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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If You Love Someone

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Judy knelt on the pavement, struggling to process the confusion of the moment, the familiar form on the ground before her, the woven mass of tubing and wires snaking off into a sea of blinking lights and chirping boxes.

She was kneeling beside a man lying supine on the asphalt, his eyes unfocused and staring towards the stars. A dark grey blanket had been laid across his torso from one shoulder to the opposite hip, wide tape of an even darker grey securing it both to his uniform and the ground beneath him. Her eyes traveled across her husband’s still form, from the trickle of blood striping his cheek to the point beneath the grey fabric where he became unfathomably thin. There were dark marks forming on the grey where the fluids they were pumping into him were defying all attempts to keep them from seeping out again.

Farther up the street a white jet of flame sent molten alloy and smoke streaking into the night as a crew began cutting open what must have been the assailants vehicle. A long length of track sprawled abandoned on the pavement where it had been jettisoned in mid flight, followed by the deep rift the ATV’s unshod wheels had torn in the ground before being turned almost sideways and forced to a stop. Smoke billowed from the fatal wound a rocketeer had scored in its armor.

A hand clasped at hers, snapping her attention back to the man on the ground, his eyes suddenly focused and riveting. It was the voice of another officer though that broke the silence.

‘Ma’am, we’ve got tissues in the tank already, clone’s pretty much 80% complete, but we need you to authorize the transfer.’ The uniformed figure crouched down in front of her, but she wouldn’t unlock her gaze from her husbands. ‘Ma’am – we’ve only got a few minutes to move here, it took a while to get you here, and he’s in worse shape than last time.’ He paused, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. ‘Ma’am – the unit’s all ready and if we don’t get the transfer done now, we’re going to lose him, and if he dies, we can’t bring him back.’ The voice was quiet for a long moment before he spoke again, trying too hard to sound optimistic and failing. ‘Hell, he’s gone through this half a dozen times already, he could probably do the procedure himself if he wasn’t so banged up.’

Judy looked up at the anxious face of the man fidgeting beside her, then around at the scene. A medivac vehicle hovered a few meters away, just on the other side of a circle of light being cast by a clutter of hastily deployed equipment, all of it straining to keep her husband alive. Again. She knew exactly how this would go, the months it would take to grow the last of him, the physiotherapy he’d need to learn how to use a newly grown body he’d only been able to keep intact for a year this time. The memory lapses, the bits of him that wouldn’t come through, and the haunting nightmares of all of these accumulated moments of finality.

‘We’ve been here too many times before. You don’t get him back this time.’ Her husband clenched his eyes shut as she spoke, tears joining the other fluids streaking his face, his hand squeezing hers.

‘Ma’am – I’ve got orders from the Chief, we don’t have time..’ She cut him off abruptly. ‘Last I checked Sergeant, the Chief wasn’t wearing his ring, so you can tell him we’re done. You can call our Union rep if you want to argue, but in the meantime, turn him off. Turn all of this shit off, and leave us alone.’

A weary hand gradually cooled in hers, and she as she looked into his eyes, she saw a peace there she hadn’t seen in a long, long time. She had no choice but to let him die tonight. She knew neither of them could survive him ever being killed again.

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Service the Masses

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He eyed her cautiously as they undressed, her gaze wandering over his muscular frame, he picking out the subtle characteristics that identified her as a mech; her stance, the symmetry of her body and its flawlessly calculated motions, the perfect geometric arcs her hips cut as she walked. Afternoon sun seeped reluctantly through smokey acrylic to carve dusty fingers in the stale air. The light accentuated her form as she closed the small distance between them on the balls of her feet. In an instant, she was on him, twisting him in a wiry embrace that found them both locked together on the bed. He felt the sheets beneath his bare skin, faux cotton made soft from too many washings.

‘Are you ready?’ She barely breathed the words, but he was, and they rolled together as one on the bed, exacting murderous complaints from the wood and metal frame beneath them.  He could feel the corded muscle beneath her polymer skin, feel the way the fibers contracted and released as she flexed, her body a geometry text of angles and curves, throwing shadows on the rice-paper walls, one moment acute, the next unnaturally obtuse.

‘Come on baby. Harder – Faster.’ She was on her hands and knees now, looking back over her shoulder, her irises ratcheting through various degrees of dilation, straining to optimize the light. ‘Pull my hair.’ He wrapped one hand in the long soft fibers cascading across her back as their bodies blended into one. He could hear her air exchanger accelerate and then stop suddenly, her entire frame in an instant becoming rigid within the supple flesh of her body, seizing almost completely before fail safes spurred the air exchanger back into motion, and each pair of joints were reflexively released.

He sat on the end of the bed, smoking a cigarette, and watched as she dressed in silence and then strode purposefully toward the door. ‘I’ll see you again next week.’ She paused a moment, pulling a handful of paper money from her purse and tossing it on the desk. ‘You know, you are my favorite.’ She smiled at him then, a warm, almost caring smile, before she disappeared behind the closing door.

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Looking Forward

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

With an almost discernible sigh, the bridge ceased its seemingly endless attempt to shake the crew unconscious.  Captain Jax waited until he was sure the worst was over before instructing the muscles in his body to unbrace themselves from his seat, and it took some time before those muscles began to obey.  The space around him was filled with a haze of smoke and sublimated material that before the storm had made up control surfaces and various other parts of his ship. The giant view screen was dark, and as the fire suppression systems shut down, and the environmental control systems began to scrub the air, he realized that large portions of the bridge were dark also.   Around him restraints eased, and tired bodies released themselves into the slack tethers.  The immediate danger, at least, had passed.

‘Django, damage report.’ The captain’s voice carried easily across the cramped space, and he waited as the engineer struggled to coax a console to life. Reams of text chased themselves across the screen before flickering out only to begin again.

‘Engines are up, warp drive is down.’ Yellow fluid oozed from a crack in the engineers craggy forehead which he dabbed at absently with a sleeve as he continued. ‘We’ve all but lost the recyclers, the atmosphere reserve is online but degraded, estimated hours of breathable air – thirty seven.’ The captain instinctively began to slow his breathing. ‘The storms knocked out our eyes and ears sir, we’ve got instruments for navigation, but no visual.  Our distress beacon is broadcasting, but only from the bow, and the long range sensor on the bow is alight, but it’s the only one.’

The captain slumped back into his chair, pushing the hair back from his sweating forehead. His eyes tried to focus on a point beyond the blackened display, as though expecting to see somehow through it into the void of space.

‘Weapons Django?’

‘Ballistics are offline sir, the light spear appears intact’

‘Direct whatever energy we’ve got to the beacon and sensors, we need to find a ship.’ The crew began to execute his commands even before he’d finished speaking them.

Nearly a dozen hours passed before the long range sensor panel lit up and the comms officer, Sharak, broke the silence. ‘Sir, there’s a ship straight off the bow, quite some distance, but she’s parked and in our line of sight.  She’s in a line to receive our beacon sir.’

‘Django’ The captains voice boomed with new found purpose ‘All ahead full, let’s catch up to that ship’

The engines wound valiantly to life, shaking loose bits of the bridge that had been tenaciously holding on while they’d sat at idle, filling the cabin with the clatter and dull thuds of falling alloys and polymer composites.

‘Sir – the ship ahead is in motion sir.’ Django struggled to read the flickering display in front of him. ‘We’re accelerating sir, and they’re matching our speed.’

‘We need to catch that ship and we’re a little low on options right now’ The captain knew it was pure luck a ship happened across their path and he wasn’t going to let it get away. ‘Bring the light spear up, fire a volley up his ass and see if we can’t take his engines offline.  Mobility we’ve got, it’s his atmospherics I want. If he’s ignoring our beacon he’s brought this on himself…’

Sharak spoke over her shoulder ‘Captain, the aft transceiver array’s come back online, and there’s a ship back there, it’s broadcasting on the emergency channel but it appears encrypted sir, I can’t make out a message.’

‘Forget them, we’ve got our own problems, we’re in no position to help anyone else right now.  If we can catch this ship and make repairs, we can think about going back later.’ The captain was leaning forward now, straining his eyes at the void of the view screen for some glimpse of the space outside, an image that wouldn’t come.

‘Sir… the ship behind us, it’s fired on us…’ Sharak was afraid, and her voice could do nothing to hide the fact.

‘Fired?  Fired!  We’re broadcasting a distress signal, what kind of bastard fires on a ship in distress?’ The captain, giving up on the dead display stood and wheeled on the comms officer, gripping his seat back to steady himself against the surging of the wounded engines.

‘Sir… the signal from the ship behind us.  It’s not encrypted sir, I don’t know how I missed it, it’s inverted and sir,’ The comms officer’s voice dropped almost to a whisper. ‘Sir, it’s from our bow beacon.’

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Water of Life

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

It had been eighteen years since they’d seen their home world.  Eighteen years since the earth had lain before them vibrant and blue. They had come home, and brought with them the water of life, salvation for a world in need. They’d left a desperate band of men with a mission, journeyed the stars as beggars, then thieves, and ultimately destroyers to return home to be heroes.

‘Orbital control, this is the Lazarus on return approach, we’re inbound heavy looking for our vector, over’

Nothing but silence greeted their request.

Earth was being consumed by a terrible plague when they had left, a plague that destroyed the infected from the inside.  The doctors needed fresh blood, in great quantities in order to transfuse, and to synthesize the antibodies that had been cleaned from their blood through the generations. They had dug up a horrific judgement of a great many years ago, and no one was immune anymore. A disease their ancestors would have thought nothing of now stood to annihilate them to a man.  How far they’d come, and how quickly they’d fallen.

The mission of the Lazarus was to visit the worlds colonized over the generations, to collect blood from the inhabitants of these civilizations the earth had birthed amongst the stars, and to bring it back to save their ancestral home world. The people on these worlds had forgotten who had given them life, and they were reluctant to help when asked to share their blood.  Maybe one in twenty would offer up a litre willingly, but the men on the Lazarus found that everyone had 5 litres to spare if they weren’t given the choice. These roving collectors of the water of life were prepared to sacrifice these insignificant worlds in order to save their home.  They could be colonized again, but the survival of their planet of origin must be assured.

Almost four million litres of blood filled the belly of their ship on its return voyage, three quarter of a million lives sacrificed for the sake of the human race. They had become masters of its retrieval, machines of exsanguination gone mad, but justified in doing gods work, and now they were home.

‘Orbital control, this is the Lazarus, are you reading us?’

The silence mocked the heros return.

‘Orbital control, we’re on an urgent approach, we have no sensory data on proximal traffic, we’re bypassing your authority and dropping into lower earth orbit.’

The Lazarus rolled into its approach, the crew fastened safely in their harnesses as the giant craft burned through the upper atmosphere in a red hot blaze of glory before leveling off to cruise above the planet in the direction of its home landing field.

‘Cheyenne control, this is the Lazarus on return approach.  We’ve cleared the atmosphere and are requesting an airway inbound. Over.’

No signal greeted the pilot, nothing at all.

They slowed and gave up altitude gradually, straining to see through the view ports and scrutinizing the sensors to see what would greet them below. Across Iowa and Nebraska they saw nothing, no life signs, no radio signals, no navigational beacons, nothing but barren ground and silence.

As they reached the border of Wyoming, the radio crackled to life first, followed by a video transmission that filled the view screen.  The crew turned from their tasks and windows to watch a shrunken man, gaunt and lesioned as he cleared his throat and spoke.

‘Lazarus crew. If you are receiving this transmission, I’m afraid you are too late.  The disease has accelerated beyond our ability to contain it, and most of the population of this earth has succumbed. Do not land your craft. Do not take on any material from this earth. The planet must remain in quarantine. This planet has survived the loss of its inhabitants before, it will rise again without us.’

The man paused, eyes closing for moment before taking a breath and continuing.

‘Lazarus crew, the only hope for humanity lies now with the colonies.  You must go to them, help them, protect them, provide transport between them that they may share knowledge and resources and assure the future of the human race. If you are here, then it’s because these colonists gave freely of themselves in order to save us, you must now give back to them in order to save us all. The future of the human race lies in your hands, good luck, and god speed’

As the transmission ended, silence once again filled the cabin. Through this silence everyone onboard could feel the cries of the lives they carried, litre by litre in the belly of the beast that was all that was left of the human race.
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