Spaced

Author: Shon-Lueiss Harris

The dining hall offered the best view. All the brushed steel and matte finishes throughout the rest of the ship stopped at the door. Entering the kitchen felt like stepping into a new world replete with delightful aromas, vibrant colors, and sleek furniture. So much consideration for comfort and style juxtaposed by an uninterrupted view of the endless, dark expanse outside.

Samuel pressed a hand against the glass. Warmth spread into his skin in a way that felt impossibly familiar. Between his fingers shined a massive, yellow sphere in the distance.

“I heard they called it Sun.”

Samuel rolled his eyes and glanced over his shoulder. Merrick sipped his coffee, a little dribbling down onto his oil-stained jumpsuit. “When things got tough they begged a big ball of gas for help. Can you imagine?”

“Maybe the engineer was a drunk,” sighed Samuel as he traced the outline of the star with his finger. “You know a lot about Sun?”

“Ol’ Earthen legends, mostly.” Merrick grinned and took a seat next to the window. “One story goes Sun gave its only moon to protect the Earth. Only the idiots destroyed the moon treating it like some mine instead of an asteroid shield. Surprised that wasn’t the end of’em then and there.”

“I think I heard that somewhere. You know any other stories?”

A big bushy eyebrow bent into an arch high on Merrick’s forehead. “Since when do we talk? This some trick?”

“I’m interested, okay?” Samuel turned toward the window. “So, you know any or not?”

“Yeah, I know another. Actually, it’s an Ol’ Earthen saying,” Merrick teased, pausing to take another drink. “Never look at Sun. I guess people stared at Sun long enough they’d start to see things. Strange things nobody should know. Sun show’em so much that after there really wasn’t nothing left to see.”

“And then what?”

Merrick stood and shrugged. “Paradise, I suppose. Anyway, I gotta get back to it. I’ll catch you later and we can talk more.”

“Yeah, catch you later,” Samuel repeated.

His eyes flicked to Sun the moment Merrick was gone. The thick, radiation dampening glass muted the intense brightness just enough to be bearable. Once more, he laid a hand against the window. Flames danced across Sun’s surface, swirling and coiling until what looked like an open hand leaped off the surface. Samuel rubbed his eyes. He caught a glimpse of the fire dissipating in space, but that was enough. He’d seen it.

Samuel ran out of the dining hall. He heard the questions and the shouts as he bumped into all manner of the crew, be they human or droid, but he didn’t care. Didn’t apologize or so much as acknowledge them.

The airlock was empty when Samuel arrived. He slipped into the nearest suit, attached the safety line, then began work on the door. Soon enough Samuel stood in the middle of the chamber, red lights flashing, the reinforced blast door lurching aside as specs of dust and moisture from the air shot into the void and glistened like diamonds in Sun’s light. With one hand gripping the line, Samuel walked through the door into empty space.

Samuel felt warmth like never before. Vague memories of childhood, of loving arms holding him tight, of gentle whispers in his ear and soft fingers rubbing his back. Memories he could neither recall nor place in his own life. All of it rushing in as Samuel turned toward Sun. His eyes watered and one voice raised above all the whispers.

“Welcome home.”

One More Shot

Author: Griffon Kaye

You sit on the bathroom floor to smoke, on the thin rug, back hunched up against the tub. Whatever, your back hurts anyway, twenty minutes on the hard floor isn’t going to make it any worse, you’re not that old yet.

Sit in the bathroom because it’s the only room in the tiny apartment that doesn’t have a smoke detector. It has a vent although you don’t run it because it’s goddamn loud and because you like to watch the smoke swirl up against the window in the dusk.

You were in a bad place today, did okay at work but came home early to the empty apartment and kind of slipped down. You’re getting sick of the way things are here on Earth: nothing too wrong with any one thing, but a sense that this isn’t where you want to be soaking into everything. Tired of the day job, same shit every day leaving you jumpy as hell and pissed about it. Tired of the weird weather, although you know it’s only strange compared to your home colony. Earth is a lot warmer and wetter than Mars. It leaves you sleepless, breathless some nights, sweaty and exhausted in the morning.

Funny considering how you sold your soul to the military in the first place for a shot at getting off the red-dirt space-slum, only to end up here. After discharge you finally landed in the glossy manicured suburb you used to fantasize about- trees and grass and chrome, the nine to five job with the soft, wealthy crowd who’ve only ever pulled a trigger in VR. If this was what you wanted, why does it make you want to climb out of your skin so bad?

You miss the cold you spent years cursing. Drag on the cigarette between your teeth, the end hot enough to sear, glowing gently like a thruster on slow burn. You didn’t die out there the way you thought you would. You breathe out innocent silver smoke, all cancer and tar on a molecular level, wonder if maybe you should give space one more shot at killing you. Tap the cigarette on the edge of the jar lid you’re using as an ashtray, wedge your feet up against the cabinets. Check the bandage on one heel, rubbed raw this morning while you pounded out another extra mile in your battered trainers. Got sick and dizzy after, but the physical work keeps you a little saner. You can’t stand the idea of getting soft, and anyway you don’t smoke as much as you used to, so your lungs can suck it up.

Now, though, it’s almost dark out, and you’re still sitting on the bathroom tile in a haze, your eyes starting to sting. Don’t think about how it’s only Monday, don’t think about another week of work or the bills or the phone calls you have to make, don’t think about how you’re tired and scared that this is all there is, some fucking reward for playing hero out in the endless void, getting run ragged and shot at and sent back to play house. Push yourself up, take a couple of pills to sleep because it’s looking like one of those nights and you’ve been up since five-thirty. Turn your head and catch sight of a single, bright point of light in the darkening sky, through the open blinds: a planet. Turn your head away again, smoke the last of the cigarette so quick your chest burns.

The Vanished

Author: R. J. Erbacher

I was twenty minutes outside the airport going 65 on the interstate headed to a meeting to smooth some feathers; my illustrious job. Watching the road around me I passed a bus on my right, in front of that was a small red hatchback, then an eighteen-wheeler dump truck with a dirt payload. My eyes continued to scan forward and in front of me, the lane was clear for a quarter-mile. I came alongside the little red car and saw at a sideways glance that there was a family inside. Two boys in the back seat between the ages of nine and twelve, laughing and poking each other, a mom in the passenger seat, turning around also laughing, and a smiling dad driving with hands on the wheel, eyes on the road. My mind registered the family…and then they were gone.

The safety latch of the dump truck had come undone and the hydraulic cylinder sufficiently leaked, tipping the front of the dumpster just high enough that it couldn’t fit under the overpass by inches. It caught and brought the massive rig to a jarring halt. The red car with the family inside disintegrated into the back of it. The bus behind sandwiched what was left and exploded the gas tank. This all happened in my peripheral vision, then I was beyond it. I frantically checked my rear-view mirror and saw only an erupting cloud of brown dust, like a CGI movie avalanche. Nothing came through the miasma and it was if the world behind me was swallowed up.

I wanted to stop, even though there was nothing I could do. But I didn’t. I just drove on. I arrived at my hotel sometime later, met with the clients, had dinner and drinks and the meeting was a success. I didn’t mention the incident although it probably would have been an interesting conversation piece.

That night, alone in my room, sitting on the edge of the bed in my boxers, I popped the TV on. It was tuned into a news station and the story was about the accident. The reporter said that the truck had struck the overpass and damaged it so severely that the road above and the highway below were currently closed pending a safety inspection. The driver of the truck and the bus were both in the hospital in serious but stable condition. It had taken firefighters an hour to put out the inferno and rescue crews four to extricate the smoldering metal debris. They could not determine the occupants of the vehicle in between, as there was almost nothing left of the wreckage to examine.

I knew what had been there. A family. I turned it off and went to bed.

The room was pitch black and only the monotonous hum of the air conditioner filled the silence. My mind went back and envisioned the last, slow-motion milliseconds before the crash. I saw the family obliquely, alive and vibrant, members of this trivial planet. And just before everything went cataclysmic, my eyes almost completely off them and focused on the impending tragedy of the truck, the family went away. They simply vanished. Their seats were empty. The vehicle was unoccupied. I was sure of it.

Did they have the capability to instantly teleport to another location? Was mass dematerialization a possibility? Maybe divine intervention and they were lifted to a better place, saved from a horrific finality? Or was it just a needful deception of my own mind. I contemplated everything and soon fell asleep, my eyes closing and tearing up a little bit.

The Lucky Ones

Author: Chris Stewart

“Dr. Marco Nutrice. M-A-R-C…”

The council chairman, rumpled and sleep-deprived, interrupted, “Doctor Nutrice.”

The witness, far chipper, countered.

“Noo-trees”

“Pardon?”

“It is pronounce, noo-trees.”

“My apologies, Doctor.” Sighed the chairman. “We will skip the formalities. All of us are aware of who you are.”

“As I say three years ago…”

“Doctor, we know, nobody listened to you then. We know you were all but tossed out of the building. However…”

Another voice, further down the long desk cut in. “Mr. Chairman, I’d…”

“We discussed this already, Dale! Asked and answered!”

“Mr. Chairm…”

“Screw you, Dale! You think we want this? This is where we wanted to be? We are out of ideas and Object 445c is three years closer to dropping in to say howdy!” The louder he talked, the gooier his accent became.

“Why are you even here, Dale? Got a better plan?!”

“Well, no, but…”

“Christ on a crutch, Dale…”

The chairman fumed at the other member for a full half-minute, the gallery murmuring quietly until finally, he banged his gavel.

“Doctor. For expediency, I will summarize. Please clarify if I overlook anything, or otherwise mischaracterize your… proposal.”

Shuffling a well-read sheaf of papers, the chairman looked dejectedly at the rest of the council, then exhaled slowly.

“In the years since Object 445c was detected entering our solar system, a great many resources have been devoted to the matter. The world’s finest minds have conceived of and carried out numerous attempts to spare us calamity, and they have all failed. The last few projects remain, but continued data collection on Object 445c has made it clear they are certainly going to fail as well. As such…”

HONK!

Every head in the vaulted room snapped towards the nose-blowing sound.

“Dale, that’s it. Get the hell out! Bailiff! No, I mean it. You sonnovabitch, out!”

After several minutes and a surprising struggle; “As such, we have asked you back, Dr. Nutrice, to revisit your proposal on, ah…”

“Acquired Savant Syndrome.”

“Goddamn. You know what, I just can’t. Doctor, briefly, if you please.”

“Well, simply, we take volunteers, and we hit them on the head.”

The chairman, looking decades older, sighed. “Uh-huh. Continue.”

“See, in a small fraction of massive brain contusions, the patient recover, but now they have surprising talents. Some familiar, like math. Others, strange, like seeing music as physics. All of them bring fresh perspective to science! So, we use volunteers to try and make these savants, and we give humankind big leap forward in short time!”

Another council member leaned into their microphone. “Doctor, you propose we take a mallet to the heads of thousands…”

“Millions better. And not mallet, but si, hitting very hard.”

“Dear god. Millions. For the wholesale creation of minds capable of saving us from Object 445c?”

“Si.”

In the uproar, the chairman skipped his gavel, picked up his desk lamp and proceeded to smash it onto the desk. In the new quiet, he continued.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Doctor, but your proposal will kill millions, cripple thousands…”

“Sadly.”

“For a few hundred beautiful minds in the hopes they can build us a fusion cannon or some shit.” The accent was dripping.

“Si.”

“Why would anyone volunteer, Doctor?”

“To be in history books? And their families, we take care of them.”

Someone on the council sobbed.

“Heaven help us, we are desperate, Doctor. But what if you’re wrong and we don’t stop Object 445c?”

Doctor Nutrice smiled, too big.

“Ah, the best reason to volunteer! If it no work, unlucky volunteers, they will instead be the lucky ones!”

Dreams of a Traveler

Author: R. Michael

Jenny sat looking at the wonders out her window. In her right hand, she slowly twirled a bit of her silky, auburn hair, and in the other hand, she held a pen. Though intending to jot something down, she mostly just chewed on the end.

In her mind’s eye, she saw wind-tossed trees, the cool surface of a lake, a city – no, a small town. “Yes,” she thought, “that’s what I want.” The house she saw was small, surrounded by a field of tall flowers. Sometimes deer would come along to graze and on rare occasions a mighty buck.

Jenny then pondered what it would look like if snow softly fell around the quaint little house. “Snow seems so pretty. I wonder if any of the places we’ll visit will have it.” Her pen scrawled across the tablet. As she envisioned the biting cold and the crystalline flakes falling slowly and silently to the ground, she longed, even more, to experience it just once.

“Every place we go is oppressively hot and ends up uninhabitable. I wish we didn’t have to live like nomads traipsing from one place to the next just trying to survive.” Jenny thought as she craned her head up, once more captivated by what lay beyond the glass. Though young, a part of her realized there were people who would have traded places with her. The beauty and new sights Jenny had seen in her life were more than what most of humanity got to experience.

Still, Jenny’s heart longed for simplicity and quiet, just her, her brother and their parents. “Such is the life of an explorer’s kid,” she mused. Jenny remembered the anger she felt toward her mom for taking the job, but as she grew and made friends in her new environment, the homesickness slowly faded. Yet there was a part of her that wanted to make her mother suffer and to a lesser degree her father for going along with it. While writing, Jenny thought of none of that. It was a fantasy world, ultimately. After taking a moment to gaze out the window, her pen resumed fluttering along the notepad.

The little house she conceptualized was no longer surrounded by woods, but on one side there was a lake. On the water’s surface, she envisioned a family of ducks, smiling a little as she pondered how cute they must be in real life.

“How can I write such a story? Sure, I’ve seen things most people haven’t, but I also haven’t gotten to experience normal everyday life either. There is so much I’ve missed.” Jenny put the pen down, scowling at the paper in front of her as she debated whether it was worthwhile to continue or not.

“Arriving at planetary system in forty-five minutes,” a female voice spoke over the intercom.

Jenny sighed. The twin stars their next home orbited steadily grew larger, bathing her face in cold distant light. Beyond the two stars was a nebula. It wasn’t the first Jenny had seen, and she doubted it would be the last. All thoughts melted away as she soaked in the nebula’s beauty. Out of the corner of her vision, a brilliant blue and orange gas giant caught her eye. Orbiting the massive planet was a set of rings.

“Here starts another adventure. Maybe someday I’ll get to chase my dream instead of living someone else’s,” Jenny whispered to herself as she tucked the notepad under her arm.