Dry

Author : Beck Dacus

The organic machine hobbled unsteadily on the shoreline, leaving wet tracks in the sand. The gelatinous-lensed camera gazed up and the blue sky, and noticed a strange crescent, apparently far above, lit by the Sun. This was a surprise to the remote operators deep in the ocean behind the robot.

“What could it possibly be?” asked a shiny-scaled, broad-finned technician, turning his armored head to the mission commander. “Is there yet another world, above this new one we’re exploring?”

“Irrelevant,” the commander replied. “Our machine cannot swim up in the thin gas of the Highworld, so we should focus on what we can reach. Move forward.”

On badly jointed, uncertainly constructed legs, the spidery robot responded to its command, limping uphill, away from home, into the arid Highworld.

For a long time, there was nothing to be seen but a rocky, unworn landscape. Away from shore, the rocks enlarged and sharpened, gradually giving the rover a harder and harder time. It took around an hour for the clumsy assemblage to clear the rise that had been visible ever since it scrambled from the waves, which was farther than any other of the explorers had ever gone. Its high vantage point gave it a wide, clear view of the much wider Highworld, apparently stretching on for leagues.

The machine saw movement.

“What could that have been?” one of the scientists asked, more to herself than anyone else. Nobody could answer her question.

“Is it possible that there’s life up there?” a journalist asked.

“I don’t see how,” the commander said. “How could they move? It’s unlikely that they could float up there. And how could anything survive without water?”

“Isn’t that what our machine is doing?” an engineer refuted.

“Right, yes” he said sarcastically. “Some fish decided to take a trip onto land and turn into robots.”

The crowd gathered at the event released bubbles of amusement. They were silenced when an armored, six-legged monster landed in front of the robot.

“By the Shimmer!” someone said. “What the hell is that!?”

A segmented tail curved above the beast, before lashing at the camera, blurring the image in the lower-left corner. Then the front claws took care of all four of the explorer’s legs, while the tail repeatedly sunk into the stone-and-seaweed exoskeleton of the rover until the camera went dark.

“The Project’s been completely destroyed,” said the head engineer, mourning the loss of his brainchild. “Hundreds of days of work, destroyed in instants. Torn completely apart.”

“By life,” a biologist chimed in. “Life in the Highworld. Life on land.”

“Did you see that thing’s legs!?” another technician said excitedly. “They absorbed all that impact force on the jump, and it walked circles around the rover like it was nothing! Imagine making a machine with those legs!”

“How could it live without water?” someone else wondered. “Wait… could it be holding it inside itself? That armor looked pretty sturdy.”

“All we know,” the commander said, “Is that we have a lot to learn. Now make preparations for another rover. We’re going again. And this time it’ll be really fun.”

The Decider

Author : Gray Blix

It had been nearly a year since he’d brought a girl home, and his heart raced as he fumbled in his pocket for keys.

“Need help?” she asked, groping in the general area of his pocket.

Her face so close, he couldn’t help but say, “You’re beautiful.”

“You don’t have to say that, hon, I’m already here.”

“No, really,” leaning in for a kiss.

Backing away, “Not yet, mister, not until I see some green.”

“Right, of course.”

Inside the door, pulling off each other’s clothes, they stumbled onto the couch.

“Mine or yours?” he asked.

“I only trust mine.”

Opening her bag, she removed a device about the size and shape of a hair dryer.

“Better do me first, while you can,” he said.

She pressed the icon for Male on the touch screen, and a concave-sided probe emerged from the business-end of the device. Placing it on his…

“Ouch,” he said, as it pricked and captured a sample of blood along with flora and fauna on his skin.
“Poor baby.”

At the tone, she lifted the probe, which retracted, and seconds later Decider Headquarters transmitted a 24-hour clearance for his DNA, signified by a green light.

He was relieved, too relieved, it turned out.

She pressed the Female icon, and a smooth-sided probe emerged.

Reaching for the device, he offered, “Do you want me to…”

“NO! I’ll do it,” she said, carefully inserting it.

She gasped as the samples were obtained. At the tone, she withdrew the probe, which retracted, and this time a flashing green light conveyed both her clearance and DHQ approval for the couple to have coitus.

“We’re good to go, hon,” returning the device to her bag.

Looking down, “Uh, how ’bout we just snuggle awhile?” he said.

At DHQ headquarters across town, a prisoner peered out of a window to a chamber within which he was strapped to a chair.

A technician made final adjustments. “It’s calibrated. We’re good to go.”

An interrogator looked in, “For the last time, did you murder your mother-in-law?”

Desperately, via a tinny speaker, “Like I told you a million times, no, NO!”

They all looked toward a panel on the opposite wall. Seconds later, a red light shone brightly.

“Sorry, pal, it’s out of our hands,” the interrogator said, covering his eyes as a white flash rendered the prisoner’s body lifeless and smoldering.

Elsewhere in the capital, deep below the White House in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, two dozen people sat in silence, staring at a green light flashing on a device at the center of a conference table.

“We cannot… I cannot allow a computer to make this decision, to send us into all-out nuclear war.”

“But, Mr. President,” reminded the Secretary of Defense, “Congress has explicitly ceded to this computer the responsibility to analyze data, to declare an existential threat to our country, and to decide when and how our military should respond. It is your responsibility as Commander in Chief to carry out that response.”

“Not when it means the mutual destruction and death of…”

“We’ve gone over this for hours,” interrupted the Vice President, “and all of your points have been thoughtfully considered by us and by the The Decider. I regret to inform you that it has declared you mentally impaired and that I am assuming your powers and duties as Acting President.”

He motioned Secret Service agents to remove the President from the PEOC.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, green flashes reflecting in his eyes, rose to his feet.
“Mr. President, are we…?”

“Yes, we’re good to go.”

Collision Course

Author : Rick Tobin

“You, Mister…” The pause came as the micro servers moved quietly in the administrator, shiny and stoic, with a mere chest and head. Minute flashes drifted over hardened aluminum oxide in ever flitting artificial eyes. Arms were unnecessary. Improved perforated urethane from the ancient artists of Kao Corporation provided just enough false humanity on its face to reduce interface stress—still a common condition for those remaining on Earth.

“That’s Kelso, with a K, not a C.” His overbite impeded his diction, but there was no distinct accent. Speech patterns were awash with sand from world travels.

“Yes, well, you are what we call in this bureau an accidental.” Mouth elements moved the straight, strict lips under a static set of nostrils.

“A what?” Grizzled, worn and filthy from the abandoned streets, John Kelso leaned forward toward his caseworker. His right hand wore the scars of loose ropes let wild on the last tuna boat to sail from Tuvalu in the Pacific. The left hand was short a pinky finger from his act of attrition for sleeping with a Yakuza’s wife.

“An unregistered birth that was probably unplanned and therefore unreported.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you are privy to no rights for support from the Society.”

“That makes no sense. My parents were both full citizens. You have their registration in front of you, on screen.” He leaned back, fuming, against his long coat made from a water buffalo hide prepared after a hunt in Thailand.

“I have the records of a couple from Indiana who had three registered children who are now meaningful and productive full citizens. Their records show no familiarity or acknowledgement of your existence.”

“Why should they? I was the oldest when my parents died. None of them were older than three. At twelve I was abandoned by my blood relatives and left to wander and survive in Indianapolis on my own.”

“Unlikely. No child could survive that.” The worker remained motionless.

“False, again. I found many like myself. I’ve since traveled much of this planet and made, I believe, a better place of it, which is more than I can say for many of your registered patrons.”

“Rumor, innuendo and slander—all useless attempts at your concept of validation. They have no effect on me.” Its face turned away from the applicant, fulfilling an algorithm to reduce conflict.

“I tell you I have a right to basic life support until I can get financially stable. My parents left a large estate behind. I’ve checked.” Kelso rubbed his arm where splintered bone ached during the changing weather. A fall in the Andes left a reminder of soroche and failed climbing ropes.

“Only for registered citizens. The Society only sets aside support for those registered. It has been that way since 2130. You are an accidental. There is no further action to take, but you have an alternative.”

“Such as?”

“Off world transport from Earth to one of the newer colonies on the created moons in the Kuiper Belt. There you would be assigned appropriate labor, food and housing.”

“You mean a prison sentence for simply existing. No thanks to that. I like sunlight and air that doesn’t come out of a recycle cartridge. I’d starve first.”

“There are hospice beds available down the street.”

“Does this mean nothing to you? Do you even care?”

“I am not programmed to care. I simply state facts based on evidence.”

“Oh, and how did you get your cushy assignment, sitting here all day, throwing those with real skin out the door?”

“Well, Mr. Kelso, it was not by accident.”

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The Lingering Evacuation

Author : Christopher Ferri

“Wait, just one more look,” Mary said to Arthur before heading back into the house. Having just gotten seated in the car, he put the key into the ignition and let out a sigh before running his hands back through his hair.

Arthur gave a small pound on the steering wheel and got up to go inside. He had already caught Mary once trying to hide small personal items in her clothes.

They have scanners, he told her, they will only make you remove them then anyways.

The personal preference kits that FEMA had mailed were already as full as they could get. The contents of each had been mulled over obsessively for the last two weeks.

Arthur entered the house and found Mary kneeling on the floor over a cardboard box. The box was filled with children’s artwork, finger paintings of rainbows, hand traced turkeys, a snowman made out of popsicle sticks with cotton balls and several others.

“We photographed all these, right?” she said.

“Mare, theres nothing in this house we haven’t photographed.”

She got up and walked over to the dining room table, her eyes empty. Atop the table were several plastic pins, each labeled with their contents. Photos, letters, etc. She lifted a small box from inside a bin marked jewelry and took out a silver necklace.

“Come on Mary,” Arthur said. “Don’t do this to yourself.”

“The rest of our lives… we will spend on a ship. We’ll never even know if mankind makes it to…”

“Wolf 1061c. Though, I’m sure they’ll come up with a better name for it. Who knows? Maybe we can offer some suggestions? We’ll have all the time in the world.”

“No, we’ll have more.”

Mary sat down at the corner of the table and looked out into the backyard, the sun beginning to shine through the naked trees. Arthur looked over at the clock. He sat down beside her at the head of the table.

“But did you ever think you’d be an astronaut someday? I certainly didn’t. I mean, not that I wouldn’t be… but you? Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

Mary let out a short burst of laughter before beginning to sob.

“Thank god for that fantastic body or I never would have been able to convince them to let you go with us,” he said.

  Mary wiped the tears from her face.

“Be careful what you say. They might have to redo your mental health assessment.” 

“Then I’ll have to fake it again.”

“How many days will we be in orbit?” she asked him.

“Us? We’ll be up there for about two weeks before the ark departs.”

“I wish we could just spend it down here.”

“That’s not how this works. We have to get in that car and never look back.”

Mary got up from the table, crouched beside the box of artwork again, and picked up some of the construction paper pieces. She gripped them tighter and tighter in her hand, not speaking a word. Arthur stood up from the table and slowly moved to approach her. Just as he was about to touch her shoulders she ripped up all the artwork in her hands and tossed it in the air like it was confetti. She got up and briskly moved toward the door.

“Well, what are we waiting for?”

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Real Heroes

Author : Callum Wallace

Ain’t even the puppets that’re the problem, you know?

It’s the heroes.

Useless, mate. Zoomin’ in with their lasers, their super strength. Christ, gimme a rifle and a scope any day, never mind that bollocks.

Shit.

Goes to show, bein’ the world’s greatest detective, or faster than a speedin’ bloody train, matters bugger all if there’s seven billion hands clawin’ at you. Turns out they underestimated ‘em. Or, rather, the heroes overestimated themselves. Bloody knobbers.

Wankers flying around, heat visioning and bloody chuckin’ ten tonne slabs o’ rock about, destroyin’ everything. Christ, I’d rather have a school of blind kids have my back then those caped clowns. You gotta be trained. And you gotta be ranged. Those lot that went in, fists raised, screamin’ about Valhalla, or whatever bloody planet they came from, know what happened to them? They got destroyed, or became a puppet themselves.

And when it takes two mags of bullpup to take a puppet down, it’s no joke. Bad enough we had regular pups to sort, we had to deal with those super charged mooks too. Ain’t no takin’ them down.

Lost thousands of civvies during, you know?

Shit flying everywhere, HQ banging on about pussy shit like public relations and that.

We’re fighting for our survival, defending humanity, that’s real humans, against the onslaught of infected, and who do they care about?

The fucking heroes.

The worst thing?

The worst thing is that people still bang on about ‘em. ‘Oooh, she has a magic rope, he talks to fish’, man o’ iron, blah, blah, blah.

Christ, no one talks about us.

Real heroes.

When some wally is chuckin’ cars about and some other wally is setting mooks on fire with his fuckin’ eyes, who has to deal with it?

Us.

The real heroes.

Shit.

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