Author : John Kuhn
Bata stood beside Danny and held out his soda. The game blared in front of him.
Danny glanced at her.
“Thanks,” he smiled, wondering if the smile really mattered.
He took the drink and relished the sound of ice cubes clinking against the glass. His gaze reverted instantly to the game; kindness lingered in his eyes even after he’d forgotten she was there.
She was hesitant to interrupt, but this was important. Danny looked at her.
“Danny, I want to learn to paint.”
Danny’s world stopped. “What?”
The man dropped his drink on the floor.
He swore, but not about the spill.
Danny stood and squeezed Bata’s shoulder, and she slept. He lay the lithe creature in a heap in the back seat of his car and set the navigator on a course for the Ministry building.
Danny stood outside the double doors holding her in his arms. She was lighter than a human her size. A man in blue coveralls came out.
“What’s the problem, sir?” he asked.
“Desire,” Danny replied sadly.
The man nodded and seized a radio from his belt. “We have a 504 in the front,” he said.
“Take it on back to the processor,” crackled an androgynous reply.
“Can I watch?” Danny asked before the man could take her away.
The man looked him in the eyes. He had gone through a customer sensitivity update the day before.
“Sure,” he said softly.
Danny followed the man in blue coveralls through a powered gate to the back of the building, onto a cracked cement parking lot punctuated with hardscrabble weeds. The processor hummed in the center of the lot–it was a huge tin box with a conveyor belt jutting in front and a rusting bin in the back. Danny showed no emotion, lest the laborer think him an idiot.
The man in blue lay Bata on the conveyor belt and flipped a switch. The box came to life and Danny watched as the conveyor pulled her into its gnashing teeth. The titanium under her artificial skin squealed, and glinting sparks dove in arcing flight away from the destruction.
He drove home in brokenhearted silence.
“Bata,” he whispered over the soft music playing in the car.
The house welcomed him by echoing his every footstep across the cold kitchen tiles, its emptiness exaggerated by her missing standard welcome.
Author : Luke Chmelik
We were about to set in for refitting in the drydocks of Neptune when Capitaine Merroux of the Frégate Royaux Joyeuse came forth with a grand announcement. There would be a night of revelry in her private quarters, a formal ball to commemorate the engagement of le Prince du Sang Amelanchier le Troisième de Lucannes to the Lady Celène Sauvette. All officers were to attend in full dress uniform. As a lowly officier subalterne, this was a rare chance to rub shoulders with the upper echelons of la noblesse militaire, and an even rarer chance to see the beautiful Capitaine Isabelle Merroux. I simply hoped not to be dazzled into foolishness by a flagship’s complement of polished brass.
The enlisted crew had also been infected by the electric atmosphere. Notices were posted, giving an evening’s leave to all non-essential staff, and parties were rapidly organized, far from the eyes and ears of the officers. Certain elements of the rank and file, the ones with musical talent, had even been given special dispensation to perform as a chamber ensemble for the officers. The sounds of viola and harpsichord drifted through the corridors long into the night as each would-be virtuoso sought to outdo the others. It was a rare privilege for them to be allowed to dine with la belle capitaine, and they knew it may never be extended again.
At last the evening came and, resplendent in the indigo serge and gold brocade of an officer of le Marine Solaire, I arrived at the Capitaine’s quarters. The band was playing La Marseillaise, and my chest swelled with pride at what we had achieved this year: The English and Dutch routed, the Spaniards banished to the Kuiper Belt, and the inner planets brought under the control of Amelanchier le Deuxième de Lucannes, le Roi Solaire. With the love of King and country burning in my heart, I cast my eyes upon Capitaine Isabelle Merroux.
She was standing before a vast window opening out onto space, the blue orb of Neptune rising behind her, and the stars glowed like faerie fire amongst her copper curls. She wore a gown of burgundy satin, lavish beyond all compare, and white satin gloves to her shoulders. Our eyes met, across the milling crowd, and I thought I saw her smile before an eddy of fellow subalternes swept me away. I tried to find her throughout the night, but too soon it grew late, and I began to despair.
It was past midnight when I made to leave. The band had struck up a waltz, a slow, sweet song by a Hungarian named Liszt from centuries before. As I turned to go, a satin-gloved hand lit upon my shoulder, and I looked up into the face of Isabelle Merroux. She smiled at me, her face aglow, and words I shall never forget slipped from her crimson lips:
“Danser avec moi, Monsieur Beaujolais?”
Time seemed to stand still. I was enthralled, enraptured by the very closeness of her. The song neared its end, and I groaned inwardly, wishing it would go on forever. As the last melodies faded away, I heard a bustle from the doorway. Turning, I saw a cadre of enlisted men as they broke through the door. Their leader leveled a meson rifle at the Capitaine and hissed through clenched teeth, “Pour la révolution!”
Automatically I pushed Isabelle away, my hand traveling to my hip. Full dress uniform included an epée. There were many of them, and better armed, but some things are worth dying for.
Author : Ian Rennie
The puddles of rainwater reflected neon and sodium up from the streets as the two men stood at the taxi rank. One waited, the other waited with him.
“Shame you have to leave so early, Tom. The evening was just getting started.”
“Sorry Jake, it’s Barney’s storytime, you know how it is with kids.”
Jake looked uncomfortable for a moment, but continued.
“You coming out this weekend? Tanya is having a party at her house. Marie’s going to be there. You know, she really likes you. All week she was asking about you and making sure you would be here tonight. I don’t think she expected you to duck out after an hour.”
“I can’t. It’s Barney’s birthday this weekend.”
The discomfort turned to dismay on Jake’s face and he put a gentle hand on Tom’s shoulder.
“Tom, mate, it’s been six years. You have to let it go. You never come out any more. I know what happened, and it’s a tragedy, but you’re letting it eat your life up.”
Tom shook the hand off. Before Jake could say any more, the next cab arrived. Tom got into it without a word, as if Jake had simply been switched off.
When he got home, the lights were off throughout the house. He stood in the dark hall and looked for a moment at the shadows lacing through the open doors of the other rooms. He tried to remember the last time he had had visitors here, then shook the thought off as irrelevant, and headed upstairs to Barney’s room.
Barney was already lying on his bed. Tom was used to the lack of blanket by now. It didn’t break the scene for him any more.
The voice was perfect, a computer recreation based on five years of recordings the house had made. In fact, everything about the projection was as close to perfect as he could get. He upgraded the software every time something better came out, and had even had some parts of it custom written. The result was as close as he could get to what he had lost.
Barney was five. He had been five for six years, now. He couldn’t get any older and Tom didn’t want him to. He pulled the book from the bedside table and started reading.
“Once upon a time,” he said, “There was a little boy…”
Author : William Tracy
“A Ham is coming!”
The news spread like wildfire. Even the adults were swept up in the excitement.
“A Ham is coming!”
The Ham came from the east in a truck. I had never seen a truck move before!
The adults eagerly asked the Ham for the news. I didn’t understand everything he said, but the Ham said that up north they had steam trains working again. The Ham and the adults talked for a long time, then they lead the Ham to where they had the sick people.
With the adults gone, we crowded around the truck. All the trucks I had seen before were rusted and broken. We used to play in them and pretend to drive to faraway lands.
But we didn’t get to play in this one. We peered through the windows and looked at the strange tools and machines inside.
The Ham came back. He looked worried. He went to a metal box in the back of the truck. He took a little piece off of it. It was connected to the rest with a little wire that was curled like a pig’s tail. He talked into the little piece, and it crackled and talked back in a strange voice.
Then the put the piece back and told the adults that a chopper was coming. This made me scared. I thought they were going to chop up the sick people into little pieces!
“I thought they didn’t have enough fuel to run choppers anymore,” Mister Barnsworth told the Ham.
“Only enough to make a run in an emergency, and this is an emergency,” the Ham answered.
After a long time, someone pointed to the sky in the south. I could see a tiny speck. As it got closer, I could hear a rumble that grew into a loud, fast, rattling drum beat. The chopper was a metal egg with a tail, with little tiny legs curled up underneath, and spinning wings on top!
The chopper landed in the middle of the town square. A wind blew out from it, blasting dust every which way. The adults crowded around the chopper, and pushed us away. Suddenly, there was shouting, and some of the women started to scream.
We climbed up the trees around the square so we could see. The people in the chopper were handing out boxes, and the adults were grabbing the boxes as fast as they could.
“What does it say on the boxes?” little Jessie asked.
I read a label out as the chopper man handed it to Mrs. Fisher. “It says ‘penicillin’.” Mrs. Fisher cried and hugged the box like it was her baby.
Then the adults brought out some of the sick people. After they carefully lifted the sick people into the chopper, the chopper floated into the sky and flew back the way it came.
The adults tried to give the Ham food and money. He wouldn’t take anything. “This is just what I do.” Then, he got into his truck.
He drove west. The sun was going down, and it set the sky on fire. His truck turned into a black dot that grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared.
I want to be a Ham when I grow up.
Author : Cal Glover-Wessel
There is a being, I have witnessed that, through some strange twist of evolutionary fate, is able to move any which way through time, but through space can only move unceasingly forward. It lives a life parallel to our own, one where “day” and “year” and “month” have no meaning, but “wall” and “tree” are the true obstacles. Material possessions mean nothing to it, because when it moves, the object will either cease to exist, or never have been created. Rarely do you see it, and when you do your mind passes it off as little more then a flicker in the light, an optical illusion. I saw it, though, and recognized it for what it was.
“Will you walk with me?” I asked.
The being laughed and said “If I were to walk with you, in the sense that I use the phrase, this conversation would be meaningless to you, seemingly with out order or sense. See, now it is you who must walk with me.”
I did so, making sure to choose a path that would remain clear for the a good long time, so as not to cause the being any distress. We walked for a time at a steady pace, for the being was unable to do anything but.
After a while, I spoke.
“It amazes me that something could be created that could simply travel to any point in time it wishes, a power far greater then I possess.”
“Nonsense,” it replied, “I envy your abilities to step sideways, or even to stop. Ahh to stop! That would be beautiful. You see, I am rarely able to fully appreciate where I am.”
“Much,” I assured it, “Is the same for humans, only slightly different, you see.”
“I suspected as much.”
We walked in silence, broken only by the sounds of the ground underneath our feet.
Suddenly it spoke.
“When you move about as you do, is there ever danger of moving in such a way that could compromise your existence?”
“Of course,” I replied, “if I don’t pay attention, I could slip and injure myself, I could fall down a pit, get struck by another moving object.”
It seemed fascinated at the possibility that two moving objects would ever collide, but before it was able to ask more questions about it, I asked my own.
“Is there a danger for you as well?” an oddly stated question, I know, but its hard to find your words in such a peculiar situation.
“Well, yes, there is always the danger of going to a time when you are not. Or coming to a place when something else already is, because you will cancel each other out.”
“No you don’t, but I will pretend you do, for both our sakes.”
We walked in silence again, this time longer then the last. On our path before us, I spotted a tree. My time was short, and this brought another question to mind.
“How will you get around it?”
“Simple, I will just go to a time when it isn’t there and continue on my way.”
When it said it like that, it was simple.
“I must be going now.” it stated.
“Good luck, then. Will we ever meet again?”
It glanced at me, briefly, for the first time on our walk.
“We always do.”
And with that, it began to fade.