Present Tense

Author : Ian Burke

“Today” marks the end of history. Yesterday it was June 25th, 1995 AD (CE, if you prefer). “Today” can be marked in no such terms. Yesterday, “today” was the 26th of June, but “now,” none of that matters anymore. This “morning,” the Hole opened up – the Hole, which began in the year formerly known as 2309 and “now” reaches back to what “was” “today.” “Now” the fourth dimension is just as easily navigable as the first three.

But it will not stop “here.” The hole will continue to tunnel back through history, tearing up the past. There is talk of trying to save a small part of the timeline – a true historical preserve! – although the methods behind this are unclear at best. The Hole will not stop until it stretches to the soon-to-be former Beginning of Time and our universe, once a long string of yesterdays, will become one single “today.”

The Hero and the Man of Saiyen

Author : Hannah F.

The man of Saiyen was small and nervous-looking, not nearly as mystical as I expected, wandering into these ancient strongholds; like a Peasant or maybe a half-blood Noble boy, the kind that spent the days with their faces in paper.

“Is that a crossbow? Fascinating,” he said hurriedly. This was a panic reaction; I let him go, knowing sooner or later he’d run out of chatter and shut his teeth. “Obviously the surveillance devices haven’t been working but we’d theorized that the environment lacked enough stability for your society to develop even this kind of basic automation in your projectile weapons…” He was sweating and I had to chew my tongue to avoid a grin. I’d only caught about half of that ‘cos of his accent, but I understood the important part. He didn’t know what I wanted, so he’d started to babble, hoping I’d latch onto some topic and get the bolt out of his face more quickly.

I took a careful step back and laid the weapon down, still drawn and dangerous. The Saiyentist looked at it blankly. He knew what it was and what it was for, could wager what it’d feel like if I used it, but didn’t seem eager to try wresting it from me.

Eyes on him I unlaced the hard-hide pouch at my belt and lifted the cloth-wrapped vial from it. The glass tube and its case were from my uncle, a gift after my Modding. He’d dug it from the ruins of a building like this one, an eerily smooth white shell he’d never been able to find again.

“I want more of this,” I said, and folded back the soft, thick wool, cupping the thing in my hand in case the small man tried to snatch it, or dash it to the floor. The crossbow, though, cautioned him and he merely regarded the light-blue liquid with wide eyes.

“Where did you get that?” he began, but changed his mind when he saw the look in my eyes. “Do you know what it is?”

“I’ve been told it’s a poison, but only to certain natures. Won’t slay a man, but it’ll break down a dragon to its elements in under an arc.”

“It’s an emergency denaturing solution. It works by breaking down the chemicals in the cells and-” I was curious as a kitten but I must’ve looked impatient. “The important thing is, it works the way you say it does. Which is why we’ve kept it here in Obbsreg. But if you brought back a significant amount- even if we had a significant amount- it would interfere with the Ancestral Plan. As much as I’d like to help you I’m as bound by my forebears as you are.” He frowned. “You shouldn’t even be here, of course…”

“Wait.” If I had understood what he just said, I was about to be very, very angry. “You mean your ancestors are responsible for keeping the drake-poison from my people?” I tied off the laces of my pouch and retrieved my crossbow. “And you just… what? Study us?”

The Saiyentist frowned at that, in spite of the terror that’d returned to his face. After a moment puzzling my assumption out, he began to laugh. I could do nothing but stare as he worked out his panic in a giggle-fit, wiping tears from eyes that were still wide ‘cos of the proximity of my crossbow to his gut.

“Who said anything about my ancestors being responsible for this?”

I was going to have one hell of a tale, whenever I got home. “Tell me everything.”

Recruitment Tactics

Author : Kenyon Applebee & Bridget Webb

The stark woman set the blue incandescent lamp on a nearby crate and turned off her flashlight. “…Erin, would you like to sleep in a real bed again?” She wore black – military cut. The figures behind her were similarly dressed. They guarded the decaying elementary school as if against attack, though Erin couldn’t imagine these people hiding from street thugs like she’d had to.

Erin, scared, couldn’t stand. “Who are you? How do you know my name?”

“…How would you like to see your little sister again?”

Erin’s lower lip trembled, “Kitty?”

“She’s safe.”

Kitty had disappeared in the Newman Hill attack with the rest of her family. “You are the Terrorists!”

“…I suppose we are. You’re fourteen?”

“What do you want?”

“We want you to let us take care of you. How long have you been out here? Two weeks?”

“Yeah…”

“Through all the fighting and the burning?”

Tears began burning in Erin’s eyes. It had been a nightmare. She’d found no one to turn to…but… “You killed my parents!” she yelled, exploding to her feet.

A gun shifted in the darkness, aimed at her.

“We did. But we did not kill you, or your sister. And you are the reason I am here. If you stay out here, you will die. Have you been raped yet?”

Erin could not answer. She wanted to scream, to attack the woman, but… the guns.

“It doesn’t matter. We are not terrorists; we are,” pausing, “’international referees.’ We step in to stop egregious abuses of power, by becoming very skilled and very powerful. Education is very important here, isn’t it? It determines your social class. You are currently service class, no?”

“Yes.”

“Were you going to be service class your whole life, like your parents?”

“No. I am… was… going to test into…” The absurdity of talking so casually to this woman struck her.

“But now?”

“…Now you want me to join you, after you killed my parents, and sabotaged my country. What gives you the right to ‘Referee’ everyone? To kill people?!”

The woman leaned smugly against the crates. “People kill each other every day. Sometimes you fight fire with fire. Besides, we don’t consider ourselves human. Not homo-sapiens anyway. Not anymore.”

“You use Forbidden Science,” Erin murmured.

“Genetic enhancements. We can give you some, if you like. Enhanced intelligence, coordination, strength – everything you’d need to make the world better.”

“How… how do you get away with it?

“No, Erin. The question is, are you coming with us? Our offer is grander than your wildest dreams. If you say no, we disappear. Now, choose.”

Erin hesitated. Sounds from outside filled the silence between them; a radio blaring, engines, a car alarm. About a block away, there was breaking glass followed by laughter. “Ok.”

They lead her onto the glidercraft parked on the soccer field. The woman hung back, pressed the transmitter below her ear. “Opal to Turquoise, I have a newborn.”

“Roger, Opal. That’s eight of eleven. Excellent work. Bring them in.”

The Blessing

Author : Viktor Kuprin

The priest’s pointed helmet hung at his side. His vac suit was completely black.

Engineer Beketov didn’t get it. It was too strange, too … medieval. The holy man waved the crucifix over the salt package and recited a prayer. Beketov had been told the salt was for cooking a lamb stew that would be shared by all the dockyard’s techs and engineers.

“Father Toyan, it’s time for us to EVA. Let’s go.” The priest nodded and followed to the airlock.

“How far did you travel to get here?” Beketov asked.

“From Earth, from the Great Ararat Monastery, to be exact.” The priest’s voice was reedy, and his beard bunched against the visor of his strangely-shaped helmet.

“I’ve never been to Earth,” said the engineer. “Father, I’m curious, why is your helmet peaked on top? When other priests visit the station, their helmets aren’t like yours.”

“Priests who are not married wear these, my son. The peak symbolizes our dedication to the Lord,” he explained.

The airlock hatch slid open, and the bright light of Dustri’s star made their visors darken. They slowly moved toward the dockyards, their boots’ magnetic soles clicking with each step.

“How long have you been working in the yards, my son?”

Beketov laughed. “Close to a year, but it seems like forever, Father. The one we’re going to was just an empty shell with I first arrived. Look at him now.”

One of the dumb servo-mechanoids rumbled toward them. Beketov gently grasped the priest’s shoulder to stop him from entering its path. It wobbled past with no sign of notice.

“Father Toyan, no disrespect, but how do you feel about this? Coming all the way out here to, well, to bless …”

“An engine of destruction? Actually, the church’s blessing is for the crew, to humbly ask God for their safety and protection, and that they will always be in His grace.”

As they walked, Beketov watched the priest’s gold crucifix sparkle in the starlight. A transparent pouch filled with small plastic globlets hung from his belt: Holy Water for the ceremony.

“Here he is, Father.” Beketov could see people watching them, crowded together in the observation blisters and viewports surrounding the dockyard.

“Are you a believer, Engineer Beketov?” the priest asked.

“I don’t know, Father. Sometimes it’s hard not to be when you look up and see all this,” the engineer said, pointing toward the stars. “I do know that a man needs all the help he can get, right?”

Toyan nodded. “Fair enough. Now, if you will, let us pray.” The priest keyed the comm controls on his suit sleeve and began to broadcast.

“Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people. Guide, I pray, all the worlds and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace … ”

The priest made the sign of the cross in front of the new starship’s gigantic gray hull.

Staying Home

Author : Eric Willey

The Colony Ship New Eden moved closer to the world that was her destination as the last pilot opened the door to a murderer.

“You can’t kill me. No one else to fly this crate.” He turned and walked over to his personal kitchenette, poured two cups of coffee and didn’t bother to look back at the gun before asking, “Cream, sugar?”

“None for me, thanks. And you’re overestimating your value to this mission.” The killer moved into the room and kept the gun centered on his target as the pressurized door automatically slid shut.

He leaned against the counter and blew gently on the coffee before taking a sip. “No. Stevens fell down the stairwell and broke his neck. Hodgkins had that rather unfortunate suicide business. And Yates isn’t fully trained. Which makes me the only one who can navigate this boat to and then land on New Providence Five.”

“Wrong again. Stevens was pushed down a stairwell and had his neck broken. Hodgkins was strung up from that plasma conduit after he died. And Mister Yates is currently in the simulator, doing a very credible impersonation of a man with two gunshot wounds to the head. You died the second you opened the door.”

“Wait…” They both winced as the gun exploded in the small room. A second sound cut through the ringing in their ears as the coffee cup hit the floor. He walked across the room and put the remaining four bullets into the body of the last pilot, tossed his gun on the corpse and walked out. He wouldn’t need the gun anymore anyway.

There would be an investigation of course, for the sake of appearances. No one would ever figure out he did it, because it was something they all wanted to do. With the last pilot dead, they could all breathe a sigh of relief. Their great grandparents had set out for New Providence Five over 104 years ago, looking for a new world. They died long ago, of old age and the myriad ailments that came with time.

Their descendants had never known a life other than the one they had aboard the colony ship. A life where the ship took care of everything, where there was no need to harvest crops or dig ditches. He went back to his room, washed his hands, laid down on his bed and looked at the titanium sky above him until he fell asleep.

The New Eden slipped silently through space without a destination. The crew were already home, and they weren’t going anywhere.