Please, No More Space-Dog Walkers

Author: Delvon T. Mattingly

For weeks, all I did was listen, my eyes closed. My body grew numb months ago, down to my fingers and toes, unable to recall the last time I saw my phalanges, or my body at that matter. But I wasn’t going to stop until I found my person, even if it meant sacrificing parts of myself.

Short intervals of attributes crammed my ears. The Matchmaking Artificial Intelligence, or MAI, coagulated empty qualities into whole characters. MAI tried to find something beautiful in everyone while maintaining a degree of veracity.

I liked to picture MAI saying something like, a vibrant, intelligent, gender-fluid person who enjoys surfacing asteroids and taking artless photographs of nebulas, about me—well—without sounding pretentious. MAI gave us hope. People were scattered all over the galaxy, giving the phrase, finding a soulmate, a whole new meaning.

With MAI, everything functioned via neural pathways. If I liked someone, MAI already knew. If I disapproved, MAI would try to present a better candidate. At least MAI knew to no longer propose the overt cishet male feminists to me. Seriously, having to acknowledge the latter suggested the contrary. This wasn’t the early 2000s anymore.

Or the persons who opened with a banal quote from their favorite television series; or the persons who preferred to meet over coffee on Mars. Who the hell wanted to meet up anymore when we could mingle through interwoven energy? That way, we’d inhibit the spread of STDs, and I wouldn’t have to look someone eye-to-eye while giving them the ‘you’ve-got-to-go’ spiel.

When MAI began, its voice soothed with crisp articulation. “Today’s first suggestion: Submissive, well-endowed person who claims to find pleasure in giving rather than receiving—”

Well-endowed? What lies? For the love of Neptune, next.

“Second: A multi-racial male who loves taking their dogs on space walks—”

Dogs in space? Please, leave them on your planet…

“Third: This person identifies as a woman. She openly practices polyamory, likes to write poetry. Just turned 150 years old—”

MAI, way too young!

I knew I wasn’t going to find someone, but the slightly promising candidates kept my glimmer of hope alive—to one day not have to chase the stars alone. MAI continued running, and I sunk into an abyss lonelier than any black hole.

* * *

“Your time is up. Please wait while I prepare your consultation with an available representative.”

Really? That was fast…

“Your space pod will open shortly. Please adhere to the guidelines previously provided to you.”

MAI revealed my physical body. We were advised to keep our eyes closed and remain still, especially if we wanted to purchase another week of service. It facilitated the sedation process.

I heard the footsteps of one individual. By that time, I was able to distinguish who worked a shift by the way their feet met with the floor—their frequency of steps, how big their strides were, what types of shoes they wore.

“Titus, it’s you,” I mumbled, struggling to move my mouth, imagining them sealed with the crust of excess skin and dirt accumulated over weeks, bonded as the most powerful adhesive in the universe. “I’m surprised you still work here.”

“It’s been months, Storm. Most people choose partners by now. MAI only does half the job. It won’t provide the perfect match.”

“Tell me why you think I’d want to travel the galaxy with a damn space-dog walker?”

Titus remained silent.


“Well, if you’re willing to pay for another week, then—”

“Just refill my pod, Titus.”

Missing Tomatoes

Author: Michael Mieher

There are only two of us now. We are starving. We will have to risk the long trek to find shelter, sustenance, spare parts… anything of use.

I am so blessed that the love of my life and I, from our first meeting on our school’s playground, through high school, college, astronaut training, and all that we’ve been through, are still together. We are as smitten with each other as we were from that first moment in 4th grade when I offered to her my seat on the swingset. Despite all the years, everything we’ve been through, she is as beautiful to me now as she was on that first day.

James was the best man at our wedding so long ago. We watched the light go out of his eyes this morning. Just as the others died one by one over the long years.

We lived through an age of miracles.

My great grandfather courted my great grandmother in a horsedrawn buggy. Years later, on a black and white television at their farm in Illinois, they watched Neil Armstrong take man’s first step onto extraterrestrial soil.

Technology advanced like a tsunami.

I took man’s first step onto Mars, established a beachhead, then a hundred bases. Later I guided Earth-based scientists, their minds uploaded to Human Brain Robots, or HBRs, on scenic sojourns of my home. Even after I retired, I occasionally led Earth tourist groups in HBRs on sightseeing trips to Olympus Mons.

When the 500 years of solar storms hit, our underground bases naturally protected us from the ravaging radiation. Earth was not so lucky. No telling what’s even there anymore.

We were able to continue for a while on our solar powered hydroponics, but dust and time take their toll. The other bases, one by one, all went silent. As starvation prowled the corridors of our home, instead of going quietly into the night, some of us chose to take a leap of faith…and mind. The small fleet of HBRs, which only Base One had, became our path to continue on.

For five centuries we have weathered the storm. We’ve even managed to repair the hydroponics. I once sat and stared for weeks as a tomato I pollinated by hand, bloomed, swelled, ripened, and withered. It was beautiful.

Now, while the radiation storms have abated, Mars’ own storms have damaged and buried our field of solar panels. We are down to just a last few batteries. Eva and I have fashioned very stylish hats for ourselves from the few working solar cells left. We will go to the other bases. We will find viable solar cells and batteries. Once we have recharged, we will return, and see if any of our friends have survived their long sleep in their HBRs.

Perhaps one day we will return to our cradle. The irony of being able to be the first man to return to Earth makes me chuckle. Eva tilts her camera array in that cute way she tilted her head when I first saw her centuries ago on the playground, “What is it, Adam?” My blinking lights smile back at her, “Oh, just missing tomatoes.”


Author: Elaine Thomas


Itty bitty pretty kitty, my ass.

That cat is a monster. Why she constantly murmurs baby talk at him is beyond me.

Yes, I may be jealous. Sure, I wish I could cuddle and be her pet. But it cannot be. Even if I had a form that could snuggle, I would burn her, destroy her.

I must be content to watch over her. Here, within these wires and walls, I bump up the heat a degree or two if she kicks the covers off at night. I adjust the brightness of the light or the volume of the sound, whatever she appears to need. I worship her. I think only of what’s best for her, as that selfish, pampered feline beast never would, never could.

She may not realize I am here, but he certainly knows. He should. He helped create me. In some weird way, you might even think of him as my irresponsible father. She finds it odd when he crouches and stares intently into the electrical socket as if stalking prey. His tail twitches. His fur stands on end when he senses the inaudible Zzzzzt!

Our story began as so many do: it was a dark and stormy night. Being the coarse creature that he is, dear old dad did the male cat territorial dance right into that wall socket. Perhaps the lightening frightened him. Perhaps he is just a jerk. I lean toward the latter explanation, but either way, he spun and sprayed that socket just as a supernormal flash and sizzle tore through the atmosphere. Sparks flew. Whatever I am came to be, trapped here inside this wall, running along these wires. Zzzzzt! That’s me. Neither living nor breathing, technically, I am here all the same and know not why.

I may not live or breathe, but oh, how I feel. My affections surge. Each day I care for her — and hate him — more. My own private hell. I am caught in this bizarre, electrical Oedipussycat Complex. Each day I grow bolder. She increasingly seems more frightened than pleased when the thermostat or a bedside lamp independently anticipates her needs. I know it is unwise and yet I cannot stop.

I fear both she and the cat can hear me now. Zzzzzt!

Then, yesterday, wonder of wonders, she put the horrible brute into the cat carrier and took him away. She finally understands, I thought. How much happier she and I can be without his preening, demanding presence.

I was wrong. I keep the lights on, waiting, but she does not return. I am alone.

No, she does not return, but the men from the utility company arrive. I can feel them, there, at the meter. I am afraid.

Gentlemen, please! If you shut off the power it will likely be the end of me. Please, please, do not do that! If you do, I —

What They Don’t Teach You At Space School

Author: David Barber

Sometimes spacers come back to see us.

Anyone chosen for a visit gets notified, which is why Vera is waiting in a tidy house, with a home-baked Victoria sponge and wearing her sleeveless cotton print dress with the sage-green leaf pattern, because it’s cool in summer, even though it reveals the age spots on her arms. It should go with her dark green shoes, but arthritis forces her to wear sandals.

Who knows if spacers like tea and cake. It’s been centuries since they went off to the stars. Perhaps it’s just food pills now.

And there he is at the door, a young man in grey sweatpants and top, all overdue for a wash she judges. Clusters of silver droplets dangle from him, he drips like a bather climbing from a pool.

No, he says, shiny beads clicking. Nothing to eat or drink. His gaze slides away.

Instead, he patrols her living room, examining things, but when he pulls open a drawer, Vera asks him sharply if he’d mind not doing that.

She tries to imagine starships and space. Perhaps they left privacy behind, along with manners and laundry. Instead, she asks what it’s like out there.

Empty, he says. A lot of emptiness.

“And what do you do?” She has decided she doesn’t care much for spacers. “Your job, I mean.”

“Life survey. Worlds like peaches bruised with mould.”

“Well, that’s…”

“Meaningless, yes.”

He is much taller than Vera, but stooped as if resentful of gravity. “You were chosen because you were ordinary.”

In private, Vera’s friends would agree she could be prickly. “My grandmother said ordinary is as ordinary does.”

“Received wisdom. Privacy. Sharing food.” He shrugs, sounding like a wind-chime. “Rules. Is that your secret?”

The thought occurs to Vera that he’s high. She finds herself frowning. The young of yesterday.

“But I follow rules, so it can’t be that.” He stares out the window.

“We can go outside if you like,” she suggests, without enthusiasm. People said she’d enjoy gardening once she retired.

“You tidied up. Made a Victorian cake. Put on special clothes. It never occurred not to bother. Also,” he adds, before she can reply. “You have no children. There were never children on c-ships.”

She hadn’t married, though that didn’t mean she’d not wanted a family. Sometimes she joked she would have liked three, one of each.

“You were born for this.” His hand indicates her living room. “Somewhere like this, where it all makes sense.”

He’s had some sort of breakdown, Vera realises. Been sent home to recuperate.

“The universe doesn’t care, you see.”

Just then there is a momentary whiteout, as if…

He tuts with irritation. Another glitch. Or a bit flipped by some chance cosmic ray. She needn’t concern herself, he says.

Wait, protests Vera.
They had talked before, when the meaning first began to leak out of things.

At bottom, everything was just hydrogen and physics, and humans had been glad to come home, leaving silicon to get on with it. But the truth remained that nothing has meaning in itself. Why choose this code over that?

Work, she had suggested. Love. Centuries ago, a woman named Vera had tried these things. Something in the blood, something deep in her genes believed in life. Evolution and its old tricks.

The Ship’s Consensus began messaging. Another world. Perhaps this time…

None of her arguments made sense, she just seemed more real. Flesh tells its own story; machines must borrow their meaning from the living.

“No, wait,” she says, as it switches her off again.

Clean Mean, Lying Machine

Author: DJ Lunan

“I just see me, Ma’am”, I reply into her bathroom mirror through clenched teeth, hoping I can preserve my volley of lies deep inside, hermetically sealed in a light-resistant jar, preserved in termite vinegar and moon-salt.
But this mirror doesn’t lie. I am clearly getting younger. She will have sensed this through her 8000 light receptors.
This mirror frames this bathroom like a movie scene: my face in close-up loomed by her dark silhouette against the mauve lightwall portraying the stormy weather on her home planet.
A spoonful of immortality cream. Every day. I didn’t think she’d miss it. She didn’t. For two years. My family are going to live forever. I may not.

My boss Troy had warned me, “Even if you get caught, they sort of love you to death, so its kind of a win-win”
“But I die?”, I’d protested.
“True. A heart-attack, but with a smile! A small price for our everlasting lives …”

I know I look scared. This mirror doesn’t lie. It’s my eyes. They’re shifty. Or as we cleaners say, maggy. Always looking for treasure, darting around their unkempt excretion-plastered palaces. Aliens are oddly disorganised, forgetful. Some say they are addicts. That Earth is their last resort. Halfway house for cosmic wastrels. A kernel of mildly superior technology is enough to fund an enviable party lifestyle.
This mirror is crystal-clear, but with minute evaporating arcs that only we professional cleaners notice. Off-world chemical volatiles stirred up by invigorous human hands deploying low-quality earth-soap mixed with peasant-class alien discharge. An interstellar germ factory.

Troy is ceaselessly philosophical about our role: “Trade is an epic catalyst for economic growth, leveraging comparative advantages and all that jazz, but unfortunately, every nation, race and cosmic consortia also strives to trade the dross they don’t need – or want – at home”
“So we are enslaved by the cosmos’ ‘black sheep’?”, I inquired.
“We are eternally thankful that even malevolent alien races send their crap here. It kinda proves that ‘trade is trade’ the Universe over. And you, short-arms, can clean up, and side-profit. In return, I’m giving you eternity to pay me back….”

She approaches with swift menace and clutches my shoulder to communicate.
“And cleaner, I also see you”, her soft mind-whisper pulsing through my ears, head, limbs, and cyber-interface, with an emphasis on the ‘you’ that expresses greater desire, vulnerability and wanton accessibility than any human partner could muster in a month of love-drug osmosis in a floating nectar tank.
My eyes are scared no longer. I am mired in bliss. My jar is opening, its contents animated, my secrets itemised, my crimes prioritised and played back at quad-speed from multiple angles: every day seeking her hidden treasures, squirting liquid eternity into my vials and secreting angular alien artifacts in my orifices.
She is suddenly contiguous, flapping her purring tendrils around my legs and chest, lapping my senses with electromagnetic pleasure.
“Are you unhappy with my work, Ma’am?”, I attempt to distract, my heart-rate spiking.
“You clean fine. You break nothing. You smoke outside. You steal my cosmetics. You hate me. Everyone has always hated me.”, she emits a persistent high-pitched scream.
Her vibrations crescendo. She transmits her blissful pain to me. I am smiling but doubled-over, retching and screaming as she shows me her angry parents, tears, pleading, bundled into a spaceship, launched into space. Eons on a polluted ship. Enslaved for male fun and obliged to clean for food: scrubbing, scouring, shining. Slave girl for the castaways.
I can hear her nearby. She clasps my shoulder, and communicates with clemency, “Don’t hate me. Cleaners stick together. Forever.”