Frame of Mind

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The Flagship of The Alliance Fleet, the Apocalypse, approached the fifth planet of the Sigma Octantis system. As the bridge crew was busy performing their assigned duties, Ellison Resnick sat in the Captain’s Chair in the center of the bridge. Captain Resnick stifled a yawn as the blue-green planet began to fill the lower half of the main viewscreen. Once again, Resnick was in a gray mood. He’d come to hate his job since the life forms of Earth, Centauri, Orion, Eridani, Pavonis, and Vega formed The United Alliance of Planets less than a decade ago. After the treaty, space exploration evolved into something less meaningful, at least to him. With shared databases and technologies, the last decade was void of the thrill of discovery, the anticipation of the unknown, the excitement of battle. There were just monotonous encounters, boring negotiations, and agonizing diplomacy. Diplomacy was the worst of it. As captain of the Apocalypse, Resnick was often expected to be “The Great Arbitrator” of the inevitable interstellar disagreements. As a consequence, he spent most of his time studying interspecies protocol, so he wouldn’t offend some pompous bureaucrat. Dealing with the insectoids of Eridani was torturous. It took over an hour to perform their greeting ritual. And heaven forbid you should make a tiny mistake. It was like you defecated on their Queen. And speaking of foul smells, the stench of the Vegan homeworld could make your eyes water; while you were still in orbit.

Captain Resnick realized that he needed to improve his frame of mind before the upcoming conference. He closed his eyes and began to breathe slowly and rhythmically. He tried the mental exercise they had taught at the Academy. The “put yourself in a happy place” crap. Okay, he thought, maybe the beaches of Hilton Head Island, or the slopes of Olympus Mons. Resnick was contemplating his list of pleasing destinations when he was interrupted.

“Captain,” called out the helmsman, “we’re receiving a distress call. The cargo vessel Almucantar is requesting assistance. They’re under attack.”

“Battle Stations,” ordered Resnick. “Plot an intercept course. Proceed at maximum speed.” Resnick’s heart began to pound as the warp engines engaged. “Put tactical on the main viewer. Let’s see what we’re up against.”

It took less than four minutes to reach the Almucantar. She was badly damaged, and her shields were weakening. She was venting plasma. Several thousand meters off her bow was a large pirate cruiser firing a photon cannon at her bridge section. There were six small fighters swarming around the Almucantar’s engine nacelles. “Launch all fighters,” barked Resnick. “Initiate attack sequence Delta. Let’s take out the cruiser.” A volley of torpedoes slammed into the cruiser’s shields. “They’re shields are down to 60%,” announced the tactical officer. “We’re reloading the torpedo tubes.” The pirate cruiser quickly rotated to engage its attacker head-on, and its six fighters joined the battle. Resnick was showered in sparks as his ship’s shields absorbed a direct hit. “Return fire. Give ‘em everything we got.” Another volley of torpedoes raced toward the cruiser as tracer rounds from the two forward batteries streaked toward the enemy fighters…

“Captain. Captain Resnick,” interrupted the pleasant voice of yeoman Sunee Onizukia. “The shuttle is ready to take you to the Octantian Embassy. They’re expecting you at 1100 hours. Shall I ask them to reschedule?”

Damn, thought Resnick as his smile faded away. Reality. “No, Yeoman. Tell him I’ll be there in twenty minutes.” Resnick stood up and headed toward the shuttle bay. Well, he admitted, at least I’m in a better mood now.

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And Seek

Author : Roi R. Czechvala: Staff Writer

The silver fluid, shot through with black filaments, seemed to move of it’s own volition within the syringe. In a sense it was. Millions of nano-meds, furiously spinning their screw like flagellum, frantically swimming nowhere.

As he wiped his forearm with an alcohol pad he thought of his students, his staff. They sounded sincere, concerned but he knew they were mocking him. Eight years later they mocked him.

“You’re so brave to come back to work Doctor.”

“After such a tragic accident, I don’t see how you can do it coming in day after day. I couldn’t live with the pain.”

“You’re an inspiration to us all.”

He knew they were laughing behind his back. His horribly twisted back. He saw, even after eight years, the look of disgust that flitted momentarily across their faces as they looked upon the ruined, melted remnants of his own.

Viciously, he rammed the plunger down forcing the viscous fluid deep into his vein. A chill ran through his body, followed by a momentary shudder. He blinked twice, peered about the room and let out a sigh. “Well, that wasn’t so… .” A primordial wail burst from his throat and echoed off the walls of the laboratory.

He fell to the floor, his body wracked with blinding pain. His skin was an undulating membrane, resembling mice scurrying under a sheet as his musculature and skeleton writhed to refashion themselves.

It stopped. He lay on the floor panting. He knew it wasn’t over. The brief episode had left him exhausted. He needed fuel. He needed food.

Slowly, painfully, he made his way to the student’s lounge where he assaulted the snack machines, tearing at the glass, cutting strips of flesh from his hands and arms as he greedily wolfed down their contents.

The pain began again with a vengeance. This time the pain itself howled out of his mouth, as the nanites did their work. Repairing the damage caused in that accident so long ago. Repairing the damage, and making improvements.

They pain finally stopped. He made his way slowly to the basement office they had relegated him to, and regarded himself in the mirror. “Not bad,” he remarked, rubbing his stubbled chin. “Not Bad.”

Shedding his now torn and tattered clothing, he pulled a duffle bag from beneath his desk, and dressed himself in the extra set he had brought. Anticipating the outcome, he donned a sweater that normally would have been two sizes large in the shoulders, but now fit quite snugly.

The once too tight jeans now required a belt but wrapped his thighs like a glove. He checked the mirror a second time. “Not bad indeed,” he leered.

Dr. Jason Kiel, walked into the Lion’s Den Irish Pub and surveyed the scene. It was a typical college bar. Swaggering, drunken kids with Greek letters adorning their shirts. The intellectuals sat alone or in twos and threes pontificating animatedly over exaggerated cups of espresso.

At the bar, sitting alone, was one of his students. A pretty little sophomore. Pert, perky, scrubbed pink in a tight sweater and jeans. The bitch.

“Call me a broken troll,” he muttered.

He pulled up a stool beside her and leaned over the bar, motioning to the bar maid, “Coors and a whiskey and whatever the lady is having.”

She turned to him and smiled broadly, taking in his chiselled features and broad shoulders. “I haven’t seen you in here before. I’m Cassie… and you are,” she asked extending her hand.

He took it and gave her a smile that never touched his eyes.

“Call me, Hyde.”

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Words, Words, Words

Author : Cesium

The vibration of his phone woke Anders from a deep sleep. He rolled over groggily and checked the display before answering. “Hi, Eliza. Something wrong?”

“Yes, Anders.” The synthesized voice so familiar to him came through from the other end. “I believe the portal is malfunctioning.”

“Malfunctioning?” It had never done that before. Still… “I’ll be right over.”

Quickly he got dressed and jumped into his car, and managed to catch a few more minutes of sleep before it pulled into the parking lot and deposited him on the sidewalk. Eliza was waiting for him, and he followed her smooth white casing into the building and down to the lab. The pool of utter blackness hung impossibly in midair, just as it always did. He turned to Eliza. “So where’s the problem?”

“It is not the portal itself, but what is on the other side.” He turned back toward it. “I have probed the environment; it is safe.”

Anders stepped forward without hesitation; there had never been a problem before. Moreover, he trusted Eliza with his life.

When his vision cleared, he found himself standing in the corner of what looked like a large warehouse, lit by panels in the ceiling far above him. But the other walls were much further away than they should have been; in fact, he couldn’t even see them. The space seemed to extend infinitely outward. It was filled by an array of chairs and desks, each supporting some antique metal instrument; the closest few dozen to him were occupied by people. A rattling din filled the air.

“What is this place?” he whispered, to himself.

“It was you who taught me about the infinite monkey theorem,” Eliza said, her voice taking on a strange echoing quality. “An infinite number of monkeys before an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce all the great literature of mankind.”

“Wha-” Anders started, but stopped short, for something had caught his attention: the people before him, the ones sitting at what he now recognized as typewriters, were all him. There were slight differences — a beard here, a coat there, eyeglasses — but their identity was unmistakable. His vision blurred slightly, and he felt dizzy. He stumbled back against the wall, his eyes tightly shut.

“It was also you who discovered that the portal could access alternate universes,” Eliza continued, her voice cutting through the clacking of the typewriters. “Once I discovered this place, how could I not satisfy my curiosity?” He heard the whine of servos, and knew that Eliza had returned through the portal.

Suddenly, a strange calm overtook him. He opened his eyes and walked to an open desk.

Then he began to type.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

“I’ve been to space.” He says.

His wild blue eyes match the hue of the ass-baring paper dress he’s wearing. The plastic bracelet is a nice accessory.

We’re in the interview room in a small-town hospital. I’m a visiting federal psychiatrist. I’ve travelled to a lot of small towns to interview crazy folks who say they’ve been to space. I work for the government. It’s like being Fox Mulder from the X-Files except that it’s really, really boring.

The fourth floor of this hospital is for suicide risks and delusionals. Every single small town I go to, the people with the highest suicide risk are kept on the top floor. Every glance out the window must be like a dare to the patients here. I shake my head.

I feel the need to end this interview quickly. I’ve been doing this for ten years. Collating, recording, classifying, defining, and sifting nine kinds of bullshit for an ounce of truth. I’m like a prospector panning for reality. I’m tired.

“Okay. Prove it.” I say, giving this nutbag a little of the deadeye for wasting my time. That usually starts the list of elaborate excuses that ends up drawing the interview to a close.

“Alright.” He says, and holds his hands up. His brow crinkles in concentration. He’s clenching his jaw. He closes his eyes. He takes a deep breath and holds it.

Well, this does happen from time to time. I like it better than the stories. It’s a little entertaining. Eventually, the patients will express surprise that the transmitter installed in their fingernail is suddenly no longer there or that his or her powers don’t work in my presence.

It must be like a judge watching criminals lie or hit men watching the light go out of their target’s eyes. After a while, they must just sit back and enjoy it like I’m doing.

He grunts.

His hands shine bright blue and the room splashes with light. The walls turn semi-transparent and I can see the architectural structure of this entire hospital below and around me. I can see the wiring and the radiators showing up solid greenish-white like an x-ray of scissors in a stomach. I can see the skeletons of the doctors and patients milling around, bored on the night shift.

The man is front of me opens his eyes. They’re glowing green. He starts to hyperventilate. I can see his muscle fibers, capillaries, and bones, depending on which layer I concentrate on.

With a sigh, he slumps forward. Everything around us returns to being opaque. He is staring forth, drooling. He is a dead battery for the time being and I can’t blame him.

I found one. I need to bring him back and add him to the sixteen we already have.

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Author : Glenn Blakeslee

In Guiyu, Kwan sits on a small concrete slab in an e-waste facility. Cascading piles of displaced circuit boards, ash-encrusted plastic hulks of outmoded tower computers, and ratnest tangles of cables, harnesses and plugs deposited haphazardly over a dioxin-laced mud surround him. He’s only eight years old but you wouldn’t know it — his eyes are squinting red-rimmed slots framed in a grimy face, his thin wrists creased and sharply tendoned. He has a constant sharp bloom of pain in his abdomen and unknown to him a small but well-formed tumor —an astrocytoma— growing in his brain, but we won’t tell him.

Kwan reaches behind him and pulls another board off the pile. He holds the end of it flat-down on a small metal sheet which is heated from beneath by a grid of flame from a natural gas manifold. His glove-covered hand holds a pair of cheap pliers, and as the board heats and the solder loosens he pries off transistors, capacitors and micro-switches and sorts them into an arrangement of Styrofoam cups. He warily watches for the owner of the yard, Mr Yueh.

While Kwan’s hands methodically do the work his mind wanders, but soon the board is clear of components and he flips it onto a pile across the yard and reaches behind him for another. This new board is different —it calls to him— and he examines it then places it on a clear space on the slab, the side of the board aligned with the impact-spalled concrete edge. He rises, slowly because he hasn’t moved in hours, and rummages through the board-pile until he finds another component that appeals to him and he places it on the slab next to the first.

He moves surreptitiously across the yard, collecting an armload of familiar components, and returns to his slab. There’s an I/O board from a once-beloved MacBook, a power supply from your old Dell, a flyback anode from a decrepit NEC CRT, and a small matt-green canister with an embedded lens. He arranges the parts in a grid just so, knowing semi-instinctively where to place each, and then links the whole with ribbon connectors and cables. He plugs the first board into the power supply and flips the switch.

Up from the center of the assembly springs something never before seen in the world —a small blue-bright field, columnar and robust. Kwan is delighted and he reaches in and pushes at it with his gloved hand. It yields slightly and then gives, bending to the pressure of his hand and then rebounding. When he strikes the field with his fist it moves not at all.

Kwan doesn’t know, doesn’t understand the import of what he has created. When he dies in a few years he’ll take this with him, but now he smiles and believes the small blue miracle to be the work of someone else, facilitated with just a few of the parts he spends his life dismantling. He thinks, oh these western wonders, and plays with the field for a moment before he hears Mr. Yueh approaching.

Kwan quickly unplugs the components, scatters them with his gloved hand. When Mr. Yueh appears between the piles of discarded electronics Kwan is back at work, prying tiny bits of ceramic and precious metal off a circuit board he knows too well.

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