E.L.E. Sapiens

Author : Alla Hoffman

When he opened his eyes, it was a special kind of dark. The sky was a dull purple, and what light there was came from the ground beneath its stygian spread. He sat up stiffly in a sea of trash, a vast junkyard. Much of the scrap metal and rock glowed a sickly greenish color, and he didn’t want to think about why. Every part of him was aching, and the morning amnesia hadn’t fully faded. “The hell….” He stood, rubbing blearily at his eyes, and cursed when he realized his ankle couldn’t support his full weight. As he looked out across the abyssal dumping grounds, he put name to place, mainly because a dented sign creaked on a pole next to him. T. W. D. P. 13, Toxic Waste Disposal Planet 13. Recently made off-limits by the government, on grounds of contamination by hostile elements, the first time such a designation had been given to a trash planet. Then again, no one had ever created a self-maintaining, self-improving species of machines before. He’d known that was probably a bad idea, from the standpoint of personal safety.

He wondered how far they’d gotten in the 84 hours they’d been free. It had taken only 19 for them to make themselves known on the planets surface, 26 to be categorized as dangerous. It had taken the governing council another two days to find out who was responsible, but it had taken them only two hours to try and convict him. There had been talk of execution by various methods or imprisonment, but ultimately they decided on a more…unorthodox punishment. Their leniency had hinged on the fact he had created a species, not a weapon, to destroy this world. And after all, it was only a trash planet. Hardly a great loss to society. So they’d sent him to “live” with his own creations. If the radiation didn’t get him first.

He scrabbled around in the junk until he found a bent metal pole, and used it to pull himself up, stumping shakily forwards. He hadn’t yet figured out a plan for himself, but in the end it didn’t really matter. His big plan, the important one, was already inevitably in motion. The machines would begin to improve themselves, and god knew they weren’t short of materials, and soon they would construct weapons and flight. And spaceflight. And he hadn’t bothered to write hostility towards man into them, that was the beauty of it. They had only the biological imperative: survive, reproduce. Mankind would see to the hostility itself, as the robots spread and people became afraid. They would write their own end with their hostility and their fear. And their trash.

That’s what they were for, to provide the antidote to humanity. Ultimately, he hadn’t been supposed to survive either. He’d just wanted to watch. There were cliffs of wrecked ships in the distance, and he began making for them. They’d have a pretty good view. They were a good place to wait. He was glad he’d ended up here, in a way. He might not get to see the end, but he could watch the beginning. It seemed right that the next stage should start here, where humanity had started out so long ago, before it had gotten lost among the stars.

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Tentacles

Author : Pavelle Wesser

When she first appeared to him in the dead of the eternal night, her tentacles undulated in bluish silver tints that reflected the twinkling lights of his ship. She slithered silently toward him while he was out performing an errand. Until he saw her, he had never questioned working in silence and alone. It was when she slid that first tentacle around his waist that he stared into the endless night and neglected his mission, turning to face her as she wrapped more tentacles around his body. Later, he could never remember how they became two beings writhing on the surface of sand so soft he could have sworn that it sifted through the pours of his skin.

It was then that her first tentacle pierced his flesh and entered his body. He stumbled back to the ship feeling ill, and threw up at some point during the eternal night. His initial malaise turned to raging desire by the time he was sent on his next errand. She appeared to him as he collected pitted rocks, her tentacles wrapping themselves around him, requiring nothing of him other than that he willingly surrender to the sensation of slime slithering over his skin. This time, when they connected, electrical currents charged through his body. They were mild at first, but escalated, causing his teeth to chatter and his hair to stand on end.

“How can you do that to me?” But she did not answer, just as she never spoke.

It was then that another of her tentacles pierced his flesh, wrapping itself around his internal organs, squeezing, squeezing, until he felt so ill that he didn’t have to wait until later in the eternal night to throw up. He would have been sick for days, had time been measured in anything other than the phases of the multiple moons that hovered overhead. He lay in his cot suffering fevers, chills and muscle cramps, wondering how she could possibly leave her tentacles inside of him. Didn’t she want them back? How could she live without them? How could he live with them?

They sent him on another mission, this time to collect the weeds that grew in the eternal night. His body shook as he donned his spacesuit, for now he was afraid. It wasn’t long before she appeared, slinking noiselessly, her tentacles extended toward him. A cold, sick chill descended.

“Look,” he said, “I think we need to call this off.”

A tentacle slid down his throat, and he realized the choice had never been his to make. He thought he might gag but as her other tentacles caressed his body, he experienced thrills of pleasure that escalated until he felt as though he were an electrical conduit through which an overload of energy was being transmitted. When she had done with him, he understood that just as the night was eternal, she herself would never end. He turned to face her.

“I think I’m in love with you,” he said.

Another tentacle wrapped itself around his heart. Cold and icy, it squeezed the living breath out of him. Feeling the dying pump of his most sacred organ, he wheezed out his final words:

“Is this what you’ve wanted from me all along?”

She didn’t answer, just as she never had. And as her tentacle writhed and twisted about his heart, he thought of a home he’d never known, of a love that had never been true, and a spaceship that would soon depart, leaving him alone to die in the eternal night.

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In-Situ

Author : Glenn Blakeslee

Lisa called me that afternoon. I was standing in the rain in front of the In-Situ Laboratory, watching deer run beneath the elevated walkway.

“I just wanted to say,” she said. “Sam… I’m sorry about Saturday.” Her voice was quiet. She sounded tired.

“I was going to call you to say I was sorry,” I said.

“You don’t have to apologize,” she said, “I do.” This was where Lisa, had I said the same, would have asked me what, exactly, I had to apologize for. I could hear the low slowness of her voice, and asking would have been heartless.

“I know you need someone to listen, sometimes. I didn’t do a good job of that,” I said. “When you tell me these things I want to do something, but I don’t know how to help you.”

“I didn’t know how to ask for help,” she said. “I don’t know what you could do to help me.” I stood in the rain and watched the deer, my cell phone to my head. A doe stood on the sloping ground, next to the walkway, watching me. Her hide was wet and her eyes were huge. Her nostrils flared. She took a tentative step toward the walkway, watching me.

“I just got back from the hospital,” Lisa said. “I was there three days.”

“Oh Lisa, I’m so sorry. What…?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “Did you take pills?” The doe’s forelegs jerked, trembling, and she bolted under the walkway, beneath me. I could smell the rain-soaked sogginess of her hide. I pulled out my cigarettes, and then put them away without trying to light one. I could see the hood of the first of the Security vans as it pulled in behind the lab. Those bastards.

“My son took me in,” Lisa said. “I was in ICU.”

“Lisa,” I said.

“And I got out today. I’m just sitting here, and the kids will come home soon, and I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’m afraid to be here by myself, and I’m afraid to see anyone. I’m afraid to talk to anyone and I’m afraid to not have anyone to talk to.” It was raining harder, and more deer were running beneath the walkway, jumping across the retaining wall beyond the slope. I could hear the clatter of their hooves across the patio that lay sheltered beneath the overhanging floors of the In-Situ Laboratory. The rain ran down my forehead, into my eyes. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Lisa said.

If I loved her I would have run to her. I would have run to my car, wound down through the ways of the University, clutching my wet, fatal briefcase to my chest. I would have kept my phone to my ear, my voice to her heart. I would have left my job, and my little mournful life and the end of it all, and drove to her. I would have run to her.

I would have given her the thing she really desired. I picked my briefcase up from the walkway, held it under my arm.

“Honey…” I said.

“You’re at work,” she said. “I should let you go.”

“Well…” I began. “I love you,” I lied. “Keep your head up. I’ll call you tonight,” I said, but I never did.

Instead I dropped my briefcase from the walkway, heard the tinkle of breaking glass, and watched as the deer on the patio of the In-Situ Laboratory began to drop dead.

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The Cirrillian Campaign

Author : Paul Starkey

Villam’s first campaign began at 29:15; within minutes he was a veteran.

A third of his squad died within seconds of disembarking, victims of the Cirrillian psionic artillery, the heavy bombardment shattering their synapses and boiling their brains within their skulls like potatoes in a pot.

Sniper fire was the next danger, the Cirrillian marksmen were using hyper-reality bullets. Marsom was Villam’s best friend, they’d enlisted together …now, as he was hit, the unremitting truths that all men hide, even from themselves, overwhelmed him, crushing his spirit as surely as pressure would have crushed his body, and before Villam could stop him he’d blown his brains out with his sidearm.

Only half of them reached the Cirrillian trenches. Villam had turned his ankle trying stop Marsom, and so was lagging behind the rest of the squad. This saved his life.

Fazerthorn trees exist on every world, not that you’d ever know it. They bloom in another reality, invisible to all but sophisticated scanners. The realities are separate, and never the twain should meet…except Cirrillian scientists had discovered a way to compact the two together. Suddenly the clear ground the troopers raced through became a heaving forest.

Despite the thump and wail of battle around him, all Villam could hear were screams as fazerthorns materialised inside his comrades. The lucky ones died instantly, from organ failure or just plain shock. The strong ones lasted longer, thorns ripping through their skin, tearing eyeballs, slicing arteries and rupturing blood vessels.

Sergeant Coog was the toughest S.O.B in the unit, so Villam wasn’t surprised when he charged onwards, despite the blood haemorrhaging out around the branch that had erupted from his back. In the end though he’d taken too much damage, he fell mere metres from the Cirrillians.

Villam’s luck was twofold. Not only had he avoided the fazerthorns, but their appearance obscured him from the Cirrillian troopers who would have gunned him down otherwise. Now, belly to the dusty floor, he shuffled around the tangle of fazerthorns and corpses, until he drew level with the trench.

There were dozens of them, foul green creatures who lacked a head, a single eye stalk protruding from their necks. They were naked, six brains pulsating beneath the skin along their spines, reproduction tentacles drooping between their legs like elongated udders.

Villam crept closer. He didn’t want to, they truly were vile, but he needed to be nearer to throw the J-Bomb into their midst. He unclipped it from his belt, a fat disc of weightless metal, yet more powerful than anything the enemy had.

Too late a Cirrillian saw him, a whine of alarm echoing from its shoulder gills. He’d already thrown the J-Bomb though, clamping his hands over his head as it detonated.

He’d been conditioned to deal with the effects of the J-Bomb, but still the overlapping cacophony of musical tunes, of advertising taglines, and the whirlwind of special offer announcements almost drove him mad….The effect of the Jingle Bomb on the Cirrillians was more pronounced. To a creature they dropped their weapons and clambered out of the trench, fighting each other to gain a few moments’ advantage in getting to the Department Ship before all the bargains were gone.

Advertising was a harsh game, with more and more species rebelling again the psychic onslaught of the sales companies. The Cirrillians, like so many others, shielded their planet from orbital advertising assaults, so the only way to campaign was to go trench to trench, street to street, door to door. Villam returned to the ship alone, a veteran salesman after just one campaign.

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Old Joe

Author : Glenn Blakeslee

It’s another damn fine desert day, and Old Joe sits on the dilapidated Lazy Boy on the porch in front of his trailer. He’s got his feet up and a pint bottle of cheap wine in his hand, and he’s thinking lazy desert thoughts. He’s got his chores done, tended his little forty-acres of nowhere, and he’s relaxing in the relative luxury of his porch.

His looks to the horizon, where county road S65 cuts a straight line through the sagebrush, up to the hills. He can see dust plumes rising in the still afternoon air. Here they come again.

He’s posted dozens of No Trespassing signs on his property, but the damn dirt bike riders ignore them. Might as well post signs that read Welcome To Paradise, he thinks. They don’t bother reading them anyhow.

It’s only desert, but it’s his desert. Riders have cut trail across it where no trails should be. Every autumn flash flood gouges those trails deeper. Soon his place will be nothing but gouges, he thinks.

Maybe they’ll veer off, Old Joe thinks. Maybe I won’t have to reach for the gun.

The dust plumes rise higher. Soon he hears the buzz of motors, sees flashy helmets above the sagebrush. Sure enough, the riders are off the road, weaving through the brush toward his little trailer home.

Old Joe creaks forward in the Lazy Boy and groans to his feet. He puts his bottle down and reaches for his old Remington 12 gauge. He’s in the driveway before the riders can see him, holding the rusty old gun across his chest like a western hero. When the riders come out of the brush and onto the dusty drive, he swivels the barrel and fires a round into the air, over their heads.

The riders come to a sliding stop in the driveway. They look at Old Joe holding the gun, and look at each other. Old Joe yells “Get offa my land!,” and he levels the shotgun at them.

That’s all it takes. The first rider drags a donut across the driveway, throwing up dust, and heads out to the road before Old Joe can finish yelling. The second pushes his motorcycle backward, downshifts and roars off.

Old Joe blasts the shotgun in their direction, just for good measure, and staggers back to the shade of his porch, his Lazy Boy, and his bottle. He props the shotgun against the trailer.

“Damn bikers,” he mutters.

Old Joe has dozed off, and he wakes to eerie sounds and bright lights. A pulsing bright globe sits over the sagebrush on the side of the driveway, and as it descends he’s suddenly awake and reaching for the shotgun.

The globe glows, and sheets of static flow across its surface. It emits a disharmonic hum that gives Old Joe goosebumps. He steps away from the porch, shotgun across his chest, shouts “Get offa my land,” and fires a shot into the air

The globe touches the sagebrush and then bounces, falling and rising. Lines of red light circle the globe’s equator, and the hum rises in pitch and then drops to a basso rumble. Joe takes steps toward the globe and aims the shotgun.

The globes rises and swoops down the driveway, lighting the sagebrush and the sand as it dwindles into the distance. Old Joe fires a shot after it, just for good measure.

He watches for a little while, until the thing disappears altogether. He turns and stumps back to the porch.

“Damn aliens,” he mutters, and reclines his Lazy Boy into the perfect desert night.

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