by Duncan Shields | Dec 7, 2017 | Story |
Author: Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“Look we rescued you, correct?”
“You were floating in a derelict colony vessel. You were a corpsicle. A cryo refugee. We could have LEFT you there!”
“Yeah, I know. You revived me and the other two hundred surviving sleepers. I get it. I’m grateful! But-”
“THIS IS THE SIXTH TIME. And that’s just YOU! That doesn’t count the rest of your kind.”
“Hey, you have to understand. A food replicator is a miracle to us. We’re only human.”
“This is the first ship in the Union that will need to place restrictions. THE FIRST SHIP! It’s EMBARASSING!”
“We’re imaginative primitives new to your time. Like cavemen would have been to us. I’m sorry.”
“Look at this list. You wanted to eat each other?”
“Not literally. Just a taste of consequence-free human meat. And once we found out we could submit each other’s DNA, it just became a party game. Come on. Admit it. You’re curious.”
“NO, I AM NOT.”
“And from there, it was a small hop to tasting all the species onboard we’ve never seen before. Those Tulexians are delicious!”
“I’M a Tulexian, you monster.”
“Okay, I can see how cannibalism, no matter how victimless and consequence-free, might be…. frowned on.”
“Oh, can you?”
“Glad to see sarcasm is alive and well. But what else have we done that’s so bad?”
“The ship’s power went down to 15% this morning.”
“Ah, yes. That.”
“You wanted a….let’s see…I have it in my notes here…a ‘turducken but with every edible animal in the universe’.”
“The main viewscreen crashed in the bridge. The whole ship went down to emergency power.”
“So THAT’S what that was. I was pretty freaked out. My replicator got SUPER hot”
“It was trying to complete your meal! Do you KNOW how many edible animals are in the universe?”
“Taking into account that there are 8.7 million species on your Earth alone and there are 237 planets in the Union…..”
“Yeah. Your replicator was literally trying to apply the animal-within-animal turducken principle to…double checking here…yes, 2,961,933,238 recorded animals. That’s nearly three billion layers of meat.”
“In the shape of a turkey”
“Yes. In the shape of a turkey.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t do that again.”
“You can’t. We’ve made it a protocol in the computer that you can no longer do that.”
“Okay. What about an eternal moebius pizza just coming slowly out of the replicator forever?”
“Anatomically accurate cakes using medical records of fellow crew members?”
“Bowls of rice with famous paintings on each grain?”
“OKAY THAT’S IT! You’re banned.”
“We’ll bring you replicated nutrients and set up a kitchen in the quarters of you and your fellow wakened cryosleepers.”
“Let me have the replicator for ten more minutes. PLEASE? I want the replicator to fry me a copy of your delicious dorsal claws. Then we’ll be cool. We cool?”
“By Tursuk’s tears. No. No, we are not cool.”
“Oh, I just KNEW you wouldn’t be cool about this. I should have eaten a copy of your FACE while I had the chance!”
“By the Hammer of Sherindal! Such depravity. The restrictions stand.”
“Well NOW what are we supposed to do? It’s a long journey back to Earth.”
“We have many means of entertainment available. Although, I’m curious, how come you all haven’t been giving us the same kinds of problems with our holodeck?”
“You guys have holodecks? Can we try that out? That sounds cool.”
“Oh……by Tharlat’s hairy claws. Computer, initiate holodeck lockout procedures alpha prime. Union personnel only.”
“Oh come ON! You guys are the WORST!”
by Duncan Shields | Nov 28, 2017 | Story |
Author: Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Slow Jim Parker. That’s me, friend. Please to make your acquaintance.
Nasty accident you had there, friend. Nas-teee accident. And I’ve seen some! And this shack of a hospital won’t do you any good, either, no offense.
Well, I’m here to help you out. Yes sir. Let me tell the how and the why.
I lived on WP286-Kestrel, or ‘286’ as we used to call it, for nigh-on 18 years.
I still don’t know why we didn’t just call it Kestrel but I always figured it was because a kestrel is a beautiful bird whereas this was a stinking cesspool that no one should have to endure.
Y’see, WP2886-Kestrel was a waste planet. Most systems have one planet devoted to waste collection and sorting as you know, to keep the planets from developing a ring of their own refuse, like Saturn in the old country.
Mountains of garbage poured in by starbarge and sky portal day and night.
Goes without sayin’ that 286 was toxic. Most of my fellow 286ers were prison labour. I was that rare breed of stupid. A volunteer. An entrepreneur.
Of course it’s not the place I call home now but 286 stays with you. Some of it’s the hereditary cancer you develop from the pollution but mostly it’s the mutations. And the memories.
That rock had developed its own Aurora borealis. Somewhere between a heat-mirage made of raw chemical stink and an electrical field from all the discarded appliances. Colors I never seen before or since.
Quite a motley community of scavengers we were. Toxicity suits all patched. Bright yellow on day one but after years of spot repairs with available materials and experimental upgrades from discarded equipment, most of us had a unique setup. Ray had those powerful vise-hands. Joe had those radio goggles for seeking out antennas.
Gradually, you develop a specialty there in the junkpile. A lot of us were inventors, looking for ways to build new weapons or technological shortcuts.
I myself was looking for biological patents.
You see the rodents in the landfill were horribly mutated. They might have been rats at one point but generations of radiation and very fast inbreeding had changed them. Bear-sized in some cases. Hive-mind swarms in others. To the point that they’d sometimes evolve new organs to fight the poison and in some rare cases, actually get smart enough to use tools to protect and augment themselves.
Course we all ran the risk of mutating as well.
I mean, I have that small clutch of eyes growing on one shoulder. They blink and look around but whoever’s using them to see, it isn’t me. And of course, if I use my fingers I can count to fourteen now. I suppose I should be grateful for the tail. I just wish it wasn’t coming out of my ankle.
But I’m successful. So there’s that. Doing well off the very things I came here to sell you today in light of your nasty accident. I’ve got a whole batch of little organs here that’ll put a smile right on to that terminal face. I can double your liver capacity, give your heart eight minutes of flatline capability with no harm to yourself, even got a little generator here that’ll let you alternate left and right brain so that you can stay up for weeks with no loss in productivity. Heck, I even got some accelerated stem cells here to regrow that limb.
What’ll it be, friend?
Dang it. I always talk too much. He’s off with the angels now.
Slow Jim Parker is right.
by Duncan Shields | Nov 6, 2017 | Story |
Author: Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“It’s not that I hate being rich. I love it. It’s just that I feel undeserving. I wish my situation wasn’t so unique.” said Carl Whittaker 4 to his therapist.
“You mean being the first and likely only billionaire clone to exist?” asked the cellular-propagate therapist.
“Exactly. I’m in an unusual situation. I was given a law education as the indentured servant of the late Carl Whittaker Prime. I was made the executor of his will.” CW4 said.
“Yes, we’ve been over that. Business as usual. Plenty of cloned lawyers execute their owner’s last wills before mandatory destruction. But in your case…..” the therapist trailed, hoping to lead Carl 4 to his present problems.
“Well, I found a loophole. I had never been properly registered as a clone. Perhaps because Carl had a sentimental attachment to me as he had no children of his own. He had me proclaimed as a ward. In legal terms, it’s very much like adoption. There was no law against it because no one had thought to do it before. I never left the grounds of the estate. All of my education was online. I was like a pet.” rambled Carl.
“You didn’t have the standard organ harvest clause.” prompted the therapist.
“No. There were several cloned brainstem truncates in the basement chambers for any organs that were needed.” Carl said.
“So you were in many ways a quasi-person.”
“Indeed. And Carl Prime left his entire estate to me. Including the workforce of copyrighted gene imprints of himself.” finished Carl. Nervously, he took a sip of water.
“I remember the case. The people vs Carl Whittaker 4. It was a sad watershed moment for clone rights. You ended up being allowed to retain ownership of his estate, including the DNA replicates. But the loophole was closed thereafter in order stop the wealthy from passing their money down a line of clones instead of family.” said the therapist.
“Right. So I’m the only….one.” said CW4. He looked around the room nervously and took another sip of water.
“Correct. Which leads us to today. What seems to be the problem?” asked the therapist, slightly impatiently.
“Well, doctor. That’s just it. I’m not the only one. All of the workforce that I own and rent out to companies around the world are dying under the awful conditions that all clones work under. And they’re me. They’re all me. CWs. Numbering up to nearly two million. My eyes, my body type. My face. I can’t take it anymore.” Carl Whittaker 4 sobbed.
“I see. The guilt of a Prime and you have no fellow clones to talk to.” The therapist stroked his chin.
“Yes. That’s exactly it. I feel like a slave owner except all of my slaves are me.” said Carl, sniffling. He was managing to get himself under control.
“Well, Carl. You’re in a unique position so I’ll have to give you some unique advice,” said the therapist. “A lot of humans in your position turn to drugs, alcohol, or other means of shoring up their denial to blind themselves to the moral turpitude they’re mired in. If you won’t consider liquidating your entire workforce…..”
Carl Whittaker 4 blanched at the suggestion.
“….then I suggest you learn to be more human. Distract yourself from the clone plight and take up a hobby. Maybe an addiction as well. Do some research on what would suit you best. And you’ll need some sleeping pills. I’ll prescribe some. Good luck.” concluded the therapist.
Grimly, Carl Whittaker 4 nodded. He steeled himself for the future.
“Our time is up.” said the therapist.
by Duncan Shields | Oct 24, 2017 | Story |
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“So why’d you join the off-world diplomacy exchange?” buzzed Zazzy through his translator. His mandibles glistened and his iridescent bright-purple eyestalks waved back and forth like windshield wipers in a light rain, scanning my face. Speared lunch larvae wriggled on his clawtips.
“Scientific curiosity.” I answered. “And I like to meet new beings.” I looked around the cafeteria. Hundreds of aliens were eating here; a dizzying array of every sentient being in the Galactic Union. All here in this station to learn about each other in the interest of peaceful coexistence. So far, so good.
Zazzy’s full name was a series of clicks and buzzes and a gust of pheromones that my human mouth would never be able to ‘say’. The translator collars gave us all nicknames that were the easiest, closest names in our own languages.
“Hey, Zazzy, what’s my translator nickname in your language? ‘Carol’ doesn’t have a lot of buzzes or clicks. Wouldn’t it be hard to translate?” I asked.
“Your name isn’t a sound to me, it’s a smell puff. It’s quite pleasant.” he said, the larvae disappearing into his mouth.
“Why did YOU join, Zazzy?” I asked.
“Well, you might not know this, Carol, but I’m quite ugly.” said Zazzy.
I gaped a little at his honesty. “I have a hard time believing that, Zazz.” I responded.
His exoskeleton had sheens of colourful whorls that caught the light. His eyestalks glittered purple, even in the dark. I saw the powder blue of his wings once when he jumped down from an upper level. They flashed out like a cricket. I thought he was dazzling.
But I had no frame of reference.
Zazz continued, “On my planet, I’m socially ostracized because of my hideousness. But here, there are no other of my kind for you aliens to compare me to. Or even if there were, you probably wouldn’t even know there was anything amiss. To me, this is a very special place. I studied hard to get this assignment. Not that I had to. My race is pretty xenophobic by nature so it wasn’t too hard to win the posting. Nobody wanted this job.” he chittered at me. A wave of pink rippled down his arm cilia. Embarrassment?
I picked up my knife and I looked at it. I could see my face in its clean reflection. I could see the crooked nose, the buck teeth, the mousy hair, and the eyes that didn’t quite line up. I saw the acreage of my forehead with its unnaturally high hairline. I was physically fit but nothing would ever make me pretty.
“Zazzy, I know exactly what you mean.” I said. “Back home, I’m not thought of as pretty either. But I haven’t even thought about it since I got here. I was wondering why I was so relaxed. I chose this post because of the scientific possibilities, the exchange of knowledge, and the xenobiology opportunities, not to mention a universe of contacts to one day visit. But you just made me think that maybe I strove to get this post for another reason that I was in denial about.”
“I wonder if we’re all ugly?” Zazzy wondered out loud, extending several arms to indicate the room.
We both looked out at the lunch crowd. A bright-yellow, bus-sized slug sat across from a ten-legged frog. A tiny, tentacled monkey was telling a joke to a levitating cyborg fish. A brightly-flashing flesh balloon was whispering to what looked like a giant pile of grapes.
We sat there, pondering the scene.
“Well, they all look beautitful to me.” I said.
by Duncan Shields | Oct 17, 2017 | Story |
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
“So when’s your kill frenzy?” asked the giant, barbed Tark beside me. His name was Jant. We were both assigned to navigation in the starship. It was our first day. He had hundreds of holes in the back of his uniform to accommodate his spikes. I’d never met a Tark before.
“Sorry, my what?” I responded.
“Your kill frenzy. Once a month for two days, my race has to kill something or go insane. My next one’s coming up in six days. When’s yours? If we sync up, maybe we can kill together.” Jant said and smiled, sheathing and unsheathing his talons reflexively in a disconcerting tic. He had too many teeth.
“I’m a human. Uh, we don’t have kill frenzies.” I said to him
All of his eyes widened in shock.
“Really? Gosh. I thought all sentient species had a kill frenzy. It’s how to maintain a peaceful society. Has your race ever experienced murder?”
“Indeed we have. We can kill whenever we wish to. We have social laws and many religions that stop us from doing it, though.” I said, feeling a little strange about the picture I was painting.
“But those laws and that other thing you mentioned, rell-i-jun? They haven’t stopped the killing.” he pointed out, obviously confused.
“Uh, well, no. But, I mean, the hope is that we, uh, maybe mitigated it. I guess.” I finished lamely. I really hoped he wouldn’t ask me any questions about wars. Or holy wars.
Jant eyed me guardedly and took a small step away.
I changed the direction of the conversation, “Uh, so how do you deal with your kill frenzy when you’re out in deep space like this? We can’t get back to your planet in time. Do you lock yourself in your room?”
“No I told you. We go insane if we don’t kill.” said the Tark, “I have several months worth of victims in my storage allotment. I merely pull one out, bring it to my quarters, and spend two days killing it.” He kept tapping in astrometric data. “It’s why my quarters have extra soundproofing and a drain in the floor.”
I blanched. “Do you eat it afterwards?”
“Good heavens no. We’re not barbarians. Who would eat living things?”
“Well we did.”
“I didn’t think that was possible. Well it must have driven you insane not to eat them, right? You had no choice.”
“No, it was optional.”
“Well, at least you never killed for sport, right?”
“Actually that was quite popular”
“With your fangs and…claws?” He looked me over, finding no evidence of naturally occurring offensive weaponry.
“No, mostly with weapons we designed to uh…kill from a distance. More effectively.”
In the ensuing silence, I felt as if I’d said something sacrilegious. The soft pings of the control panels and the dull hum of the engine reactors bridged the awkward pause.
“Hey, you torture living beings for days so….” I blurted out. My back was up.
“They evolved to enjoy it. It’s how their spores are released. They look forward to it and experience ecstasy as they are skinned. It’s mutual. And it’s not….by….choice.”
A chilly, more permanent silence descended.
“I may have to request a transfer away from this station.” Jant said. “You are too frightening to me.”
Under my breath I whispered, “Yeah, said the eight-eyed, two-and-a-half-meters-tall bristling collection of barbs and claws that has kill frenzies.”
That was two months ago. I haven’t spoken to Jant since but I hear he’s very popular on the ship. I hear he’s very kind.
I, on the other hand, am having a hard time making friends.