Author : Michael Ryder
I see fear in your eyes as the door to the gravity chamber shuts tight.
Not fear for yourself. You accepted your assignment long ago.
No, I see fear for me. Fear of what I will become without you.
We cannot hear each other through the chamber’s heavy door. But through the small glass porthole, I can see your brown hair, generous lips and mocha skin. Your beautiful brown eyes holding mine, willing our love to thwart the warp of space and time.
A spasm of grief rips through me, but I force it away from my face. Your last memory of this thread will not be me crumbling before you. I will be strong until you return. If you return.
Your mouth moves. “I love you,” your lips say.
I keep my eyes on you, willing myself to stay focused. “I won’t forget you.”
“You will. But I’ll find you.” You mouth something else, which I don’t understand, not at first. You say it again.
“Make sure you don’t end up an asshole, okay?”
The grin breaks through. “I promise.”
The chamber pulses once, and —
I blink and shake my head, like I’m coming out of a daze. I realize I’m in the gravity chamber’s control room, standing in front of the chamber’s heavy door. A glance at the sensors tells me the chamber was just used. I type the command code into the keypad and step back as the heavy door swings open.
The chamber, as expected, is empty.
I blink away a sudden rush of tears. I feel I’ve lost something.
The emotional upheaval is alarming. When time agents use the gravity chamber to slip out of a thread, they are obligated to leave the thread in the condition they found it. Their motto, like the doctors of old, is “do no harm.”
Unexplained feelings indicate a mission error. Something gone wrong. I would have to report in right away.
The door to the control room opens and an ensign steps in.
“Commander,” he says with a salute.
“A visitor has arrived on the shuttle and requests permission to see you immediately.”
A woman enters the control room. My breath quickens, and not just because she’s stunning.
I’ve never seen this stranger before. Never seen her brown hair, mocha skin, generous lips and beautiful eyes. And yet I know I have seen her before. And will again. And again. And again.
“Leave us, Ensign,” I manage to say.
The door closes. My eyes tear up. I reach out and pull this stranger into my arms.
And I hear you gasp when I whisper your name.
Author : Roger Dale Trexler
Gilfred stood at the door. “Where does it go?” he asked.
He turned and looked at Samuelson and Thromby. Both men shook their heads. “We don’t know,” said Thromby, his thick jowls quivering as he spoke. He was the oldest of them and self-professed smartest of the lot. Gilfred didn’t much like him, but Thromby had a perchant for being able to procure funding when the situation seemed dire. He’d gotten them the money for their research and Gilfred both respected and detested the man.
“How can you not know?” asked Gilfred. He walked up to the door and touched it. “You created it.”
“I’m not sure we did,” Thromby replied.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Gilfred looked at Samuelson as if to ask: is he crazy?
Thromby was about to reply, but Samuelson beat him to the punch. He pointed at the door. “It’s not really a door,” said Samuelson. “At least, not in the conventional sense of a door.” He walked forward and stood between Gilfred and Thromby. “It’s a gateway.”
“A gateway?” asked Gilfred. “What sort of a gateway?”
Samuelson shook his head. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “We were brought into this project two months ago, after the scientist working on it disappeared.”
Gilfred was taken back. “What scientist?” he asked.
“Addison,” Thromby chimed in. “Addison Burke.”
“Addison Burke!” Gilfred’s jaw dropped. He knew Addison Burke well; he was one of the originators of the project. “I….I had heard he was missing.”
“Well,” said Thromby. “He’s not just missing….he’s gone.”
“Gone where?” asled Gilfred.
“Through the door, sir” said Samuelson.
“You’re sure of that?”
Samuelson nodded. “Yes. His last log entry said that he was going through the door.” He pointed at the computer. “We’ve gone through his journal extensively. He thought he’d found a form of astral projection that could transport him anywhere he wanted.”
“And you think he went?” asked Gilfred.
“Yes sir,” said Samuelson.
Gilfred turned to Thromby. “And you concur?”
Thromby nodded. “Yes, I do.”
Gilfred walked around the door. It wasn’t really a door, of course, but they had sealed what lay behind it with a metal door. He reached out and touched the metal. It was cool to the touch.
“Burke was a genius,” Samuelson said.
“Indeed he was.”
“But he was torn with grief over his wife and daughter’s death,” said Samuelson. “He went a little mad.”
“A little,” Thromby said, “He went absolutely bugfuck! He locked himself away from everyone. It was only when we had a surge that blew the power grid for ten blocks that anyone truly knew what he was up to.”
“And this was it?” asked Gilfred.
“Can we open this door?” Gilfred said.
“Sure,” Thromby said. “It’s safe….for the most part.”
Gilfred reached out and touched the doorknob. For a second, he debated. Then, he threw caution to the wind and opened the door.
Brilliant light filled the room.
It took a full twenty seconds or so for their eyes to adjust, then Gilfred saw the swirling chaos of light beyond the door.
“My God,” he said. “He did it. He actually did it.”
“So, you knew about this?” asked Samuelson.
Gilfred nodded. “I financed it,” he said. “I owed him that much. His wife and daughter were gone. He had nothing else to live for.”
“You sent that man to his death,” Thromby said bitterly.
“Did I?” asked Gilfred. “Did I?” he pointed into the swirling void.
“Tell no one about this,” he said.
“But….what do we do with that?” asked Thromby.
“Nothing,” said Gilfred.
“Nothing,” he said again. “Unless one of you wants to go in there after him.”
Author : J. Eckert Lytle
Ten year old Danni stepped cautiously from a pine needle carpet to stones smoothed by eons of rushing water next to the quiescent pool of a peaceful stream. Her and grandfather’s stream. It meandered amid lofty, sweet smelling ponderosas–endlessly battling for the morning sun.
Why did I come, she wondered, he’ll never show.
Her grandpa had sent a letter to her that read, “Dear Button,” he’d always called her Button, “I’ll be home this Friday and meet you at ‘our’ fishing hole around nine a.m.” And although they’d held services for him last week, she still had the faith of a priest.
She’d received the letter Monday from the planet where he’d been working installing thermo-couplers on a massive terraforming reactor. The reactor exploded and vaporized everything within a fifteen mile radius. The obligatory funeral for him was just a formality since no body had ever been found.
Her mom told her she shouldn’t go this time. There were bears and cougars and it was no place for a little girl all alone. She told Danni that he’d written the letter long before the explosion. But Danni answered, “We always went fishing when he got back from his work.”
Her mom responded softly with tears in her eyes, “He’s not coming back from this one, sweetie.”
When she said that, Danni‘s insides turned to putty, her chin quivered, and she struggled to hold back her own tears.
Sadly she picked up a pebble and tossed it into the stream, dink! and watched the concentric ripples spread. Grandpa never made a promise he couldn’t keep, she reasoned, but perhaps this’ll be the first.
She hopped from rock to moss covered rock across the brook until she came to their last fishing spot. It’d been a hot day and grandpa had taken off his shoes and soaked his feet in the cool, clear water. She could still see his footprints in the mud. Her eyes teared.
Now she was all alone. Who would ever take her fishing again? Who would ever bring her gifts and play tickle monster with her again? Who would ever love her like that again?
Gloomily she lowered her head and accepted the fact. She slowly turned to start her trek back home.
She heard a twig snap behind her. Her mind raced.
Was it a bear?
Was it a mountain lion?
What should I do? She summoned all the courage a little girl could muster, picked up a stick, and slowly turn around. Twenty feet from her was a big black bear. She screamed and froze. The sun glistened off its matted fir as it stood on its hind legs and roared. Should she run or stay put. Grandpa had told her what to do in such an emergency, but she couldn’t remember.
The bear stepped her way. She cowered helplessly. He looked to be ten feet tall as he hunched and tottered toward her. Danni held up her stick and waited terrified for the end. Suddenly the bear scampered off. She narrowed her eyes and stared after it. The bear was gone, but she could see shadows from a flickering brightness behind her. Slowly she turned around and saw a large, radiant shape of a man standing behind her.
All she could do was gape at the beautiful, shimmering illumination.
“Hello, Button,” said the glow.
She extended her hand toward the light.
Author : Travis Gregg
The brightness was overwhelming at first and it took several minutes for his eyes to adjust. The dirt was warm under his bare feet, and the smell, the smell was like something from his childhood. The smell of dirt and wind and sun. He’d forgotten that smell.
All around him the wheat fields stretched from horizon to horizon, a sharp contrast against the deep blue of the cloudless sky. The only thing that broke the uniformity was a two story ramshackle building on top of a nearby hill. It looked about a hundred years old, all rotted wood and sagging porch. The roof had partially collapsed and it looked like a stiff breeze would send the whole structure crashing into a heap. He slowly rotated and it was all sky and wheat and the abandoned building.
“What is this?” he asked. “Another test?”
At first there had been many tests. Some painful, some beyond painful. Some he’d forgotten and some he’d probably never be able to. His hand rubbed the scars unconsciously. On at least three occasions he’d been led to believe he’d been freed only to have the illusion melt away after his captors ascertained whatever it was they were hoping to learn.
There had been fewer and fewer test though the longer they’d held him. He couldn’t even remember how long it’d been since the last one but certainly a while. He’d lost a sense of time almost immediately after his capture.
“No, no more tests. We’re done with that,” his captor replied.
“If not a test, then what is this?” he asked.
“Your home, or near enough to where we picked you up.”
“Look at this place, there’s nothing here!”
His captor had no shoulders but still managed to convey an indifferent shrug as it turned back to the portal. “A significant time has passed on your specie’s time scale. The rules are when we’re done the subjects must be returned to their original habitat.”
“How long has it been?”
Silence was the only response he got as the portal and his captor faded to nothingness. As he looked out at the empty expanse, truly alone for the first time in ages, he realized simply surviving might be the most difficult test.
Author : Benjamin Sixsmith
The planet was nothing to look at. An immense red desert, it was so flat that one could hardly have believed it curled. As FO James Beckwith alighted on its sands he looked about with a frown. SO Mary Harding appeared beside him and opened her mouth to swear.
Then the music started. It was like the first dramatic chords of a strings section as an opera began, except louder, thicker and more reverberant. The crew members who had been appearing on the planet dropped to their chests as if anticipating explosions.
“Hold!” cried Beckwith as a buoyant melody, as if from a giant viola, deafened him. “Hold your positions!”
The music faded and a wind tore across the surface of the planet, blowing sand into their faces.
“What was that?”
Harding adjusted her helmet as its voicebox spluttered in and out of action.
“We’ve got nothing, sir,” said the FT, surveying her sensors.
“Perhaps it was an illusion,” Beckwith muttered.
“Let’s collect our samples, tick our box and get the hell out of here.”
At that moment the sands parted in front of them and a being leaped to the surface. The humans had a glimpse of purple limbs and black teeth, which seemed fearsome enough that Beckwith whipped his arm out and pressed the button that trained lasers on its flesh. His crew followed him and bolts of light converged upon the being. It swelled and exploded in a shower of violet nodules and green fluid.
Beckwith was exhaling when there was another noise, as if of an earthquake. He stared about the landscape as he realised that it sounded like prolonged, enthusiastic applause.
“Jesus,” Harding said, her eyes so bright that they shone through the dusty visor, “We have to get out here.”
The sound ended abruptly and there was a low, grumbling noise.
“We are being watched,” said Beckwith, “Is it some kind of challenge?”
He heard a man gasp behind him and saw an ST pointing across the landscape. A black box was nestled in the sand.
“Did you not get that?” Harding asked the baffled technicians.
“The sensors must have broken.”
At Beckwith’s command the ST directed a small ray at the box. A light flashed and he nodded. Beckwith walked across the sands and picked it up. Something small and hard rattled about the insides of its walls. Inhaling, he burst the lock. The lid opened, a cloud of sand exploded in his face and the box disappeared as there was an eruption of high and raucous noise. It sounded like laughter.
Beckwith wiped his gloves over his helmet.
“I am First Officer James Beckwith and I represent Galaxías Kýklos! We came in peace and respect!”
The laughter continued.
“Perhaps we should assume that they are hostile, sir,” said Harding.
There was a pause. Everything was still and silent. Beckwith turned to his SO, whose fists were clenched, and felt resentment towards their mysterious tormentors surge within him.
The ground disappeared from beneath the humans and their twisted, fragile bodies fell through a cloud of sand and into an abyss from which they knew no end. The landscape settled and applause rang throughout the Planet that Amused Itself.