensively. There weren’t a lot of variables to take into the equation to be honest.’
‘Right, so that would include their preferences for material possessions? Their ‘taste’ in products?’
‘That’s correct, I think I can see where you’re going with this line of questioning.’
‘Yes, I’ve definitely got it now. We can’t go forward on this for a decade or so of their time, right?’
‘Indeed. The paperwork has to be couriered to Splunk-1 and back, otherwise we’d be down there already.’
‘So in the meantime we’re stuck here twiddling our thumbs and taking in the myriad boring lives of the inhabitants. I reckon we can kill two bwarks with one thuk here. Say we create a product especially engineered to divide a particular cultural population in half. We beam it down into the heads of an ambitious entrepreneur and let the magic happen. When an inhabitant expresses their preference for or against the product, we record it. It’ll occupy our time until we’ve got the paperwork done, and once it arrives we’ll have essentially had them make the decision for us. Best of all, I’m pretty sure there’ll be no red tape to wade through with the ethics committee!’
‘Sounds good to me. Just one thing, which group would get vaporised?’
‘Oh I don’t know, let’s just say that those who enjoy the products are safe.’
‘And you don’t think they would be annoyed at what they might perceive as being a pretty random way of splitting a population in half?’
‘No, of course not. If they are we’ll just ask them if they could have thought of a better way. That’ll shut them up.’
‘I love it. We can get started straight away. Let’s start with this tiny island mass here. What do you think they’d go for?’
* * *
Brian pulled the shopping trolley over in the condiments aisle. His girlfriend stopped a little bit ahead of him, the shopping list in her hand raised in query.
‘I’m just getting something for my toast.’
‘That stuff? Yuck! How can you possibly stomach it?’
‘I don’t know. For some reason I’ve just always liked it.’
With a shrug, he placed the jar of Marmite into the trolley and pushed on.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
President James Jonathon Mathews spent the first evening of his administration alone staring out the window of the Oval Office. He contemplated the events that had led him to this moment. He considered the countless intertwined series of decisions and strategies, the deception and intrigue that had delivered him to this, the final pinnacle, the end of the game.
He turned and sat at his desk. Slowly, with great deliberation he reached out and pressed the intercom.
“Mrs. Rigby, please get me the joint chiefs.”
“Oh, and is Whitcomb out there,” he added.
“Yes Mr. President, of course,” came a matronly voice.
“When they arrive, send him in as well.”
The president leaned back in his overstuffed leather chair and carelessly exhaled a blue cloud of cigar smoke towards the ceiling. He took a deep swallow of bourbon, and pondered the outcome of the moves he would soon make.
Within fifteen minutes the office was filled with military uniforms and, aside from the president, a civilian in a neat blue suit and close cropped hair, handcuffed to a briefcase.
“Whitcomb, the football if you please,” the president said in a low even voice.
The assembled Generals and Admiral winced as Whitcomb emotionlessly uncuffed the briefcase, spun a pair of combination locks, opened the lid and deposited it on the desk before the president.
Inside the briefcase were a ten digit keypad, a palm print scanner and a single ominous black button. The assembled men had all assumed it would be red.
General of the Army Paul Bellows spoke up. “Mr. President, certainly there are other avenues to explore before…,” He was silenced with a slight wave of the president’s hand.
He picked up the handset of his telephone. “Mrs. Rigby? Get Dmitri on the line please.”
“Mr. President, please reconsider. At the very least, think of how history will remember you. Think of your legacy,” pleaded Admiral Kearney, desperation evident in his eyes. His pleas were ignored.
It was five in the morning Moscow time, the pink tint of false dawn was just beginning to outline St. Basil’s Cathedral, when Dmitri Ilyanov Sakharov, President of the Russian Federation picked up the phone. “Hello Ivan, I’ve been expecting your call.”
“Dmitri old friend, it’s finally over. It has been a long time.”
Over the president’s phone an audible sigh was heard, followed by a long pause. “Yes old friend, it has been a very long time.”
“Checkmate Dmitri. Das vidanya,” the president returned the phone to its cradle. He entered a series of numbers on the keypad, placed his hand on the scanner and crushed the button beneath his palm.
Across both of those two vast countries, indeed, across the world as a whole, people were told that this was not a test. They were told where to tune for further instruction. Many fell to their knees and prayed. Others turned weapons on themselves, hastening the inevitable. Most just hung their heads and wept.
Brilliant balls of orange fire rode columns of billowing white smoke across the skies of two great countries.
Those same skies suddenly turned a brilliant searing white.
Two creatures, men possibly, sat alone in a room. A room so vast there were no discernible boundaries. Perhaps there were none. On a table between the two, a chessboard sat. One pushed over his king.
“Good game Dmitri,” one said, as he reassembled the board. He turned it so that the white pieces faced his opponent, “this time… you go first.”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
After trudging for miles through the soft, shifting red sand, I was nearly exhausted. Using all the strength that I could muster, I climbed over the lip of a crater, and ducked into the shadows. I’d be virtually invisible now. I’d be safe until Earth Force could rescue me. In the dead silence of the thin Martian atmosphere, I could hear the life support system of my environmental pack whine as it struggled to remove the excess heat, moisture, and carbon dioxide from my spacesuit. After a few minutes of studying the motionless horizon, I felt that it was safe to turn on my suit’s receiver.
“…need the modulation coil. We’ll all die if you don’t come back. Repeat, this is Base Command calling Lieutenant Thorndike. Please return to base immediately. The reactor is becoming critical. We need the modulation coil. We’ll all die if you don’t…”
I smiled as I clutched the modulation coil in the crook of my right arm. Of course you’re going to die, I thought. That was my plan. After all, it’s what you were going to do to us. I just got to you first.
“Thorndike, this is Doctor Wundt. Son, you’re sick. You’re having a breakdown. Please, come back to the infirmary. We’ll help you…”
Ah, this is interesting. First, it’s “please save us.” Then it’s, “we want to save you.” Stupid Martians.
Seconds later, a new voice crackled from his earpiece. “Honey, this is June. You need to come back home. I’m scared. Think of the children. They are worried about their daddy. Please, honey. There isn’t much time. I love you. I love you so much. Please come home. Hurry!” She began to cry.
Bastards! They’ve got June’s voice perfect. Intellectually, I knew that it couldn’t be her, because she’s on the Moon, with the kids. It would take over 20 minutes for a transmission to reach Mars. The damn Martians must have been monitoring my personal calls, and synthesized her voice. I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated on my anger toward these abominations. Go to hell!
“Thorndike, this is Commander Andreasen. Return to base immediately. That’s an order. I swear to God, man, if you’re not back in ten minutes, I’ll prosecute the Court Martial myself.”
I chuckled. Poorly played, you green monsters. You should have stayed with June. It was tough listening to her voice. It sounded so real. I almost answered. That would have been a fatal mistake. They’d have located me in instantly. Keep it together, man. Just a few more minutes.
I didn’t hear the explosion, but I saw it coming. The dust on the ground leaped upward as the concentric shockwave raced across the Martian landscape. The ground began to tremble violently, and I dropped the coil. On the horizon, I could see a semicircular dome of debris start to expand upward following the explosion of the Martian reactor. I cheered. No doubt, this was only the first salvo in the war against the Martians. But, thanks to me, it would be a crippling one. Their base held tens of thousands of people. What? No, not people, …Martians. My head started to throb. Through squinted eyes, I followed the expanding debris cloud as it began to obscure the blue-white orb of the Earth. Wait. The Earth should only be a star-like dot of light from Mars, not a large disc. What’s going on? I collapsed to my knees; my temples pounding with each heartbeat. What’s going on?
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
It’s dawn. Unisun now, Twosun later. Wee mickle Trisun appresta that.
The colony’s ticking up. Auld’uns like me waken up early. Shipment-time belding crops back to Earth coming down uswards. Myself, I’m worrying.
The woild musk flanders through my nostrils. Cornhufflers plackitly domingo the nerfwhistle crandles. Innitchtime approaches. Horace is probably merrytackling Renee favant harkfast. What mickle harkfast there is. The floondust tryses slowly up mouthwards in the helden shuffs of sant-light. I’m nomotion-still, eye-fasted to the suncoming.
A tang shart nibs up from the uddle crops. Last worthward, we sonely reaveseted tucks and nips. Not enough. It’s a ferreal cold-wint that’s coming. Toothwork will be rationed. Even the hardweathers have remissed. No blooms means thin times.
A sturrum’s bound to shandy down this eventime. Whuthercast’s bellin’ so. Six and two halling per forebrick is how they’re dicting. Shallen be a morst one, I gemise, marking by our nowluck.
Harmly does the riddle focus in, or so they say.
I’ll have to sound it to Renee and Horace apressta harkfast. Haymaps, itsa poss we’ll pass-market this annumnal. We nev pass-market. That means the welly. We’re dicked until the muckrake. We’ll be deep-enders. It’ll be tilla-time favant we can throwd the creds table resure.
Our thenluck was a gooden. I mark my horgan that our nexluck will be gooden twogain. Now, though. Preska now. Preska here. We’re smackit midlands twixteen billsowing and failcrops.
Crops go to Earth First or it’s a faily. Quota death. Mayhap we’ll scrafe by with plus-bribes.
It’s a billow of a preska. I purst my sniffler and wallen back to homewards. We be trength. We don’t back. We’ll shuff it.
All will be gooden.
Author : Helstrom
Neil hadn’t been the same since he became a MALCIV. For one, he didn’t drink anymore. Couldn’t, really. Of course we all tried to find ways around that, Neil first and foremost – leave it to the Marines to find new and interesting ways of killing braincells. The docs put a stop to that on the grounds that Neil was, actually, just braincells. Instead of the six-foot-three athletic young man he’d been before, Neil was now a brain rolling around the FOB in a little wheeled life support box.
But he’d changed more than just physically. At first we thought it was the trauma of the transplant procedure, and that it would pass with time. But he grew more glum as the months progressed, like there was some deep frustration, bitterness even, eating away at the back of his mind. He perked up a bit when we were deployed – but not much. He was still Neil and I still loved him like a brother, but I missed the cheerful son of a bitch I went to basic with.
All that changed when we got stuck in.
My squad was patrolling a little ghost town just north of the FOB. Jenkins was in the lead, about fifty yards ahead, with Colton and Archer on my flanks and Dominic making up the rear. The blast hit Jenkins full on and knocked the rest of us down hard. Smoke, dirt and debris rolled over me, my ears ringing. Red warning icons flashed across my visor – Jenkins’ life signs failure the most prominent. Heavy weapons fire erupted from across the market square.
“Ambush!” Yelled Archer, “Contacts left! Ambush!”
“No shit!” I spat blood into my mouthpiece and clambered to my feet, “Suppressive fire! Dom, check up on Jenkins! Colton, with me!”
I flipped the safety catch of the autocannon slung under my right arm as I crashed through the low houses ahead, circling Archer’s position. Colton came up beside me and we let rip. A second blast tore up the street we’d just left – close call. More fire from behind now.
“Neil! Pinned down in ambush, get your ass over here stat!”
“Already on my way,” – they’d saved his voice, and there was something else in it now, too, but I couldn’t put my finger on it – “Three minutes.”
“Nothing takes three fucking minutes!”
Mortar shells were coming down. They had us boxed in solid.
“Settle down. Got a pod for ya.”
Now that was better.
“Send it up! Thirty yards around.”
“Confirm danger close.”
“Confirmed, goddamn it!”
The pod was launched supersonically and it sure as hell didn’t need three minutes to get anywhere. Smart clusters came down first, beehives next, and the display was topped off with phosphorous for good measure. The whole town was reduced to burning rubble in a matter of seconds. Still we took fire – they were in bunkers.
Neil crested the hill, his eighty ton bulk shaking the earth with every crash of his mighty feet, his superstructure bristling with heavy weapons.
“What’s left for me?”
“Bunkers up ahead, little buddy. Go toast them.”
He strode decisively into the hail of explosive fire, crouched down low, and silenced the squat, battered structures with a few long jets of flame. And as I watched him machinegun the burning figures that fled from the blaze, I realized what I’d heard in his voice when I called him to battle.
Neil was happy.