Author: Tim Goodwin
Rosetta found herself with some downtime between contracts, and was within shuttle-distance: why not see mom? In person? Why not see Earth?
Her mother, bikinied and martinied, was polite, but opted for air kisses in lieu of hugging her dirty spacer daughter (still hoping all this was a phase) and invited her to the guest room to change for the pool and a welcome home cocktail.
“Your old room, dear,” her mother said. “It has been two years. And please, don’t put any of…” she waved her undrinked hand at Rosetta’s spacesuit, “…on the bed.”
The room was now taupe. All. Taupe. And conspicuously devoid of Rosetta’s Star Trek models and posters of (hunky) solar-racer Traskor Sir Nadjal.
Rosetta dropped her helmet and duffel on the bed and saw her old bathing suit that her mother had dug out.
She had completely forgotten this bathing suit. It was, once, her second skin.
Then she disassembled her suit while pondering the tiny garment: the Yorklaussen, her coveted orange-and-white outer suit, still looking kinda new, although its finger tips were singed from underestimating an electrical panel on Phobos, and its boot latches were starting to slip. She unhooked the mini-PLSS, then her IRP. She shook out of the bulky temp suit. All of it stickered with the dust and grease and scrapes of Rosetta’s new life Out There.
“I hope your suit still fits,” she heard her mother sing-song out.
Rosetta undid her lucky neckerchief as she looked outside. The lawn was still travel brochure-green, the sky still cartoon-blue, the pool still reflected the sun, looking electrified.
It all somehow seemed…smaller.
And of course, her mother was lounging in that same beach chair, as manicured as always. Her skin was (cosmetically) luminous and (synthetically) taut, her hat ridiculously oversized, her sunglasses ridiculously bejeweled. She swiped, lazily, at the pages of a holobloid suspended in front of her, the occasional ad sounding like a musical trinket.
Rosetta remembered laying on her back out there, in this very bathing suit, watching the evening turn on the stars and planets, one by one, while her mother swiped pages or complained about whatever boyfriend she currently hated.
She needs to look up more, Rosetta thought, surprising herself with the revelation.
The last bit of her space suit to take off was her red Skinsuit: the micron-thin, skin-tight base layer that, amongst other magic tricks of science, sent the body’s own electrical output back into the muscles to keep them from atrophying in zero-G. A bacterial layer ate your stink; its picoskeleton kept your organs from wandering. Plus, it had a flap for “undercarriage business” of any and all sorts, so you never had to take it off (although the company that made Skinsuits strongly discouraged this).
The Skinsuit was her spacer body, she joked; taking it off meant being an Earther again.
She looked at all the taupe. Her childhood suddenly felt so far away. Tiny. Two years in space seemed to weigh so much more, it seemed, than eighteen years here.
Another ad chimed outside.
Rosetta put her hand to her collarbone, and made the motion that unlocked her Skinsuit. It whispered to the floor like a spider’s web.
She picked up the bathing suit, stumbled into it with some vigorous swearing, then looked at herself in the mirror and laughed.
It didn’t fit. But Rosetta didn’t mind; it wasn’t the only thing she had outgrown.
Author: Robert Beech
The corpse had a handsome face. He had a strong jaw with a two-day stubble of beard, a straight somewhat aquiline nose, high cheeks, and full eyebrows over steel-blue eyes, now half-lidded in death. There was only one thing wrong with the corpse’s face. It was mine.
The revolver in his outstretched hand was mine, too, and the driver’s license in the stolen wallet in his pants pocket. Even his DNA was mine. He hadn’t stolen that though, it came with the clone.
The question was, how was I going to convince the police that it was the clone that was lying dead on the kitchen floor and not me? The laws against clones trying to harm their originals were clear and unforgiving. A clone that killed his original was terminated immediately; even the attempt was considered a capital offense. So, I hadn’t really committed murder when I got rid of him, I was just getting rid of a piece of malfunctioning hardware.
The problem is that the hardware had the same DNA I did. Blood tests weren’t going to help here, so how could I prove that I was me, and not some rogue piece of hardware that had just killed his original? Asking me something about my childhood, some half-remembered incident that I would know about and the clone wouldn’t, that might help, except that all my memories were backed up to the clone. That was the main point of having a clone after all so that if something irreversible happened to me, they could activate the clone and start over. Like backing your hard drive up to the cloud. I might lose a couple of days, memories of whatever had happened between the time I was killed and the last time the clone had been backed up, but essentially I could go on as though nothing had happened. Except for this time, something had happened. Somehow the clone had been activated prematurely, and it had decided to do away with the original, i.e. me. I don’t know how it had gotten ahold of my revolver. I keep that thing locked up securely in the gun cabinet, with the ammunition locked securely in a separate location. Of course, the locations of both the gun cabinet and the ammunition locker and the keys to both are among the memories that have been backed up to the clone, so he would have known where to find them. But you’d think I would have heard him prowling around through the house and loading the gun. I hadn’t.
The first thing I knew of the clone awakening was when I saw him standing over me with the big .44 magnum pointed in my direction, telling me to put my hands up, and calling me a damn clone!
I don’t know what made him hesitate, but thank God he did. Just the briefest hesitation before he fired, but long enough for me to dive for cover. Long enough for me to roll into the kitchen and then grab the kitchen knife and plunge it into his chest when he came running into the kitchen behind me.
And now, there he is, dead on the kitchen floor, my clone, wearing my clothes and with my driver’s license in the wallet in his pants pocket. I should take it out and put it in my pocket before the police get here. It’ll look more natural that way. Maybe switch shoes, too, his look a little more worn.
Author: Brian Maycock
The sound of sirens rising and falling as they pass by outside his room at night makes him feel alive. Someone, somewhere is fighting crime.
He falls asleep around 5 am.
When he sees it is Jell-O for breakfast he wonders if the plastic gloop he begins to scoop into his mouth is actually for supper. Has he lost a day? Not, he thinks, that there is much to lose. TV in the communal lounge, blaring and loud and yet still inaudible. Tablets and watery juice and waking with a start in a stale smelling armchair.
He puts down his spoon and looks up. Someone is talking to him. “You have a visitor.”
The orderly who spoke is already fading away. The visitor is a giant compared to everyone else in here. The man’s bulky frame seems to be blocking out the light. The smile which is now appearing is shot through with silver. Not someone to be forgotten.
Racing through the night, bones breaking underfoot. Looking back. Corpses scattered across the street. Scum, every single one of them. In a city that is bursting at the seams with criminals, there is no time to rest and already a new assignment is crackling into their ears. A warehouse, drugs.
He answers the smile with a cautious nod. “Mitchell,” he says, and his own voice sounds strange. He can’t remember the last time he had a conversation. “I never thought I would see you again, never-”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t get syrupy on me Crabbe.” The voice is synthetic, the coldness genuine. His partner was always all about the business, with modifications more machine than flesh and blood.
Ex-partner. He bites down the urge to ask how long it’s been. Thirty years? Forty?
He feels trapped in this place, that time has been stretched out into something that is so thin and fragile it could equally break at any moment or stretch on uselessly forever.
Once, moments were overflowing with life and death. He feels tears well in his eyes. Some superhero now, he thinks.
Mitchell scowls, says “Work sent me. Housekeeping. Sweeping a last few dirty secrets under the carpet” Fingers unfold. The pill in the man’s palm looks tiny.
“Poison?” he asks.
“It will look like natural causes,” is Mitchell’s only answer and the next moment is gone.
Now, he is holding the pill in his hand. Natural. He never thought that is a word he would use again.
Crabbe was all genetic. A twist on a theme. A willing volunteer once, until everything became blurred.
And now they were asking him to call it a day to help keep the peace one last time.
Memories of the bloodlust that rose within him flash clear, the excitement at fighting crime that spilled over into a darkness that enveloped him. He wondered then, wonders now if he was a hero or a freak. A saviour or a monster. Was it possible to be both?
He pushes himself upright, shuffles down the corridor, and lets himself into his room. He opens the window, turns the light out, and lies on the bed. When Mitchell comes back to check, he will say he forgot to take the tablet. He wants to listen to the sirens rise and fall one more time.
I don’t know what I am anymore. My river is the Styx but am I a ferryman, a passenger, or a trespasser? I fear no coins will ever pass through these hands. I am alone, the singular soul who has devoted an eternity to this endeavor. No, that’s not the right word. Eternity implies a purpose and a direction.
[Captain, calculations for DF456A in progress. 5 percent complete.]
Every time I try to capture it and start the multi-dimensional folding process, I trigger something. The star and I are reset and get tossed in time and space. Sometimes I’m close to it and other times I’m light-years away. I eventually find it and start the process all over. It is possible. This time I will get it right. Even the improbable can favor a fool.
[Captain, calculations for DF456A in progress. 20 percent complete.]
I folded other stars into gems and sold them for the price of a small galaxy. It is a dangerous, illegal, and vulgar profession. If you made only one you were a legend. It’s even better if you didn’t slaughter multiple planetary systems to get it. I had three. Then I happen upon it by accident. A star that moved through time and space. A star that would never know old age or death. A miracle that will be a trophy for me, the greatest star hunter in the known universe.
[Captain, calculations for DF456A in progress. 60 percent complete.]
I imagine that it is laughing at me but the truth is I’m an insect trying to capture a deity. In my dreams, I talk to it. I threatened it. I bargain and plea with it but it never answers me. It doesn’t matter for I will win this battle of wills. I too can be everlasting.
[Captain, You have multiple incoming messages and one call.]
I heard. The news was a foreign body that lodged in my ear. The computer repeated itself. I didn’t answer but raced to the panels to check my status. I was right back in my original timeline and part of space. The star brought me home? I’ve been home all this time? My fresh young planet was close enough to be on the view screen.
“You’re coming home now my baby. It’s been too long.”
“Yes, it’s me. I haven’t heard from you in years. Please come home. I want to see you. You promised.”
[Captain, calculations for DF456A are 100 percent complete. Initializing protocol on your command.]
“Just one more job mother, then I’ll be home forever.”
Author: Rick Tobin
My sister’s eyes would never be warm or human again, now showing only metallic, sparkling haze from a Tantalus Worm wriggling in her infected body. She could walk, again, after agonizing, bone-breaking seizures evaporated from the powers of her disgusting, infesting companion. There is no cure…no treatment for Plyon’s Syndrome, outside of becoming host to a parasitic alien worm found on forbidden Allo-23.
“Can you understand, Celia? Can you hear?” I whispered. She struggled forward under her physical therapist’s guidance while navigating padded hand posts over a trying recovery exercise.
“We know you, Bruce.” A warbled response made me shudder– a trilling commingling of high and low pitches—but not Celia. There was shared distress in the message.
“Is…is it painful?” I shadowed her staccato struggling. Her head swiveled to me, eyes glittering in phases from gold to silver.
“Be thankful,” it bellowed. “We ancient races abandoned warrior bodies and violence before your inner worlds had life. We devolved, never again to harm. Our purpose is to serve in healing. We give no pain– only hope.”
“I want to speak to Celia, not you,” I snapped back at the remnant. Her dragging bare heels left trails of blue liquid. Doctors warned how parasites released toxins as a permanent aftereffect.
“Bruce…don’t be upset, please.”
Her voice soothed. Listening to recordings for years, as disease ravished her capacities, failed to calm his anger over a paralyzed ballerina. Politicians promised Mars’ soils were safe. Children frolicked barefooted on resurrected sea beaches. Celia was the lone survivor of a generation now remembered only in night skies as dry Deimos catacombs circled a dying Mars colony.
“No, dear Celia…never…forgive my impatience. I despise this dark dwarf planet in the Kyper Belt becoming your dreary home, as our last hope. Do you understand you must stay? No going back?”
“You discovered us,” the deep voice returned. “We did not seek you. It is agonizing to enter your forms, but we do it, relieving her terrible curse. She will thrive here…even dance again. You will see, but she must remain. Your governments will never let us leave this planet. They fear us.”
I turned, wondering what punishments I would face returning to my red planet. The death penalty for visiting Allo-23 was still enforceable. Outposts on Saturn’s moons might accept me, but they were cold, hostile environments far from terraformed gentle summers on Mars.
“I can’t stay. I used all my influence to get this far. I’ll have to leave my rank and status behind. How will I keep in touch? How will I know you are safe and recovering?”
“Touch her hand, for just a moment,” the therapist whispered. I noticed the assistant’s gloved hands. I wondered. A trick?
“Go ahead, Bruce. It’s okay,” Celia said quietly.
I lightly pressed her dry, bruised skin on top of her hand gripping the bars. It was electric…startling. I blinked hard, pulling away, flashing lights pulsing in my eyes. Tinnitus deafened me and then receded.
“What!” I blurted out before my vision cleared. I saw myself, and the therapist, as if viewing outside my body. I was looking through Celia’s new eyes.
Words appeared in my head, in her voice, clear and sweet from childhood. “We can see each other and talk when you think of me, no matter how far away. It is the Old One’s gift. Now we will always share without interference from Mars’ oversight. This is our love that can never be quarantined.”