City in the Sky

Author : Kate Runnels

Torque gazed down at the clouds scudding past below in a breeze she couldn’t feel. She sat at the edge of a rusting support beam. The beam, one of many that needed repairs, helped hold up the roof of her father’s Mechanic shop.

The constant thrum of the engines kept the city of New Perth in the sky, droned on in the background as she fiddled with her mechanical right arm. The tiny gears and joints sometimes clogged with dust and she liked to keep it clean; running smoothly. The small screwdriver tightened one last bolt and she slipped it into a side pocket as she flexed her right arm, watching the interplay of gears, pulleys and the fluid that represented blood pass through tubes.

Her chores finished, she stayed out of sight of her mother and the bastard of a new man she called husband, Malcolm. A drunk, pretending to run the shop: her father’s shop; her shop!

The same accident that had taken her arm had taken her father, and half the populace of New Perth.

The steel vibrated under her. Sark, Malcolm’s oldest son, two years older. He grinned at her. “Torque the dork. What are you doing? I’m sure father will love to know your shirking work.”

“If Malcolm’s not too sloshed.”

“What was that?” he demanded, stepping one foot out onto the beam. Scared, he kept hold of the hull wall, as there was only the starboard engine housing and the clouds.

She had been sitting, but a pitch in the background rumble caused her to stand, easily balanced on the 10 inch wide beam.

“What-”

She cocked her head slightly to one side to bring one ear upward. He opened his mouth then stopped, he’d heard it too. Another airship!

Torque glanced up in time to see a sleek fast moving airship streak out from above the bulk of the city and then it was past and diving down into the clouds.

It was followed by a ship that made the last look like a rusted old tug boat. As it fully emerged did the colors and the sigil penetrate into her astonished mind.

“A Royalty Air Cruiser.” She’d only seen the medical boat after the Blast.

It continued, following the other down into the clouds to vanish into the white.

What was it doing here? They chased pirates and brought order among all the floating cities.

The beam shook slightly and she glanced back to see him as Sark pulled back a meaty fist for a punch with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

She stepped back off the end of the beam. Torque dropped, her right arm catching the lip of the beam and she smiled as Sark, off balance, wind milled to keep himself from falling. Torque only used the beam to slow herself and change trajectory, swinging in toward the hull she released her grip.

Torque landed lightly on another beam that was part of the floor. She gripped a rusting hole in the hull, and metal on metal screeched in her grip. She didn’t stay long, but ran the length. Torque leaped off to fall into the gaping hole, a legacy of the Blast. Barely any light penetrated the shattered part of engineering. A moment of free fall then she landed, rolled to shed momentum and stopped with a bang as her right arm hit the inner wall.

She smiled at the memory of the look of his face as she leaped off. Let him try and follow her now.

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Goodbye

Author : Bob Newbell

The infinitesimal point that had been the universe bounded out and stars and galaxies returned to their proper places in the cosmos as I defolded back into normal space. I steered toward the small world orbiting the red giant star. From a distance, the planet appeared to have a ring system. I knew it didn’t. The “rings” were hundreds of thousands of vessels and beings and those for whom there was no distinction between the two.

The word had gone out long ago that we would meet here at this time. Some, like myself, had traversed the galaxy in the span between two adjacent moments. Many had had to cover the intervening space between here and wherever they came from at many times the speed of light, still painfully slow given the gulfs between the stars. Others had made the journey at subluminal speeds, a good many at so leisurely a pace that they had had to resort to multigenerational vessels or suspended animation ships, the civilizations that sent them now unrecognizable or extinct by virtue of the passage of centuries or millennia.

Several of the gathered races had never before had any contact. A few represented species currently at war with each other orbiting the planet together under various states of truce and ceasefire. There were oxygen-breathers and chlorine-breathers and those who didn’t breathe at all. There were biological races and machine races and races that incorporated elements of both. They had all come to this world for the same purpose: To say goodbye.

The quintillions of species that walked and crawled and swam and slithered and floated on millions of natural and artificial worlds throughout the Milky Way all traced their origin back to this small, dying planet. Its sun had been a yellow dwarf star billions of years ago. The aging star had become red and bloated and had already engulfed two worlds. Now it encroached on a third.

The mourners at this cosmic funeral paid their respects in diverse ways. A group of ten-legged crustaceans from some world near the galactic core played a mournful dirge. A collection of mammalian bipeds from a nearby system sang and got drunk. An aquatic species laughed riotously while a reptilian race wept and wailed. One robotic civilization bowed their heads in respectful silence while another society of mechanicals recited impromptu poetry.

Some of us tarried for days and others remained for months or even years as the planet’s surface blacked under the relentless heat. In time, I departed. As I slid into the interstices between dimensions, I thought that the galaxy, for all its endless diversity of life and civilization, seemed somehow lonely now for the loss of that tiny rock in the hinterlands that gave birth to us all.

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Nina

Author : S. Tyrel Murray

Darius looked out through his living room window, and noticed the diminutive, glittering metallic object in the grass. It wasn’t there fifteen minutes prior, when he had finished mowing his lawn. His inquisitive nature proved to be too much, and he bounded out the front door to inspect the object.

He could feel the air pulsating as he approached it, and saw shimmering lines around the object, almost as if they were heat rippling through the air. As he drew closer, the hair on the nape of his neck stood up, and a shiver ran down his spine. It wasn’t a feeling of fear, rather more like exhilaration.

The shimmering, pulsating air currents faded to nothing as he stood before the object. He bent down to grab it, and as his hand touched it, it began to melt. He tried to remove his hand, but he was locked into place, unable to move his body. The object began moving through the grass, much like maple syrup would, if it were poured out. As it touched his skin, it was absorbed into his hand.

It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t pleasant, either. He could feel the metallic fluid push through the skin on his hand. As quickly as it had begun, it was over. Darius collapsed onto the grass, unconscious.

He awoke a few minutes later to the sound of a woman calling out his name. The voice was unfamiliar to him, and he was startled to find no other person around, save for himself. He pulled himself up from the ground, and hurriedly entered his front door.

“This is crazy,” he exclaimed. “That didn’t just happen!”

“Oh, you silly child. It most certainly did happen.” The woman’s voice was still there. He felt a sense of dread come over him, and a sickly pall crept across his face.

“Who are you?” he demanded, not knowing whether he was talking to a ghost, or a figment of his imagination. He stumbled his way through the house, finding his way into the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, he noted that apart from surprise or shock, his appearance had not changed since the morning. Then it happened. She appeared in the mirror, standing to his right.

“Is this better?” she queried. Gathering his courage, he peered to the right of himself, and saw nothing there. His gaze returned to the visage of a lovely, early 20s brunette in the mirror.

“Please don’t be afraid. I mean you no harm.” He was awash in various emotions, but he collected himself, and nodded. “I’m sorry I had to integrate with you without your consent, but I had no choice.”

“What are you? Are you an alien?” He asked, not knowing whether he wanted the answer, or not.

“Heaven’s no! I’m a Neuronal Induction Nanotech Agent. Nina, for short.”

His worry subsided, and he began to smile. “Hi Nina. I’m Darius. Its a pleasure to meet you.”

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The Straight Swap

Author : Hannah Hunter

Darkness. Eyes open, still dark.

Why?

Why is your arm burning?

Where is your phone? What time is it? Why is there no light? I always have my phone on the bed when I go to sleep.

Pain.

Sharp burning, pain. Just my arm. Why only your arm? So intense I can’t think straight.

This isn’t my bed.

Where is your phone? It will give me much needed light and tell me who I am.

Who are you?

Name.

Name?

It’s gone. How do you lose your name?

Not lost. Taken.

Taken?

Who would take your name?

This definitely isn’t my bed, so it’s not my room. How do you know it’s not your room? You don’t even know your own name. The pain. It’s distracting. It’s doesn’t feel like mine. The flesh is tight, raised and warm to the touch. The pain is not going away. How do you know it’s not your room?

Think.

There is no bedside lamp. You had one. You’re in single bed and you had a double. You know this. Some memories are here. My eyes fall shut as I try to locate further memories. My eyes are heavy and my brain fogs over. My sleep had not been natural?

Was the pain spreading? I clutch my left arm again as a new wave of pain hits. It’s certainly getting worse. Infection perhaps?

How old am I? My skin does not feel young. I don’t remember any of my birthdays but I know such a thing exists. I know people have birthdays. I know I had birthdays. I’m sure they sucked.

A light.

Where is it coming from? There’s a door.

There’s a room beyond.

Can you move?

My body is heavy and aches but I can move. I swing my heavy legs over the side of the bed.

Can you get up?

I don’t have a choice. I must get to the door. It has answers. I will myself to leave the bed. I’m standing. Facing the door.

It has answers.

I need answers.

I shuffle forward. Slowly.

Shouldn’t I be cold? I can feel the air conditioning blasting onto my skin but I am numb to its temperature. Goosebumps appear on my skin, making the flesh on my arm hurt all the more.

Small movements.

Big effort.

Are you in a medical gown?

I can feel the recycled air tickle my bare back.

Is the pain from surgery? Is that were your memory has gone?

Push forward.

The answers are in the light.

Did I choose this? It hurts. Who would choose this?

Perhaps it was an accident that got me here?

The floor.

My legs are unforgiving of the snail’s pace in which I was travelling.

The floor was no kinder.

My face feels warm. And wet.

Is that blood?

Only the light can tell you that.

Get up.

Get up now.

Ignore the pain. The pain is not going away. My legs are definitely old. The skin feels loose and dry as I pull myself up. I don’t remember being old.

Smaller steps

Bigger effort.

The door is heavy. Or is it that you have no strength?

Push

Push, push, push.

Light.

Soft light.

A bathroom. Not mine.

A mirror. Not mine.

A reflection. Not mine. The eyes, the hair, the broken and bloody nose are not just unfamiliar. They are not belonging to me.

My stomach and heart lurch as I read the note that is on the mirror. The note that was definitely left for me:

“You said you did not want to be you anymore.”

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The Future of War Now

Author : James Patrick Riser

The wheelchair’s wheels creaked as The Private rolled himself up to the desk. A clock on the wall: half past midnight.

There are no pictures.

In a drawer: a purple heart, a dogeared, worn bible and a standard issue, new-era handgun;

Digitally signed to it’s owner, smartgun.

“The first and last word in Military Killmachine Technology” (Copyright 2030)

The light shines off the scar tissue on the back of his hand as he reaches for the soft, comfort grip. The weapon contours to his palm as he switches the safety off.

“Hello Private. You have switched the safety off,” the gun reports.

The Private studies the gnarled flesh of the healed exit wounds on his arms before putting the gun to his temple.

Pulling the trigger.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up,” the gun responds.

The Private’s eyes flicker to The Bible in his drawer.

Pulling the trigger.

“Do not be a fool–why die before your time?” the smart weapon asks.

Pulling the trigger.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”

The Private closes his eyes so tight, a tear forms, races down his cheek, cutting through stubble.

Pulling the trigger.

“You are attempting to deface government property. Automatic safety switching back on.”

The Private puts the gun down and produces a bottle of scotch from another drawer, a small glass; He pours himself three fingers.

 

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