Getting Your Moneys Worth

Author : Trevor Fitch

“Listen Captain, I’ve saved up years for this trip, and if you don’t get me there on time, I’m going to have your head! The rest of the passengers and I are in complete agreement on this. We paid for a trip of a lifetime and we want our moneys worth. My lawyer and my representative of the Intergalactic Senate will be hearing from me!” Finishing his rant, the irate customer stormed off the bridge.

With a sigh, Captain Diggs looked out into the nothingness just ahead of the ship. There were no stars, no planets, no space dust… just nothing.

“Captain, sensors still aren’t showing anything out there. Energy… matter… radiation sensors, all register a null reading. I had the sensors tested for errors, but everything checks out.”

“ETA until we drift into the… whatever that is?”

“Approximately 10 minutes sir.”

The Captain sighed. The cruise had been a miserable one. Over 500 passengers were on board on their way to see the Rings of New Saturn. These trips were extremely popular because as the planet approached the systems sun, the ice crystals in the ring began to sparkle brightly. It was quite beautiful. This trip was to be extra special as a comet was going to impact the planet while they were there. The impact and plumes of dust would be visible from space. A once in a lifetime experience.

However things had not gone well. They had left a day late due to engine trouble, and only a few hours before they were going to approach the prime viewing spot the hasty repairs had failed. To make matters worse, this trip represented the last of Captain Diggs’ money.

He had mortgaged everything he owned to make this trip. Business had slowed as more competitors had appeared and started taking passengers to the Rings. Now that it seemed likely that he would not make it to the Rings on time, the thought of more complaining customers and their eventual request for refunds gave him a migraine. At the moment he could not think of a way to keep the ship, home for him and his crew, from being put on the auction block.

Now this. Out of nowhere, a “hole” in space had appeared directly in front of them. Ships had been encountering these from time to time over the last few hundred years. But the “holes” did not last long, usually a day or two at most. And they were rare, so little hard data existed about them, and no one had dared enter one.

Without engine power, the ship was drifting directly towards it.

“Does the computer have any idea of what these things are?” The Captain asked.

“Nothing certain. We could be looking at a parallel dimension or some sort of rip in space-time. Maybe even some sort of portal.”

“What happens if we enter it.”

“I don’t know. The potential outcomes range from ceasing to exist, to coming out somewhere else in the universe, to entering a parallel universe. The possibilities are endless.”

“Cease to exist?”

“Possible… but unlikely. Most of the data that we have says they lead somewhere, they are just too rare and short lived to get an empirical answer.”

“What is our engine status?”

“We’re working on it. We have maybe 10% of maximum power available. I don’t think it’s enough to stop our drift in time.”

The Captain paused for a moment. “Take us in.”

“Sir?”

“Like the man said, they paid for the trip of a lifetime, let’s give them their moneys worth.”

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Furious Thunder of Silence

Author : Kimberly Raiser

She stood there, in the middle of the empty street. The first snow of the season just beginning to enter the path of the street lights. Not a sound. Not a cry. Not a single human to be found. The street was bare of chaos, bare of life. It was as if nothing had happened, and nothing ever would again.

They came in the night, the night before. She couldn’t remember where she was when it happened, she only remembered waking up to the silence, and the cold. There were scorch marks on the pavement, on the sidewalks; perhaps where people had once been walking, or shopping. Cars were parked in the streets, like a still snapshot in a photo album, but with no people. Only cars.

The snow was beginning to accumulate.

She kept walking, hoping to see someone, or some thing that resembled life. There was nothing but more scorch marks. She noticed the lights on in the bakery. She walked inside. There were pies and cookies and cakes on display on top of the counter. Plates on tables of half eaten pastries, with half empty glasses of milk, and tea. But no people. Again, scorch marks. On the chairs, and the floor and one single faint handprint on the counter. It looked small, like it had belonged to a child. A tear formed in each of her eyes. She held her hand over the tiny handprint.

A sharp pain had ripped through her side. She felt wet, but when she looked, it was nothing.

She walked from the store. She heard a faint humming, but nothing in sight.

She continued down the empty, dark street. She turned the corner. Ahead was where she once lived. A beautiful little flat with pine flooring on the second story, overlooking the city park gates. It was quaint, but it had been a nice place to call home. She wanted dearly to be under her warm covers once again. She longed to hear the hustle and bustle of the streets, or something, anything.

Anything but the silence.

***

Death can come with a furious thunder or it can envelope with the sweet scent of jasmine wrapped in the wings of an angel.

***

She lay there. Under that street light. The gaping wound in her side cauterized by the brilliant heat of the robots unseen laser, yet she bled, furiously. She had blinked her eyes just once more, looking down the street at the emptiness, seeing everything in one single instant. The snow was falling above her, onto her, the streetlight warming her face. Somehow she had been missed, slightly. Somehow she had lived one second long enough to see that she was the last, and then—she was gone.

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Red Tape

Author : A. Reynolds

The balding well aged man peered over the large desk as she entered. Looking over the woman wordlessly he turned to a screen and tacked at a keypad. After a minute of silence he turned back and sorted an indistinguishable pad from a pile of many more. He briefly scanned the contents before, eventually, turning to the now uncomfortable occupant of the sterile office’s only other chair.

“United Colonization has a legal duty to remain ethnically and culturally diverse, you are aware I am sure.” To kill any response he continued swiftly “Your records, unfortunately, show you’re failing to make sufficient contribution to your religious diversity. This is a matter we take very seriously.”

The woman bunched her fists instinctively “I know I haven’t attended temple in a while, but I’m still faithful, doesn’t that count for anything?”

The man frowned darkly “There is no point in lies. You have failed to partake in anything befitting your religion for a period of no less than a month. We’ve had POD’s on you for a while now. You will find the legal warrants on your card for you to look over, should you wish.”

The anger grew palpable as the assailed woman’s voice grew louder

“Damn right I wish! You must have messed up. I am devout. I live kosher. I do contribute to the diversity.”

“Kosher?” The man turned back to his screen.

“Don’t play a fool! If your little bots were watching me you’d know. I do contribute and I’ll take you to court if you say otherwise.” She rose from her seat and gestured at the mans back “I could go to temple more often perhaps, but I am quite devout. You’ve got the wrong person, I knew this was a mistake when I got the summons, my lawyer will… “

“You are Mrs Demsky.” The return of the flat emotionless voice stalled her and she sat again glaring. “Mrs Demsky, of 113 Landfall Plazas. Born, Barnum twelve three sixty, correct?”

She nodded once.

The man slowly smiled. “It seems there has been a misunderstanding.” The woman’s relief could not last in the uncaring gaze “You have been contributing to the wrong religion. Your records show you should be contributing to the Hindu faith.”

“But I’m Jewish” She faltered lamely, her anger now shattered in confusion “That’s, ridiculous”

“I am sorry. Our records seldom make errors. However, I will submit a report that states you have been misguided and will begin upholding your requirements from now on.” Smiling broadly the man filled his voice with mock warmth “If however you wish to make a change of religion you can find the proper forms at reception, I should warn, the Jewish sector is quite full at the moment.” The woman silently stared at him brows knitted in frustration “I’m afraid there is nothing else I can help you with.” Standing he gestured to the door. “Sudda sunaagan raho, Mrs. Demsky”

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Disconnected

Author : Justin W. Hall

It was 21:44.17 when Jani got the shudder, the one she always got right before something really freaky was going to happen, the twitch in her spine. She shrugged it off, refocusing her vision to the lines of text scrolling down the face of her contact lens, and grinned. Shinjara was arguing with some Australian boy about some band, Wicked Salmon. Shin was sure they were formed in ’30, and the Aussie claimed it was actually ’32. Shin got passionate about the silliest stuff whenever he got into arguments with people on the net. Jani remembered a few weeks back when Rory told Shin his shoelaces were –

Dark cloth wrapped around a shuffling mass collided with Jani’s shoulder and hurried past with a grunt. Jani squeaked in surprise, jerking her head to see the man stumble off the sidewalk and into the standstill traffic, weaving through the ten-centimeter gaps between autos. Rude bastard – obviously didn’t get the organic pattern to walking the streets. The crowd flowing down the sidewalk, watching their lenses and talking on their mobiles, they all got the pattern, no one interrupted the flow.

Strange, Jani thought as she studied him, his clothes, they’re not reflecting any light. Unconsciously thumbing to the channel, “Any of u ever seen cloth that absorbs light?” Everything was illuminated around her – programs and advertisements, glowing and shifting, on every surface of every building in New York, stretching up to the skies. Reflecting off the cars in the street and the glazed, distant eyes of pedestrians. Pinks and blues and purples, but the guy, a blot against the glow.

The noise was a smack, but louder, more violent. Jani spun to face the source – the alley from which the guy had emerged. She saw the crowd’s puzzled expressions for a brief moment before everything went dark.

Dark. Jani sucked in breath sharply, startled, pupils widening, both from the lack of vid glow and the fear. Dark. No images, screaming voices, clever theme songs shouting from the sky, urging her to buy pretzels and insurance. No music in her ears, no text on her lens, no hum of the wall displays.

Her eyes darted back and forth, uselessly trying to make out shapes. She thumbed her phone’s dialer. No tone. Lip quivering, NO SIGNAL suddenly flickered at the corner of her vision, her contact lens affirming the terrifying thought rising in the back of her throat. She was disconnected.

Jani’s breathing growing more panicked, felt herself shriek. Her arms covered her head as she ducked through the crowd, their wails of confusion amplified by the utter silence that she’d never heard before. Darting into the alley, stumbling, rolling in the dark, up next to a garbage box. Eyes welded shut, fingers clutching her hair, Jani sobbed, rocking back and forth on the ground. Silence. Darkness. Everywhere.

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Sedition

Author : Don McCoy

“I don’t think you ought to post that one, Sam,” Liana said over Sam’s shoulder, looking at the monitor, “they’re really cracking down on hate speech.”

“I told you not to use that term with me,” Sam said, tensing, “an opposing viewpoint is not “˜hate speech,'” he made air-quotes. “Anyhow, what happened to the First Amendment? Their gracious deal was to allow us the same Constitutional rights once they took over.”

“They didn’t take over,'” Liana said, making her own air-quotes. “We needed to stop abusing our superpower might, to join the global community instead a alienating it—and that globalization includes understanding that the proliferation of certain philosophical ideas only causes unrest. At best it’s irresponsibility; at worst, sedition. Come on, you’ve read the literature.”

“Literature? Try propaganda. Let’s not have this argument again Liana. Please,” he was quiet for a moment. And still. Then he laughed and shook his head, “I’m posting an article about the new requirement that we get government permission to have a child. What’s seditious about that?”

“Resources aren’t as plentiful as they once were,” Liana said, “they just want to make sure each zone can support its citizenry. It beats famine and poverty.” She rubbed his shoulder.

“Yeah, each zone…let me ask you this,” he half-turned in his chair, “if this country wasn’t forced to export the lion’s share of her agricultural and industrial production to support the world, would we have to worry about any of that?”

“We’d still be fat, complacent, greedy, and wasteful,” Liana said, “I’m proud that our society has finally matured to the level the rest of the world did decades ago.”

“I don’t want to discuss this anymore,” Sam said, “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. My own wife is one of the “˜masses’ that were lulled into letting this happen.”

“Actually, people like you opened the door for them,” she said, “without your attitude of entitlement America would never have come to this. We wouldn’t have needed the international community to set us right. We needed leadership”they provided it.”

“We needed leadership?” Sam asked. “President Mouchard rolled over on us. For the simple price of a permanent ambassadorship more than 300 years of sovereignty were burned to the ground with the stroke of a stylus. And with them freedom. Not just America’s freedom, but the last vestiges of freedom left on the planet. We were the last bastion of liberty.”

“Well, the people obviously approved it.” Liana said.

“How do you know?” he asked, “the “˜literature?'”

“OK, then how did it happen?”

“Maybe we did get complacent. Just not your kind of complacency,” Sam said, “A dozen years ago someone got sensitive and agreed that the size of our military was antagonistic, so we sawed it off to quell the fears of the world,” Sam said, “five-years ago we signed the International Small Arms Pact and disarmed our population. How could we stop them once they bribed the president?”

“They didn’t need to bribe him,” she said, “it was time we left the Wild West, time we left behind the daily killings in the streets.”

“There are still daily killings, now they’re just committed by the security service.” Sam jumped up and ran to the window as a huge diesel engine rumbled outside. He saw dust settle around the white armored personnel carrier as the boots of a small army pounded up the stairs to the den.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Sam,” Liana said, “I tried to make you see reason. They only gave me so long to make you see reason”

Sam didn’t look surprised as the blue-helmeted United Nations security force kicked in the door.

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