A Line in the Sand

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

I was sound asleep in my San Agustin home when I was awakened at three in the morning by a member of Homeland Security. Without explanation, I was unceremoniously whisked from my comfortable bed and hustled onto a LJ40 Learjet. It wasn’t until we were airborne that my “escort,” a fella by the name of Drake, discussed the reason for my late-night abduction. “Professor Ehman,” he finally explained, “as the director of the SETI Institute, you are in a unique position to help us. It seems that a ‘situation’ has arisen that requires your expertise in extra-terrestrial communication.”

“You are misinformed, young man,” I replied with some degree of annoyance, which was no doubt caused by the loss of REM sleep. “In order to ‘communicate’ you need two parties. SETI only sends and listens for messages. We haven’t ‘communicated’ with any extra-terrestrial life yet.”

“Well, Professor, that’s about to change. Yesterday, an alien spaceship landed in southern Peru. It’s your classic stereotype flying saucer. It has some kind of hieroglyphics on the side, but our cryptologists can’t make heads or tails out of it. Right now, the ship is just sitting there. Nobody has come out, and they are not responding to our transmissions. That’s when we figured we needed your help.”

“Have you tried speaking in Inca?”


“Use your head, son. Why would the ship land in southern Peru rather than a First World country? Clearly, they landed there for a reason. My guess is they’ve been to Earth before, and have returned to the location where they expected to find Earth’s most advanced civilization. Five to six hundred years ago it would have been the Incas. Look, since I’m captive here anyway, I’ll try to help. Does this plane have a computer with internet access? I need to do some research.”

A few hours later, we flew above the flying saucer on our way to the Lima airport. As I stared at the tiny ship in the middle of the vast gravel-covered desert, I suddenly realized that I had made a one thousand year mistake. I quickly brought up Google, and entered “Nazca lines,” and pressed search. “Hey, kid,” I said as our tires screeched on the runway, “on our way to the site we need to make a stop in the town called Huancavelica to pick up a Mister Atabalipa. He’s an old religious leader that might be able to help us.”

An Army Chinook helicopter shuttled us to Huancavelica, and we continued on to the spaceship with Mister Atabalipa praying nonstop in the seat next to me. After landing, we were ushered to the front of the crowd by six heavily armed solders. I turned to the old religious leader and said, “Tell them…Welcome to Nazca, we are pleased that you have returned.”

He spread his arms, and spoke in some ancient Indian language that sounded like gibberish to me. It must have worked, however, because a ramp slid out from the side of the spaceship and pivoted to the ground.”


“Holy crap,” muttered Drake, “it worked. What do you think they will look like?”

“My money says they’ll look like monkeys, but it’s entirely possible that they may resemble, birds, lizards, or maybe even giant spiders. I guess we’re about to find out.” Just then, a large door at the top of the ramp slid to the side…


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Code of Ethics

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“So, that’s him?” asked Benjamin Goldberg, the reporter from the World Post that was assigned to cover the Berlin Massacre.

“Yes,” replied Doctor Ludwig. “That’s the scum that brought the Procyon Virus to Earth. It’s killed twenty million people already. The casualty count will no doubt double before it’s over.” The two humans stared in disgust at the large biped reptile lying unconscious on the hospital bed. The interstellar war had produced plenty of fatalities when the fighting was confined to space, but when the Procyon High Council decided that it was acceptable to use biological weapons against Earth’s civilian population, the escalation of causalities was devastating. “What do you think the government plans to do with it?” asked the Doctor.

Goldberg noted that the doctor selected the pronoun ‘it’ rather than ‘he’ when referring to the creature. “Assuming HE lives,” Goldberg replied, “there will be a trial. It will be broadcast live to the entire quadrant. The damn Procyons will no doubt pick it up, and make this bastard into a planetary hero. The ironic part is that he’s just a mule they grabbed from the slums. He has no intelligence or military value whatsoever. A trial just gives us the right to execute him. Unfortunately, it’ll be great propaganda for the Procyons. It would have been better for us if he had died.” The reporter turned to the guard standing next to the bed. “How come you guys captured him alive? Couldn’t you have put a phaser hole in his head?”

“Sorry,” said the soldier. “As much as we wanted to, the Centauri Convention specifies that we must see to it that the wounded are collected and cared for. The wording is very specific, we cannot ‘willfully kill a prisoner.’ That’s what makes us better than them. Frankly, I wish it were dead too. That bastard killed my sister and her two kids. How about you doctor, can’t you turn off its respirator?”

“Unfortunately, no,” replied Doctor Ludwig. “The Hippocratic Oath, which I swore to uphold, says that ‘above all, I must not play God.’ That applies to all sentient life forms, not just humans.”

“Too bad,” reflected the soldier. Then, changing the subject, “If you think it’s safe to leave it unguarded Doctor, I need a cup of coffee and a cigarette.”

“With 50 milligrams of Medetomidine in it, it’s not going anywhere. Come on, we’ll join you. My treat,” suggested the Doctor.

As the three humans walked down the hallway toward the cafeteria, Goldberg said, “Crap, I left my notes in the room. I’ll be right back.” Goldberg jogged back to the room and grabbed his notepad. He paused over the alien and thought about how he had hoped that this story would win him a Pulitzer Prize. However, upon reflection, Goldberg decided that he didn’t want to become famous on the graves of so many of his fellow Earthmen. Nor did he want his reporting to help this lousy lizard become a Procyon demigod. On the other hand, there was the Journalists’ Code of Professional Ethics that said he ‘should report the story, not become part of it.’ “Ah Hell,” Goldberg finally said after coming to terms with his moral conflict, “We’ve been violating that oath for centuries. Why start now?” He reached over and flipped the respirator’s toggle switch to the “off” position. He waited long enough to make sure it had stopped breathing. Interesting, he realized. He had changed pronouns too. Then, with an uplifted spirit that he hadn’t felt in months, he strutted out of the ward to rejoin the others.


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Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“What’s the status of the quarantine field, Mr. Conrad?” asked Captain Germex.

“As terminal as an event horizon, Captain,” replied the ship’s Science Officer.

Mazzaroth was the fifth planet of the bright star Alpha Boötis, a Class K1.5, orange-red gas giant. Although the luminary was only one and a half times more massive than Earth’s sun, its diameter was 26 times larger, about a quarter the size of Mercury’s orbit. Alpha Boötis was one of the rare Population II “old disc” stars. “Old disc” stars formed in the thick discs of dust clouds that orbit the galactic core a thousand light years above and/or below the galactic plane. These stars have highly inclined orbits around the galactic core, and periodically wander into our portion of the galactic plane, as Alpha Boötis was doing now. In addition, star systems formed in these “old disc” dust clouds have a different chemistry than Earth’s Population I star. They have significantly lower amounts of heavy elements, such as iron, nickel, copper, and gold. Consequently, their planets were smaller, and less dense, and their solar spectrums contained elevated levels of Z-beta radiation. Astrobiologists speculate that it was the Z-beta radiation that promoted the development of the abnormal indigenous life that was currently driving the colonists of Mazzaroth mad.

A month earlier, it was discovered that the settlements on Mazzaroth became infected with neural parasites. These parasites were single celled microorganisms that infiltrate the host’s brain, causing schizophrenia, delusional parasitosis, paranoia, and dysthymia, to name a few. The disease was extremely contagious and incurable. Once a settlement was infected, there was no option except complete extermination. The only concern beyond that was containment. Specifically, did the parasites have an opportunity to leave the planet? Review of Mazzaroth’s shipping logs revealed that only two starships picked up cargo or passengers from Mazzaroth in the last two months. Both ships were expeditiously intercepted, and quarantined, before they reached their destinations. After a few weeks, the passengers on the second ship to leave Mazzaroth developed dysthymia. The first ship appeared clean. This convinced doctors that the epidemic could be contained. As a precaution, the propulsion systems of both ships were destroyed and they were towed to a nearby star. Both ships were placed in decaying orbits that eventually caused them to plummet into the star’s fiery corona. Destruction of the “uncontaminated” first ship was considered a necessary safety precaution. “For the betterment of all mankind,” reported The Department of Galactic Health and Safety.

Captain Germex stared at Mazzaroth through the forward viewport. Once, this planet had supported over 250,000 inhabitants. Now, less than 80,000 were still alive, and they were no longer considered human. “Prepare to execute Operation Sterilize, Mr. Atwood,” ordered the captain. The Tactical Officer entered the appropriate codes into the computer, then looked up at the captain and nodded, to indicate that he was ready. With both regret and determination, the captain said “Fire all torpedoes.”

The modulation fields of the twelve engineered projectiles passed smoothly through the quarantine grid at roughly 60 degrees of separation. At an altitude of 10,000 feet, they all detonated. The concussion wave spread outward at more than 2,000 miles an hour. Mazzaroth’s atmosphere ignited into a global fireball that consumed the entire planet. For a few hours, the planet was nearly as bright as Earth’s sun.


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Now, There’s an Idea

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Meteorologists, you can’t live with ‘em, and you can’t vaporize ‘em. That’s what I always say,” bellowed Jose Vargas, Prime Minister of The United Countries of Earth. The large dark skinned Brazilian reached across his antique mahogany desk and grabbed a Cuban Cohiba from a hand carved cherry-wood humidor. He stuck one end imperceptibly into the desktop disintegrator then offered it to his guest, who waved a polite no thanks. “First of all,” he continued as he put the ‘guillotined’ end of the cigar into his mouth and lit the other end with a plasma lighter, “you guys figured out how to control upper level wind shear, and you eliminated all of the Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes. Without the hurricanes to draw out the excess heat from the tropical waters, the Gulf of Mexico heated up to over 130 degrees. That killed all the plankton and fish. Not to mention devastating the resort areas along the gulf coast.”

Professor Ichabod Palmitter, a slim, balding, middle-aged man squirmed in his oversized chair, which incidentally, had legs that were three inches shorter than Vargas’s chair, “Uh, with all due respect, Mr. Prime Minister, that’s not an accurate representation…”

Vargas cut him off in mid-sentence. “And then you created that mid-west weather grid in North America to disperse all of the supercell thunderstorms, so there wouldn’t be any more tornadoes. That idea was a winner. Lightning discharges decreased by 80 percent. Without lightning to convert gaseous nitrogen into nitrates, the soil became sterile. I’ll bet over a million people died of starvation because of that little brain fart.” He drew in a lungful of aromatic smoke and blew several smoke rings toward his office skylight. “And let’s not forget that ‘global warming’ fix you guys came up with. You took so much carbon dioxide and methane out of the atmosphere that you triggered a freakin’ ice age. New York City is still buried under a thousand foot thick glacier. So, Doc, tell me, what hair brained idea did you come up with this time?”

Palmitter nervously cleared his throat. “Uh, well, sir…ah…we think the best way to end the ice age is to release 50 million tons of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. They will destroy those pesky ozone molecules that block the sun’s ultraviolet light. The more energy we get to reach the Earth’s surface, the quicker we’ll begin to warm up.” He folded his hands in his lap, and grinned proudly.

Using his tongue and teeth, Vargas rolled the end of the cigar around in his mouth. The lit end emitted a corkscrew of smoke as it circled in the air. Vargas plucked the cigar out of his mouth using his thumb and middle finger. Then, he pointed his plump index finger directly toward Palmitter’s chest. His lips pulled back to produce an exaggerated, toothy smile. “Why… you… dirty… DAWG,” he roared. “I can’t believe it. Man, I guess I owe you guys an apology. That idea is absolutely brilliant.” Vargas glanced over at the organization chart on the far wall of his office and focused his eyes on the name of Alexander Roge, the Secretary of Global Environment. Hidden sensors interpreted his desire and opened a comm link. “Hey, Al,” he said as he lifted his large feet onto the corner of his desk, and crossed his legs at the ankles, “Get in here pronto. And bring your check padd.”


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A Study in Logic

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Inspector Jeffery Lastrade greeted Philip Homes and Bruce Wattson at the entrance of the Metropolitan Police Headquarters in downtown London. “Thanks for coming on such short notice,” said Lastrade as he pumped Homes’ hand. “I desperately need your help. I’m at my wits end with last night’s murder of Regina Moriarty.”

“I thought it was an iron clad case,” remarked Homes. “The BBC reported that surveillance holocameras record Robert Moriarty vaporizing his wife whilst they were strolling in the park.”

Lastrade escorted his guests to the interrogation room, and paused. “Let’s just say that the case has become… complicated.” The door whooshed aside to reveal two identical suspects sitting at a table.

“My Lord,” exclaimed Wattson. “Twins!”

“Not quite,” replied Lastrade. “They’re both Robert Moriarty, but one of them is a time traveler. I need Professor Homes’ help figuring out which one is the actual murderer.”

“I say throw them both in jail,” suggested Wattson. “After all, they are the same person. What difference does it make which one actually fired the phaser?”

“I can’t imprison an innocent man,” pointed out Lastrade. “Only one of them committed the murder. The other may have known nothing about it.” Lastrade turned toward Homes. “Do you think you can figure out which one is the murderer?”

“Without a doubt,” Homes confidently stated. “It’s a simple matter of eliminating all that is impossible. Then, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. According to my experience, time travelers always create unambiguous inconsistencies it the fabric of space-time. By asking these gentlemen a series of probing questions, I will be able to irrefutably expose the Moriarty that doesn’t belong in this continuum. Then, through sheer deductive reasoning, I will be able to…”

“Confound it Homes,” interrupted Wattson angrily. “Why do you always insists on seeking a complex solution when a simpler one is readily at hand? I can solve this mystery in two seconds.” With that, Wattson drew a small phaser pistol from his coat pocket and blasted a one-inch diameter hole clean through the right hand of the nearest Robert Moriarty. The injured man clutched his smoldering hand and collapsed to the floor screaming like a banshee. Meanwhile, Wattson rhythmically bobbed up and down on the balls of his feet, smiling proudly.

“Good Lord, man. What have you done?”

“What?” questioned Wattson. “Surely you see that I’ve solved the case. Why, it’s obvious. Do I have to explain my simple solution to the Great Phillip Homes? Look at the right hand of this Moriarty,” he motioned toward the un-shot Moriarty trembling at the table. “There’s no scar. The Moriarty that I shot must have been the one from the future that committed the murder. If I had shot the one from the present, this one would now have a scar on his hand.”

“My dear Wattson,” said Homes as he confiscated the phaser, “you use reason like a politician uses the truth. What made you conclude that the time traveler came from the future? The past is the more obvious choice; there are far fewer paradoxes. You may have just shot the Moriarty from our time-line. Furthermore, it has yet to be proven that the time traveler is the actual murderer.”

“Oh, [cough]. Well, perhaps I may have been a bit hasty,” Wattson reluctantly acknowledged. “In that case Homes, if you don’t think you’ll be needing my assistance any longer, I shall wait for you in the pub. Good day, Inspector Lastrade.” As the emergency medical team burst into the interrogation room, Wattson unceremoniously scampered out the door, and down the hallway.


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