Wake Up

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He woke from a deep sleep, the room still dark.

Had there been a noise? It was quiet now.

He reached in the darkness and lifted his phone, the display coming to life just as the alarm sounded, the unexpected noise startling him fully awake. He thumbed the display blindly to silence the alarm.

Six am.

He hated waking right before the alarm like this, it wasn’t natural. His body clock had never been so attuned, definitely not to a minute prior to his alarm.

He sat up, found his glasses, and shuffled to the bathroom before heading down to the kitchen to make coffee.

With the coffee ground, the machine filled, he started the brew and…

Something wasn’t right. He had a cartridge coffee maker, not this…

He woke, sat bolt upright in bed, sweat beading on his brow. He looked down toward the nightstand at his phone as the alarm sounded, startling him. He reached for it, desperate to silence the racket but only managed to knock it off onto the floor.

Swearing, he turned on the light and fished in the corner to find and silence the phone.

Through bleary eyes, he could make out the time. Seven am.

Sighing, he shuffled off to the bathroom, put his contacts in, and headed down to the kitchen to make coffee.

He loaded a cartridge into the machine, placed a mug underneath the dispenser, and started the brew.

He stared at his phone for some time, before opening the alarm app and resetting the wakeup to six thirty-seven.

He held the phone in his hand, the gurgling and wheezing of the coffee machine slowly overtaking his…

The alarm sounded.

He sat on the edge of the bed in the darkness, the phone in his hand, the digits crystal clear.

Six thirty-seven.

He silenced the phone, placing it gently back on the nightstand, a tear slowly sliding down his cheek.

Siren

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He’d spent forty years running rescue and salvage operations in deep space, had hundreds of engagements, many responding to distress beacons, but he had never experienced anything like this.

His entire ship resonated at some experiential but otherwise unmeasurable frequency. His instrumentation registered nothing, it wasn’t designed to analyze whatever this was.

Rapierre himself felt more than heard the signal, and as he navigated the ship, zig-zagging in the direction where it became stronger, he found there was a sweet spot where, if he pointed the nose of the craft directly into it, the sensation became something more, a kind of beautiful, barely perceptible subliminal song, pulling at the edges of his consciousness.

There was nothing to lock his navigation system onto, only the sensation in his mind, so he flew manually for days, maybe weeks, time gradually losing meaning. He slept at intervals strapped into the pilot’s seat, trusting the ship’s collision avoidance systems, and that he’d wake up if the feeling changed in any way.

It was the proximity alarms that jolted him awake, and he strained through the forward observation to make out what had set them off.

The space ahead of the ship was shrouded in a particulate fog, and dimly visible in its midst, slowly rotating, hung a massive celestial remnant, edges lost in the cloud, its surface a vast rugged plain.

He synchronized their rotations in order that he might land.

As he approached, the features of the landscape below clarified, and he realized that the surface wasn’t space rock or condensed stardust at all, but hundreds, perhaps thousands of craft condensed into a single block of pancaked and intermingled wreckage.

He pulled back hard on the control stick and pushed the throttle to the pins to climb away, but his efforts had no effect. The ship shuddered against whatever force pulled it forward, the space frame vibrating in pained harmony with the siren’s song.

The collision with the surface was violent, the ship plowing through the debris field like a hot knife until its shielding failed, and then further still, the sounds of terrestrial wreckage tearing through the fuselage and venting atmosphere overwhelmed only by a myriad of warning klaxons. The cockpit safety doors slammed into place, sealing him off from the vacuum of space as everything ground to a halt.

He sat in sudden silence, the shock of the crash slowly giving way to the reality of the situation he was now in.

He would die here.

Nobody was coming to rescue him, and if they did, if they picked up any beacon he might send, or the signal that brought him here, they’d suffer the same fate.

“Why have you come?”

He flinched, looking around to find the source of the words that had formed in his head.

“Why have you come?”

The question again.

“You called me here,” he spoke the words aloud to the empty cockpit, “your beacon, I followed your beacon.”

There was a long pause before new words formed.

“We called, but not for you.”

There was another long pause.

“Who are you, so arrogant that you would assume our call was meant for you to answer? You are not welcome.”

Rapierre had no reply, for the first, and what would be the last time in his life, he was at a loss for words.

Stuck In A Moment

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Alex stood next to James and tried to make sense of what he was looking at. He had been annoyed at being called from his bed at this ungodly hour, but that feeling was slowly being replaced by curiosity.

“It’s a time machine, kind of,” James was explaining, “it lets me lock onto memories and revisit the time and space they occurred.”

Alex needed coffee. Or sleep. He was on the fence as to which was the better idea at this point.

“I need you to watch me, monitor the journey, if anything goes wrong I need you to pull me out.”

Alex surveyed the room, the seat in the middle of overlapping egg-shaped coils of copper, what looked like a series of high-voltage transformers chained together and the cables tethering them to each other and the rig, massive conductors straining apart as if trying to escape each other’s proximity.

“What are you going to do? No, never mind, monitor how? What’s going to go wrong, and how would I know unless…” he paused and waved at the equipment “unless this all explodes?”

James pointed to the desk, to a bank of green phosphor displays.

“There, watch the log output, if the controller panics, you’ll know, then power it down there.” He pointed to a large red shutoff on a breaker panel by the door. “Then get out.”

Alex shook his head, grunted, then nodded. Too late for coffee, and it was clear he wasn’t getting any sleep now.

“Nadia and I got together the very last time at a bar, right before she ran off with…”, he winced, the name was burned so vividly he couldn’t bring himself to say it, “with Fuckwit von Shit-for-brains.” He paused, remembering. “We had drinks, we ate, we talked until closing time. She came home with me, and we had the most amazing…” He paused again, blushed. “It was amazing. She was amazing. I need to get back there, find out what I did wrong, fix it.”

Alex didn’t say a word. What would be the point?

James keyed the start-up sequence, then as the machine started to hum, he sat in the chair in the middle of the coils, buckled himself in, and closed his eyes.

The hum rose to a whine, then a deafening roar, then silence.

***

James opened his eyes, he was in a bar. No, the bar. He’d never forget this place. There was a low-frequency buzz, conversation maybe, just out of earshot? Glasses appeared and disappeared on tables, at the bar. The big ornate clock that almost filled one wall spun, the hands a blur.

In the corner, the table they’d sat at. He worked his way across the room, focused only on that space. The closer he got, the harder it became to move, as though the air were getting thicker.

He forged on, leaning now into an invisible gale force, willing himself to that corner until he could reach out and touch the back of the chair he’d sat in, so long ago.

It refused to move, fixed in place as if welded to the floor, and he had to force himself between the arms and the table, to finally slump into the seat itself, the force now pushing him into the seatback making it hard to breathe.

Glasses and plates came and went in a blur, and across the table, where Nadia had sat that entire night, smiling, talking.

Nothing.

The seat was and remained empty.

There was a violent tug, the pushing force now a fist wrapped around his spine, yanking him back, through the chair, the bar, from the past into the present to deposit him, aching and gasping for breath in the seat in his lab.

He looked up into the curious and concerned eyes of his friend.

“Well,” Alex asked, “what happened?”

James struggled with what had just happened.

“I must have missed something, miscalculated something, everything was there, just the way I remember it, but I was alone. She wasn’t there.”

Alex stepped back and shoved his hands into his pockets.

“James,” he said gently, “you know she was already gone long before that night. Why would you expect her to have waited in that memory the way you did?”

Make A Wish

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Sven had been driven out of Newport City and into the stars with a warning.

“If you ever plan on landing Earthside again, you’d better bring enough money to clear your debt in full, with interest, or you’ll be flayed and spread along the whole of Mainstreet as a warning to all the other losers.”

The warning was a kindness. He should have been killed, there and then, and he knew it, but LouisXIV owed him for saving his life, long ago, and this was him clearing that marker.

He’d spent seventeen years floating from station to station, light hopping to the furthest reaches of habitable space, conning and cajoling himself in and out of better ships, to better leads, and he was ready to come home.

“Newport tower, this is Sierra Victor Echo November seven seven three niner on approach, requesting inbound vector, over.”

It should only take a few minutes for that to throw up alerts across the control tower.

“Unmarked vessel, we do not have you on our grid, turn on locators. Over.”

Of course, he wasn’t on the grid, the sun was throwing up enough interference they’d never be able to see him. If it wasn’t for the hardened mining rig he was flying, he’d already be a meat pie.

“Newport tower, inbound heavy.”

“Unmarked…” the transmission was cut off abruptly.

“Sven, you sack of excrement, if you even think of landing here I’ll gut you like a fish myself before you get both feet on the ground.”

The familiar voice brought a smile to his face.

“Louis, nice to hear a friendly voice. You said payment in full with interest, correct?”

There was a long pause.

“We’re talking a hell of a lot of interest Sven.”

The meteoroid he’d secured was nearly 20 meters in diameter, in it was enough rare elements to more than pay what he owed. All he needed to do was land, get the cargo valued, and he could cover whatever Louis wanted for his freedom. Easy.

But there remained the principle of the thing.

Sven pushed the throttle to the pins and rolled the ship on its back, belly to space. He’d calculated on full burn with a little centrifugal help running a slingshot around the sun, that meteoroid should reach about five thousand meters per second on release. Given the ship computers’ calculated trajectory, which he trusted with his life, and this precise time of day and the relative rotation of the Earth, which he’d been working back from for months, his little payment should arrive crisp and cooking right at Newport tower while he continued following the sun’s orbit, breaking loose en route to another system before anyone even knew what had hit them.

Maybe there’d be a LouisXV holding markers somewhere else, but that was a problem for another day.

“Standby Newport tower, you should see me light up the grid momentarily.”

Wherehole

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Marcus followed June from the school after class, across the back field, up over the train tracks, and down the other side into the woods.

“Where are we going?” He struggled to keep up, his backpack catching on a branch as she forged on ahead with determined certainty.

“You’ll see”, was her reply, not missing a step.

They walked through the forest for nearly an hour, she seemingly certain of the way, though there was no trail Marcus could make out. June was always better at finding paths, and he couldn’t help worry a little about getting separated and not being able to find his way back.

“How much farther?” He huffed, the exertion starting to wear on him.

“Not long”, the non-committal reply.

He shrugged his backpack further up his shoulders and trudged on behind her the rest of the way in silence.

The trees cleared abruptly at the edge of a ravine, and they slid down the incline to a wide river bed. Water rushed from around a corner upstream to slow in a wider pool where they were standing, before disappearing around another bend a little further downstream.

“Here”, June instructed, “watch this.”

She gathered a few fist-sized rocks and climbed along the boulders and fallen logs that lined the river bank until she reached a flat rocky outcrop, where she dumped the rocks in a pile, then waited for Marcus to join her.

“See that dark spot on the water, there?” She pointed to a shady patch where the water was caught up in a pocket behind the outcrop they stood on, forming an eddy and turning back against the current. “Watch.”

She tossed a rock into the middle of the slowly revolving circle of water. It disappeared without a sound.

“Now look up there,” she pointed upstream as a rock fell from thin air into the river with an audible splash easily ten meters away from where she had dropped it.

Marcus stared for a long minute.

“I don’t get it. Do that again.”

He watched carefully as June picked up another fist-sized rock and dropped it into the eddy.

They both stared upriver together for a few moments before a rock fell again out of thin air into the middle of the river.

Marcus stood speechless. This was scratching a part of his brain that didn’t like being scratched.

When he turned around, June had stripped off her shoes, socks, and pants.

“I’m going through”, she announced, and without another word, and before he could protest, she jumped into the water, again without a sound, leaving not even a ripple.

Marcus stared upstream and waited. She should have appeared by now. The rocks had come through right away, hadn’t they?

••

June landed with a thump, not in the river, not even in water, but in a hole. She stood, slightly sore from the fall, and raised herself on tiptoes to see over the side.

A creature sat, hunkered down on all fours a few meters away, staring at her with wide, unblinking eyes, its lips peeling back in a vulgar smile around a mouthful of teeth.

Beside it was a pile of fist-sized rocks.

Behind her, a rock fell out of the air, landing with a thump in the hole where she stood.

The creature picked up a rock from its own pile, and with a sound almost like a chuckle tossed it into a hole in the ground at its feet.