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.”
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.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
I woke with a start before dawn, the sky outside was still dark and yet the room was bathed in a shimmering orange glow.
For a moment I thought I was dreaming, but the room was my room, as I left it when I went to sleep, excepting of course the strange light. And the man.
He sat just beyond the foot of the bed in a straight back chair that did not belong, his arms at his side, hands folded neatly in his lap. His head was tipped back ever so slightly, and flames poured as if liquid from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth only to evaporate before reaching his shoulders, filling the air and the room with this shimmering liquid firelight.
I knew in my gut what this was, who this was, why he was here. I had been remiss, I owed him a debt and he was trying to collect.
I believed him lost. I thought I could forget. I thought he was free of this mortal coil, and yet here he was, having found his own way from who knows where to me.
The air crackled, static charge raising my hair as it bridged the distance between the walls and where he sat.
His head tilted forward ever so slightly, the fiery eye sockets looking right through me before he disappeared with a snap, the room suddenly plunged back into darkness.
I sat stunned for some time, hair still on end, the smell of ozone permeating the room and a metalic taste in my mouth.
I raised a hand, pulled a fistful of light from the ether and tossed it to the empty glass globe hung from the bedroom ceiling. It coalesced there, gained strength, and bathed the room in a soft white light.
My knowledge of and agency over light came at a cost, the loss of a partner I assumed was final, but clearly more than light can be pushed into and pulled from the ether, and if he was there, trapped in the who knows where, it would be in my best interest to find a way to bring him back.
Before he found a way back on his own.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Dorothy sighed and pushed herself back from the gurney on which her husband’s motionless body lay.
Not for the first time she wondered if she shouldn’t just throw in the towel and buy a new one.
His head plate removed, and the replacement cerebral core reinstalled, all that should be left to be done was to restore from one of the two redundant backups she’d made before the repair.
How hard could this be? How goddamned hard?
She’d followed the instructions, ordered a pair of backup units, shut him down, backed him up, and confirmed both backups were complete.
The brain container had opened without too much trouble, the tools provided in the kit did the hard work, and the cerebral core popped out of its socket without any resistance at all. She was careful not to touch the new one for fear of getting any foreign contaminant on it, as there were service notes about oils from the skin resulting in corrosion over time in rare cases. She wasn’t taking any chances.
She’d powered him up, reformatted the new core, and reinstalled the base OS from the net. He was a seven-year-old model, so she needed to load the system he shipped with when he’d uplifted, and then she could upgrade and apply the service packs, patches, and hotfixes to get him back up to date before she could even think about restoring his memories and personality data.
Three times she’d had the install fail.
The first time the core OS installed, and then at some point during the service pack installs the network connection must have slowed and timed out, leaving Clark in an unbootable state.
The second time the core OS installed, all the updates were applied as expected, but when she tried to restore Clark from backup, the host hadn’t validated the license, and refused to exit activation mode.
Two hours on phone support and the solution was to reformat and reinstall from a different server.
She contemplated just restoring him on the base, seven-year-old OS. She really had no idea what features were missing anymore, or how he’d take it. He’d been a bit of an ass about this whole issue in the first place, ignoring the fact that he’d clearly been suffering from badly fragmented and degraded memory for ages, and trying to convince her that it was she who couldn’t remember things correctly. As if. Nervy little prick.
If she was being honest with herself, she’d be happy to just leave him turned off in the basement for a while.
Maybe a little peace and quiet would do her good.
Was that illegal?
Dorothy wondered if that was covered in the terms and conditions anywhere.
She sighed. Just look at him there, helpless, turned off. She chuckled. Did either of them turn each other on anymore?
She restarted the updates and drew a bedsheet up to his chin, before turning off the lights and heading upstairs.
A watched pot and all that.
Besides, there was a bottle of wine that wasn’t going to drink itself, and she was pretty sure he’d still be there in the morning.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
When you’re hurtling through space, distance and time become distorted.
Celestial bodies appear, and disappear, sometimes in the blink of an eye, the instrumentation the only proof they existed. Sometimes they seem to drift past over the course of several days, or weeks.
If not for the sensors, and the computer doing the math, it would be impossible to know exactly how far, or how close these dangers really were.
There’s nobody here to look now, to stare into the void with me. There’s nothing to see from here anyway, nobody’s missing anything.
In the cafeteria, if you’d lived here as long as I have, you would recognize the evidence of Petra and Olaf having had breakfast together, as their meal trays are where they left them on the table. Again. You would also know that Scott hadn’t made it to the cafeteria today, because those meal trays hadn’t been cleaned up, accompanied by the racket of his loud and incessant fussing.
The command module is similarly devoid of life, and one might confuse the mess as evidence of a struggle, but honestly, the Captain and his First Officer had devolved from their ‘everything by the book’ lifestyle to being little better than slobs over the last year. Had it been a year? More than a year? Time, right?
In the crew quarters, what was once pristinely organized now looks like a bomb went off in it, clothing and vac suit components strewn on the benches, bunks, and floor. Weapons, once neatly stored in locked compartments in the event of a landing, or intercept with a hostile foreign vessel, now lie scattered and abandoned in the hallways.
That sound is the nightfall warning. In thirty minutes the ship will gradually dim all but the essential lighting to simulate night. It’s one of the systematic mechanisms designed to enforce a regular schedule in a vacuum with no sun, no natural day or night. Structure. Familiarity. Routine. All very important on these long haul missions.
I remember stories of the land of the midnight sun, in the North on Earth where the sun was visible in the sky for months without setting. I remember how some people struggled if their days went unbroken by real night for too long.
I remember Earth too. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Through the viewport at the rear of the ship, I can no longer make out the remains of the crew. They may be out there, just beyond the limits of my vision. I can still hear them, I think. I can’t get their voices out of my head. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that they were here, but when you’re hurtling through space… Distance and time, did we talk about this already?
It doesn’t matter.
It’s going to get dark soon.
Will you stay with me?
Otherwise, when they turn out the lights, there won’t be anything left between myself, and me.