Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
I’s down at Calhoon’s Saloon washin’ the day’s grit outta my mouth with belts of sour mash. Was hotter’n a cat-house on nickel night with nothin’ to jaw on but leathery yarns told too many times.
Sudden-like, I feels a cold wind ‘cross my arm n’ the room goes graveyard-hush. So I turns my head ‘round, reeeea-l slow – n’there he was. The Stranger. Lookin’ right stumped.
An odd stick to look at. Outlandish digs – some sorta ashy, one-piece get-up fulla pockets n’whatnot. No granger, fer certain, but he weren’t no city-slicker, neither. Mighta taken ‘em fer a fancy gunslinger, but din’t see no shooter on ‘em.
Everybody was all bug-eyed like he’s a rattler, or juss walked through the wall er sumthin’. Then I re’lized, he was right next to me n’ there ain’t no way he coulda crost the room without me seein’ ‘em.
Real casual-like – like he done it a hunnerd times, he says, “Bar Tender. Two large, uncooked potatoes, please.” Then he says, “And a bottle of your finest whisky for the house.” Def’nit’ly a for’ner, but his anglish was al’right, I guess. Then he lays a chunk o’gold the size of my fist on the counter.
Well, that bar went from lynch mob to hootin’ fandago in two seconds flat n’ that Stranger becamed everybody’s bestest friend. I ain’t never seen ol’Calhoon move so fast. Lickety-split, he laid out two of Gramma’ Wilkes’ finest russets.
Then, the Stranger laid a black thingamajig on the counter n’ tugged two metal rods with wires outta the side n’ stuck ‘em into them taters. A red doohickey started a-blinkin’ on it. He was real anxious ‘bout sumthin’.
“You look like a man in a predicament,” I said gravely as Calhoon carefully measured our shots.
The Stranger scanned me with Chinaman eyes, but bigger n’ bluer. Bluest eyes I ever seen.
“Yeah, could say that.” His jaw tightened n’ he hobbled his lip.
Normally, I’da hobbled mine too, but I’s curious ‘bout this feller.
“Where you from, Stranger?”
“You should ask, ‘When you from?’ since, geographically, I haven’t moved.” Had me stumped.
“I’m from the forty-second century.”
“That near Cincinnati?”
We knocked our shots back. – mmmmm – Fine as cream gravy!
After that, he minded his contraption n’ I minded my own damn business, while everyone else got right roostered up.
Sumthin’s squawked like a turkey inna rainstorm.
“Damn! Found me.” He packed his plunder then whispered in my ear, “Word of advice, friend. Close your eyes. Count to a hundred.”
A green light blinked on his thingamajig, real fast. “And invest in the railroad.” His finger jabbed his whats-it n’ he juss vanished. Poof.
Well, I ain’t no idjit. I shut my peepers. If’n I hadn’t? Wouldn’t be able to tell y’all this tale. I’da fergot, juss like them others.
See, with my eyes closed, I heard some thangs, strange thangs. Thangs ain’t no words to describe. Sumbody, er sumthang came into Calhoon’s – lookin’ fer the Stranger, I s’pect. Who, er what, couldn’t tell. All’s I know is, when I finally peeked out my oculars, everybody was pee-tree-fied, not movin’ er breathin’.
Then suddenly, they’s carryin’ on s’if nothin’ happened.
Calhoon snaps out of it n’ spots the lump o’ gold n’ his eyes growed wide with ‘mazement. “Gerald,” he asks, “You finally hit it big with that dried up claim o’yours?”
He din’t remember nothin’.
Nobody did, ‘cept me.
I know opp’rtunity when I see’s it. I wrapped my paws ‘round that nugget with joyful relish. “Yessiree, Calhoon. I done did hit it big!”
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
17th Day, 8th Lunar, 1860 N.E. (New Earth )
09:47:23 I look to the west; to the future. I meditate on how close we came to not having one. Our predecessors, our degenerate, self-obsessed ancestors destroyed themselves. We’d be naught but savages now if not for the Founders. They changed the course of history; gave us a second chance, a chance to build a better world. They found the Crystals, which in turn, supplied us with endless power. All praise the Founders!
09:56:43 My droids hum industriously, completing final diagnostics on the Chronoscope. The sound is vivifying. I’m so close! I’ve longed to know what minds could have constructed such monuments to civilization as this long-dead metropolis spread out before me, now crumbling into ruin. High in my laboratory atop the only structure remaining of this vast, ancient city, I wonder: What was life like in those massive, overcrowded cities? What happened to our ancestors who disappeared mysteriously so long ago?
A dark veil has been cast over history, obscuring any knowledge of that time. The Second Dark Ages. Overnight, they simply vanished.
All but 500,000. The Founders of New Earth.
If little is known about Old Earth, less is known about the Founders. No historical records exist before the year 100 N.E. Seemingly intentionally, as if the Founders deliberately wanted to forget the past. Why? Why did they survive and an estimated seven billion disappear without a trace? These remain mysteries to this day. Mysteries I aim to uncover.
10:03:56 Alerts chime. Diagnostics complete. All systems green.
10:05:04 The brass and silver Chronoscope resembles a telescope suspended from the ceiling of my observatory by a multi-jointed, mechanical appendage. A complex array of spider-like, titanium limbs encases its objective lens. I aim it west.
10:06:03 Activate Chronoscope. Rpms accelerate rapidly. The Temporal array spins, whining and blurring.
10:06:45 Engage Temperal-Field Distortion. The tip of each limb flares into an incandescent blue spark, carving a ring of electric fire just beyond the Chronoscope’s lens. There’s a strong smell of ozone as tachyons bombard the fabric of space/time, penetrating deep into the past.
10:07:14 I step up to the eyepiece and look away from the future. I look to the past now, seeking answers.
10:08:32 Through the viewer I see a long tunnel, its walls rainbow-hued quicksilver, which terminates in a glorious spectacle – a vision of the past!
I’ve pierced the veil!
Wherever I aim the Chronoscope a thriving civilization fills my vision. I watch amazed as the ancient necropolis surrounding my tower springs to life, it’s citizens moving in real-time. Their lives are written on their faces. So indomitable! So intrepid!
10:18:27 Recalibrate the Temporal Dampeners to 1 yr/sec.
Days strobe endlessly past. Sunrise. Sunset. Buildings get taller. The city expands.
The population flourishes. Then multiplies. Again. Again. Again.
10:23:23 Then they’re gone. I stop. Rewind 5 yrs. Recalibrate: 1 mo/sec.
10:27:35 Nothing different but for a slowly settling fog, even in fast-motion. Bodies appear. Many bodies. A black flurry of activity. Something from the sky. Then nothing. They’re all gone. It’s over in seconds.
10:35:57 Rewind. Recalibrate: 1 day/sec.
10:38:46 I watch, horror-struck, as the city succumbs to the killing fog, released by black planes criss-crossing the skies. Black dump trucks arrive with white-clad drivers. The bodies are removed and piled in parks and parking lots. Ships come. Many ships. Alien ships. All bear the sygil of the Founders.
The bodies, millions of them are quickly loaded. Then the ships are gone, leaving behind great, pulsing green crystals.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
SEA OF SERENDIPITY – MOON
“I can’t wait until this bloody war is over,” corporal Sharky shouts into his mic as a barrage of anti-personnel bombs rearrange the lunar landscape nearby. “I don’t give a damn who wins anymore. We’re sittin’ ducks out here!” A slow-motion rain of soil, rock and limb make tiny craters in the lunar dust around the huddled space marines in their feeble trench, while wings of Vol-gu-thari fighters slice the naked cosmos with dual, death-dealing lasers.
“Not I.” Major Adam’s voice is as level and unpredictable as the sea, as hard as stone. “If these bastards win, they won’t just kill us – no, no, no – THAT would be too easy. They will put us to work burning, cutting, mining and drilling our planet until there’s nothing left but a barren honeycomb of lifeless rock. I’d rather die a hundred times trying to stop these alien bastards than have to live under their tyranny for one second. I say fuck 'em. I say let’s go kick some bug-eyed ass!”
The grunting chorus of blood frenzied jar-heads, engaged in the time honored tradition of ramping up each others courage to suicidal proportions, is rudely interrupted by the unfortunate placement of a Vul-gu-thari Quantum Discombobulater.
UNSS VICTORY – BATTLESHIP
“I can’t wait until this bloody war is over,” Admiral Hackman slurs around his massive cigar. “They can have the Earth as far as I’m concerned. It’s their tech I’m interested in.” The gathered War Council study the holographic battle table with the hopeless resolve of the nearly defeated, while Hackman ogles the specs of a captured alien’s death-dealing dual-lasers.
“Not I.” General Katari is a paragon of martial prowess. “If our enemy wins, an honorable death will not be our fate, nor will we be retired to live out our days in shame – Small mercies, compared to what the Vul-gu-thari will do to us. We will be conscripted for life as our enemies own warriors, enslaving other worlds in endless conquest. I will not allow this to happen. I will fight them until blood flows no longer through my veins.”
Half-hearted cheers of affirmation float around the live holographic simulation of the hopeless lunar battle playing out in digital precision in the center of the war room. Tiny, multi-colored fighters fly desperate strategic patterns over the satellite’s cratered surface – dogfights, strafings, bombing runs – miniature life and death scenarios. A thousand glowing fatalities at a glance.
VIP PENTHOUSE – EARTH
“I hope this war never ends,” President of Earth’s Defense Council declares whilst rapaciously sipping a rare Vul-gu-thari vintage. “I don’t give a fig what you… thing – er, guys… do with the planet. Just gimme some more o’that marvelous vino.” A voluptuous, multi-breasted Dithnari pleasure slave pours a bituminous wine while three perplexed Vul-gu-thari Mantis-men attempt to decipher the esoteric secrets of the Rubik's-Cube. The President grins. There’s money to be made double-dealing in alien death lasers.
“Not I,” T’glork’th’kiki’s chemical excretions infiltrate the air, undetected by the distracted human dignitaries succumbing to myriad salacious vices. “It is said; a human tastes best when pre-fed copious amounts of kork-bladder urine. I wish to know if this is fact. I am thinking this one should be just about ready.” Several antennae quiver in eager response.
Simultaneously, the Overlord’s dexterous mandibles articulate, “Mis-ter. Presiden-t, this is jus-t the beginning.”
The pleasure slave laughs like a rabid hyena.
Beyond the penthouse windows, high above laser-scorched skies, the moon, in macabre celebration, sparkles like a holiday firework.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
Darwin was wrong. The Burgarii Collective is living proof of that.
Watching the massive arcologies floating above the old city is surreal – mountains literally drifting among the clouds. I am reminded of a text book found deep in the library’s archives (one of many I’ve been transcribing since the 2026AD “Datacrash” wiped 90% of Earth’s electronic storage). According to the text, Charles Darwin, father of modern evolutionary theory, had a contemporary known as Peter Kropotkin, a disinherited Russian prince, zoologist and philosopher who had proposed an evolutionary model which stood in utter contrast to Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.”
I observe the various races of the Burgarii Collective carry out their specialized tasks on and about the lush floating oases of the arcologies. Some fly by wing or membrane. Some are carried aloft with flight packs of various designs. Still others crawl effortlessly over the hull, using natural or artificial suction pads to secure them to the surface. At a glance I can see over a thousand different species of plant, animal and sentient races all working together for a common good; panoply of colour, genetic design and symbiotic co-operation.
Kropotkin’s model was based not on genetic superiority of tooth and claw, but on mutual aid, wherein an individual not only co-operated with members of its own species for the betterment of the whole, but would develop strong, lasting, sometimes bizarre symbiotic relationships with other species for mutual benefit.
A multi-limbed Grokos floats past, carried aloft by a Vindarkian helium sac. The Vindark’s small, jet-like vents propel the harvester down rows of ripe strawberries – a terrestrial delicacy for the insectoid Grokus. I can see a humanoid Druig, with its Methane Algae respirator, fidgeting with a green, crystalline generator unit. Nearby, a tall, spider-like Scarvenian Empath explains to a group of humans how the generator’s semi-sentient X’ioli crystals are harmonized via the multi-tonal frequencies of a Creax Vocal Harp, producing giga-watts of electricity on demand.
According to the book, Kropotkin’s ideas had plenty of experimental data and research supporting them, but Darwin’s “dog eat dog” vision of the world was a sentiment shared by the seminal corporate engines of the age; young industrialists who were steadily gaining power and influence alongside the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.
Thus, Darwin’s voice was heard while Kropotkin’s faded to obscurity. The new zeitgeist placed humanity at the top of the food chain; self-made Lords over the kingdom of Earth. “Survival of the Fittest!” became the rallying cry of a thriving corporate hegemony, heralding an era of competition and global expansion.
Drunk on the promise of the new paradigm, we systematically manufactured, one human at a time, a rapacious social beast hell-bent on survival. A voracious predator, it swallowed anything in its path; trees, oceans, skies, flesh, leaving a trail of devastation and waste in its wake. Species vanished, devoured by the beast’s insatiable desire for more. Within three centuries, all life on Earth was endangered. The few remaining humans were the sickest of the lot.
The survivors, it seemed, weren’t the fittest after all.
What were we then?
Just plain lucky.
If not for Burgarii intervention, we would’ve destroyed ourselves along with a multi-billion-year-old ecology. But they came and have shown us what Kropotin tried to show us so long ago.
Today, a Plithian hive mind is teaching me the language of bees. Already their calming buzz is forming a coherent syntax in my mind. I wonder what things would have been like if we’d chosen this path sooner. What new relationships might have developed? How many species might have been spared?
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
Our Probation. That’s what the first hundred years of our subjugation by the Thkar were called. After a long history of subservience to home-grown oppressors, we were extremely pliant to the superior wills of alien powers. Universaly speaking, we were easy pickin’s. Ten decades of “good behaviour” earned us a semblance of civil rights; a boon from our generous masters, who have, in Chancellor Sssths’s own words, “long grown bored of the tediousss and sssychophantic Hu-man sss-pecies.” Posing no threat to Thkar dominion, humans can now vote, marry, own property, do business – even hope to achieve a seat on the Earth Senate.
Or become crime reporters.
“He was asking for it,” the human prostitute drawls around a thick wad of chewing gum. “See what he’s wearin’?” She blows a tight, florescent pink bubble, which snaps accusingly as an officer ushers her behind the police line. The crowd’s whispers drift over me as I approach the corpse. “He shoulda known better.” “Idiot.” “Tragic.” Several Thkar tongues lick salaciously at the scent of fresh blood in the air.
The victim, DNA matched as a Mr. Timothy Hutton, is revealed through a series of flashes as my Tri-D camera records his death in sublime detail. His body’s been dumped atop a pile of garbage, decapitated. His clothing’s shredded, stained crimson. Blood is copious. The story of his demise is clear: an opportunistic Thkar simply bit the unwitting head off a passing jogger – its massive jaws tearing deep into the man’s torso – then discarded his lifeless remains in the trash.
Mutually agreed civic policies have been implemented to protect human citizens from becoming a Thkar’s lunch, but new laws spawn new criminals. Truth is we’re second-class citizens on our own home world. Our freedom is an illusion; a belief we cling to for sanity’s sake.
I can’t see how the victim’s attire – a tank-top and shorts ensemble – earned him the dubious privilege of having his head devoured (a Thkar delicacy). But then I see it. He showed too much flesh around the alien carnivore. Which is akin to saying, “she asked to get raped.” Some days I hate my job.
I snap a final Tri-D of the mutilated corpse and leave Mr. Hutton to the clean-up crew. Elbowing my way through the mob of gossip-starved onlookers, ghosts of past victims make cameos in the gathering darkness demanding answers I don’t have.
A heavy rain falls as I step into the neon soaked night. I turn up my collar and walk.
Soon, I’m drenched, alone and certain I’m being followed. Glancing over my shoulder I see a bulky shadow emerge from the darkness; a long, clawed limb reaching toward me. Adrenaline drunk, I blunder over an ill-placed garbage can and slam painfully onto the wet concrete. Skin on my hands and knees rip; I taste blood. The mammoth Thkar looms nearer. Terror freezes me to the ground, muscles disobeying my mind’s desperate command to “move, move, DAMMIT MOVE!”
A leathery hand grips my wrist and I’m hauled gently to my feet by powerful arms.
“Careful now,” the Thkar hisses amiably. “You hurt?”
Only my pride. I shake my head.
“You dropped thisss back there.” The reptoid holds out my wallet, which I numbly retrieve without a word. “Ssssshame about that poor guy.” The Thkar seems genuinely concerned, but I can only mumble an embarrassed, “thanks” before slinking away into the enveloping night, ashamed of my own prejudice against this well-intentioned Thkar, but eager to put as much distance as possible between us.