Sierra and Blackie

Author : S. Clough (Hrekka)

“…you see, the Commonwealth is actually a net exporter, primarily of unprocessed ores and foodstuffs…” Michael Struss was the regional ambassador for the Nomad Republic. His job had been easy in the past, just a simple admin job on a backwater world. But it had grown into a nightmare ever since Sierra “the butcher” Novo arrived. She’d come to try and resolve the growing war between the Commonwealth and the Alliance, for the good of the Nomads.

“This early in the morning, Michael, imagine how much I care,” Sierra sighed, and got up from her seat. She rested a hand on Michael’s shoulder. “No, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault.”

She walked over to one of the cluttered desks in the tower room, picked up a stack of paperwork, and began leafing through it. “We’ll never get out of this swamp unless somebody does something. We can’t leave without our transmission towers intact. And the Commonwealth refuses to admit defeat. What’s the word on their military?”

“Most of it is pinned down on a peninsula about three kilometers down the coast. The rest of the Alliance has them covered by those dirty great siege weapons. They can’t move, and they’ve got no artillery. As far as we know, they’ve only got three regiments and one clipper squadron loose,” Michael said, checking the notes he was holding. “Yes, that’s right. The Alliance holds all their major cities. We don’t know where the Commonwealth is getting recruits and weapons from, but all our allies seem to want to do is to establish their hold on what they’ve got.”

In the window behind Michael, a dark shape appeared, tapping at the outside surface. Michael quickly swung it open, allowing Sierra’s pet access.

“Blackie!” Sierra cried, holding out an arm for the little bird-like construct to perch on. Stroking the back of the construct’s neck, she gestured for Michael to pick up a small bowl of meat that had been sitting on the side. Carefully, he began to pop small chunks into the construct’s mouth. After a few seconds, he reached down, and plucked a tiny canister from Blackheim’s leg.

“How did you get them to give you raw meat, Michael?” Sierra asked, still looking at the construct perched on her arm.

“I told them that you eat it, ma’am,” he replied.

“I don’t think it could be doing my reputation any harm, do you?”

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Under New Management

Author : Benjamin Fischer

For her display of courage of the highest order in the defense of Mother Diana, Mariel was given a promotion and command of the newest space station in all of Luna’s territories. There were still bullet holes and bloodstains on the bulkheads, and the paint hadn’t even dried on the signs rechristening the place “Rear Admiral Umberto Achilles Memorial Space City” when she rolled in.

“God awful name, ain’t it, ma’am?” said Major Vargas, the commander of the occupying Marines.

She glared at the man and replied, “Bert was a friend.”

Vargas walked on eggshells the rest of the day.

But turnover could only take so long, especially at a place that had been emptied of nearly everything useful by the retreating Americans, and near the end of the day Vargas suggested a tour of the station. Mariel decided to give him a second chance.

The gem of his tour was hidden just under the station’s surface, in a row of small businesses tucked between warehouses and environmental equipment.

Vargas nodded to an armed guard outside one of the tiny shops.

“Madam Captain,” he said, holding the door open for Mariel.

She stepped into its darkened interior.

The click of a switch, and a row of dim track lighting came to life.

Men in spacesuits lurked in the corners. Mariel gave a start, but then realized that the suits were empty, the whole place was empty, just three walls covered in instrument gages, patches, plaques, and hundreds of glossy photographs. The fourth was mirrored, with every kind of liquor known to man on display, a long gleaming steel bar with stools and railing lining that side of the room.

“Very interesting,” she said, looking over the photos and recognizing some of the names.

USS Intrepid. USS Sam Houston. USS Thomas Jefferson. USS Baton Rouge. USS Charles Lindbergh.

USS Enterprise.

Then she found the one she had spent a week looking for.

There–USS HORNET SC-15 was stamped on the faceplate of a helmet glued to the wall.

A framed photo accompanied the helmet. Twenty five men and women in dark blue jumpsuits and sunglasses smiled back at Mariel. The crew was posed sitting and standing around the stainless steel bar, the same one that was behind her, and they held a banner that read “USS Hornet. SC-15. Give No Quarter, Accept No Quarter.”

The Hornet’s captain was a thin and lanky man, his skin an almost fluorescent white.

He smiled at her with a broad and unassuming grin.

Mariel unconsciously fingered the four gold bars around her left wrist.

“Pack it all up,” she said.

“The booze, ma’am?” Vargas asked.

“I don’t care about the liquor. Dispose of it by whatever method you prefer, Major.”

“Thank you. Ma’am,” Vargas replied.

“But pack up the rest of this–this museum,” she said. “And do it quick. I don’t want any of my girls to see this.”

“Get rid of this shit, aye ma’am,” Vargas said. He keyed a radio, rattling off orders.

Mariel walked down the wall again, running her hand over a throttle control labeled “USS Winston Churchill” and one of the pressure suits which had evidently been acquired from the USS Wasp. There was a mirror behind the bar that ran the width of the room. Its upper edge was lined with stickers from at least a hundred major warships, mostly American.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Major,” she said.

“Aye, ma’am,” said Vargas.

Mariel gave the Hornet’s photo another glance, shuddering.

“Ma’am?” asked Vargas.

Mariel snorted and shook her head, headed for the doors.

“This place is a damn tomb,” she said, leaving.

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Virus

Author : Duncan Shields

It wasn’t the blood or their still-staring eyes that did it. It was the smile I could feel fading on my cheeks. My throat hurt like I’d screamed myself hoarse and the muscles in my face hurt like I’d been laughing for hours. Everyone in the department was dead except for me. That kind of narrowed down the list of suspects.

I sat down hard and ran slippery hands through my hair and tried to ignore how red the room was. I tried to figure out what had happened.

I was promoted to Special Ops Admin back in ’18. I remember thinking what a juicy bit of promotion that was. I couldn’t wait to have all that access to national secrets. I was a bit naïve for someone so intelligent.

Let’s back up.

Every morning, I download my brain. Every night, I upload it to the computer. I am two people that are identical in every way except that during the day at work, one of me knows what only 8 other people in the world know; every single unclassified, need to know, off the books, super secret mission ever. My head is a filing cabinet along with the others. We sort, update and access the world’s secret files for people who, quite simply, need to know. We found it couldn’t be left to computers alone so we were chosen. We’re smart people with the right kinds of brains to be wired up and bright.

At the end of my shift and also before I go for lunch, the back of my head is jacked into the computer and the security-sensitive contents of the day’s events are encrypted and uploaded into the main computer. My work week is basically a series of lunch hours as far as my memory is concerned peppered with some scattered fragments of banal conversation that the memory techs think are allowable.

I was picked for my absurdly high IQ and specific brain makeup by my bosses here at the CityMP. I suppose whatever chose me for this attack picked me for the same reason. Or maybe it was just roulette.

According to the clock on the wall, my day started twenty minutes ago.

There are 8 bodies in the room. I am the only one left. Something must have hacked into my brain while I was off duty and lay dormant, waiting for me to download it in the morning.

I’m piecing it together when I feel my eyes squint and my cheeks tighten with a smile that doesn’t belong to me. My hands fly up to my throat and break my own neck before I can even scream.

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Knock Knock

Author : Lauren L. Wheeler

I walk to the front door, rubbing sleep out of my eyes.

“Hello?” I say, trying to look through the peephole, but it’s so dark, I can’t make out anything. And now everything’s silent.

It’s 3:14 in the morning, so everything should be silent. In fact, I’m not even sure why I’m out of bed right now, why I ventured to the door. Perhaps it’s just reflex, like when the phone rings in the middle of the night and I jump to answer it, sweeping the alarm clock, lamp, and books off the night table only to be annoyed with myself for not turning off the ringer in the first place.

I peer through the peephole one last time, can’t see anything, and stumble back to my bedroom. I pull the down comforter around me, set my head down on a pillow, and close my eyes. Just as I’m crossing the threshold into sleep, it comes again.

Knock knock.

My eyes fly open, and I leap from my bed, the hardwood floor beneath my feet cold. I’m at the front door in a flash. “Hello?” Again, there’s no reply. I still can’t see anything through the peephole. There’s just black and black and more black. And more silence.

Annoyed, I check the lock and then turn around and start back to my room. My head hurts now, and I’m cold. I yank back the covers and climb in, take a deep breath, and it occurs to me that what I just heard wasn’t actually a knock at the door, but those words….

Knock knock.

I freeze there under the covers, staring blindly into the dark of my bedroom, trying to sort out shapes, silhouettes of furniture, the open door. I strain my ears for any sound: there’s the refrigerator hum, the gas heater’s hiss, something going on with the plumbing deep in the walls. Nothing more. Everything is still, both inside and out. The darkness isn’t shifting. The world’s asleep.

After a few minutes of stillness, I hear it again. Knock knock. I feel my throat closing. My hands shake as I sit up in my bed, eyes bolted to the shadows beyond my bedroom door. It’s not quite 3:30 in the morning as I stand, my legs rubber beneath me.

At the door, I pause for a second.

“Who’s there?”

A voice, deep and metallic and utterly inhuman, replies. The sounds aren’t English—perhaps not even words—but I somehow know that the voice has answered “Me.”

And I know that I must ask the question, that I have no choice but to finish this.

I ask, “Me who?”

And the door creaks open.

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Into Ye Bodies Ye Go

Author : Pyai (aka Megan Hoffman)

Three years and two continents later, they reunited in an airport in Nairobi. As far as airports go, it was one of the worst they could have picked. The dust blew in and aluminum clusters of waste rolled into the traps the homeless set up to catch the scrap metal.

She ran into the arms of her lover, his soft scent so familiar and yet so different. She looked up into the unfamiliar blue eyes and saw the woman she had once loved. A tear coalesced in the corner of her eye, and then another and another, until they filed their way down her face through her wrinkles like slaves building the pyramids.

The young man who held her to his chest wiped away the tears. “Don’t cry, my love,” he said softly in deeper tones than she expected. “It’s still me, just in a better working body. This is what we wanted, remember?”

The woman nodded. Lips found lips as they had to relearn how to kiss each other. “I just don’t know, Amber,” the woman said, “I just don’t know how things can be the same.”

“I will always love you, Diane, be I man or woman, be you woman or man. Some day you will go through your own body transfer and then we will get yet another opportunity to explore each other anew.”

The woman nodded, drying her tears off on the man’s shirt. “But your breasts, Amber… they’re gone.” There was the beginning spark of amusement in her eye.

He chuckled. “You always said you’d love me if I had smaller breasts, or even if I had breast cancer and had them removed. This is your chance to prove it.”

She laughed. “I guess it’s just ironic when you used to be so femme.”

The man shrugged. “I’m finding I don’t mind being all that masculine. You know what the shrinks say. They recommend balancing your chi or soul or something by alternating genders with every body. Besides, I get to pick a new name. What do you think of Sunil?”

The woman nodded, her tears gone. There was a look of determination on her face. “I will always love who you are, Amber, but it will take getting used to this new body.”

“That’s all the fun, my darling. You know what they say about men like me, though, right?”

The woman nodded, finally smiling up at the man who was once a woman named Amber. “A lesbian in a man’s body.”

As they walked out, he whispered into her ear, “Maybe we should get you a male body in a few years yourself. I have it on good authority the prostate isn’t something you want to miss out on.”

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