Author : Denni schnapp
Oil painted rainbows on the pavement. Franklin coughed as he dragged Chrissy behind him.
“Keep your mask up,” he rasped, holding his own to his mouth with his free hand. The fumes made his eyes sting.
He paused, squinting. “Not–” Deep breath “Far. Now.”
His daughter remained silent, holding his hand as he resumed at a gentler pace.
The wind picked up, clearing some of the smog to reveal the silhouette of the Outer Settlement. There would be people, and air clean enough to breathe.
A sudden glare made him stop, Chrissy colliding with the heavy cloth of his coat. He pulled her behind him.
“Who are you? Where are you going?” a metallic voice rang out.
“Franklin Howards and my daughter Chrissy. Please–the bombs…”
The bombs had killed almost everyone before going on to poison the land.
“There’s no room! Leave the kid.” The latter an afterthought.
Chrissy clung tightly to his arm.
The bombs hadn’t killed her mother; cancer had seen to that. At another time there might have been kindly relatives, perhaps help from the government, but with millions struggling all that remained for Franklin was to return to the refinery, taking his daughter to live in one of the prefabs with their thin walls barely keeping out the noise and smell.
There had once been a forest, cut down during the building work. Only a few patches of shaggy grass remained. The kids had to play indoors. Not that there were many: another girl and two boys, all with wheezy coughs. Franklin couldn’t remember their names; he saw little of his daughter, let alone the other kids. By the age of twelve, they would be sent away to school-workcamp.
When the bombs fell, Chrissy had just turned eleven.
“Please, we’re just passing through!” Franklin fought for breath, inhaling deeply so that he could speak with a loud and confident voice. Don’t let them hear us wheeze.
“You people are always passing through.”
“We’re on our way to the harbour.”
“Ha! And where, pray, would you go from there?”
Franklin winced. Not in front of Chrissy. But his daughter gave no indication that she had understood, her eyes wide as she stared at the light.
“Give us the kid if you want, but you make your own luck.”
For a heartbeat time stood still. The school-workcamp was in the Outer Settlement. Chrissy would be better off there, with kids her own age.
“Leave the kid and go.”
Chrissy seemed to come to her senses. She tugged at his sleeve and Franklin stumbled back. After a few paces the beam cut off. They had rejoined the twilight zone and were of no further interest.
The sky was streaked with gold up where the soot couldn’t reach. The light settled on his daughter’s face. Franklin crouched.
“Chrissy, I want you to be safe…”
“Daddy, don’t go!” The mask distorted her voice.
He swallowed a lump in his throat. “Don’t you want to see–,” dammit, what was the boy’s name? “–Ollie again?”
“Ali,” she sniffled. Good, she was listening.
“I meant Ali. And the other kids that have left for school?” Workcamp.
Chrissy blinked and nodded. Brave girl.
“Come with me, Daddy!” She was keening.
There was no point trying to make her understand. If she was to have any future, he had no choice. He rose abruptly, holding her so tightly that it hurt him, but what hurt most was that she did not try to struggle.
The glare returned as he stepped over the perimeter. They stood motionless, waiting for the patrol to pick her up.
Author : Bill Richman
Bobby had always been a little different. His family felt it. So did the neighborhood children. His friends would have felt it too, if he’d had any. Of course, the other kids were quick to pick up on his oddities and use them to taunt him. He was used to that. Still, why did he have to hide what he felt? His longing to be accepted made him easy prey for those adults who knew what to look for and weren’t afraid to exploit it. Frank Martin was no exception. As a grounds keeper at the park, Frank saw a lot of kids every day, but his interests were very specific. As soon as he saw Bobby, he knew they were alike. It was only a matter of showing a little interest and acting a little bit friendly. Not too friendly, because that was dangerous. Just enough to pique the boy’s curiosity and draw him nearer.
“Hi!” Frank called to the boy, smiling and waving invitingly. “I’ve seen you around, and you look like maybe you could use someone to talk to.”
“M…me…?” stammered Bobby, looking around as though he expected the man to be addressing someone else.
“Yeah, you,” Frank chuckled nervously, glancing around to make sure no one was taking notice of them. “I’ve been watching you. I’ve seen the way you act. I know what you’re feeling. Do you want to come over to my house on Saturday? I think you’ll like it,” Frank blurted, knowing that he was going way too fast, but desperately afraid that he’d lose his nerve otherwise. “Of course, it’ll have to be our little secret,” he whispered, almost pleading.
“Um… well… I guess so…” Bobby mumbled, so stunned by the attention that it never occurred to him to wonder why someone like Frank would take so much interest in a boy like him.
“G…good…” stammered Frank, suddenly scared to death at what he’d just set in motion. “H…here’s my address. P…please don’t t…t…tell anyone wh…where you’re going.” With a trembling hand, he gave Bobby a small scrap of paper.
The lazy silence of Saturday afternoon was broken by a loud pounding and an angry voice shouting, “Police! Open the door!” Before Frank could do more than stand up and turn around, the door was thrown open, and an officer lunged into the room, followed closely by Bobby’s parents.
“What are you doing with my son?!?” screamed Bobby’s mother.
“I’ll kill you, you bastard!” shouted his father.
The officer pushed Frank roughly aside, revealing Bobby and another boy sprawled in full view on the couch, leaving little doubt as to what had been going on.
“Bobby!! What has he done to you?!?” wailed his mother.
“M…m…mom…? D…dad? It’s not his f…f…fault. I…I’ve felt this way for a long t…t…time now. Mu..mis… mister Martin is my f…friend.”
“Bobby? What the hell are you talking about, son? We raised you better than that!” moaned his father.
“D…d…dad? I… I’m s…sorry, bu..but it’s t…t…true,” Bobby sobbed. “I… I’m… a… a… r…r…READER!”
“Mister Martin, I’m placing you under arrest for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, possession of illegal materials, and teaching without a license. You’ll have to come with me,” snapped the officer, reaching for his handcuffs.
The well-worn copy of “Tom Sawyer” hit the floor with a crack like a judge’s gavel.
Author : Chis Sharkey
The sign read:
P.B. FARNSWORTH’S TRAVELLING CIRCUS PRESENTS:
THE MYSTERIOUS HOVER-CAT
WITNESS THIS MYSTICAL CREATURE OF GRAVITY-DEFYING MAJESTY
THREE NIGHTS ONLY
OCT. 5TH, 6TH, AND 8TH
Special Agent Smith studied it intently. The font was, of course, overly dramatic and flourished across the paper. The sign included an artist’s rendition of “Hover-Cat”, depicting a tabby hovering over a podium, surrounded by an orange glow. Down at the bottom, in small lettering was the disclaimer :”Tickets not refundable”. Smith activated his mouthpiece hidden in his shirt cuff.
“Control this looks like the place. Request permission to proceed.”
“Permission granted,” chirped the voice in his ear piece, “Remember Agent Smith, this mission is recon only. Apprehension is not authorized at this time.”
Smith approached the smiling young woman at the ticket booth.
“One, please,” he said with a smile.
“That’ll be six dollars,” the ticket lady replied.
Smith took his ticket and proceeded into the tent where the show was to be held. It was fairly empty. That was good, it allowed Smith to get a front row seat, making a bio-scan more accurate.
Taking a seat, Smith pulled the bio-scanner, cleverly disguised as a pair of glasses, from his jacket pocket and put it on. The readout, visible only to Smith, displayed in front of him. Scanner Active. Smith touched his watch, remotely activating the scanner. He waited a few seconds, and a new display popped up in view. Scan Complete, No Signs of Alien Lifeforms.
The circus tent started to fill up, and finally the show began. Smith watched intently as the emcee entered the center ring with his assistant, an attractive young woman. Between them, a cloth draped over what looked like a podium. With much flourish and build-up, the emcee finally pulled back the cloth, revealing a cat sitting a top a podium, surrounded by a glass bell. Lifting the bell, the emcee warned the audience to prepare themselves for what they were about to see.
As Smith watched, the cat lifted into the air effortlessly and started hovering towards the audience. Ignoring the “ooos” and “ahhs” as the cat flew over audience members’ heads, Smith touched his watch again, keeping his eyes intently on “Hover-Cat”. After a few moments, the display read: Scan Complete, Extra-Terrestrial Life Confirmed. Remaining calm, Smith activated his mouthpiece.
“Control, I have positive I.D. Request permission to apprehend.”
After a long pause, “We have received the results of the bio-scan. Permission to apprehend granted. Use of deadly forced is NOT authorized.”
Smith immediately stood up and walked out of the tent and around to the back, where the performers would exit after the show. He spotted the emcee about a half hour later, holding a live animal carrier.
“Halt!” he yelled, “F.B.I. I need what you have in that cage!”
The emcee took of running, cage in hand. Smith took off after him.
“Control, I have a runner headed towards rear exit, request immediate assist!” he yelled into his mouthpiece.
He followed the emcee into the rear parking lot, where five F.B.I. vehicles were already waiting. Smith saw his partner Johnson jump out of the lead SUV and tackle the runner. Smith caught up moments later.
“Good job,” Smith said.
“Thanks to you,” replied Johnson, “Confirm this is the life form?”
Smith peered into the animal carrier. He nodded.
“Confirm. Positive I.D.”
“Good,” said Johnson, “Let’s get it back to the lab.”
Author : Chris Sharkey
“Call it,” Doctor Knight instructed excitedly.
“Call it?” Han replied inquisitively.
“Yeah, call it. Heads or tails?”
“You asked me to come down here for a coin toss?” Han was skeptical. Doctor Knight almost always had some ulterior motive.
“Of course not,” replied Knight, “I’m trying to demonstrate my latest scientific breakthrough. Come on, call it, heads or tails?” he repeated, lifting his right hand to view the quarter sitting on top of his left.
Han hesitated. The doctor’s insistence worried him. Having known Bishop Knight, PhD for almost five years, Han had come to appreciate his penchant for brilliant discoveries. Of course, the good doctor’s cunning intellect came with the usual eccentricities exhibited by the extraordinarily brilliant, but Han had never seen him get this excited over something so trivial as a simple coin toss.
“Heads or tails?” Doctor Knight started growing impatient.
The doctor grinned.
“What do you suppose your chances of being right are?” He asked without revealing the coin.
“I dunno, fifty-fifty?”
“Hm, not quite,” said Knight,”But close enough for the purposes of this demonstration.”
Lifting his right hand, Doctor Knight revealed the quarter, laying face up. Han just stared, waiting for the doctor to explain his demonstration.
“As you can see,” said Knight, “this coin is not on tails. If we had set a wager, you could have lost something of significant value.”
“Well, fortunately for me, I’m not a gambling man,” Han replied sarcastically.
“Of course you aren’t, and neither am I, which is why I asked you to come here. What if I told you it were possible to increase your chances beyond fifty-fifty?”
Han blinked, not certain he had heard the doctor correctly.
“I don’t follow,” he said simply.
“Assume, for a moment,” continued the doctor, “that your odds of correctly guessing which side the coin lands are fifty-fifty. Without manipulating the coin in some fashion, those odds will never tip in your favor. What if I told you that your chances could be increased without doing anything to the coin?”
“Enough with the hypotheticals, doctor. What are you getting at?”
“Luck, my dear friend,” Knight said with a smile, “I’ve discovered a way to manipulate a person’s luck.”
“Yes, as in increase or decrease the amount of luck any one person has.”
“But that’s impossible,” exclaimed Han, “Luck is not a quantifiable attribute. Hell, it’s not even scientifically possible to prove luck exists. It just a term, used by the superstitious to explain the unexplainable events in their lives.”
“Those are the kind of assumptions that prevent scientists from making breakthroughs such as these,” countered Knight, “If your mind is already closed to the possibility, why would you explore it. I, however, was not so deterred and posited that luck can be quantified, and ultimately, manipulated. It took years of dedicated research, but a last I have a breakthrough. Allow me to demonstrate.”
With the last sentence, Doctor Knight handed Han the coin.
“Toss it,” he instructed.
Han wasn’t sure if he was impressed or bewildered. After an hour of coin-tossing, Knight hadn’t been wrong once. After the first thirty, Han had started using the change in his own pocket and had even moved to the other side of the room, just to make sure the good doctor wasn’t playing a practical joke.
“Okay,” Han said finally, “Now will you show me how you did it?”
“Of course,” said Knight with a grin, “Just after I return from my vacation.”
“I see,” said Han disappointedly. “Where are you going?”
“Vegas, my dear friend.”
Author : Brian Armitage
Iskerreth stood before the assembly, manacled. The humans looked on, waiting. Listening. All was imminently silent. The Korrosk soldier straightened his back, his muscles shifting under his scales, his head quills flat against his scalp. He pressed his elbows together in a show of humility, and spoke.
“I have fought against and killed your brothers. I deserve death, and am… dumbfounded that I am here, alive. Even to speak before you, humans of authority.”
His bright orange eyes with their horizontal slit pupils scanned the Solar Congress, his audience. The gills on Iskerreth’s neck, bright purple when they opened, fluttered with anxiety.
“A slave is sold, and goes to his death. Korrosk are bred for numbers, not for strength. Our lives have little meaning, and our deaths none. We have fought and died without honor for… too many generations. The Veleura command, and the Korrosk obey.
“So many that we have fought are slaves, as we are.” The alien stopped suddenly. His tail came to rest, and his gills stilled. His head bowed low. “We were not prepared for Earth.” It was a moment before he spoke again.
“Our masters gave us your communications. We listened to you as we fought. As I… shot down your fighters, I heard one of your commanders.” With a deep breath, Ishkerreth raised his head. “For a moment, he sounded like our masters, saying, ‘Do you want them to die for nothing? Fight on!’ But when he spoke again, I was shaken. He said…” The warrior’s shoulders began to shake.
“He said, ‘they volunteered for this.’”
The Korrosk soldier shuddered, tilted back his head, and roared, a deep vibrato from the depth of his chest. Only barely audible was the gasp from the crowd. He clutched his head in his hands.
“They chose the fight! They chose! A choice the Korrosk have never been given. And we never shall, unless…”
Iskerreth’s quills rattled against his scaled head. The Korrosk lifted his eyes to his audience, and dropped to his knees. His gills again began to flutter.
“We beg you. We beg you… give us the choice. Only allow us the chance to choose, and we will serve you. Never have we chosen our fight. Never have we died with honor. Allow us… the choice. If you do… I offer you the oath. The oath we are made to swear to our masters.”
He raised a clenched fist to the very center of his chest, above his heart. His entire body shook. Then, Ishkerreth opened his mouth and bellowed the oath, with zeal:
“We will trade the years of our lives for a moment of yours! We will trade a sea of our blood for a drop of yours! We fight at your pleasure! We die at your wish! Send us, and we will go! For…” For a moment, he choked. His breath heaved once, and he shouted ever louder, “For the honor of the fallen!”
And he fell quiet, head bowed. Silence. The warrior sobbed once, and was still. He slowly regained his feet and lifted his head.
“If any of you would stoop low and stand alongside us, I-”
The entire audience rose to its feet. 80,000 humans and Korrosk stood, just as the Solar Congress had stood together those hundred years ago. The great hologram of Ishkerreth in the center of the stadium looked around on all sides, awestruck.
From his private booth, Moshkerreth raised a clenched fist to his heart. His wife squeezed his hand, her pink skin soft against his scaled fingers.
“Happy Allegiance Day, Mr. President,” she said.