First Contact

Author : Steven Carver

One last tremor ran through the pod as it passed into the atmosphere of the small blue planet. The heat shield retracted from the viewport and the pilot got his first view of a real ocean. His home planet had dried into an uninhabitable barren husk long before he had been born. None of the old pictures could have prepared him for the real thing. Deep blue unbroken from horizon to horizon, lines of white marked the top of waves, where the light of their star reflected off the surface, blinding. The sight so enthralled him it was several moments before he registered the descent warning; his entry angle was too steep. With great reluctance, he tore his eyes away and adjusted his trajectory. As his course corrected, it brought into view his targets. Two grey vessels came into view far below him, cutting proudly through the waves.

Others had tried to persuade him, convince him to stay. Too violent, they had said, too shortsighted. He couldn’t deny their arguments, but he had studied them long after others had given them up as incompatible. He had a good feeling about them. For a species so good at violence, they also had a penchant for beauty rarely seen in the galaxy. Paintings, sculptures, poems, music, games, movies, stories, dance, their creativity was endless.

Destroyers, his research had revealed, they were called. Arleigh Burke-class. Powerful warships belonging to a powerful nation. His best chance to for an audience. By now he was low enough to start maneuvering into position to land. He could see the symbols painted on the front of the ships, 97 on the left one, 88 on the right. His control panel indicated they were tracking his flight with high power beams of microwave radiation. RADAR they called it, and he laughed to himself, remembering reading about when his people used before they had abandoned their home world.

For such a small planet, they were certainly noisy. Broadcasting audio and 2-D video into space without even trying to hide where they were. They didn’t even know there was anyone that could be listening. He had listened though. They were a young species, but curious. They could grow replacement organs in labs, they were cloning livestock and launching probes into deeper and deeper space. They were ready.

His gamble paid off, they were more curious than cautious today. He guided his pod to a gentle landing on the flat portion of the rear of the ship marked 97. As the engines shut down he could already see them coming out of the interior. Wearing protective armor and pointing their projectile weapons at his ship, they almost would have been intimidating if they could pierce his survival suit, let alone the hull. Placing the clear helmet over his head with trembling hands, he took a deep breath of the canned atmosphere he would be breathing for the foreseeable future and tried to contain his excitement. The pod slowly slid open and he stepped out into the sun. He slowly lifted his hands to show them to be empty. He moved his face into the unfamiliar expression they would recognize as a smile, and hopefully interpret as friendly, and took a breath.

“Take me to your leader.”

Program incomplete

Author : Elle B Sullivan

“I’d like to file a complaint.”

The teller looks back over the counter at me, and sighs audibly. “You will have to fill out form 3C,” he replies in a monotone voice.

He hands the form over to me and I take it to the seating area behind me, grabbing a pen on the way.

I look down at the form and fill in the fields I already know without hesitation. However when the complaint form asks what the complaint is about – there is a subsection for the subject or name of the item I am complaining about.

“Roxanne,” I mumble. I write down “Program vixen vacation: Roxanne” and the correct program number.

“What is your complaint?” The prompt asks me and I stare back at it.

Where do I begin?

Do I start with my initial experience and explain how pleased I was?
Do I talk about the program’s ending and my expectations which – were not met?
Or do I talk about the dreams… and her voice… and all of the memories still haunting me?

“Program did not sufficiently end.” I write and look back over the form. “Program was enjoyable at first, left a euphoric feeling once completed as expected. However the expected feeling has not subsided, I am still feeling euphoric and-”

Sad… Distraught… Inconsolable…

Heartbroken.

“- the program has not ended. I have restarted the system, cleaned out the cache, and re-integrated all visualization elements.” But all I see is her face… I miss her. “And I would like the program to be fully terminated.” I finish the form and look over the completed form before handing it over to the teller.

As I walk home, a couple walks past me and I swear it’s her voice I hear. Every passing face on the sidewalk looks like hers… Every curve of the passing woman’s hips feels so familiar. I see her bouncing hair, her big eyes, and her full lips, and every face – it’s her face. I love Roxanne. I miss Roxanne.

Once I get home, I put on my visualization device and enter into a new program. It’s one I purchased that is meant to calm anxiety and instill a mental calm. As soon as it begins, I think about how much she would love it. How much she would enjoy doing it with me.

Where is she now? Who is she with now? Does she think of me?

No.

She can’t.

She can’t think of me. I am but the flavor of the week for her, just her client for that day.

Two days later I received a message back about my complaint. It reads:

“Dear Sir or Madam,

We are sorry the “Program Vixen Vacation: Roxanne” did not end well for you. We are not sure what could be causing the issue of recurrence, as the effects of the program should terminate once the program has been removed from the device. However we are happy to set up a service date for your device, and we will resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

But they can never get rid of Roxanne.

Roxanne is not in the visualization device. Nor is she in any program I own. She is real.

The time we spent together will stay with me forever, my heart belongs to Roxanne. And I will never forget her.

Red Squirrels

Author : Robert Lafosse

She was on her way to the Kyiv National University of Construction. It was a glorious May morning, the sun beating down from a crystal blue sky. A light breeze ruffled her skirt a bit as she walked.

Olga hummed along to a tune on her iPod. Something by U2.

In the field off the path she noticed a group of squirrels milling about under a hornbeam tree. It was a fairly large pack, about 10 or 12, and they were hopping around and chasing each other.

They were red squirrels, of the genus Sciurus. Cute because of their tufted ears.

As Olga came closer, they stopped as a group and turned towards her. People didn’t bother them. They didn’t flee or poise themselves for flight. They just watched her.

She noticed that one of the squirrels was larger than the rest. Not much, maybe a few centimeters, but enough to make it stand out. As she watched, the larger squirrel started coming towards her, in that half hopping, half running way that squirrels have. This is odd, Olga thought, and slowed down to watch. The squirrel was coming directly towards her, seemingly immune to fear.

When it was about 5 meters away, it stopped and sat on its haunches. When it was closer Olga noticed that its eyes were abnormally large for a squirrel. They looked like lemurs eyes, big, round like marbles. And they were staring at her.

This made her feel uncomfortable. The pack of squirrels that the big one had abandoned had edged closer to the path as Olga was watching the larger one.

Turning on her heel, she started walking again towards the University. Only after a few dozen steps did she glance over her shoulder and notice that the larger squirrel was following her down the path. When she stopped to look at it, the squirrel stopped as well.

She started walking again, this time faster. A few quick peeks confirmed that the large red squirrel was following, and the pack of ‘normal’ squirrels were a few meters behind it.

Something akin to panic set in. The path was deserted, the park was dead quiet and she was being tailed by a scurry of squirrels.

Awash in fear, she bounded up the tree. The branches and leaves scratching at her face as she scampered up as fast as she could. The notion that squirrels were designed for climbing trees seemed to have escaped her.

The dray of squirrels rummaged about at the bottom of the tree. The big one was climbing.

It slowly pulled itself up, all the while staring at Olga as she was perched dangerously on the uppermost branch she could reach. But her path was not blocked. She could not go any higher, she could not descend without passing the big squirrel.

Unlike the scampering that squirrels usually do when climbing, its movements were slow and deliberate. All the while its large eyes fixed on Olga.

About 1 meter from Olga, it sat down. Her breath came in great gasps and she could hear her heart thundering in her chest.

After a few minutes, with the squirrel sitting still, Olga started to calm down.

“Have you calmed down young lady”, the voice was high pitched and had a slight Moscow accent. “My friends and I”, and it gestured down to the group at the bottom of the tree, “could not help but notice you have some peanut butter sandwiches. Would it be an imposition for you to share them with us?”

She could have sworn it smiled.

All That Glitters

Author : Janet Shell Anderson

The WORLSNEWS says she’s got the best body on the planet. So where’s Giovanna Tatiana Romanova Baldwin? Not in Gulf Stream/Delray.

The Secret Service’s going crazy at my cousin’s huge estate. He’s been elected Vice Pres. He thought they’d never win, didn’t bother to campaign. Now his wife Giovanna has disappeared for the third time. The Pres Elect is coming, and my cuz, Perry Austrian Baldwin, can’t find out from anyone why they’re supposed to have a victory tour in Delray. There’s nothing here anymore around Gulf Stream/Delray but old, big money, drunk in vast houses, secreted in deep shrubbery, while the rest of us riff-raff’re stuck with heaps of rusting motor cycles, vans, ancient SUVs; neon palm reader signs; huge oil rigs; tidal flooding. We’re awash in talking manatees, miniature Pleistocene mammals, rainbow marmosets that are very political, creatures not fashionable anymore. They can smell who you voted for and react accordingly. Now posh people collect teacup-sized, pot-bellied pigs that grunt salutes, quote Heidegger, Nietzsche.

There are Chinese gunboats in the waterway. I saw one as I crossed the bridge to the A1A. I’m Eudora Pennifer, divorce attorney. Giovanna’s friend. Half the country hates the new Pres Elect and Perry too, half loves them. The line’s at the Mississippi, except for Minneapolis, which hates everybody.

So I’m on the road to my cuz’s estate, but my self-driving car turns into a parking lot for a nude beach on the Atlantic side near Pelican Avenue, and, sure enough, I spot six Secret Service agents assigned to Perry, who decided to charge them all ninety-five thousand a week rent. Now they’re living on the beach. Their shoulder holsters look stark on guys not even wearing Speedos.

Is Giovanna here? What does this car know? The plan was she’d be long gone. I’d file. I squint in the glare. Could she be the one with the high, metallic mane, fourteen carat, glittering, flashing out some private code? Unlikely.

A big sign warns “Children of the Sun Only. No Trespassing.” A loose marmoset climbs on it, defecates. Is this political? The agents look to be following the glittering lady closely as she strolls among broken shells, seaweed, Styrofoam, pink condoms, blue poisonous Portuguese-men-of-war. Aphrodite in the waves. Beach cleaners on strike. The gunmen like the look of her.

This island’s narrow here. Through palms, across the two-lane highway, I can see the Gulf Stream Waterway and Chinese gunboats. They’re watching, like pirates, with old-fashioned spyglasses. Hunting treasure?

My car, on its own, departs the beach, hurtles up my cousin’s private drive that says, “Private Drive, Keep Out,” toward the waterway, where the Chinese gunboats glide in beside Perry’s infinity pool. A pygmy mammoth pops out of the jacaranda, his fur trimmed like a poodle, and cries, “Alas, alas. Babylon is fallen.” He looks awfully hot.

“I don’t wanna be Second Lady,” a young creature says. Second Lady? She looks twelve, though loaded with enough gold jewelry to weigh down Helen of Troy. She’s certainly not Giovanna.

“Don’t worry,” Perry says, assisting her aboard the gunboat. He waves to me. Smiles.

Good thing I always get paid up front. Wonder where he’ll go? I whistle to the mammoth. “Get in, Buddy. Let’s go home.”

Enroute

Author : Pratyush Mishra

There are moments of desperation and…
There are times when I have a glimpse of who I truly am and then suddenly…

There are those moments when I can hear the White Lady walk in with the notes. She brandishes the hypodermic syringe and pats my arm… a shot and a searing Pain… I feel I won’t collapse but…

There is a little girl with bright brown eyes and head full of curls. She calls me M… but even though she is familiar I don’t recognise her.

I haven’t been able to remember the past few days. My head hurts as if huge volumes of vodka are coursing through my veins. It is that kind of headache.

I don’t remember who I am anymore.

“The drug NRo2 has been doing wonders on him. Soon you can take him home.” The man in the lab coat smiles at a group of people. He ruffles my head and walks away.
It feels like a new sensation altogether.

I look at myself in the mirror as I dress up.
They shove me gently into a car and we drive through the rustic lanes of the town. I’m sure I have seen this place before, but it somehow feels different.

The girl sits by me holding my arm softly.
I am yet to ascertain what story her gaze hides.

The house is a sprawling one.
An old man greets me at the garden and affably pats my back.

He mumbles something I can’t quite hear.
As I walk into the house, portraits of an old couple greet me. Those eyes of the old woman look strangely familiar and yet I can’t seem to know for sure if I’ve ever known her.

“This is your room”, the old man signals, smiling toothlessly.

I look around at the neatly arranged papers and desk.

There is a tall mirror in front of me.
I walk towards it and remove the curtains.
Inside the mirror I see a lanky adolescent looking confusedly back at me.

And then I remember.
NRo2.

The Aging Enrouter gene. NRo2, the drug, my brain child.

Now I know who the girl is. Well, I can merely grin devilishly at my reflection.

Bah! Not too old am I to spend a bit more years fooling around.