by submission | Sep 17, 2014 | Story |
Author : Sommer Nectarhoff
He knew what she would look like before she was created. He had always known.
“Yes, I’ve always known.” He smiled into her closed eyes as he raised his brush to add a few eyelashes to one of her eyelids.
They said that he would be unable to do it. They said that he was mad.
Mad? No, he was an artist.
“I am an artist.”
The tip of the paintbrush floated in the air and left little strokes of paint hanging before him that were held aloft by the tenacity of his imagination. He dabbed a little bit of pink around the right nipple to add some texture to her areola.
He touched his finger to the left nipple. It was cold and slightly hard. The paint had dried.
The artist circled his painting. When he was at her back he stopped and looked closely at her neck.
“You are too perfect, my darling.”
He took his knife and mixed a chestnut brown on the palette. He took a clean brush and dipped it into the paint before adding a few freckles to her neck.
He circled the naked woman again.
The brush dipped again to the palette and he added some shade above her navel and then put his materials on the work table before sitting down on his stool, where he gazed at the painting for some time.
She was tall, but a few inches shorter than he was. Her lips were a bright and bloody red, her cheeks a softer hue.
He stood and took a pin from the table. He held it in his left hand and pricked his right thumb.
A few drops of blood emerged from the tiny hole in his skin. He set the pin back down and raised his thumb. He pressed the blood to her bloody red lips.
“I love you.”
And then he leaned forward and closed his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her naked body and kissed her.
Warmth began to flow through her body. Her heart fluttered against his chest.
He took a step back and watched as she stirred.
She opened her eyes. Her irises were an icy blue.
“Mad? No, I am an artist.”
by submission | Sep 16, 2014 | Story |
Author : Eugene Brennan
The humans stared at the slogan scrawled across the prep room wall. Sergeant Drake kicked some metal scraps out of the way, switched on his quad beam, and scanned the graffiti.
“It’s a quote from the First World War,” said Captain Chang. “From Kaiser Wilhelm II to his troops as they—”
“I don’t care what it is.”
“Of course, General.”
“I want it gone in five minutes.”
“Yes, General Skott.”
Drake’s quad beam cast a red glare from one corner of the room to the other, then he shut down the quad beam and transmitted the results to Military Control. But what difference would it make? One robot was the same as another.
At the top of the steel staircase, General Skott stood in the doorway, gazing down at the lines of grey robots which were ready to be shipped to War Zone D. The robots had been fabricated and assembled in two days, software updating had taken a further three, but ten hours from now they would be on the front line, fighting for the Alliance. And, on the opposite side, the same grey robots with the same software, but for the Federation.
Two small cleaning bots lingered by the door but the General took no notice. He pulled up the collars of his green army overcoat and looked along the rows of cold-faced robots. Robots and babies, they all looked the same to him.
“The CCTV images showed us that the robot is regular infantry. That’s all we can say for sure,” Captain Chang said.
The General didn’t turn towards Chang, just nodded, and stared down at the infantry robots marching, line after line, to the Troopships. They were eight feet tall, dull metallic grey, with dark impassive eyes. Their titanium feet pounded against the concrete floors and they gripped Quork lasers in large claw-like fingers. But one robot had corrupted software. One robot, who would never come home, who would be a mangle of metal and circuits in less than 24 hours, who would never see a falling leaf, had graffitied the wall.
But it only takes one, thought the General, stuffing his hands inside his coat pockets. Then it spreads to two. Three. A hundred. A thousand.
“Has this happened before, General Skott?” asked Captain Chang. “With robots, I mean. If—”
Some men grow tall with war but others, like the General, the more they learn of robot wars, the more they shrink into their overcoats. He remembered the first time he’d seen a regiment of one million robots massing outside the city, the first time he’d seen a one-million-strong metal horde storming the enemy lines. Of course, they couldn’t kill humans, just robot against robot, but—
Through the glass-domed ceiling General Skott watched the Troopships, like thousands of glowing fireflies, flitting away into the sky.
In one month the leaves would be falling from the trees.
by submission | Sep 15, 2014 | Story |
Author : Gray Blix
They met after hours in her office.
“Dr. Molloy, I’m Detective Buckley,” he said, flashing his ID and a smile. “Thanks for agreeing to see me.”
He sat across from her, scolding himself for inappropriate thoughts about the way she filled her chair. She was intimidated by his bulk, which overflowed his chair.
“You want to talk about Schrei.”
“Yes. The recent victims, tasered and smothered. Schrei’s MO.”
Forcing a smile, “You think he has risen from the grave?”
“No, ma’am. I think there’s a copycat killer, and he’s going after anyone connected with Schrei’s prosecution — the arresting officers, the DA, the judge. You consulted on that case.”
“Which puts me in danger.”
She didn’t look like any criminologist he’d ever seen, except on TV.
“Right,” assuming an upright posture, “as I said on the phone, you need protection. That’s one reason I’m here.”
“I’ve been assigned lead on this case, and I could use your help. Your book on Schrei is remarkable. Did you gain those insights from reading his digitized cube?”
“‘Reading’ it? The cube is not an ebook. It contains petabytes of compressed data meant to be recovered as a whole, a fully functioning human consciousness. You can no more read a cube than you can read a mind. That was my point in the book. My insights were the result of painstaking analysis of behavior, patterns, clues, forensics . . .”
“Of course, I didn’t mean to imply otherwise,” noticing an object on her desk, “Is that the cube?”
She placed it in the palm of his large right hand.
He stuttered, “Whose idea was it to upload the mind of a serial killer?”
“His cancer progressed to stage IV during the trial. Since he hadn’t been convicted yet, he had every right to arrange for the upload by GPM.”
“Guardians of Perpetual Minds.”
“So, like cryonics, freezing heads and keeping them in cold storage? Only with images of minds stored in cubes? Weren’t they supposed to hang on to those cubes until technology advanced and they could transfer the contents to . . . what? A computer, a robot, a body?”
“Any host capable of assimilating digitized minds and allowing them to resume consciousness. When GPM went bankrupt, unclaimed cubes were up for grabs, so the university acquired them for research purposes.”
He decided the shade of her red hair could not have come from a bottle. She was the real thing, genuine from the tip of her hair to . . . everything below.
Bringing the cube up to eye level, “This thing could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Once a killer, always a killer.”
“Yes, it is likely that Schrei’s recovered mind would have the same primal need to kill.”
He felt a twinge at her uttering the phrase ‘primal need.’ The content of that sensitivity training course he’d been required to take evaporated from his memory.
Leaning forward, “I need you, Dr. Molloy. Please . . .”
“Consult on the case, Detective Buckley?” she said, finishing his sentence as she gently removed the cube from his hand. “I’ll do better than that.”
Her free hand pressed a taser against his neck and 50,000 volts left him writhing on the floor, where she smothered him.
“I’ll make you a hero who gave his life trying to warn me, trying to protect me,” she said as she pressed 9-1-1 into her cell phone.
She dragged him into the hall, and while she waited for the police to arrive, she went over her story, how she had arrived late for their meeting and found his lifeless body at the door to her office.
by submission | Sep 14, 2014 | Story |
Author : Connor Harbison
It was a bright and stormy orbit. Wave after wave of solar radiation buffeted the Barracuda, wreaking havoc with her electronics and damaging her solar sails. Captain Aguilar frowned at the display on the bridge.
“Sir, the mainsail can’t take much more of this. We had to bring in the mizzen, and the foresail is showing signs of strain too,” said Lieutenant Chen.
“Can we bring all the sails in? Just ride out the storm on this trajectory?”
“Negative, sir. Our outermost sensors are already fried. If we stay put eventually everything will shut down, first sail controls, then shielding, and finally life support and other crucial systems.”
Not an enviable situation to be in. Aguilar had only been in one other stellar storm of this magnitude. At that time Aguilar had been a midshipman, and there were more senior officers on which to rely. Now it was all on his shoulders; every soul aboard the Barracuda depended on the captain to see them to safety.
“Adjust the mainsail and foresail to catch the brunt of the stellar wind,” Aguilar decided. “Unfurl the mizzen as well. I want a full press of carbon.”
Aguilar watched apprehensively as the carbon nanotube sails unfurled then adjusted themselves. Seconds later the entire ship began to change direction, running before the cascades of high energy particles ejected by the nearby star.
“Captain, we’re getting reports from the crew that the sails are tearing.”
“It’s not coming up on any of the displays.”
“The sensors that feed into those displays went offline hours ago. We’re relying on old fashioned word of mouth from the crew.”
“Very well. Inform them that the sails will stay up. Tell the helmsman to bring her four points to starboard.”
“Right away, sir.”
Lieutenant Chen carried out the captain’s orders, keeping his reservations to himself. Aguilar was unorthodox at times, but he always got the right results in the end. Chen hoped for his own sake, and that of the crew, that the captain knew what he was doing this time.
“Captain, mizzen is in shreds, foresail is almost the same. The mainsail is holding, but I’m not sure for how long. There are a dozen tears in it.”
“Fine, fine. Stow all sails. Get them out of this bombardment.”
Lieutenant Chen never knew how the captain could stay so calm in dire straits like these. He relayed the orders before looking to Aguilar expectantly.
“What now, sir?
“Now? We wait.”
The Barracuda was down to basic life support and communications by the time they picked up a friendly signal.
“This is Vanquisher Station, come in Barracuda.”
“Captain Aguilar of the Barracuda. We’ll need help coming in to dock. Our sails were ripped up in the stellar storm and we don’t have much in the way of control. Right now we’re just coasting on inertia.”
“You made it through that storm? A dozen ships must have been lost in that. We’re still repairing the station.”
“Well add another item to your repair list,” said Captain Aguilar. “The Barracuda needs to be made whole.
by submission | Sep 12, 2014 | Story |
Author : Dan Larnerd
Doctor Grace Virchow sat at her computer desk with her eyes closed. Her office was dark and full of deep shadows. Only the flickering blue light of her computer monitor illuminated the scene.
Next to her sat a cold cup of coffee and a picture of her family that lay face down. The wall that stood behind her was bare. The diplomas and professional accolades lay scattered at its base. Her humanitarian award sat in a nearby trashcan.
An anguished cry echoed from down the hall. Doctor Virchow opened her eyes.
On her monitor was a high-priority email from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. It began with a long list of recipients followed by an urgent message set in a giant type.
Attention Hospital Medical Personnel:
Several cases of a parasitic infection have been reported in your region. It is highly contagious. This parasitic organism may be extraterrestrial in nature. Please report any cases to the CDC for immediate military quarantine. See attached photo.
In the upper corner of the email was a paperclip icon showing a photo had been attached to the email. Doctor Virchow frowned and clicked on the file.
A picture of a young military private appeared on the screen. He glared bitterly at the camera with his hands cuffed behind him. Across his neck, and growing up the side of his face, was a swarm of turquoise-colored spores. Some of them were the size of marbles while the biggest were the size of ripe plums. Two armed men stood in the background pointing their weapons at their infected comrade.
“No! Don’t put that on me! No!” a patient screamed from down the hall.
Doctor Virchow deleted the emergency email and the picture of the infected solider disappeared from her screen. She sat back in her chair and gently stroked the spores growing across her own face.