Fires of Moscow

Author: Beck Dacus

Captain Whilford sat in the command chair, glowering. As he drank coffee with a blanket around his shoulders, he wondered what could’ve possibly warranted unfreezing him a year before arriving in the enemy system.

Everyone on his ship ranking higher than a sergeant had gathered before him for this “presentation.” After they had sat silent for nearly a minute, he realized they were waiting for him to give them permission to speak.

“Out with it,” he growled.

“Uh, yessir,” the XO, Kent Bradley, said. He fumbled with the remote, turning on the viewscreen to show his captain a picture of the star they were headed toward. “This is the enemy system, sir. That’s Eiparei.”

“Okay. And?”

“That’s the entire system, sir. There’s nothing else. No planets. Not even an asteroid. Certainly no enemy forces.”

One of Whilford’s eyebrows went up. “You jokin’ with me, son? We know there are planets in this system. Not grand ones, but still. They can’t’ve just disappeared. It’s more likely that we made a wrong turn or something zany like that.”

“Well, it looks like they’re gone, sir. There’s no trace of them. And that’s Eiparei, no doubt. The spectrum’s a little strange, but we’d know that star anywhere.”

“For Christ’s sake, we took a wrong turn, didn’t we?”

“No, sir. We think that the enemy may have left the system due to increased flare activity that we observed on our way here, but we don’t know where the planets have gone.”

Just then, a scientist burst into the bridge room, waving a tablet above his head. “They didn’t run from the flares! They caused them!”

“Wh-what the hell are you saying, Kyle?” Bradley demanded from the newcomer.

“They threw their planets into the star! It couldn’t have been easy, but they did it. That’s why the spectrum of the star looked so strange! Its higher metallicity was caused by all the planets that fell in!”

The bewildered captain asked, “How the hell could they even do that?”

“Well, sir, I think they used the asteroids to get rid of the planets. Let me explain. You know what a gravitational slingshot is, right? You fall towards a planet, gaining speed, then fly away, losing the same amount of speed, but in that time the planet’s dragged you along in its orbit, giving you some of its momentum. And I mean “giving”; the planet loses an equal amount of momentum, slowing down a little. Now, with ships, the planet loses very little speed. But if asteroid after asteroid whips by, it can lose a lot. Enough to fall into the very star it orbits. Meanwhile, the asteroids have been slingshot out of the system, leaving nothing behind.”

Instead of questioning Kyle’s sanity, the captain just asked, “Why?”

“To keep us from getting resources. Anything they left behind could be used by us, so they destroyed it all. Which was a pretty good idea, because I also came to tell you that we’re screwed, Captain. We can’t get home without mining fuel from those asteroids. We’re stuck here.”

After a moment of silence, everyone within earshot despairing, Bradley said, “Not if we don’t stop. We could save our deceleration fuel and swing around to the Dzerlion system, six lightyears from here.”

“I’ll take any excuse to go back into cryo,” the captain said. “Set a course.”

Four years later, headed for Dzerlion to resupply, the ship’s telescopes noticed something odd about the asteroids in the system. They seemed to be swinging past the planets, one after another, on their way to interstellar space….


Author: Lewis Richards

The Creature moved its great head forwards, releasing a long mellow call into the night. It waited for a moment, listening for a response, but when one didn’t drift back on the wind, it ambled slowly back through the tough, knee-high grasses surrounding its nest.

Moving out of the grass and into the dug out hollow, The Creature snorted and flopped to the ground resting its head on its four forelimbs, letting out a sullen whistle. A single calf rested in the hollow, watching the adult expectantly as pulses of light flashed over mottled pattern of its skin. A Query.

The adult snorted. The Juvenile animal raised itself onto its haunches, pressing the question.

Egg Mother? Sisters? Herd?

The Bull raised its head, curling its long tail around the calf.

No Call. Lost. Just Us. The answered played over his skin, sadness colouring his luminescence a deep purple.

The Calf sat motionless, its skin fading. It huddled closer to its father. sharing their pain as they stared across the empty grasslands.

Light passed over Its skin again. Less insistent, a statement.

Sky Change.

The Male looked up, he had known this for a while, since his mate had vanished with the rest of the herd. None of the stars matched those they followed on their migratory routes.

He nuzzled the calf, comforting her.

Sleep now.

As she curled against his side, he considered what to do once the sun came up. Conditions here were good for growing calves and he had seen no predators, it made sense to stay put until the young one had grown stronger. he lowered his head and closed his opalescent eyes, dreaming of his lost family.


From behind the adaptive sim glass of Paddock 9, The game warden watched the big animal settle down for the night. Good, he thought. They hadn’t anticipated how disruptive this one’s calls would be to the rest of the creatures on the ship.

One of the Biologists studying the animals walked over to the viewing platform.

“Calling for her mate again? ” she said.

The warden nodded, he had been part of the team to lift the animals from their origin planet, these ones had close family groups, but the Institute had only wanted an adult Female and younger male to start a breeding program with.

“It’s funny, we expected her to lay a few eggs aboard the ship for us to start incubating. We caught them in the middle of their breeding season, a female of that size should be producing multiple clutches” The biologist flipped through her notes, drinking in readings of hormone levels and Feed patterns.
“You’re certain she’s definitely a she..?”

The warden shrugged, he was just there to manage the Water And food dispensers, and oversee containment protocols. he had no interest in science, just the money of the exotic animal trade.

“Hadrodons are Difficult to sex from orbit, but this one was guarding the nest. we’re fairly sure that’s the female role. If not, I can trade you one of the specimens we captured for our own venture, for a price, same herd, adult and sub-adults”

The Biologist swore. Stomping off to prepare a sweep of tests to figure out just what it is they were taking home.

Alien Child

Author: Elena Horne

Darkness is all she sees, at least at first. She blinks, her eyes closing from left to right. The darkness lets through yellow stripes; little strips of light. The sky here is like a pinstriped suit of black and gold.

It’s hard too, and so close it grazes her nose. She touches it. It’s rough, and slivers of it catch under her skin.

The ground beneath her is soft and crumbly. Is this planet falling apart? She rolls on her belly and looks around. The sky seems to end just above her head. Beyond she sees a burst of light only blocked by little green people standing in a row. She scoots over to say hello.

The green people are not very friendly. They don’t say a word, but they all wear very nice hats. Some of their hats are yellow with brown centers, some white with yellow centers. The hats fall apart when she tries to tap on them, so she takes them off.

Maybe the green people aren’t people after all. She tries eating one instead. It tastes bitter but better than the crumbling ground.

A face appears behind the green non-people. It is small and surrounded by long dark hair, just like hers, only this face blinks up and down. The face asks why she is hiding under the porch. She didn’t know she was. She doesn’t know what porch means.

The face has a name, Daisy. She has a name too, but the Daisy person can’t pronounce it, so she calls her Khayyam for short. Daisy shows her more of the green non-people, which she calls flowers. She gives them all names too, only the Daisy lets the white hat one take hers.

Khayyam tells the Daisy person her secret. She shares it when she blinks from left to right and tells her where she’s from, but the Daisy person already knows Khayyam is not from this world.

The Daisy person leans closer. Something clicks as the Daisy’s face moves through the now named green things. She has a secret too. The Daisy’s eyes blink rapidly with a gentle creak.

Khayyam pokes her in the face. It is harder than the sky Daisy named Porch.

“You may be an alien,” the Daisy person says. “But I am a cyborg.”

Mostly Human

Author: Thomas Tilton

I am not the creator, just the keeper.

People say that bots don’t have human feelings, that to assume they do is even more dangerous than assuming, say, the crocodile swimming next to you isn’t hungry.

Sure, there are dolly bots for kids, companion bots for singles, carebots for the old folk. Those bots are designed to appeal to our human sentiments. They even look mostly human.

Not the Obliterator, though.

The Obliterator is all chrome, taut wiring, gnashing metal teeth. Like something from a child’s nightmare if that child only ever saw the interior of a space station.

Nothing human there. Or so they say.

Me, I’m not so sure.

Six times a day I feed the Obliterator. Mostly protein paste supplied by the cybernetics lab, but occasionally I drop a rat down the grates. Since the Obliterator was bred to hunt, I figure it’s only proper.

It’s frightening how fast it moves.

“Sick!” remarked the boy Taos, thrilled to see the Obliterator obliterate.

“It’s something,” I agreed.

“Would it do that to a … person?” Taos asked.

“Used to,” I said. “All the time. It’s what it was built for. Warfare.”

“And it does to them like — like it does to the rat?”


“Sick,” the boy said, eyes fixed on the grates and what was underneath.

The black eyes of the machine stared back at us.

I saw only poisoned malice in those eyes, but Taos helped me see something different.

“Aw, look, he’s lonely,” said Taos.

Looked to me like it was sizing up the next meal, but — and maybe it was just the way the harsh dome lights reflected in the Obliterator’s black orbs — but maybe Taos was right.

“Can’t we find him, you know, someone?” he asked.

“I’ll have to talk to some people.”

Talk, I did. Discreetly. I kept the cybernetics folks out of it, and the command of course remained entirely in the dark. I spoke mostly to the other keepers, and a few experts outside the facility.

We finally decided on a sentient wrecking ball, but it was Taos who added the finishing touch, a bright red bow made from a scarf. Pretty assumptive about gender, I thought, but I figured it wasn’t the time for a lecture. Taos was so happy with his match-making. We dropped the ball, so to speak.

The Obliterator destroyed it.

Taos wept.

Next we tried a standard companion bot with settings for maximum sadomasochism. It, too, was obliterated. But the cries of pleasure it gave as its synthetic husk was devoured made it more like a send-off than an execution.

Afterwards, the Obliterator paced hungrily.

“Maybe it’s not lonely,” Taos said.

I had an idea then.

“Maybe we’re not giving it the right person.”

The creator was about as heavy as the wrecking ball, but quite feeble. Harnessing him was a job, but he didn’t struggle too much. Mostly he whined and spat up, as is the way with most of the old money gentry. He never learned to talk. He just communicated his whims through his implanted brain nodes.

He died, sure. But not like they said. It was a loving embrace that killed him.


Author: Mark Thomas

It was Monday, June 18th and three sets of new customers carrying identical “cosmic pet shuttles” were lined up waiting for the “Hubble Bubble” pet boarding facility to open. Each carrier happened to contain an over-sized Maine Coon cat.

Edwin naturally assumed the three couples were friends, but that wasn’t the case. As the young proprietor unlocked his door the customers were busy introducing themselves and laughing at the multiple coincidences defining their visit. Not only did they all own male, grey, slightly obese cats, but they were all thirty-ish Space Geeks about to drive to the same resort on Clear Lake to witness the arrival of the Mrkos-Pajdusakova comet.

The laughter was flowing and Edwin did his best to share their good humour, but he found the whole situation slightly weird. First of all, he rarely boarded cats, because the animals generally don’t give a shit when their owners disappear for extended periods of time, and the owners generally reciprocate by not providing particularly good care during their absences. As far as Edwin knew, when cat owners went on vacation they just left the toilet lid up and spilled an entire bag of kibble into a shoe box. Edwin’s business model was based on a team of slightly stoned high school co-op students pampering neurotic King Charles Spaniels and Labradoodles. Other pets weren’t really on his radar, despite the outlandish promises on his website.

But Edwin put on his work smile, determined to take advantage of the unexpected windfall, and showed everyone his “cat quarters.” He had mostly copied the local Humane Society’s design, but his cubicles were modified with pet doors that opened onto little fenced outdoor areas.

Everyone was suitably impressed with the facilities so they trooped back to the office area to complete their paperwork. The three humans registered valid credit cards, and the three cats had up-to-date information attached to their microchips.

The customers were bubbly with excitement, so it seemed appropriate to end the meeting with a little joke. Edwin waved the microchip scanner over the neck of one of the women, feigning disappointment when he couldn’t locate her own embedded transponder. But the smile froze on his face when the instrument emitted a loud beep.

“That’s too funny,” one of the women laughed. “Cassie, you’ve been chipped!”

“Look her up in the database!” everyone squealed, so Edwin had to enter the sixteen-digit number into the ISO program on his laptop. They all crowded around the screen to see what secrets would be revealed.
A company name appeared, Proxima L, but when Edwin tried to open a specific file he got the standard “access denied” message that seemed to accompany all wand reading errors, regardless of the cause.

“It’s my dental implants,” Cassie said. “You should see what happens when I walk through security at the airport!” There was more laughter.

“Do me! Do me!” the woman named Carina shouted. But her husband, Leo, said they all should really get in their cars and start the drive north. Traffic was always unpredictable near Vulpecula.

There was a lot of friendly waving and honking as the three cars pulled out of the parking lot.

Edwin placed each pet shuttle in separate quarters and watched the animals as they hopped out of the carriers and tentatively sniffed around. Soon, they had all been seduced by the cat-nip-infused scratching posts and had all selected good spots to recline. The animals happily stretched out their claws and licked the interstices between their toes.

Within minutes, Edwin noticed, they were thoroughly acclimated to the modest pleasures of their new environments, as if they had never, ever lived anywhere else.