Order of Service

Author : Josie Gowler

Twenty years of war. The couple sitting in front of me are younger than I was when I became Captain. Officiating wedding ceremonies is one of the supposedly pleasanter responsibilities of my job on this starship. But how can I do that with a clear conscience, knowing what I know? It’s more purgatory than perk to me. Usually it’s funerals that I conduct.

“Are you sure?” I ask them. The question carries with it the weight of three deceased siblings, two dead parents and a tetraplegic husband.

They gaze, devoted, into each others’ eyes. Untouched by tragedy, so pure, so unscarred. “We’re very much in love,” she says.

Like that makes any difference. Did I ever, ever believe that life was that simple? I do remember believing that the war would be over quickly; I even rolled my eyes when the Admiral told us to expect it to last a couple of years. How hard can it be, I thought, to gain the right to live how we choose in our own corner of the universe? Big place, after all, lots of room to share. I frown. “Love doesn’t protect you against a smart bomb.” The words come out of my mouth as soon as my brain has formed them. But I don’t regret saying them, not because I’m Captain and I can say what I like, but because it’s something that they need to think about. Then again, if the girl replies with ‘better to have loved and lost…’ I’m just going to have to slap her.

“We’ve talked about that,” the fiancé says, with a firmness that surprises me, and him, by the look on his face. It’s the first time he’s spoken. “Love isn’t limited to now. It’s not affected by space and time. One of us may die – one of us will die – but there’ll still be love.”

There’s a long pause while we all absorb what he said. It’s even silenced his intended bride. I scratch at the thick scar running down my jawline. Well said, kid. Love and pragmatism. I sigh. Give them their ceremony, their ten minutes of happiness. Before I have to make the hard decisions. Before I have to send the husband or the wife off to die in some hopeless battle half a galaxy away.

Eventually, I nod.

Hope. Someone has to have it.


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Honorable Discharge

Author : Alla Hoffman

Derrick woke up to the sensation of his lungs running out of air. The pod was dark, but he could see a weak greenish light filtering through the glass. He pounded on the lid frantically; something must have gone wrong with the cryo system. Maybe the power had gone. It was startling how much it hurt, like needles pushing through his lungs. It seemed halfway to forever, but eventually there was a crack and someone’s fingers appeared, prising up the lid. Derrick tried to help, startled by how weak and dizzy he felt. He’d never defrosted this rough before. The air tasted delicious, the light hurt his eyes, and as he collapsed gasping over the edge he took a moment to enjoy it.

He was in a windowless metal room and for some reason his pod was dripping wet beneath his fingertips. It was crowded and someone was kneeling in front of him. “Can you hear me?”

Derrick nodded and tried to reply, but his lungs weren’t done sucking down air. As his eyes focused better, he saw a pale, serious face resolve above a military uniform. He didn’t recognize the insignia. He tried again. “Where am I?” He pushed himself up, felt his legs nearly buckle. “I wasn’t supposed to serve another tour. They told me they’d thaw me when it was over.”

“You’re onboard The Waker.” The officer was frowning. “We found you while scouting in zone B6.” Upon seeing Derrick’s blank look, he added, “Spain.”

Derrick looked at him for a moment, searching for the joke, and laughed even when he didn’t find one. “What are you talking about? What’s to scout?”

The men wallpapering the room exchanged glances.

“Not another one,” someone murmured.

The officer in front of him didn’t answer, instead asking, “Where are you from?”

He stepped out of the pod, holding onto the edge for support. “Doesn’t the accent give it away? Tennessee.” Silence. “America?” Another exchange of glances.

He searched their faces for recognition. “Did something happen? Is the war—” He cut himself off. Maybe he’d been captured. Or drafted again.

The officer sighed, and took a moment to reply. “Why don’t we continue this conversation in sickbay.”

Derrick nodded tightly. He needed some help walking; something must have gone wrong with cryo. Maybe they shelled the city. All the halls were enclosed—he realized he must be on a ship of some kind. It was big enough that he couldn’t feel its movement.

They wound down a series of corridors until they reached an infirmary. He didn’t recognize half the equipment, and the other half looked out of date.

“Please, take a seat.” The officer who had escorted him, probably the captain, stepped back and fell into parade rest as a medic came forward to take his pulse.

The medic raised an eyebrow at the sluggish beat of his heart and twisted to face the captain. “Sir, did we find him in the old city? The odds of finding more remnants were supposed to be slim.”

“Old city?” Derrick felt his throat tighten, and the captain winced.

“There…was an event. Quite some time ago. Sea level has risen since then.”

He realized he was shuddering. “Sea-level? How long has it been?”

The captain looked down, and Derrick was already getting sick of the way no one wanted to meet his eyes. “We don’t know when you were last awake. But no one has called this area Spain for at least two hundred years.”

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Real Love

Author : Jeri Otero

She’s so beautiful. Just lying there with her eyes closed. All that long black hair, still in its long curls even after last night. Lashes like feather dusters, lying against her skin. She has those slightly turned up eyes that are almost Asian. Strong cheekbones that look almost Native American. Full lips. But not too full. Her skin is that beautiful golden tan that no tanning booth could copy. She’s lying on her stomach. She has an athlete’s body long, and lean, and toned. She’s so perfect. Long thin fingers on beautiful hands. Pianist fingers with short nails. “You can’t play piano with long nails,” she’s always telling me. Today they are bright purple. She does love color. Almost as much as music. She has such tiny feet. And couldn’t you just write a sonnet to those calves? How can she be so perfect? She says she was just made that way. I suppose so. I look at her and, sometimes, I wonder which one of us is real. We both breathe, our hearts pump, our hair grows. We each worry in our own way. We make love like wild things. All needing. Taking. Giving. I just have to bless technology. Thank those geeky gods. I wish I could just look at her for days. Of course I can’t. Who could? I’ll just slide slowly off the bed so as not to wake her. It’s so hard sometimes, but I have to turn off and plug in.

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The Long and Short of It

Author : JD Kennedy

The bridge of Earth’s first colony ship, Columbia, was a beehive of activity. The newly awakened ship’s officers were carefully reviewing the system readings at each of their stations. Captain James Branson sat in his chair admiring the efficiency of his crew. They were all relying on their training while they worked through the fog from a century of cold sleep. It seemed like just yesterday when they left lunar orbit. The ship’s automated systems had taken them to within a week of mankind’s first direct encounter with a planet around a distant star.

Aboard the ship was a very precious cargo – 250 carefully selected men and women that would establish the first human colony on an extra-solar world. Other than the ship’s bridge crew, they were still in cold sleep. Once the ship entered orbit around New Terra, they would be awakened in a preset order based on their role in establishing the new colony. Awaking them all at once aboard the cramped ship would put a strain on the ship’s resources since a landing site has to be prepared before the big ship could safely land to unload the considerable supplies they brought with them.

As the crew settled into their routines and the fog slowly began to diminish, excitement began to grow. The historical significance of what they would soon do was not lost on a single crewman. They would be immortalized by all of humanity as the ones who started Man’s expansion in the universe.

All of those thoughts were suddenly interrupted by an unexpected voice hailing them on the radio channel intended for communications between Columbia and her landing craft. The comms officer, Lt. Keller, had been running through her system checks and had the circuit patched to the bridge speaker instead of her headset when the call came in.

“Columbia, this is New Terra. Please respond.”

All activity stopped as each crewman stared in disbelief at the speaker above the viewscreen.

Several minutes passed before the hail was repeated. This time Captain Branson nodded to Lt. Keller. She hesitated a moment before responding.

“This is Columbia. Um, please identify yourself.”

“This is New Terra. Is Captain Branson there?”

“This is Captain Branson. Am I to understand that you are hailing us from New Terra? Please explain.”

“Yes, sir. We are an advance team on New Terra. You see, 40 years after you left, we discovered the secret to faster-than-light travel. It took many more years to build a manned ship capable of safely reaching here. Sir, it took us just over a year to make the same journey that took you a hundred years to make. A dozen of us have been here for several months preparing for your arrival, but FTL ships cannot yet carry the amount of material you could. I think you will be pleased with our preparations. You will be able to land Columbia just a few days after you achieve orbit.”

Captain Branson sat in silence for a few moments before responding.

“Very well. Needless to say, this is a bit of a shock for us. By the way, what is your name?”

“I’m Captain James Branson. The fourth. Sir, I am your great grandson. I am looking forward to meeting you when you land.”


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The Ministry of Dirty Tricks

Author : Colin W Campbell

When it all started, Duke was just one of these overpaid, do anything, off-home-world operatives.

The planet administrators were little impressed when he asked for a Council Meeting to propose a new section for what he called dirty-tricks. What happened at that meeting is now well written into the lore.

“So, why do we need dirty-tricks?” said one admin-guy.

“Look,” said Duke pointing to the clock on the wall.

Of course, their eyes went to the clock so they didn’t see Duke throw his water-bottle into the corner of the room. It made a noise loud enough to make them all jump and for the security-guys to reach towards the well concealed tools of their trade.

“So what?” said the admin-guy. “Now we know the time.”

“Yes, and I know where their weapons are,” said Duke.

They gave Duke his section. It was small at first but soon grew strong as the young planetary colony fought to survive its early years of political intrigue, pirate incursions, unequal trade deals, attempted coups and so on, the usual.

At first, it operated under gentle cover names. For a while it was The Office for Planetary Welfare then it grew into the Department for the Protection of Planetary Welfare. However, any young colony is pretty much a small closed society and soon everyone was calling it the “Ministry of Dirty Tricks.” Then at one Council Meeting that followed on from a generous lunch, they made it official. It was formally proposed, seconded and agreed and the department was raised to the status of a full Ministry and so Duke formally became the Minister of Dirty Tricks.

In the years that followed, anything published by Duke’s ministry became a collectors piece. Any well authenticated item bearing the heading “Ministry of Dirty Tricks” could command a high price at auction. Many thought this went a long way to explain how Duke was becoming ever wealthier. Others thought it might go only some little way to explaining his success but knew it would be best to keep such thoughts to themselves.

Concern grew back on the home world, for Duke’s power and influence were spreading unchecked across the known occupied reaches of the galaxy. An assassin was sent.

* * *

Jake knew well that would be assassins should not touch alcohol. But the ladies who worked as hostesses on the deep-space transports were well known for their discretion and it was a very long journey.

“It’s OK,” said the lady with the sky blue eyes and the expensive perfume. “You can only imagine how very discrete we can be here.”

It was not long before the drink was taking effect but Jake was careful to say nothing of his mission.

“Time to go now,” she said. Her sky blue eyes had a beckoning look and her hand felt reassuringly firm on Jake’s arm.

“Wow!” said Jake as he stumbled to his feet. “That is powerful stuff.” He gestured broadly towards his last glass, knocking it over.

“Don’t worry, I know where you’re going,” she said as they set off. Her words had a faraway quality as they echoed down the now mostly empty passageways of the deep-space transport.

And then they were there.

“So, this the way into your quarters?” said Jake, Turning, he saw a heavy door close behind him with his companion still outside.

“Actually, it’s an airlock,” said the lady with the sky blue eyes, the lady from the Ministry of Dirty Tricks.


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