Fly Dark, Fly Fast

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Bring us to membrane distance,” ordered Commander Richards.

Yeoman Miller deftly maneuvered the UESS Kenar toward the subspace membrane separating the primary universe from the adjacent multiverse where they were currently operating. “Membrane distance, sir,” he reported.

“Extend the perasensor. Put it on the main viewer.”

Ensign Dexter launched the tethered perasensor through the membrane into primary space. Seconds after the small probe popped into primary space, it began transmitting a 3D holographic image of the enemy fleet. A galaxy-class Vegan destroyer appeared directly ahead.

“Oh, God,” whispered Richards as he rose slowly from his command chair to stare at the hologram. “It’s the N’ubok. Quickly, prepare four subspace torpedoes. Range, sixteen kilometers after emergence. Bearing, two degrees port, zero vertical. Maximum yield. Fire when ready.”

Four seconds later, the tactical officer reported “Torpedoes away, sir.” The four subspace torpedoes plunged past the membrane and streaked through normal space at a hundred and twenty thousand kilometers an hour. A half second later, they slammed into N’ubok’s hull. The nova-like explosion marked the end of her tour of duty.

“Target destroyed, Commander,” Dexter announced. “However, they’ve triangulated on the emergence point. Three hunter-escorts are heading our way. They’re powering up sub-space charges.”

“Retract the parasensor. Shields up. Get us out of here, Mister Miller. Evasive pattern delta. Be sure to hug the membrane,” he added. “The Tet’s are not happy that we patrol in their multiverse. They have threatened to destroy any primeverse ships trespassing in their space. I’d like to limit our battles today to only one adversary.”

“Aye-aye, sir. Evasive pattern delta.” As the UESS Kenar turned and accelerated, sub-space charges began to plunge through the membrane and drifted into Tet space. As they detonated, they released deadly gamma ray burst that spread out in a spherical pattern the size of Mercury’s orbit. “Sir,” reported Dexter, “it looks like they’re picking up the reflection pattern from our shields. As long as the shields are up, we’re sitting ducks if we stay next to the membrane.”

“Very well,” relented Richards. “Mister Miller, take us deeper into Tetian space. Sensors at maximum. Give me a forward view, Mister Dexter. Eyes sharp, everyone. The Tetians make the Vegans look like pacifists.”

A few minutes later, the Kenar entered an uncharted asteroid belt. “All stop,” ordered Richards. “Where the hell did those asteroids come from?”

“Uh-oh,” said Dexter. “They’re not asteroids, sir, they’re mines. The Tetians must have deployed them along the edge of their multiverse.” Several of the nearby mines began to drift closer. “Damn, they’re homers too. Sorry, sir, but we can’t stay here.”

“Well then,” mused Richards aloud. “I see only two options: We can penetrate the membrane and take on a fleet of angry Vegans singlehandedly, or we can go ‘old school’. Personally, I was never an advocate of suicide missions. Lower shields. Mister Miller, turn about and retrace our path, flank speed. Lieutenant Burt, the second we turn parallel to the membrane, shut down all systems, including propulsion and life support. For this to work, we can’t emit a single photon of energy. Let’s see if we can coast our way out, right under their noses.”

“It’ll be a piece of cake, sir” said Miller with a grin. “The Vegan’s don’t have noses.”

Outwardly, Richards smiled at the bravado, but inwardly, he was nervous as hell.


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Personal Log, Private Jefferson, 922-081-3117 UEMC

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Day 1. Our transport ship just crash landed on Piscium III. It was a miracle that twenty-four of us survived. The subspace transceiver still works, but C&C said it would probably be eight months before a rescue ship could get this deep behind enemy lines.

Day 2. We buried the dead today, and inventoried our supplies. Food and water don’t appear to be a problem. We have enough ammo to defend ourselves against a modest ground force, but if they come at us from above, we’re toast. Starting tomorrow, we’ll begin dismantling the ship to build a more defendable base.

Day 7. The days are getting hotter. According to the ship’s database, Piscium III has a highly elliptical, orbit. For the two months near perihelion, the average temperature will be over 60C, and for the four months near aphelion, it drops down to 40 below. Apparently, we arrived near late spring. Good thing we packed sunscreen.

Day 12. We thought this planet only had plant life, but we saw a three foot tall spider-like creature digging out its borough this morning. Sarge figures they must have been in hibernation during the Piscium winter. We’re hoping that they might be good enough to eat so we can supplement our food supply. We’ve been living off rations since the perishables spoiled when the freezer crapped out.

Day 20. We’re starting to get concerned. There are thousands of those giant spiders running around, and they are getting more brazen. They started probing the perimeter yesterday. Dickerson blasted one to pieces, and it seemed to scare the rest of them away. As a precaution, Sarge doubled the number of sentries.

Day 21. Dickerson’s screams woke us up at 0200. By the time we reached his post, he was gone. It looks like he scuffled with the spiders. We followed the tracks, but they disappeared into a hole. Looks like we’re at war with these demons too.

Day 37. It’s over 60C all the time now, and the damn spiders are attacking us day and night. We’ve been forced to pull back to a smaller, more defendable position. We lost another three men last week. We’re down to twelve now, barely enough to rotate guard duty.

Day 65. Our prayers are being answered. It’s finally starting to cool off, and the spiders are getting sluggish. We hope they go into hibernation soon. Eight of us are still hanging on, popping stims every few hours so we can stay awake. If we get off this God forsaken rock, we’ll probably need to spend months in detox. C&C says evac is five months minimum. Winter, please hurry.

Day 91. By the grace of God, I think we’re going to make it. We haven’t seen a spider in three weeks. We’re able to get four hours of sleep for the first time in months. However, it’s really getting cold. We’ll have to hunker down for the winter, but that will be a cakewalk compared to the hell we just lived through. Only four months to go.

Day 115. Sanchez went missing last night. His sleeping bag was ripped to shreds. But it wasn’t the spiders. By the looks of the footprints in the snow, it was some kind of large quadruped. Damn this world. Giant spiders in the summer, carnivore bears in the winter. The bastards are howling now, nonstop. There must be hundreds of them, maybe thousands. Three more months. God, have mercy on our souls.

Personal Log: Timed out


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In Good Times and in Bad, Er, Never Mind

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“Receiving a distress call, Captain,” reported the communications officer of the SS Diciotti. “It’s coming from Lavello III.”

“Lavello III?” repeated Captain Campbell. “What idiot would land on Lavello III? It’s a death trap.”

“Captain,” said the science officer after consulting his monitor. “According to the ship’s transponder code, it’s a rental. The manifest lists a Mr. and Mrs. Balordo. Married a week ago. No mention of Lavello III on their registered flight plan. Looks like the honeymooners got more than they bargained for.”

“Okay, let’s investigate,” replied the captain. “Helmsman, best speed to Lavello III.”

As the Diciotti came out of warp, a featureless gray planet filled the center of the forward viewscreen. Although all terrestrial planets appear spherical from space, Lavello III was the closest thing in the universe to it. The difference between the top of the highest mountain and the bottom of the lowest valley was a little less than three centimeters. Scientist attributed this unique characteristic to a gravitational instability in the planet’s core. Every five hours, the core emits rhythmic graviton waves that cause the planet’s diameter to grow by almost 30 meters. These gravity quakes last about two minutes, and then the planet settles down to its original diameter. The net effect of billions of years to expanding and contracting is the pulverization of the crust and mantel. Mountains were leveled; boulders were crushed to rocks, rocks to pebbles, pebbles to grains. Over the eons, the denser fragments settled toward the planet’s core, and the lighter pumas-like material drifted toward the surface. As a result, the density of the surface ‘sand’ was 0.95 grams per cubic centimeter, or a little less than the density of water. During the five hours of dormancy, a person could walk along the surface of Lavello III, but during a gravity quake, the liquefaction of the surface meant that anything more dense than 0.95 grams per cubic centimeter would sink below the surface. In other words, the surface of the planet became quick sand.

“Any sensor readings?” asked the captain.

“Aye, Captain. Their ship is already fifty meters below the surface. However, I’m reading two life signs near the surface. I can’t tell if they are still on top, or just below the surface. The next quake will occur in approximately three hours. If they are not completely under now, they will be soon.”

“Have a maintenance team meet me in the shuttle bay,” ordered the captain.

An hour later, the shuttlecraft landed near the two partially buried newlyweds. The ground crunched under the weight of Campbell’s boots as she walked up to the protruding heads of Mr. and Mrs. Balordo. They were both buried up to their mouths, with only their blinking eyes confirming that they were still alive. Captain Campbell knelt down and scooped the sand away from the woman’s jaw, making it easier for her to breathe. “This was his idea wasn’t it?” asked Campbell.

“Yes,” sputtered Mrs. Balordo after spitting out a mouthful of sand. “He did it to win a bet. He’s a moron. Please, dig me out first. I want to use his head for a soccer ball.”

Campbell checked her chronometer and motioned to the maintenance crew to start digging the woman from her would-be grave. Then she moved over to the husband and asked, “Did you sign up for the additional insurance for the rental ship?”

Mr. Balordo closed his eyes and moved his head back and forth very slightly.

“Well then,” said Campbell with a grin, “I guess it’s not a good day to be you.”

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Passing of the Baton

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

There was a knock at the door. Now who would be calling at this time of night, I wondered? I got up from my workbench and headed toward the door. When I opened it, I found myself staring at myself. “Now, I can’t possibly be that fat,” I said to the android that had been built to replace me.

“I’m afraid so, old man,” it said with a chuckle. Then it did a slow pirouette where it made a slight pause at the 180 mark to shake its rotund buttocks. As it completed the 360 degree turn it added, “I am an exact facsimile, right down to the gray hairs on my chinny chin chin. Deny it if you want, but laser scanners don’t lie. Besides, I’m grateful for all this extra space,” it said as it padded its ample midsection. “They were able to pack 30% more batteries in here. Now, I could probably complete the Iditarod without needing a recharge.”

“Well,” I rebutted, “there’s a team of huskies thankful that you’ll be too busy to compete.” I motioned it in and closed the door. “My retirement doesn’t begin until the day after tomorrow,” I pointed out. “I didn’t think you were coming until then. Surely you know that I’ll be leaving in a few minutes, and I won’t be back for 24 hours.”

“Sure do,” it replied with a knowing smile. “I was hoping to go with you. You know, learn the route. Come on,” it pleaded, “it’ll be fun. What do you say?”

“Well, I suppose so,” I relented. “Last year, I got so tired, I almost crashed into the Himalayas. The Missis was furious. So, I guess it’ll be good to have a co-pilot, and you can help me with the heavy lifting too.” That’s when I noticed the android eyeing the inside of my shop like a child in a candy store.

“This place is awesome,” it remarked. “But it’s much smaller than I imagined it would be.”

“This is just my personal workshop,” I pointed out. “There’s a five hundred million square foot factory up the road. But your tour will have to wait. We need to get going. Grab that bundle over there and let’s head to the hangar.”

Once it became obvious which exit I was heading for, the android rushed past me claiming ‘shotgun’. I shook my head and laughed at its enthusiasm. Kudos to the programmers, I thought. I’ll make sure they receive a special ‘thank you’ gift for their efforts. After I put on my winter coat and hat, I climbed the access ramp and took a seat next to the android. I quickly secured my safety harness, and entered Kiritimati into the GPS. Then I pressed the remote control that opened the large hangar doors. In the moonlight, we could see a light snow falling outside. The android could barely sit still. “Do you want the honors?” I asked it.

“Oh boy, do I,” it replied. It took the reins from my outstretched hands and shouted ahead, “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen…”


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The Future of Man

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

“I don’t give a damn,” bellowed Senator Orcus as he slammed his fist onto the conference table. “They knew this day was coming, and they did nothing to prepare for it! Why the hell should we bail them out?”

“They were there for us,” retorted Senator Cura, “when our future hung in the balance.”

“That was over 10,000 years ago, when Mars colony was just beginning. None of the settlements were self-sufficient back then. And don’t kid yourself, Pellonia, they were taking much more than they were giving. They were plundering our resources when we were too weak to defend ourselves.”

“Still, we wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t suppled us with essential consumables. We owe them.”

“The hell we do! Maybe we owe Earth of the twenty second century, but we don’t owe these selfish bastards anything. We terriformed this planet, not them. Our ancestors endured hundreds of generations of sacrifice; centuries of living in domes, surviving on next to nothing. And what were the Earthers doing? I’ll tell you. They were squandering their limited resources, poisoning their air and water, and killing each other in endless genocidal wars.”

“But what you are proposing is planetcide. That’s worst than genocide.”

“I’m talking self preservation. Earthers may be weak, but they are not impotent. We need to strike first, before they do. I have it on good authority that they are making preparations for war as we sit here on our asses. Earth will be at opposition in less than a hundred days. If we don’t attack now, it will be more than a year before the next closest approach. Their situation will be even more desperate then. I say the time for debate is over. We must vote on the war resolution now. It’s either Mars or Earth. And I cast my vote for Mars. How many of you are with me? Mars—Mars—Mars,” and the students erupted into a frenzy, chanting in rhythm with the teenager pumping his fist at the front of the classroom.

“Okay, okay, class,” interrupted the teacher, “we need to stop here for today. You two can finish up tomorrow. Cencio, that was a great portrayal of Senator Orcus, however, I must remind everyone that Orcus was a good Martian, and would never use profanity, no matter how much he was provoked by foolish, misguided individuals. Next week we’ll be switching to the Mars-Earth War. Nicolas will be reenacting Admiral Honos’ successful crusade to rid the universe of those hairless, disease ridden sub-humans. Now, remember to get your house mother to sign the Olympus Mons permission slips and bring them to school no later than next Phobosday. Class dismissed.”


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