Author: Irene Montaner
“So, what is it?” Dan asks.
I don’t know. I think it’s a flower but I don’t remember its name. I add another brushstroke to my watercolour painting. Another red leaf, longer than all the other ones and I paint some green leaves too. Red and dark green leaves but I cannot remember its name, so I shrug. “Tell me, how is it that we’ll run away?”
“We’ll leave this madhouse early in the morning, before the nurses are up. We’ll get into the growing bunkers. First, we’ll sneak into the genetic labs and tweak some good-looking plants and then we’ll grow them in some nice hydroponic cushions. We’ll get those red plants of yours, you’ll see.” And his eyes glint as he goes through this crazy idea once more. As if we could break into the growing bunkers without anyone noticing, let alone leave the asylum.
Perhaps on Earth it would have been possible for us to get away from this confinement but certainly not here in Europe, where security is automated and highly effective and there are some practicalities to consider: spacesuits, food and water and an additional supply of oxygen should something go amiss (not that anything has happened since the colony was founded forty-some years ago). And I’m certainly forgetting something because that’s what I do these days, I forget things.
“So, what is it? Dan asks again.
He also forgets things and this time I forget to ask him how we’ll run away. I paint instead and add some more red leaves to my flower. I experiment with the shape and paint them as some elongated diamonds. I add some light green dots in the middle and then something happens. For the first time in years, I see the flowers clearly in my mind. Bright red leaves with a velvety touch to them, veins radiating from their central axis towards the edge of the leaf. I paint them quickly before I forget them.
In my mind, I see them in a terracotta pot with a golden ribbon around in the middle of a table. Our kitchen table. There are tiny fragrant pies fresh out of the oven and wreaths of evergreen decorating the door and window frames. And someone calls my name. Mam, oh it must be mam. And I wonder what it was like for mam when she got old and forgot things too. And whether she ended up in a retirement house surrounded by crazy people. But surely she didn’t because she was on Earth. And there you could wander freely no matter how insane you were. No one would think her a public danger for forgetting her stuff every now and then. She needn’t be locked up in case she was spotted walking at night towards the outer gate without a spacesuit. Or plucking the lettuces out of their nutrient solution because the symmetry of their leaves was no longer perfect although they were not edible yet. Or if she forgot to turn on and off the water filter of her apartment for a few days in a row. None of those things mattered on Earth. And her other children certainly cared for her. Yes, I had siblings, Paul and Ruth. Those were their names. Their names.
“Poinsettia. That’s it. The flower’s name is poinsettia,” I say.
“Poinsettia,” says Dan. “And a Merry Christmas to you too.”
And we both revel in the elusive memories of merrier days, far away from the colony.
Author: Philip Tudball
Etrian blocked a glaive swing that would have decapitated him, moving backwards and trying to find his balance. His attacker leapt in again, sweeping a low strike at his legs. Another hurried parry and another step back. A third attack, this a stab right to his centre. Etrian was able to bring his stave up vertically and sweep the blade left, he rolled with the push, rotating his stave around and turned his block into a sideswipe, it connected with a solid thud against his foes helm throwing its body sideways. Etrian pushed forwards, his next swipe reaching behind, sweeping his foe’s knees from under him and crashing him on to his back. His opponent lay sprawled in front of him, Etrian stepped forward holding his stave ready for a killing blow. He lanced forwards, ready to crush the throat. He thrust down, his stave slipped between the gorget, punching down onto the windpipe ready to-
“Lashrak! Va na klanash”
The words rang out around the arena. The killcode contained within them shutting down all movement in Etrian’s body, every joint locked in place instantly. The stave, only millimetres from its target, would not find its mark.
Lights went on, illuminating the deck raised above the arena. All around, looking in, ‘Vlorak warriors howled their displeasure at the downed warrior. It struggled its way out from under Etrian’s immobile form. A ‘Vlorak cub, his first spar, young and inexperienced. With an angry growl, it stalked towards Etrian’s rigid body. Spitting a curse it rammed it’s blade through Etrian’s chest, tearing through the metal casing, finding the synthetic nerves within before bursting out the back in a spray of ichor and mechanical debris. Etrian screamed, the same scream forced from a thousand throats before this one. His automated nervous system relaying every jagged shard up his brain stem, unable to hold back anything.
A wall section of the arena opened up, a network of machines appearing, carrying the shell of Etrian’s new body. Perfect in every way to Etrian’s species this new shell needed only a brain to start it functioning. The machines began to work, with a brutal efficiency they enveloped Etrian’s shattered casing. Etrian’s brain stem was ripped from the spent shell of the now wrecked body. This time he couldn’t scream, as much as he wanted to. In front of the watchers, and with little ceremony, Etrian was placed into the new shell. Another lesson in pain. Etrian’s new body began to activate, his stem bonding with the synthetic nerves and bundles of this new case.
This is why the ‘Vlorak would win. The perfection of their art and their unceasing practice against the styles of their foes. Soon these living cages would contain the remnants of Etrian’s species, like that of countless conquered species before them.
A new warrior stepped on to the floor, older than his predecessor. Etrian knew this one, they had fought before, it would know his moves almost before he made them. This would not last long before the pain began again. Etrian’s frame powered up, the killcode unlocked and Etrian stumbled forwards adjusting to his new body. The warrior bellowed a challenge, looking for that last weakness to expunge, the last skills to master.
Deep in his core, Etrian sighed, at the futility and the pain. If only it would end, no more fighting, no more resurrection just for more agony. If only he could close his eyes and let it all go. The ‘Vlorak warrior charged, sweeping his blade in a vicious arc. Instinctively Etrian raised his blade to parry.
Author: Malcolm Carvalho
Sneha glances at me and adjusts the collar of her gravsuit. The ocean depths are unforgiving to these elite land dwellers, even with their gravsuits and this room’s pressure neutralizing field. Yet they need this place. She shoots a dictating glance at me. I swallow my pride, walk to the dashboard at the corner of the room, and adjust the pressure shield.
“Your visits are becoming too frequent these days,” I tell her. “The last one was barely a month ago. This will only drain the harvesting here and produce weaker organs. According to our agreement…”
“Please.” Sneha clenches her jaws. “I know what we are doing. Why do you have to be so uptight? We spend a fortune running this place. The electricity to power the centre, to maintain the shield so the water pressure does not kill you. Otherwise, at 300 meters, you would have been crushed to pulp within minutes.”
I knew she would rub it in. “Who brought us here in the first place? You. You need the higher gravity so we can develop stronger muscles and organs, so you can use them. You have the gravshields only because you know an exposure to higher-G would kill us. What would that do to this city of yours, this organ cultivating haven you have built? How would you sustain your ‘immortality’ then?”
“Ah, so you think immortality is a privilege? You must visit land. See how the few thousands of us have to suffer just to keep the planet going. Tend to the crops, keep our numbers at an optimum, and maintain hygiene. Immortality comes at a price. Look at yourself, you don’t need to worry about this. We ensure you have a decent lifestyle. Your people can live however they want, date whoever they wish, have as many children as they like.”
“To what end? Have children so you have more of us as hosts for your organ factory?”
Sneha throws up her hands. “You think being immortal solves our problems? Seeing the same people all the time, not having children because infant mortality is almost 100% thanks to the climate on land. Never having anyone to care for, no one to mentor. Us never ageing, yes thanks to this harvesting place. The same decision makers with their indecisiveness that immortality brings in with an infinite supply of time, the same mistakes repeated. Immortality for what? So we, the last occupants of the land up there, can keep our flag flying? Lay claim to a piece of land as our historic home?”
“Okay, I get it. Where does that leave us?”
“It’s not that simple. We are both in this warp together. You must produce hosts for our organs, or we will slowly die out. As for us, we have to maintain the machinery here, power up this place so you don’t have to worry about anything but staying healthy. If we die out, you won’t live for long too.”
I’m tired of her argument. “Listen. We have known this for years. Our people are dying sooner, some of them even before they hit 30. What’s the point of procreating if they cannot see their children grow up?”
“Stop being emotional. Both sides have a job and we are doing the best we can.”
I stop arguing. There is no other way. Let them have the new batch of organs. My people have engineered the organ cells to grow exponentially even after they’ve been transplanted.
None of our engineers will be around to handle the consequences. And soon, none of these land-dwellers too.
Author: Justin Williams
“Shit…” Velia pulled the car over on the side of the road as the check engine light flashed. The car sputtered to a stop and Velia glanced at the rearview mirror.
Lily shifted in her sleep, causing a stretching sound to emanate from the leather seats. Her pink and blue clothes were still wet from the rain and her hair clung to her face.
Velia clicked the seatbelt off and stepped out into the storm.
Rain continued to pelt the cement of the silent city. The nearby buildings were dilapidated. Some of the windows were broken. No light came from within.
Velia’s white boots splashed through a puddle as she stepped around the side of the vehicle. She pulled her hair back, throwing the hood up.
A soldier in black bulletproof armor held a gun at her. Blue lettering glowed from his chest, arms, and back. It said MDF. “Ma’am, why are you out past curfew? There could be Marked out in the streets. It isn’t safe.”
“It’s my daughter.” Velia motioned to the car. “She was at a friend’s house. I only meant to pick her up and head home, but the car broke down.”
The soldier leaned to the side, looking in the car window. “Alright. Wake her up.”
Velia stared at the officer a moment. “Okay.”
She turned and opened the door, shaking Lily awake.
“Velia…? Are we there yet?”
“Not yet. We’re just going to take a short ride with this officer, and we’ll be there, okay?” Velia reached for a pair of black gloves and put them on Lily’s hands. “Keep these on. I don’t want you to catch a cold.”
Lily nodded before scooting out of the car.
Velia grabbed her hand.
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep you safe,” the soldier said.
“Thank you, sir,” Velia said.
The man turned and at that moment, a noise came from his helmet.
“Officer 277, a Marked was sighted southbound, in your direction.”
Velia tensed and reached for her back pocket.
“She stole a black car and has been traveling with a little girl held hostage.”
As 277 turned back around, Velia lunged at him with her knife.
He moved his arm in one swift motion, grabbing Velia’s wrist.
Velia’s eyes widened.
277 moved the gun in his other hand and pointed it at Velia’s face.
He turned to look at Lily. One of her gloves was missing, revealing a glowing purple mark.
277 released Velia’s wrist and pressed a button on the side of his helmet, pulling the visor up. His face was older.
He stared at Lily’s hand.
Flashing lights approached in the distance.
277 looked back at Velia, placing his gun away and handing her a key card. “You’ll need this to get through the city gate.”
“Run. I’ll handle this.”
Velia nodded. “Let’s go.”
An MDF car stopped behind Velia’s. Men wearing identical armor as 277 stepped out. One of them with a special star symbol approached 277.
“Where’s the Marked?”
“I’m not sure. All I found was the empty car.”
“Dammit. Not again.” He glanced around the area. “No sign of them anywhere?”
“Not that I could find.”
A low growling voice came from the commander before he turned to the others.
277 placed one hand on the commander’s shoulder. “We should head back. It’s late and we won’t find them in this weather.”
He slowly shakes his head and looks off in the distance. “You’re right.”
“Also, can I get a new key card? I lost it.”
“Again? What the hell, Jerry?”
Author: Damien Titchener
His mind had never felt such warm serenity before this.
Gazing upon the world below, the mix of whites, blues, and greenish browns coalesced into a vision of unmatched beauty. His sense of pride looking at this pale blue dot, as a great Earth intellect once described it, was immeasurable. Undefined by concepts of borders and flags, this was home. He wished others could see it as he did at this moment.
“How much time do I have left Ellen?”
Using too much oxygen would quicken the process.
Thirty-two minutes, fifteen seconds.
An air of expectation; he knew her well enough to know she wasn’t finished.
Jonathan? Would you like me to reopen communication with Houston?
“No, thank you. I just want to enjoy the view.”
Nothing could stop it now; he had run the numbers. A rescue was out of the question.
Jonathan had never taken much time to enjoy any moment. Astrophysicists in his line of work understood the necessity of movement; always on the go, always a problem to solve, a situation to handle. Trapped in open space floating back toward Earth, he had nothing but time now.
Jonathan? Do you wish me to contact your parents? Do you wish to say goodbye to someone?
“No Ellen, I’m fine.”
I don’t want you to die.
“We all die, Ellen. Unfortunately, my time is today. Even if I wish it to be different.”
A ripple of panic now.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Calm and centered.
It was the only way to see an opportunity.
“Will I cross paths with any satellites?”
Yes, in fourteen minutes and twenty-three seconds we will close in on an old American communication satellite.
“I have an idea.”
He brought up his right arm and accessed his suit computer. A marvel of engineering, the space suit had come a long way – not as bulky in the early NASA days and built for greater movement and flexibility. The display showed his trajectory, position and the slow countdown of breathable air. He could see Houston trying to contact him in vain; with messages appearing from those on the station.
No time for that. He opened the system application that would allow him to link with the incoming satellite.
What is your intention, Jonathan?
“I’m going to try and latch onto the satellite as it passes. It’s a long shot but I should be able to do it.”
He didn’t mention the possibility of burning up in re-entry was strong motivation.
I do not understand. How will this help you?
“It won’t. My air won’t last much longer, but it will allow me to help you, Ellen.”
I still do not understand.
“You may not understand now, but you will. You’ve been with me since I was thirteen. You’re my friend. Saving you will be my legacy. Now be a dear and activate the magnetic clamps in my boots. If the trajectory is right, as the satellite passes, I should be able to latch onto it. Transfer your base algorithms into the main input terminals. From there you can filter into the communication arrays and be free to roam the Net.”
He cut the communication channel. No room for distraction now, as the display told him the satellite had entered communications range. A quick and dirty hack to break the outdated firewalls; a quick burn on the satellite’s maneuvering thrusters to gently move it into his path.
He can see it now, a growing speck against the darkness of space coming closer.