Author : Hannah F.
The man of Saiyen was small and nervous-looking, not nearly as mystical as I expected, wandering into these ancient strongholds; like a Peasant or maybe a half-blood Noble boy, the kind that spent the days with their faces in paper.
â€œIs that a crossbow? Fascinating,â€ he said hurriedly. This was a panic reaction; I let him go, knowing sooner or later heâ€™d run out of chatter and shut his teeth. â€œObviously the surveillance devices havenâ€™t been working but weâ€™d theorized that the environment lacked enough stability for your society to develop even this kind of basic automation in your projectile weaponsâ€¦â€ He was sweating and I had to chew my tongue to avoid a grin. Iâ€™d only caught about half of that â€˜cos of his accent, but I understood the important part. He didnâ€™t know what I wanted, so heâ€™d started to babble, hoping Iâ€™d latch onto some topic and get the bolt out of his face more quickly.
I took a careful step back and laid the weapon down, still drawn and dangerous. The Saiyentist looked at it blankly. He knew what it was and what it was for, could wager what itâ€™d feel like if I used it, but didnâ€™t seem eager to try wresting it from me.
Eyes on him I unlaced the hard-hide pouch at my belt and lifted the cloth-wrapped vial from it. The glass tube and its case were from my uncle, a gift after my Modding. Heâ€™d dug it from the ruins of a building like this one, an eerily smooth white shell heâ€™d never been able to find again.
â€œI want more of this,â€ I said, and folded back the soft, thick wool, cupping the thing in my hand in case the small man tried to snatch it, or dash it to the floor. The crossbow, though, cautioned him and he merely regarded the light-blue liquid with wide eyes.
â€œWhere did you get that?â€ he began, but changed his mind when he saw the look in my eyes. â€œDo you know what it is?â€
â€œIâ€™ve been told itâ€™s a poison, but only to certain natures. Wonâ€™t slay a man, but itâ€™ll break down a dragon to its elements in under an arc.â€
â€œItâ€™s an emergency denaturing solution. It works by breaking down the chemicals in the cells and-â€ I was curious as a kitten but I mustâ€™ve looked impatient. â€œThe important thing is, it works the way you say it does. Which is why weâ€™ve kept it here in Obbsreg. But if you brought back a significant amount- even if we had a significant amount- it would interfere with the Ancestral Plan. As much as Iâ€™d like to help you Iâ€™m as bound by my forebears as you are.â€ He frowned. â€œYou shouldnâ€™t even be here, of course…â€
â€œWait.â€ If I had understood what he just said, I was about to be very, very angry. â€œYou mean your ancestors are responsible for keeping the drake-poison from my people?â€ I tied off the laces of my pouch and retrieved my crossbow. â€œAnd you justâ€¦ what? Study us?â€
The Saiyentist frowned at that, in spite of the terror thatâ€™d returned to his face. After a moment puzzling my assumption out, he began to laugh. I could do nothing but stare as he worked out his panic in a giggle-fit, wiping tears from eyes that were still wide â€˜cos of the proximity of my crossbow to his gut.
â€œWho said anything about my ancestors being responsible for this?â€
I was going to have one hell of a tale, whenever I got home. â€œTell me everything.â€
Author : Kenyon Applebee & Bridget Webb
The stark woman set the blue incandescent lamp on a nearby crate and turned off her flashlight. â€œâ€¦Erin, would you like to sleep in a real bed again?â€ She wore black â€“ military cut. The figures behind her were similarly dressed. They guarded the decaying elementary school as if against attack, though Erin couldnâ€™t imagine these people hiding from street thugs like sheâ€™d had to.
Erin, scared, couldnâ€™t stand. â€œWho are you? How do you know my name?â€
â€œâ€¦How would you like to see your little sister again?â€
Erinâ€™s lower lip trembled, â€œKitty?â€
Kitty had disappeared in the Newman Hill attack with the rest of her family. â€œYou are the Terrorists!â€
â€œâ€¦I suppose we are. Youâ€™re fourteen?â€
â€œWhat do you want?â€
â€œWe want you to let us take care of you. How long have you been out here? Two weeks?â€
â€œThrough all the fighting and the burning?â€
Tears began burning in Erinâ€™s eyes. It had been a nightmare. Sheâ€™d found no one to turn toâ€¦but… â€œYou killed my parents!â€ she yelled, exploding to her feet.
A gun shifted in the darkness, aimed at her.
â€œWe did. But we did not kill you, or your sister. And you are the reason I am here. If you stay out here, you will die. Have you been raped yet?â€
Erin could not answer. She wanted to scream, to attack the woman, butâ€¦ the guns.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter. We are not terrorists; we are,â€ pausing, â€œ’international referees.’ We step in to stop egregious abuses of power, by becoming very skilled and very powerful. Education is very important here, isnâ€™t it? It determines your social class. You are currently service class, no?â€
â€œWere you going to be service class your whole life, like your parents?â€
â€œNo. I amâ€¦ wasâ€¦ going to test into…â€ The absurdity of talking so casually to this woman struck her.
â€œâ€¦Now you want me to join you, after you killed my parents, and sabotaged my country. What gives you the right to â€˜Refereeâ€™ everyone? To kill people?!â€
The woman leaned smugly against the crates. â€œPeople kill each other every day. Sometimes you fight fire with fire. Besides, we donâ€™t consider ourselves human. Not homo-sapiens anyway. Not anymore.â€
â€œYou use Forbidden Science,â€ Erin murmured.
â€œGenetic enhancements. We can give you some, if you like. Enhanced intelligence, coordination, strength â€“ everything youâ€™d need to make the world better.â€
â€œHowâ€¦ how do you get away with it?
â€œNo, Erin. The question is, are you coming with us? Our offer is grander than your wildest dreams. If you say no, we disappear. Now, choose.â€
Erin hesitated. Sounds from outside filled the silence between them; a radio blaring, engines, a car alarm. About a block away, there was breaking glass followed by laughter. â€œOk.â€
They lead her onto the glidercraft parked on the soccer field. The woman hung back, pressed the transmitter below her ear. â€œOpal to Turquoise, I have a newborn.â€
â€œRoger, Opal. Thatâ€™s eight of eleven. Excellent work. Bring them in.â€
Author : Viktor Kuprin
The priestâ€™s pointed helmet hung at his side. His vac suit was completely black.
Engineer Beketov didnâ€™t get it. It was too strange, too â€¦ medieval. The holy man waved the crucifix over the salt package and recited a prayer. Beketov had been told the salt was for cooking a lamb stew that would be shared by all the dockyardâ€™s techs and engineers.
â€œFather Toyan, itâ€™s time for us to EVA. Letâ€™s go.â€ The priest nodded and followed to the airlock.
â€œHow far did you travel to get here?â€ Beketov asked.
â€œFrom Earth, from the Great Ararat Monastery, to be exact.â€ The priestâ€™s voice was reedy, and his beard bunched against the visor of his strangely-shaped helmet.
â€œIâ€™ve never been to Earth,â€ said the engineer. â€œFather, Iâ€™m curious, why is your helmet peaked on top? When other priests visit the station, their helmets arenâ€™t like yours.â€
â€œPriests who are not married wear these, my son. The peak symbolizes our dedication to the Lord,â€ he explained.
The airlock hatch slid open, and the bright light of Dustriâ€™s star made their visors darken. They slowly moved toward the dockyards, their bootsâ€™ magnetic soles clicking with each step.
â€œHow long have you been working in the yards, my son?â€
Beketov laughed. â€œClose to a year, but it seems like forever, Father. The one weâ€™re going to was just an empty shell with I first arrived. Look at him now.â€
One of the dumb servo-mechanoids rumbled toward them. Beketov gently grasped the priestâ€™s shoulder to stop him from entering its path. It wobbled past with no sign of notice.
â€œFather Toyan, no disrespect, but how do you feel about this? Coming all the way out here to, well, to bless â€¦â€
â€œAn engine of destruction? Actually, the churchâ€™s blessing is for the crew, to humbly ask God for their safety and protection, and that they will always be in His grace.â€
As they walked, Beketov watched the priestâ€™s gold crucifix sparkle in the starlight. A transparent pouch filled with small plastic globlets hung from his belt: Holy Water for the ceremony.
â€œHere he is, Father.â€ Beketov could see people watching them, crowded together in the observation blisters and viewports surrounding the dockyard.
â€œAre you a believer, Engineer Beketov?â€ the priest asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know, Father. Sometimes itâ€™s hard not to be when you look up and see all this,â€ the engineer said, pointing toward the stars. â€œI do know that a man needs all the help he can get, right?â€
Toyan nodded. â€œFair enough. Now, if you will, let us pray.â€ The priest keyed the comm controls on his suit sleeve and began to broadcast.
â€œAlmighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people. Guide, I pray, all the worlds and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace â€¦ â€
The priest made the sign of the cross in front of the new starshipâ€™s gigantic gray hull.
Author : Eric Willey
The Colony Ship New Eden moved closer to the world that was her destination as the last pilot opened the door to a murderer.
“You can’t kill me. No one else to fly this crate.” He turned and walked over to his personal kitchenette, poured two cups of coffee and didn’t bother to look back at the gun before asking, “Cream, sugar?”
“None for me, thanks. And you’re overestimating your value to this mission.” The killer moved into the room and kept the gun centered on his target as the pressurized door automatically slid shut.
He leaned against the counter and blew gently on the coffee before taking a sip. “No. Stevens fell down the stairwell and broke his neck. Hodgkins had that rather unfortunate suicide business. And Yates isn’t fully trained. Which makes me the only one who can navigate this boat to and then land on New Providence Five.”
“Wrong again. Stevens was pushed down a stairwell and had his neck broken. Hodgkins was strung up from that plasma conduit after he died. And Mister Yates is currently in the simulator, doing a very credible impersonation of a man with two gunshot wounds to the head. You died the second you opened the door.”
“Wait…” They both winced as the gun exploded in the small room. A second sound cut through the ringing in their ears as the coffee cup hit the floor. He walked across the room and put the remaining four bullets into the body of the last pilot, tossed his gun on the corpse and walked out. He wouldn’t need the gun anymore anyway.
There would be an investigation of course, for the sake of appearances. No one would ever figure out he did it, because it was something they all wanted to do. With the last pilot dead, they could all breathe a sigh of relief. Their great grandparents had set out for New Providence Five over 104 years ago, looking for a new world. They died long ago, of old age and the myriad ailments that came with time.
Their descendants had never known a life other than the one they had aboard the colony ship. A life where the ship took care of everything, where there was no need to harvest crops or dig ditches. He went back to his room, washed his hands, laid down on his bed and looked at the titanium sky above him until he fell asleep.
The New Eden slipped silently through space without a destination. The crew were already home, and they weren’t going anywhere.
Author : Clifford Hebner
They met at the Imperial Academy, her slight and boyish, the youngest woman ever admitted, and he old, with the face and toothy grin of an ape. They were outcast, too young or old to be useful to anyone, but by the time she accepted her first commission, serving as ensign on a tiny scout ship, their legend had already started to grow. When she was promoted to the Captaincy, and given her own battleship, it was his ancient Admiralâ€™s hands that pressed the pin to her breast and drew the ceremonial drops of blood, said to seal sailor to Emperor forever.
History, in its wisdom, called the rebellion inevitable, the Emperorâ€™s arrogance and madness driving fully a third of his armies from him in desperate revolt. The rebels, outmanned and outgunned, were hounded across space, until, at a worthless piece of rock called Martinâ€™s Folly, the ape-faced former Admiral marshaled what forces were left to stand and die. The Imperial fleet came on and the first thousand ships flamed and died in the embrace of minefields and artillery orbiting The Folly; but she, who had been both student and lover, held her third back, and when they fell from hyperspace and in among the rebel ships it was with the whispered voice of Death.
In the end the Admiral, his ship crippled and burning, ordered all power to the engines and forward shields, seeking to lance the flagship, and it was without the thought of tears that she maneuvered around and sent him to a death in fire and a grave in the void they both loved so deeply.
She gathered up what ships were left to her, after the old ape had ambushed them so mercilessly, and limped on home with her men singing celebration and feast-day songs. She sailed through an infinity of stars and into the heartworld of a grateful empire, and then through an ocean of courtiers to the Emperorâ€™s audience chamber. He, in his lust, and his madness, came down from his throne, where no man could kill him, and sought her embrace; and she, with her loverâ€™s ugly face first in her mind, drove seven inches of the finest Imperial steel into his blackened heart, stilling it on the spot.
She left the Emperor on the floor, dead and discarded, and with him all the names and honorifics she had ever been given. She walked back to her ship, and the armies followed her once more, back out into the infinite ocean, always seeking new conquest. From that day forward she was called only Victory, and her name was battle-hymn and funeral-hymn on the lips of her men, who loved her- but she, who had killed both her lover and her God-King? Haunted by the memory of an ape-faced old Admiral, she loved nothing at all.