Author : J.P. Quinn
Arron sat on an outcrop of rock. He’d stopped to watch the sunset. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help it. It was the shift from copper to blue. That extended interlude between day and night, where, for a few fleeting moments, he could almost be home.
A blip interrupted his musings. Wiping away a layer of dust, he checked his wrist unit. They were close now. Two rovers and a utility vehicle. Climbing back to his feet he pulled his scope. Before, their faces had been as familiar as his own. Now, he could barely tell them apart. It was this loss of humanity that scared him most. Terrified him, almost.
They had been drilling core samples, checking for signs of mud volcanism. The initial results had looked promising, until Blake had dropped the casing. It had happened back at the lab, the cylinder slipping through her fingers to split apart on the durbar plate floor. She’d been furious. Her rage rolling in like a summer dust storm. Arron, who had never been good with conflict, had left her to salvage the sample alone. That had been the start of it.
Replacing the scope, Arron abandoned the sunset and climbed into his ATV. It was low on power. There was enough for a few miles maybe. More if he shut down the non-essential systems. Pushing the actuator into drive, he started off toward the nearest crater basin. They’d catch him soon, he supposed. Sooner, if he couldn’t find some rocky terrain.
A transmission crackled through his earpiece. They were calling him. The sounds little more than guttural barks. He tried to break the connection, but couldn’t remember how. He guessed it was the stress. The situation was starting to get to him. Starting to wear him down.
Perry had gone to help Blake with the analysis. She’d let him in, and then turned on him. He’d fought back, but neither of them had come out of it well. Arron had watched from the control room. That was the first time he’d noticed the change in their voices. The others had screamed at him through the intercom. Their words jumbled and fragmented. He’d only worked out what they wanted when Koskov had tripped the contamination alarm and sealed the lab himself.
The ATV took a slide. Arron struggled to regain control but there was little he could do as the slide became a tumble. They’d tried to seal him in the control room. He’d watched on the closed circuit as they burst the door hydraulics and shorted out the relay. That was when he’d decided to run. Pulling up the floor panelling, he’d crawled through the service conduit to the equipment store. There, he’d suited up and made a break for the transit bay.
Arron’s helmet collided with the dash as the ATV flipped onto its roof and then back to its wheels again. A crack swept across his visor. Instinctively, he reached for it, the plastic giving way in a single gust. A fizzing sensation swept through his body. It was worst in his eyes, ears, mouth and chest. Above, the evening star had emerged from the horizon, its pale hue cool and serene. Arron watched it rise, his transformation nearing completion, his breathing coming to a halt.
The last thing he remembered was the whine of an electric motor. Then the crunch of boots through dust.
After that, he knew only rage.
Author : Daniel Fairbairn
A wind that started a billion years ago ended today. It sighed past my apple tree and ended its journey. The breath of an age of warriors, poets, beasts and storms lay in the marks in the dust. The grass stood still as if in some moment of buffering. The clouds hung heavily in the streaked and azure sky. Even the Sun looked bewildered as it shone into my eyes between the white bulks. The birds usual shrieking and cawing had taken on a ponderous tone, as if they were gossiping around the subject, conjecturing what outcome was most likely.
The rest of my race were no better. The airwaves and internet abounded with debate, panic, ratings vultures pawing the carcass of our predicament. None of that changed the fact that as Autumn arrived, our leaves fell straight down, weather was a non event. The oceans calmed disturbingly, and wind borne seeds and spores simply dropped to the ground. Although it wasn’t entirely evident, there was a rising sense of panic, certainly among the thinkers among us. Unfortunately the majority of us remained pinned to our screens, awaiting instructions from the incessantly talking heads.
One thing did improve. Turbulence during flights had ceased to be. It was a pleasure to rise up into the eerily still yet diaphanous clouds, seemingly gliding across glass before slowly lowering to the next airfield.
I took lots of flights during that time. Lots! I felt as if time had somehow paused, and I was drinking in this moment for as long as I could.
War broke out in America first. A country of high tension at the best of times, it seems that excessive rioting escalated and finally the government collapsed. Next was western Europe, then across the Middle East. It seemed that panic had turned us inward. The UK and the Nordic countries seemed to be like quiet children in a room of fighting parents. Or, I suppose that could be written the opposite way, but you know what I mean. We clung to our dignity as all about us fell and burned. I stopped watching the news, YouTube and Facebook. In the end, I had to be here for me. I could no more help those people than I could turn the Moon with my hand.
My apple trees leaves lay dead and dried on the ground. A troubled Blackbird studied me for answers to questions it couldn’t understand, from the barren branches of my despondent tree. ‘You tell me’ I said to him.
I saw the last insect the next day, and the day after that, the last bird flew over my house and headed south. I noticed later that day the cows, sheep and pigs had all abandoned their fields and headed away from us too. In an effort to find some answers I admit I did turn on YouTube again. All over the world, those that could were reporting that all indigenous life in their areas were heading south. Even into the North Sea, the Channel, the Atlantic.
The next day it was apparent why. From nothing came the wind. All across the northern hemisphere, the winds roared for a day and a half, all in a northerly direction. Until they stopped again, as if an enormous deep breath had been inhaled, before a deafening shout…
Author : Matthew Harrison
It was a struggle, but they managed to get the trainees ready just in time for the cocktail.
“I don’t see why we need to bother,” Simon said as he surveyed the work. He had crumpled his suit, and didn’t have a spare. “We can just explain the firm to the candidates ourselves.”
His partner Maggie, elegant despite the rush, would have none of it. “To attract the best law interns, we have to show them we have the best trainees.”
“And it’s not just getting them ready,” Simon went on, as if he hadn’t heard her. “They have to perform…”
There was no time for Maggie to argue. The first would-be interns were already at reception; Astrid couldn’t hold them for long. Maggie went briskly through the final preparations, glanced quickly at the trainees with their rouged cheeks and crimsoned lips, and then swung the door wide. “Welcome to Chancel Rose!” she beamed at the young visitors.
The cocktail went well. The would-be applicants were awed by all the smart suits and good looks. Maggie whirled around the room, introducing intern to trainee and trainee to intern, and smoothing all with her light banter. Simon, despite his grumbles, did the same, along the way attracting quite a gaggle of impressionable young girls.
“We’re tremendously proud of the professional work we do,” Maggie was saying to one group, “isn’t that right, Michael?” And before the trainee could answer, she had hurried on, “But one thing we insist upon in this firm is work-life balance. ‘Don’t let the law get ahead of the life’ – eh, Petra?”
Petra looked as though the witticism was beneath her. So Maggie took her arm and introduced her to the most talkative of the young male applicants.
That done, she rushed to another group where the conversation was slowing and got the waiter to pour more wine. Then it was on to ginger up another group, and another. Simon was keeping things going on the other side of the room. And Astrid was doing her bit with the young people in the corner.
Just as Maggie’s inventiveness was beginning to flag, Simon picked up a glass and tapped it with a fork. The room fell silent – and then the audio rang out with the firm’s song! Holding hands with Michael and Petra, Maggie led the trainees in a spirited performance, drawing applause from the interns. Simon, throwing himself into it, switched to pop, and cavorted about on the floor. The lights were dimmed, a revolving disco ball cast spangles of light over the proceedings, and the cocktail ended in general dancing.
As the tired applicants streamed out, Maggie was gratified to hear one of them say, “What a firm!”
“Sure,” said another, “they’re so alive!”
“Did you hear that, Simon?” Maggie said afterwards. “A good evening’s work!”
Simon could only agree. And, with Astrid helping, the two of them wound down the trainees so that they could go back into storage.
Author : Bob Newbell
Wachter ran out of the bank just as the alarm sounded. It was not an auspicious beginning to what Wachter had imagined would be a long and successful criminal career. The teller had initially thought he was kidding when he’d asked for $20,000 in cash. And when he’d pulled out his 9mm automatic he’d dropped it on the floor and had to scramble to recover it. But if I can just make it to my car, thought Wachter, it’ll be smooth sailing.
Watcher leaped in through the open door of the waiting self-driving automobile and yelled, “Go!”
“Please tell me where you’d like to go,” the car responded in a pleasant female voice.
“Take me to the hideout! Fast!”
“Do you mean The Hideout at 27844 Ryan Road? If so, The Hideout is the city’s friendliest lounge, catering to LGBTQIA patrons but welcoming anyone who enjoys good food, great music, and–”
“I don’t want to go to a bar! Take me to the storage unit I rented on Blackburn Street! Quick!” screamed Wachter who thought he heard the wail of a police siren in the distance.
“Certainly,” replied the car. “Would that be Sammy’s Storage at 1132 Blackburn Street or U-Stor-It at 1610 Black–”
The car pulled out of the bank parking lot, drove 20 feet, and stopped at a red light.
Wachter nervously looked through the car’s rear window and saw a police cruiser pull into the parking lot. After an eternity of seconds, the light turned green and the car moved forward.
“Step on it!” commanded Wachter.
“I’m sorry, the speed limit is 45 miles per hour,” said the car. “This vehicle’s battery is in need of a recharge. There is a Fast-Charge station 0.25 miles up the street. Would you like to stop there?”
“No. Just go to the hideout.”
“Understood. Destination changed to The Hideout at 27844 Ryan Road.” The car darted into the turn lane and took a side street. “Tonight is karaoke night at The Hideout. Step up to the mic for your chance to win one of several prizes including–”
“I don’t want to go to that bar!” protested Wachter. “Take me to Sammy’s Storage!”
“Understood. Destination changed to Sammy’s Storage at 1132 Blackburn Street.”
The car turned left into the parking lot of a dentist’s office, circled the building, and exited back on the street. Wachter was sweating profusely. He heard a squad car’s siren but couldn’t localize the sound.
“Cafe Zoltan is 0.4 miles up the street,” said the car. “Would you like to stop in for a thick, luscious cup of Turkish coffee? Cafe Zoltan also has a selection of–”
“No! Keep going to the hide– Keep going to Sammy’s!”
“Okay,” said the car.
The vehicle quietly rolled on for several minutes. Wachter no longer heard any sirens. He sat back and relaxed. He looked at the bags of money in the passenger seat and smiled. “I did it,” he said with satisfaction.
A moment later, the car’s right turn signal came on. The vehicle pulled into the parking lot of a police station. Wachter stared out through the windshield in disbelief.
“What are you doing?!”
“This vehicle’s battery charge is critically low. Per state law, this vehicle has diverted to the nearest safe parking facility. Would you like me to call Shane’s Roadside Recharge?”
Wachter opened the door and ran from the car, leaving his gun and stolen money behind.
“I’ve got to get to the hideout!”
Behind him a distant voice said, “Tonight’s featured cocktail at The Hideout is a gin fizz.”
Author : Alicia Cerra Waters
“Don’t touch that,” I said as I slapped Henry’s hand. His doughy cheeks formed a pout as he let go of the zipper of his thermo suit. Somehow, hiking through the mountains of a planet on the brink of being engulfed by a dying star had not helped melt the baby fat away from his face. I thought about telling him that the silvery material that covered his body was much lighter and more comfortable than it had been thirty years ago when my sister and I settled here, but it probably wouldn’t have done any good. There was no forgetting his horrified expression as he got off the shuttle and took in the crumbling mountains, saying
“This is a planet?!”
Through the plastic of his helmet, I saw him frown the way that he did when all that was left for dinner were dehydrated peas. “It itches. I hate this.”
“The rays from a sun this hot will give you cancer in about three minutes, not to mention burn off your skin,” I told him, for the thousandth time. “If you want to live, don’t take off the suit.”
Henry dug his toe into the sand and made an angry, red tornado out of dust. What did I expect? My sister raised him on one of the developed blue planets where every building had indoor plumbing and you were the poor kid if you didn’t own at least two hoverbikes. For a moment, I felt sick. She never imagined her son would live here.
“This is where we’re sleeping,” I said. We were behind the crest of a mountain, which offered a small portion of shade. I took off my pack, and instantly my head and shoulders felt light enough to float away from my body. Sometimes I thought that getting us off of this planet would kill me before the exploding sun got a chance.
I unfolded the tent, wondering if today would be the day that I finally managed to get the anchors to stay in the crumbling earth. Henry was watching a black salamander crawl down the side of a boulder. The salamanders were some of the only creatures that hadn’t gone extinct in the heat; except for a few rare birds that scientists had rescued, every other life form had already perished.
The salamander crawled into the palm of Henry’s hand and raised its head as if it were searching for something. I was about to ask the kid to help me, but then he said, “My mom used to live here, right?”
I put down the anchor. “Yeah, we lived here when we were your age.”
He squinted. “Why are we leaving?”
“The sun is going to swallow this planet soon.”
Henry turned his head towards the red orb and watched it sink wearily towards the mountains. “So, where will everything go?”
“Nowhere. It’ll be dust floating through the galaxy.”
“This mountain, those rocks, those dead trees,” he said as he looked into the valley.
Where he grew up, he used to have a hoverbike and a nanny with scaly purple skin who was an immigrant from one of the outer planets. He used to have other rich kids for friends. He used to have a mother.
Henry lowered his pointer finger onto the salamander’s head and gave it a light touch. His round, dark eyes were fixed on the small creature as its pink tongue flicked in and out of its mouth, as if he were still waiting for the real answer.