by submission | Mar 31, 2010 | Story
Author : Helstrom
Lousy food, filthy lodging, and a loan to pay for my trip up the skyhook. It was a bad deal by any standard, but I’d taken it. If you were born on a Venus colony, there were only three places to go: down into the atmosphere, up to the space stations, or sideways to one of the other colonies. I’d chosen up – it had better exit opportunities.
Now I was upside-down, insofar as you could call it that in free-fall, stuffing dunnage bags behind a cargo container. It was amazing how many ways people had tried to make square blocks fit into round holes over the years. This container was hexagonal, for some unfathomable reason, and making it fit into a semi-spherical cargo bay next to cubic ore pellets was no small task. Worse, I had to figure out the mass distribution on the fly, because this ship’s captain was apparently such a cheapskate he didn’t have his own cargo master. If the distribution was off, the ship would wobble during burn and the trip to Earth orbit would become both uncomfortable and expensive.
Joe’s voice cracked into my ears: “Don’t get yourself wedged in there. Too close to chow time for me to come pullin’ ya out.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. You hired me because I’m small.”
So small, in fact, I wore a rigger’s harness over my spacesuit to keep it from billowing out in all kinds of unflattering and dangerous ways. ‘One size fits all’ said the optimistic label in the collar; and under it, courtesy of one of the suit’s previous owners: ‘duct tape and rubber bands not included.’
“Nope. Hired you ’cause you was the only son of a bitch what would take the job.”
Speaking of cheapskates, Joe’s picture should probably be next to that particular entry in the dictionary. He hired out most of the longshoremen at Eltoo Station and achieved stellar profit margins by cutting every corner he could and a few more besides.
The crane handed in the next container. Triangular. For Christ’s sake.
After a ten-hour shift and the obligatory one-hour exercise designed to strain your bones, stretch your muscles and race your blood, I was wracked. Before going to sleep I sat myself down in the Eltoo Saloon with a cup of barely potable moonshine. To my surprise, I was joined by a man I didn’t know who brought a couple of bottles of decent Earth-import beer to the table.
“You Joe’s longshoreman?” He said, “Packed the Galloper today?”
“I am,” I replied, and took the beer, “And you are?”
“Zeke Klein – Galloper’s my boat.”
I smiled – folks didn’t often say thanks, let alone bring a beer for the occasion: “Here’s to a job well done then, eh?”
Zeke didn’t smile. “Not as well as it might have been.”
I shifted in my seat: “Look, if there’s a problem, I’m sure Joe…”
“With a cargo master of my own. Seems to me you got an understanding of packing. Work hard too. Finish that beer and I’ve got an offer for you.”
Lousy food, filthy lodging, and a loan to pay off Joe. It was a bad deal by any standard, but I took it. If you worked the dock on a Venus station, there were only three places to go – down to the atmospheric colonies, up into interplanetary space, or sideways to another station. I chose up.
by submission | Mar 30, 2010 | Story
Author : Q. B. Fox
It was bright, cold morning in late November when I pulled up to the high security gates at the Ministry of Defence’s Secure Facility for the Mentally Disabled at Rampton.
The gate guard greeted me formally and took my name.
An orderly met me in the atrium, but he was shooed away by an approaching doctor before we’d finished exchanging pleasantries.
“Welcome to Rampton, Mr. Hill,” the doctor extended his hand, “I’m Dr. Appleyard. Thank you for coming.”
I shook his hand firmly, perhaps a little too firmly.
“How is my brother?” I queried.
“I should remind you,” Dr. Appleyard appeared to ignore the question, “that anything I or any of the medical staff tells you today falls under the Official Secrets Act.” Perhaps he was answering as best he could. “Likewise anything your brother says to you, or anything else you see or read.”
“A very nice man from the Ministry popped by and explained it all to me,” I assured him.
“Excellent,” he responded briskly. “Follow me.”
We set off down one of the green, pastel corridors.
“Your brother was a physicist; is that correct?” Dr. Appleyard glanced down at the notes in a folder.
“A mathematician,” I corrected.
“Ah yes,” the doctor found the correct place in his file. “Have you been told not to look directly at his stump? It will upset him and you may have to leave.” I must have looked of shocked, because his brows pushed together and he asked, “They have told you we had to amputate his hand, haven’t they?”
“Yes, yes,” I assured him, “but it’s taking some getting used to. No one has told me what happened.”
“His hand became stuck in his workbench,” Dr. Appleyard explained. And then, after a short pause, “Mr. Hill, what do you know of quantum physics?”
“Only what I’ve seen on the Technology Channel,” I confessed. “What does this have to do with my brother?”
“Some people think of quantum physics as theoretical, merely science fiction, but I can assure you that, even in my field, it’s very much a science fact; it allows plants to photosynthesise and it’s how your nose is able to smell.”
I nodded, trying to keep up as the doctor quickened his pace. I nearly collided with him when he stopped suddenly outside his office.
“Mr. Hill,” he said looking me straight in the eye, “did you know that if you removed all the space between the atoms, squashed everything down to just the base particles, you could fit the whole human race into a cube the size of sugar lump. Mostly, Mr. Hill, we are made of spaces in-between.”
Before I could respond to this revelation he disappeared into his office, and so I followed.
“If you read further, they will tell you,” he explained, “that what stops your hand passing through this desk,” he moved as if to wrap his knuckles against the wood and then appeared to think better of it, “are the bonds between the molecules. But really, at a quantum level, it’s just probability. Perhaps the sort of probability your brother was researching. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”
I was speechless, so I shook my head.
“Almost anything is possible,” he said seriously, “right at the far end of the probability curve. As a result of his work your brother was, quite unexpectedly, able to pass his hand right through the surface of his workbench. Unfortunately he was not able to remove it again. Do you understand?
It was, probably, enough to push him over the edge.”
by submission | Mar 29, 2010 | Story
Author : Lillian Cohen-Moore
“My Uncle had a theory.”
Jennifer’s low, soft twang cuts into my ability to sleep. I understand the nervous babble. She’s a first timer up here, and it’s hard to deal with. There isn’t a single window in our compartment, so I open my eyes to view her under the soft lighting of the night-cycle. I give her my best smile for the moment. Tired, but reassuring.
“He said that every time we think about ourselves as children, that it’s a form of time travel.”
I shift in my seat, blinking away sleep.
I want to warm to the subject, but I’ve played baby-sitter on the ride over to base to no longer be completely fazed by anything that comes out of these kids’ mouths. Sadly, I think I stopped caring about what they say along the way. Occupational hazard, I suppose.
“When we think about ourselves at different ages—children thinking of their teens, teens thinking of childhood, adults thinking of their youth, people in advanced years thinking of childhood—he said it was our way of sensing ourselves, further down the line. That it wasn’t a fantastical imagination that tells us we’re being watched, sometimes. But.. that we are being watched. “
“Yes! At different ages, in different eras—he felt our thoughts are always with us. That we may not physically time travel, but that .. a part of us does. Our consciousness, I guess, is what you’d call it. And it does so in its own unique, unsung way.”
I offer her another smile, this one briefer, warmer. She’s a funny kid. But everybody who gets assigned to the base is a little quirky. It’s my job to make them fit together, to catch problems before they start. She’s sentimental, and a dreamer. I don’t see it interfering overly with her job. We fly in silence for awhile, before she gives me a shy look. They all have it on the first flight over.
“Can we watch the approach, when they announce it? I mean, it’s my first time and I can watch it on my own, I mean—“
I wave a lazy hand at her. They all see me the same way. They all offer to leave the compartment on their own, to watch the approach. Every single one of them sees what they think is reluctance on my face.
“I won’t make you go try and be quiet behind Rick and Stan all by yourself. I’ll come with you. We tossed you in a tin can and we’ll batting you too and from for years to come. I might as well give you some company that’s free to talk.” I shrug. “ Anyways, it gives me a chance to stretch my legs.”
I unbuckle myself from my seat, and motion for her to follow suit. She’s young, unaware of how lithe she is. I keep her at a slower pace than she’s used to, limping along next to her.
We stand behind the pilots long before an approach would be announced, and I simply pat her on the shoulder when both of her shoulders convulse, tears starting to stream down her face.
“What would your Uncle say about this moment, Jennifer?”
I ask the question in a quiet undertone, as she swallows. “That I’ve been waiting for it my whole life—and that I’ve always been in it.”
I squeeze her shoulder, as we watch Earth filling the view of the front shuttle window.
I think she’ll do just fine.
by submission | Mar 28, 2010 | Story
Author : K Clarke
I stagger a little on the way up the front steps, catching myself against the rail where I stay for a moment, clinging like a seahorse to a piece of kelp. Fighting against the currents of nausea that threaten to sweep me away. The weak light from the newly risen sun is blinding me but I can’t work up the strength to move. That last drink was one too many. Actually, the last couple were probably one too many.
On that thought, I lose control and double over, vomiting into the bushes that line the porch. Olives. I don’t remember there being olives. I don’t even like olives.
Gathering my strength, I stumble up the rest of the steps into the merciful shade, patting my pockets to find the keys. They’re not there. Thinking about it, I’m not sure where my car is, either. I wonder how I got home.
The door rattles, opening to reveal my father. I’m gonna got reamed. This isn’t the first time I’ve been caught sneaking in after a night out, and they’ve been on my case about the classes I’ve been skipping, and my grades in the ones I do attend. Seems like all I hear anymore is yelling.
His face is calm, though, and he doesn’t say anything as he steps back to let me in. I stop in the doorway. The living room is full of dusty boxes and piles of my old baby things. There is a clear space around the couch, where my mother is cradling a baby. It’s a tiny thing, all red-faced and squishy-looking. I think it must be a newborn.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” Mom smiles at me before looking down to blow on the baby’s nose. It twitches, making little aack sounds. “He just came today. We’re calling him Peter.”
“Peter? Mom…I’m Peter.” She nods once, cooing at the baby. Not looking at me.
The hangover fades out in an instant, replaced by something I’m not sure is better.
“Son…” Dad rests his hand on my shoulder. “You know your mother and I, we’ve been… disappointed with the way you’ve been acting lately. For the last couple years. The way things have been going, well, we thought –it might be best to take a step back. Get a fresh start.”
“So you’ve –what? Adopted some baby that you’re going to pretend is me –”
“He is you. Same DNA, same fingerprints –”
“Same beautiful blue eyes.” My mother croons, stroking the baby’s cheek.
I fall back against the frame of the still-open doorway, unable to stand on my own.
“You –Cloned me? I don’t think that’s even legal! You can’t just have two of the same person walking around! You…that’s not… you just can’t!”
“No.” My dad says, soft and a little sad, “You can’t.” His hand drops off my shoulder as other hands take hold of me from behind. I scream as they begin to pull me backwards.
“We won’t forget you, Peter. Goodbye.”
by submission | Mar 27, 2010 | Story
Author : Nathan Andrew Blaisdell
Jae fingered the seams of her spacesuit nervously. She was having second thoughts, but it was too late to go back now.
The other jumpers started moving, getting in line. The countdown timer on the wall got closer to zero. Was it just her or was time speeding up? Is that something that happens this close to a black hole? No, she thought, that can’t be, it’s just my imagination. She got in place.
Suddenly the air was sucked out of the room. Half a second later, the holes in the floor opened and the jumpers were sucked into space, hurtling towards the black hole feet first.
Jae was afraid. Very afraid. Heart stopping, adrenaline rushing, pants staining afraid.
She chanced a glance down at the gaping abyss that was the black hole, but the creepy beauty that it was looked like nothing she had imagined. There was a star situated directly behind the black hole which somehow looked like a fiery and foreboding doughnut. The light from other stars bent around the event horizon in a halo as if the light itself had become a glass orb encasing the gravitational singularity. The black hole itself however was simply that, a perfect circle that seemed blacker than anything she had ever seen. Slowly at first, and than with more and more speed it got bigger and bigger as she rushed toward it. Now it was so big she could no longer see the large star behind it. The hole had engulfed its doughnut.
The black hole continued to get bigger, engulfing even more of the starry backdrop. She began to feel a sensation of being pulled from her feet. It would have been a nice stretch, but she also felt as if whatever was pulling on her feet was squeezing the bottom half of her body as if she was a tube of toothpaste, and her head was the cap. She was passing the event horizon now, stars around her contorted, and then…
And then they were teleported back inside the ship, safe once again. Some of the other jumpers started taking their suits off and giving woots of joy, as well as a number of jubilant high-fives. Adrenaline coursed through her body.
A loud speaker on the wall blared out “Thank you for choosing SpaceXtreme for your high adventure needs. If you liked black hole jumping, you’ll love our special offer of…” and it droned on, but people didn’t really pay attention.
“That was totally awesome,” Jae said to no one in particular.