Sucky

Author: Alastair Millar

As I burst the blister on Martha’s back, the gelatinous pus within made its escape. Thanking the Void Gods for the medpack’s surgical gloves, I wiped her down, then set to work with the tweezers; if I couldn’t get the eggs out, it was all for nothing.

This is the side of bringing gas back from Saturn that nobody talks about, but I’ve been on the run for years – I got my captain’s commission a half decade ago.

After its discovery, Enceladus’ apex predator, the tiny parasitic iceworm, quickly made the leap from munching on other extremophiles to attacking humans; our blood is a wonderful treat, apparently. They inject a toxin into the bloodstream like Terran jewel wasps; it makes their hosts pliant, but ultimately leads the infected to become irrational and violent. Real Zombieland vibes.

We’d filled our tanks at Saturn Station and were heading home before trouble hit. Danny had been quiet and moody for a couple of days, but that happens in space, and I’d paid no attention. My mistake. Martha had made coffee for everyone, and forgotten to add sugar, and he just flipped; as she turned away he launched himself at her. It was a miracle nobody else in the mess had been scratched pinning him down.

The only things that kill iceworms are starvation, or chilling them to near absolute zero. A warm body is basically an endless food supply, so my options for keeping my people safe were reduced to a single unpalatable one.

I took Jarvis with me to the brig; he’s solid, and strong in the head as well as the muscles. Danny knew what was going to happen when he saw us coming. I ignored his screams, and then his begging, and tased him hard. We dragged his inert form to the airlock, and sealed him in.

I had no idea where he’d picked up the bugs; probably thanks to careless scientists on the Station, but the evil things have a long life cycle, and it could have happened years ago. It hurts more when you can’t prove anything or blame someone. Now we’d be watching each other constantly for symptoms; the uncertainty would break the crew, and I’d have to go back to the employment pool for more kids when we returned.

But that was a problem for another day. I took a deep breath, and ran the opening sequence. Nobody else would be living with this particular shadow on their conscience; not on my watch. As he tumbled away from the ship, I watched his last 15 seconds, knowing the air in his lungs was expanding and ripping through the surrounding tissue even as he froze solid. Being spaced isn’t a pretty way to die.

I’d tell the family there’d been an accident on board so they could claim his insurance; it was the least I could do. Less paperwork, too.

Then I went to find a bottle; being the responsible adult sucks.

How To Best Carve Light

Author: Majoki

So not painterly. Not even close. Too pixelated. Too blurred at the edges of reality.

Not a good start in your first soloverse.

Always so much to learn. Tamp down the expectations, go back and study the masters. Phidias. Caravaggio. Kurosawa. Leibovitz. Marquez. Einstein. Know their mediums. Stone. Canvas. Film. Page. Chalkboard. Seek inspiration and refine technique.

Follow their light.

That is the answer. Also the folly. We are all light. There is nothing else. There could be nothing else.

Yet, here you are, trying to splice a new existence from the infinite. As if originality is a thing. As if each dawn is a new day, and not the tired old iteration of a code written in photons eons ago. Still, the hunger lingers. To see anew. To be anew. To dazzle.

Back to square one. Back to the source.

Eyes closed, mind open, heart hushed. Find the stillness in the rush of motion: local, celestial, quantum. Let the light play, the texture surface, the soul carve. A committed cut. Another. And every other.

Dice each decision point to a nib that can pen a fresh idea, exact a moment of clarity. Then you are ready to fail. And that readiness is all. To go solo, to greet each universe on its terms and so imagine your own.

Derive your formula, carry the equation closely, and experiment. Gaze, gape, gawk. Then squint, peep and peek. What does the moment bring, what does the light reveal, what is really before you?

You must not miss it. The radiance of experience fashioned solely for you.

Past Belief

Author: Don Nigroni

When everything is going well, I can’t relax. I just wait and worry for something bad to happen. So when I got a promotion last week, naturally I expected something ugly would happen, perhaps a leaky roof or maybe a hurricane. But this time, no matter how hard I looked for an upcoming disaster, what actually happened was not even remotely on my radar screen.

We’ve only met once before, at my wife’s college reunion. And that must have been ten years ago or more. According to my wife, you’re an excellent defense lawyer and she urged me to send you a missive informing you of my situation and asking for your assistance.

To catch you up, I’m happily married with four delightful kids, have a good job and had a bright future. I was hoping to take my wife and kids on a two week vacation next year to the Central Planet. My youngest really wants to visit Spaceland and I’m sure my wife would enjoy the Blue Resort.

Anyway, this morning I received a Retro Notice from the Office of Retrocognitive Justice stating that I got away with murder in another universe eons ago. I didn’t even know I had been incarnated way back then. Personally, I don’t even believe retrocognition is real. I suspect it’s all smoke and mirrors based on inferences from an abundance of facts plus savvy guesswork and a dash of luck.

Regardless, I know nobody has ever beaten a retro rap. Judges sitting on the Retrocognitive Courts are all hand-picked by the Supreme Minister of the Central Planet. And no one has ever eluded the Retro Force. I’ve heard they have video and audio devices hidden everywhere and a host of informants.

To make a long story short, the summons ordered me to appear in court next Wednesday. The crime listed was strangling an innocent young woman for sport. I’m shy, eager to please and pathologically honest. I wouldn’t steal a cup of coffee and I even pick up litter now and then and dispose of it properly. Hardly the criminal type, much less some heinous monster.

The last highly publicized person tried for a retro crime that I remember was that governor of the Outer Moon. He was a popular fellow with a pretty wife but perhaps too ambitious. There were reports that he wanted to become Supreme Minister of All the Moons. I had always just assumed that the retro trials were show trials to eliminate political rivals. I don’t have any political enemies. In fact, I didn’t think I had any enemies at all.

I need a good lawyer and you’re the only lawyer I know. I think the fact that your brother is on the Retro Force could be an advantage in trying to get me a light sentence. And I know you and my wife were an item back in college and hope you’re still fond of her.

For my sake but also for my wife’s and kids’ sake, I hope you can see fit to represent me. Please respond as soon as possible, hopefully today for a meeting later today or early tomorrow morning. I’m scared and I’m desperate.

Proximity Suit

Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

Athabasca was a town of gas and coal. No wind or solar were allowed. Local officials said the Lord would return by fire while windmills and solar panels could only mar the landscape. And fire in a town of coal and gas was, naturally, a lovely thing.

On a plain not far away, a group of officials who had arrived from afar, were testing what they called “Sol 2.” It was a secret, but they spoke about their project whenever they went for pie and coffee because they assumed Athabascans were too stupid to understand what their work was about.

They took but one simple precaution: when they spoke of Sol 2 they said the name in Greek. On paper, it looked like this:

Σολ 2

One day, over coffee and pie at the Antler Café in Athabasca, it occurred to one of the officials that the spoken Greek sounded pretty close to English. Henceforth, the group decided to refer to their project in Hindi, whose phonemes none of them could properly pronounce. Sol 2 in Hindi looked like this:

सोल 2

When it was ready, Sol 2 happened after midnight. The black sky became as bright as the noon day. On the surrounding plain, a treeless expanse as dry as fossils, the shifting dust burned like little galactic fires.

Workers on the overnight at the gas plant saw the flash through a window. Miners coming up from the coal seam also saw the conflagration and didn’t know what to think. A boss yelled at them to get back to work, but they punched him in the abdomen, stole his hip flask, and locked him in a supply shed.

An infernal gust reached across over the wide-open lands between Athabasca and Sol 2. This burning wind scorched the faces and hands of several coal miners. Passing around the flask, the victims toasted their vengeful God.

‘Even the Lord thinks our jobs are a sacrilege,’ one said, and the others agreed.

‘Poorly paid sacrilege,’ another muttered to muted laughter.

In the morning, the miners went home, and their wives shrugged at their wounds as just another workplace insult.

But the daughters and sons weren’t so dismissive. They looked at their fathers and knew better. Ask no questions, accept no answers, but keep seeking. More than one child had seen the flash while reading comics with a flashlight or listening to an interrupted radio program. They had felt the burning wind shake their homes and woke up to shingles littering their front yards. Walking in their neighborhoods, they found dead rodents and seared birds lying in the road.

No one blamed the coal mine or the gas plant. And the kids were smart enough to know that Athabasca officials were too unimportant to have had any hand in anything. Bolo tie wearing types who called themselves decisionmakers might posture and puff themselves out, but the only thing they ever did was carry out things bigger people in distant places wanted done but didn’t want to be held accountable for.

At the fairgrounds, the coal miner kids gathered. They looked at the wind scored grandstand, now embedded with bits of feather, fur, and silt, and discussed how the scale of what had happened was greater than Athabasca. They were good positivists after all, building their conclusions on the available evidence and taking steps to kick up further clues.

One girl, who had worked as a waitress at the Antler Café recalled seeing men in suits, without bolo ties, come in for coffee. They used funny sounding words and laughed a lot, making jokes, she was sure, at her town’s expense. She told her friends these were the men behind what had happened. She also understood that in Athabasca, things happened because greater forces were always at work.

That afternoon the group, numbering perhaps fifteen, appeared before the town hall. Any group of teens, no matter how few in number, was considered a mob in Athabasca, so a confrontation was inevitable. But more noteworthy than the mob was how they were dressed.

Two girls were dressed as windmills. They wore silver monochromatic clothes and held desk fan blades above their heads. Two boys held painted corkboards across their chests made to look like solar panels. The other eleven or so had covered themselves in coal ash. One boy had a kangaroo rat hanging from his neck. A girl had purchased fake blood capsules and fed them to her friends. They began to drool red streams down their chins.

A different girl tossed coal ash around like fairy dust. She danced in joyous circles and all of her peers cheered. Passersby stopped and gaped and waited for someone to come and lock the kids up.

But arrests weren’t to be because one boy, the one with the rat around his neck, was wearing a proximity suit. He set himself on fire. As he burned, the girl scattering ash continued to frolic and her peers kept cheering. Then the burning boy sat on the ground, unfastened the dead rodent from his neck, and held it up to the heavens. He said,

‘Oh, sun! You’re come at last. You’ll be happy to know how well we’ve prepared!’

A Little Extra

Author: Marcel Neumann

After years of living in an unjust world, being disillusioned by an ideology I once thought held promise and having lost faith in humanity’s collective desire to live in harmony, I decided to live off the grid in a remote Alaskan village. Any needed or desired supplies were flown in by a bush pilot who became my only contact with the outside world. Which was fine with me. The man had offered several times to fly me down to Juneau to catch up on world news, but I had gained an aversion towards people in general, so I declined.

As time passed, I noticed my heart was not keeping me going as it once had. I brushed it off as simple fatigue. When the heart attack happened, I had the pilot fly me to Juneau International Airport, where an ambulance took me to the hospital. It took nearly a week for me to recover from heart surgery. I felt I was strong enough to venture out into the hallway outside my hospital room. Surprisingly, no one came after me as I made my way to the elevators. I had managed to dress myself, so anyone who passed by me had no reason to assume I was a patient. I pressed the button to open the elevator door and waited, keeping an eye out for any large, duty-bound orderly coming to take me back to my room. I noticed people acknowledging one another with a gesture I had never seen before. They would tap two fingers over their chests. There were subtle nuances in their facial expressions and body language as well. A peacefulness exuded from them, which seemed foreign to me. People greeted one another with what appeared to be a genuine desire for the other’s well-being. I sensed a jovial, positive vibration coming from the people around me. I pressed the button for the elevator door once again, anxious to leave this eerily alien world in which I found myself.

When the elevator door opened, I realized I had accidentally pressed the button for the maternity floor. A young girl stood peering into the viewing window. I cautiously approached. Her smile was infectious, her aura bright and inviting. I asked her which baby was hers.

“They all are.” She looked at me with twinkling blue eyes. When she laughed, I felt stupid for believing all ten babies belonged to her.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she touched my shoulder, sending a warm feeling of acceptance through my whole being.

“Actually, I am just window shopping.” The statement brought another resounding laugh. She shook her head indicating again she was only joking. The girl seemed to enjoy causing my dazed look of bewilderment with her witty comments. When a nurse came to the window holding a baby wrapped in a white cotton blanket up to the glass the new mother took a deep breath. Her following words this time caused me to let out a raucous laugh.

“The green one is mine.” She smiled at me as her eyes began to flood with tears. I felt my face flush. Thirty years is a long time to be away from civilization. What I saw beneath that blanket defied all reasoning. The nurse touched the baby near its torso and tapped it twice. “Two hearts.” The girl whispered. She then turned towards me and tapped me once.

When the tall reptilian man approached, I did not fear him. The harmony I wanted to see in the world was not of a terrestrial nature. It took something a little extra.