Destination Titan

Author : Patrica Stewart

Jim Roberts continued to stare at the chronometer in the center of the ship’s instrument panel. Thirty minutes past the scheduled departure time. Damn, why can’t they ever depart on schedule? He pressed the intercom button. “Sam, I’m losing the launch window.”

In an effort to calm himself down, Jim decided to use the delay to run through the checklist again. Primary oxygen, secondary oxygen, carbon dioxide scrubbers, food, water, medical supplies, telemetry, subspace transmitter, backup transmitter, antimatter reserves, etc., etc. He then reviewed the flight plan. He had worked out the details of the plan with a buddy of his, who had made a career of flying replenishment missions to the science, military, and adventure stations in the outer solar system. The plan called for a sling shot gravity boost around the moon, then maximum acceleration along a flatted parabolic path until achieving maximum velocity about 1,000,000 miles above the asteroid belt. Then, on to Titan for a retrograde capture.

Finally, Sam entered the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. “Ok, Ok. Every body’s on board, the cargo is stowed, and all the hatches are secured. We’re ready. Have you filed the flight plan?”

“Transmitted, received, and approved an hour ago. I’ve just been waiting for you, as usual. One day, Sam,” he threatened, “I’m going to leave you behind.” He activated the transmitter. “Tower, this is bravo-delta-epsilon-three-two-niner requesting permission to lift off.”

“Roger that, bravo-delta-epsilon-three-two-niner. You are number four on the launch pad. Follow Transport Tanker gamma-omega-epsilon-three-seven-seven.”

“Acknowledged. Buckle up, Sam.” Jim primed the antimatter engines, and taxied toward the launch pad. Three minutes after the Transport Tanker lifted off, he initiated the launch sequence. As the ship accelerated upward, he felt his back begin to press heavily into his seat. With the skill of a seasoned pilot, he adjusted the inertia compensators to maintain 1g. Once in orbit, he set the powerful engines to maximum, and headed toward the leading edge of the moon. After the close approach, the ship wiped toward Saturn (actually, slightly ahead of Saturn, and slightly above the ecliptic). The engines roared continuously for three hours before they automatically throttled down when the ship’s velocity reached 0.55c (Max-V). Jim peered out the viewport and watched Vista’s thin crescent disappearing behind them. “Ok,” he said, “double nickel for the next two hours, then deceleration begins.”

Sam had no idea what Jim was talking about. “Double what?”

“Double nickel. It’s an archaic Earth term from the twentieth century. It means your velocity is 55 MPH.”

“What’s that got to do with nickel?”

“Not the metal, dummy. A ‘nickel’ was a unit of American currency equal to five cen…” Jim stopped himself mid-word. Earth had stopped using coins over 300 years ago. Nobody but a history buff like himself would know, or even care, about primitive societies. “Oh, never mind,” he finally said.

After a few awkward minutes of silence, Sam decided to change the subject. With a thumb motioning toward the passenger compartment, Sam said, “You know, it’s been awful quiet back there.”

As if on cue, a shout came from the passenger cabin. “Stop it.”

“No, you stop it.”

“Stop it, or I’ll tell Mom. Mom, Katie keeps touching me.”

“He’s on my side.”

“Am not”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Liar.”

Jim cupped his hands over his ears. “Well, Samantha, I hope you’re happy. You jinxed us.”

“Did not,” she replied mockingly. “Besides, we just set a family record. We made it all the way to the asteroid belt this time.”

“Next year, I’m putting a force field between them.”

“Dad, I’m hungry.”

“Me too.”

“I have to pee.”

”Me too.”

“Are we there yet?”

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Breach of Contract

Author : S. Clough

“All units, fall back to waypoint epsilon. Marking recommended routes now.”

Reeve did as he was told. Command whispered into your head and they could easily put pain there instead of whispers. He was with four tax regulars, covering a breach in the stronghold’s outer wall.

“There has been a breach of contract,” command spoke softly, melodiously. “Dropships are inbound to epsilon, and a communiqué has been sent to all aggressors. We are leaving this fight to the regulars. All non-secured equipment will terminate in five – four – three – two – one…”

Reeve smirked at the cries of surprise and horror that came from the Tax soldiers nearby. The equipment the Legion had hired out began to melt in the hands and on the body of the Taxers. The drone guns which had been holding the Anti-Tax combat frames at bay exploded violently. Discarding his weapons, Reeve began to run.

The Tax battlefield radio was swamped by screams. Command switched it off.

“Estimated time till total overrun by anti-tax forces: eight minutes. Step on it.”

Four other Legionnaires had caught up with Reeve. They’d thrown their primary weapons, too. They didn’t speak, but just ran with a measured, rapid pace.

“Anti-Tax unit will cross your path, twenty seconds. Retfire only.”

Reeve held seniority, so drew his sidearm. A lithe, low combat frame slid out of the shadows ahead. It saw them, and hesitated for a fraction of a second. Quickly, it pressed itself back into the shadows. As Reeve passed, it bobbed it’s sensor cluster almost imperceptibly, a weak imitation of a nod……

……Ana flicked the screen off ‘mute’, just in time to hear the Tax representative’s final denouncement of the Legion’s withdrawal. Reeve stood at her shoulder, in full battle gear: his presence was intended to give the Legion’s pretty face a degree of authenticity.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Powell. The contract that you signed clearly stated that the detonation of any N.B.C weapon on the battlefield constituted a breach of contract. I’m sorry for your losses, but you were the one who broke the terms. We had no choice but to withdraw our forces and equipment.”

“After your retreat, we were completely wiped out. You have the deaths of eighty soldiers on your conscience.”

“No, Mr. Powell. You are mistaken. They are on your conscience, as you are the one who requested the detonation of a micronuke. Each of our legionnaires received twenty sieverts, adjusted from the explosion. This constituted a clear danger to their health. Legally, it was as if you’d ordered your men to turn and fire on us.”

“We had no choice! Even with you, we were going to lose.”

“We never lose, Mr. Powell. We have traded upon that very fact for many years now. Too many people have interests in our organization for us to achieve anything but victory on our own terms.”

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Girlfriend

Author : Marco Chacon

She had one of those new things: A USB port in the back of her neck, just under the skull. We’d plug her in at parties and, with the controller, she’d do all kinds of wild things—karaoke, belly dancing, there was even a “Mardi gras button”–but we didn’t use it too much.

Afterwards, she wouldn’t remember anything but a soft warm feeling.

My friends said I was the luckiest guy alive (none of their girlfriends would do it) but I wasn’t too sure.

When I hugged her, I’d run my fingers through her hair and I’d feel the little holes with their metal teeth.

We tried some downloaded porno-ware but her eyes were like glass marbles when she was jacked. It kinda creeped me out.

When they came out with the new ones she didn’t have the money to upgrade and I don’t think it’s a coincidence we got into a lot of fights around that time. We sort of drifted apart.

“You’re whacked,” my friends said. “That’s a dream girl.”

“It’s totally on fire,” they said, “no one’s getting hurt.”

“What’s the matter with you,” they said, “it’s hotter than you deserve—you better hang on to that.”

But I let her go. Today when I’m asked, I tell people we were incompatible.

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Time and Again

Author : Steven Perez

The drive to Persepolis from Shiraz had been longer than expected due to an unexpected radiator leak, and at that moment, all I wanted to do was stand up and walk around. I’ve always loved to visit the ruins here, mostly because I have a fondness for the era of the Persians. This time, though, my visit had a much darker purpose.

The Land Rover finally came to a stop near the entrance of the tomb in question, and the team piled out and started taking out the gear in the back. The local authorities always groused a bit whenever we showed up in the area, but they realize that the work we do is vital to the good of the entire world, so they don’t kick too much. But it still spooks some people to see us in the flesh, so we tread carefully.

The perimeter finally comes together, and Saunders fires up the generator. The lights coalesce together, and the rift is finally visible to the human eye. I hate dimensional rifts.

“Looks like we have more fugitives,” Kendra says with no small amount of disdain. The suits upstairs call them “temporal trespassers”. The teams spread out across the world came up with a simpler name for them: “fugitives”, after a story by Harlan Elison about time-travelers.

“Geez, you’d think these guys would learn,” Sung Li growls.

I bring everyone out of their reveille. “OK, so let’s find them.”

We lock onto their temporal signals and locate them quickly; scavengers from the 22nd Century. That figures; with all the horrible wars from that century, it’s a wonder that the human race survived as long as it did. Things must be really bad if the fugitives had taken to trying to alter history from distant locus points along the continuum.

We quickly seal the breach and leave a little something in case the rotters come back. Satisfied that we performed out jobs adequately, the team repacked our gear and waited for the extraction point back to the 835th Century. I would drive the SUV back to Shiraz so as not to arouse too many suspicions. Right on schedule, the null point formed and swept the team up into the vortex and back home.

I stared out over the remains of an ancient human civilization for a long while and couldn’t help but wonder how much might have been different had the humans not killed each other.

The things a machine thinks about with time on his hands, eh?

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Screening

Author : Daniel Longwing

Two steps forward, don’t shuffle your feet. You already accrued three points in the way you took off your shoes…

Don’t look at the carpet. Don’t look at the carpet! Sod, that’ll be another four points for not looking the guard in the eye with a friendly and nonchalant smile.

The man in riot gear with the machine gun and the mirrored face-mask gestures to the left. Smile at him. Friendly. Friendly. Yes, that’s it, pretend your reflection is his face and give him a nod. This man is your friend and is here to help you. Tell yourself that.

Good. Keep your face relaxed, calm but alert. Only affable expressions of optimism and happiness. Place your belongings on the conveyor belt. Yes, they could get stolen while you go through the scanner… Don’t think about that, don’t get nervous. Don’t look nervous…

Your brow was creased while you talked to the scanner operator. That’s going to be an easy 5, maybe 6 points. The interrogation went well though, you revealed all relevant information about your age, sex, political, religious, and work background. You even managed to ease in your financial status without breaking the veneer of a pleasant conversation. Good. That will all go into the database, they know nothing has changed since the last time you were asked in the lobby.

Think positive, think happy. You are happy. Being surrounded by guns and scanners and trigger-happy paranoiacs makes you safe. That was a bitter thought. Check your face… Expression still good, it didn’t get out. It was funny, but you’re just a few points shy of being singled out for “examination”.

There are your belongings. Don’t look at them for too long. Good good. Concerned, but not too much. They’ve got your shoes and clothes ready too…

One last step. Don’t screw up… Talk to the woman holding your clothing….

“Social Security Number 358-63-3269?”

“That’s me.” Smooth. Good smile, just hold it for a moment…

“Here are your clothes, please retrieve your belongings from the belt. You’ve passed initial screening and psychological profiling. The background check will clear momentarily.” The woman handed him an official document. “Show this to all personnel, hesitation could lead to arrest, and 3269?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for flying with us today.”

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