Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer and J. S. Kachelries

“Command and Control says that we will not be permitted to land,” stated Taylor O’Leary, the pilot of the return module.

Despite knowing that O’Leary wasn’t responsible for the decision, Jonathan Hartwell argued, “They can’t do that. The alien spores are dead. They can only live on Mercury.”

“Look Jon, maybe you’re right, but it’s not going to change their minds. After what those spores did to our base, they can’t risk letting us contaminate the Earth. There are over eight billion people down there, versus just two of us. Face it, we’re expendable.”

“The spores didn’t kill us. They don’t kill people.”

“It’s the universal acid they secrete. It destroys everything.”

“They haven’t damaged the module. It’s taken us three months to get back to Earth. Those damn things are everywhere. There are probably billions of then in our clothes. They’re harmless. If they were still dangerous, we’d be dead.”

“Jon, you’re a scientist. Use your head. Maybe they’re just dormant. If it turns out that they can live on Earth…” O’Leary was interrupted by an emergency alarm. He drifted over to the master panel and punched up the codes. “Damn. The reactor is overheating. Maybe those bastards are still alive. We need to move the ship away from Earth before she blows.” As the primary thrusters fired, the reactor’s coolant line ruptured and the ship began to spin out of control. Despite their best efforts, the ship tumbled toward the Earth. Moments later, it exploded.

Most of the debris burned up during reentry, but much of it, including trillions of spores, slowly drifted through the upper atmosphere and eventually into the troposphere. NASA was able to collect a few hundred of the microscopic spores using a Lockheed ER-5 high-altitude research aircraft. Testing at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta concluded that the spores had the ability to reproduce, but they were not active. After months of experiments, the scientists could not get the spores to feed, reproduce, or secrete acid. Apparently, Earth had dodged a bullet. However, the United Nations passed numerous resolutions prohibiting exploration of any extraterrestrial body until adequate safeguards were established. Eventually, the fervor died down, and most people forgot about the incident and went on with their lives.

But the spores continued to drift around the globe hoping to settle in environments that were suitable for them. No one at the CDC thought that the key factor keeping the spores dormant was the low flux density of neutrinos on Earth. On Mercury, because of its proximity to the sun, they were bathed to ten times the number of neutrinos, and they could grow and multiply. On Earth, however, there were only a few sources where the flux density of neutrinos was high enough to revive them. And, eventually, the spores found them all, one by one. They thrived in their new environments, and their populations grew exponentially. Of course, they also began secreting their corrosive fluids. At first, it was assumed that terrorists somehow managed to destroy the Aircraft Carrier CVN 76 Ronald Reagan. No one thought it was the spores, even as nuclear power plants around the world began exploding one after another.

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Author : Bryant Pocock

“Dammit,” grunted Sam as the wrench slipped and he lost his grip, drifting slowly away from the mining craft. “Now I’m really in deep shit.” Mentally running through his options, the panicked miner came up with nothing.

The battered and stinking p-suit never came with a long-distance radio, so that was right out. Similarly absent was the fuel for his maneuvering jets or the (theoretically) Company-mandated safety tether. These he had pawned at the Company Store to pay his fare on the freighter to this lonely outpost. That left the small but efficient solar collector on his back to power the oxygen scrubbers, electric heater, and water distiller to keep him alive, floating through this asteroid field until he starved to death. Or there was always the grisly possibility that a microscopic spec of space dust, traveling faster than any bullet, would pierce a pinhole through kevlar and flesh, spewing a miniature fountain of bubbling blood and precious atmosphere at entry and exit. One way or another he would die here, floating and turning slowly, meters away from his modest habitation capsule.

Considering this possibility, he preferred suicide. Sam pondered this solemnly for several minutes, said a quiet prayer, and tugged hard at his helmet seals. Nothing. It seemed that the only pieces of safety equipment still functioning in this man-shaped composite crapcan were the vacuum-activated safety locks.

This left the pistol strapped to his side. The only non-vital piece of kit that Sam had held onto all these years, he had been wearing it since before he sold the hydro farm back on Earth and set out for the asteroids to try his luck extracting ore. “Second Amendment and all, can’t be too careful,” mumbled Sam to himself. Not that any government’s constitution held real sway in this corner of space, but Sam had lost count of how many times the old-fashioned revolver had saved him from unpleasant confrontations. Now it was once again helping him forge his own destiny.

As he drew the gun and said his prayer again, Sam suddenly remembered with surprising clarity the voice of his high school physics teacher, droning in his driest monotone, “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” A smile crept over the old miner’s face. Turning the gun away from his helmet, Sam took careful aim and fired all six rounds, slowly and deliberately.

It took nearly two days, but eventually the impulse of those few ounces of lead moving at the speed of sound was enough to send Sam gliding slowly to within an arm’s reach of the thruster pod he had been repairing. He was even able to grab the dropped wrench before making his way back inside the small metal can he called home.

“Damn the Company and damn this cloud of rocks,” thought Sam out loud, banging a fist on the bulkhead. “Soon as I can, I’m getting back to God’s Green Earth. But first things first, I’m getting my hands on some more bullets.”

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The Barate

Author : Daniel Fuhr

The haze of smoke lingered over the sharp nose and into aged eyes. Smoking on spacecraft was strictly forbidden according to regulations. Jascon owned this tugboat; he made his own rules and could give a damn about those regulations.

He squinted to try to see through the smoke covering his eyes.

A few months ago, when the space marines contacted Jascon about using his ship as a decoy and trap for the local space pirates, he scoffed at them. They explained about the local growing number of pirates, calling themselves “The Barate”, not quite pirates, not quite bandits. He rebuffed the space marines, declining to assist them.

He coughed into the smoke, the tightness in his chest making it harder to breathe.

Eventually the request turned into a demand and the space marines requisitioned Jascon’s ship, his annoyance became anger. Under the marines control his craft was turned into a by-the-book regulation ship. Then the problems came. “Not enough lifeboats”, “Unsecured instrument devices”, “Nonworking emergency backup”, “No Smoking”. That last one chapped his ass more than anything. The only way he was able to afford paying his crew the small pittance they deserved was by allowing smoking.

Struggling, he pulled in another breath, he wasn’t sure if it was his last one.

As suddenly as they came, the space marines transferred. They abandoned Jascon to a condemned ship. His craft wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough to run cargo runs anymore. It wasn’t even good enough to leave the dock the space marines placed it in. The government revoked his license and the ships registration.

So he stole it.

The foot on his chest put another ounce of pressure on his chest. The number of strangers on his bridge was uncomfortable. The knowledge that he could be killed was uncomfortable.

“So you want to become a Barate?” the rough voice came through the smoke.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I woke up with pain in my head and a shrieking in my ears. All I could hear was this horrible sound ringing around in my head. It was like car tires and screeching baboons and fire alarms all mixed together. A migraine pounded through my skull.

I stood up and I nearly passed out. The pain eased when I took a step south. I kept walking in that direction. When I got to the wall of my apartment, I screamed because I knew that meant I had to double back to go to the front door and make it outside. With a deep breath, I cried and walked backwards, grasping behind me for the doorknob while I sobbed and whimpered.

I found the doorknob. I yanked it open and dove outside. I ran in the direction that eased the pain, my pajamas flapping in the early-morning August. The direction took me away from the city. Luckily I lived on the outskirts of town and there weren’t many cars on the roads at this time of day. The pain was too great to have me worry about traffic lights or looking both ways. There was no way I could have driven a car. It was all I do to put one foot in front of the other.

All that mattered was stopping the sound and the pain.

I walked and ran for eight days. I didn’t stop to go to the bathroom. I didn’t stop to eat. I tipped my head back when it rained to drink.

Luckily, I haven’t been arrested. Luckily, I haven’t been beaten up. Luckily, I haven’t been hit by a car or bitten by a snake.

I have been walking a straight line.

I first saw the first person like me two days ago. Just a dot on the horizon of the desert I was walking through when I crossed into Arizona. I have seen twenty-seven others since. I can see them off to my right and left, getting slowly larger, one step at a time. We are all converging on the same point.

This is good news. I can feel the pain in my head being slowly replaced with pleasure.

We are being called. I don’t know how many of us have been killed or hurt during our blind migration towards the end of the pain. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for someone who got the call in a prison or a hospital. The pain would have driven me insane if I’d been constrained.

I can see the other walkers more clearly now. They are all stained, stinking, shambling messes with smiles on their faces, smiling wider as they get closer to the place of no pain and no shrieking sound in their ears.

There are helicopters over the horizon, over the patch of earth where all of the walkers’ paths meet.

There is something underneath the helicopters. A bright blue flying saucer. A floating, glowing alien ship that has no place in the middle of the desert. It’s hard to see details because the sun is setting near it. There is a hole in the clouds above it.

We walkers are all stumbling towards it, powerless to stop ourselves and not knowing what we’re walking towards or why we’ve been chosen.

I’m scared of the helicopters. I don’t know if they are there to monitor us or kill us. They look out of place.

I keep walking towards the blue ship with the other walkers into the dying sunset with a smile on my face.

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In HIS Name…

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

Put on the armour of God…

to stand firm against

the tactics of evil.

Take the helmet of salvation

and the sword

of the spirit,

the Word of GOD.

from Ephesians 6:13-17

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” With his prayers complete, Oberleutnant Johann Kurtz of the Papstliche Schweizergarde rose from his knees and geared up for combat.

For Terran based troops, his quarters were nothing more than a closet, but aboard the troopship, they were considered almost lavish. They contained his rack, a fold out desk and chair and combination collapsible shower and lavatory.

Above the hatch was a small crucifix, and painted on the hatch itself, just as it was painted on his reactive nylar armoured vest and the front of his HUD helmet, was a red cross limned in gold.

At the head of his rack was a framed painting of Christ praying at Gethsemane; below that, a photo of Pope Ignatius XXIV bearing his trademark avuncular smile.

Kurtz studied himself in the mirror, kissed his rosary, pocketed it and retrieved his “sword“, an H&K multi-linear plasma rifle, from his locker and stepped into the corridor.

On the parade deck, he took his place before his men as Papa company’s commander “Good Morning men,” bellowed Oberleutnant Kurtz. “This is the day we have been training for. Our objective is the settlement of New Mecca on Phobos. Alpha company will assault New Medina on Deimos simultaneously. We’ll bring those raghead bastards to their knees.”

The oberleutnant’s words were greeted with a thunderous “Corpus Christi”.

When the commotion had died down, one of the troops raised his hand.

“What is it Soldier,” barked the young officer.

“But Sir, there are Christians in New Mecca as well as Muslims, Sir.”

“Your point, Soldier?”

“Well…, what do we do about them, Sir?”

The young Oberleutnant hesitated for only a moment before calling out “Kaplan!”

The chaplain, Oberstleutnant Karl-Heinz, standing behind the formation came to quick attention, snapped his heels and marched to the front of the formation to take temporary command of the company from its leader. While ostensibly a superior officer to a mere oberleutnant and holding the titular rank of oberstleutnant, the chaplain was a servant of God first and foremost. As such, he publicly disdained his formal military rank.

The CO executed a crisp, about face, threw an equally crisp salute and relinquished command.

The Kaplan, a kindly, scholarly man smiled beneficently and asked, “What was the question again young man?”

“Well Sir…”

“Vater, bitte.”

“Well Vater, it’s just that there are Christians as well as Muslims at New Mecca, students, business people, even religious scholars such as yourself, Vater.”

“Yes, what of them,” he asked, his kind eyes twinkling behind pince-nez glasses.

“Well Sir… Vater,” he corrected, “how will we know the heathens from the chosen?”

The older man chuckled softly before answering. “Kill them all son. God will know his own.”

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