Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
“Commander Marshall, do you read me?” There was nothing but static. The two belt patrol cops raced over the surface of the massive asteroid in their rock-battered cruiser. The rookie Chang said, “We’re coming up on the camp sir.”
They crested a short rise and dove down into a great crater. Two kilometers away, near the center, stood Mineshaft Ninety-Three. The small collection of metal buildings and equipment showed no signs of life.
Captain Marquez said, “Try again.”
His subordinate continued, “Commander Marshall, this is Belt Patrol Seven-Seven. We are responding to a distress call from your location. Do you read me?”
The senior officer said, “I’m taking us in for a closer look.” The cruiser skimmed along less than a meter above the rocky surface. The buildings grew larger. Still there was no sign of… suddenly a hit from a plasma cannon sent up a plume of molten rock just off their port bow! Marquez’s years of experience saved their lives as he rolled the vessel hard to starboard. Wasting no time, he hit the elevation burners and pulled the cruiser up and out of the crater as several more blasts from the plasma cannon narrowly missed their retreat.
“What was that?” cried Chang.
“ It came from the camp, just inside the mine shaft.”
“But who? What has control of the camp?”
“I don’t know but we’re going to find out.”
“But whoever it is will pick us off on the next approach for sure!”
“Leave that to me. Just get me all the data we have on Marshall and his crew.”
Commander Marshall had arrived with eight mining experts at the beginning of the last cycle. Apparently there had been strong findings on initial exploratory drilling so more equipment had been sent. Positive news continued to flow back to Mars Base, promising some of the best veins seen in years. And then suddenly the reports had stopped.
The company thought it might be a communication glitch so they dispatched the nearest patrol unit, Seven-Seven. They had only been some twenty million kilometers distant, but while on route they had received the distress signal.
Now the two cops climbed down the wall of the crater in their brown and gray camouflage pressure suits. They maintained radio silence. It took them over an hour of clambering along to cover the distance to the camp. But they remained undetected. Soon Marquez reached the first building. He popped up and hazarded a look through the airlock windows. He gasped as he spied several bloody bodies lying about. Dropping back down he signaled Chang forward. Together they continued to sneak along toward the mineshaft.
Finally they crept up to the edge and together they looked down. There he was, propped up in the suspended operator’s chair of his weapon, a converted plasma driller now pointed at the sky. He wore a clear helmet, and as he turned to the left they both caught his profile and recognized Marshall from his file.
Marquez leveled his weapon and motioned for Chang to do the same.
Abandoning radio silence the captain clicked onto the comm, “There’s no escape Marshall, we’ve got you surrounded!”
The culprit heard the command and quickly scanned above. Then he instantly spun the cannon around and dropped it down toward their position on the rim. Now he was behind his gun.
Chang shouted, “If you fire on us the shaft wall will collapse on you!”
The reply was immediate and cold, “I don’t care trooper!” And just before he engaged the trigger he shouted, “My caverns, they shine!”
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
I am Charlie. I have been augmented with idog software. I can understand over 6000 words of English. I like food. I like warmth. I love my master.
He navigates the garbage-strewn alleyways with the expertise of someone born post invasion. I am only two years old. I follow him with undying loyalty. Together we study the open plain of an abandoned city square. A rabbit scurries sixty feet away yet I sit frozen. Not until my master gives the signal will I move a muscle.
Finally he lets me know it’s time to proceed. We slip along tight against the burned out buildings, hiding in the shadows as much as we can, avoiding the open space.
With a thunderous explosion the clouds part and a saucer drops from the sky like a weight, thudding hard onto the concrete of the square. My master reacts instantly, twisting and diving through a half-boarded up window into a long abandoned tenement. His familiar whistle pierces the air and I follow him through the opening.
Their humanoid detectors have located his form and they will not give up easily as they continue their relentless pursuit to abolish his kind.
My master sprints across a cluttered family room and bursts through a paper-thin door into a dingy hallway. I follow at his heels. Together we make our way toward the fire escape. Suddenly a lean muscular rottweiler jumps from an apartment doorway and lands in front of us, slobbering and growling like a hellhound. I skid to a halt on my four blonde paws, my master coming to a stop beside me. My father was a Pit-bull. My mother was a German Shepard. I remember them both dearly. I am a handsome dog who knows how to fight.
But my idog implant gives me other options. I quickly send the rottweiler an imessage. She receives it and I know that she too has idog. “Where is your master?” I type across the inside of her eyeball.
“He no longer moves.”
“So he is dead then?”
“I am not a doctor. I am not qualified to say.”
My own master has had enough of this and raises his weapon. I give him a familiar whine and a wink. He lowers his gun. “Hurry up then. We must move quickly!”
I turn my attention back to the rottweiler. “My master would have killed you had I not just intervened. Let us pass.” She looks up at him, then at me again, and bows back inside of her apartment doorway.
Together my master and I jump out onto the fire escape. Air drones buzz down and fire their lasers. My master dives into a dumpster and I follow. A blast from above explodes a cinderblock wall and knocks the dumpster over.
We scramble out and down the alley. Then another turn, and over a low cement wall and down an embankment. We are free. Soon we arrive in an old part of town, one we are familiar with. Yet, something has changed. The roof is missing from the Main Street Plaza. Suddenly a saucer drops from the sky. My master is blasted and instantly obliterated into a cloud of red droplets. I dive behind a pile of garbage, catching my breath.
I wait for hours, yet no one seeks me. My master is gone; I have witnessed this with my own eyes. After a time I realize that nobody is ever going to look for me. I slink from the rubble and make my way back toward the rottweiler’s apartment. Perhaps she has some ideas.
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
The goons in their black suits and sunglasses hold me above the chasm by my ankles. Then I hear their commander’s bullfrog voice.
Without hesitation strong fingers release their respective grips in unison and suddenly I am plummeting past stone cliffs toward a pile of jagged boulders heaped upon unforgiving rubble far below. I clench my eyes shut, but at the last instant open them out of sheer curiosity, just as my grimacing face greets the boulders at maximum velocity.
As anyone who has experienced likewise or similar misfortune will surely tell you, this last moment comes with the veracity of a freight train. There is a tremendous clang throughout you and your entire world, a clang that smacks your soul clean out of your body, followed by an immediate, “Oh no!” No matter what you do, or how you crash, there will always be that, “Oh no!” there to greet you an instant after the clang. The pain is enormous beyond your wildest fears, but thankfully it fades to nothingness in under a second.
I come to in the chair. My restraints still hold me tight. One of the black suited gorillas slaps me across the mouth. I hear the bullfrog voice behind me.
“Had enough yet?”
I say nothing in return.
The voice shouts, “Again!”
In an instant I am transported to a tiny pedestal. I freeze. I am balanced on a ten-inch-square platform atop a metal pole. I am naked, smeared in animal blood and bits of entrails, and I shiver in fear. A mere four feet below the lagoon surrounds me, infested with at least fifty giant snapping crocodiles.
The bullfrog voice resonates behind me, “Knock him in.”
I dare to crane my neck around. Behind me, some twenty yards out of reach, stands a hut on stilts. The men in suits all have sizeable projectile-launching tubes balanced upon their shoulders. “Fire!” comes the order.
Half a dozen old fashioned medicine balls careen my way. The first one misses my head by inches. The second one hits me square in the back. I fly forward off the pedestal and land face first with a splash. Surprisingly none of the beasts approach me at first. But quickly a massive specimen takes interest and makes his way boldly in my direction.
I kneel down in the shallow water and bow my head in resignation but it does nothing to alter the creature’s progress. In another moment the huge jaws chomp down on my head and upper torso. Giant razor sharp teeth dig into my face and it snaps my neck as it begins to roll me over and over. Water fills my lungs as we slip beneath the surface. The “Oh no!” in this case happened early, and then several more times along the way.
Suddenly I come to in my restraints again. Again a backhand crosses my face. Again the bullfrog voice prods, “Are you willing to talk yet?”
And once again I say nothing.
Suddenly I am transported to a warehouse. I hang in a harness from the ceiling. Below me are thousands of sharp metal spikes pointing upward. I feel the rope above me begin to slip.
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
All six of my previous brothers had gotten past this point with little difficulty. The smoldering remains of my crashed lander blended in nicely with the gray hillside behind me. My atmospheric and biofunction readings continued to flash in my view screen as other red-lettered warnings popped in and out.
Here was the first one I was waiting for. “Motion detected nine-point-five quadrant.” I already knew that this was the troll that had decapitated clone one. I ducked and twisted just like my five other successful brothers had done before me, and felt the wind blast inside my helmet as the slicing plasma sword narrowly missed my head. Before it could turn around and regroup, it was neutralized into a pile of burnt carbon-encrusted ooze.
I pushed forward, up a rocky trail past fissures that spewed toxic gasses, glad for my breathing apparatus, and made ready for my second deadly challenge. Clone two had been sniped from behind a rock high above. Clone three had ducked but had still been pegged off in retreat. After that, my remaining three brothers and I had all successfully managed to dive into a nearby gully each in our own turn. And like my departed replicas, I too managed to cut around and creep up behind my assailant, slitting its throat with my plasma knife. I continued onward and upward.
The rockslide that had taken the life of clone four was an easy sidestep for those of us remaining. I moved up the safe, secondary ridge toward the tower. I knew there were a few one-eyed muck-mongers hiding behind black stumps above, but just like the other two of my remaining brothers; I dispatched them to their makers with little difficulty.
Approaching the gate of the stronghold I faced the killer of clone five knowing full well that there were no guarantees. Just because clone six had defeated this giant in a previous battle didn’t mean that I would. For all the maker cared, we could all start back at square one. But it was our religion. I prayed to it and believed it to my core.
The goliath stumbled toward me, its massive spiked club raised high. I sprung off to the right, mindful of the loose stepping-stone that had almost foiled six, and rolled away to safety as the club came crashing down into the dirt. By the time the hulking killdroid had spun around I managed to release the heavy launcher from my cloak and hoisted it upward, its butt-end nestled firmly against my shoulder. There was an explosion as I tapped the trigger, and when my eyes reopened I was on my back, looking up, as smoke billowed from the now headless collapsing form of the killdroid.
I scrambled to one side and avoided the tons of crashing steel. Then as I stood and faced the tower, the dust cleared. All I needed to do was follow six’s path up and over the wall. It was almost as if I were merely floating along in a dream now. I needed only to follow his footsteps. And this held true until I got to the spot along the top of the wall where the polymer arrow had pierced his heart. I dove off the wall a second before the shot arrived, and crashed down into the brush below.
I stood up and stepped out of the shrubbery. I heard a thump, and looked down just in time to see the grenade roll up to my boot. Damn it! Eight would have to learn from my mistake.
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
Time travel has always been possible. We’ve been doing it for centuries. Even the most archaic craft in our earliest space faring ventures used to bring back brave voyagers aged a fraction of a second younger than they would have been had they never left.
But to really traverse time, to cover a temporal distance that can be measured in actual years rather than fractions of seconds, would take some extra ingenuity. And consequently the first singular photons were successfully sent back down the time stream in the early spring of 2240. Initially it was just a few seconds, and then minutes, and then hours. And then pretty soon those seemingly insignificant tiny travelers were spanning the years at our command.
But when it was suddenly discovered that we might be able to actually infiltrate antique fiber optic cables and send our own messages back into the past, we all hesitated, and approached this realization with extreme trepidation and concern… and then we plowed on ahead anyway.
We still weren’t able to boost the signal enough for video, but audio was working perfectly, and that was just fine. The newly targeted period of the early 21st century was a time of almost complete global coverage by audio communication systems.
We continuously searched for a likely subject in the archives. “How about this?” said my assistant Harland one afternoon.
“What do you have?” I asked.
“An old 2D site run by an early 2020s woman. A Beatrice McLean of eastern Canada. Her society called, simply enough, ‘The Time Travelers Club’ once celebrated the possibility of, and more importantly, its members’ belief in, time travel.”
“Interesting,” I admitted. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes.” He looked back at me, one eyebrow raised. “There’s a phone number.”
* * *
“Hello, Beatrice speaking.”
* * *
I yelled into my cheekplant. “It’s time to open our trap and see if we’ve caught anything. All associates into position please!”
As we pushed forward down the long hallway Harland led the way with his Eyepiece’s strong flashlight. According to our research the old New Brunswick family had owned this place for centuries, but the power had now been off for decades. At last we came upon the ancient storage room.
They had all waited for me. The two maintenance workers had their prying tools jammed into the cracks on either side of the crumbling cinderblock. I stopped, took in the dusty scene for a brief moment, and then nodded toward the workers. In unison they wrenched the old block loose.
It came crashing down and fell into near powder. I stepped forward, waving the cloud away, and covering my mouth I coughed several times. Then through the dispersing fallout I saw it.
It was a flat rectangular piece of white plastic, nearly upright, leaning ever so slightly in its cubbyhole, extremely non-biodegradable, as per our original instruction, perhaps the lid of an antique food storage container. I had a dozen team members standing behind me shining their lights over my shoulders. As I pulled it free from its hiding place and shook the centuries of sediment away with a flick of my wrist, we could all now read the message that had been faithfully carved deep into the plastic with a 350-year-old wood burning tool, by a staunch and serious practitioner of science and science fiction, all those years ago.
The message read…