Warped Drive

Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

The President of the United States smiled as the press photographed and video recorded her handshake with the Un’Vidik representative. The tall, spindly alien showed no emotion. How could it, encased as it was in its stark white encounter suit? The alien and the President left the photo op and entered the White House.

It was with reluctance that the captain of the immense Un’Vidik starship had agreed to the meeting at all. But its vessel had had to touch down on the Moon to replete its ship’s helium-3 supply and as the United States was the only nation thus far to have landed astronauts on the Moon, the American request for a personal meeting had been the one that the aliens had at last agreed to honor.

After the President and the alien sat down, the American spoke. “Captain, I sincerely hope that this is merely the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship between your people and the human race.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Madame President,” the Un’Vidik replied through its encounter suit’s speaker. “But I’m afraid further contact between our peoples is unlikely. This current meeting is itself highly irregular to say the least. If you will forgive my bluntness, humanity has a certain…reputation in the galaxy.”

The President sighed and nodded. “You’ve monitored our television broadcasts. You know that Man is a violent species. But, Captain, a good many of our wars have been fought to preserve freedom and justice. And surely you must know many of history’s most revered figures have been men of peace? Mohandas Gandhi of India, for example. And my own country’s Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“Madame President,” said the Un’Vidik, “mankind’s history of violence is not at issue. Conflict, while most regrettable, is universal. There are five separate wars being waged across the galaxy at this very moment. And the combatants hail from worlds that have produced great works of literature, music, and philosophy.”

The American looked surprised. “Well then, Captain, is it humanity’s religious beliefs? Is agnosticism the norm in the galaxy?”

“Far from it,” said the alien. “Many advanced and civilized worlds possess one or more faiths. I happen to be a practicing member of the Communion of the Cosmic Superintendence myself.”

“Then what problem is it that the rest of the galaxy has with the human race?” asked the President.

“To be quite frank,” said the Un’Vidik, “you humans can’t drive.”

“What?!” exclaimed the American.

“There are 24 distinct interstellar polities,” the alien captain said. “They represent a myriad of political structures, religions, and philosophies. Yet one common feature to all of them is the deep-seated belief that the ability to operate vehicles is a hallmark of civilization. There are more motor vehicle accidents on Earth than in the rest of the galaxy combined. To say one ‘drives like a human’ is considered a harsh insult on over a hundred worlds.”

“You’re telling me Earth is considered a backwater because of bad drivers?” The President was stunned.

“Madame President, I hope the day comes when Man will learn not to drive slowly in the fast lane and that a turn without a turn signal is an act of utter barbarity. When that day comes, you will be ready to join galactic civilization. Until then, know that the Un’Vidik are grateful for the use of your Moon to refuel our ship. And on a personal note, I will pray to the Cosmic Superintendence that your people will learn how to manage a four-way stop.”

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Special Ops

Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

“Can you see him?” asked the SWAT team commander.

“Yes, commander. I'll stream the video feed to your display,” said the CASO officer. A live video of a disheveled, wild-eyed man of about 20 years clutching a girl who appeared to be about 14 with his left hand and holding a gun at her head with his right appeared on a virtual screen a few apparent feet in front of the commander. The image was, in reality, being projected to the tactical display in the police officer's contact lenses.

“He's too well-barricaded in there. No windows. Even if your force could get us precise targeting coordinates, a round fired through the wall could deflect and hit the hostage.”

The CASO officer said nothing. The video image zoomed in on the maniac's hands. A subtle outline of blood vessels, nerves, and tendons could now be seen.

“Spectrographic analysis from the four operatives I have in the building has given us a decent anatomical map with which to work,” the CASO officer said matter-of-factly.

The commander sighed. “Well, can your boys do it?”

The special ops officer was silent and motionless for many seconds, as if he were running through hundreds of scenarios and coming up with tactics and contingencies for each. At last, he said flatly, “Yes.”

Ten minutes later, as the negotiator continued to try to keep the increasingly agitated hostage-taker talking over the latter's earpiece cell phone, the CASO officer told the police commander, “We're ready.”

“Alright. My men will move in on your command.”

Inside the building, a hundred mosquitoes briefly took flight and then at the exact same moment landed on the mad man, most alighting on his hands and forearms, and simultaneously bit the man at precisely targeted locations with modified mandibles and maxillae. Down the hypopharynx of each mosquito flowed a minute quantity of a synthetic paralytic agent whose action of onset was many times faster than succinylcholine and completely without the latter drug's transient fasciculation effect. Flaccid paralysis was immediate.

The criminal's arms fell to his sides and the man himself immediately thereafter crumpled to the ground like a marionette whose strings had been cut. His young victim stood free but confused.


In a matter of seconds the door to the small building was caved in with a battering ram. The SWAT team stormed in and the girl was rushed out to a waiting ambulance. From within the building, the curses of the disarmed psychopath, his paralysis already abating, could be heard.

“Well done!” the police commander said to his colleague. He raised his hand as if he was going to slap the CASO officer on the back, then stopped himself. “Uh, we couldn't have done it without you…guys.”

“Glad we could help,” said the praying mantis standing on the hood of the commander's police cruiser from a tiny voice synthesizer. The green insect whose body was studded with minuscule cybernetic implants watched as the houseflies, heavy with their implanted surveillance equipment, flew slowly back to the box marked Cybernetic Arthropod Special Operations that sat on the other end of the police car's hood. The biomechanoid mosquitoes followed closely behind the flies.

The mantis itself then walked across the expanse of the car's hood toward the box. If it were anatomically possible, the large insect would have smiled. A job like this should be worth an extra cricket or two tonight at feeding time, he thought as he stepped into the box.

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Judge Not

Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

Vandrin walked into the officer's club and saw Rudneth sitting by himself at a table in a corner. Fleet Admiral Rudneth was drinking shots of straight tyrofin. To all appearances, he'd been at it for some time. Vandrin doubted if his friend could stand on his own three feet. He walked over and settled himself on the forwardly inclined chair opposite Rudneth. The Fleet Admiral's three eyes blearily focused on Vandrin.

“I heard what happened,” said Vandrin as he poured himself a shot glass of liquor. “No one blames you.”

“My command. My responsibility,” said Rudneth a good bit louder than was necessary. He poured himself another shot of tyrofin, spilling half of it on the table.

“They say no battle plan ever survived contact with the enemy,” replied Vandrin. “Everyone knows the inquiry is purely a technicality. You won't be found culpable.” He extended his proboscis into the glass and sucked up the liquor in an instant.

“I'm the first,” Rudneth said. “In all of history, I'm the first one to fail. Even if this happens again someday, even if it happens a hundred times, I'll always be the first one who didn't succeed.” He tried to pour more booze into his glass but the bottle was empty. He turned to get the bartender's attention then quickly grabbed the table. The liquor had destroyed his equilibrium and the officer's club felt like it was turning over.

“Look, Rud, the situation is what it is. You can drink yourself under the table and it won't change a thing. All that happened was–”

“All that happened was we got beat,” said Rudneth as his vertigo subsided a little. “All I had to do was put humanity on trial. All I had to do was judge whether the human race deserved annihilation or not. We've put dozens of other civilizations on trial throughout history. Some passed the trial and were permitted to survive, others were found guilty and condemned to genocide. But the humans were the first to…” He let the sentence trail off.

“Get a hold of yourself, Rud!” said Vandrin. “All they did was–”

“Sue us!” yelled Rudneth. “Two hundred starships in orbit around Earth announcing humanity was being put on trial and they sued us for malicious prosecution! Used our own legal system against us! And it stood up in court!”

“Calm down! Let me get us another bottle of–”

“And then more lawsuits!” said Rudneth, ignoring Vandrin's offer of more liquor. “Defamation. Intentional infliction of emotional distress. Trespass to land. Frivolous litigation. Blackmail.”

“It's not your fault. The humans had a whole clan devoted to litigation. They practiced it on each other constantly. We were unprepared for the legal onslaught the — what did they call themselves? 'Americans'? — unleashed on us.

Rudneth cradled his head in his hands. “Our attorneys never had a chance. The cease and desist letters. The injunctions. The subpoenas, in the name of all that's holy, the subpoenas!”

Vandrin placed a hand on Rudneth's shoulder. “We're still hopeful for an out of court settlement. We're going to offer them warp drive technology if they drop the suit. We may not even have to face punitive damages.”

Rudneth didn't hear what his companion was saying. The tyrofin had finally taken effect. “Your honor, I object,” the inebriated officer said right before he passed out on the table.

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Adventure in Space

Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

Captain Saylor walked on to the bridge of the Starship Endymion. The huge, panoramic windows showed innumerable stars streaking past the vessel. Saylor leaned over Lieutenant Shah’s shoulder and looked at the velocity readout on his control panel. The ship was traveling at nearly 500 times the speed of light.

“How long until we reach Epsilon Indi, Shah?” Saylor asked.

“Two hours, eleven minutes, sir,” came the reply.

Unless we run into another Cygnian ship, thought Saylor. The Endymion had recently encountered a Cygnian battlecruiser in orbit around Alpha Centauri A. The warship had threatened to bombard the cities of the Alpha Centaurians, a race of remarkably humanoid women. The Endymion had arrived just in time to defend the nearly helpless inhabitants. After forcing the Cygnian ship to fall out of orbit, Saylor and his crew had been left with little choice but to land the Endymion on Alpha Centauri A and engage the Cygnians in hand-to-hand, or rather hand-to-tentacle, combat. After a ferocious battle, the Cygnians were defeated.

Saylor smiled as he recalled the “gratitude” expressed by the women of Alpha Centauri A. “Now that’s my idea of a first contact mission,” he thought aloud.

“Sir?” asked Shah who had not distinctly heard Saylor’s words.

“Oh, nothing, Lieutenant. Just recalling our recent–”

Saylor never finished his sentence. Klaxons started ringing throughout the ship.

“Report!” commanded Saylor.

“Cygnian battlecruiser approaching dead ahead, sir!” said Shah. “Sensors show their particle canon are armed.”

“Arm our canon!” Saylor ordered. “Target their primary reactor. Be prepared to fire as soon as they get within weapons range!”

“Jeff?” came a faint voice from nowhere in particular.

“Ten seconds to weapons range!” said Shah.

“Bring us out of hyperdrive and prepare to fire in 3…2…1…”

“C’mon, Jeff, wake up.”

Suddenly, the bridge of the Endymion contracted to a small corridor. Saylor was lying on a bunk with his head nestled in a large helmet with cables coming out the top and feeding into a panel on the wall.

Saylor sighed with annoyance. “What it is?”

“Solar storm,” said Burroughs, his fellow astronaut. NASA’s proton detectors back home are lighting up like a Christmas tree. We’ve got about an hour until the hard stuff hits us. We need to get in the shelter. Don’t wanna travel eight months to get to Mars and then arrive with radiation sickness.”

Burroughs gestured with his head at the helmet-like apparatus. “Were you doin’ a good one? I was an old west gunslinger the other night.”

“Old space opera,” said Saylor. “Hot space babes, faster-than-light travel, evil aliens, that sorta thing.”

Burroughs laughed. “You’re on a spaceship and you used the Dreamcaster to imagine you’re on a spaceship?”

“A starship,” Saylor corrected. “Not a couple of canisters spinning on a tether. Filet mignon, not protein bars. Huge windows, not a couple of small portholes. No spending half the time fixing mechanical and computer problems. No cabin fever. And no solar storms.”

“It sounds a lot better than real space exploration,” said Burroughs with a smile. “But if you want to survive to get back to your implausible alien women and impossibly fast and comfortable starship, you’ll need to survive this storm. Shah and Nakamura are already in their shelter. Let’s get our end of the tether ready.”

Saylor stood up, looked around at the banal and ugly interior of his spaceship, and helped Burroughs move supplies into the tiny ship’s closet-like storm shelter.

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Freaks of Nature

Author : Bob Newbell, Featured Writer

“The corporeals have sent another machine to planet four,” said Wyvin to Lekvar. Of course, Wyvin had not really “said” anything. He, or more precisely “it,” had communicated its thoughts via short range radio frequency modulation to its companion as the two gaseous entities sailed through the atmosphere of Saturn.

Lekvar responded with a radio signal that in a human being would have been a look of astonishment coupled with a shake of the head. “It never ceases to amaze me. Devices are sometimes of solid construction, but lifeforms? The planet three aliens are as concrete as the robotic mechanism they send out into space. What would that be like, living as a small, indurated mass?”

Wyvin modulated a response: “Unable to fly or change shape, unable to expand or contract, and trapped on a tiny, dense rock world. The most confining magnetic prison would be preferable. When planet three first started broadcasting modulated radio signals a few years ago, the scientific community was perplexed how life could have arisen on such an inhospitable world. When it was discovered that the signals were generated by technology operated by non-plasmatic lifeforms, our very concept of biology had to be revised.”

Wyvin and Lekvar stopped transmitting to each other for some time. They floated together in radio silence, propelled by 1,600 kilometer per hour winds and contemplated what existence might be like for the odd, impossible, solid aliens of planet three. Finally, Lekvar signaled, “Is it true they landed a device on the Great Satellite?”

“Yes,” said Wyvin. “Our colonists were instructed not to signal the probe and not to go near it.”

“Why not make contact?” asked Lekvar. “They’re our neighbors. Shouldn’t we establish some sort of diplomatic relations like we have with the inhabitants of planet five? Shouldn’t we let them know there are tens of thousands of civilizations in the galaxy?”

“Tens of thousands of plasmatic civilizations,” said Wyvin. “Lekvar, we’ve managed to acquire and translate a lot of information from the corporeals, including their speculation on the future of their own expansion into space. They imagine a galaxy teeming with other corporeals. They’ve even made pitiful attempts to monitor the cosmos for signals from other civilizations they imagine to be like their own. You see the problem?”

“I believe I do,” responded Lekvar. “The third planet aliens are an oddity, the only documented case of non-plasmatic life in history. Is that why we’ve been forbidden from telling the other extrasolar civilizations about them?”

“Precisely,” said Wyvin. “If word got out that we have corporeal lifeforms, our solar system would be overrun. Half the scientists in the galaxy would descend on planet three. Can you imagine the experiments to which those corporeals would be subjected? That world and its inhabitants would be taken apart by every xenobiologist within 50,000 light-years to try to discover how something as paradoxical as solid life could even exist.”

“So,” said Lekvar, “we are effectively administrators of a nature preserve.”

“Effectively, yes,” replied Wyvin. “The corporeals are a unique form of life. They have as much right to exist as any plasmatic.”

“And when they expand out far enough into the solar system that they inevitably discover us or the sentients on planet five?”

“When that day comes,” Wyvin said, “we’ll have to tell them the truth. But I hope that day is long in coming. I hope they can persist in their silly, naïve worldview for a while longer. I think they’ll find the true nature of the cosmos a heavier burden than even their massy, compacted bodies.”

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