Author : N. R. Crowningshield
Vera sat on the cold steel floor. Back hunched and aching. Her legs were wrapped in her arms and she buried her face in her knees. Hiding her eyes and quietly sobbing. She was unsure of how much time had passed. A loud pummel of flesh against steel startled her.
“Alex did you set the distress beacon?” Vera stammered under deep breaths. She was unable to calm herself.
“Yes Vera. I activated the distress beacon just after the phenomenon.” The ship’s computer replied in a monotonous male voice.
“Oh. Alright. Can we reposition at all?” Vera asked in a muffled voice. She kept her face planted on her knees.
“No Vera. Unfortunately John has destroyed the main engine. The damage is beyond my repair. I consumed the reserve Reaction Control fuel to surge the ship in reverse. My intention was to disengage John’s grasp on you. I am unable to perform any bio scans without you seated in the pilot chair. How is your health Vera?”
Keeping her head down, she examined her right wrist. Her scratches seeped blood and soaked the shredded carbon mesh sleeve. A dark purple bruise surrounded her wrist as an ugly bracelet. Gingerly she rotated her hand, unsure if it was broken. The other hand felt around her swollen neck, Vera assumed it was the same color as her wrist. Her throat ached with every labored breath.
“I think I’m alright. I am very shaken.Thank you for saving my life Alex.”
“It was my pleasure Vera. Protocol states that no one is to harm another crew member under any condition.”
“Not much of a crew. Only us two. Did you find out anything on that violet flash?”
“No Vera. My scanners did not read anything out of the ordinary. My visual inspection of John has lead me to believe that the phenomenon has changed his psychology drastically. His cognitive abilities may not even be of John’s anymore.”
Even in the windowless engine room, Vera recalled how the ship’s hull radiated a violet flash of light. She still smelled the acrid scent it left behind. Like overheating circuits. Vera couldn’t guess what John saw in the cockpit. She was glad she didn’t.
“Please close the blinders Alex.”
“Yes Vera.” A black screen slid across the the cockpit windows, hiding the cosmos. “Blinds closed.”
Another strike of a fist against steel.
Vera choked down a terrified scream. Hugging her legs even tighter, she heaved into heavy sobs again. She tasted the salt of her tears as they ran down her cheeks and across her lips. Her nose started to run.
“Do not worry Vera. The cockpit is secure. The cockpit door is reinforced so that no human, no matter their strength, can break it down.”
Alex’s reassurance did little for Vera’s nerves. “Damn the abyss! There is no food in here. No water. No toilet. Can’t we get a hold of anyone?” Mira snapped. Her sniffling gasps of breath broke her sentences. .
“No Vera. I cannot reach anyone on the comms. I read no malfunction in our equipment. I have concluded that there must be some interference coming from Saturn’s rings.” The ship’s artificial intelligence calculated a logical apology. “I’m sorry Vera.”
No way of returning home. No way to communicate with anyone. No way to feed herself. All she could do was wait.
A sharp shriek of nails scraped against the door.
Vera looked up and there was John. He was watching her through the window. Watching her with new violet eyes. He stood motionless. Smiling. And staring. Never blinking.
Author : Jordan Miller
I only saw him once. It was a long time ago. We fought on the monsoon world of Ceeville. Our force was pinned down by our own brethren that wanted freedom. They claimed he was real and he was leading them. None of our officers believed in such stories. We trudged through the forest, rain pelting our green body armor. We stopped at the base of a ridge, waiting for the officers to decide what to do. I looked up at the ridge as lightning flashed. A lone figure stood in the middle of the road. A shout went up and fingers pointed but as it flashed again, it was empty.
Then the fighting started. Thunder boomed, but it was man made. Slugs tore through our ranks as the revolutionaries charged from their hiding places. We began firing into the darkness but they were among us. Blades dug into exposed joints and vulnerable places. We smashed skulls and slashed bodies with our stocks and bayonets in a brutal struggle. We were actually winning. Then he appeared.
He dropped from the trees. He killed with superhuman speed and precision. Soldiers fell before him as he carved a path through us. He took shots that would have incapacitated any normal man and strode on. He was covered in gore and each kill spurred the killing frenzy of his ragtag band of revolutionaries. He kicked a soldier off the end of his weapon then he was among us.
His hammer-axe smashed the first from her feet and sent her through a tree. He was lit up red by a laser pistol beam but he kept coming. I stood mortified as he kept coming. The axe split Major Kent from the top of his head to his groin and he fell in two pieces. He butchered the other officers then turned his attention to me. As the Fleet CO, I was given a sword. I held it in a white knuckle grip and my ineffective laser pistol in the other.
He stepped over their carcasses. Rain washed his face of the blood. Lightning flashed, I saw why he was unaffected by the laser beam. He was one of us. He cut my right hand off at the elbow and the pistol dropped to the mud. I went to my knees, clutching my arm. He squatted in front of me. He took my stump and bound it with medpack tape as I watched, numb. He gripped my chin and made me look into his eyes. I noticed the sounds of battle had dwindled.
“We are free.” He whispered, his breath smelled of alcohol. Thunder rumbled as he stood me up. I looked around, I was surrounded by the humans of Ceeville. I was the only one left. Of 200,000 soldiers, he had killed all but me.
“Go and tell them, that we are free.” He said. Then they melted into the forest.
I told Fleet Command what he said. They sent millions of soldiers to their deaths. I told them not to but nobody listened. We lost the war a year later. Ceeville won their freedom. Now there are reports of freedom riots on Ada. They claim he was among them. We are going to lose.
Author : Bob Newbell
The spaceship’s aerodyne engines groaned as the vessel entered the upper atmosphere of Venus. Even after 90 years of terraforming, the air on Venus was still thick and hot. The ship banked to divert around an immense atmosphere processor. The machine was as big as a skyscraper and was held aloft by cables running up to gigantic vacuum balloons. The processor’s fusion reactor kept powerful ultraviolet lasers working around the clock to photodissociate the air’s carbon dioxide into oxygen and carbon. There were tens of thousands of such behemoths sailing through the skies of Venus.
“The air is 200°C and 30 bar,” said Fenrin as the Sleipnir descended roughly through the turbulent atmosphere. Fenrin kept his hands on the controls even though the ship’s computer was piloting the vessel. It made little sense. No human being could successfully manually navigate a ship to the surface of Venus. Not in one piece anyway.
“That’s why we have environment suits,” replied Tarrol. The aging but serviceable robot’s use of “we” was not a figure of speech. He, too, would need to don an environment suit.
“I’m still not sure about this,” said Fenrin. “The cost of refitting the Sleipnir to withstand Venus’ atmosphere, the cost of the environment suits, the cost in fuel coming out here.”
“Things will work out,” said Tarrol. “What’s down there is worth a lot of money.”
“Then why doesn’t the current owner of the item sell it to the Academic Consortium and cut us out of the deal?”
“Because the current owner is a roustabout machine. He doesn’t have an advanced metaprocessor. An excess of abstract thought would be a liability for someone working on Venus. The robot that found the item is a tunneler. All he does is dig into the crust so enormous cables can be run underground.”
“For what purpose?”
“Venus has virtually no magnetic field. Not enough convection in the liquid outer core of the planet to generate a field that can protect against cosmic radiation. So they’re having to construct huge underground coils to create a field. Giant thermocouples running deep into the planet will eventually power it. It was while digging that the robot got into the chamber that housed the object.”
“And he has no idea of its potential value?”
“No. All he understands is his job. I told him I could sell the item and get him more advanced disc cutters so he could tunnel faster.”
The Sleipnir landed and Fenrin and Tarrol disembarked and met their contact. The robot was the size of a house and it had no name, only a number: TR717. Tarrol and TR717 silently negotiated via radio for a few seconds. Then, the large tunneling machine turned the item over to the pair. They climbed back into their ship and lifted off.
After they were back in space, Fenrin examined the object with gloved hands.
“We probably shouldn’t handle it too much,” advised Tarrol. “It’s around two billion years old and likely fragile.”
Fenrin nodded and put the metallic ball back into a receptacle. He tried to mentally reconcile the sphere’s blue global ocean with the seas with which he was acquainted. He attempted to recognize a continent or a coastline from the strange land masses depicted in brown on the object’s surface. At last, he decided he could do neither.
“Proof of an ancient civilization on Venus and a picture of Earth’s surface around the advent of photosynthesis,” Fenrin said to Tarrol. “I say we ask the Consortium for an even trillion and negotiate from there.”
Author : Kellee Kranendonk
I’m not crazy. Really, I’m not. But since they put me in this cracker-box palace and started giving me drugs, I’ve been able to handle the visions much better. They’d like me to tell them I’m not seeing things. But I am.
And I remember the first time it happened – when my team and I first came back from planet W1.3, otherwise known as Alusinar. Strange events that play out in my mind as memories. But they never actually happened. At least not in this. . . reality. I’ve figured that out now.
It’s like seeing your reflection in a broken mirror.Each shard reflects a version of you. You see, for every choice we make, there are alternate paths we could have chosen, each one having a different result, sometimes a drastic one. I see all the alternatives, as if each person in each piece of glass is real and living my life only making different decisions. Hundreds of them. Every variant of every option fast forwarding in my head. Me, stuck in a career I hate. Me, married with kids. Me, planet-hopping and loving every minute of it.
They won’t let me – or anyone else – go back to Alusinar. Not until they find something to cure me. But only those beings on W1.3 can help me. Sometimes I hear them calling to me. They want me to come back. I think they made me one of them somehow. The sound is only in my brain but it’s as real as I am. I can’t explain how I know it’s real. It exists like the wind. You can’t see it but you can hear it and feel it.
Not all the visions I have are bad, but those are the ones I remember best. Like the one where my team and I decide to go to W1.1 despite the black screen on the probe.
In that reality, tiny creatures jump out of the darkness and attach themselves to the back of your neck. I remember their razor-sharp teeth cutting into my skin. Their tongues slithering into the incision and sucking my
blood until my life-force is gone.
Then there’s the one where no peace talks are held with the giants of W0.3 and they destroy T’Rauy, my world. I remember giant people with giant weapons dropping in from an enormous ship in the sky and taking no hostages in the massacre.
But we did hold peace talks and I didn’t die on W1.1. I’m still here, real and alive, hostage only to something I can’t explain.
All of the possibilities, good or bad, mash and mingle with each other until I can’t make out one from the other, can’t single out one memory, actual or optional, and all I’m left with is my own sad reality here in this white, round room. Later, I remember some of them as dreams, but I know they’re real.
Unless I take the drugs. Then I see nothing but spectral images of people floating around me, talking and giving me things to eat and drink, and pills to keep me in this haze. Then I remember nothing but the food, water and pills from the day before. The sounds in my brain are reduced to a hum, like tinnitus in my ears.
But I don’t always take the drugs. Sometimes I want to see the possibilities, to remember the few I can and tell my story to anyone who will listen.
It’s like being a voyeur and watching other people’s lives, except it’s my life. All those images. Hundreds of possibilities every time a choice is made.
Maybe they’re alternative realities. Existing lives I’m leading in other actualities. Maybe that’s what the voices want to tell me.
Why can’t I just take my team and go back to W1.3? I’ll make them take a closer look at the viridian luminosity. I’ll make them see it wasn’t just noxious vapours.
I remember now. It touched me. Reached out to my mind, my soul. A peaceful life-form trying to connect.
With me. With humans.
They’ll see that I’m not crazy. Really.
Is anyone listening?
Author : Morrow Brady
Our first return mission from Mars was a complete success. The journey to the red planet, the orbit to surface transfer, the vast exploration and the return trip – all went perfectly to plan. The astronauts returned to ticker tape parades and talk shows across the globe.
However, microscopic stowaways on board the return spaceship proved to be resistant to the standard decontamination procedures and once a full understanding emerged, they had already begun to flourish and spread. Earth was the perfect nursery.
As soon as it was discovered they were asexual and were constantly ejecting offspring from pores along their carapaces, the nukes were launched. The shockwaves from the detonations only served to disperse them further and within 18 months, technology began to falter as their preference for anything electronic became evident. The tiny invaders excreted iron dust, which rusted immediately and coated everything in red – earning them the name Rusty.
Year upon year, Rusty grew larger in size and by the third year, though kitten sized, Rusty’s omnivorous appetite was insatiable. State funding, rewarded citizens with food for dead Rustys and freely issued barbaric clubs. However, as soon it was thought a zone had been cleared, Rusty would emerge from the cracks.
After six years, only a few insular island communities remained clear of Rusty. Rusty always found a way in though. When the mobile incinerators – eaten from the inside out by engorged dog size Rustys – began to litter the streets, martial law came into effect. Piecemeal repairs became the new street appeal as homeowners did what they could to patch the large holes in their houses. Horror stories emerged of pets, small children and itinerants vanishing overnight.
A decade had passed and as soon as the army’s arsenal ran out, soldiers simply dispersed. Sofa sized Rustys were now favouring concrete, causing high-rise buildings to collapse without warning. Cities became too dangerous and with the countryside barren after Rusty’s first wave, suburbia – with its enclaves and community driven action teams – became the last hope. A place where vigilant eyes came together on the street to promptly defend what little remained. A tribal society.
Fifteen years passed and we ceased to care what year it was and just tried to survive day to day. The air tasted like gritty blood as Rusty continued to transform our blue planet into mining town red. Rusty’s hunger turned to suck the marrow from what remained on our planet’s surface. Survivors clung to life in make-shift castles made from detritus.
Twenty years on, we learnt to build from Rusty’s excreta. It was the only thing Rusty wouldn’t eat. With food scarce, we learn that if you pried apart Rusty’s hardened outer shell, deep within an intricate biology, there was a purple organ, that didn’t kill you. It tasted like chalky escargot.
With the land all but barren, Rusty headed to the seas. Like a receding blood tsunami, Rusty dined at the tidal break, ingesting seawater and sea life alike until he digested the ocean to the horizon. In time, the world’s deepest underwater trench became the last river and was filled with engorged whale size Rustys.
Three decades on and there were few of us left. Having eaten all food sources, Rusty began to shrink. When we thought harmony had been reached, the spaceships arrived to reveal the true masters. It took them very little effort to finish us off. The Mars-forming biology they planted three decades earlier had worked perfectly.
Here in their zoo, there aren’t many humans left.