Bureau of Life

Author : Michael Shreeves

The judge stared down severely from her podium. “Mr. DiPolo, you are hereby sentenced to two months of court-mandated therapy and a one year probationary period, during which your prescriptions will be monitored and adjusted. You are also required to subscribe to at least one court-approved MMO of your choice, with a .15 allowance for GPA slippage in your Federal Edu-Stipend. You WILL finish college, and you WILL repay your stipend. This is your first offense, Mr. DiPolo, so I will be lenient, but be warned, if you ever make a claim in my court again based solely on ‘the hollowness of modern society,’ ‘the lack of prospects for a Liberal Arts major,’ and trivial postpartum relationship echoes, I will shoot you with the anti-gerasome treatment myself. Do I make myself clear? Case dismissed.”

Francis DiPolo shuffled onto the footbridge outside of the court, lit a Health-Stik, and stared through the Plexi-Safe barrier at the oncoming traffic, yearning for the good old days.

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Search and Recovery

Author : J. S. Kachelries

Captain Semaj sat at the head of the conference table. Also at the table were the remainder of the Bridge Crew and several senior department heads. At the far end of the table sat Lo Yaluo, the director of Search, Rescue, and Recovery who had just returned from the surface of the planet. “Give us a report, Mr. Yaluo,” said Captain Semaj.

“Unfortunately, Sir, I have to report that there will be no rescue operation. The survey ship was completely destroyed, including the loss of the entire crew. Our engineers have determined that the entropy generators underwent a catastrophic cascade failure shortly after takeoff. The crew didn’t have a chance. The explosion was close enough to the ground to devastate a substantial portion of the original survey site. The good news is that the mishap occurred in a remote area of the planet. I have drones scouring the surface for any fragments of the ship and crew. My team will have the area completely “sanitize” within a few cycles, well before the indigenous life forms on the planet reach the site. Since entropy generators don’t leave radioactive traces, they will never know we were here. They will probably conclude that a comet exploded prior to impact.”

“Thank you, Mr. Yaluo,” said the Captain. “Okay everyone, our primary mission was to rescue survivors, but since there are none; we need to focus on our secondary objective. We cannot allow the inhabitants of this planet to become aware of our existence. After reviewing the interim reports from the survey mission, the homeworld has concluded that this planet is worth exploiting. They have an abundance of water, heavy metals, and rare minerals. But if the inhabitants learn of our existence, and our plans, they may be able to build up defenses and impede the invasion. They have a primitive industrial civilization now, but as we all know, life can become very resourceful when their destruction is imminent. The Secretary of Extraterrestrial Development has informed me that this planet is not scheduled to be “reallocated” for about 100 of its years. I don’t want the indigenous life forms using that time preparing for us. Okay, we all have our jobs to do. Let’s collect everything we can, and get out before their investigators arrive, dismissed.”

As the attendees collected their belongings and headed toward the exit, the Captain motioned for Mr. Yaluo to stay behind. “Mr. Yaluo, are you sure you can recover all the debris before anyone arrives?”

“Absolutely, sir. The crash site is in the middle of a densely forested area that is thousands of lacitals away from the nearest population center. Their flying machines can barely travel a single lacital. This location is so remote, that it’s possible that they are totally unaware that there was an event worth investigating.”

“Let’s hope so. Ah, before you leave Mr. Yaluo; I’m preparing to give a sub-space verbal report to the Supreme Council. Am I pronouncing this right? The planet calls itself Earth (‘&rth), and the location of the survey sight is Tunguska (Tu[ng]-gu-ska)?”

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Alternate 8927HG

Author : Joshua Reynolds

Rifles barked and Censor Wight grunted with the impact of each slug. High-velocity bullets. Unpleasant. A lucky shot had disrupted the light-bending circuitry. He continued to run, hugging his burden to his chest and weaving between the columns thrusting upward through the orange sands of Mars. Behind him the aether-troops of the German Reich followed, air-guns whistling. Their scientist-kings had discovered the Time-Doors in an abandoned Martian Citadel in their home-alternate of 8926HF and, being a neo-facist sliding expansion empire, had decided to invade an alternate Mars. As one does in these situations, apparently.

Why people couldn’t be happy with what they had, Wight didn’t know. He was happy after all. How hard could it be?

Of course, the problem was that these particular Martians, the ones the Reich had just wiped out, were scheduled to invade this alternate’s Earth in the year 1888. And really if you let people mess with the schedules, you were inviting anarchy. Chaos. Free will. He shuddered. Terrible thought.

The Censor vaulted over a tumbled column, his free hand dipping into his coat as he rolled to his feet and pulled the buzz-gun holstered there. He pulled the trigger and the first of the black armored soldiers to follow him over the column tumbled backwards as the Imp bullet chewed through his armor and burrowed into his heart. Rifles cracked and the Censor scrambled for cover. That would encourage them to be more cautious. Give him time to do his job. He holstered the pistol awkwardly and tapped the side of his head. On the insides of his eyelids an infinity of free-floating cubicles appeared, a panorama of images within images. The eternal bureacracy of the Timeline Validation Bureau.

“Report.” A cacaphony of voices whispered in his head.

“I have secured the package. Permission to scour Alternate 8927HG of interference.”

“Permission granted.”

The Censor smiled and ran his fingers gently down the inseam of his coat, activating the Ellison cells. A ripple spread outward from his crouched figure even as the rest of his pursuers finally regained their courage and swept towards him. The ripple grew and spread like a soap bubble expanding. As it hit them, the aether-troops wavered and vanished. So too would their base-camp and eventually their ships in orbit. In fact, all non-natives of Alternate 8927HG would be erased from this time-line. Except for him, of course. After all, what would be the use of a Censor who got himself censored? None at all, obviously.

The Censor smiled as a thousand men and women blinked out of existence. He did so enjoy his job. He looked down at the burden he’d been carrying. Bundled together in a red scrap of cloth two Martian eggs sat, leathery and black. The Censor laid them gently against the column where they would be protected from the elements. Eventually they would hatch, spawn and invade. According to schedule.

Good for them.

He looked down at the eggs and smiled.

“You’re welcome,” he said as he disappeared.

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Red String

Author : RFK

There is a 65% chance I’m thinking with you now, though your scientists believe it to be smaller if you’ve heard of me at all.

Although I found you mammals late in the Cretaceous period, I was legion when the Cenozoic era began. I started with small marsupial-like rodents who later because extinct. Conquest and expansion are my way; peace is incomprehensible. I infected their favorite food source – a small insect then prevalent. There, I latched on to their light sensing apparatus in the cerebral ganglia. Usually, light was the bugs’ bane – their predators devoured them in droves if they stayed up too far into morning. By worming my way in an axon here, a dendrite there, I made the entire speies average staying 32 minutes later in the daylight. They were devoured. The extinction bothered me not; I had already escaped.

And so I entered my next hosts. And many more after that…across eras endlessly evolving – through marsupials, birds, cats, many others – until I came to your kind. You were larger and cannier, seeming champions of your own destiny as you brazenly wielded your neocortical wealth to the detriment of your prey. But we evolved together, with my kin warping you in so many ways. Some drove your ancestors mad, but these were just driven from the herd and left to die alone, as did we. Some inflamed the skin, making boils that would launch us into the air, hoping to find a new host quickly but seldom so lucky. These infected were shunned as well – many were burned when you evolved religions and rites – precursors to your hated germ theory.

But I survived. I was subtle. A guanine here, a thymine there was all it took. Such a wonderful playground your species is! I had more than 100x the body mass to propagate in and 1000x the neurons compared to those ancient rodents. I didn’t have just a photoreceptor array to alter; I had an infinity of subtle ways I could advantage myself. Some failed, like the boils, but some did not. Thankfully, many did not.

I affect your soma and your sex but mostly your brain and mind. My touch is subtle – you are bolder because of me. The same tricks I used to make mice more readily eaten by cats make you reach out and explore, try new things. Your social rites that make you touch – that was me. The insecurity many of you feel in the depths of your soul drives you to one another to desperately assuage the longing I induce. Even better, one in a hundred of your girl children I turn male and infect in the womb. I give him other advantages that you see and admire. I only care that he is fertile, desirous of creating many offspring and skilled in doing so because of me.

Call me toxoplasma gondii. And you are mine.

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Expeditious

Author : Daniel Nugent

The stars shone coldly through the solar plane of the binary system XJ-22V. At a point 100,000 kilometers away from the lone planet in the system, space began to warp itself in such a way that if you looked at it, you would vomit. Which is what the grey, blast-marked ship resembled as it was ejected from the cross-dimensional tear.

A moment elapsed and the ship’s antimatter annihilation engines came to life, hurtling towards the gravity well of the planet. As it breached the atmosphere, its hull, bristling with menacing tubes began to glow with friction. By the time the ship slammed to an abrupt stop 20,000 meters above the surface of the planet its skin was glowing white hot. Again a pause of but a moment and the ship shot off again, slower than before, but still leading an immense sonic boom through the acidic atmosphere.

As the ship slowed, now a mere 500 meters above the surface, the belly of the half flattened, convex hull split and a series of electric eyes and sensory apparatus emerged. They picked apart the bizarre, slooping alien flora and disfigured landscape atom by atom, searching for the ship’s destination. The olfactory boom picked up a chemical signature that matched the designated profile. All the eyes swiveled in the direction that the scent had come from and pinpointed the origin. The craft’s organelles retracted and its belly sealed again.

The ship maneuvered to the destination and again dropped like a rock, this time with landing pads extended. The ship didn’t slam, so much as pat the ground. Even as it was settling into the marshy earth, a circular airlock on its side swiveled and hissed as atmosphere escaped.

A biped in a khaki colored suit that made him look like a scarab emerged from the portal and mounted a ladder leading to the ground, a boxy kit on his back. After jumping off the last rung, he looked at a panel on his wrist and walked up to the precipice of a small cliff, his suit trailing noxious gases as the atmosphere slowly dissolved it.

Looking down into the pit below, he saw what he was there for: A massive, black-green, tentacled figure, shiny and oozing. He flipped on his suit’s external speaker and said loudly, “Hi, I’ve got a package for a Mister Xelquarkle?”

“I’m him,” said the hideous terror from beyond the stars, with a timbre in its voice that could curdle milk.

“Okay, I’ll just need you to sign here,” said the man, extending a pad and a stylus. Two tentacles grabbed them and scribbled a tainted symbology upon the pad, which promptly melted.

“Oh, sorry…”

“Nah, don’t worry, that’s the third one that’s done that this week. Here’s your package.”

“Thank you!”

“Have a nice day.”

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