Dream Wave

Author : Moebius

There are six of us huddled together in the pallid, bluish light of the spacious galley. Tense, wiry and sallow. We sit together in a disjointed approximation of camaraderie. I don’t know any of the faces around me and I am afraid to make any connections. Our eyes shift nervously around the room. Not a pair makes contact with any of the others.

The baggy sleeves of my deflated dream suit drags across the scratched steel surface. Chamomile does nothing to calm my nerves. I focus involuntarily on a dent in the table top. It creases and becomes a grimaced snarl. The surface splits viciously open into cruel steel maw that leaps up at me.

She sounds like a very pleasant woman. The synthesized voice over the annunciator instructs us to return to our posts and re-commence our attack. I blink down at my thin, bony fingers on the table, covering up the dent. A face reflects back and it takes a moment to recognize the gaunt, horrified stare as my own.

After you push in and turn the umbilicus connector, the entire socket retracts and the bio-gel starts pumping into the body suit. The others are already in their skeletal frame seats. I prefer to have the serous fluid half inflate before I lock down. A spasm shakes through the woman on my right as she inhales the fluid into her lungs. The hiss of the noise cancellation device mutes all other sounds and the hexagonal room imperceptibly fades into dusk. The floatation properties of the dream suit offer only a brief sanctuary.

My eye balls dissolve into their cranial sockets from the insides of my skull, eaten away by a thousand maggots spewing acid. Flesh dries and cracks, burning puss oozes out, peeling the muscles off my blackened frame, exposing the charred hardened viscera entombed in my rib cage. A gurgling disembodied scream explodes, sending a shockwave of horror through the system.

Infinitesimal pin pricks make biochemical connections that convert the neuro-electrical signals of my nightmares into psychic images that can be broadcast down to the planet’s surface as an aggressive form of gamma waves. Our ship, Namtar, maintains a geosynchronous orbit with the dark side of their world. We have been here for almost a year.

In another year the biological agents will be released to destroy the staple crops and food supplies, and then the economic embargo will start. Only after the third year can the High Command determine if military action is a necessary recourse.

We are merely the first wave of the invasion.

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One Thin Dime

Author : Bradley Hughes

E=mc2. The most famous formula ever. Not that there’s been a lot of competition. Einstein’s formula reveals that matter is just one of many forms of energy. Energy is what gets you out of bed in the morning, and energy is what leaves a bruise if you fall on your face in the late afternoon.

Matter is just a form of energy: a new battery will have just the teensiest tiniest more mass now, than when it has run down. If you pull back on a bow, you are adding energy to it, and so the bow has infinitesimally more mass when it’s taunt, than when it’s relaxed. Even for something really energetic, like a thermonuclear explosion the amount of mass involved isn’t very big. If you collected all the detritus from a 25 megaton bomb after the explosion, you would only be missing one kilogram of mass, and an average sized city. One kilogram is probably close to the mass of that first stone used to help kill that first antelope, so very long ago.

But if you go the other way around, and instead of considering the amount of mass in energy, but the amount of energy you can get from a certain mass, then you’re talking.

Think about all the energy your body uses in a day: getting up, walking, climbing stairs, pumping blood, breathing, thinking, remembering. All of that energy is stored as chemical potential energy for a while before you use it. Most of it dissipates as heat, some of it becomes motion, some becomes thought. If you could get all of that energy from converting mass into energy, how much mass would you need? If, instead of eating and breathing, you could directly convert mass to energy for your whole life, how much extra mass would you need to carry around with you?

If you lived to be eighty, you would only need a couple thousandths of a gram. That’s the mass contained in one thousandth of one thin dime. Remember every challenge you’ve surpassed, or run away from; remember every thought, every passion, every need – all of it combined took less energy then is contained in the material missing from a scuff on a dime.

If you were a perfect machine, and you wanted to live among us, you would need to pass as human. You would need to appear to breathe, your blood would pump, your glands would sweat, so you would use about the same amount of energy as we do. But you wouldn’t need to power yourself from air and food. With the right technology, you could convert mass directly to energy. You could live for eighty thousand years on a dime.

You could live among us, observe us and compile your observations for almost as long as there have been humans. Almost ten times as long as we have lived in settled communities and nearly twenty times as long as we have lived in cities. For a quarter, you could live for almost two hundred thousand years. That’s as long as we’ve existed as a species. If you waited to join us until we started building cities, today you’d still have one hundred ninety five thousand years left. That’s plenty of time to live as we do, to love as we do, and to study. Then, when our species’ time has come to an end, there will still be plenty of time to reach your conclusions, and to take them home.

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The Library

Author : Mark Shillaker

It had taken Perry all night to find the library. It was a pile of rubble of course but these days the whole city lay in ruins. Perry had only ever known dust and smashed concrete but his grandfather remembered cities with streets and skies filled with people and machines.

‘There ought to be books..’, Perry murmured and began climbing what had once been the main steps. Something moved at the edge of his vision and for a sickening heartbeat he thought he might have seen a drone, they sometimes hovered silently along the dead streets, looking for squatters. Instinct hurled him into a nearby hole under a huge, cracked slab of masonry – he hit his head and blacked out.

It was noon when Perry awoke. He put his hand to his head to find his hair matted with dried blood, it had glued his left eye shut and he worked at it carefully until it finally opened. His head ached dully around the wound, he felt sick and there was a roaring in his ears. He smiled to himself about the drone; it must have been a dog or something. If he’d seen a drone he’d have been dead before he’d had time to move. He peered over the lip of the crater and looked around, he needed to get home or he’d soon be missed. He had a momentary vision of his mother frantically searching the ruined city and felt a cold rush of anxiety.

A shadow passed over the sun and Perry realized with a start that the roaring in his ears was in fact the sound of engines. The dirigible hung above him like a huge circular cloud, nearly 100 meters across, it reminded him of the glass lens he used for burning ants on hot afternoons. It was grey and beneath its centre hung a cylindrical, metal gondola draped in cables and devices, a giant woman’s face smiled down from a screen that took up nearly half the area behind the forward edge of the vast disk. As Perry inched backwards a huge voice, it’s tone incongruously warm and reasonable, boomed from the face.

“THIS AREA HAS BEEN DESIGNATED FOR RECLAMATION AS WETLAND HABITAT- DEMOLITION AND CLEARANCE WILL BEGIN IN 24 HOURS- ALL SQUATTERS AND UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS MUST LEAVE. YOUR CONTINUED PRESENCE RAVAGES YOUR MOTHERS BODY – A TERRIBLE CRIME.”

Perry huddled in shadow while the voice went on like a parent scolding a child:

“THE STEWARDS DISOWN YOU, DESPOILERS! – SOON YOUR BODIES WILL GIVE UP THEIR FRUITLESS FIGHT FOR LIFE AND SINK INTO THE GROUND AS NOURISHMENT! REJOIN YOUR MOTHER! CAN YOU DO OTHERWISE?”

The face flickered and the message repeated. Suddenly, beneath the great screen an aperture appeared and two black shapes silently emerged – drones. They dropped like stones to what would once have been rooftop level and hovered quite still, gleaming black machines like huge, fat flies. Perry knew at once they were scanning the area for heat signatures or movement. Every squatter learned early that six inches of concrete might hide his warmth from drones and he pressed back into the hole, dust stinging his throat. After an agonizing wait he heard a low whine as the drones moved off across the city and after a few minutes a brief rattle of gunfire and two dull ‘Whumps!’ as a couple of Smart Darts inevitably found their targets.

Perry risked a look over the edge of his hiding place – the dirigible had moved off and the drones were otherwise occupied. He wondered if the next town would have a library.

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Experiment

Author : Guy Leaver

Ellison looked at Anstis, then back down at the person lying on the bed.

“And you say he’s been like this for hours?” he asked. Anstis grinned and nodded.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Ellison was beyond words. There had been several advances in the field of body alteration recently, but they were all minor compared to this. Ellison himself could barely cause discolouration of the skin on his hand, and he was considered to be among the best. The sheer willpower Mauvy must be employing for such an extreme change must be mindblowing. He shook his head and leaned down to take a closer look.

“Hey Mauvy,” he said, quietly, “How did you do it?”

“He won’t talk,” said Anstis, also leaning forward, “Hasn’t done since he started.”

“Oh,” Ellison was slightly disappointed, “I guess he needs to concentrate as much as he can.”

“Hardly surprising,” Anstis beamed, “This is an absolute breakthrough! No one has ever been able to change themselves so much!” Ellison was forced to agree.

“Or for so long,” he added. “When do you think he’ll stop?”

“Who knows?” said Anstis, “Strange thing is, I can’t work out why he went for this particular change. He wasn’t studying anything like this. All his work was with growth.”

“That’s Mauvy for you.” Ellison was used to not knowing how his friend thought. Mauvy always had something up his sleeve. Doubtless, he’d been planning this for weeks. Still, he thought, odd choice of experiment. To make oneself nearly rigid, the skin so pale, and so cold! Ellison couldn’t get over the cold.

Silently, they both stood and contemplated the enormity of the experiment. Finally, in a moment of mutual resignation, the two immortals looked up at one another and shrugged. They’d just have to wait.

“Come to central when you’ve finished, Mauvy,” said Ellison, looking down at the corpse of his friend, “The others will be excited to hear what you’ve discovered.”

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Aliens Overboard

Author : Viktor Kuprin

After the battle of Attalus III was lost, we retreated with the Tsoor flotilla. Wreckage streamed off the alien ships as we made the mind-wrenching transition into S-space. I prayed that our cruiser wouldn’t shake apart.

It was only a micro-jump, just far enough to escape the attacking Helgrammites. The Tsoor group-leader didn’t believe our damaged ships could survive an extended flight. He or she or whatever was right. Three bulkheads ruptured when we re-entered normal space. I hoped no one was in them.

A bridge officer called out that we had forty percent casualties and sixty percent of our systems were red-lined. He had to shout. All intraship comm was offline.

A tech yelled, “What are they doing? Captain!” I shouldn’t have but I and everyone else looked away from our consoles to see the main viewer.

It was a Tsoor ship, surrounded by St. Elmo’s fire. Without waiting for the warp flux to dissipate, our alien allies had sent a repair team onto their hull. They looked like four jellyfish in bubble-domed vac suits as they struggled on a safety tether. Insane! Yes, Tsoor biology is different than ours. But I knew they weren’t immune from electrocution or radiation. What could kill us was lethal to them, too.

“They’re desperate to send a damage-control team out like that,” the captain said. He nodded toward the chief-of-the-ship. “Send a runner to engineering. We’ve … ” The Tsoor ship lurched off the screen as an entire section of its hull exploded. We watched in silence as the four aliens were thrown into space. They flashed past our ship, tumbling and spinning.

The captain stood and shouted, “Man overboard! Full retros!” He turned to face me. “Can we launch a cutter?”

The launch tubes were clear and operational. “Yes, sir.”

“Take Sergeant Kuzmenko with you. Go!”

Our forward inertia was great, and the cutter’s engines burned at full thrust for what seemed like an hour before we approached the alien cast-offs. No one knew how much atmosphere the Tsoor vac suits carried.

Kuzmenko and I stood in the open hatch and shot a line toward the four aliens. A tentacle-like arm caught it.

The alien farthest away raised one of its tentacles. It held some kind of metallic tool, a small blade. With a single motion, it slashed the line and pushed off from its three companions.

“What in bloody hell is it doing?” I cried. By then the first Tsoor grasped their way into the airlock. I pulled them inside.

Kuzmenko pointed toward the drifting alien. “That one wants to die. And that won’t do.” He keyed his suit’s propulsion and launched himself into space. The alien struggled briefly. Kuzmenko was stronger.

We never learned why that Tsoor went suicidal. Warrior’s honor, shock, or grief … no one knew. Our cutter had no Tsoor-Russki translator. And the aliens would never tell us.

Nonetheless, by the end of the day every Tsoor in the flotilla knew and honored the name Kuzmenko.

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