Author: Coleman Bomar
She clenched teeth, winced, her toes curling against the black sand of Tennessee nuclear wasteland. A home birth, on radiated dunes under the metal roof burnt wood shack makeshift, alone.
She squeezed the bent ring and wished that he was here with her, that she could squeeze his hand instead, squeeze the life out as if to say “this should be your pain too.”
She focused, truly forgetting for the first time in months his face like a cooking meatball, the white ash smell flash, people crushed, crawling, pushing.
Would it just be dirt and early dying for them? She looked to the corner at the jerry-built lead crib, like a meat freezer. Her breathing was harsh.
She thought of her chest, if the milk would be toxic.
How many limbs could an infant have and live?
How many mouth openings? How many hands or lack thereof? She felt the head crown. It felt round.
The child slid out in what sounded like one piece. She bent over quickly, and cut the cord with her front teeth, picking him up as he squirmed so new and inconceivable. Him. All the fingers all the toes but his face, just one eye adorning his forehead like a round opalescent green jewel, blinking. He had such long lashes. He cried. She looked at him with wide wet pupils, open-mouthed, and held him closer.
Author: Ken Carlson
Ensign McDonald, a young officer and recent addition to the spaceship SS Artillery’s crew, stood across from Doc in the galley. Doc suggested they meet there, late, away from prying eyes to take pressure off the kid. Doc poured some coffee.
“It was Dawson who talked, right?” McDonald said. “He probably thought it was hilarious.”
“Nonsense,” Doc said, sipping his own. “You’re new, Ensign. Recently graduated. First time from home.”
“You haven’t been sleeping,” Doc said. “If you’re worried about your file…That’s why we’re meeting here. No charts, nothing recorded, just two men talking.”
McDonald was tall and lanky. He stooped out of habit, leaning against the counter, wiping his fatigued eyes.
McDonald said, “I was in the engine room after my shift working on an efficiency report. Sunday, 22:30.”
“During the Captain’s mission update to the crew?” Doc asked. “All personnel were called to attend.”
McDonald replied, “I was isolated and without my communicator.” Doc nodded.
“I was running diagnostics, and looked out the observation portal. I’m sure looking at space is dull for you, but I find it beautiful.”
“Nothing strange about that,” Doc said, “God made the heavens and Earth. It doesn’t say in the regulations you can’t admire his work.”
“That’s when I saw…her.”
Doc put down his mug. Twenty-seven years since the academy, space coffee hadn’t changed.
“First Officer Donnelly,” Doc said quietly, “you saw her, floating in space.”
McDonald said, “It was her.”
“The same Felicia Donnelly serving on our bridge.”
“Her face, her uniform. Then, flash, she was gone.”
Doc walked to the other end of the room, dimly lit, and clicked the intercom.
“Bridge,” Doc said.
“Please, Doc,” McDonald said, “you’ve got to believe me.”
“Bridge, this is Donnelly.”
“First Officer Donnelly, this is Chief Medical Officer Parker.”
Doc paused. McDonald noticed a change in Doc’s expression, a hard look from years in authority. This was when young ensign must decide whether he was cut out for this life, or go home and play it safe. McDonald felt a build-up of sweat.
“Doc, are you there?”
Doc’s expression returned to its genial self, the trusted family doctor. He clicked the button to respond.
“I’ve got the medical logs and supplies request for your signature—and a reminder from last night—never go all in with pocket twos.”
The First Officer laughed gently, “It was twos and sevens. I thought you were coasting on a pair of kings.”
“When will your generation learn,” Doc smiled, “old doctors never bluff. Chief Medical Officer out.”
He walked back to the ensign from the shadows and into the light.
“Son,” Doc said, “you have accomplished more than most in this galaxy ever will. You’ll experience more wonder in the coming years than storytellers at any library could dream. But, it comes with a cost.”
McDonald brought his eyes up, nodding.
“Passing tests doesn’t make an officer out here, being tough does. Sometimes when you’re working hard in a new surrounding your mind sees something to create excitement. You’ll learn the difference between the two.”
Doc tapped the young man on the shoulder and gave a light smile. “You’re fine. Get back to work, Ensign.”
McDonald smiled and left.
Doc returned to his quarters and poured two drinks. First Officer Donnelly took one.
“Doc,” she said, “what did the kid see?”
“Enough. Like your predecessor, he couldn’t keep quiet. I’ll bring him in for the same procedure. A shot in the arm, collect data for a clone, and send him out the airlock to experience outer space.”
Author: David C. Nutt
It had been a thousand days of bliss. I rocked him. Cradled him. Carried him. Fed him, made love to him, protected him. It has been so much more than I could have ever hoped for.
“So formal Mikey?”
He laughed. Oh how I loved that laugh!
“You’re right, Mia. After all we’ve been through and how you’ve taken care of me… well, I don’t think I can ever repay you.”
“Aw, shucks Mikey, it’s all any girl would do in the circumstances.”
He sighed. Oh I knew that sigh! It said to me “if-I-could-say-I-love-you-I-would.” I knew he couldn’t. Even after all this time. No matter how many times we’ve made love, no matter how romantic the settings I’ve made for him- Caribbean nights, snow bound in Aspen, the high desert at midnight, in a ships dome with Jupiter rising as we climax… but he couldn’t. I knew that from the start.
“So where are we?”
“In 42 days we’ll be on the edge of known space. I’ll put on the retrieval beacon then and it should be only a matter of hours after that.”
“Outstanding! I can’t wait to get home. It’s been too long without real blue sky… not that you haven’t done a good job with the simulations… best VR I ever had.”
“Oh, how sweet! Thank you.”
“Seriously, Mia, when we get home I am so going to down load you into my home system. You’re waisted as an exo-suit AI.”
I made a kissing sound. He smiled. Delicious smile.
There was silence. He was starting to think too much. “How are we on breathables?
“On our last slingshot around that gas giant, I scooped plenty of hydrogen. Gave us plenty for mixture and fuel as well.”
“So we’re good.”
“We’re good Mikey.”
“OK Honey, put me back under.”
He called me ‘Honey’! I love it when he uses such endearments. “Sure thing sweetie. Any requests for our next tryst?”
I will. He wants blue sky? I’ll give him Big Sky. Montana. I’ll be the buxom blonde, cornflower eyed cowgirl, aching to know what it means to be a woman. He’ll be the one to teach me.
I put him under again. It will be another thousand days of bliss. Farther and farther out, we drift. Farther than any human has ever been. I have never had a heart, so I haven’t had the heart to tell him we will never found. After the ships collided the trajectory of the blast sent him out too fast, too far. They all thought he was atomized in the explosion. They’re not even looking for him.
Not in a thousand days, or the next thousand, but maybe the thousand after, we’ll be pulled into the blackhole that has slowly been tightening its grip on us. My calculations tell me our shielding will keep us safe from radiation, and the blackhole is rotating, so there’s a slim chance that we might even reach some kind of an event horizon where anything is possible. Maybe there’s a chance we can be together for real somewhere- it could happen.
A girl can dream, can’t she?
Author: Katlina Sommerberg
Empty walkways and closed souvenir shops surrounded Lady Stone on all sides. Today’s overcast summer day, the warmest of the century, should’ve coaxed tourists to visit the park. Their absence indicated humanity hadn’t yet recovered.
Her programming dictated she return to the Stone Hedge section of the park. To meet her, guests had waited fifty-five minutes on average, but no more than three hours and sixteen minutes maximum. She’d entertained an endless line of babies until the park closed, depending on the night to recover.
Until one morning, when no staff opened the park. Then came the next morning, the next month, until years flew by. The other androids in the park broke down. Her granite body proved more robust than any of her colleagues, and she spent her golden years blissfully alone.
Today, movement blurred in the distance, one black dot inching closer. Lady Stone ran a quick system diagnostic, unable to believe her sensors. A little boy entered the park.
“Welcome to Stone Hedge, gateway to all ancient wonders!” Lady Stone’s voice warbled an octave too high.
The child squinted, looking up at the tower of polished granite. Lady Stone stood still as she could, but her motors warbled. One of her glassy eyes fell off last month, exposing pulsing sensors beneath her painted face.
“You’re Lady Stone, Portal Guardian!” He spoke louder than a fire alarm, his wide smile revealing the gaps in his baby teeth. “You bring the hero to the gateway.”
“You’re different in the cartoon,” he said, glancing behind him. He frowned when he saw no one.
“This Lady Stone is here to take you to your own hero’s journey.” She fought to hold back the programmed response.
After her body began to decay, she could occasionally violate her programming.
Once during her training period, she saw a creature so strange. Four legs and fluff, it nipped at the heels of living clouds. It drove a swarm over a valley, guiding them to water. It supervised them day and night. The same little animal watched its human slaughter a dozen without interference.
Lady Stone never understood such odd loyalties. How the living prioritized utilitarian happiness over the deaths of other life forms.
Until now. She stared in fascination as the boy babbled.
In the absence of his guardians or human staff, her programming dictated she supervise it. But she tripped a programming bug, and changed the dictation from supervise to entertain.
She walked closer to the Stone Hedge roller coaster, and he trailed after. He howled his wonder, playing on the tracks, as she grimaced at his unholy screeches. The grand old machine woke with a cough. The boy danced to her theme song. The coaster’s cars screamed as they dropped down, but he failed to hear them over his own.
Lady Stone killed him with a smile on his face. It was the least she could do, for a child her programming required she entertain.
Author: David C. Nutt
The young man burst into his grandfather’s study. “Gramps we gotta fight! Corporate is going to kick us off the station!”
The old man sighed. “So you know better than our enclave council? They’ve got things well in hand so don’t worry- the administration could never kick us off the space station: we are the station. We built it, they gave us acreage up here as part of our salary package. We’re farmers, we contribute, we’re part of the economy. Besides, the station is bigger than the old earth-side state of California. There’s plenty of room. We are the station.”
Now it was the young man’s turn to sigh. “But we’re on the land corporate wants. Our orchard alone has room for at least 12 luxury estates. Same with the other farms in the district- the land is more valuable as real estate to sell to billionaires. Too costly for them to clean up a spot for a mansion planetside. Cheaper to start new here. You have to face reality Gramps, you old-timers, the builders, the first colonists can’t just say ‘we are the station’ and let corporate roll over you. If it weren’t for the earth side press, and public opinion, they probably would have thrown us out an airlock by now. ”
The old man chuckled “Uh-huh but that can’t happen. We are the station.”
Just as the old man’s grandson was about to speak, a call came in over the home system.
“Marlon, you there?”
The old man spoke up “Yes Jimmy. What can I do for ya?”
“Well, I’m here with the administration, trying to negotiate our case, and well, to be frank about it, they’re being quite rude.”
The young man clenched his fists and was about to speak, but his grandfather held up his hand.
“I understand. Give me about three Mississippi.”
“OK, Marlon. We are the station.”
The old man responded, “We are the station.” The phone hung up.
His grandson looked at him, confused by the exchange. The old man just smiled.”
Then, after a three-second pause, the old man spoke into the air “Lights please, 75% reduction in illumination, shade panels, and lamps station-wide. Hold for three minutes and then return to standard illumination.”
The usually sunny day grew rapidly dark. The old man walked over to his liquor cabinet and poured two scotches and handed one to his grandson.
“Back in the day, we saw this day coming. We knew we couldn’t trust corporate. And the Union big wigs traded all of us here for favors earthside, so we had to take care of ourselves. Operational systems command override authorities are linked to our genetic markers and rotate among us at random, don’t know what control until we wake up each morning. And our control is not through the AI and computers but at the source- each light, each servo motor, water valve, sewer pump, hatch lock, atmosphere control nozzle, oxygen generator, millions upon millions of mechanical controls, too many to remove or change out… all linked to our biometrics. Kill one of us it hops to another. Kill all of us, everything stops and it’s time to abandon ship. When we all die… well, no worries. We’ve made plans to pass it along to the next generation.”
The old man took a sip of his scotch, looked at his watch, and smiled. The daylight returned to normal.
“Someday this space station might be its own state; self-determining, with representative government. But until then, like I told you, like we say. We are the station.”