Author : Aaron Henderson
“It’s going to be a kick-ass weekend,” Gus thought to himself as he maneuvered the ratchet and claw, carefully removing a panel from the dusty robot that lay a few feet in front of his maintenance pod. He was looking forward to watching not one but two great games and spending some quality time with the wife.
He was about to finish up the last procedure in his monthly check on Spirit and Opportunity, those two Mars-roving robots that seemed to live forever. Usually he just had to knock loose some of that coarse Martian sand from their servos, or give their batteries a little more juice. Most of the time he didn’t even need to leave the relative comfort of the pod. Today was going to be a little different, as he could see by the caked-on dirt on the inside of the panel.
Those NASA boys had pushed Spirit a little harder than usual this week, and some of that red grit had collected in the rover’s main arm control unit. Gus let out a heavy sigh as he grabbed his helmet and outer boots. He shook his head as he sealed his suit and picked up his toolbox. “Delay of game!” he shouted and chuckled to himself, stepping onto the Martian surface for the first time in several months.
Gus cocked his head as he approached the robot, planning his repair and dreading the tight spaces he’d have to tackle. He had nothing but respect for the guys who designed and built the tough little rovers, but they sure didn’t leave much room in ’em for a grease monkey to turn a wrench or solder up an abraded power line.
He dismantled the control unit as much as he dared and started cleaning it out with a microvacuum. There was no maintenance manual for these things, and if he screwed something up he was about 78 million kilometers from the manufacturer. He could fabricate almost any part he needed back at the shop, but he was entrusted to preserve as much of the original equipment as possible for the sake of history.
He was in luck: the dust hadn’t bound up the servo unit yet. Gus put down the microvacuum and pulled out his finest brush, then cleared the visible dust from around the servo. He gently put the control unit back together and sealed it in its compartment on the rover. After a quick diagnostic check on the robot, he climbed back into his pod and took off his boots and helmet.
When he arrived at home, Jan had the main viewscreen tuned to Spirit’s main camera. “Spying on me again, darling wife?” he asked jokingly. Jan was the mission coordinator for preserving the two rovers, and she watched with interest any time they were being worked on. “It’s always nice to see a professional at work,” she replied. He kissed her cheek on his way through the kitchen to the family room. Gus had commandeered the couch, kicked off his workboots, and was about to change the channel to something more interesting. “But even professionals sometimes make mistakes,” Jan said.
Gus was confused. The robot worked perfectly. It had passed all the diagnostics… Jan knew the look on his face. “The rover’s fine, dear. Your craftsmanship is not in question at all, but I think you might need to check your toolbox.” She pointed at the main screen. Gus watched as Spirit’s main camera tilted down to reveal his microvaccum laying in the dust next to the rover’s front wheels. “I’m sorry, I didn’t spot it until you landed just now.”
“Oh, no…no, no, no!” He knew what this meant. Gus pleaded, “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
“The Earthlings are already starting to wonder why those two rovers have lasted this long. They need to discover life on other planets, but we’d rather not have them do it by finding your misplaced gadgets. If you hurry you can be there and back before the game starts,” Jan said firmly.
“I’m tempted to put a certain bacteria-laden present in their sample scoop!” Gus grumbled as he put his boots back on.
“Well that would certainly be a discovery,” Jan chuckled. Gus kissed her on the cheek as he headed out the door.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“Don’t show it, please don’t show it, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t show it.”
“Gentlemen, as you can see from the footage, the XA – 4 reactive armour system is effective against all small arms ballistic ammunition as well as low wattage phased plasma weapons.”
“… and this gentlemen, best exemplifies one of the smallest, yet one of the most devastating bugs in the new reactive armour system.”
“OH GAWD, PLEASE DON‘T SHOW IT!!!”
“As you have seen, the armour becomes rigid when struck by ballistic ammunition. The problem being that the entire suit becomes rigid as opposed to just the area of impact, thus immobilizing the soldier for up to 45 seconds after impact. This was not a problem under combat situations in which the individual could be pulled to safety by his squad and the armour relaxed. Indeed, it had not really been noticed and had not been considered a problem but rather a minor inconvenience. The footage you are now about to see was taken from a scout camera drone of one of our soldiers taking part in the study on solo patrol in a “safe” zone.”
The holovid image switched to that of an up armoured soldier taken from approximately fifteen feet above. He carried his M-68 varical smart weapon low, but at the ready. He was making his way down a rubble strewn street, when something caught his attention. Out of range of the camera a loud yelp could plainly be heard. The soldier spun and raised his weapon. He quickly dropped it and walked in the direction of the disturbance.
The drone’s camera followed him and soon a group of children came into view. They appeared to range in age from eight to fifteen. He spoke with them, when one gave him a sharp kick in the shin. Instantly the armour became rigid and he toppled over.
The street urchins were surprised for a moment, but only for a moment. Having known nothing but war and hardship their entire lives, they quickly stripped the soldier of everything they could, the fifteen year old snatched up the rifle.
The armour soon gave up its grip and the soldier began to rise. The child with the rifle delivered a butt stroke to the head and the soldier went down again. Though lacking a traditional education, the kids were smart. They quickly put two and two together and began a barrage of blows and kicks on the downed man in an effort to keep him paralyzed.
The oldest unzipped his fly and began to urinate on the soldiers face. Soon the others were drenching the prostrate fighting man in urine, laughing merrily all the while. The holovid ended just as the oldest pulled his pants all the way down, bared his grimy ass, and began to squat over the soldiers head.
Somewhere in the back of the room, amidst muffled titters and outright guffaws, could be heard the low, quiet words, “Kill me now, Lord.”
Author : Liz Lafferty
Life insurance was easier to write now that Sovereign Earth had established a predestined day of death. I’m not saying that everyone died on the predestined date, but some politician with a mind toward the future had discovered that incentives and tax credits went a long way toward getting a perfectly healthy person into a TC.
A trained actuarial could calculate the value of human life over said fifty-six years, factor in the benefit of wages and tax payments, subtracted out the costs of food, medicine, wear and tear on resources and — there you have it — a TC incentive payment.
The trouble with TC payments was that they didn’t go to the individual being valued. It did, however, go to the individual’s designee. Someone else would get the benefit of the forfeiture.
Sovereign Earth said it was a voluntary program for conscientious worldview citizens who knew they would be a drain on the planet at some point in the future.
I never thought I’d be one of the many lining up for the benefits. I’d considered myself above Sovereign Earth’s progressive model for the future. In fact, had protested and ridiculed the proposal thirty years ago.
I think it was the soothing water, blue sky and green grass of their advertising program that finally won me over. The building size ad was in perpetual playback on the science center walls that I could see from my office window.
Things were bad now for the average citizen, and that was most of us. Once I set my mind toward the possibilities and the actual money involved, the decision was simple and my family complicitly happy with my choice.
So, here I stand at Termination Center Forty-Seven. Don’t be fooled by my sanguine attitude. I’d thought long and hard, but the truth was, from here on out, I’d cost Sovereign Earth more than the benefits of my labor. I had nothing else to give.
My actuarial calculation was astonishingly high because my mother’s side of the family had cancer genes but my father’s side had longevity. I guess they figured the cost of my cancer treatments over my natural lifetime, and the huge amount of resources I would use, made me very expendable and they dangled the tempting carrot until I gave in.
My fifty year-old wife and my only son would have a more comfortable life. My wife had already decided she was going to do the same thing on her birthday.
Author : Andrew Brereton
Now he understood what his master had meant when he said that some people come here only to never leave. The place was truly magical. Even as he watched, a man and his assistant walked by carrying two strange skulls with long ridged horns curling out the back. His imagination was captured by thoughts of strange beasts and the distant past. He wandered in body and mind.
His thoughts were interrupted as he just barely missed colliding with a man holding a rope attached to a strange hairy animal, rushing ahead with its nose to the ground. He put his head down and tried not to attract undue attention. He still remembered his master’s endless rambling about caution.
He thought to himself, “How am I supposed to find the curator of this place, if I am to forever keep myself from looking around?” It was thoughts like these that made him slowly veer off the path. It was thoughts like these that reduced his feelings of guilt. Slowly at first, he submitted to the wonders that drew his curiosity.
When he found the machine, he could barely contain his excitement. He had thought that the dragon bones had been the best, or the picture screen from the ancient times, but as he listened to the ceaseless patter of the operator, he knew he had to try the machine. He was reminded of the vendors in the market-town where he lived.
“Yes that’s right, just sit down and gaze into the “TRU-LENS” goggles, wear the “HI-Q” ear covers and grasp the controllers. You will be taken, lifted into another world! You want to go see the Dinosaurs? Easy! My machine can do it. You! Yes, you there, the small boy. Yes, that’s alright now, just step up and sit down here, hands here… yes! Good! and look into the goggles now…”
As the strange headpiece wrapped around his skull, the sounds blocked out the voice of the salesman. He wondered when he was going to see the dinosaurs, when strange lights and colors began to swirl in his vision. They mixed with the ticking and screeching sounds and made him feel slightly uncomfortable. He was sweating now. He tried to sit up, to stop the machine, but he couldn’t move. His head began to ache, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t block out the disturbing lights and sounds. He began to panic, and his vision began to fade. As he blacked out he got a strange feeling of déjà vu, then, nothing.
He was stacking strange objects into boxes, and a tall loud man was yelling at other children doing similar tasks. He couldn’t remember how he got here. Hesitantly, he called out to the tall man for help, and as he turned, recognition dawned. It was the operator-salesman. Quickly it all came back to him, and just as quickly was replaced by an odd feeling of déjà vu. He panicked. This time, the last thing he remebered was the disturbing grin on the tall man’s face. Seeing that, he understood what his master had meant when he said that some people come here only to never leave.
Author : Rob O’Shea
Too little time. Too many meetings. I turn on the Transmit and zimmed out of office and back to home. In the wardrobe there is a skin I put on. Have to look fresh. The girl — blonde, cancer free, young — cries. I detach her body from the hanger; unhook her skin from the base and peel. Slowly. Artfully. I do this without breaking skin. I put it on. It fits. I get perfume, my purple shimmer suit. My iFiles are attached to my cornea. I am ready. I Transmit back to the office.
The door opens. Graceful enters and hands me papers.
‘All you need to do Miss Kane is sign. Then it’s legal.’
‘Take me through it.’
‘The long or the short version?’
‘I’m busy Graceful. Give me the short and I sign the dots. You lie or breach contract you know the consequences.’
Graceful takes a sphere out of his pocket. The sphere glows, expands, floats; it becomes the image of a planet.
‘Terra Dorma. Population at 3.2 billion. Environmental–’
‘– cut the history lesson. Your company wanted the planet. You spoke to our lawyers, you made your bid. The transaction occurred?’
‘Yep. At twelve Z hours we had Vapo-Robots fill their air and water with sedatives. Magnotoch used alpha signals to wipe out their minds. The brains of the Terra people are blank. Bodies are functional; they will be conditioned, sold. Most will go to meat farms; some will be used to spread the sex virus to Canto. The rest will be recycled.’
‘I copyrighted. Two big companies are currently bidding for it.
‘Wiped out. Didn’t want the historical society sniffing. There’s a lot of anti-genocide riots in the homelands at the moment.’
I looked over the contracts. They looked in working order. Nothing breached policy. I signed them and gave him the money shot. Nobody sees me smile often. I don’t like to wrinkle the skin I wear.
‘Well then,’ I toss the documents back, ‘looks like it’s in order. You got yourself a planet to play with. Now get the fuck out of my office.’