Author : Gray Blix
It had been the perfect plan. Throw spitballs at the substitute English teacher, get sent to the assistant principal, spend an hour after school in detention, and walk home in peace. For once, he would make it through a day at Central High without being pummeled by the school bully and his gang of five. And the plan was working.
The hallway was empty. He didn’t head for the front doors, of course. Billy might be waiting at the bottom of the steps. Instead, he took a side exit and walked towards the gate to 12th Street. But half way there he saw the gate was locked. Could he climb over that chain link fence, at least twice his height? No. It might have been built to keep people out, but it served to keep him in. He’d have to use the front doors after all. Turning around, he saw Billy and his gang approaching. They split up to cut off his escape routes. Two of them came ahead to to grab him, one on each arm, and hold him for Billy.
He was in a panic as Billy’s face filled his field of vision. He felt his heart pounding and heard his quick breaths and the hiss of escaping atmosphere on one side and a rush of air filling the vacuum on the other. Hoses and cables detached and he felt a mild shock, which awakened him from a deep sleep. Arising, he bumped his head on the lid, which was opening slowly, and tried to remember what he’d been dreaming. As always, he could not.
“You have visitors,” a soft voice intoned.
Climbing out of the pod unsteadily, he was momentarily chilled and confused. Realizing that he was completely naked, he donned a one-piece jump suit hanging by the opening to his chamber and slid his feet into a pair of slippers. As he warmed, the voice said, “Follow the arrow,” which had appeared on the floor and begun moving out of the chamber and down the hall. He saw no one as he followed the arrow past other chambers and through open doors which closed behind him. Finally, he entered a room in which two people sat at a table. He sat on the opposite side.
“My, but you have grown,” he heard himself say to his daughter.
“Why don’t you have any hair, daddy,” the girl replied.
He knew that. He closed his eyes and remembered. The voice had told him to rub a cream all over his body that first day and then to shower all the hair away. He had watched it go down the drain, never to return. Then he had been dried by blasts of warm air, after which he had followed the arrow to the medical…
“Did you HEAR me, daddy?”
“Yes. Hair. ‘Nobody here to impress, no need to bother with hair,’ the voice told me, so they, or he, well, actually I…”
“You look well,” his wife offered, helpfully. “better than you did before.”
It was true. The combination of nutritional infusions, along with drugs and electrical stimulation, kept his body trim and toned.
“Was it the same voice that talks to us, daddy?”
“I guess so. I’ve only ever heard the one voice here.”
“Welcome to Acme Detention,” it had said in its soothing way to the small group of visitors just minutes before. “This ultra secure and fully automated facility houses 1,984 inmates, all sentenced to life without parole, in a hygienic and safe environment. Acme does not punish. It merely encourages reflection and contemplation.”
Author : Bob Newbell
“I’m tired of hearing about Mars!” said the Russian envoy. It was a sentiment the other diplomats in the room could understand. A year earlier, a dozen nations had collectively decided that the Martian colonists’ repeated attempts to secede from Earth had gone on long enough. The colonists had begun with appeals which had progressed over time to demands and then to acts of violence. Some called them terrorists and some called them freedom fighters. The leaders of the nations represented in the room had called them a security risk.
“We’re all tired of it,” said the American diplomat. He looked to the window with annoyance. Even now there were protesters outside the building chanting that the great powers were guilty of genocide. “But the Mars Expeditionary Force’s after-action report is almost complete. And it contains something potentially disturbing. We may not have had the last of our trouble with the colonists.”
“There were survivors?” asked the Russian. “Even if that was the case, they would be in no position to–”
“There were no survivors,” said a voice from the far end of the table. It was the Chinese representative, a middle-aged woman. “The strike was quite successful in destroying both the habitation domes and the underground facilities.”
“No one survived,” said the Indonesian envoy. “Our ground forces confirmed the orbital bombardment was totally effective.”
“Then I do not see the problem,” said the Russian.
“A team of American and Chinese marines were sent to Deimos to see if there were any colonists manning the mining facility’s mass driver. The marines discovered it was gone.” The American sighed and sat back in his chair.
The Russian leaned forward. “How could they have relocated the driver to another location on Deimos? Something that massive–”
“He didn’t mean the mass driver was gone,” said the Chinese woman. “He meant Deimos was gone.”
“You’re telling me Mars’ outer moon is missing? Why would–” The Russian stopped speaking. He turned pale. “Bozhe moi!”
Just then the building started to shudder. The angry chants in the street below turned into shrieks of terror. A fireball redder than the sands of Mars rose on the horizon.
Author : Rick Tobin
Routine tapping of useless, dilated, vestigial nostrils against thick glass…perhaps a hope for release. Considering death, but they won’t allow that. Not now. I swim to the tank bottom, again, praying someone, once human, will join me. I remember land life.
Sheila glowed at Elephant Butte Lake. Not an oasis, but watering holes in the high desert are blessings. Dust devils trashed our blue tent. We saved gear that didn’t fly off. “Just for one night,” I kept telling her, convinced that moonrise over sparse mesquite and rabbit brush would be worthwhile. We rested by sleepy firelight as three visitors arrived.
My first response was to shoo them away, but Sheila was ever empathetic, always reaching to anyone like lost puppies. The two men were older than we were and rough. I knew the signs of biker gangs frequenting Albuquerque. My old man was a truck driver for the feds when they built Manzano Peak base. He warned me about felons. They gathered around us, the two bikers on either side of me, as their pet whore sat behind Sheila. It seemed odd, until she grabbed Sheila’s chest and covered her mouth. The bookcases beside me rushed in, but I swiveled past, heading for the tent where my dad’s pepper gun was stashed under sleeping bags. He warned me about the curse, the black inlaid handle made from a meteorite. “It will never wound,” he scolded, as he passed it to me days before his entry into hospice.
They were already on me as I rolled out the pistol. It happened in seconds. Two dead men lay face down in grit and sand. My feet automatically sped toward the fire. Sheila’s throat was slit open before her attacker charged me. After that, it was a blur. I remember horrifying photos at the trial. It didn’t matter Sheila was dead…it was what I did. “Such inhumanity requires the death penalty.” By then I had already been beaten twice and knifed in jail, until confined in solitaire. DARPA people visited a week later, beginning my watery journey.
What did I have to lose? Military medical volunteers wouldn’t face the gas chamber. Soon I was underground near Dulce. Researchers tested me, took blood, and held rigorous exams. In a month, I was escorted to a brightly lit room with panels of lights monitored on a far wall. Unchained and lifted into a hexagonal booth made of thick Plexiglas, I saw perforations on stainless steel flooring, while above a fan whirred. The observers adjusted instruments and then pulled a throttle bar. A turbulence of red, blue and black particles exploded upward, spinning throughout the containment. Minute shards struck, and then invaded. I collapsed into darkness from excruciating pain.
My waking was dreadful. There was no air. The doctors and nurses above me held a dripping intubation hose as I flopped helplessly, choking. “Better move him in now,” directed the doctor. “There won’t be time for an adjustment. They’ll either work or not, but open air will kill him.”
The nurses rolled me over a plastic sheet I struggled on, and into a horse-trough sized tank. It bubbled with oxygen feeds. I found instant relief, but shock, as my lungs failed. I panicked; sure of drowning…but no…I felt my throat oscillating gently. I reached up with webbed fingers to discover gills wafting fresh water over their red surfaces. That was the beginning—proof an aquanaut soldier could be developed. The beginning, only they know how long ago, as I age with my land memories in this crystal bowl, alone, but alive.
Author : Erin Ritch
When I build a world in my mind, I build it from the ground up. Brick by brick, beam by beam, I know every corner as though I constructed it with my own hands. And in a way, I have. I find solace in the details. Peace in the straight, sturdy lines. In my dreams, I escape to these structures and explore them. And now, I send myself there to escape the pain.
I knew better than to land in that storm, and of all places, on Harmsway. But I was low on fuel, having been led off course by a snag in my navigation system. Damn interns, budget cuts had promoted them into Certified System Analysts and now their lack of experience was probably going to cost me my life.
I only remember glimpses of consciousness during my descent. With sickening cracks my craft tumbled through the thick trees, disintegrating in flashes of light. When I awoke, I took inventory. My head, my torso, my arms, my hands, my legs – they’re all there. My craft is shattered and I am half attached to my captain’s seat, probably from an attempt to eject at some point. I free my arm and drop to the half submerged floor. It’s at this point I realize I can’t move my legs.
“Shit,” I struggle into a sitting position. My voice causes a dozen creatures to scatter, scuttling into the black rainforest. Above me, just past arm’s reach, my radio is scratching. Somehow, someway, it has found a signal through the dense treetops. I extend my right arm and reach for the radio, cursing the broken limbs that are dragging me down.
The radio sputters as if losing charge and I hold my breath, counting the seconds in between crackles of life. The battery is on its last power cell. With my extended arm I pull myself back up into my dislodged captain’s seat. My heart pumps painfully as I focus everything on the strength in my arms. My broken craft rattles along with me as I finally strap myself into the harness.
My head is spinning and I notice a trickle of blood that has been drip, drip, dripping down my face. Fuzzy darkness begins to creep in around the edges of my vision and I feel myself slipping back to that structure in my mind, enticed by the safety of its tombs. Maybe if I close my eyes for just a moment, I can find some reprieve. Suddenly a voice shouts my name over the radio and I reach up instinctively, grabbing the radio calling out my coordinates.
“Roger your relayed Mayday,” crackles back across the radio. “Hold on.”
I was sinking fast. The floor of the broken craft was now completely submerged. I shake my head and stare down at the murky waters. Small blue algae flicker through the water, glistening even in the absence of light. Blood from my head wound falls like red rain and the organisms swarm around the droplets. Movement catches my eye as the algae part. I reach for my pocket knife, still hooked to my back belt loop.
I don’t know how long it will take help to get here. I don’t know who was on the other side of that radio. Maybe one of those interns had finally figured something out. Through my broken craft, I see the light of dawn begin to break through. In my mind, the sunlight appears through cracks in the sky. I close my eyes from atop the fortress in mind, forever safe there within those straight, sturdy lines.
Author : Lester L Weil
We were twenty years into the journey to our new planet. The ship required very little maintenance and all of us slept in our pods. The computer detected that one of the pods had malfunctioned, an unheard of occurrence. Protocol was that as Captain, I was to be awaken in the event of any problem to assess the situation. I woke to find a very confused young boy wandering the pod area. I put him to my pod and activated it and notified the computer to update the pod assignments.
Then I set about trying to correct the malfunction. With help of the computer, I discovered that the core mechanism was irrevocably broken, and without a replacement the pod was beyond repair. Almost all parts that needed replacing could be fabricated in our shop, but the pod core wasn’t one of them. There were no extra pods; there was not the space on the ship for ‘extras’.
So there would be no hyper-sleep for me. I would have to stay in real time. I would captain my ship while the rest slept in their pods, waiting to wake to a new world. They would be young and ready to start afresh. I would be an old man, irrelevant after the voyage has ended.
But I’ll be ok I told myself. I’ve always preferred living alone and the quiet days and years in space will give me plenty of time to read and play the piano, although the computer simulation is a poor substitute for my old Steinway.
So I read, thousands of books about everything. I studied history using the computer’s vast library and wrote treatises on various historical events. And what could be more useless on a new planet than an old man: esoteric earth histories. I composed not very good piano music. I wrote a novel and a book on philosophy. I played untold games of chess against the computer.
I got to know most of the passengers by name, and also their life histories by reading their files. I think of the pod rooms as my ‘neighborhoods’. The sleepers are my neighbors and I sometimes have imaginary conversations with them.
And so the years flowed by and another birthday came around. If I subtract the ‘pod’ years I am 86 today. If things go right I will spend my 87th on planet SR6973, our destination.
On this morning’s walk through the pod rooms—It’s odd that even after all these years of artificial lights I still think in terms of day and night, morning and evening. I linger in the section with families, looking at the children and again wonder what their young minds were thinking when starting this voyage. What wild and strange imaginings of their future world?
But enough of this. Today I wake the crew and we prepare for the final descent to our new home. I go to the crew’s section and start making preparations. My X/O is the first to wake. As he shook the cobwebs from his mind, he looked at me in wonder.
“Captain?—Jesus. Is that you? What the hell happened?”