The Blessing

Author : Viktor Kuprin

The priest’s pointed helmet hung at his side. His vac suit was completely black.

Engineer Beketov didn’t get it. It was too strange, too … medieval. The holy man waved the crucifix over the salt package and recited a prayer. Beketov had been told the salt was for cooking a lamb stew that would be shared by all the dockyard’s techs and engineers.

“Father Toyan, it’s time for us to EVA. Let’s go.” The priest nodded and followed to the airlock.

“How far did you travel to get here?” Beketov asked.

“From Earth, from the Great Ararat Monastery, to be exact.” The priest’s voice was reedy, and his beard bunched against the visor of his strangely-shaped helmet.

“I’ve never been to Earth,” said the engineer. “Father, I’m curious, why is your helmet peaked on top? When other priests visit the station, their helmets aren’t like yours.”

“Priests who are not married wear these, my son. The peak symbolizes our dedication to the Lord,” he explained.

The airlock hatch slid open, and the bright light of Dustri’s star made their visors darken. They slowly moved toward the dockyards, their boots’ magnetic soles clicking with each step.

“How long have you been working in the yards, my son?”

Beketov laughed. “Close to a year, but it seems like forever, Father. The one we’re going to was just an empty shell with I first arrived. Look at him now.”

One of the dumb servo-mechanoids rumbled toward them. Beketov gently grasped the priest’s shoulder to stop him from entering its path. It wobbled past with no sign of notice.

“Father Toyan, no disrespect, but how do you feel about this? Coming all the way out here to, well, to bless …”

“An engine of destruction? Actually, the church’s blessing is for the crew, to humbly ask God for their safety and protection, and that they will always be in His grace.”

As they walked, Beketov watched the priest’s gold crucifix sparkle in the starlight. A transparent pouch filled with small plastic globlets hung from his belt: Holy Water for the ceremony.

“Here he is, Father.” Beketov could see people watching them, crowded together in the observation blisters and viewports surrounding the dockyard.

“Are you a believer, Engineer Beketov?” the priest asked.

“I don’t know, Father. Sometimes it’s hard not to be when you look up and see all this,” the engineer said, pointing toward the stars. “I do know that a man needs all the help he can get, right?”

Toyan nodded. “Fair enough. Now, if you will, let us pray.” The priest keyed the comm controls on his suit sleeve and began to broadcast.

“Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people. Guide, I pray, all the worlds and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace … ”

The priest made the sign of the cross in front of the new starship’s gigantic gray hull.

Staying Home

Author : Eric Willey

The Colony Ship New Eden moved closer to the world that was her destination as the last pilot opened the door to a murderer.

“You can’t kill me. No one else to fly this crate.” He turned and walked over to his personal kitchenette, poured two cups of coffee and didn’t bother to look back at the gun before asking, “Cream, sugar?”

“None for me, thanks. And you’re overestimating your value to this mission.” The killer moved into the room and kept the gun centered on his target as the pressurized door automatically slid shut.

He leaned against the counter and blew gently on the coffee before taking a sip. “No. Stevens fell down the stairwell and broke his neck. Hodgkins had that rather unfortunate suicide business. And Yates isn’t fully trained. Which makes me the only one who can navigate this boat to and then land on New Providence Five.”

“Wrong again. Stevens was pushed down a stairwell and had his neck broken. Hodgkins was strung up from that plasma conduit after he died. And Mister Yates is currently in the simulator, doing a very credible impersonation of a man with two gunshot wounds to the head. You died the second you opened the door.”

“Wait…” They both winced as the gun exploded in the small room. A second sound cut through the ringing in their ears as the coffee cup hit the floor. He walked across the room and put the remaining four bullets into the body of the last pilot, tossed his gun on the corpse and walked out. He wouldn’t need the gun anymore anyway.

There would be an investigation of course, for the sake of appearances. No one would ever figure out he did it, because it was something they all wanted to do. With the last pilot dead, they could all breathe a sigh of relief. Their great grandparents had set out for New Providence Five over 104 years ago, looking for a new world. They died long ago, of old age and the myriad ailments that came with time.

Their descendants had never known a life other than the one they had aboard the colony ship. A life where the ship took care of everything, where there was no need to harvest crops or dig ditches. He went back to his room, washed his hands, laid down on his bed and looked at the titanium sky above him until he fell asleep.

The New Eden slipped silently through space without a destination. The crew were already home, and they weren’t going anywhere.

Winged Victory

Author : Clifford Hebner

They met at the Imperial Academy, her slight and boyish, the youngest woman ever admitted, and he old, with the face and toothy grin of an ape. They were outcast, too young or old to be useful to anyone, but by the time she accepted her first commission, serving as ensign on a tiny scout ship, their legend had already started to grow. When she was promoted to the Captaincy, and given her own battleship, it was his ancient Admiral’s hands that pressed the pin to her breast and drew the ceremonial drops of blood, said to seal sailor to Emperor forever.

History, in its wisdom, called the rebellion inevitable, the Emperor’s arrogance and madness driving fully a third of his armies from him in desperate revolt. The rebels, outmanned and outgunned, were hounded across space, until, at a worthless piece of rock called Martin’s Folly, the ape-faced former Admiral marshaled what forces were left to stand and die. The Imperial fleet came on and the first thousand ships flamed and died in the embrace of minefields and artillery orbiting The Folly; but she, who had been both student and lover, held her third back, and when they fell from hyperspace and in among the rebel ships it was with the whispered voice of Death.

In the end the Admiral, his ship crippled and burning, ordered all power to the engines and forward shields, seeking to lance the flagship, and it was without the thought of tears that she maneuvered around and sent him to a death in fire and a grave in the void they both loved so deeply.

She gathered up what ships were left to her, after the old ape had ambushed them so mercilessly, and limped on home with her men singing celebration and feast-day songs. She sailed through an infinity of stars and into the heartworld of a grateful empire, and then through an ocean of courtiers to the Emperor’s audience chamber. He, in his lust, and his madness, came down from his throne, where no man could kill him, and sought her embrace; and she, with her lover’s ugly face first in her mind, drove seven inches of the finest Imperial steel into his blackened heart, stilling it on the spot.

She left the Emperor on the floor, dead and discarded, and with him all the names and honorifics she had ever been given. She walked back to her ship, and the armies followed her once more, back out into the infinite ocean, always seeking new conquest. From that day forward she was called only Victory, and her name was battle-hymn and funeral-hymn on the lips of her men, who loved her- but she, who had killed both her lover and her God-King? Haunted by the memory of an ape-faced old Admiral, she loved nothing at all.

In Hindsight…

Author : Patricia Stewart

March 26, 2167. It was the best of days; it was the worst of days (if you permit me to paraphrase Charles Dickens). At 8:00 EMT (Earth mean time), I accepted delivery of the Galaxy-Clipper. Although named for the nineteenth century sailing ship, it was not made to cruse Earth’s watery seas. No, it was made to dart around the solar system at one half the speed of light. It’s a four passenger, forty foot diameter, gleaming metal saucer, powered by a Rolls-Royce 427 terawatt antimatter engine, and 32 ion-drive plasma guidance reaction jets. Man, she’s pure supernova. It set me back two years salary, but there isn’t a better babe gravity-well on the market. Surely, the best of days.

However, in hindsight I should have been satisfied with the Clipper’s standard equipment package. But my dim-witted, testosterone blind buddies convinced me to take her “off path” to get the underbelly coated with a mono-layer of promethium-deuterium-phosphate, otherwise known as PDP. For those of you unfamiliar with PDP, it’s a catalytic coating that promotes the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Under the right conditions, you can cause rarified hydrogen gas to spontaneously fuse into helium, liberating a substantial quantity of energy. As it turns out, those “right conditions” are the temperatures and pressures generated by the hull of a sleek new spacecraft as it skims across the upper atmosphere of a gas giant; say Saturn. It’s called nuclear wake surfing. It’s illegal, but fun as hell. I assume you can see where this is going. At 11:45, I was docked outside Bubba’s Astro Parts and Body Station in Mars orbit. At 14:00, me and three of my idiot friends (that’s four idiots total) were streaking toward Saturn at 0.499c (the ship was new, so I didn’t peg the throttle). Nine hundred million miles and three hours later (not counting time dilation), we were in geosynchronous orbit over Saturn.

We spent the next two hours calculating the required velocity and angle of inclination. Too steep and you burn up; too shallow and you bounce off the atmosphere. At 19:00 we caught our first ride. Man, what a thrill. From 25,327 miles per hour to 0.1c in millisecond bursts. Uncontrolled nine gee pitch, roll, and yaw buffeting. The most exciting 20 seconds of my life. When we pulled around for a second run, part of Saturn’s northern hemisphere was on fire. We didn’t hang around to figure out what happened, but my guess is that Bubba’s PDP was defective and broke loose while we were surfing. Since the dispersed particles are just catalysts (i.e., they are not consumed) the nuclear fusion reaction became self-sustaining.

By now (21:30), the fusion reaction has undoubtedly spread throughout the entire planet, and the rings have probably dissipated. Although we cannot see Saturn, I’m sure the view of your new mini-star is quite spectacular from Earth, especially at night. For the unforeseeable future, my buddies and I are fugitives hiding deep within a crevice of an unnamed asteroid while the Spaceforce hunts us down. Clearly, the worst of days.

After the Bomb Fell

Author : Adam Zabell

In one of those rare moments of unity, the nation sits in stunned silence at the scene laid out before them. A few short seconds from now three different wild howls of exclamation will be broadcast from two billion different voices.

A third of those voices will be shrill with anger, proclaiming to their chosen Gods how vile that scene was, how crude, wrong and immoral. In time, prayers will be spoken and letters written to politicians and newsfeeds about how Something Must Be Done. Some of these folk will demand retribution; a pound of flesh that must be extracted from those who brought this terror to their homes, their families and their children.

Another third will be aghast with despair, certain that yet another pointless and fruitless war is about to be waged. A war filled with violent rhetoric that will prove nothing and divide the people ever further into the camps of the extremists. Most of these folk will hunker down in their shelters, intellectualizing what they saw and afraid to act for what they see as the path towards a greater good.

The final third, the youngest third, are probably the most profoundly affected. They know what is supposed to happen, and where, and know what they saw today totally flies in the face of those rules. Deep in their souls they know that what they saw today has changed, will change their life forever. And they will be the ones who cry out the loudest, their voices from chuckle and chortle to bray and bellow. And all the inevitable conversations on their electronic chatspaces and in their personal stomping grounds will boil down to a single, visceral sentence.

“Dude, can you even say ‘fuck’ on hypercast?!”