Author : Stephen Ira
Owen was standing on the side of a boy’s driveway. They were both smoking long thin joints, which made Owen’s face pink and his eyes telescopic slivers. The other boy, his round face capped by a black beanie, called Owen “precious.” Beyond the driveway, the snowy ground extended blankly for yards.
As Owen smoked, the counting stopped. He couldn’t remember how many steps it had been from the driveway to the snowbank where they stood. He wasn’t really listening to what either one of them said. The round-faced boy kissed him and numbers swelled again, but Owen secured the joint between his fingers, hung on to the round-faced boy.
“Owen,” the boy said. “Owen, precious.” His face was like a moon. And he took Owen’s hand.
Owen said, “I’m graduating soon.” He glanced at his wrist display, where time was marked out in at-a-glance notation that he didn’t have to compute in his brain, compulsively, endlessly. “Going up for the first time. Maybe I’ll bring back a moon rock, sell it and buy us dinner. It’d cover one or two, if we eat cheap. Captain Mann’s cousin showed me some moon rocks. From one of the construction sites. They still got graffiti from the colonial days on them.”
“He used to work there?”
Owen nodded. “Came back down. Said he got kay-” This was funny, so Owen giggled insistently at the snow. “Ka-kay-yak kayak angst. It’s an — a culture bound thing. Yeah, totally.” (Owen wasn’t sure whether he’d ever said “yeah, totally” before.) “It’s this thing. You lose control of where you’re — spatial disorentation and stuff. Indigenous — INuits used to get it in their kayaks. The men, I mean. When they’d go out fi-fi-fishing.” There was something caught in his throat, the air to form a word he needed.
“He say anything about what it was like to be on the moon?” The round-faced boy’s pierced ears stuck out from beneath his hat like flags.
“Yeah. Said it made him all freaked. Looking down at that blue thing that looks — looks like paint some teenager dropped on the floor of an apartment they were painting.” They were painting the apartment for a friend. When Owen closed his eyes, he could see them doing it, one blonde and the other red-headed, climbing up and down walls in faultless scalene triangles, counting every step. “Knowing everything you could ever love was there.”
The counting started again, with such a jolt that Owen said out loud, “Fourteen,” and began to multiply the number by the hour and then by the minute and then by the second, best as he could calculate from his wrist display, and the joint made it impossible not to say it out loud.
“What?” asked the round-faced boy, mystified.
“It’s my age in different ways,” said Owen. “The age I’ll be when I graduate.” Fourteen. “Like Captain Mann’s cousin said, everything you could ever love.” Owen Cadwallader, the easily bored, the numberkeeper, shoved his feet against the snow to mark it.
The round-faced boy put out his boot too, and slowly, in the snow, he wrote out: “Everything that you could ever love is here.” Owen watched him dance out the sentence. He was fat and ungraceful. Owen would have recommended him highly for the Bolshoi ballet.
Inside, the round-faced boy kissed his forehead and stroked his flanks. Blushing red from THC and the redness of mouths, Owen slept in the waterfalls of numbers. With knives they’d shepherded him to graduate to the sky so early. The great trigonometric waterfalls, warm as bathwater for once.
Author : W. Robinson
I had thought after my last assignment on Epsilon that I was done with the military.
Quite obviously the young woman in front of me with the large blue-gray eyes had not received that memo. Stock-built, but short, she stood with her arms crossed as I ran the numbers of her ship freight against the actual measurements counted by my ferry calculators.
“Is everything up to specifications?” she asked, raising an eyebrow, slightly impatient for some reason.
Not bad, actually, considering. Normally all military girls have these impassive, unthinking expressions. This one, however, still had a bit of spirit to her, a rarity. A rarity I found kind of attractive.
I perused my digital feeds with an air of boredom. “Looks like it might be… then again, maybe not. There’s a few extra kilos that look like they’re not on board. Tell me, have you had any emergency drops not listed on your record? Anything missing?”
Her face paled. Cute.
“We’re- there’s nothing missing from that ship,” she forced. I managed not to chuckle at the small blush blooming across her cheeks. “We’re bringing a very important piece of equipment to Jupiter HQ, and everything’s been documented.”
I skimed the feeds again, enjoying the sight of her fidgeting. Odd, that, for a military girl. I raised my eyebrows.
“Why don’t you just cut the act and tell me what’s going on?”
The young woman wringed her hands. “I-I’m not supposed to be off the ship like this, but I- I wanted to go outside, here, and… well, the captain was going to check in near here anyways, so I just changed the schedule and grew this body…”
Suddenly everything clicked. I would’ve broken out into laughter if I hadn’t been so amused. A military AI had taken the initiative to grow itself a body and sneak out of the ship- all to see what was outside the hull. I smiled despite myself and raised an eyebrow.
“So the ship AI takes a holiday, hmm?”
She didn’t comment, her blush growing before I heard a small mumble.
“You- you’re James Visuvius, right?”
“Yes…” I had no idea where this conversation was going at this point.
Her blue-gray eyes turned to large saucers and I felt myself crushed as she hugged me senseless milliseconds later. I stared in complete astonishment as she murmured with glee.
“You -are- the one! The one that writes those wonderful stories about princesses and dragons and knights and fairies-”
It was my turn to blush as the implications of what she said finally came over me. “It- it was just a little side project I’d been doing. Nothing large…”
Apparently it was larger than I thought as moments later, the Captain of the military ship came outside to see what was happening. I’d thought my last relations with the military would’ve been on Epsilon, but apparently I was far wrong. I can’t even imagine life without it anymore. My little stories, apparently, were what gave those killer AIs in those battleships the will to keep fighting.
I guess even deadly military vessels need bedtime stories.
Author : Jacqueline Rochow
We’re going camping.
Mum finishes packing my bag as Dad prepares a celebratory stew. I packed the bags already, but Mum insisted on pulling everything out again to make sure that I didn’t forget anything. Food, clothes, gun, bandages, antibiotics – how hard is that? She still finds problems, though. Takes out my favourite leather jeans, replaces them with some good poly ones. Takes out the bread and pastries to replace them with something more nutritious.
The stew is delicious. For dessert we have fruit salad; I savour it. I’m not a fan of fruit but I know that I’m going to miss it.
Bobby asks where we’re going, what’s the occasion. We have been talking about little else for the past month but he doesn’t understand. He’s never seen anybody off camping before. Mum explains it to him, in hushed tones.
After dinner, Mum and Dad take me aside and press a small box into my hands. I open it. Vitamin tablets! I ask them where they found the money for such a prize, but they brush the question aside. I bury the box deep in my pack, out of sight of muggers.
We meet Jessa’s family and walk down to the city gates together. Jessa nibbles on the ear of her stuffed bunny. I wonder if she’s really going to take that useless ball of fluff with her.
There are many gifts. Aunts, uncles, and friends who have already been or are too young all give me something. Mostly useful things – a knife, protein bars, a good pair of shoes.
I thank people, trying to contain my excitement and nervousness. Jessa hugs her teddy and stares dumbly at everyone. She won’t be able to handle herself out there. We have been friends since we were little, and it will be up to me to keep her safe.
Almost a hundred twelve-year-olds stand just outside the gate, all gripping bags. “Take no more than you can carry” is the rule, and some have pushed that rule to its limit. Those ones will abandon most of their gear soon or drop, I think. A few black-clad border guards are about, looking imposing on horseback. As usual, they make no attempt to interact with anyone. I am glad of this; I am not sure that I want to hold a conversation with somebody whose primary job is to shoot me if I stumble on the exodus or attempt to get within sight of the city before the trip is over. It would be… creepy.
I go to exit the gate, only to find myself anchored by my mother’s hand. She does not want me to go. But I must, and she cannot leave the city, so I give her, Dad and Bobby one last hug before prying her hand away and stepping over the imaginary line between city and wilds.
The border guards call a final warning. Behind me, the gates begin to close.
For my parents’ benefit, I turn and wave, but I don’t try to seek them out in the crowd. I don’t want to see my mother’s tears, my father’s last mouthed message to his “little princess”. I didn’t even bring any photos; they would just be another object to guard and treasure, a waste of energy that I could little afford. I will recognise them when I get back. I’m sure I will.
We start walking, and Jessa offers me a hold of her stuffed bunny. I decline.
We’re going camping. Save some dinner for us, Mum; we’ll be home in a year.
Author : Jacqueline Rochow
We decided to take the draught.
My parents didn’t like it. A lot of people didn’t. It was unnatural, people said. It wasn’t the real thing. It was empty. It was selfish.
So we didn’t tell them.
Stupid? Reckless? That’s what my mother would have said. I was only seventeen when we decided to do it, but I waited until my eighteenth before applying for the necessary counselling. Then I could do it secretly. I told my parents that I was taking a programming class and headed off to my sessions once a week, and three months later we had approval.
It made sense. We were the perfect physical and intellectual match. The same interests, morals, life goals. We’d been studying together for two years, we were compatible, and we made a wonderful team. I’d fallen in love with boys before, or at least developed crushes, but they always turned out to be boring, inconsiderate, horrible matches. He wasn’t like that. So when he proposed that we do something reckless and stupid and so logical and right, I had agreed immediately.
We’ve been “dating” for nine months. There’s no spark yet, but it made sense. A trial run, as it were, to test our compatibility. And tonight we get our first dose of Oxytome. Over the next two months, we’ll dose ourselves under controlled conditions and chemically stimulate ourselves into falling in love.
We might have to take boosters to make it stick long-term, they told us; we decided to take it slow though. One course, and see how we went. If we fell out of love again, we could discuss extending it then.
The doctor has already given us both the preporatory injections. There’s an oral dose that we have to take in the next 3-5 hours, so we’re going over to his place to watch a romantic movie and have a drink.
Society might condemn the love drug and those who choose to take it. They might tell us that it’s an illusion. They might tell us that these things should happen naturally, that science has no place in the realm of love. They might tell us that even with mandatory counselling, the existence of such a thing opens people up to making horrible matches. And we have structured, logical rebuttals for all of those points, but they can wait, because right now we just don’t care. To hell with the world around us – we’re just two stupid, reckless teenagers falling in love.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
Somewhere south of Toadsuck, Texas, along a washboard gravel road, a middle aged man was walking his dog, enjoying the cool night air and the effects of cheap grain alcohol. Looking up, he witnessed a glowing object streak across the sky.
“Mmurph,” was his only comment.
The object suddenly veered towards him, taking up a position directly over head. He managed a surprised, if somewhat drawn out, “I’ll tell you what,” prior to being skewered by an intense beam of light and drawn into the strange craft.
Aboard the craft, 1st Lentil Glorp mused as much to himself as to his companion Skizziks, Lentil 2nd class, “Why do we do it?”
Skizzicks rotated his eyestalks in an ‘here we go again’ manner and muttered, “For the chicks I s’pose. Sure as hell isn’t for the money.”
“No, that’s not what I mean.” Glorp paused to pull his hand out of the confused and somewhat surprised Texan’s ass, “I mean here we are, in a ship that can span galactic distances and we are still conducting anal scans of emergent sentients. Is this all there is to life? I mean what’s the point?”
“For the greater good of the Tranyan Empire?” The traumatized man stared wide eyed as Skizzicks placed a small triangular object on his forearm. The alien waved a purplish glowing wand above the object and it painlessly sank beneath his skin.
“Seriously, do you think the Emperor really gives a shit about these primitives? We write a report, it gets filed, nobody reads it, end of story.” Casually Glorp turned the hapless and mildly terrified Toadsuckian onto his back, grabbed his testicles, squeezed tightly and screamed.
“There has to be something more to life than this,” he said, releasing the testicles in question.
“Well,” Skizzicks began slowly as his brain ponderously engaged, “My gram always said, ‘Good things come to those who wait.’”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. Gram drank a lot.”
“Well let’s finish this up.”
They moved the stunned and quite naked human to a small raised circular pad, sprayed him with a slick greenish blue gel, gave him their equivalent of a thumbs up, which involved several appendages and the release of bodily gasses and returned him in the same manner as they had plucked him away. He arrived at the same time, on the same gravel road, next to the same Blue Tick hound who merely shook his head knowingly.
The now lightly glowing and very naked man watched as the object retreated back into the firmament from whence it came.
“Well, I’ll be dipped in shit”