Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The two of them sat facing each other in the living room, the father and the fidgeting male his daughter had brought home to meet him.  From the kitchen came snatches of conversation, the talk in excited giggles of things only a mother and daughter could talk about with such euphoric fervor.  The two men just surveyed each other warily, awkwardly looking for the right words with which to start a conversation.

‘You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what to say in situations like this.’ It was the father that broke the silence.

‘Sir?’ The younger male looked up quizzically. ‘Situations sir?’

‘You see, my daughter has brought home boys before, not many mind you, don’t get the wrong idea, but this is the first time…’ He trailed off, uncertain how to continue. He shifted his weight in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs as he adjusted his shirt cuffs before continuing. ‘Have you had children son?’

‘No sir, I’m a little young for that’, the boy answered, shaking his head, ‘and your daughter, well sir, she’s the first girl that I’ve ever really thought about having a family with.’

‘I see.’ The answer seemed to perplex the father, and he leaned forward, hunching his shoulders. ‘Well imagine yourself for a moment, in a few years, with a daughter…’ the father began, pausing to clear his throat before continuing, ‘…imagine that your daughter came home one day, after having been away for almost a year, and never having mentioned that she was engaged, she introduced you to… well…’ he stopped again, the task of putting his current thought into language was causing him obvious distress.

‘What if she brought home a creature like me?’ The boy, obviously keenly aware of the fathers discomfort, spared him the burden of the words.

‘Yes, I’m sorry – you must understand…’ The father, visibly relieved, tried to justify his unspoken but apparent position. ‘I don’t mean you any prejudice, it’s just your species, these couplings – this is all very new to me.’

‘Sir, were my daughter to bring a partner home to meet me, I would have to believe that she saw something special enough in him to want to share her feelings with her family, and I’d do my best to see what she saw too. I’d trust that she knew her feelings for him better than I could, and I’d try my best to be happy for them both.’

The father sat back, and smiled at the words spoken by this strange, alien creature before him.  The boy was right. He had to trust his daughter’s judgement, and this boy seemed to be a decent enough fellow. They’d have their challenges to be sure. Not everyone could understand these inter species unions that were only just becoming known to the public, and were far from common. It was the very least he could to be supportive.

The father raised himself from his chair to tower over the boy as the youth nervously clambered to his feet. The father spoke, and as he did so, he extended one strong chitinous hand to the young man, inviting him to shake it. ‘You seem to have won my daughters heart, and that’s no easy task, so I’ll welcome you then, as the first human to enter our home in peace.’ They smiled, each in his own way openly relieved.

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I Pledge My Life

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Unsol remembered his twelfth birthday, remembered his fathers face alight with pride as he read aloud Unsol’s draft notice. ‘You’re going to be a pilot, Unsol.’ His father beamed ‘You’ll be the most valuable commodity in the Corps.’

Thirteen years they had invested in him, teaching him, leading him, shaping him. Days turned into years racing war craft through fields of stars and cavernous landscapes of dust and stone, sometimes hunting, sometimes the hunted as they prepared him for his future.

At twenty five he pledged his allegiance to the Corps. ‘I will gladly sacrifice my life to protect our Earth, I pledge my life to the Corps.’ The next day he pledged his love and honour to his new wife. The words ‘Semper Fi’ etched themselves upon the man. These were the happiest days in his memory.

Hot wired into the cockpit of his Slipstream, his every thought, every twitch of his wrist, each flick of a fingertip was translated into immediate motion; pitch, yaw, roll. He merely willed the craft to move, and kept his eye on his prey. A more perfect union of man and machine was simply beyond his comprehension. Pushing through the dust cloud above the surface to hug the craterous landscape, his squadron chased their elusive quarry through canyons and across wide open plains to the mountains. They could taste victory, but they had been careless, arrogant. Unsol’s last memory was of tearing metal, the rush of atmosphere and the smell of burning flesh.

It took twelve months to rebuild him, but after spending thirteen years creating him, reconstruction was an economic viability.

His wife had attended his funeral. There were Corpsmen firing rifles into the sky, and a squadron flew the missing man formation over the graveyard for each as their friends and families paid their last respects. The pilots watched the proceedings from their hospital beds. Each wife fathered a child, some right away, some not for months after. The Corps knew how rare pilot DNA was, so they helped facilitate the in-vitro as part of the bereavement benefit package. Unsol would never be seen by his wife, or his child. He was dead to them both, though he would still fly to protect them.

Security allowed him into the nursery wing after his son was born. Unsol stood in the hall, staring through the glass at a sea of tiny hands none of them would ever get to hold, smiling faces that would never smile for them. Unsol reached with phantom arms and felt new polymer hands connect with the glass, pickups extending reflexively from his palms, skittering on the smooth surface as they searched for an access point to interface with. He shuffled inside his legs, and felt the bulk of thighs and boots not entirely his own move him closer. The lights dimmed in the nursery, and the glass suddenly reflected back the white dome where his face should have been, fogging below the chin line where his air exchanger vented moist air forward. He could feel a tugging in his chest where his own heart once had been, and pain where he knew tears could no longer flow.

When Unsol agreed to sacrifice his life for the Corps, he had only meant that he was willing to die.

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Guerillas in Our Midst

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Janko was living the high life, running guns along the fringe and reaping the rewards just outside regulated space. People brought their goods to him, and he delivered them to those in need, those who could afford them at least. That was until the Clef brothers started hijacking his freighters and stealing his product. The worst of it was he knew exactly where to find them, but they were holed up inside regulated space, and he wasn’t about to risk his own neck going in after them.

One of his suppliers, a small arms vendor with the dubious moniker ‘Gunner’ offered to hook him up with ‘A platoon of freelance Guerillas’ that would ‘get the job done’ for a fee. Money wasn’t an issue, neither had been the idea of hiring Guerillas, until now.

The troop ship blotted out the afternoon sun as it landed alarmingly close to his hanger doors. The dust barely had time to settle before he was being overrun by the biggest, blackest creatures he’d ever seen. They clambered down from the ship and set about helping themselves to his fuel lines and food stores, and began picking through his maintenance equipment. One hoisted an entire welding cart over his shoulder before climbing up the side of the ship to begin plasma torching a nasty looking tear below a gun turret.

Janko stood spellbound, unsure of whether to confront them, or run and hide. Instead he stood unable to move and just watched. One particularly massive of the unwelcome guests lumbered past and began popping open gun crates the way one might flip the tops of beer cans. Massive thumbs flicked, effortlessly sending metal crate tops high into the air, defying both their locks and hinges, to land noisily in crumpled heaps on the floor. The interloper grunted his displeasure at the contents of several crates before hoisting a two meter long anti tank weapon out of is packing, snapped off the bulk of it’s tripod, and stood waving it around with one hand, seemingly admiring its heft.

Janko was only peripherally aware of the warm fluid running down his leg to pool in his boot as the giant swung the mammoth weapon towards him and slowly advanced.

‘Right then. You’d be Janko, yes?’ Heavy eyebrows raised over jet black eyes. ‘Gunner did mention we’d be coming?’ The giant tossed the weapon easily from his right hand to his left and still advancing angled it carefully so that it slid past Janko, barely a hands width from his right ear.

‘You… you’re… you…’ he struggled for words, any words with which to gain some modicum of control, but none came.

‘Gunner promised you Gorillas, yes?’ The giant simian paused a moment, then stretched upwards releasing a sound that Janko prayed was a laugh as it boomed and echoed off the hanger walls. He didn’t dare look, but he was sure all activity behind him had stopped, and imagined an entire platoon of apes now nudging each other and pointing at him.

‘I…, yes… yes I suppose he did tell me that, I just didn’t… expect…’ Janko’s voice faltered and then failed outright. He would have to have Gunner killed next, of this he was certain.

‘S’alright mate!’ The big ape grinned down at him, nostril’s flaring and black eyes shining. ‘I’m guessing these are the only real guns you’ve got then?’ He rattled the cannon beside Janko’s ear. ‘You’ll have to cut these trigger guards off, the boys hands aren’t quite as little and pretty as yours. We’ll need two score of these, and a half dozen crates of shells for each. You’ve no beef with us taking your guns, eh? I thought not.’ The simian stepped past Janko and ambled back towards his ship, still speaking over his shoulder. ‘We’ll stay here for a couple of days and rest up. The boys haven’t had shore leave in months, so they’ll be wanting to head into town and avail themselves of the facilities, be a good lad and make suitable arrangements.’ Janko’s mind boggled at the prospect.

The giant ape had almost reached the bay doors before he turned and yelled back into the hanger. ‘Consider this, you’re scared near to death of us, yes? And we’re working for you. I think your problem’s as good as solved, don’t you?’

Janko had to admit, he had a point.

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Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He made the corner into the alley at a full sprint, nearly missing a mountain of abandoned waste containers, but not completely. One foot caught a lid, throwing him off balance, and momentum and gravity combined to send him skidding across greasy asphalt into the wall opposite. Rain water and urine raced each other to saturate his coat and chinos as he struggled to regain his feet, sweat and fresh blood clouding his vision where the alley brick had left its mark.

He’d killed a mech just ten minutes earlier, and he knew exactly what would happen if they caught him.

The buildings lining the alley stretched skyward, shutting out any light from above, and the streetlights could no longer penetrate the murk as he stumbled forward. A dumpster loomed out of the darkness, offering a route to a fire escape above, and he clambered upwards, leaping from the complaining metal of the bin to the hanging rungs of steel, then pulling hand over hand until he could hoist a foot up and climb higher to safety.

He hadn’t meant to kill anyone. He thought he’d surprise his girlfriend at home, used his key to her apartment, and found him there, with her.

The iron staircase announced his ascent to anyone with any interest, but he was past caring now, he needed to get clear of the area, and once he was on the roof, he was sure he could disappear.

She’d screamed when she saw him, just standing in the doorway of her bedroom, watching this other man, watching what he was doing with her. Something snapped, and he was suddenly wielding a lamp he didn’t remember picking up, swinging repeatedly at this strange mans head.

The iron rungs curled over the rooftop wall, and his heart pounding, chest heaving, he threw himself onto the flattop roof, gravel scattering beneath his boots as he raced towards an adjacent rooftop at random. He could run for miles up here, the buildings so close together, he could be halfway across the city before anyone knew to look for him.

He’d hit the stranger ten, maybe thirty times when it happened, the bastard started twitching wildly, not like a human would twitch, but violently, mechanically, arms and legs flailing about in perfect synchronized rhythm, the girl scrambling to safety, not from the bloody lamp, but from the flailing stiff limbed machine in a death fit conniption on her bed.

This was a somebody’s mech. Someone would own him, and they’d hunt him down and exact payment for the damage he’d done to their property. He fled. She screamed after him, but her words lost themselves in slamming doors and his tumbling down stairs. Lost themselves in the realization of liability and the promise of violent repercussions. People had been killed for accidental damage to these mechanical men, and he’s smashed this ones brains in, pulverized it beyond repair.

The city moved beneath his feet, slipped by as he jumped the narrowed gaps where buildings leaned towards each other, reaching to close any available space above the streets. Time and distance passed between he and his crime, and with each step, each ragged breath he began to feel less frantic. He would be safe, had to be safe, they couldn’t find him up here, they’d no idea where he’d gone. Maybe she wouldn’t tell them who he was.

He leapt again, a sudden drop in his stomach as the next roof came up to meet him, a sudden flare of blue light, voices amplified into his brain. Panic overtook him and he lurched left, trying desperately to make the next rooftop. A sudden flash, eyes flooded with light before consciousness was ripped violently away and gravity took complete control.

The officer lowered his weapon, and thumbed his radio. ‘Control, this is five niner two, two, seven, the runner’s down, send a pickup to my twenty – over.’

A second uniformed man turned off the tracker he’d been focused on, walked to the fallen figure and kicked it lightly in the ribs. ‘I never will get why they bother to run.’

The shooter powered down his pistol and holstered it. ‘You want to be careful kicking that thing, you break it, and its owner will see to it you pay for it the rest of your career.’

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Say Again?

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The waitress took their order reflexively, their speaking the words were just a formality after so many visits, their orders never deviating.

‘All day over easy, bacon, white toast. And coffee. Please.’


Emma would just nod and smile, and return in short order with two heaping plates of breakfast.

It was this plate that Bradley was focused on now, liberally salting and peppering the eggs, and slathering steak sauce on the home fries.

Stan busied himself pouring packets of sugar and the contents of creamers into his coffee, before stirring madly and leaning over his plate, and in a voice just loud enough to reach his friends ear, he spoke nervously.

‘I think I’m onto something really, really big.’

Bradley barely looked up from his plate and grinned before breaking the first of three perfect eggs, watching the yolk meander into the mountain of home-fries.

‘What?’ he said, making Stan wince at the loudness of his voice.

‘Shh!’ Stan looked around furtively. ‘Shh! I think I can travel through time’

Bradley stopped eating, put down his fork and paused only to wipe his mouth on a paper napkin before he began to berate his fidgeting colleague.

‘Say Again? Time travel? Is this like your foray into ESP? Or your biofeedback machines, or your faster than light propulsion? Seriously, at least those had some basis in real science, but time travel? Stan – if you don’t come up with something your backer can actually use, your capital is going to evaporate and you’ll be on the street.  Even the university won’t have you back now.’

Stan sat back shaking his head. He was used to this, he’d stopped submitting to the journals, stopped attending the university functions, and lost contact with most of his friends. He absently folded the frayed cuffs of his oxford several times before shoving them up to his elbows. Brad knew him, and though he always talked like this, Stan knew he was just worried about him.

‘This is the culmination of all of that. Everyone’s been trying to figure how to accelerate a mass past the speed of light – right?  Tachyons looked promising for a while, but they’re already moving faster than light, so they’re really no good. We need to accelerate a stationary mass beyond the speed of light in a controlled way, and then slow it back down without destroying it.  Generating energy is hard enough, and the amount of energy we need to push anything meaningful into the past is, well – huge – so to get enough energy means a huge reaction of some sort, not very practical. But what if we don’t need to generate energy, what if we just use the objects’ own energy, not create or release it, just reform it for a time, then let it return to it’s natural state?’

Stan paused for a moment to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and Bradley, still intent on clearing his plate, just grunted around a mouthful of bacon, eyeing Stan warily but letting him continue.

‘The ESP study, and the biofeedback machines, we had kids that could actually manipulate the energy in tangible things, solely because they really believed they could. They just, I don’t know, had the faith in their ability to control things. We could show them the effect they were having, we helped them to push harder, focus more intently. We validated their belief in themselves, and the gains were incredible.  I think we’d have made a huge breakthrough then if the parents hadn’t got scared and had us shut down.’ Stan paused, and pushed his bangs away from his eyes. ‘Anyways, I’ve been working with those same machines, working at manipulating my own energy field, changing my own frequencies and I’m making my own solid gains.’ He lowered his voice, but his excitement remained palpable. ‘You’ve got to try it, it’s amazing, when you’re tuned in, you can feel the change in your mind, your body – everything just starts to hum, and the buzz – jesus, the buzz is incredible. I can feel I’m right on the edge, every-time, it builds, and builds, and builds and my focus intensifies, and the feeling – Christ Brad, you’ve got no idea what it feels like… it builds until it’s like…’ His voice trailed off.

‘What?’ Bradley broke the silence, making Stan wince at the loudness of his voice.

‘Shh!’ Stan looked around furtively ‘Shh! I think I can travel through time’

Bradley barely looked up from his plate and grinned before breaking the first of three perfect eggs, watching the yolk meander into the mountain of home-fries.

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