Author : Rob Burton
He lifts the stained snow to his visor. Tiny mechanisms sample the stuff and, after sterilizing it (though that was hardly necessary at such low temperatures), sprays it as an aerosol into his nose and mouth. A tiny readout in his visor confirms his suspicions. ‘Waste dump’, he informs the others over the communicator. ‘They are lazy or foolish. Perhaps both.’
One of the others intentionally lets ‘Disgusting animal’ slip over the comms. He tries not care. Still, they live in the filth of cities, hoarded together like rats their very air a stinking fume. He’s had to share the tight, closed systems of a planetary transport with them and their sweat and filth for weeks. Sanitised urine was nothing.
He’d been brought as a guide to dark, icy Ganymede. Over-equipped as the folly of the rich men who employed him would have it, he knows he could survive indefinitely in this suit and on the life seeded onto this once sterile orb – though the others hardly recognise its existence. They all could, if they weren’t such fools, live by the life that, like him, loves the ice and the cold that is retreating so fast from their own world. Cold and ice these men treat as an enemy to be conquered.
They love their little wars. They use their murderous potential for nothing. They crave the opportunity to unleash it. They mutter discontentedly as they progress, doubtful of his ability to read the signs that to him, though subtle, are everywhere. They joke about kicking him into a crevasse.
In the dim starlight the entrance to the base is indistinct, covered with re-frozen ice that only he can tell apart from its immediate surroundings. The base itself clings to the underneath of the ice sheet, at the border with the water layer. Its location could not be found from space, so many miles beneath the ice, and the vehicle that had brought the relief crew was itself sunken far below the surface.
On Ganymede, in order to hide something you merely have to heat it up and let it melt into the ice for a while. An energy–expensive process, but warfare seems to ignore the energy rationing that has made so many lives a misery. People seem to believe that it is more important to cause human misery than prevent it, for a reason he could not understand. With a little waste of power, smaller things – like personal transports – might disappear forever into the ice to the eyes of those unused to it. He has to throw a snowball onto the area above the entrance to mark it for the soldiers.
They click their weapons into firing positions. Their leader uses an electronic eye that he trusts more than his own senses to look for its kin about the entrance. Finding none, he sends two of his command forward to set the melters. They should uncover the entrance in a matter of hours.
Their guide turns to go.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Away’, he simply states.
‘What? Don’t; you want to go home?’
‘My contract pays out to my family at the point that I deliver you to your target.’
‘But you are our guide…’
‘…and I have guided you. You are the paid killers, not I.’ He doesn’t add that he considers them ill-prepared and unlikely to survive.
‘Where will you go?’
‘Do you care?’
‘Let’s pretend for a moment that I do.’
‘This is a world. I intend to get to know it before you ruin it too.’
Author : Debbie Mac Rory
“I’m gonna take it”
“I don’t think you should…”
“What? It’s just lying here, it’s not like it belongs to anyone”
“You don’t know that”
“You mean one of these boulders is suddenly going to come to life and chastise me for taking its petrified little baby rock?”
“Well, no, not that-“
“You need to grow some. It’s just a pretty stone so I’m takin’ it”
“It’s not in our mission statement”
“We’re not supposed to bring anything back. You don’t know what might be in it”
“Tell you what, if anything does hatch out of this little stone, I’ll step right up and say ‘my bad’. How’s that?”
“You’re not even taking this seriously”
“Because there’s nothing to worry about! Alright, ok, tell you what, when we get back to base and get out of these suits, I’ll buy you a drink”
“From the still, naturally? Where else you gonna get anything these days?”
“The still? The same one that you conned me out of two weeks of dessert so you could fuel the damn thing?”
“Yep, that’d be the one”
“The same one you haven’t given me a drop from?”
“Hmph. You owe me a lot more than just one drink”
“Agreed. So I’ll just pop….this…in…. like so. There. Now, let’s get back to base.”
“I still thin-“
“Yes, I know, you think it’s all a bad idea. But what’s done is done now. Forget about it! Let’s just get those drinks”.
Author : Peter Pincosy
Steel floats overhead, encased in concrete, wrapped in duct and wires, our own inorganic trees. Coughing bloat from the towers pushes out heat into the sky, lays labor on the air. In the cracks fly screaming machines their tops reflect varied colors. Shuttle to a corner, stop, take the light at speed, the rhythm falls in precision. A humble man stands in his booth, hands at his side. He smells the spring air and sighs at another day, his hands pass money along with speed. His booth consists of snacks, magazines, glossy simple somethings that provide little sustenance, an item to pick up on your way. Soft hours pass in which nothing happens, but the breathing air around him fills with objects, sounds and he tilts his eyes.
The ugly past arrives in recall. He murdered men. Some that look just like the ones that file past in suits. In dark alleys, he remembers their struggle. Easy with experience he finds the thought appealing now and then.
But his hands are tied by the monitor. Lashed around his neck, buried into his brain stem it reads his body, scrolling numbers, lines and lines of information. If he could remain perfectly calm and hallucinate a scene of pastoral making while committing the act, he could do it again. He wipes a sweaty palm on his shirt and reaches out to take a proffered dollar. One by one he pulls them in and each one represents a slim movement upward, a piece of food, when he used to just take what he wanted.
Now they watch him closely, and he’s allowed to operate, but at the first sign of disturbance, if someone wants to detain him, if he moves from a state of humility and gains ego or dreams of murder too intensely it all stops and he can feel himself looking out from a useless body that must be reset. A man in a mask comes along, pulls out a key, and inserts it into his neck. Searing pain overcomes everything and chemicals are forced into receptors, another hard reset. Afterwards, out of the dark, he arrives and starts again, and the memories, the passions, it all comes slower, the effect of the new start manifest in a decreased sense of self.
With a stiff one dollar bill he receives a note, written in a crooked hand, “Your monitor has been blocked, live out your instincts.” And adrenaline rushes through his body. He could do it right now perhaps. Reach over the counter and pull the old lady close to his face, spit and breath mingle with choking sounds as he rips the life from her. And as he imagines this he realizes that he wouldn’t have made it this far if the monitor weren’t blocked. How many could he manage to finish off? Maybe they’ll realize and he won’t get another chance. He sees a man standing next to a secluded opening. Quickly, he turns in the face of the puckered old lady who shakes her dollar at him insistently. He flies through the back door and as he approaches the man, his fingers already feel the life end under their pressure. The man looks directly into his eyes, unwavering, unafraid. One hand in his pocket, and it moves, only a step away, the world suddenly halts, functions shutting down in sequence.
On the ground, as his sense of scent closes off and only eyesight is left, a note flashes in front of his face. “Another step toward squashing your brain to mush. –Recidivists Eradication Project”
Author : E.S Wynn
“The 882 looks cool.” Cylea glanced up, grinned. “How much for the 882?”
The old man gave her a quick glance, eyes wary over spectacles that stood out like antique flair garnered from a bygone age. His reply came solidly. “I can’t sell you the 882.”
“Why not?” She cocked her hip, let her eyes wander to the thing again. It was the next step up from the tungsten knuckle reinforcements she’d been looking at, a total arm rebuild that would replace flesh and bone with nanocarbon alloys and memory plastics– a near human approximation of an arm with a central cavity that was packed tight with the razor-edges of a collapsible, spring-loaded blade. “It’s better than a switchblade.”
“You don’t want the 882.” He said gruffly, turning away to busy himself with a collection of parts, optics and tiny cylinders packed with nanogenic goo that lay spread across the tool bench. He quivered, hands taken by tremors for an instant.
Curiosity flickered across her face. “Is there something wrong with it?”
“No, It’s a good product, solid design.” He sighed, his own eyes drifted up to meet the dusty overhead display and the flickering advertisement for the rebuild. “Great deal for the money.”
“Then why?” She asked pointedly. “It’s just an arm.”
The old man nodded silently, tiredly. “Just an arm.” He repeated. His hands touched the tools, glanced off the handle of a modified bone-saw that lay with its harsh circular blade submerged in sterile solution. “Just an arm.”
“Daniel?” She tried. He turned back, regarded her with bespectacled eyes.
“It’s a prosthetic, Cylea. I’d have to remove your forearm to install it.” He laid two greasy fingers on his wrinkled skin to illustrate, smeared grubby lines just a few inches short of the elbow, looked at her pointedly. “Think about it. You don’t want the 882.”
“I know what it is, Dan.” She looked away, crossed her arms. “Why should I care how much flesh it takes? The 882 is better than the stock I was born with. It’s Techware.”
“It’s an illegal streetmod is what it is. Black market,” He shook his head. “From Hong Kong.”
“So?” She shot back. “It’s not like I’m going to join the military or anything. Who’ll know?”
Dan sighed again, watching her for a long moment as his old hands settled on the table between them.
“How old are you, Cylea?”
“And you want to spend the next eighty years of your life with a techware arm that would show up on any weapon-scanner or metal detector you’re likely to run into? You know what that means, right? No more college, no access to government buildings, no air-travel.” He paused. “All because it ‘looks cool’ and you think it handles better than a switch blade.”
“Buy the knuckle reinforcements, kid.” He turned his back on her, busied himself at the bench again. “Lots of people get those, respectable people. Trust me. The 882’s for punks and amputees with nothing to live for. People with no future.” She looked away as he paused, unable to even meet the stare his back seemed capable of reaching into her soul with.
After a moment, he turned back to her again, wiping his hands on a rag, and offered her a slight smile that was oddly comforting before his lips parted, words bringing her eyes back to his again.
“We both know you have some kind of future waiting for you out there.”
Cylea nodded, forced her own smile
Author : Andrew Pang
The global media sighed at NASA’s attempt to laugh off trillions of dollars worth of international effort. Its called The L.O.F.T. [Lot of Floating Trash]. The Japanese first encountered it in 2011 at the Second Lagrange point, an area in space where gravitational forces seem checked. The Solar C probe was sent to observe its effect for commercial satellites. Instead of gently slowing to a stationary position, Solar C ceased transmitting. It happens I suppose. But other probes encountered the same problem, always at the L2 Point.
By 2022 another unmanned probe was sent specifically to investigate and found a three hundred meter transparent orb, scratched and dented by bits of floating solar panel and tungsten plating. The orb shifted. It changed shape, from spherical to cuboid, then to pyramidal and to rhomboid. The world hushed. Childish excitement gripped entire nations as the expectation of heavenly guests spiraled.
The gathering of probe after expensive probe began. Observatories around the world focused in on the mysterious object. It was difficult to see, laser topography simply refracted through the objects glassy surface. It seemed impervious to all the drilling and laser mass spectrography. Seemingly detecting this problem, it obligingly became opaque like mother of pearl. No sign of mechanical moving parts, no transmissions apparently sent or received, no heat signature. Yet it morphed continuously, ever more complicated and at Prime Number intervals, one second, two, five, seven, eleven, thirteen. After innumerable quasi-rhomboids and tetra-dodecahedra, scientists were puzzled to see several totally new shapes believed not to be possible in 3-Dimensional Euclidean space.
2027, and my how attention spans have shortened. The world grew weary of the ineffectual rubix cube in space. The LOFT now drew only the esoteric navel gazing sorts. As though sensing these people’s apathy, the shapes became simple again and the intervals changed. Sphere, six minutes, Cube, twenty eight minutes, Trapazoid, eight hours and twenty two minutes. Perfect Number intervals. Attention grew again, as the object became to blink like a faint pulsar in the night sky. Worries grew whether it was going to explode, just like a pulsar and douse the world in radiation.
2034 and a joint international convention finally approved a manned expedition. The world grew impatient and vaguely paranoid of the the object, sat one and a half million kilometers away surrounded by the most expensive clutter of mechanical parts, probes and bits in history. “The Lofty L.O.F.T.” the more sensible broad sheets called it. They had a point, at ten thousand kilometers it was clear exactly how much junk had been launched at the object, it was almost completely obscured by debris. Closer to five thousand kilometers. The blinking light stopped. A calm and collected voice spoke over the flabbergast shuttle crew: “About time you came in person.”