Beacon

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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Counterpoint

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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Hollow

Author : Andrew D. Hudson

The night breathes quietly beneath the world. Everything glints and shimmers off the water-smooth curves of ‘tites and ‘mites, catching the half-light of pale glowing fungi in ways our eyes never evolved to expect. Who knew the earth would be so porous?—a termite-tunneled maze of twisting underground rivers and Cthulhu-carved caverns the size of small countries. Mine shafts spiral down at right-angles towards the core, crisscrossed by lava tubes and spun out into the fractal temples dream-dug by renegade swarms of nanobots. At some point the subway builders of New York and Tokyo simply forgot to stop digging and drilled down deeper and deeper into the dark depths with cult-like precision, leaving whole underworlds in their wake: a promised land for hobos and mole-people. Occasionally a train will head down the wrong track, carrying its passengers further and further into the hot night to found strange kingdoms floating in the bubbles of volcanic seas.

I’ve always loved the hidden places, those old surface places that sunk into the earth for their eternal rest, still and silent, content to finally dream away the eons in peace. Tall towers mark dead cities like headstones, as if to say “Here Lies Los Angeles,” “Here Lies London.” We try to keep these old names as best we can. I was named Manhattan to remember an island of bright lights and straight streets. Maybe one night the people come to me and say “Manhattan, tell us of your old place, and we will remake it in the New World.”

We try so hard to remember now. Some folks move slower, trying to memorize every person, every step, every story. Historians of the now obsessively scratch diaries and news stories into tunnel walls, carving whole catacombs with the details of a single night. We didn’t used to think of ourselves as archeology, didn’t think that our bones and pocket change might one night be museum treasures. Now we know better. We have accepted that we may again find catastrophe our only recourse, and this time we want to be remembered. Humanity is a cataclysmic thing.

It weighs so heavily on some people, not knowing what came before. So much has been forgotten. We don’t remember why the Movement started, or why it was abandoned when the earth was still half-unmade. Were the people mesmerized by the sparkling emerald geodes larger than most houses? Did they walk for weeks along the shores of oil-black seas, eating lichens haphazardly, entranced by the subtle soothing symphonies of gasses glub-glubbing out of the water, smelling of sulfur and sending spirals scuttling unseen across the otherwise still surface? Did they suddenly catch themselves thinking, “Couldn’t we live like this forever?”

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On A Runner

Author : James Smith

She started hallucinating yesterday, and now the center line floats three feet above the blacktop and glows in neon rainbows. Exhaustion makes her slippery in time, and she doesn’t know if she’s remembering– or actually seeing– the sparks she left behind on her way through broken glass and car parts.

When the Kaptech people brought these legs to her, wanting to graft this chip here, these wires there, the idea of running again made her cry.

At ten years old she was doing wind sprints a day after having her appendix out. At twenty she had one pair of pumps and fifteen pair of running shoes. At thirty she joked that not having a kid meant not having to run with one on your back.

At forty she was hit by a truck.

Now, at fifty-five, she was trapped in a solar-powered alloy chassis that stopped responding to her commands five days ago, and was dragging her around the country at an un-broken fifteen miles per hour.

The HUD was static overlaid on her blurred vision, and she couldn’t steer. She learned to direct herself somewhat by leaning left or right. Going through busy areas was tricky. She cried when the shopping mall loomed up in front of her, saw herself crashing through plate glass windows and baby carriages. That was when she threw herself to the ground, leaving behind skin in the doing. She lay there, legs kicking like some giant silver cockroach while cars skidded to a halt around her. A crowd formed, curious wet shadows between her and the beautiful sun, the lazy clouds. Big, square hands under her armpits, lifting her, and she was off again, gone over the hedges, taking out a bystander and slamming her shoulder into a post on her way out of town.

She could do it again now. The desert sand on the roadside looks more forgiving than parking lot tarmac. But dying here, alone, legs kicking forever as their cells drained and recharged, drained and recharged… She couldn’t take that.

But she knows where she is now. She recognizes landmarks where people from elsewhere might see only nameless desert. Soon she will pass through the town where she grew up. It is small. She will be on the main road. And if they haven’t built up the place, she will be able to see her old home through the gap between the church and the mechanic, and then she will be four hours from the sea.

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