The Bounty Hunter

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

As I flew through the Rio Bravo Corridor in western Texas, the town of El Paso rose above the horizon. I banked northward and began a gradual arc to align my ship with the Juárez Flyway. I descended to 100 meters and throttled back to 50 kph. The streets appeared to be deserted. I knew that I was taking a big chance returning to Earth. But, I was willing to risk death to be with Felina. If all went well, in two days we’d dock at my hideout in the badlands of the asteroid belt, assuming we could avoid the Rangers. I spotted Rosa’s Cantina on the left, and picked out a landing bay on the upper level. After touchdown, I powered down the ship’s reactor and popped the canopy. Sensor readings were clear. I unbuckled my harness, and began to climb down the exterior of the ship using the “holds” along the fuselage. When my right foot touched the ground I heard a deep metallic voice from the shadows behind me, “Don’t turn around, Robbins.”

Damn, an android, I realized too late. If the bounty hunter had been human, I might have had a chance. Humans can be bribed, or out-gunned, but not a ‘droid. Using the lowest power setting on my implant, I mentally instructed the ship to arm the port thrusters. Hopefully, the ‘droid was too far away to detect the low intensity transmission. It was a desperate move, but if I could knock it off balance for just a fraction of a second, I might be able to reach my blaster.

I could see the ‘droid’s distorted reflection in the polished skin of my ship. I watched it approach, weapon drawn. When it walked in front of the thrusters, I transmitted the command. At the instant the thrusters fired, I spun and reached for my blaster, but I was too slow. I felt a deep burning pain in my side as the ‘droid’s neuronic disrupter hit its mark. The agonizing pain spread to my back and legs, and I collapsed. Stars exploded in my eyes when the back of my head hit the tarmac. I could taste blood as my universe convulsed. The ‘droid stowed its disrupter and stood above me, making sure that I was neutralized. It picked me up by the front of my flightsuit and pinned my back against the fuselage of my ship. “Your running days were over, Robbins,” it said as it placed a neutralizing collar around my neck. My next stop would be the Rehabilitation Facility in San Angelo, where I would get a mind wipe and a “Correctional” implant; one that would force me to serve humanity for the rest of my life. Most outlaws ended up as Rangers, where we’d be used to hunt down our compadres. No, I concluded with conviction. I could not allow that to happen. It must end here. I forced the relentless waves of pain from my mind, and focused on my ship’s master control console. I ordered the computer to bring the reactor on line, and to initiate an immediate self-destruct sequence.

Seconds later, I was looking into the ‘droid’s bloodless “eyes” as the ship’s reactor began to whine to a deafening crescendo. Its mechanical irises spiraled open as it realized what I had done. I managed a half smile as I spat, “See you in hell, ‘droid.” The last image I saw was the relatively dark silhouette of my shadow across the ‘droid’s back as it attempted in vein to escape the antimatter explosion.


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The Terraforming Equation

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer (Concept by Moebius)

“You can’t abandon the project now,” protested Williamson, the Senior Planetary Engineer for the Chacopa Terraforming Project. “We created those life forms. They’ll die if we abandon them.”

“Perhaps,” replied Jürg von der Mittelholzer, the Director of Auditing for Nu-Worlds Inc. “But, that’s hardly relevant. According to your interim report, the planet will never support human habitation. Therefore, we’ve decided to cut our losses. I’m recommending that the terraforming project be terminated, effective immediately.”

“No,” pleaded Williamson. “We can still save the planet. Maybe not for our use, but we can save the indigenous life. It’s just a matter of resynthesizing the baseline polynucleotides. It can be done. I just need more time, and a little more money.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Williamson, but your job was to engineer a habitable planet, so Nu-Worlds could sell homesteads. Obviously, that’s not going to happen now. Come, Mr. Williamson, you’re letting your feelings for those little creatures impair your judgment. Try to put yourself in my position. Would you recommend that we allocate additional company resources if there’s no prospect of a return on our investment? As it is, Nu-Worlds will lose trillions.”

“That’s not what you said when we completed Phase I ahead of schedule and under budget.”

“Mr. Williamson, all of you’re Phase I successes were dutifully recorded in the ledger. But, Phase II wasn’t so successful, was it?”

“That depends on your definition of success. Chacopa was the first ever terraforming project to develop a semi-intelligent life form.”

“You neglected to add a ‘globally destructive’ semi-intelligent life form.”

“They’re not intrinsically destructive. In fact, they’re rather cute. Unfortunately, their bodies just happen to have neutral buoyancy. Since they can float, there are no boundaries to impede their population growth. Now, they’re reproduction exponentially. They’ll fill the entire troposphere in under a year. That’s over one trillion megatons of organic mass. After that, the ecosystem will irrevocably collapse. Unless we do something. Please, Jürg, you can’t just let the planet die without at least letting me try to save it. Life has value, you know. I insis…”


Von der Mittelholzer, who had been scanning a status report for another project while Williamson continued to drone on, suddenly snapped to attention. “What did you just say?”

Williamson was startled by the abrupt interruption. “Huh? What? You mean, ‘you can’t just let the planet die’?”

“No, no, no! After that!”

“I don’t remember. Uh, ‘life has value’?”

“That’s it! Why didn’t I think of that? Tell me Mr. Williamson, do these creatures have any nutritional value? Do you know if they taste good? Can they be burned as fuel? Come on man, think. They must be good for something, besides suffocating a perfectly good asset.”

“What are you talking about?” replied the bewildered engineer. Then Williamson realized where von der Mittelholzer was headed. “Now wait a minute,” he said as he pointed an accusatory finger at von der Mittelholzer’s chest. “You can’t mean…You’re not suggesting that we…”

“I’m an auditor, Mr. Williamson. I’m suggesting that we may have a viable product on Chacopa, and more importantly, an opportunity to make a profit. Maybe a huge profit. Computer,” he yelled, “contact Palmer in marketing, and Warner in research. Tell them to come to my office, pronto.”

As Williamson stood there dumbfounded, von der Mittelholzer began wringing his hands together in anticipation…

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Space-Time Amnesia

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

As I slowly regained consciousness, I became aware that my universe was a black, soundless void. Then the thought “where am I?” popped into my mind. I couldn’t remember my name, or what I looked like, but surprisingly, I had knowledge of many fundamental concepts. For example, I knew that I existed, that there was light and darkness, and that I had a vocabulary and a language to think in. But I couldn’t remember much beyond that. This not-knowing things was very unsettling I started concentrating on individual words and what they meant. Sometimes words made sense immediately. I understood conceptually the difference between hot or cold, hungry or full, frightened or safe. But I didn’t understand up or down, left or right, me or us. As time passed…wow…time. I didn’t know what time was until I realized that it was passing. Anyway, as it passed, I became aware of more sensory information. I started hearing things. I knew subconsciously that the sounds I heard were voices, and that they were probably from…I don’t know…“people” just like me, whatever “people” were. I tried to make sounds too, but I don’t think I was successful. I realized that I was very, very tired. I needed to stop thinking for a while. I’d try again later. I drifted off…


I’m aware again. This time it is much better. More of my memory had come back. My consciousness was becoming inundated with resurfacing information. For example, I knew that I was human, that I had a job, and that I had been injured. It is still a little fuzzy, but I am pretty certain that I am an engineer on a starship. I seem to remember that I was transporting to the surface of a Class-M planet when there was an unexpected energy surge during the dematerialization cycle. There must have been a minor quantum variation in my transporter pattern. When I rematerialized, the molecular reconstruction of my brain must have been affected. Apparently, I lost some of the neural/synaptic connections to my long term memories. Although they were slowly reestablishing themselves on their own, I knew a way to speed the process up. I opened my eyes for the first time and saw the face of a beautiful woman. Her expression was a mixture of concern and apprehension. I presumed she was a nurse or a doctor. I grabbed her arm and tried to sit up. “I understand what happened,” I said. “You can restore my memory by accessing the primary pattern buffers in the transporter database. If you recalibrate the phase inducers you can reinitialize my quantum balance by…”

When I first started talking, she had smiled. However, now, as I explained what she needed to do to help me, her expression contorted into frustration and then anger. What a strange reaction, I thought. She ripped her arm free of my grip, then used it to slam me back down. “Shut up, you idiot. You’re not Geordi La Forge. You’re an incompetent husband who never unplugs an appliance when you work on it. It’s lucky you didn’t kill yourself this time. You scared me half to death. Honestly, I will never understand what made you think you could fix the drier in the first place. My mother was right…bla, bla, bla…”

“Ahhhhh,” I thought as reality flooded into the cognitive lobes of my brain. “I see that I’m married, and that my real life sucks.”

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Greetings, I Come in Peace

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Johnny pointed his broomstick “phaser rifle” at Tommy and squeezed the imaginary trigger. In his mind’s eye, the evil alien from the planet Zircon vaporized in a flash of light. But Tommy kept on running. “I got you Tommy,” he yelled. “You need to lie down and count to thirty. That’s the rule.”

“I had my force field on,” Tommy replied as he ducked behind a tree. “Besides, you missed.”

As the argument digressed into the perfunctory “Did not, did to, did not” phase, the relative quiet of the West Virginia forest was interrupted by the roar of the descent thrusters of a small spacecraft. A temporary truce was quickly agreed upon, and the six children ran to the small clearing where the spacecraft had landed. As they peeked around the trunks of the tall pine trees, they saw another child, or perhaps a small alien, walk down the exit ramp of the spaceship. Since this new “invader” was actually smaller than any of the boys, they felt reasonably safe in challenging him. (Presumably, it would be a “him,” since all warriors were male.)

“Hey, you” Johnny yelled, “stop right there!”

The small alien stopped, and looked up at the six Earthlings approaching him. He noticed that they were all carrying weapons. Apparently, he realized, the intelligence reports about the dominant species of this planet were correct. But something wasn’t right. These surroundings didn’t look like the Administrative Center of the most powerful nation on the planet. After brief consideration, he decided that it would be best if he allowed this “welcoming committee” to escort him to the head of state. “Greetings, I come in peace,” he said. “Take me to your leader.”

Johnny took a few steps forward, and leveled his phaser-stick at the alien. He proudly proclaimed “I am the President of The United Earth Alliance.” This was a true statement because Joey and Eric had both picked him to be President during their current war against the Zircon Empire.

“Really,” replied the little alien skeptically, “I was beginning to think that I had landed at the wrong location. Do you know if your magnetic North Pole shifts over time?”

“Of course it don’t shift,” Johnny snapped indignantly. “It’s always north. What do you want, alien?”

“I’m Uremeni,” replied the alien. “I am here to negotiate. We would like to acquire some of your planet’s…”

The alien didn’t get to finish his opening statement, probably because it sounded like he said “I’m your enemy,” and because Johnny knew the word ‘acquire’ meant ‘take.’ “Hold on mister,” he interrupted. “You ain’t takin’ none of our stuff. Now get back into your spaceship, and get out of here before I vaporize you.”

“I think you misunderstand our intentions, Mister President. We want this to be a friendly transaction. However, I assure you, we have the ability to take whatever we want, with or without you consent.”

“You just try it,” Johnny snapped. “We’ll blast you back to Pluto, or wherever you came from. Com’on men, let’s get ‘em.” The six boys began to charge the ship.

The alien scrambled up the ramp and secured the hatch. Bewildered, he returned to the mother ship with the disheartening news. They were hoping to trade advanced medical technology for the nuclear material stored in the Yucca Mountains. Their offer would have been quite generous, since the nuclear material was very valuable on their homeworld. But now, he concluded, they would just take it by force. How unfortunate, he lamented. He pressed the intercom button “Prepare to launch the fighters,” he ordered.

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Desperate Measures

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

A few hours after Tom and I had the science module operational, we decided to explore the terrain around the base camp. Silex IV was a warm, barren, desolate planet. There was no oxygen in the atmosphere, and no water anywhere, surface or subsurface. So, imagine our surprise when we found a walking rock. It was bipedal and about a foot tall. It was relatively light, so we took it back to the science module. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “DON’T DO IT! That’s the fatal mistake all explorers make in sci-fi movies.” But, come on, it’s just a rock.

To make a long story shorter, when we placed the creature on the examination bench, it began to tremble. Seconds later, it started to crack and split apart. A white liquid began to ooze out of the cracks. It was a viscose fluid that had a strong ammonia smell. The liquid began to boil almost immediately. We pried open one of the cracks to discover that the rock-like exterior was just a thin shell, presumably an exoskeleton. Tom analyzed the fluid, and it turned out to be predominately Silanes (long hydrosilicon chains analogous to the hydrocarbon chains present in Earth’s carbon-based biology). On Earth, however, Silanes are extremely unstable because of our oxidizing atmosphere. The oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere would destroy them instantly. But, on Silex IV, with an Oxygen-to-Silicon ratio less than two, silicon-base life was apparently possible because there was no free oxygen to react with the Silanes. As we watched, the oxygen in the lab reacted exothermically with the silicon atoms in the Silane molecules, and turned the creature’s insides into a boiling caldron of liquefied sand.

As we stood there in shock, the science module began to sway on its base as though there was a planetquake. We looked out the ports and saw a dozen eight foot tall rock creatures pushing at the airlock. The realization that we probably just killed an alien child sent a cold shiver up my spine. Then it dawned on me that the adult population was now intent on reaping their revenge. We were in big trouble. Tom said, “Crap, what are we going to do? This place wasn’t meant to withstand a siege from a bunch of rock creatures. If we can make it to the ship, we can take off. Do you think we can outrun them? Damn, we don’t have any weapons.”

“Perhaps we do have a weapon,” I replied. “Put your suit back on. We’ll fight our way to the ship.”

“Are you nuts? Look at the size of those things.”

“Oxygen kills them, right?”

“Have you forgotten? The oxygen tanks are stored outside, with the rock guys. And the ship is more than 200 meters away.”

“Trust me. We have plenty of available oxygen in here. It’s all about bond energy and kinetics. And, if I remember my thermodynamics, on this planet, we should have a spontaneous reaction. Now, where do we keep the surgical gloves?”

Fifteen minutes later, we were suited up and ready to fight our way to the ship. We opened the inner door of the airlock. I handed Tom two dozen ‘bombs.’ “Okay,” I said resolutely, “Open the outer door. I’ll start to clear us a path.”

The door slid open and the escaping air momentarily pushed the lead creature back a few steps. It regained its balance and charged forward. I reached into my sack and grabbed a water filled surgical glove, and let ‘er fly.

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