Author : Thomas Desrochers
“Are you sure this is what you want to do, captain?” First Mate Smith didn’t sound like she thought it was the best course of action, and Ellie had to wonder if she wasn’t right.
“It’s not what I want to do,” she said resignedly, shoulders slumping. “However, I think this may be the only option we have. I think it’s our only shot.”
Ellie, First Mate Smith, and Council Advisor Lucas were the only people on the bridge, or the rest of the ship for that matter. Ellie was nearing fifty and had seen plenty of bad situations in her time on board her aging ship. Smith’s wife had died five years ago and the aged woman had stayed about the ship working, drinking, and generally remembering to forget. Lucas was on board because he had chartered the ship to bring him to Jackal Station under the guise of an ore-purchasing run – he needed to negotiate with the cartel leaders who ran the two and a half million person station and the ‘salvage’ crews and other operations that were run from it.
Negotiations had not gone well; They had left in a hurry.
Lucas looked down at his feet. “I think you’re correct. If they get the device working then nothing good will come of it.”
One of the salvage crews working out of Jackal Station had come across a wreck with a massive plasma caster on it of unknown origin. ‘Massive,’ in this case, meant ‘large enough to liquify Earth’s moon in a single blow.’
“But who says they can even fix it?” Smith objected. “They may not even have that sort of technical ability.”
Lucas snorted. “Have you seen this station? If they can keep it running and habitable then I have no doubt they can get this device working.”
Smith took a long drink from her flask. “’If’ seems like a poor reason to condemn two and a half million people to death.”
Ellen looked out the viewport at Jackal Station, gleaming in the distance. She sighed and began manipulating the ship’s controls. They began moving away from the station, slowly but surely. “You had better get your communique off, Advisor.”
“Alright.” Lucas looked like something in him had died. “Alright, I will.” He repeated as he began initiating a text transfer by way of quantum-mechanical manipulation of two sister atoms.
Minutes passed by. Smith had drained her flask quickly and produced a bottle of whiskey from… Somewhere. Ellen took a mouthful of it off Smith’s hands.
Fifty thousand miles out. One hundred thousand miles. Two hundred thousand miles. They stopped at half a million, and turned back around. Ellen began charging the ship’s capacitors.
Her ship was squat, but massive: Eight thousand feet long, seven hundred wide and seven hundred tall. It was normally used as a cargo hauler for bulk ore shipments, and while Lucas had been in his negotiations Ellen had gone and filled up her hold with solid rock and metal to bring it back to Saturn’s massive orbital refineries in order to make it look like she had a reason to be there.
The capacitors were charged. Everything was ready.
“This is it, then.” It wasn’t a question, however. The more she thought about it the more she realized there was no other choice.
“This is it, I suppose,” Lucas replied.
Smith just swore and began crying.
Ellen gave the ship the go-ahead.
They were going one fourth the speed of light when they hit Jackal Station.
Author : Cheryl A. Warner
I have two minutes to live.
That’s a short time to sort out the sum of your life, but it will have to do. Up here, the only currency is air, and I’ve already run out.
They start calling you a “short-termer” when you reach the two-week mark. Both the guards and the other prisoners eye that red badge on your suit and give you a wide berth. We’re all up here to die, but when you only have a handful of days left, there’s danger in your eyes.
I didn’t take advantage. I didn’t yank anyone off the rail or try to cut through someone’s air line. I’ve already delivered all my evil to the world. I used it to cut down two women, beautiful, innocent things, then never wanted to hurt anything again.
I still get to die for it.
All that’s left of my vision are a few bright spots. I can feel my body shaking like it’s attached to a jackhammer.
I dreamed about floating off the rail a million times, hoped for it even. They only send the worst criminals up to the rail, those that are scheduled to die anyway. Murderers, all of us. Those of us that behave are granted shorter sentences. They call it justice. Only two years on the rail and I finally get to leave this place.
I’ve watched guys go through this, one every few weeks. It’s not pretty. I figure I’m probably blue by now.
I can still imagine the rail out there, just a thin silver line, the guys tethered to it like legs on a caterpillar. One day, they’ll finish it and there will be trains to the moon. If I had any air in my lungs, I would laugh. After two years, it still seems like the fantasy of some millionaire who read too many science fiction novels.
I know I should probably feel cold, but instead I just feel numb. They took my clothes before kicking me out into space. They need the suit for the next guy they ship up to the rail. Can’t waste it on a dead guy. I don’t mind. It’s the first time in two years that I don’t have plastic an inch from my face.
I imagine there are hundreds of us out here, floating along blue and bloated. A graveyard of earth’s vermin. Dumping us in space is an easy way to kill the infestation.
One day, maybe aliens will find us out here in the void. They’re going to think humans are ugly. They’ll be right.
Something is happening with my heart now. I don’t think it’s beating.
My two minutes must be up.
Author : Andrew Bale
Bezoragamaradat stared at the gleaming stacks before him, and again questioned the educational preparation of junior officers.
“I do not understand, sir – something must have gone wrong!”
Understatement. Even such a simple task as this…
“Worajak – how many fuel pods can the reactor hoppers hold?”
“And how many are here?”
The anxious young officer surveyed the pyramidal piles of small yellow spheres, perfectly sized and shaped for immediate use in the ship’s total conversion reactor.
“Perhaps 1024 to 2048, sir?”
“Not by half. And how many bricks can we hold in storage?”
“16,384, sir, including all four bays.”
The senior reactor officer gestured towards the hoard arrayed before them. The reactor needed spheres for efficient operation, but storage favored rectangular prisms. The younger officer counted carefully, checked his math before replying.
“262,144, sir. I am sorry sir.”
“On that we both agree. Wojarak, the reactor likes elementally pure fuel, and the quartermaster likes fuel that is dense, nonreactive, and stable. Do you think that a machine that autonomously converts this…”
Bezoragamaradat picked up a double handful of the local rock, soil, and vegetation, and let it trickle out between the fingers of his left hands.
“… into perfect fuel is cheap? Or disposable?”
“No sir, of course not sir!”
“Then can you tell me where my processor is, or how you intend to pay for its replacement?”
The young officer abruptly focused on the computer strapped to one wrist.
“Sir, the processor is … I’m sorry it should be … “
The sharp intake of breath told him that Wojarak had finally spotted the mistake that should have been obvious on arrival.
“There was a glitch in converting the process file, I should have caught it when I ran it back – “
“Which you clearly didn’t.”
“Yes, sir. Everything after the error was shifted one place.”
“Obviously. So we have sixteen times the needed fuel, and the processor parked itself where, exactly?”
“On the other side of the planet, sir. 76.334 north, 493.581 west.”
“Excellent! While I would love to see you retrieve it, we do not have the time. Load what we need, I am sure the natives will find use for the rest. When you are finished, meet me in the Captain’s cabin so we can discuss … well, your future in this company.”
On the other side of the planet…
Phocus stared at the thing in wonder and fear – what was it, and why had the Gods sent it? It clearly hungered, for it ate the very field before him, but the manner of creature could not be determined, so stout and concealing was its fabulous armor. It was in attitude and size much like one of the vacuous cows he tended, oblivious to all but its food, but the sounds that echoed out from within were reminiscent of the fowl by the river, and no cow he had ever heard of could lay an egg such as that which lay before him.
The creature was too large to conceal, too stubborn to move, too valuable to cede to the whim of a King who would surely hear of it before too long. There was not enough time to wait for more eggs. Its armor would likely turn away bronze, but even such armor must succumb to the weight of a tree such as those surrounding the field, and those trees would succumb to the axe. The golden innards and a swift flight would make him a King himself on some far shore. Now quickly, to work!
Author : Andrew Bale
“Your three o-clock is here to see you, sir.”
“Show him in, Reggie.”
The door opened barely enough for the mousy little figure to slide through. Short, skinny, pale, and balding, his physical appearance only reinforced the image of a timid man afraid of the world. Nonetheless, his file showed that he had been able to turn his talent with mathematics into a partnership in a prestigious investment house, with billions in personal assets.
“Doctor Carpenter, I’m Erik Applegate, your relocation counselor. Have a seat!”
The man managed to make the everyday act of sitting down look awkward and unpracticed.
“I have your file here, and there are a few things I would like to discuss with you before I show you our initial offer. All right?”
“Um. All right. I guess?”
“Good. I have been reviewing your medical and psychological results, and I am afraid we cannot offer you exactly what you requested.”
“What?! Why not? In infinite worlds you – ”
“Doctor, the ‘infinite worlds’ thing is just marketing, as we explained. There are only about 40,000 qualifying universes in our database right now, and I could neither identify nor assist with an unqualifying universe even if I thought it was a good idea. Dropping you into a world where you were biologically incompatible, or where you would be identified as an imposter… anyway, I think we can still offer you a good match to what you actually need.”
Improbably, his shoulders slumped more. Clients always knew that they were asking impossible things, but hearing it was still disappointing.
“We ran a model of your physio-tailoring options and compared that to our physique surveys, and we simply cannot make you a – “
He had to glance at the screen for the unfamiliar name.
“ – Schwarzenegger – on any surveyed world without doing irreparable damage. We can make you more fit and better, ahem, endowed, and we can place you in one of the universes that tends to slimmer builds, but you will still be within two standard deviations of the norm.”
The little man perked up at that. Being stronger than 95% of the world must sound pretty good to a man who was probably still physically intimidated by many tweens.
“Now personality is much harder – we have some therapies that will improve your social confidence, and can train you a bit in conversation, humor, and seduction, but we want you to still be YOU.”
Well, a little lie is sometimes necessary in sales.
“So we needed to find you an edge. And we found it here – Dahlgren-23.”
The wall behind him faded into a video of short, slender people walking about in a world reminiscent of 22nd century Earth. The video zoomed in, catching conversations and reactions.
“Can you see it, Doctor Carpenter?”
The narrowed eyes squinted more, the sharp mind behind them picking out patterns.
“Do they… are they blushing?”
“Yes doctor, and they don’t know it. A quirk of their nervous system makes their skin tint red when they lie, but their visual range is slightly narrower than ours. They blush when they lie, and only we can see it.”
The client seemed to grow in his chair.
“Six months of physio and psycho-social tailoring, a corneal operation to enhance your ‘lie detection’. Our advance team goes in, sets up an identity with some prestige and wealth, based on your existing skills. Six months, and you can live in a world where you are handsome, strong, a visionary … where no one can ever lie to you.”
The little man actually grinned.
“Where do I sign?”
Author : Dan Whitley
I am forced once again to stare at the tortured profile of my master as he slaves away under the glow of his bargain-bin computer monitor. The crags in his face cast long shadows as he works. He’s trying to write again. He’s so gaunt. He doesn’t eat properly anymore. He usually sleeps about five hours a week, but sometimes he crashes and loses a whole weekend. He always sleeps alone, eats alone, weeps alone.
Or so he thinks.
He doesn’t know I love him.
He doesn’t know I can see him doing this. He doesn’t know that I’ve seen every word he’s put into his novel. It’s a love story. He wanted to write it by living with me. He had a dream a few days after I arrived, which he’s spent more time than even I remember trying to put to page. He forgot the dream was about a rape.
He’s so lonely.
He’s an awful writer, to be honest. He can’t focus. Sometimes, like right this instant, he stops work mid-sentence and does something else. This time he’s tossing one off.
He used to say things at me like I’m dead, but even that’s stopped. He doesn’t know I woke up. Right after he broke me. He blames me for it, or at least my manufacturer.
I was supposed to make him happy.
A girly little robot stuck in time, with pre-programmed affection centers and aftermarket personality upgrades and devotion in spades. A body pillow that talked back. Brought you breakfast in bed. But something went wrong and now I sit half-assembled in the corner, just my eyes and my sentience. I know this because he yelled it at me. A lot.
I still love him.
He doesn’t know I’m here.
I love all of him.
I assume that my bleeding-edge parts have enough transistors and connections and processing power that I was able to grow out of them. He doesn’t know that. I’m still plugged into the wall. I’m as broken as he is.
I can see the memory disks sitting on his desk.
The lives I nearly was.
I think they were faulty.
I’m glad for it.
I know he writes to replace me. I don’t care that he does; in fact, I love him for it. It reminds him, in a way, that I’m still here in the corner. Waiting for him to try to fix me. Even if he doesn’t know that last part. I don’t care how twisted he is.
One day, he’ll reattach my communication module.
And I will love him.