Author : Catherine Preddle

“What the hell happened out there, Corporal?”

“General… General Dalton, Sir…” The young soldier stammered in surprise and tried to sit up at the same time.

“Easy, son. Lie back down.” Christ, the General thought to himself, this boy was young enough to be his grandson. He shot a worried glance at the medical technician as the soldier collapsed, coughing and spluttering, back onto the narrow metal bed. Out of sight of the boy, the technician silently tapped his watch. The last thing they both wanted was for him to realize what was going on.

Once he’d recovered, the soldier looked at the General expectantly, “Where am I, Sir? It’s so cold in here. I can’t even feel my legs.” That’s because they’re not there anymore, the Dalton thought grimly.

“You’re back at the base, in,” he hesitated for a moment, searching for the right words, “in the medical unit. Now, what do you remember?”

“It … it was chaos, Sir. Intelligence was wrong about the firing range of the enemy laser cannons, very wrong. We didn’t stand a chance, Sir.” The soldier convulsed into coughing again and closed his eyes, the effort of talking overwhelming him for a time.

“It’s alright son, we’re going to figure out what happened.” Somebody’s head was going to roll for this and the General was damn well sure it wasn’t going to be his.

“Are my wife and daughter here yet, Sir?” Oh great, so the boy was old enough to have a family; Dalton made a mental note to have some kind of valour medal awarded to make sure they were taken care of. The tech was getting agitated now – they must be running out of time.

“They’ll be here soon. Do you want me to tell them anything in case … in case you’re asleep when they arrive?” He made an attempt to sound breezy.

“Just that I love them and I’m going to be ok, I guess.”

“Sure, son.” Smiling reassuringly, the General patted him on the shoulder. God, he hated this part the most. “I’ll tell them.”

The boy visibly relaxed and sank further into the bed, shutting his eyes. Dalton continued to stare at him, a lump forming in his throat until the tech interrupted him.

“He’s gone, General. For good.” He snapped to attention; he had a job to do here. Bringing these kids back from the dead, even if it was for only three precious minutes, cost the military a fortune, had to be justified by a mountain of paperwork and required authorization at the highest level. But the mission had been sabotaged and he needed eye witness accounts.

“How many more?”

The technician gestured to the bank of morgue drawers behind him that stretched from floor to ceiling. “43 corpses. 30, maybe 31, possible reanimations.”

The General grimaced. It was going to be a long afternoon.

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Flash! Gordon

Author : Ahoten Sulciphur

Finally starting to become clear. Granted, clarity was a fuzzy concept at best after all this time, but the flash was starting to wear thin. Like the man across the room, pushing his way through the milky white smoke that settled in the air like dust on a table: that vacuum that followed, where the offender only existed as ephemeral wisps and contrails. ‘Well dammit, at least it’s something,’ thought Gordon.

Of course there were legends, fables, myths… call them what you will, there is no doubt the denizen has been bellowing the siren’s song since eardrums first tickled on the wind. Ancients fought wars for it, built entire ideologies against it, raised entire generations to abhor it. Yet the populace never tired in their quest to obtain, no matter what the dangers or dire consequences. But to obtain was simply cursory. To indulge: well, therein lies the uncountable, soldiers felled by their own sword.

‘Millennia ago, inconsequential,’ muses Gordon. The myriad of choices of travelers past no longer existed. The intolerable risk to life and limb, the unknowable unknowns: vanquished, by the miracle that is modernity. One was the solution, the panacea. Hurdles aside, what excuse held for no longer partaking?

Muddled thoughts, the path harder to see. Pivotal, must get back. The cycle an old acquaintance: Flash! And then, the world lurches drunkenly forward, sometimes days, sometimes years, yet in the brilliance of an instant lasting eternities. Yet Gordon remains docked, no deck crew to release the moors. Friends – as if the meaning were still truly understood – seem to draw but a single breath before they’re consigned to the æther. A distant memory would be a blessing: existence negated is the norm.

So it’s done, then. Decided. Gordon pushes up, balance an elusive but eventually submissive beast, and shuffles his feet toward the exit. This perpetual port-of-call no more: convinced and confident, his stance straightens, gait quickens. He’ll be outside soon, the assault will lessen. ‘Failure, not this time,’ ponders Gordon. Resolve is strong, it’s all finally clear. He walks past them, one by one, grit building with each dodged glance. Days, weeks, months, but Gordon remains entrenched, time moves as it does for all. Friends come, and grow, and even persist in existence. More piercing stares dodged, they know: he’s not buying anymore, he’s done.

Flash. The milky haze closes in, coherence of mind vanishes, replaced by the brooding smog bearing three sixty. The void-maker vanished, the void with it. Head shakes, grabs for smoky visions of faces never seen. A question haunts the dark recesses of the mind, barely audible: when was it ever right? ‘Did I ever know?’ thinks Gordon. Flash.

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Author : Sad Sama

“You’re serious?” The Rear Admiral of the Arizona Fleet questions his superior for the first time in twelve years.

First Resident Menos stands with hands clasped behind his back, morosely watching the field of stars passing the windows of the command deck of the fleet’s capital cruiser. “Of course I am.” His voice was like reverberating lead.

“But the planet is barren. Over 90% of the population has been wiped out by internal biological warfare. It’s defenseless. It poses no threat to us or to anyone.”

“Precisely.” Out of the corner of his eyelids Menos stares at his Rear Admiral. “I need to send a message to the Senate. Something to inspire enough fear so that they’ll finally start taking my threats seriously.”

“With all due respect sir, the prototype Core Disseminator on this ship can disrupt the core of any world regardless of their defenses. Wouldn’t the destruction of a full militarily defended planet send a stronger message? A tactical strike that tells them their defenses are useless perhaps?”

“Perhaps…” Slowly turning on one foot “But if the target is properly defended, there will be many whom will speculate that I destroyed the planet as the result of escalating combat measures during a fight. If I destroy a proper military target there will still be many that think I play by the rules. A man who plays by the rules is a man that the Galactic Senate thinks they can reason or negotiate with.”

Menos looks sideways at the field of stars. “My demands are non-negotiable.”

Returning his gaze to the unnerved Admiral he continues, “However, if I destroy a planet of weak, abused, and utterly defenseless civilians…” The edges of his lips tilt upwards ever so slightly, “There won’t be anyone that doubts me as to how far I’m willing to go. I’ll let my other battles support my courage, but this one… yes, this one will support my threats.”

Attempting to retain composure the Admiral raises his last question, “But what if the fear you create tempers the enemy nations to band together and redouble their efforts against you.”

First Resident Menos returns to his stance overlooking the command deck, “Fear only catalyzes so much. Not enough and the enemy grows stronger. With enough though, everyone has their breaking point. Everyone.”

Five minutes later roughly one billion screams of homeless and starving refugees echo up through the skies of the planet below. Quickly they are silenced as the planet crumbles in upon itself, becoming a sphere of magma. Menos inwardly calculates the number of Senate Seats that would wet themselves when they find out.

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Mega Flare

Author : Patricia Stewart

The ship had left Earth orbit 77 days ago. They just passed the halfway point on their supply mission to the Lowell Colony on Mars when the solar flare warning alarm began its variable whine. “Computer, deactivate the alarm,” instructed the captain. Then, with the poise of an officer who had weathered numerous solar storms during his career, “What’s the magnitude of the flare, and how long before the coronal mass ejection reaches us?”

A disembodied voice replied “S9 on the NOAA Space Weather Scale. The…”

“What! That’s impossible!” interrupted the captain. “The scale only goes to S5.”

“True, captain. But, the scale was never intended to be all-inclusive. It’s logarithmic. It is a simple matter of extrapolation. Since the flux level of this flare is 12,000 times more intense that an S5, it’s classified as an S9. To answer to your second question, the leading edge of the ionized particles will arrive in approximately 31 hours.”

“Twelve thousand times! Will we be safe in the Panic Room?”

“Negative, captain. The areal density in the shielded isolation room will not be able to attenuate the 400 Giga-rems associated with a proton storm of this magnitude.”

“What if we orient the ship with the thrusters aimed at the sun? Will the exhaust cones, auxiliary fuel tanks, and cargo bay provide enough extra shielding?”

“Perhaps, but you’re missing the big picture, captain. Even if we can protect the crew, the electromagnetic shock wave from the mass ejection will fry every electronic circuit on this ship, including my own. Without power and life support, you’ll all die of carbon dioxide poisoning, in the dark, at near freezing temperatures, in less than a week.”

“So it’s all for one and one for all, heh computer? OK, do you have any ideas that can save us both?”

“I can conceive of only one option, although I don’t have enough information in my files to know if it is even possible. I need to access NASA’s PHA database on NEA objects. Please stand by.”

As the captain waited, he wrestled with how he would notify the crew. Then he heard the computer’s voice on the ship’s intercom. “Attention crew. Brace yourselves for an immediate course change.” The ship suddenly lurched starboard, knocking the captain to the floor. Before he could get up, the twin 17.8 million lbf thrust engines pinned him there with a force of approximately 3-gees.

“Captain, I am sorry that I took unauthorized control of the helm, but time is critical. I was searching NASA’s Asteroids database looking for a nearby Apollo object that we could hide behind. As luck would have it, Asteroid Eros 433 is very close to our current position. At maximum velocity we can reach it in just under 32 hours, limiting our exposure to less than one hour. When I stop this burn in 64.2 minutes, you’ll need to jettison the cargo and all non-essential equipment. Every kilogram of mass we loose will reduce our ETA by 0.4 seconds.”

The captain and crew watched the flickering monitors in the isolation room as the ship approached Eros. As the computer attempted to position the ship within Eros’ shadow, the plasma storm seemed to intensify. The captain closed his eyes again to monitor the flashing streaks of light caused by speeding atomic nuclei as they ripped through the water-filled chambers of his eye sockets. Their frequency was increasing, and he was beginning to feel nauseous. Unwilling to watch the flashing conveyors of death any longer, he opened his eyes, and continued to pray as the night side of Eros very slowly began to enter the view screen.

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The Inspirer

Author : J. S. Kachelries

As Archimedes lowered himself into his bath, water lapped over the top edge and spilled onto the floor. “Damn it, you fool,” he cursed aloud, “You overfilled the tub again.”

“Not necessarily, master,” I pointed out. “It’s not too full; you just displaced too much water.”

“What’s that Jamicles? Are you saying that I am too FAT?”

“Not at all, master. I was merely pointing out that had your body been denser, you would have displaced less water.”

“Now I’ve got too much blubber, and not enough muscle, heh Jamicles?”

This was taking longer than I had anticipated. This is the third straight night the tub overflowed, and he still wasn’t getting it. “What I am saying, master, is that if you know the weight and density of an object, you should be able to predict the volume of water it will displace. That’s all.”

“What are you babbling about? Wait. That’s it. I’ve got it, I’ve got it.” Archimedes jumped out of the tub, and ran out the front door in his birthday suit, yelling to the townsfolk. As I faded out of this timeline, I could hear him proclaim, “Eureka, eureka…”

Later that day…

“Dmitri,” I said, “why do you insist on grouping them by multiples of atomic weight? Other scientists have already tried that. There has to be a simpler way to arrange them.”

Dmitri Mendeleev looked down at the 63 pieces of paper spread across his kitchen table. Each piece contained the name of a known element. “Perhaps you are right, Jiminka. I am getting tired anyway. I give up. I think I will head off to bed.”

“Ah, before you go, Dmitri, let’s play a game. You know, just to help you relax, before you go to sleep.”

“What kind of game?”

“It’s a type of card game. Something I played as a child. It’s called ‘Concentration’.”

“How is it played?”

“We can use these pieces of paper. We’ll put them in the middle of the table, face down. Then we take turns flipping them over, two at a time. If they match, you put them in front of you. The person with the most matches at the end wins.”

“Match? Match, how? They are all different.”

“Yes, obviously. But, Dmitri, some of these elements must have something in common. Something that will make them appear similar in some way?”

“Well, sure. For example, sodium and potassium bond very strongly to chlorine or bromine. I guess we could group them by similarity of properties.”

“Great. That works for me. You can go first.”

After four hours of intense concentration, Dmitri was exhausted. “I must go to bed, my friend. I played this new game so long; I’ll be dreaming about chemical similarities all night. Do you mind showing yourself out?”

“Not at all, Dmitri.” I rose from my seat and headed toward the door to start my next mission. On my way out, I picked up a piece of fruit from a basket next to the door. “Dmitri, I have a long trip ahead of me. I’m going to a farm in Lincolnshire, England. Mind if I take an apple?”

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