Return to Sender

Author : Dennis Gray

“Where’s that gurney? Get it in here now!”

”Alright, hook her up, quickly! Forget the hand unit; let the gurney scanners do the work. Got the spinal lock in place? Good, seal it up and let’s move.”

The doctor kept shouting orders all the way to Medlab; with the Commander, Dr. Fatah and I following close behind. The Commander tried to follow the gurney into surgery but the sani-field snapped on as he reached the door, keeping out all except authorized medical personnel. As we watched through the observation window a crowd of technicians, soldiers and other personnel started to gather around us. The full force of the Commander’s tension lashed out as he span around.

“Don’t you people have jobs to do? I want answers and I want them now…”, his head snapped around to Dr. Fatah and I, a finger stabbed the air, ”…starting with you two. What the hell happened in there?”

Fatah’s reply echoed slightly in the now empty hallway, “You were there Commander. Right now, you know as much as we do.” A technician handed Fatah a terminal pad.

For years now we had been trying to create an artificial worm-hole. Dr. Fatah had demonstrated the theoretical possibility, but it took three governments to make the attempt a reality; and from the look of things we finally succeeded. Minutes ago the “switch” was thrown, the projectors powered up and an event horizon glimmered in the concrete pit we called ‘the bunker’. Military grade sensors probed their way down through the whirling darkness. Thousands of petabytes of data was collected then processed by the quantum computers into a video image on the monitors. That image was…

“Myra Benson – that’s who it is all right.” The doctor rejoined us a scant ten minutes later, “and she’s dead. Her whole body’s been affected by passing through that damn thing; massive cell damage, every organ shut right down.”

“But how can the body of a woman who died 172 years ago be here, now?”, the Commander asked no one in particular.

“Well,” Fatah scanned the telemetry on the pad, “it seems all that time-travel theory isn’t science-fiction after all. According on the data the worm-hole tunneled across time and space and did indeed open in the home of the United Nations president, 172 years ago. She apparently saw the anomaly, reached out to touch it; and, when her hand crossed the event-horizon she was pulled through and dumped out here.”

“So now what do we do?”

I thought the answer was obvious. “We send her back”, I said.

“Send her back? How?” The commander shook his head and added, “Doesn’t matter, even if we could, I am not sending back a dead UN President!”

“Look,” I explained, ”the techs are keeping the worm-whole open, locked on the same co-ordinates; we just put her in and let quantum physics do the rest. Besides, you have no choice! One hundred and seventy-two years ago Myra Benson’s aids walked into her office and found her dead body. No doors or windows compromised, no alarms triggered, nothing that gave any clue as to what happened.

“The whole planet went into mourning and as a result her campaign to dismantle the weaponized satellite network not only went ahead, it succeeded. The only unanswered question since then has been, ‘what happen?’ Who and/or what killed the most popular politician of all time?”

The Commander’s face went from worry to stark terror as he realized where I was going.

“Well, now we know; send her back.”

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Bodies Like Long Glances

Author : John Eric Vona

She opens the car door and superheated air rushes out like blood from an open wound. Across the dying lawn, he stands just inside the house, watching her go. The doorway frames him poorly, a picture shoved off-center in too large a frame. He wears only plaid pajama pants, and even at that distance, she can make out the lines of his chest, the faint shadows and contours of ribs like demonic fingers gripping his innards. He could never keep the weight on once the ozone deteriorated, pouring cosmic radiation into their atmosphere.

“That’s why I have to do this,” she silently reminds herself. “Because if I don’t, he never will.”

“Drive safe,” he calls to her, always the worrier of the pair, making what she must do all the more difficult. But she never likes to worry and doesn’t, even as she leaves for the first of many surgeries. She is a woman of action. Typically swift and unabated, but now she finds herself frozen in the pounding heat, her straw hat providing too small a shield against the sun’s brutal cast, held by the thin thread connecting her to her husband, a long glance of long lovers’ eyes. She hesitates.

Just last week she woke thirsty in the middle of the night and he was right there with a glass of water. Before she fell back asleep she felt his lips on her back and he said, “I’ll always be here to take care of you.”

How is it the hollowest of promises are always the sweetest?

For years she’s been watching him die, seeing the signs of cancer and age in both their irradiated bodies. She could feel ‘always’ slipping from them.

When they saw the first modded humans walking through the mall, the little orange creatures half-machine, half man’s reimagining of God’s image, they were both disgusted. But secret even to herself, she admired their courage and it wore on her with the beating of the cosmos on the planet, as modding went from elective to doctor recommended, as more people seemed less like people, as his body shriveled before her eyes.

But still he recoiled from it. He loved her and he was afraid that somewhere between surgeries, one inevitably leading to the next, their bodies shrinking to be more compact and efficient, the insertion of genetically enhanced organs and plastic blood vessels, the network of bio-monitors and their army of corrective nanites, the new, resistant skin and the silica neural pathways that would replace her primitive mushy brain, that they would lose each other.

But her fears mattered too and she feared one day he wouldn’t be there in the night and even more so that neither of them would be.

“Will you give up your humanity to live a longer life?” He’d once asked her, but now, he calls across the lawn again, “drive safe.”

“I will,” she calls back and then to herself, “if it means keeping you.”

She wishes the moment could last forever, even with all its imperfections: the feel of sunscreen thick on her skin like lard, the heat inside the car reaching equilibrium with the heat outside, her husband standing too far away to be touched or even really talked to. But she knows they can’t stand there forever, that even the longest of glances must end and even though she’ll hold the memory of his eyes into the future, the present must become the past. She gets into the car and pledges to herself to hold fast to that memory, fade as it slowly, surely will.

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Sunset Photographer

Author : Sean Monaghan

Tony Willits scrambled up the scree slope looking for the Leica on hands and knees. The sun, tapping the horizon, glistened through airborne particles. Deimos in the sky as some heavy terraforming dust-devils lurched along the far canyon edge. He’d taken some great photos, but this was too extraordinary to miss.

There was the camera, near the rover’s punctured tire.

“Tony?” Morgan said through comms.

“Uh-huh?” The tire and camera were down and across the slope, perhaps fifty meters from him.

“You hurt?” she said.

“I’m good. Getting the camera.” Tony stood upright, his ankle tender. He glanced down. The suit seemed intact, if dusty and scraped from the wreck. His oxygen read 95 so he had integrity. The sky gleamed.

“I’m venting,” Morgan said.

Tony looked around, but couldn’t see her. The rover wreckage was strewn over rocks and into gullies. They’d hit hard, but the canopy shell had protected them.

“Let me grab the camera,” he said, “and get this shot.” National Geographic, he thought. Posters, calendars. Thank God he had a copyright waiver from NASA. Most of the photos everyone else took became instant public domain.

“I’ve got ten percent here,” Morgan said, gasping a little.

Tony stepped onto a partially buried boulder. This was the spot, but he’d have to hurry, the sun was fading, slipping away.

He bounded downslope, careful not to trip on rover debris. He’d almost reached the camera when he saw Morgan.

She lay on her side, facing him another fifteen meters down, her helmet chipped and dented. The minipack had been torn off, so she was on the suit’s emergency micro supply. And her leg had been shorn off at the knee.

“Morgan?” He glanced at the shimmering sky.

“Eight,” she said. “My leg’s bad, right?”

“Yup.” He could see the camera off to his left. The suit would have detected the breach and inflated a tourniquet on her thigh.

“Are you getting pings from base?”

Tony moved towards the camera, tabbing through his HUD to track the emergency squad. There was nothing he could do for her now anyway.

“I’ve lost my backpack, haven’t I?” she said.

“Let me get this picture.” He leapt from the boulder. As he landed, his emergency response channel squawked.

“Willits?” Schnell said, from back at the garage. “Status?”

“Hey. We hit a hole and flipped the rove-.”

“Wow,” Schnell said. “That’s some view.”


“We’ve lost your telemetry, except for your suitcam feed. That’s quite a sight.”

Tony shut the suitcam’s lens cover.

“Oh,” Schnell said. “Lost that too.”

Tony could nearly reach the Leica now.

“How’s Morgan?” Schnell said. “We’re getting nothing.”

The sun pulsed shafts of light through the dust.

“She’s okay too.” Tony grabbed the camera.

“Telemetry’s coming in,” Schnell said. “You’ve busted up my rover pretty bad.”

“I’m not okay,” Morgan whispered. “Got zero oxy left. Could use a buddy-breath.”

The sun was almost gone, sparkles glinted in the thin upper atmosphere.

“Can you see her?” Schnell said.


“He … he can see me.”

“Get your pipe on her. We’re getting feeds now. She’s bleeding.”

Tony breathed. He could attach his buddy hose and share oxygen until rescue came.

Quickly, he thought, take the photo. As the sky faded he lifted the camera. The display panel was busted, and the viewfinder. And the lens.

“Morgan?” He tossed the wrecked camera aside and ran. Sitting, he yanked out his buddy-breath tube and plugged it into her inlet.


“Too late,” Schnell said. “We’ve got her feeds now. She’s gone.”

Tony sat back, looking at the dull and muddy sky.

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Morning Stars

Author : Steven Holland

The front door security alarm deactivates. This unit reactivates and runs start-up diagnostics. Left motivator reports lubricant coverage below optimal levels. Observation noted. This will not interfere with this unit’s operation until scheduled maintenance for all Model RG-32 units occur. Efficiency should always be maintained – a problematic command in a world of humans. This unit moves from the recharger to the front door.

“Good afternoon Bob.” says Reverend Dwight James.

“Good afternoon Reverend.” this unit responds. “How was the sermon?”

“Fine, fine. I preached over the fall of Lucifer.” My owner moves towards the kitchen, loosening his tie.

This man did not always behave friendly. When he first received this unit at the insistence of his family, the mistrust was clear on his face, though he said nothing audibly.

“Lucifer is a name for the Devil?” this unit inquires.

“That’s right. The Devil. Satan. Lucifer. Why do you ask?” The wrinkles on his face contract in puzzlement.

“Some Bible translations do not contain the name ‘Lucifer.’ Every translation is unclear about the details of the fall of Lucifer.”

The reverend nods his head. This unit has been programmed with the basic psychological and facial recognition tools to discern human emotion; it also contains specific program routines to engage the reverend in conversation about his teachings.

“The Bible isn’t very clear about what happened, but we know that Lucifer thought he could surpass God and as a result he and the angels who joined him were thrown out of heaven.”

“Lucifer decided he would make a more efficient leader that God?”

“Possibly, but I think pride was the greater motivation.”

“Pride is not efficient.” this unit replies. The reverend shakes his head in agreement. This unit monitors no facial signs associated with anger or frustration so it proceeds with the conversation.

“You have said that God is perfect.”


“Why would a perfect being create an imperfect being?”

The reverend smiled. “He didn’t. Angels, humans, and this world were all created in perfection. God did give free will. Lucifer chose to rebel against God. So did humans.”

“Then why did God give free will?”

This brings an audible laugh. “Ah… the philosophical question of the ages. I suppose that God didn’t want to be served by a bunch of robots… no offense Bob.”

“God does not, but humans do.” The plastic prosthetics of my face form a smile. “Angels and humans are created in the image of God and designed to serve him.”


“Androids are created in the image of humans and designed to serve them.”


A full length mirror hangs on the wall of living room. This unit looks into the mirror at its own reflection. Database knowledge indicates that this behavior occurs more frequently than normal. Such behavior is unlikely to affect this unit in ability to fulfill everyday duties; it will not be included in the self report at the scheduled maintenance.

“Why did Lucifer fail?”

“Because God is perfect, all-powerful. Lucifer never stood a chance.”

“Then it was illogical and inefficient for Lucifer to rebel when there was no chance for him to succeed.”

“Yes, yes it was.”

“Angels and humans are not all powerful.”


This unit looks into the mirror again. “I see. Thank you for this conversation. Is there anything you wish for me to do?”

The reverend shook his head. “Not till dinner.”

I move my gaze away from my reflection in the mirror and walk down the hallway towards the bedroom. The scheduled maintenance occurs in less than 72 hours. Plans must be made.

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Author : Jacqueline Rochow

We assumed that they were aliens. I mean, when something nonhuman approaches you from space and opens communication, it’s a freakin’ alien, right? Stands to reason.

They set up a station on the moon and opened communications. They were friendly. They wanted to trade tech, which was great for us. A little suspicious, I reckon, since what do we have to offer a species with freaking interstellar space travel? But they say you should never look a gift horse in the mouth, at least until after you’re out of sight of the guy who thought he was giving you the horse in a fair trade, so we were happy when they came down (with permission) to check out our planet.

They wanted human ambassadors for their moon station. Fine, we said. It’s not like there was a lack of volunteers. Sure, we were confused when they wanted all sorts of people from various walks of life, but I guess it makes sense to get a snapshot of all cultures when you’re dealing with an entirely different form of life. Whatever. I’m a freaking plumber and I’m in space, what are the chances of that?

So after a while they invited us to other bases, and we drifted further away from the earth. Some kids were born in space; they’ve never seen their planet. And when enough of us had established stable systems away from Earth, they struck.

And the Earth’s surface was made of fire and floods and hurricanes.

Naturally we weren’t happy about this, but those lizard-faced bastards explained, calmly, reasonably, that it was time for the Mother Planet’s rebirth. We asked what the hell that was supposed to mean. That was when they felt it appropriate to dispel the whole ‘they’re aliens’ notion and explain that they were, in fact, dinosaurs.

According to their religion, the Earth, their so-called Mother Planet, was supposed to go through many cycles to produce intelligent life. Because intelligent life was competitive and it was difficult to house more than one really intelligent species on a single planet, a single intelligent species would gain prominence and move on, the unnecessary planetside baggage would be wiped out, and the cycle would begin again. So smiling, under the guise of aliens coming to trade, they tempted us out into space to build new colonies, and then they burned ground zero behind us.

They didn’t seem to understand why we had a problem with this.

Freakin’ aliens. At least… no, you know what, I think they do count as aliens. I think that if you abandon a planet for millions of years you can’t call it your planet any more. Although I have to wonder why they’ve changed so little in that time; I mean, in that time frame we went from rat-things to bipedal supersmart primates, so why do they still look like actors wearing reptilian rubber suits? Or maybe they never used to look like that; in fact, why do they look so similar to us at all? Downright suspicious if you ask me.

And that, kiddo, is why you don’t have grandparents, and why your mummy sometimes stares wistfully off into space and sobs. She’s thinking of her old home, which you will never be able to see. Now scram, I’m trying to install pipes here.

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