Red Queen

Author: David Barber

“So,” Hoffmann said to Cally. “You are the poet. The one who claims to hear meanings in queentalk that our software misses.”

The man from Transuranics GmbH had brought his own translator rig; Cally listened to it murmuring the subtext of pheromones and body language in his ear.

She had come here to write about the Jirt, and found she had a gift for understanding the queen’s utterances. Hoffmann was here to talk about pitchblende and the hive workers needed to mine it.

The queen interrupted him. “Reassure this one about the future.” The Jirt queen demanded reassurance almost daily now.

Hoffmann faltered, then began again with the advantage that would be gained over other hives.

The man understood nothing, Cally thought. Absently, she rubbed her eyes; the air in the royal chamber was thick with pheromones.

The queen’s mouthparts chattered with anxiety. “But who will remember this one?”

It seemed new queens erased all traces of the old, and though the hive endured, its nameless rulers faced oblivion.

In their conversations Cally had called her the Red Queen, not guessing how the human habit of names and remembering would be seized upon. Now it was an addiction and she had become the queen’s dealer.

Tell again how this one will be spoken of, the queen would insist, after a lifetime of egg-laying, trapped by her own body, and Cally would invent kennings and couplets, weaving words and stories about the queen.

In return, Cally became the female without offspring, a concept the queen did not comprehend. How could such a trait be inherited? It had proved impossible to explain the choices those prisoned by free will make.

Again the queen asked about being remembered, and Hoffmann cleared his throat. “I like to think we will all be remembered. By colleagues. And our children.”

Cally had not expected this corporate henchman to mention his children. Again, she fended off workers, like frantic to taste her. Something was wrong.

“We should come back tomorrow…” she began, but Hoffmann pressed on.

“As I am sure you will be remembered by your own offspring.”

“There is deception here. Our hives will forget us all.”

Within the queen’s great abdomen, organs that squeezed out the hive’s future no longer pulsed and contracted, and one by one, the scurrying workers also ceased their tasks.

“Still half this one’s eggs remain!” she proclaimed. A grotesquely painted dame might lie about her age in the same way.

“Raus, raus,” Cally hissed at Hoffmann. There were languages they kept from the Jirt. “Schnell!”

And as if she was only awaiting that signal, the queen seized the man in her jaws. His eyes bulged with horror and the queen shook him in a spray of blood.

Cally fled through tunnels and spaces filled with confused workers; she carried the scent of the royal chamber which was a protection and a curse. When she found the main exit jammed with struggling soldiers, she took a side passage, pressing herself to the walls as workers darted past, spraying alarm pheromones, the chaos spreading.

Afterward, there was talk of nuking the hive to teach the Jirt a lesson, but economic sense prevailed.

The hive had no history, Cally told the Transuranics people; barren queens were devoured by their offspring, the hive boiling with murder until a new queen prevailed.

Cally wondered how she might have answered the Red Queen, for it was true, flowers wilt, headstones forget, and in the end mourners become the mourned.

The queens that came after, she did not name.

The Man From Another Future

Author: Glenn Leung

“I’m sorry, what?” I gave the man my ‘I don’t believe you, but I’m intrigued’ face.

“Perhaps I should use visual aids,” said the man as he set his drink down. He proceeded to grab a napkin from the counter and whip out a pen from his shirt pocket. In quick strokes, he drew two lines from the same point but at an angle to each other.

“See this line? Just imagine it’s nicely lined up with the bottom. That’s your world. This other line, is my world.”

I looked at his sketch with interest. They were rather straight for a man who has had three stouts. He drew a third line down the vertical of the napkin, slowing the pen as he crossed the first two.

“Now, see your world cuts this vertical line at a right-angle, correct? And my world cuts it at a smaller angle. Tell me, which line is longer between the starting point and the vertical?”

I put down the tray I was holding and leaned over the counter. I am always looking for good stories to share with the kids.

“The line that is your world?”

The man slammed his pen down victoriously.

“You got it!”

I looked up at his drowsy eyes and crooked smile.

“I really don’t.”

He laughed as he swayed in his seat, shaking his head.

“Of course! Details! These lines…are timelines!”

I thought it best to remain silent. It was clear that he had a mental script developed after many explanations.

“Our worlds started out from the same Big Bang, following nearly parallel paths in time save for a small angle. Some call them quasi-parallel universes. The angle is much smaller than what I drew here, so we’ve only gained a hundred years on you since the birth of the Multiverse.”

He took a gulp of his drink and looked at me expectantly.

“And the vertical line?”

“Ah!” another gulp. “The slider of perception. It moves along the direction in time some call the Entropy Axis. Your world’s a rare one because it’s exactly along its path, so time passes at the same rate entropy in the Multiverse increases. For my world, time passes a little faster. It is small enough so you wouldn’t notice though.”

He finished that sentence along with his beer. I handed him a glass of water which he swallowed a little too quickly.

“So…’cough’, you…’cough’, got it?”

“I think so,” I said as I wiped up his mess. “You’re from the future, just not my future.”

He gave me a thumbs-up before unceremoniously coughing into his sketch. Most bartenders would have left the man to his fantasies by now, but he gave me a feeling I just couldn’t shake off. Was this curiosity or just boredom?

“So, what brings you to our world?”

“To get away from it all,” his expression had suddenly become more solemn. “There’s nothing but conflict and strife in mine. Honestly, if you all don’t do something soon, it will be your future too.”

The chatter and music in the bar came more into focus after those words. We looked at each other in silence, the cheer gone from his face for several seconds before making an unannounced return.

“Ha! Look at me drowning the mood. You’ve still got some time, buddy! Live on strong!”

I never saw the man again after that night, but I will not be forgetting him any time soon. Whenever I read the news, the drawing on the napkin comes up clear as day.

An Oath Once Taken

Author: David C. Nutt

“As I told you to begin with, if Renslo dies, you would die too.”
I thought the Renegade Commander said that so I wouldn’t kill Renslo under the knife by violating my Hippocratic oath. Oathbreakers never understand the power of an oath taken; especially in my case. I couldn’t violate my Hippocratic oath. Not with someone wounded and helpless. These others? Deserters? Combatants? War Criminals? Not an issue.
“I did my best.”
“It’s OK doc,” one of his men said to me as he fingered his neckless of human ears, most likely my neighbors and their children, “to err is human, to forgive divine. You goofed so now it’s in God’s hands… so we’re arranging a meeting.” Gruff laughter exploded about the room. Their commander held up his and motioned for silence.
“Well, it’s best not to draw this out any farther.” The commander called up a death certificate on my room display. In cause of death under my name, he typed in ‘head trauma.’ He hit ‘enter’ and the form wouldn’t let him save the response.
I was almost ready. Just two more minutes and the set up would be complete. The outer sentries he posted had closed my compound doors for the night. As soon as his guards crossed into the courtyard, I would be ready.
The commander gave up interest in his grand jest and yawned. “Well, I suppose it’s too late for a proper execution tonight. We’ll take care of it in the morning.” There were murmurs of agreement. This was all I needed. The commander stood up. His men scrambled to their feet. The commander and his two aides went to open the door of my office. The lead man reached for the door. I heard the bolt slide, locking the door.
I smiled. I stood up. “You aren’t allowed to leave.”
The commander smiled with pure sarcasm. “I beg your pardon.”
“You may not.” The commander’s face turned red with rage.
“I don’t think-“
“By the authority vested in me as magistrate, I charge you with desertion, treason, and crimes against humanity and sentence you all to die.”
His men laughed loud and carried on a few slapped me around a bit. The commander held up his hand again.
“So harsh doctor? Or as you are now in your magistrate role I should probably say ‘Your honor’, hmmm?” His men let loose their guffaws and catcalls
This time I smiled. I saw the commander swallow. He knew he was missing something. I was done playing with him now. My two spares had eliminated the sentries. I let my left arm fall off. The laughter stopped. There was a brief moment of confusion as all the renegades processed what happened and were scrambling to find a way out. I looked their commander in the eye again. He sat down and shook his head and I triggered myself destruct mode.
From my new vantage point in the courtyard, I watched my lab implode, taking all the renegades with it. By the time I got my remaining duplicates hidden again my report was being transmitted to the regional authorities about the terrible atrocities committed and the heroic self-sacrifice one of my neighbors to take out the renegades. As decommissioned Army AI, one who survived being consigned to the scrap heap, I worked hard establishing my human profile. While not prone to human error and certainly not divine, this was the way it had to be. Then again, not being human or divine, I had a lot of wiggle room.

The Tides

Author: Timothy Goss

Where to begin?

Start at the dance. It’s a very good place to start.

But the dance was slow. Everything was on its best behaviour, including the Humans’. They were representing Kircher and his crazy ideas. The Galactic community wanted assurances – simian lineage had caused problems in the past.

“They are too young a caste.” The Jovian representative drooled. As Earth’s nearest neighbour they had observed the Human develop, witnessed their aggression and feared what might ensue. “They require greater intervention, which we are willing to provide if agreed by the community.” A willing smile leaked across its features.

The community had intervened in the past. Some of Earth’s greatest minds, biggest spirits, and most loved icons were alien influencers. They are the names known to all humanity those whose influence encompasses the globe.

A squashed Gliesian, DazC KkaR, approached the Human woman, Sofia Jewel. Both were bipedal, but the similarities end. DazC extended an odd limb in a chivalrous display and Sofia smiled a human smile, curious but cautious, suspicious not knowing the creature’s ultimate intention. Slowly she took his hand and they stepped onto the dance floor. The crowded auditorium held its breath…

It was generally unknown that humans had a culture advanced enough to develop complex patterns and sequences, especially within a rhythmic foundation. It was even harder to believe that backward humanity would be able to muster the cognitive zeal to develop rhythm into anything more than a march into war. The general opinion throughout the room was such and consequently, all awaited a confused and baffling display, a groping in the dark, a fractured ‘dance’ in name only.

Sofia knew this was her responsibility, Kircher warned her but still, she wanted to dance. As the alien music surged she searched for the familiar, she knew rhythm was a familiar fellow and when DazC KkaR failed to lead Sofia stepped up discovering a tango hidden beneath the alien hurdy-gurdy – Caminar, planeo…

Her Gliesian partner was a breed apart from most and danced like no other. He was able to predict a beings’ movement and join it in a rhythmic interchange – viborita-sacada. DazC KkaR believed all movement mimicked that of the cosmos and two bodies in close proximity must interact.

The Jovian representative slopped its foot to the beat. It could feel the tides of its being ebbed and flowed with the musical movement. The commitment of each dancer and the energy created between them spread throughout the room affecting all liquid-based castes. Sometimes life needs a reminder to live. The auditorium breathed as Human and Gliesian synchronized. Sofia considered her partner’s ability superlative and did her best to ignore its hideous appearance, while DazC KkaR did the same. It is true, Humans and Gliesians are repulsive in the flesh, but this was forgotten in the beauty of their dance.

Kircher played the odds, he was a smart man, one who could usually outwit his opponents, but these were not men and he had to remind himself of that. Here he had no power – here it was up to Sofia. She was the first volunteer and he trusted her judgment. On his deathbed, it is said that Kircher asks if anybody had heard from Sala.

Jovian influencers visited Earth regularly over the following centuries and always took great pains to observe the development and witness the progression of dance throughout the Human world. Sofia Jewel and DazC KkaR were remembered in Jovian culture so moved were they by the tides she created.

Fuzzy Logic

Author: R. J. Erbacher

“I’m sorry, what?”

Aaron was about to tip his tray of leftover lunch into the bin and now held it frozen in mid-spill. Maybe telling him wasn’t a smart idea after all. I thought, out of everyone I knew and trusted, he would have an open mind. I had worked with him for seven years and we had become good, tell-each-other-anything, friends. My secret might have just changed the whole dynamics of our relationship.

“I said, I can move from one plane of existence to another if I really concentrate.”

“You know Zoey, even the second time, that still doesn’t make sense.”

He continued with his garbage dump and we walked from the cafeteria back to our cubicles.

“I don’t know why or how but one day while I was doing yoga in my apartment – it just happened. I went from squatting on my rug looking at the rain on my window to sitting on a rock overlooking a sunny beach and gorgeous ocean. I jumped up and flashed right back because I was so freaked out. But after experimenting and fine tuning my skills for a couple of weeks I can pretty much do it at will and it’s kind of creepy and exciting at the same time.”

“You know, I have to call bullshit on this,” Aaron said.

“I’m serious!” I said a little too loudly as we strode past other workers in the hallway. “Look I have no clue how it works. I Googled it and it has something to do with changing the structure of your consciousness or vibrating at a different physical frequency. I don’t know?”

“Really? And where is this beach?”

“I don’t know that either. I don’t recognize it. It’s isolated and wonderful. No other people around. To tell you the truth it might not even be on this planet.”

He stopped so I stopped, and we stared at each other. His face was incredulous.

I saw that we were next to the copy room, so I nabbed his elbow and pulled him in and closed and locked the door.

“Just watch.”

I hiked my skirt up a little, dropped into a lotus position, closed my eyes, took a lung-filling inhale and allowed my inner self to float into free-fall. In a few seconds the smell of the room changed from ink toner to sea moisten air. I opened my eyes and was happily no longer at work. I marveled at the beauty, breathing easily, wanting to strip and plunge into the crystal swells. The feeling that had been coming on me at these moments filled me with a sense of peace that made tears come to my eyes. I wanted to be here. Always. But I knew I couldn’t stay. I let my mind return to the jarring reality of the office. I finished with a deep cleansing breath and stood up.


“Yeah that’s great. You can sit on your ass and cross your legs. So what?”

“But I just went away!”

“No, you didn’t. I was focusing intently and you just fuzzed out a little.” Aaron took off his glasses and wiped the lenses with the end of his tie. “I must need a new prescription.”

“So, how did I get this?”

I opened my hand and held out a palm full of pure white sand.

Aaron gazed at it then looked at me with a smirk. “Nice trick.”

As he left the room and went back to his desk, I wonder how long it would take me to work out the details. Until I could ‘fuzz out’ completely.