Author: Martin Berka
Alma sobbed over the bed, oscillating between wails and shrieks until the exasperated surgeon ushered her to his small office at the back of the ICU. He offered her a seat, eased the door closed to spare his assistants’ ringing ears, and maneuvered a box of facial tissues across the cluttered desk. Alma hurried through a dozen – it had not been entirely an act, and this was her one chance.
“I know this is difficult –”
“She will be good as new by the time a treaty is signed.”
Dr. Manos managed to convert his instinctive laugh into a cough, hidden behind a russet palm. Seeing Alma’s interest in his scarred wrists, he pointedly busied himself with sanitizer and a pair of neoprene gloves. She fidgeted with a handful of tissues in her lap.
“The brain damage is serious and those limbs will not grow back. Her directives –”
“Specify donation if she cannot fully recover. She will.” Alma had witnessed them, though only at Andrea’s insistence.
Manos was getting up, shaking his head. “And what are directive to you?” Alma blurted out. “The public knows you as the self-delivered poster child of modern transplantology. You are the hope of every wounded soldier, the brass’s favorite. Yet the more you save, the more they demand. More potential recipients, worse injuries, fewer suitable donors. So here and there, you have made cold, rational decisions.”
“Nothing outside the regulations. I assure you that all the forms are in order, properly stored and witnessed.”
“As will mine be when you report that nothing could be done to save me.” Alma stood, revealing the bloody wad of tissues clenched between her wrists, and the blade. “And that your only chance to save either of us was a whole-body isograft, never seen before or since. What else is there left for you, Doctor?”
Judging by the lighter blue of one iris, she certainly doubted there was much left of him. New man, new name, but still that same old ambition built on a murky past. The ambition won out, and he hurriedly gestured towards the door.
“Are you really so determined to die for her?” he asked.
“For her and for me. I’ve had too much time to myself since she deployed. I never want to be parted from her again.”
And then he held the door open so Alma could walk out and suddenly collapse by the bedside, alerting the unit to the depths of her grief.
Beyond shock, mourning, desolation, and the stress of her (medical) discharge and return to (peacetime) duty, Andrea gradually came to terms with subtle differences. Odd scars, reflexes, and fingerprints were common enough in her field, due to a particularly skilled pair of hands. Less so, the uninvited memories and associations, traces of a second mind that still echoed with an unfamiliar obsession:
Author: Lisa Jade
It always takes a few moments to remember where I am.
As I wake from a fitful sleep, my eyes fixed on the inside of the tank, it comes back to me. What this place is. What I agreed to.
What life is like now.
When the System boots up there’s a kick of electricity in my gut, and a sharp jolt as the computer finalises the connection. It traces its way through my body, tracking my decreased heart rate and low breathing.
Then, there’s the pain. The sensation is incredible; like someone scraping the inside of my skull with a hot needle. Initially, I tried convincing myself that it was temporary and that I’d grow used to it over time. It didn’t happen. Instead, the pain clouds my mind, fogging my vision, making it hard to think.
Some days, I grow lucid enough to scream. It’s not that I intend to; it just happens. Any distress is quickly followed by a low mechanical sound and a needle prick in my neck, which somehow makes me fall silent again.
Today, I’m not screaming. My vision has come clear, too. It’s rare that those coincide. I shift slightly, surprised to find that I can even move my head a little.
Figures stand beside me in the tank, each one pale and skeletal. I imagine that I must look like that, too. Barely human. I try to remember how I used to look. Red-faced, plump, with a mass of red-brown curls. Freckles on my nose. I always hated them. Perhaps they’re still there somewhere, beneath my blanched, colourless skin.
Kyra had freckles. Her eyes were brown like mine, her hair strawberry blonde. There was a gap between her front teeth that showed every time she smiled.
My chest tightens at the vague memory, but I fight to quell it. Leaving home was the best thing I could have done. A thing of dignity.
Agony zaps up my spine, and I think it louder. Dignity.
Earth had no time left. Too much smog in the air. Too much plastic in the oceans. No settlement planets to move to. Just a bunch of hairless apes standing atop a dying rock.
We’ve been soaring through space for about a century now – ten dozen humans frozen in time, kept alive by computers and drugs. The ship is meant to find a new planet for us to rebuild the human race. But not everyone could go.
Was Kyra my sister? Friend? Lover? Why can’t I remember?
Suddenly, it’s too much. The tightness in my chest, the scraping in my skull. The sensation of something hot behind my eyes. Can people cry after a century in half-stasis?
In the distance, I hear beeps. The ship is scanning again, trying desperately to find somewhere suitable to land. I try to remember how long we’ve got before the fuel runs out entirely and we’re left to drift – but I can’t.
Over a hundred years, my memories have eroded. I remember flashes, faces, names. Occasionally I’ll remember something fully, but it never stays for long.
Who was that girl? The one with the tooth gap?
Another wave of pain. I hype myself up again. This is the ultimate dignity. I’m one of the select few chosen to save humanity. We’ll all be heroes someday. When we find a new home and rebuild. We’ll be the stuff of legends.
I close my eyes against the agony and wait for the drugs to kick in.
No corporeal mind could comprehend the Cloud in their base form. Looking directly at them was like looking at the Milky Way but from a vantage point many light years closer to the centre than the Earth could claim to be (hence the unoriginal designation for these entities). Human fiction would call them shapeshifters although the Cloud themselves considered that a vast oversimplification. However, since humans were at least a couple of centuries away from meaningful contact with any other off-planet species, the Cloud felt no need to clarify the issue.
In any case, human ignorance allowed them to continue observing select test subjects. There were interstellar treaties banning such observation, but the red tape involved in investigating any such breaches in an obscure arm of the galaxy meant that no real notice was taken of the Cloud’s activities. They were currently attempting to understand the nature of “desire”. The humans called it “sex” or “making love” but what made it particularly interesting was that it seemed to go beyond a physical or even emotional act in certain cases. It created waves on a plane the humans themselves seemed totally unaware of. For a race as advanced as the Cloud, this primitive but intriguing issue did serve to lighten chronic boredom.
They had a very promising test subject at the moment: a woman who had attempted suicide after the death of her husband. They had saved her life and one of the Cloud had taken the physical form of her non-extant husband. The woman had mostly accepted the simulacrum, even if she occasionally seemed to question her sanity. The simulacrum proceeded to perform regular sex acts with the test subject and all was proceeding satisfactorily until an unexpected hitch was encountered.
– Pasha (despite their advanced state of being, the Cloud had once been a very hierarchical species and such titles had remained even after they had become anachronistic), the Agha involved in the experiment is proving intractable.
– What exactly is the issue, First Kiaya?
– They are refusing to have the test subject terminated now that our observations are complete.
– But she would have died anyway had we not interfered.
– Yes Excellency, but the Agha insists they have become attached to the creature. They wish not only for the woman to be spared but also to remain on Earth for the remainder of her natural lifespan. They are threatening to cite a breach of the Non-Interference Treaties to the High Council if we do not allow this.
– It is most irregular but I suppose we can allow it. Make sure the Agha understands they are responsible for avoiding any… what is that human expression… fuck-ups. And that they are stuck in this forsaken backwater until the creature dies of natural causes.
– Are you sure we have to move and change name, Daniel?
– Yes, Rosie. We need a new beginning.
– Daniel… Sometimes, I know I’m crazy… Part of me feels like you can’t be Daniel. Not because I remember you dying, but because you really love me. The old Daniel, he didn’t, he kept cheating on me. He didn’t hold me as if I were precious like you do. He didn’t talk with me for hours or make me feel warm and safe… And I don’t remember you having blue eyes.
– But you said it was your favourite colour? Don’t worry, it’s normal to be confused after everything you’ve been through.
– I just worry you’ll leave me because I must be crazy.
– Never happening, love. Let’s just plan to be crazy together.
Author: Palmer Caine.
“Have you heard about Lauren?” the fat thing asked, “Apparently your old partner, as wonderful as she is, has upset everyone, dealing to all sides…apparently.” Grottman scratched his flabby, floppy head.
Felix smiled. He knew about Lauren’s troubles, “We both know she can take care of herself.” He said, taking a slug of warm beer.
Grottman’s lips spread across his huge face, a smile as disingenuous as his colon. “You know the UuooLoou have a bounty on her skull.” His lips thinned, “Last I heard she was at the Vega Gate.”
“Then you know more than me.” Felix grinned.
Pluto station was busy. Mineral transports from Vega and beyond were offloaded on the upper ring, their oddly shaped crews swelling the station’s entertainments. Some of them, having spent months at the edge of known space, look like spooked horses.
A young Human, androgynous in design, took Grottman’s empty jug.
“I’ll have another.” The fat thing said. The Human nodded and exited, the audible slap of his flip-flops slowly faded.
“I hear you’re transporting refugees,” Felix said leaning forward.
“So you DO hear SOME things then?” Grottman growled.
“I wouldn’t have thought the income would be worth it,” Felix stated sitting back.
“That just reveals your limited imagination.” Grottman smiled.
The androgynous waiter returned and deposited another jug of golden liquid on the table. Grottman waved him away and drank heartily.
“So what are the UuooLoou offering for young Lauren’s shapely skull?”
“Professional interest, or personal?” the fat thing asked.
Felix smiled before responding, “Just…an interest.” He said.
Grottman snorted blowing large green bubbles from the hole in his face. He popped them with a handkerchief and wiped his disgusting features.
“Your…Interest…could earn you more than you earned last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that…” Grottman flicked his nine fingers, “More wealth than you can manage alone.” He chortled.
Felix played along, “So, what did you have in mind fatso?” he asked.
“Well, if you are truly serious, we could travel together to the Vega Gate. My business here is almost completed and I don’t claim to know your itinerary, but if you ARE serious we could be very wealthy for very little effort. The UuooLoou are notoriously prompt with payments.”
“And I suppose you’re booked into the gate?” Felix asked.
“Not yet, but once my business is complete passage won’t be an issue.” Grottman drummed his many digits. “What do you think Major?”
Felix raised his eyebrows, “So, I just call her when we get there – It’s going to be that easy?”
“It’s no secret how close you two were. I am sure you can contact her or she you if necessary?” Grottman’s grin engulfed his features. A moment later a loud bleeping, emanating from the fat things clothing, rang out.
Felix looked at his watch, “Well,” he said pushing his chair back, “That’s my alarm call.”
Grottman searched his pockets locating the bleeping device and read the message: SECURITY BREECH – FINANCIAL FILES UPLOADED. He looked up to see Felix disappearing into a large crowd of drunken oddly shaped crewmen, gathered beneath a Stimulant Lens.
The transport was lacking paying customers, just as they had wanted. Felix met Lauren on the forward deck as the ship approached the Sol Gate.
“He said I had a limited imagination.”
Lauren smiled, “Did you tell him you could imagine yourself with all his money.”
Felix chuckled and kissed her cheek, “No.” He said, “I couldn’t find the right moment.”
Author: Alzo David-West
Wind blew over the plateau. The sky was a desolate faded blue. A woman with tangled black hair rode a slow-moving horse, a travois with a bundled load drawn after it. She wore a hide shawl and carried a broken spear. Her feet were bare and dusty.
There was a smell in the air from the rocky hillocks behind her, the smell of the men, who had pursued her for many days, and their horses. The woman kicked the flanks of her horse, but it was too tired. She looked over her shoulder.
The men, five of them, appeared. They charged their bows, and the woman quickly threw herself to the ground. The bows twanged, and stone-tipped arrows struck deeply into the head, ribs, and thighs of the horse. The herbivore staggered, lost its balance, and collapsed on its side.
The woman got up, rushed to the travois and dragged the bundle and herself down behind the fallen animal. She was panting and crouching, holding up the broken spear for whatever protection it and the body of the horse could afford. Her heart was beating rapidly.
The men had charged their bows again when a thunder sound boomed. They looked up. Their horses were uneasy. One of the men pointed in the distance. Above the red land, the vast firmament darkened, and then there was the incandescent glow of a bearded star, followed by great streams of fire that fell from the upper sky.
The woman and the men stared, entranced. The fire swept rapidly across the plateau, moving in their direction, where they were completely exposed. The flames came instantly and surged around them, crashing and exploding loudly and destructively. The men shouted and screamed, falling, running, crawling, dying.
Rocks melted, and smoke rose. The woman tumbled, pulling the load. She heard a long piercing sound, and she saw pass immediately over her a giant flaring stone that flew into a hillside. She threw out her arms, and when she looked again, the hill and the stone had shattered into boulders.
She rushed between them, with the load, and huddled there, closing her eyes, covering her ears, clenching her teeth, from the deafening sounds and the burning air. Waiting, waiting, waiting. And the fires passed.
The woman was coughing. She struggled to stand. Her face, hands, and feet were badly burned. She gazed upon the smoldering land and, in pain, kneeled down to unfasten the reed chords and hide cloth covering the load she had striven to preserve.
“Spirit creature,” she said to the strange animal before her, “you needn’t have grown so angry with us. The men, they did not know. They did not know you were the god of the sun and the sky.”
And after the woman spoke, her heart stopped, and her head fell. And the spirit creature, with obsidian skin, six feet, and a single eye, raised its thin arm and placed a metal hand on the dead woman’s shoulder.