Crawl Space

Author: Rick Tobin

“Know the right people and get your right place.” Ted Aaronson’s huge fingers straightened wrinkles in an undersized, blue t-shirt irritating his neck. “The right people get the best.” Aaronson twisted his powerful, athletic frame, popping noisy vertebrae in the crowded space station’s quarters.

“Is that what got you onboard? You’re not representing science.” Mirco Matteucci directed his focus to his computer pad, finishing reports about hull temperature effects from recent CMEs.

“Huh, I’m doing my part, punk. They aren’t sending weenie whackers off to Mars. Only the fit go. That’s my job here, testing vigor every day; ensuring how superior breeds maintain strength for a long haul. Maybe some of you will fly ships and build colony bases, but you won’t last long on the surface. Only advanced genetics will survive. And speaking of survival, I’m hungry as hell. What’s gizmo got in his fridge to munch?”

“Don’t, Aaronson. Devi worked on his tardigrade project for months. He keeps samples in there. Look at the label. See, it says ‘Warning, Biological Hazard.’ I sure as hell wouldn’t open that looking for eats.”

“No, and you’ll stay shriveled up—the slug you’ve always been. I’ve seen Jew boy hiding food away. He’s not fooling me. As far as how I got my ticket…it’s people…my people. My old man is the CEO of the country’s biggest mining company. The first Martian settlers get land grants, just like the Spanish elite in Mexico. I’m set for taking the mineral-rich Meridiani Plain. We’ll strip the crap out of it, making billions. I’ll come back as a fricking king. That’s the right people in the right place. Hmm, this looks good. A bunch of kosher bologna sliced up, but who cares there’s no bread? I need protein, baby!”

Mirco watched, horrified, as Aaronson swallowed a handful of meat slices in one huge gulp. “You idiot! That’s not deli meat. Devi’s been dissecting giant tardigrades from outside Section 5. That’s why he’s here. He predicted those things we released in space would live, thrive, and evolve into larger species as they fed on the bacterium we discovered living on the space station’s outer surface. Didn’t you read anything about our mission?”

Aaronson struggled with the last bite before answering. “Why should I? You’re an MIT whiz kid. I’m a top athlete at UCLA. What’s he? Some farm kid at a teacher’s college in Minnesota. He just doesn’t know he doesn’t belong at this elevation. I do. You do. His work means nothing. No Mars for his kind.”

Aaronson bent over, grabbing his stomach while holding his throat. Mirco watched the football star rush through the hatch door to the vacuum toilets. Devi Levine floated in a half-hour later.

“What the hell! Mirco, what did you do?” The color left Devi’s normally tanned face as he stretched his arms out to close his empty refrigerator door. The sample bio-wrapper remained suspended above it.

“Not me, bud. That ass Aaronson thought it was lunch meat. He ate it. I think he’s sorry. He’s got the runs.”

“No…no…oh God!” Levine pointed at the single view window behind Mirco. It permitted a panorama of Section 5’s rotating solar array. Along one panel crawled a large bloated shape wearing a shredded blue t-shirt over its eight fat, stubby legs, red hair, and bulging blue eyes. It stared back at them.

“What should I do?” Levine whispered, terrified at the grisly transmutation.

“Do?” Mirco whispered back. “Report that Aaronson got his rightful place in space.”

Cry of Mine

Author: Morrow Brady

A silver float-stone fell silently, colliding with Birb the hover lamp. Birb flickered as his failing battery redirected power to his stabilisers. Shadow and sulphurous light warred over the silvery rock tunnel.

“Nice Birb, nice” I mumbled sarcastically.

Light-beams speared the glittering yellow haze and fell upon the newly exploded rock face while shadowy vent-snakes slithered overhead, clearing the humid air then spasmed reluctantly back into their dirty hide. Wrenched air wafted across my sweaty brow and I tongued the acidic taste of pure Cry, a powerful drug buried deep within a captured asteroid poised halfway to the moon. I down-dosed too late and the euphoria flooded through me. I tasted silver and licked my dust crusted lips in rapture.

Mesmerised before a jaundiced ore face, I snapped to when a water-spider ticked past my grubby moon-boot, dousing everything. I watched transfixed as the sulphurous dust formed into a mustardy mousse and danced in the low gravity like a salted slug.

Every detonator had fired and silver Crystone lay shattered across the tunnel floor like a broken mirror. I leaned into the ore face, examining the zig-zag line of precious commodity bound in stone. Truly the richest seam ever mined.

Robo-loco, the excavator, lurched down the tunnel, urging me onward with each heavy tread. Upon arrival, he’d fill his hopper with precious fragments of valuable ore and return to the processor. Pay would be good this week. The Cry was rich and pure.

At the ore face, I examined an unusual pattern of spiderweb cracks. Maybe a natural fault or pocket of low-grade Cry. Birb sensed my focus and piloted forward, miscalculated his deceleration and careened into the rock face. A deep crack sounded and I braced for depressurisation, my fingers hovering over the emergency crank. Stone shattered and collapsed into a dark cavity beyond followed immediately by Birb with an electronic shriek.

“Sake Birb! What’ve ya done?” I dismayed.

Clearing away loose rubble revealed a dark hole until Birb blinked on and ascended like a bad yoyo trick, glancing stupidly off my hat-shroud and bobbling into darkness. Slowly, I dragged myself through the hole and into an intricately carved stone chamber, hosting a strange mound of black orbs.

Birb haphazardly circled the odd mound, highlighting thick spears of silver that extended out from each orb like a sea urchin’s spines. Spears of pure Cry. Each spear planted against the carved chamber wall like steel placentae.

After a few adrenaline-filled moments, mirrored specks appeared on the face of the nearest orb, drawing together to form a new silvery spearhead. A deep shiver sounded and the spear shot towards me. An audible splat and the mirrored finger planted against Birb’s sensor array like a chameleon’s tongue and hauled him into the orb. I froze in shock as specks formed once again.

I awoke later beside the mound. The aeon-long story of the orbs embedded inside me and the new silver blood surging through my veins. Submitting fully, I would now bring Cry to my home-world and let my people taste its rapture until the threshold is met and the silent transformation begins. It was already too late for them. Out-number, then overcome, and in the end they will all become black orbs and launch into the void evermore.

In a dark corner lay Birb. Ruptured like a crushed can with a final message for Robo-loco.

I found a nest Brother.

Detonate.

In dark space, an asteroid illuminated from within and immediately vaporised.

Cutting Grass

Author: Hayden Waller

It is impossible to determine where my body ends and the universe begins. My blood cells are stars, my veins their galaxies. Every muscle feels as if it were coated in a thin layer of cloud, cool and dewy, gently lifting me into the sky above like an offering to the sun. For once, my mind is at peace. The black tendrils of worry that worm their way through my broken brain have shriveled up, beaten back by this vanguard of Bliss.

There is a woman next to me. My wife. I reach out and touch her arm and remember we are in love. Visible waves of ecstasy roll off her and into me. My eyes roll back in my head as the warm current travels from the tips of my fingers to the tips of my toes, bathing every inch of my form in golden light. Every neuron, alight. Je t’aime ma fleur I whisper. The words leave my mouth and hang in the air, swirling around our heads like a drop of dye in a glass of water. She smiles at me and lays down on her back. Mmm. A soft moan escapes her lips as she slowly writhes in the grass. I roll over onto my belly and drag my face back and forth across blades. It tickles. The smell of rich soil enters my nose and I begin to cry. Tears of pure joy.

When I raise my head, there is a beetle in front of me. I stare at it. It seems to stare back. The creature is stunning. A miracle of creation. Each hardened plate of its body reflects the sunlight in a different way, a kaleidoscope of shimmering purples, blues, and blacks. I set out an open hand and coax the creature onto my palm. Its legs articulate like an organic machine as it climbs up the flesh of my thumb. I bring it closer to my face. I study it. It seems to study me back. And then, without warning, it bites my flesh. I’m sorry Mr. Beetle, I did not mean to disturb you I say.

And then, I feel it. The warm blood in my hand turns to ice and the world around me begins to change. As the chill travels up my arm the lush carpet of soft grass disappears, revealing a concrete floor stained with dried blood and motor oil. The chill hits my shoulder. Above my head, the brilliant sun in the cloudless blue sky becomes a cracked ceiling with a flickering fluorescent bulb. By the time it reaches my chest, the beetle’s once-glistening exoskeleton has become matte and metallic. It scurries away across the floor on its six mechanical limbs and into the gloved hand of an armored patrol officer. The sobriety cocktail the scout drone injected into my thumb finally reaches my heart and the last remnants of Bliss are gone. My wife scrambles to prop herself up on her elbows. A look of terror washes over her as a second drone scurries away from her towards the officer. But I am not scared. I already know what happens next.

A synthetic voice comes through a tiny speaker on the side of the officer’s black, visored helmet. Users located it says. Proceeding with termination. The officer takes his sidearm from its holster and presses it to my forehead. Je t’aime ma fleur I whisper one last time, and my vision goes black.

The Appeals to Lilly

Author: Alzo David-West

1.
“Lilly, can we?”
“Not tonight.”

2.
“Lilly, how about today?”
“I’m tired.”

3
“Lilly, maybe …”
“Next week.”

4
“Lilly, it’s been a week.”
“I changed my mind.”

5.
“Lilly, I was wondering.”
“Is it all you think about?”

6.
“Lilly, it’s been four months.”
“I’m busy now.”

7.
“Lilly, how about the weekend?”
“I’ve got things to do.”

8.
“Lilly, it’s been a year.”
“Has it really?”

9.
“Lilly, something’s changed.”
“Maybe you.”

10.
“Lilly, can we talk, please?”
“Not now.”

11.
“Lilly, there’s something I need to tell you.
“Lilly, are you listening? ….”

12.
“John, why don’t you login anymore?
“John, why are you unavailable?”

13.
“John, my circuits detect another presence.
“John, is that a person with you?”

The Siege Perilous

Author: Brian Etta

Rohan had been on an antiquities jag ever since he happened on a curious program on NOVA offering the viewer insights into some of the most mysterious books of arcana in history, The Rohonc Codex with its Christian, Islamic and even HIndu symbology had particularly impinged on him and he’d been having weird dreams. In these dreams he was reading a book, The Siege Perilous, or something like that. He remembered that the sleeping brain could not read but instead only communicate in symbols. In fact it was unusual that he could read at all in the dream time, as he had come to call it.

The next few months had seen his patterns of behavior grow more erratic and he’d been spending more time seeking out old tomes at bookshops and libraries and parchment from online dealers…much to the chagrin of his intimates. He had decided that The Siege Perilous was real and he’d further decided it was his task to find it, no matter the cost. His dreams had become more vivid and erratic; sometimes he was in ancient Rome, sometimes the Court of King Arthur who himself was an amalgam of other people that actually existed. Did Arthur exist? There was no time to answer as he was caught in the uplift of the dream. As if in a fugue state he bounced from Mesopotamia to Tenochtitlan and then parts unknown. Waking up he found himself sprawled out in the midst of his books and art supplies with a “Dear John” letter resting on his chest. He was waiting for this day. Now that his wife had left him he could fully devote himself to his quest.

He picked up a quill and started writing. Reality warped and bent around him and he detected the delicate fragrance of something floral. His pace quickened as did the transformations surrounding. When it was complete he was in a bazaar surrounded by armed soldiers, Byzantine from the looks of things, accusing him of sorcery and heresy. He was dragged off and executed.

Thousands of years later, a book dealer stumbled across the Rohan Codex which was subtitled The Siege Perilous. A note fell out that looked like a “Dear John” letter. On closer inspection and in Rohan’s erratic handwriting it said, “Do not read The Siege Perilous”