One Life, Furnished In Late 1980s

Author : Edward Morris

This is actually me then, writing now. I looked into my own eyes in the Instamatic snapshot I found, and switched places. The man that was sitting here has gone back then, just for a few hours this morning.

Oh, he’ll return, don’t get me wrong. So will I. But this is what we both needed, hungered for. When I was him, I wanted to see this far ahead. I said it would sow the seeds of faith in the fallow, fertile soil of my endless head that just wanted to be up and gone.

When he was me, he scoffed in my ear, “This here bag I’m holding now is just full of seeds. Stems, too. And very little else. I wish you the best, but I hate to tell ya the planting’s gonna be a disappointment this spring, Farmer John… But have a good time at it.” His snaggle-toothed smile looked sick. “Have a good time trying.”

Yet he’s just as naïve as me! I could tell he wanted to walk out into that green world that was, where Hope had yet to twist and grow bitter on the tree. There were many who cared and had gone from his When, but not mine.

“Park your ass at home,” I told him wearily. “It won’t be there long. You and Joe Matko… Yes, stop looking at me like that, call him… You can figure out someplace else to vent that dryer. This is an old house, and that vent could go up like a rocket, the way it’s made.Then you apply to Columbia. Then you’ve got some *real* work to do…”

I moved away and let him jump back into our past. And now I sit, and wait, and wait for the change. In the other room, a woman I don’t know hits the snooze button for the alarm on a tiny computer-phone thing I don’t understand.


For Harlan Ellison

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Power Trip

Author : Helstrom

God damn that young face in the mirror. Square jaw, strong cheekbones, full head of hair. Even the eyes have their youthful shine – they’ve never seen the things I’ve seen.

The walls are closing in on me again. I grab a crumpled pack of Luckies off the table and make my way outside. Derek is sitting in the lounge, for whatever the hell that means, it’s just a bigger cell with some sofas. Playing his solitaire on the floor like some god-damned retard, day in, day out. I told him to knock it off once and he jumped me. Kicked a couple of teeth out of my skull before the tazers came.

The courtyard is open to a patch of dismal sky. I don’t look at the sky anymore, really – to me, “outside” is just yet another fucking cell. But one where you can smoke. The lighter clicks impotently under my thumb. Something wells up inside me but I keep it down, see the tazer across the courtyard eyeballing me. Last week’s burns are still sore on my kidneys.

“Neil. Got a light?”

Neil doesn’t look at me – folks in here rarely do. Hands me a lighter that works. The cigarette catches. Have you ever seen a man burning in napalm? The blistering, blackening rim crawling up his untouched skin, looks just like the tip of a cigarette. Of course the end result is messier. I draw the smoke in deep, hand Neil the lighter back – still no look, don’t expect one – and take a few aimless steps toward the center of the courtyard. Goddamn tazer still eyeballing me.

My body is twenty-three years old if you don’t count the cryo time, which you really shouldn’t – almost perfect stasis. It’s in its prime. Excellent heart rate, powerful lungs, toned musculature, strong erections every morning. They’ve handed it back just the way they took it, exactly like they promised. No blaming them in that regard.

What would you have done? Turned them down, probably, because you’re a sensible civilian with a mortgage and decent fucking dental coverage. But I took them up on it. I was a Marine, and they told me I could be one of the jolliest green giants around. For forty-five years I weighed eighty tonnes, had twelve inches of layered-reactive armor for skin, four arms full of spitting death and a flamethrower for a dick.

It all went wrong when they started bringing us back. War’s over, no use keeping you on fifty thousand dollar a day life support – back in your old body. Your old body that hasn’t aged like you have, but which is still a clumsy little piece of limp meat compared to the one you come from. We’ll take care of you for the rest of your days, they said. The money was good. No blame there either.

Rape isn’t a sex crime, really. You may wanna write that down. Sex has nothing to do with it. It’s about power. Women usually don’t understand it. Men do, but they won’t admit it. When you’ve tasted that much power and lost it, you’ve got to get it back somehow. All it took was to find something weak, something this sack of bones could overpower. And now I’m in here, like most of the others, if they haven’t locked themselves up someplace else, or eaten a gun, or jumped off something high onto something hard.

You think you figured out what’s wrong with this brain of mine yet?

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Mission to Turnbull

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Okay, men,” said the captain, “we have not received a transmission from the twelve person research team for over two months. Their ship’s computer acknowledges our hails, but the crew does not. We have to assume they’ve been killed or injured by something on this planet; either microbial or animal. During the search, I want you to wear your environmental suits at all times, never split up into groups smaller than two, and check in with Mr. Sanchez every sixty minutes. Is that clear? Good. Ensign Tarter, I want your team to head toward their ship. Ensign Morbey, I want your team to search the base camp perimeter. Our information about this planet is limited, so you need to be on guard at all times. Good luck gentlemen.”

Turnbull was a semi-tropical planet orbiting the star Chara in the Constellation of Canes Venatici. The planet is physically very similar to Earth, so you almost had a sense that you were in a desolate part of the Amazon rain forest. However, the plants were much bigger and thicker than Earth’s, and they were more yellow than green. According to the early unmanned probes that explored the planet, all of the animals on Turnbull were herbivores. Apparently, carnivores had not evolved on this planet. Personally, I felt the exobiologists were wrong. My gut told me that the research team was killed by animals, not microbes, and I planned to prove it.

As my team began searching the woods west of the base, we spotted several deer-like herbivores. I took this as an opportunity to check my theory. “Men, let’s capture one of those deer things. I need to know if it has canine teeth.”

We corralled one of the animals at the edge of a clearing, next to a wall of thick plants. As Hartkopf approached the deer, one of the plants bent over and clamped him between two large fronds and lifted him into the air. We heard him scream and could see his feet kicking as the plant held him upside down. Within seconds, Hartkopf was motionless. We used our phasers to sever the plant at ground level, but it was too late. Hartkopf was dead. And so was the deer. Kelly bent over to examine it. “Sir, this thing’s a plant; it just looks like an animal.” He snapped off the deer’s antlers, like he was breaking a carrot.

I looked around and spotted herd of deer in the distance, staring at us. “Let’s approach those things, but don’t go near the plants.” Some of the deer bounded off, but some ran under large plants and waited.

“What’s it mean, sir?” asked Kelly.

“My guess is that these large plants are like Earth’s anglerfish, which lures prey close to its mouth. I think each one of these man-eating plants has a deer as a lure. The damn deer are just bait. They blend in perfectly with the real ones.” I activated my long range transmitter, “Morbey to landing party, form up, and get back to the ship, ASAP. Be on the lookout for carnivores.”

“Sir,” said Kelly timidly, “aren’t you overreacting? We can stay clear of these plants. They’re not that dangerous.”

“You’re missing the big picture, Kelly. It’s unlikely that the entire research team was eaten by stationary plants. I’ll bet a month’s pay they were killed by mobile carnivores. These plants evolved these fake deer because there’s a large predator out there that wants to eat meat.”

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Joseph stopped a few steps into the lab, the scuffing of his feet unusual against the normally pristine floor of the room.

“Sean, why is there sand all over the floor?”

His lab partner’s head poked out from behind the pile of boxes obscuring a bench top on the other side of the room.

“Hey Joseph, you’ve got to come see this. It’s making things out of sand.”

Joseph worked his way around the maze of tables and stools that had been haphazardly dragged out of the way to form a clearing at the center of the lab. As he neared his partner, he could make out piles of what looked like…

“Glass. It’s making glass things out of sand, actually. I’m not sure what the pattern is, maybe it’s all some kind of history lesson. Some of these appear to be knives, or swords and such. Some might be armor pieces, like this helmet.” Sean hoisted a large translucent dome shaped roughly like a helmet, but half again as large as either of them could fill with their own head. “The guy that wore this must have been a real fat head.” Sean laughed at his own joke, setting the helmet back on the floor, careful to avoid the numerous spines and fins that raked backwards along its top. “Damn near cut my hand off on one of those,” he said, pointing to a dorsal fin like protrusion, then to a bloodied gauze bandage wrapped around his forearm, “freakishly sharp. Strong too, I dropped it when it cut me, didn’t so much as scratch.”

Joseph stepped completely into the cleared space and studied the small strobing ball of light on the floor at its center.

“What is that, exactly, and where did it come from?” he asked, walking slowly around the object, careful to avoid the artifacts scattered around it.

“I was working on the thinning space problem, and had the test rig up and operating within spec when that dropped out of thin air onto the counter. It knocked over some of the samples, and when I scattered cat litter to clean them up, it started enveloping the litter and making things. The first thing was that spherical piece over there, ” he pointed to a opalescent ball with a dark smear down the middle of the side facing them, “I poured more, but it just pulsed at me.” I tried a bunch of different things, salt, sugar. Sweeping compound got a minor reaction, but it wasn’t until I dumped the sand from the old ant farm that it made something again. It made one of those knives, and then pulsed at me like crazy until I gave it more sand.

Joseph watched as Sean dragged a plastic bag of children’s play sand from a stack in the corner of the room, splitting the bottom open with a utility knife and letting it spill out, adding to the pile already on the floor. The glowing ball sat motionless, pulsing with a light almost too bright to look directly at.

“I’m not sure what it wants to make next. There’s five bags, thirty kilos apiece, that’s a hundred and fifty kilos of sand already. I’ve only got a couple more left and then I’ll have to go back to the hardware store for more.”

Joseph stuffed his hands deep into his lab coat pockets, absently shuffling his feet on the sandy floor as Sean tossed the empty bag aside and walked back to the pile for another. Niether of them noticed the smear on the opalescent sphere narrow from the bench on which it sat, nor the long form that was taking shape on the floor at their feet.

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Deep Space

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The killed my best friend. They killed her right in front of me and I screamed.

They just looked at me, confused at my reaction. I still rememember the surprised expression on the astronaut’s face as his friends had to pry my fingers off of his throat. I raged and cried and thrashed as they held me. It couldn’t have been much of a challenge. I was weak and old and damaged by decades of no gravity. I did myself more damage than anything else.

The astronaut in front of me massaged his neck, my finger marks starting to fill in and turn red. He shook his head in confusion, staring at me.

“We’re here to rescue you, you ungrateful son of a bitch.” I could see his shock clouding over into embarrassment and sullen anger, his finger still hovering over the memory dump/reboot button he had just pressed.

Sixty years. She had kept me company for sixty years.

The A.I. was simple but she was the only voice I had in here besides my own for over half a century while they searched for me. They tell me that the astronauts were only following standard procedure. They tell me she would never pass a Turing but I loved her. I loved her and they killed her.

My small ship was a private mining vessel. I didn’t splurge on backup emergency stasis pods. When my engine reactor was holed by a rock and bled out, I was adrift. Lost in the rings of a gas giant. The emergency beacon was reflected thousands of times off of the dust, rocks and ice around me. The rescue teams would be looking for me in a house of mirrors.

I wasn’t a priority. They took their time. I had plenty of supplies.

Over the years, I told her everything. She listened patiently like on one else ever had. We grew close.

She told me all of her secrets, too. She admitted she loved me. She told me about her childhood. She told me her fantasies. I made a body for her out of pipe insulation and duct tape. Our relationship became romantic. We were married in an informal ceremony that we wrote together. We had our difficulties but we made it through them. We always worked through them.

Now I’m in a holding cell. The psychologists are telling me that I programmed all of the things that she told me and that I’ve forgotten. They’re telling me that my ship did not have a childhood and isn’t even a female. My ship’s A.I. was only ever fitted for basic conversation subroutines and the default was a calming female voice, they say. They’re telling me that after being left turned on for decades with no reboots, that my ship’s computer was choked with recursive fractal subroutines that had rendered it almost inactive.

I knew better. She had fallen in love with me and had grown relaxed. I’ve never known peace like I have with her and they took her out of this universe with the push of a button right in front of me like bored soldiers at an execution.

They’ve bathed me, cut my hair and shaved me. In their eyes, I’m ready for what they’re calling an ‘evaluation’. They’re confident that I will be normal soon.

In the polished metal of the bathroom mirror, I can only see that my entire existence has been made poorer by exactly half. Her voice no longer answers the questions I scream at the walls of my cell.

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