New Lines of Thought

Author: Rick Tobin

Linoleum floor tiles under Lieutenant Benson percolated. He watched his black and white control room warp in a rolling wave as a cacophony of grinding groans rose from below. He grasped slick white walls behind him for support, fearing his collapse. A nearby communication’s tech clenched his stainless steel table supporting radio equipment, preventing his rolling chair from careening out of control. Jerrod’s face, beneath his headset, reflected his boss’s growing terror.

“Is this how it takes everyone?” Benson screamed, with shock waves tugging his legs to near failure.

“No. It’s another quake,” Jerrod yelled back over the din. “We’re too far north for infiltration. This facility has ten-foot thick concrete footings with rebar. It’s a hundred miles beyond the tree line… not a green thing on this rock…but they’ve started tremors down south…could be Anchorage. I’ve lost contact with HQ. No one planned responses fast enough for this threat.”

“Never expected this last working Distant Early Warning site would be a safe haven from a bio-attack…like this hell.” Benson was still yelling after the station stabilized. Vertigo pulled at him, sending him rushing to a nearby chair, preventing vomit from spinning out of his overwhelmed stomach.

“Wouldn’t call us lucky,” Benson continued. “Compared to CONUS, maybe. Damn, even a full-out nuclear exchange couldn’t kill eighty percent of us in three days. Cities are all empty. No bodies to bury.”

Jerrod returned to his receiver, turning frequency dials, seeking any broadcasts since it went silent.

Jerrod interrupted. “Lieutenant, it’s weird. I didn’t even know these dinosaur sites from the Cold War existed till I got reassigned last week. They discovered I was finishing my bachelor’s in biology, planning to go civi on them. That’s a red flag. Brass claimed this was a critical operation and I fit the three No’s…”

They repeated the qualification line in unison: “No wife. No kids. Nobody.”

“I got the same line, sergeant. This rushed assignment was supposed to move me up the ladder after the increased Chinese threats. I thought we’d be protecting against missiles from Asia, not our own FUBAR…what did you call these things?” Benson rubbed his temples, squeezing back his dizziness.

“Mycelium, sir,” Jerrod responded, still listening to radio static.

“Explain again, why did DARPA idiots connect a supercomputer with AI to a fungus colony in Oregon? It’s beyond me. What the hell were they thinking?” Benson sat down hard, still queasy.

“My brother works…uh, worked… for Naval Intelligence in San Diego,” Jerrod answered. “He told me two years ago that our nuke subs needed a hack-proof com system. They considered using ocean fungus strands–after Cousteau established deep-sea floors were interconnected fungus jungles.”

“No shit? Really? That’s why they made contact with smart mushrooms? That’s nuts.”

“Maybe not. That Oregon site is the oldest living organism on Earth. Somebody must have thought it had advanced consciousness we didn’t recognize…and it might work with us once we found a way to reach out and connect.”

“So we pissed off toadstools who then told its cousins to eat us? And I thought my toe fungus was bad. Do you remember the LA news shots from yesterday of those threads quietly spreading, uncontrolled, dissolving every creature, dead or alive? Not a human bone left. They even got the roaches. It’s over, sergeant. We’re the mammoths this time, except we won’t leave frozen carcasses. Maybe we’ll be the last survivors, isolated here, but there’ll be no one to care–no one left to tell our story…or hear it.”

“Nobody. There’s a thought.” Jerrod continued monitoring the droning, continuous, monotonous static.

The Great Earth Heist

Author: Evan Alexander

On the last remaining colony on earth, a now desolate and fiery landscape, two men steal the STRATOCYCLE. The only hoverbike in the galaxy with a faster-than-light drive.
The last colony, Offworld, is a bustling epicenter of business, yet a seedy underbelly of bribery and thievery lies below the surface of this burning terrain.

”Are you sure they aren’t tracking us?” asked Pember, his eyes forward looking through the fiberglass helmet on his head, his hands tightened against the handlebars of the stratocycle.
”If they were tracking us, we’d be shot out of the sky by now,” said Orion, the secondary man who held his arm around Pember’s waist for dear life as the stratocycle zoomed through the air. Orion’s fingers pressed the tactile keys of the omniphone – off worlds compendium for hacking security systems. He held the omniphone tightly against his loose-fitting jet-black leather jacket, attempting to shield its circuits from the barrage of rain.
The shields on their helmets were illuminated by the neon effervescent signs of the business district of Offworld.
”Once we sell this thing to the highest bidder, we’re going to get out of here and never look back. I’ve got a wife and she’s expecting my son, so we’d better cover our tracks,” said Pember.
”You and I both know it’s not that easy. If we pull this off, the FTL drive will be sought after by every faction in the Galactic Peace Accords. We’ll be wanted criminals for the rest of our lives,” said Orion.

”That’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Orion said as he crunched the numbers into the omniphone, covering his tracks using a virtual proxy, and then sending a request for payment from the highest bidder on the Omni-net.
”That’s a risk you’re willing to take, but I never signed up for this, any of this. You may have nothing to lose, no family back home, but me, I’ve got a future, Pember. I’ve got people that need me, people that rely on me.”
The two heard sirens behind them, as the Offworld Police Force arrived, hovering in chrome armored cars.

”You used to talk about how you loved the risk, the chase – now you’re talking about being a family man. You’re not the same guy anymore.”
”And we’re not as young as we used to be Orion.”
”We’ll have to talk about this later if there is a later,” said Orion.
Orion’s hands fiddled with the omniphone, the payment had come through from the bidder, and the man whose arms were wrapped around the other’s waist, fiddled with the device as he delivered the money to two offshore accounts. Their fates and futures were sealed, for better or worse.
”We have you surrounded – do not attempt to flee, or we will open fire,” said a loud, authoritative voice overhead.
”You might have to shoot them,” said Pember.
”If it comes to that,” said Orion, as he pulled his BR-97, a six-shot light phaser out of his jacket holster.
”You might have to shoot them now,”
”Just a couple more seconds.”
”We don’t have a couple of seconds, Orion,” said Pember. ”Shoot them now.”
”Wait for it..” Pember’s hands revved on the handlebars, knowing it was now or never, and all of a sudden…
a hue of light painted the air, splitting the night sky, a fantastic, cerulean blast of energy – as the stratocycle zoomed past time and space, faster than air, faster than light.

Form 152CH-5

Author: Quinlan Moss

I wasn’t born in space like most of you. Until I was sixteen years old, I was planet-bound. I only dreamed of traveling to the stars and beyond. If I had known what it was really like, I would’ve remained where I was in my gravity well.

Maybe it does happen like that up there on the flight deck. Admiral Ma slams his fist on the console. “Let’s boldly go where no man has gone before and extract gargantuan amounts of cobalt.” Down here, six decks below, it doesn’t work like that. I’ve never even seen the flight deck.

How did I end up here, you ask? You didn’t? Well I’ll tell you anyway.
It started with a bolt. A vital, one-of-a-kind connecting device specifically designed and tooled out of the highest grade titanium in DRS Frazier’s own Manufacturing Excellence Department (they call themselves that, it doesn’t mean that they are excellent). I needed a new one.

I filed a Form 3652JD-6 with our Manufacturing Excellence Department to requisition a new bolt, like I was supposed to. An automated response from the supervising drone came back to me.

We are reviewing your request. You can expect a response in three days.

Five days later, I received a reply.

We have reviewed your request and have found deficiencies. Please correct the deficiencies and re-submit.

I opened up the form to see what they needed.

Please attach a scanned image of the requested item and indicate on the scan why the current item can no longer be used.

That was a problem. The old bolt had come loose and fallen out during an over-zealous docking at Calisto. I had no idea where it was. I had a few options. Option 1. I could take a photo of another bolt and make it look as if it need replacing. Yes, a dishonest approach. Honesty is not always the best policy. I’d need two bolts instead of one for that option. Or Option 2, tell the truth – I didn’t know where it was. A dilemma indeed. I told the truth. Another five days passed.

We have reviewed your request and found deficiencies. You have filed Form 3652JD-6. You must file Form 152CH-5 for a lost or stolen item and pay the associated fine of 600 chits.

This was ridiculous. The bolt itself, if I had bought it from Musafir would have cost 10 chits. Pay a fine for a bolt I hadn’t lost? Not on my watch. Option 1 now seemed like a better idea. I extracted an older bolt from a dark corner of DRS Frazier’s interior bulkhead, sanded down a few of the threads, scanned it, attached it to Form 3652JD-6, completed the rationale and re-submitted it.

We are reviewing your request. You can expect a response in three days.

We docked at Quirinus two days later. You know what happened there. It was all over the grid. The vibrations from the engine core destabilized the magnetic fields and the VASIMR thrust regulator exploded.

“Lucky to be alive,” they said. Yes, lucky, here in my cell with my conviction for improper maintenance.

The Clean-Up

Author: Steven Sheil

Vera exited the Ambassador Suite and activated the vacuum seal, ready for the next guests. The moment the seal was complete, she felt the pulse in her temple that indicated that her work schedule had been updated. COMMODORE SUITE, EAST WING came the order, directly into the forefront of her thoughts. She nodded her head to dismiss the notification, and started on her way to the other side of the hotel, following the route-map overlay that appeared in her left eye.
Her cart hovered beside her, moving with a steady hum in time with her steps. Some of the other maids named their carts like pets – Oscar, Buddy, Lucky, Coco – but Vera never had. The cart, with its compartments full of cleaning products – bleaches, germicides, Tucker and Co’s LeaveNoTrace™ (“the only way to lose that DNA!”) – was just a tool. She had no sentimentality whatsoever where it was concerned.
As she turned the corner at the end of the corridor Vera saw Michael – one of the other maids – approaching, his own cart (“Bellaroo”) hovering beside him. The terms of Vera’s employment allowed for a thirty-three second long personal interaction for every four hours of work and Vera, having seen no-one since beginning her shift 3 hours ago, and loathe to forgo her contracted entitlement, decided to engage him.
“Tough morning?” she asked.
“Overpump in the Starlight Lounge fleshpool caused a glut,” said Michael. He looked exhausted, “Taken three of us till now to get it contained.”
“Sounds like quite a job,” said Vera, who was practiced at avoiding any language which might conceivably be interpreted by the cart’s auditory monitoring system as being critical of the hotel. She raised her eyebrows in sympathy instead, and Michael gave the shortest of knowing nods in reply.
“Yes,” he said, “It was.”
With the interaction over, they both moved on, Vera praying that the fault with the Lounge fleshpool hadn’t spread to the Suites.
The fleshpools were the central attraction of all Bodell Fantasee Hotels. Employing the latest in IET (impulse-extraction technology) and combining it with SLF (synthetic living flesh), the pits were circular tubs recessed into the floor of each suite. On arrival, the pools would fill with SLF – which could then be animated by the IET implants the guests received on arrival. Any desire could be manifested in living flesh – any number of hands, eyes, mouths, genitals, any type of skin, fur, pelt or hide. Endless arrays of mindless, powerless beings, all subject to the whims of their creators.
Vera reached the Commodore Suite. As she went to unlock the door, it opened, and she came face-to-face with the departing guest, a man in his fifties, immaculately dressed, greying hair wet from a shower. For a moment his eyes met Vera’s, and she saw a spark of something – shame? – before he quickly looked away and breezed past her as though she wasn’t there. Beyond him lay the room and the remnants of his desires. Vera sighed and led her cart inside.

The Battle of the Amplifiers

Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

If breakthroughs keep occurring
let them in
– Death

By the year 2100, Detroit was know no longer as the Motor City. Few people called it Motown. It became known, at least among its own, as City of Cans.

In the 21st century, once the housing crisis became a permanent feature of North American life and no one could any longer afford a mortgage or rent, the Can Craze commenced. Detroiters sough out box cars, shipping containers, and dumpsters. They occupied semi trailers, campers, and tool sheds. Any can or container that wasn’t tied down -and even those that were- was seized and converted into a domicile.

Municipal, state, and national governments claimed they were powerless to tackle the rampant real estate speculation that set home ownership out of reach for everyone save the very rich. Soon, the traditional housing stock of almost every North American city was hollowed out, Detroit’s among them. In Motor City, local pensioners, mostly former autoworkers, lost their homes because they could no longer pay the land tax.

But this did not mean that Detroiters skipped town because, frankly, there was nowhere else to go. Motown’s infamous White Flight was now beside the point.

The young, the enterprising, and the desperate, all of those folks who could not enter the housing market formed a new class of people who abandoned the dream of owning an estate, 2 cars, and a yards of manicured Kentucky Blue Grass. They took to cans and containers, to envisioning their future through the lens of repurposed aluminum and steel. And they took their cans where they could find them: dumpsters squatting in weedy lots; shipping containers down at the port; even the old People Mover that had collapsed onto Woodward Avenue.

Detroiters became walkers. They no longer drove. The local auto industry went belly up. The city converted into 139 square miles of trails and foot paths. When the road pavement cracked it was not replaced. The city retired its bus fleet which added to the new housing stock.

Detroiters became gardeners. They welcomed bees and other pollinators, refusing to cut the grass, mandating that everything flower. They learned to forage for wild onion, mushroom, cabbage and mustard and they farmed worms for their truck gardens.

Depending on your perspective, what was happening in City of Cans was either a “green revolution,” a “libertarian revolt,” or, as the national government was calling it, a form of “leftist terror,” an assault on market freedom. These criticisms served as a warning: dark forces were gathering along Detroit’s frontiers, forces that intended to squash the city as a radical outlier; a rogue republic, a polis so arrogantly attuned to an ice free world plagued by disruptions to the food supply and violent, rising sea fleeing migrations. Everything Detroit did was viewed as insult/insurrection.

And so it was that, in the City of Cans, that the Black Lightning Brigades were born.

The brigades were an accident. It just so happened that at their first concert, held in the lobby of the former headquarters of General Motors, the power trio, Black Lightning, discovered that their music induced a ferocious energy in its audience. The music, performed in 30 second sonic bursts, was a novelty to listeners. It was music that returned to the old ways of guitar, bass, and drums, instruments that had gone out of fashion during long decades of compositions generated by computers. Black Lightning reintroduced the concept of musicians using their hands, their arms, their legs and their feet to perform fills, maintain a beat, strum and arpeggiate. In a do-it-yourself town, the music of manual dexterity won out. But a surprising offshoot was the violence, the feats of strength the music induced.

At that Black Lightning concert, dozens in the audience were injured when the crowd began to thrash about. The music’s impact upon the body was compared to the influence of Phencyclidine (PCP): audience members became so frenzied and strong that they began tearing out elevator doors, balustrades, and overturning booths and barricades with apparent ease. Taking note, Black Lightning introduced social distancing measures at future performances.

When Detroit was finally threatened with invasion, when armies of statists pledging fealty to the national authority showed up along the perimeter of the city, Black Lightning sent brigades of its fans to defend the City of Cans, to protect Detroit’s way of life, to ensure their little republic remained free.

The brigades lined upon along Wyoming Road, 8 Mile, and Alter. They barely knew that they were going to combat the gathered hosts. What they did know was the power of the music, of what Black Lightning did to their nerves, their muscles. And even though the Brigades were unarmed and outnumbered 5 to 1, and many of their members practically shit themselves when they saw what they were up against, still they won. Black Lightning and two of its protégé bands performed as they battle raged, injecting their listeners, their fans with a a ferocity that led to an undisputed victory, a day known locally as “The Battle of the Amplifiers.”

For months afterwards, the national government, the families of the slain, battle witnesses, and so many others in the City of Cans wondered how it was that Black Lightning’s music only impacted the fighting style of Detroit’s defenders, that it did not catalyze the actions of the invaders. There appeared no answer until one day, the bassist of Black Lightning declared,

“If you were from Detroit, you’d know.”

Nothing: not neglect, not economic collapse, not even an invading host could efface a city whose people had always found reasons to beat the odds. The trio’s bass provided the pulse, music-as-galvanic force; a unique source.

Black Lightning was the admission that Detroit’s inner groove was its weapon.