Morbid Fear

Author : Denis Bell

Morbid fear, for God’s sake. Driving home from the shrink, Hugh turned on the car radio in an attempt to blot out the thoughts churning in his head. The radio was tuned to WPB. It was Science Monday and they were discussing Hugh’s least favorite subject in the whole world, that and some weird new invention. It sounded like something out of The Twilight Zone.

“… process is rather complicated. But I can describe the basic functioning. The machine takes in a few drops of the subject’s blood. Performing an analysis on the white cells, it is able to determine the precise moment of the subject’s death.”

“Remarkable! But is the machine reliable, Morty? It would be unfortunate if a person scheduled to die say, twenty years from now, were to take up bungee jumping then end up plunging to his or her death next week.”

“As it happens, the technology is far from new. It was developed by DSSR in the late fifties and been in use ever since. The point is that in almost sixty years there is not a single instance where a prediction made by the machine has turned out to be erroneous. It appears to be infallible.”

The interviewer audibly gasped. “But the implications of such a device are… staggering! It will change the world. Why haven’t heard about it until now?”

“The project was highly classified until very recently. A group of us felt that– I’d prefer not to comment further on this.”

Hugh had heard enough. A machine that tells you when you’re going to die. Just what he needed. Hugh knew his own make-up and constitution only too well. He knew with the certainty of roast beef that if he ever encountered one of these contraptions it would be the end of him. Hugh suffered from hypertension, cardiac arrhythmia, weakened arteries, a genetic predisposition to stroke and seizures… news of his imminent death would surely kill him. Right there and then. Right on schedule.

It seemed impossible, though. A blood test? It had to be some sort of joke. But the radio, why would they–

He almost laughed out loud when he cottoned to it. Almost, but not quite. Today’s date – April 1, 2013. Morty.

Last year was that report of life discovered on the dark side of the moon. He’d just seen Independence Day and lay awake night after night for a week worrying about an alien invasion. The previous year saw him peeling rubber along 90 East. Half of California had fallen into the Pacific. All those calls from people with family in LA and Frisco…

What a day! First a condescending little weasel of a shrink, now bozo radio pranksters. Hugh felt that he could kick their asses all over town. Felt light and heavy at the same time. This time next year he was going to be in bed with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

In the studio, the interview was winding down. Richard Morton nodded apprehensively as the interviewer thanked him. It seemed they’d done a dangerous thing going public with this. Intimidation … threats … Dr. Morton was a bold thinker but not a bold man. He never would have had the nerve except for one thing – he wasn’t due for another thirty years.

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No Change

Author : Britny Musson

I was singing in my sleep again.

“And then there was none, and then there was all.”

My throat is dry but the words still manage to croak out. Something is different, today. My sleep is being compromised, my mood is shuddering under the weight of my transition. I try to stretch against the small space, pressed my limbs in every direction. It feels good to move again. It was sweltering last time. I breathe deep and watch as my day of blinking lights begins.

My stomach takes a dip, the room brightens for a moment, blinding me. They like to catch me off guard through transport. Its safer that way, they say. That weak feeling gnaws at my stomach and behind my eyes, I can feel the nausea building.

The tubes are snaking in, the speaker crackling to life, repeating its usual greeting.

“Good morning, Madeline.”

I know time frames don’t matter here. I need to work through the feelings they are inserting but the sleep keeps trying to jump in front, asking for more. I’m ravenous inside and I can barely manage to keep anything sated. The energy is festering in my veins, seeping into my bones like acid, making them pliable and complacent.

Something changes, moves just out of the corner of my eye. I hold my breath, listening to the clicks. There are too many and they are uneven. He’s home. I tried to feel for his name, my tongue rolling dryly over my teeth. Travis, they called him. I think that’s right.

I can hear the voices now. Murmurs growling against the metal. I settle into the vibrations as the volume rises.

“You have visitors today,” says the voice from the speaker. I chuckle, the sound rattling in my ribcage. They always made it sound like a vacation. The few times I get brought forward. Sometimes it was a group but other days there is only one. Travis is there most times.

“Why?” I asked, shifting uncomfortable. The bottom of the capsule dip. There is a silence for a moment. A gentle static before the last of the adjustments settle.

“They like honesty. Be a good girl this time…please.”

The screen powers on and I can see them standing there. There are five of them, the uneven clicks make sense. Honesty is supposed to be the most desired of concepts, the most delectable of situations. It hurts, stinging like lemon juice in cuts you didn’t know existed. It thrums against the surface, scratching at itself and everything around it.

They visit us because they want that pain. So they keep us as we are. Be a good girl? I forgot how to be quiet, to be still and calm. Even now, I can feel the anxiety rushing into me. The words are forming a queue in my brain, bursting and crashing against each other with frivolity, blocking the gloom that hovers around the corners.

“If I was a good girl, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

The screen powers off. I can feel the air shifting around the chamber as the first half slides open.

Travis stalks forward, the sharp snap of metal jarring my heartbeat. His hair is darker today. He smiles as they bring in the table.

“Are we ready?”

I feel the pinch as the needle slides in. The room sinks and sparkles as the metals grow brighter. I wonder what they are upgrading this time. It never takes. I’m always the same.

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Fiction on Foreign Planets

Author : Sean Kavanagh

The 3rd Planet-Formation Cadre sounded like an impressive title, but Dhan – like the others in his team – knew all it meant was that they were civil servants. Civil servants who got to fly about the galaxy seeding life on far flung barren planets, but all for mid-grade pay.

For six weeks now they’d been on this foreign world, hopping by shuttle from place to place, carefully laying the foundation for plant, animals – and if all went to plan – in the few thousand years’ time, intelligent life.

The hot desert and saline sea by their current site was depressing. Dhan did his work quickly during the day and retreated to the cool of the base camp at nightfall. Boredom was always deadly, so Dhan had his faithful notebook into which he’d pour his writing every night. It was the kind of mental safety valve all intergalactic civil servants needed.

The final week passed and the drop-ship appeared from the sky on schedule. Dhan waved as it flew over, and then scrambled to get his kit. It was his final mission of the tour. Next stop: home.

As the drop-ship slowly trundle into orbit Dhan had a broad smile on his face. Not only was his tour up, he’d finished writing his novel. His hand went to the bag to get the book. It wasn’t there. A quick search of the various pockets of his kit bag came up empty. He’d lost it. He’d really lost it. Dhan looked out the window as the planet below got further and further away, along with his notebook.

His friend Demy was watching Dhan all the while.

“What you lost? “

“Book, “ said Dhan gloomily.

“Ah, just forget about it. You can buy another. “ Demy closed one eye preparing to sleep.

“No, not that kind of book. My book. Something I’d written. “

“What, like a diary? “ Demy now had both eyes closed. “ Don’t worry, I won’t tell. They don’t even fine people anymore for cultural contamination on these new-build worlds. Well, not much anyway.”

Dhan threw his bag aside. “It wasn’t a diary, it was a…novel.” The last part came out quietly, partly through embarrassment.

“So that’s what you were writing! “ Teased Demy. “Honestly, you’re probably better off without it. And if it was any good, you can re-write it. “

“I suppose. “ Dhan slumped down in his chair. “I hope it doesn’t cause any problems. “

“Like what? “

“You hear stories: people who dropped toothbrushes or painkillers and ended up messing up the development of whole new societies. “

“Nah, that’s just tall tales,“ said Demy. “Stuff gets lost on foreign planets all the time. And nothing happens. Nothing. But maybe don’t report it, you know, just to avoid the paperwork. “

“Thanks Demy. “

“No problem. Demy exists to make life easier for all his workers. “ He yawned. “So, what was the title of this novel? “

“The Bible .“ Said Dhan.

 

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Flash in the Night

Author : Jenna Bilbrey

A breeze rustled through the corn field, drying the sweat from the day’s planting. The sky twinkled brighter than the Fourth of July.

A shooting star rocketed past. I wished for my girl to come back from the city. Another, brighter light flashed. Two in one night was a good omen. She’d be home soon.

Then a thrid. A fourth.

My father was missing the meteor shower. The stars were his only love after my mother passed. On clear evenings he gazed upwards, whispering to the heavens, late into the night.

But not tonight. Not after the court date, learning we would lose the farm. Tomorrow he would bury himself in the cornstalks and whisper. But not tonight.

The shower rained down–fiery rocks on their final astral journey. A blast lit the field, and I threw a hand to my eyes. When all went black, I dropped the hand. A flare hovered above the horizon. The salvo kicked back in the opposite direction.

Meteors falling away from Earth. Impossible.

Another burst lit the night. Lights twinkled and flared. More explosions. No noise.

Something large rocketed towards the earth, growing bigger and brighter each second. A whisper–was Father here after all?–turned to thunder as the flaming meteorite shot towards the farmhouse.

It hit before I could stand. An explosion, deafening and bright, devoured the night. This one didn’t fade. This one burned. Flames roared, consuming the farmhouse and my father sleeping inside.

Fire trucks wouldn’t come. Not this far out. The flames burned my eyes. Tears evaporated in the heat.

The fire raged until the sun blocked out the hateful stars. I approached the dying fire, my former life, to lay my eyes on the horrid rock. A rock thrown by a negligent god.

Metal gleamed from the rubble. This wasn’t a rock. This was a fallen satellite, a man-made device.

Etchings of some unknown language lined the disc, glowing white. There was no heat. A chill ran through my blood as goosebumps rose from my arms.

Sirens intensified in the distance, but I didn’t dare turn from the machine. It called out to me. Touch me. I laid a hand on the shining hull. An electric shock bolted through me. I launched from the rubble.

When I opened my eyes, a lone paramedic hovered over. He told me that I had passed out. That I was lucky to be alive.

“Awful house fire, that one,” the man said, looking at the ashes. “Haven’t seen one this bad since the Henderson’s barn went up in ‘92.”

I stared at charred wood and smoking embers. Only the refrigerator was left. Nothing else.

“There was metal,” I choked. “A big metal disc hit the house.”

“Son, you better take it easy,” the man said. “You must’ve breathed an awful lot of smoke getting out.”

He turned to me. “Were you the only one?”

“My father.”

He sighed. “I’ll get my son to meet you at the hospital. He’ll help you make the arrangements.”

“It was right there,” I whispered.

“Come on, son. There’s not much we can do here.” The scene blurred as he looked into my eyes. “You got a long couple of days ahead.”

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NovaTerra

Author : Willis Weatherford

The piercing rays of a fiery star filtered through thickly opaque clouds to light Gerder’s face with a rosy hue: his first dawn on NovaTerra. As he peered through the narrow hatch of Probe Alpha 7, allowing his eyes to adjust to the relative brightness, a few motes of dust floated in and landed on the clear face-piece of his helmet. Dust. For the past two weeks, the filtration system of the Probe had eliminated all of it, and seeing it now made him strangely glad. “I’m alive”, he thought.

He pulled himself fully out of the probe, boots landing heavily on some gritty yellow stuff. It stretched away in static, parallel ridges, staccato interruptions between Gerder and the behemoth dominating the horizon: a jagged tooth of what looked like grey metal soaring towards the swirling canopy of cloud.

The urge to explore suddenly overwhelmed him. Gerder knew he was supposed to begin by taking samples and processing them in the probe’s lab, but just now he felt more like Ernest Shackleton than Louis Pasteur. He was the first man on a new planet, the first habitable planet man had ever visited; mission guidelines be damned, he was going to climb a mountain!

Cautiously, he cracked the seal on his helmet. A tendril of warm air made its way into his mouth and he hesitantly pulled it into his lungs. It tasted good, and the slightly higher oxygen content immediately made itself evident. He felt alive! Taking off the rest of the suit, Gerder stood naked in the light of dawn and laughed.

Gerder found the yellow grit felt like a soft, fine sand on his feet. A steady wind, strong but not violent, tousled his hair. Running a few steps, the past fourteen days of electrotherapy inside the probe and the lower gravity of NovaTerra allowed him to feel as fit as ever. The old competitive spirit of 5K races back on earth rose up as he took off towards the mountain.

A few minutes of fleet footfalls later, he placed a trembling palm on the grey flank of the mountain, and looked up. Cracks split the towering face. His toes found purchase on the gritty rock, fingers locked into a crack, and he pulled himself up onto the rock. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he saw the probe sitting where he had left it, and its presence reassured him. He could always go back down. “I’m alive, and I can do this!” Days of confinement within in the probe lent resolve to his limbs, and he began to climb.

As he moved higher up the side of the alpine objective, thoughts marched in line through his head, clamoring for his notice. “This is impossible”. “ No one has ever climbed this.” “No one else has even seen this.” The militant thoughts made him feel lonely and small, but hardened his resolve to reach the top. Hand, hand, foot, crimp the crack, jam a knee into the wide spot and push up. Finally, elbows and fingers oozing red life onto the blank rock, Gerder found there was no higher place to go: he was on the summit.

Once again, he laughed. The rushing wind blew over him, and Gerder felt himself a Titan. “That’s what I’ll name you, mountain!” he hollered, victory and gladness rising in his chest, “Titan! And I climbed you first!”. TerraNova stretched out below, awaiting his exploration, and Gerder was alive.

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