Author : Duncan Shields

It’s how you react to your life going wrong that defines you.

When you win, you smile like everyone else. It’s how you react to obstacles, changes of fortune and sudden lane changes in your life that reveals a true aspect of your personality.

Take me, for instance.

I never wanted to be cleaning the mobile arrays on the outside of this gigafreighter as we passed through crystal dust fields. I had a girl once. I even had the money to afford a pet. I lived planetside and breathed real air.

I’ve been given a tool much like a toothbrush. Something about the crystalline make-up of the comet trail doesn’t show up on sensors until the build up is too severe. They found that two diligent humans, each working in twelve hour shifts, was the cheapest solution to keep the array clear of crystal dust.

Some of this crystal dust is rumoured to be sub-molecular in nature. I try not to imagine the feeling of tiny shards filling my entire body, lodging in the mile-wide craters of my pores, sticking out of my skin like tiny daggers. It make me itchy.

Being itchy in a spacesuit is not good.

I clump around the array in a ritualistic circle, making sure to scrub in between the struts and under the dishes. I get the whole thing done in about two hours. That means that I clean it six times during my shift.

The comet we’re following must be giving us some pretty impressive data because I’ve been doing this for a year. I was only supposed to be doing it for eight months.

The overtime’s good but I miss my dog and even after everything that happened, I still miss Sara. If that was her real name.

Sometimes I’ll stop for a minute and just look out. I’m standing on a long steel tube in the middle of nowhere stuck in the sparkling tail of a comet. There’s a light xylophone being played just inside human hearing range as the rain of crystal dust collides with the hull. A constant distant ringing that I’m sure I’ll miss when I’m done this job.

If it doesn’t kill me. I’m scared every time my eyes get itchy that my orbits are filling up with interstellar sand that won’t be able to be removed. The bosses assure me that it’s psychosomatic but really, it’s in their best interest to keep me working. I don’t trust their smiles.

The colours swirl around me in blues and violets like a sheer veil thrown over the stars. It’s a belly dancer about to drop the last scarf.

I get back to work before the siren call of that shifting borealis makes me leap off into infinity.

Scrub, scrub, scrub.

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Perfect World

Author : Geoffrey Cashmore

The unit amended its status from idle to active and moved from the rest position to its allocated docking bay. Immediately the previous night’s traffic from distant units in different time-zones came into view as a long string of pulsating alert buttons colourised and prioritized and systematized to their maximum ergonomic efficiency.

Three units were asking for immediate responses, so these became the tasks of highest need.

Two units were sending status notifications of their own, and could simply be allowed to log themselves with the operating system.

Five units were offering access to illicit services that would be frowned upon by any decent unit, and could therefore be added to the junk unit list.

Tasks of the highest priority completed, the unit ran a diagnostic to determine current nutritional requirements and fed the results into the biofeedback module, simultaneously ejecting waste via the slurry chute into the biofeedback module.

Satisfaction quotient +2.

Activating the stimulation pod with post-idle-status stimulation programme number 1 – as recommended in The Unit Manual – colours, shapes and sounds pulsate in comfortable familiarity; enhanced by smells and tastes, they encourage warm reflection on shared memories of peaceful conformance.

Happiness quotient +1.

Fourteen minutes and thirty five seconds of stimulation complete, it is time to leave the docking bay to make a positive contribution to society. Units emerge from the domicile and proceed to the transit area, their paces measured and even to minimize risk and control energy expenditure.

“Welcome Units. Transit will begin in 10 seconds.”

Comfort quotient +1.

Transit exhilarates. Transit in the company of units promotes group exhilaration and shared happiness. Units say “Ooooo” when experiencing group exhilaration, as recommended in The Unit Manual.


Society is kept in the large stone building where Units were once sent to make amends for their negative contributions to ancient societies. Now, transit brings units there from the domicile and takes them back once a positive contribution to society has been made. It takes precisely one hour and forty six minutes to make a positive contribution. This is defined in The Unit Manual.

Social value quotient +3.

“Welcome Units. Transit will begin in ten seconds.”

Post-transit-relaxation programme number 5 reinforces Units’ sense of social contribution. Three minutes and seventeen seconds later the unit activates its docking station once more to deal with pending activities.

The Unit Manual recommends a choice of either relaxation programme number 5 or number 6 for twenty five minutes and fifty six seconds after nutrition intake phase two.

Freedom of choice quotient +1.

Insecurity quotient +4.

Thank The Unit Manual for our perfect world.

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Author : TJMoore

Captain Reynolds gave the order to swing the ship around for another pass. This was turning out to be more lucrative than anyone had imagined. He kept a close eye on the element survey statistics as they began the next run through the densest part of the emission nebula, scooping up elemental precious metals, industrial metals like iron, nickel, tungsten and zinc, rare and common gases and vast amounts of hydrogen. The dead sun at the center of the cloud spun at a dizzying 300 revolutions per second sweeping the ship with x-rays on every turn. Reynolds didn’t fret, his ship was designed specifically for this pulsar and it’s particulate treasures.

Captain Gronk studied the jumper in his telemetry and snarled another obscenity at the thief. He’d already sent his report to the bureau of mines and was eagerly awaiting their reply. They couldn’t deny him justice. He had followed all the rules, dotted all the I’s crossed all the Ts. His beacon was plainly visible in the center of the mine. It was impossible for anyone to think this material was unclaimed.

Captain Reynolds looked carefully at the data his second had passed him. It sure looked like a ship of some kind but nothing anyone could understand or explain. His science officer was still sifting through the scan data, practically bouncing off the walls with excitement. Reynolds hoped this wouldn’t jeopardize the mining operation. He had too much invested in this venture to get side tracked by ET.

Captain Gronk perused the reply from the bureau of mines then gave the order to his second. His second maneuvered the harvesting scoop so that the invader would be harvested along with the other material in the mine. He began his harvesting run with no remorse. He’d recoup his stolen material and the criminal’s ship to boot.

Captain Reynolds’ last thought was that something was seriously amiss as his ship and their collected matter began to disintegrate into an elemental cloud that was scooped up, sorted and stored by Captain Gronks mining ship. The bureau of mines has no tolerance for claim jumpers.

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Author : Michael Herbaugh a.k.a. “Freeman”

Her name is Maria, and I love her with every fiber of my being. She isn’t really a Maria, that’s just the name I gave her, as naming is a terrestrial custom, and she isn’t. Terrestrial that is. She arrived in our system with her brother, whom I’ve named Orion, six months ago. It wasn’t until after they passed Mars, that we detected the asteroid a year behind them on the same trajectory and gaining quickly.

It began when she started Instant Messaging me a month or so after they reached our system. At first, she didn’t realize she was sending them to me, but I was the only one listening. Bored and gazing starward from the observatory at the time, our conversations started casually enough. For four months we explored each other’s consciousness online. It didn’t occur to me that I was in love until I’d pulled strings and convinced the Space Administration to run a rescue mission. Both the pod and the asteroid were on a course that would miss our planet by a wide margin, so we’d have to travel out to intercept the pod. I was on the mission that towed it back to Earth and we talked the entire time. It wasn’t until we opened the pod planetside that I could finally embrace her. She too had grown to love me during our long conversations, before we had even had the chance to meet face to face.

Surprisingly, for the most part the planet accepted the pair of them with open arms and they were treated as ambassadors. We took them around the world, introducing them to leaders in other countries. It was then that we noticed the shift. The asteroid’s course had changed, and it was now on a collision course with Earth. As Maria and Orion travelled, crossing lines of latitude, there were subtle but undeniable shifts in the asteroid’s course. In time, it became clear that the asteroid was indeed being drawn in by our visitors.

In denial, I argued for days with my friends and co-workers at the Space Administration that it must be some mistake. In the end, though, I could not out-debate the empirical facts. Maria and Orion would have to be put back in their pod and towed back into space.

I was allowed to accompany them back to the stars, but there was a catch. The Authority had decided that we couldn’t let the pair lead the asteroid down upon any other unsuspecting planet. So in the interest of universal peace, we were going to place them on a path into our own sun, where both would be destroyed with little consequence.

Their fate would surely be a slow and painful death and I could not let this happen to the other half of my breaking heart. So now I stand here, willing my hands to carry out what I know must be done. The barrel almost caresses her temple as I lose myself in her eyes. Tears stream down my face, and I confess my love to her as I have so many times before. We’ve had precious few months together, and I know my soul is already empty without her.

A part of her life lies cooling in the seat beside her, as I will before her a few moments from now, but in this moment, I can merely squeeze the trigger, again.

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King of Kings

Author : Grady Hendrix

Stevenson walked down Corridor J-12 and a rustle went through the living quarters. Stevenson was coming! Stevenson was on his way! Stevenson! Stevenson! He turned the corner at Junction J-12/J-13 and the first thing that hit him was the marshy smell of flatulence, followed by the briny odor of stagnant urine. Up ahead of him was the end of the line. When the women at the back saw him they fell to their knees, palms upturned, foreheads on the deck. Stevenson pulled on his gas mask, never breaking his stride.

He followed the line down corridor J-13 for nearly half a mile and as he went the women fell to their knees. As he approached the facility more and more of them wore homemade filter masks, nose clips, even scraps of cloth tied over their faces, anything to cut the stench. Their eyes were red and watering, their stomachs swollen and distended, their foreheads carried fading bruises from the last time Stevenson had passed their way.

A contingent was waiting for him at the door to the facility.

“Stevenson, you have come!” the leader said.

They presented him with their offerings.

“Show me the problem,” he said.

And they opened the door and led him into the public toilet.

When the vast starship New Hope left Earth 20 years ago, it rapidly became apparent that some genius had thought of everything – artificial gravity, entertainments, education – except toilets. The commanding class had personal chemical toilets in their quarters, but for the 40,000 people in the general berths there were communal facilities and they had built the exact same number for men as they had for women. That is to say: not enough. And so they kept breaking, getting clogged, overflowing from overuse. Man’s great expedition to colonize the stars and they were up to their knees in their own shit and piss. In a situation like this, who becomes the most important man on the ship? The plumber.

It had been easy enough for Stevenson to get rid of the other two plumbers over the years. Airlock accidents. A plunging machine run amuck. Those two men were thought of as heroes who gave their lives in service to humanity but Stevenson was the ship’s only hope. He knelt in the dirty chemical backup from the toilet and he sent the women out while he arranged his tools and he thought about the baby in his wife’s belly back in their enormous suite. His chosen successor.

They were 30 years from their destination and by the time they landed, the Stevensons would be the most important humans alive and no one would quite remember why. Outside the door he heard the line of women begin to sing a hymn in his praise. Stevenson took his plunger and began to churn it in the bowl and he smiled to himself. So this is what it felt like to become a God.

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