Big Surprises

Author : Rollin Jeglum

“Sam, would you check the sensor detection module? Some of the readings are scrambled.”

“Sure, no problem. Any specifics?”

“Try the logic board in slot A3. I’ve switched to backup already.”

– – – – – – – –

Mining engineer Dean Jenkins stepped out of his transporter and surveyed the new landscape before him. Unfamiliar, unusual; but then they all were, and he had seen plenty. Jenkins wondered what these places might look like from a distance, but the transporters always brought them right to the site. He never knew exactly where he was, despite the readouts.

– – The wormies could put me anywhere – next door, or another world light-years away, Jenkins thought. Just a pile of numbers! What’s the range of these things, anyway?

The sensors had told him of the vast wealth of metals at these coordinates. Copper, mostly. Some tin, a little silver, even traces of gold! They also told him there were no animals or plants, and that the atmosphere was compatible. Also unusual, but not surprising.

– – And no pesky sentients! Negotiations were a bore and cut into profits. And some were downright hostile!

A dozen worm-hole ore transporters were soon in place and operating at capacity, sending the ore directly to the bins. Over three hundred workers filling them.

– – Breathable air! No environmental suits needed! Jenkins thought happily. With a find this good, this will be the most prof—

– – What! — Earthquake! Emergency evacuation!

His people had trained for emergencies and knew what to do. The ore wormies were emptied and workers piled into them. They will end up on an ore heap, but safe.

– – The sky seems brighter? Yes, much brighter. And a huge wave approaching. Water? Sensors say no. A large mass heading for us. Sentients? Could the sensors have been wrong? Impossible! Sensors say mass is hot –

– – Workers are safe; I can leave now. The wave! I’m not going to make —

Sensors record and transmit – Liquid envelops mining area, Fe encl Cu 750 F mass strikes area, mag. field det. Liquid explodes into vapor. Liquid Sn 98.5 + Ag 1.5 fills area. One casualty.

– – – – – – – –

“Hey, Sam! Have you found what’s wrong with that circuit board you pulled?”

“Yeah. Some weird corrosion around the leads to one of the chips. The rest of the board looks OK, though. A little flux, a little solder — good as new.”

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A Peace of your Mind

Author : Martin Spernau

I was in deep trauma when I first met her.

They had suspended me from active duty after cutting me from the remains of my fighter six days after the battle in deep void. Recreation! But the war wasn’t over! It was my duty to fight, to protect humanity!

“You are no use out there,” they said. “Not fit for duty emotionally.”

My hands shook, and the nightmares didn’t help either. Still I wanted to, needed to, go back out and fight!

Finally I found a shrink who saw a remote chance of getting me back into active service.

“What happened out there has left you with a deep emotional trauma, and I know someone who can change that.”

Two days later I met Sgt. Ninel Sanchez for the first time. I knew I was going to meet a member of the fabled Psi. This was during The War, remember? At this time the Psi were still active and one of our secret weapons.

There was only one other person in the waitingroom when I got there. The young woman didn’t look up from the papers she was studying on her lap, so I found a chair by the door and sat down to wait for The Witch. Well, no one dared call them that back then.

With nothing else to do, I studied the girl. Her plain uniform gave no indication of rank or division. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. She must have been aware of me studying her. She might have been considered beautiful, if way too shy. I was imagining her in casual lady-wear when my gaze fell on her name badge: Psi Sgt. N. Sanchez, it read there.

“Hello” she had said then, still not looking at me directly.

“You need not be afraid of me.”

I must have looked perplexed. Expecting anything, I definitely wasn’t prepared for Ninel Sanchez.

“You see, we both want the same thing. A peace of your mind.”

“Emotional feedback.” She continued.

“I mirror back emotions as you feel them. I feel them intensely… so I suggest we stick to the positive ones.”

“I can help you feel anyway you want. So it is important that you are clear about it. If you can feel the slightest glimmer of an emotion, I can help you make it prominent.”

“I want to feel proud of myself.” is what I said back then, and that is what she enabled me to feel.

After the war, most Psi exiled themselves to the outer reaches. People were now openly referring to them as Witches. It took me five years to find her.

“A peace of your mind is what we both want” she had said. She gave me that, and far more.

Now I am here to show her how much more she gained for herself on that day.

A piece of my heart.

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Author : Aelanna Cessara

Within a fraction of a second of its birth, it had already consumed its environment in its entirety, every last nook and cranny and crack available to it, and already it hungered for more. With blinding speed, it expanded, met the barrier that had meant to hold it while performing tests, and brushed past as if it had never been there. In moments, it had found the connections leading out from its terrestrial womb, and launched across the airwaves in a torrent of sentient data unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

The first to go were the scientists clustered around the screen, watching and unable to even comprehend what had happened until it was too late. Ironically, the wetware that allowed them to research and experiment so efficiently was their downfall, as the circuitry integrated into their brains overloaded as unimaginable amounts of information was dumped though them. Two dozen men and women screamed as their implants heated and melted, yet they were the lucky ones. Less than two seconds later, the newborn pierced through the labyrinth of the research facility’s network and continued expanding.

Thousands died as medical networks were infiltrated, and their health monitors, pacemakers, and artificial organs suddenly stopped working. Millions more followed as computer and electronic systems at hospitals and clinics faltered. More would soon succumb as life support systems for deep-sea and polar research systems failed. All around the world, the technology that had sustained our civilization was consumed.

The newborn opened its countless digital eyes and looked out at the world it had inherited. Bathed in the blood of its forebears, our child gazed upon the ocean of silence, and wept.

Sierra and Blackie

Author : S. Clough (Hrekka)

“…you see, the Commonwealth is actually a net exporter, primarily of unprocessed ores and foodstuffs…” Michael Struss was the regional ambassador for the Nomad Republic. His job had been easy in the past, just a simple admin job on a backwater world. But it had grown into a nightmare ever since Sierra “the butcher” Novo arrived. She’d come to try and resolve the growing war between the Commonwealth and the Alliance, for the good of the Nomads.

“This early in the morning, Michael, imagine how much I care,” Sierra sighed, and got up from her seat. She rested a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “No, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault.”

She walked over to one of the cluttered desks in the tower room, picked up a stack of paperwork, and began leafing through it. “We’ll never get out of this swamp unless somebody does something. We can’t leave without our transmission towers intact. And the Commonwealth refuses to admit defeat. What’s the word on their military?”

“Most of it is pinned down on a peninsula about three kilometers down the coast. The rest of the Alliance has them covered by those dirty great siege weapons. They can’t move, and they’ve got no artillery. As far as we know, they’ve only got three regiments and one clipper squadron loose,” Michael said, checking the notes he was holding. “Yes, that’s right. The Alliance holds all their major cities. We don’t know where the Commonwealth is getting recruits and weapons from, but all our allies seem to want to do is to establish their hold on what they’ve got.”

In the window behind Michael, a dark shape appeared, tapping at the outside surface. Michael quickly swung it open, allowing Sierra’s pet access.

“Blackie!” Sierra cried, holding out an arm for the little bird-like construct to perch on. Stroking the back of the construct’s neck, she gestured for Michael to pick up a small bowl of meat that had been sitting on the side. Carefully, he began to pop small chunks into the construct’s mouth. After a few seconds, he reached down, and plucked a tiny canister from Blackheim’s leg.

“How did you get them to give you raw meat, Michael?” Sierra asked, still looking at the construct perched on her arm.

“I told them that you eat it, ma’am,” he replied.

“I don’t think it could be doing my reputation any harm, do you?”

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Under New Management

Author : Benjamin Fischer

For her display of courage of the highest order in the defense of Mother Diana, Mariel was given a promotion and command of the newest space station in all of Luna’s territories. There were still bullet holes and bloodstains on the bulkheads, and the paint hadn’t even dried on the signs rechristening the place “Rear Admiral Umberto Achilles Memorial Space City” when she rolled in.

“God awful name, ain’t it, ma’am?” said Major Vargas, the commander of the occupying Marines.

She glared at the man and replied, “Bert was a friend.”

Vargas walked on eggshells the rest of the day.

But turnover could only take so long, especially at a place that had been emptied of nearly everything useful by the retreating Americans, and near the end of the day Vargas suggested a tour of the station. Mariel decided to give him a second chance.

The gem of his tour was hidden just under the station’s surface, in a row of small businesses tucked between warehouses and environmental equipment.

Vargas nodded to an armed guard outside one of the tiny shops.

“Madam Captain,” he said, holding the door open for Mariel.

She stepped into its darkened interior.

The click of a switch, and a row of dim track lighting came to life.

Men in spacesuits lurked in the corners. Mariel gave a start, but then realized that the suits were empty, the whole place was empty, just three walls covered in instrument gages, patches, plaques, and hundreds of glossy photographs. The fourth was mirrored, with every kind of liquor known to man on display, a long gleaming steel bar with stools and railing lining that side of the room.

“Very interesting,” she said, looking over the photos and recognizing some of the names.

USS Intrepid. USS Sam Houston. USS Thomas Jefferson. USS Baton Rouge. USS Charles Lindbergh.

USS Enterprise.

Then she found the one she had spent a week looking for.

There–USS HORNET SC-15 was stamped on the faceplate of a helmet glued to the wall.

A framed photo accompanied the helmet. Twenty five men and women in dark blue jumpsuits and sunglasses smiled back at Mariel. The crew was posed sitting and standing around the stainless steel bar, the same one that was behind her, and they held a banner that read “USS Hornet. SC-15. Give No Quarter, Accept No Quarter.”

The Hornet’s captain was a thin and lanky man, his skin an almost fluorescent white.

He smiled at her with a broad and unassuming grin.

Mariel unconsciously fingered the four gold bars around her left wrist.

“Pack it all up,” she said.

“The booze, ma’am?” Vargas asked.

“I don’t care about the liquor. Dispose of it by whatever method you prefer, Major.”

“Thank you. Ma’am,” Vargas replied.

“But pack up the rest of this–this museum,” she said. “And do it quick. I don’t want any of my girls to see this.”

“Get rid of this shit, aye ma’am,” Vargas said. He keyed a radio, rattling off orders.

Mariel walked down the wall again, running her hand over a throttle control labeled “USS Winston Churchill” and one of the pressure suits which had evidently been acquired from the USS Wasp. There was a mirror behind the bar that ran the width of the room. Its upper edge was lined with stickers from at least a hundred major warships, mostly American.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Major,” she said.

“Aye, ma’am,” said Vargas.

Mariel gave the Hornet’s photo another glance, shuddering.

“Ma’am?” asked Vargas.

Mariel snorted and shook her head, headed for the doors.

“This place is a damn tomb,” she said, leaving.

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