Author : Lindsey McLeod
The President stood silhouetted against the huge windows of the White House, hands clasped behind her back, apparently deep in thought. Over those slender shoulders, Jane Randall could see a vast expanse of starry sky that looked like nothing more than the remains of God’s first sneeze. The moon hung low and dark in the sky, tinged with a faint green glow. The air swam like a crocodile, tepid and slick and sharp – the summer heat unusual even for late August. The darkness inside the Oval Office only seemed to only magnify the humidity. Ever since this particular mission had begun, the President had become obsessed with the current hot topic; namely, the movement of toxic substances to a place where it could not possibly bother the human race. She’d moved all the lamps into the empty conference rooms along the hall, claiming the darkness assisted with her concentration and dedication. The staff had, with silent and unanimous agreement in the way of office workers all over the world, decided that this statement clearly meant ‘please further assist the President’s concentration and dedication regarding the matter at hand by stealing these lamps’, and they were nothing if not patriotic.
A suited secretary scurried in on squeaking shoes that were only partially muffled by the thick carpet, and spoke quietly into the President’s ear. He gave Randall a brief, uninterested glance as he left. She wondered how he could bear the weight of a blazer in this oven. There was no air conditioning here – the President didn’t approve of it. Randall’s own suit jacket lay casually discarded in her casual, temporary office in the east wing, casually hiding her portable fan. She didn’t feel particularly good – or indeed, casual – about that, but then again she didn’t particularly enjoy broiling in her own skin. It did you good to enact small act of rebellions against authority. Kept the mind fresh.
Randall scratched under her ear nervously, tucked a wisp of escaped blonde hair back into her bun and folded her hands behind her back again, doing her best to appear unruffled and composed. The uncomfortable feeling grew, flapping anxiously around her stomach on small, leathery wings. A thick worm of sweat crawled down the back of her neck and dampened the crisp collar of her white shirt. She tugged at it uncomfortably and then cleared her throat in the politest possible way. You didn’t rush the leader of the Free World.
“Ms President?” she said cautiously.
“I’m sorry, General. You were saying?”
“Ma’am, we are experiencing some-” Randall hesitated only briefly before forcing the word out of her mouth with some distaste and more than a little guilt, “-uh, issues, concerning the disposal of the newest batch of nuclear waste.”
The President turned to face her, brown eyes sharp and searching. Her gaze examined Randall’s face and form with clinical precision. Cataloguing. Probing. It made Randall’s insides twist. The leather wings beat faster. The worm crawled further down her back.
“Are you telling me that we’ve used up all our resources already?” the President asked slowly.
Randall paused, unsure of how to phrase the comment without it sounding either trite or patronizing. “The… the moon is not an infinite object, ma’am.”
“Nothing is, Randall. Nothing is.”
The President looked thoughtful. There was a brief, awkward silence. Randall felt the conversation slipping away from her and tried desperately to regain some footing.
“Tell me, Randall,” said the President, turning again to stare out at the night sky, “what are we currently doing with Saturn?”
Author : Bob Newbell
“Starship Tsiolkovsky, this is the Haven Space Station calling. Please respond.”
Captain John McCormick arose from his command chair. He and the other five recently reanimated members of the Tsiolkovsky crew were utterly shocked. The Tsiolkovsky had been launched on 18 June 2199, 100 years earlier. With its state of the art biostasis technology, the vessel was designed to allow its complement of six scientists to hibernate during the decades of travel between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Now, humanity’s first ambassadors to another solar system were being greeted by a human voice speaking perfect English.
Recovering from the initial shock of this unanticipated contact, McCormick radioed back, “This is Captain John McCormick of the Tsiolkovsky. Identify yourself.”
“Captain, I’m Commander Brijendra Patel of the Alpha Centauri Space Authority. I have no doubt you’re quite shocked to discover anybody out here. I’m equally sure you have a lot of questions. Would you allow me to have the station dock with your vessel? I’ve been expecting you and I’ve prepared a proper hero’s welcome for you aboard Haven.”
Two hours later the dazed crew of the Tsiolkovsky were seated around a large oak table in a tastefully decorated dining room. They were offered food and drink but had little appetite.
“How did anyone beat us out here?” asked McCormick.
“Twenty years after you left,” replied Patel, “the Starship Clarke, propelled by a Bussard ramjet more advanced than your ship’s nuclear drive, set out for Alpha Centauri. Their journey only took half as long as yours.”
“So the trip only took 50 years? And they left 20 years after us? That means they beat us here by 30 years. So, the crew of the Clarke were the first to arrive?”
“Not exactly, Captain,” said Patel. “You see, 20 years after the Clarke left Earth, the Starship Zubrin began the journey using an antimatter propulsion system that compressed the travel time to 20 years.”
McCormick was stunned. “Okay,” said McCormick, “so the first people to arrive here were the crew of the Zubrin in 2259. Right?”
“No,” said Patel. “Five years after the Zubrin left for Alpha Centauri, another ship, the Goddard, was launched. Its graviton impeller engine allowed it to approach lightspeed. It arrived after about five years of travel.”
McCormick sighed. “So in 2249 the Goddard arrived and–”
“The Von Braun,” said Patel. “Quantum tunneling drive. Set out two years after the Goddard. Arrived here instantaneously.”
“Alright!” said McCormick, red faced. “Instantaneously! So that’s, what? The year 2246? That’s when–”
“The Starship Oberth,” Patel interjected. “Tachyon engine. Launched after the Von Braun but arrived here way before everybody else by traveling back in time en route.”
McCormick stared at Patel for half a minute. “Well, any other ships?!”
“No,” said Patel. “I am the grandson of two members of the Oberth’s crew. It was my idea to establish this station to greet the interstellar pioneers who came ‘before’ us. Captain, you and your crew are heroes. And your arrival makes this an historic day!”
“How?!” asked McCormick angrily. “The Oberth, the Von Braun, the Goddard, the Zubrin, the Clarke! They all beat us here!”
“That’s what makes this day historic!” said Patel, standing up and raising his wine glass to McCormick and his crew. “There are many pioneers in the history of the exploration and colonization of Alpha Centauri. But you, ladies and gentlemen, are unique. You got here last!”
Author : Sierra Corsetti
Marie snuck a glance out of the corner of her eyes as the card dispenser beeped and dropped three slips of plastic-coated paper into her waiting hand. She dropped them into the front pocket of her leather overcoat and swished out of the pharmacy, merging into the early-morning foot traffic as she fingered the slick surface of the cards.
Though the cards had been legalized a decade ago, they were still treated as taboo, something that shouldn’t be discussed openly. Marie knew the fear of the unspoken truth was irrational, since everyone over the age of 13 bought their daily limit and used them. Even Marie herself was reluctant to discuss the life choice she has made unconsciously one day after school shortly after her 13th birthday.
Marie sidestepped through the throngs of people commuting to work, and ducked into a small coffee shop. She ordered her usual house brew, black with a touch of sugar, and sat down with the day’s newspaper. Hiding behind the inky newsprint, she slipped the cards out of her pocket to inspect them with a straight face.
No Free Lunch today, but the Unlimited Cab Fare could be handy, as well as the Free Hit. The I Haven’t Been Drinking Officer, I Swear was a shame since she only had need for those on the weekends. Marie decided the other two made up for it.
She downed the rest of her coffee and glanced at the clock. School would start in half an hour, but she could dally over the paper longer today. She had a free ride.
In second period, Alex McCann made fun of her for her dreadlocks. Marie fingered her Free Hit card, but decided that Alex McCann wasn’t worth it. An hour and a half later, someone ran into her in the hallway and made her drop her armful of books. Since the whole thing was an accident, Marie decided to hold on to the card for a little longer.
After school, Marie took a cab downtown and wandered the streets, window shopping until past dark. A man cornered her in an alley on 32nd street. Marie pulled out the card and smiled as she felt it turn into knife in her hand.
An hour later, she walked through her front door, mouth watering as she smelled the spaghetti sauce her mother was cooking for dinner.
“How was your day, honey?” her mother called from the kitchen.
Marie rubbed at the bloodstain on the sleeve of her coat and made a mental note to have it cleaned before school tomorrow.
“Great,” she replied.
Author : Algor X. Dennison
“Are you out of your mind?” Captain Lurren screamed at me. She clung to a broken strut over the glowing red chasm where solid deckplate had been a few minutes earlier. I wanted to tell her that she looked like the crazed one in that position, and that she was lovely anyway, but I couldn’t speak like that to my captain.
“Live for both of us!” I yelled. Turning, I ran down the tunnel to the cargo bay where we were being boarded. Another blast to our dying ship’s underbelly could suck us out into cold, dark space. Without a shieldbelt’s bubble field to push away the -450 degree vacuum, we’d be finished. I couldn’t let that happen to my captain. I had been hers to command since graduation, and I loved her despite repeated attempts to have me discharged. For her I would die, and relish it.
Shocktroops poured into the cargo bay. Before I could open fire, a burst from an enemy laser rifle cut down a pipe which fell and hit me. A novel tactic, but they shouldn’t have given that idea to a grenade man. I emptied my explosive rounds at the ceiling on the other end of the bay. Debris rained down and a pressurized tank above blew out with a colossal boom. Taking heart, I charged the alarmed shocktroops with a battlecry.
A distant roar drowned my hearing, and vapor streamed toward a dark gash that had appeared in the ceiling. The bay lit up in the wash of fire from another explosion. I stumbled, whispering my captain’s name one last time as I fell. My head and lungs were bursting.
As if summoned by my dying wish, Captain Lurren appeared next to me with a shield-belt in hand. She activated the protective bubble around us just in time. I could breathe again.
“Don’t suck up all the air!” Captain Lurren shouted, but to me her voice was honey. We floated a meter off the deck as gravity failed, watching the shocktroop assault craft pull away.
“They’re leaving!” I exulted.
“You breached the hull, you imbecile!” Lurren growled. “Of course they’re leaving. My ship is tearing apart!”
My head cleared even more under Captain Lurren’s freezing glare. “You came back for me,” I said, tears glistening in my eyes.
“Yes. The crew had taken every last shuttle,” she grumbled. “They left one shieldbelt.”
We watched in silence as the ship broke in half around us. Twisted pieces of hull twirled away and we were left in the dark of space. “We could not save our ship’s body,” I eulogized briefly, “but we saved its honor. When they pick us up, we’ll be heroes.”
“We have about two minutes of oxygen in this bubble,” Captain Lurren said flatly. “All they’ll find is two bodies.”
“That does sound romantic,” I agreed, “but don’t lose heart.” I detached a cylinder from my belt and held it up, smiling. “Oxygen refiltrator. We’ll share each breath, clinging together in a tight embrace as we make our way across the starscape. Two officers of the Fleet, loyal to the last.”
“If we survive,” Lurren grated, “You won’t be an officer any longer. Not on my ship!”
I could have pointed out that her ship could hold no more officers at all, but I decided to savor the moment with her instead.
“It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it, Captain? Look, there’s Cassiopeia, just past that burning section of the hull.”
Author : Leah Hervoly
I have been drifting along for the past seven hundred and eighteen years. Things are starting to look the same. Puffy red nebulae over here, collapsing white dwarf over there. Once in a while I see a galaxy get sucked into a supermassive black hole like some kind of interstellar juice box. The colors are breathtaking and remind me of sunsets. The stars hardly change, though.
At first I tried to make my own constellations, but ran out of Latin names and animals and only managed to catalogue about twelve hundred. My programmer wasn’t the brightest in those departments. Every so often I think back on the day the escape pod ejected from the main ship and launched me blindly into foreign space. I’m not even sure what galaxy we were in when we were attacked.
I guess it doesn’t matter now.
As an android, we don’t really have a need for recreation or entertainment, although shutting down to recharge for longer than necessary is incredibly boring. The pod I’m in doesn’t offer much in the way of visual or intellectual stimulation. I don’t mind, though. I like to think I have a good imagination.
Its A.I. has become a bit eccentric as well. After about ninety years it decided that it was going to be a female and dubbed itself Samantha. She doesn’t talk to me anymore. She kept wanting to show me videos she had taken of people walking in front of the pod when it was still attached to the main ship. I found these dull and expressed my disinterest around the three hundred year mark. She hasn’t said a word to me since. I miss her singing.
Not that I’m really complaining though—I’m not lonely even without Samantha talking to me. The lack of company has been endearing and allows me to retrace the philosophical roots that my programmer installed. I know the Poetics by heart, and find that when I’m gazing out at the stars Plato’s theories are much more believable. I haven’t been able to wrap my wires around Descartes yet, but I’ll get there.
I’m not sure what the malfunction was that prohibited the pod in locating a civilized planet and landing. Samantha had muttered something about missing binary code, but I think that’s only because she was upset with me. Sometimes the radio transmitter crackles and I can hear indistinct voices requesting coordinates, but most of the time I just peg that as wishful thinking and turn off the communicator.
I smile slightly when I notice that another twenty four hours have passed. Another day ticks off on a file in my hard drive. I look out of the window and smooth down my monofilament fiber hair and blink my blue glass eyes. I absently fiddle with my plastic fingernails. I’m not worried that no one will find me, or that nobody realizes I’m gone.
I kind of like it out here.