Membrane

Author : Sam Clough aka “Hrekka”

The two guards stared into the swirling fog. In the distance, both could see a black smudge. A person, on foot, crossing in from the outer edge of the membrane.

“Him crazy insane.” Kit remarked, leaning with both elbows on the safety rail to get a better look. His voice echoed through a local ring, so Kit didn’t have to remove his mask to be heard clearly.

Pyet dragged the foresight of his rifle up, tracking the faint shape in the distance.

“Definitely got no brain.” Pyet agreed, slowly following the half-seen ghost. The gun chirped an intermittent warning; the target was just outside of its lethal range.

Cassandra stumbled, cursed, and scrambled back to her feet. Crossing the membrane was her last, desperate hope. Metalworks Bay had dried out long ago. There was no fresh water anywhere. There was plenty of fuel – big diesel reservoirs – but you couldn’t drink diesel. And fuel alone couldn’t bring the desalinisation plants back online. You needed engineers to effect repairs, and they were all dead, or gone. Draconian drought regulations had been brought in to manage the limited supplies water, but they seemed to kill more than they saved, denying rations to those most in need.

But behind the membrane, in Dagon, they had water.

Or at least, that’s what everybody said.

Kit used his free hand to key a new set of coordinates into the simple console embedded into the rail. The entire structure raised almost imperceptibly as tracks bit at the dry ground. The platform began a slow, smooth crawl to the east, across the path of the trespasser. Antique hydraulics fought against the imperfections in the floor, and managed to keep the platform perfectly level while Pyet kept his rifle trained on the phantom in the distance. As the range decreased, so did the intervening volume of membrane fog; the shape of the trespasser steadily becoming more defined as the seconds passed.

“S’nother waterthief.” murmured Pyet.

“Looks it.” Kit agreed.

The platform rolled to a halt a little more than fifteen metres in front of the trespasser.

Cassandra stopped and stared up at the platform. Her skin felt bone-dry. Outside the membrane, the oppressive heat made you perspire, wasting the body’s moisture. In here, the membrane’s fog was leaching every drop of moisture from the ground, the air, and her body, and carrying it inwards, towards the edge.

“Hello?” Cassandra shouted, her voice hoarse.

Pyet stood up, and took aim at Cassandra’s head. Kit unhooked the mouthpiece of his mask.

“Get gone.” He carefully resealed his mask, loathe to waste words and water, both of which would be sapped by the fog.

“Please let me in! There’s nowhere left to go!”

“Get gone.” Kit repeated evenly. Raising your voice got you nothing in the membrane.

Kit tapped Pyet’s arm. Lazily, Pyet readjusted his aim, and fired. The fog seemed to coalesce, and the bullet thudded into the ground. Cassandra was nowhere to be seen. Pyet scanned around, eyes sharp for the interloper. Kit jumped from the side of the platform to the parched ground, and cautiously approached the bullet buried in the earth.

Cassandra barely dared to breathe. The infiltrator camo wouldn’t hold out forever, so as soon as she’d activated it, she’d rolled out of the line of fire, keeping to the harder ground so as to not leave footprints. She ran through the fog, angling away from the guards. She passed them at a sprint, and made for the inside edge.

Fuelled by panic, running fast and low, she fought for breath under the heavy infiltrator gear. She’d brought the camo on the off-chance that there would be guards, but it would expire in two, maybe three minutes, after which the insulation would burn out and the suit would be merely dead weight.

The camo was just starting to fray when she pushed through the semisolid wall that was the inside edge of the membrane.

And into…Dagon.

Dagon.

A stream trickled by her feet. She’d never seen running water before. She leant down, and cupped a little in her hands, cautiously at first, but quickly drinking so deep she almost gagged. In the distance the far edge of the membrane was visible, maybe a kilometre away. To her left, a forest grew, dense and vibrant, and across the stream, grass, real grass stretched as far as she could see. In amongst that sea of leaves, she saw tall watertowers and windtraps, and around them the rusting, useless relics of a mechanised society long since ruined.

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Hyperspace

Author : Mike Frizzell

They say your life flashes before your eyes in hyperspace. In only a millisecond, you can relive every excruciating moment of your life. Every rejection, failure, and utter humiliation is right there for your review, complete with the sounds and smells you don’t even remember. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to my trip to Nova Terra.

I had never been in hyperspace before, never actually been off the planet. My parents warned me about leaving, told me Jesus would never find me if I left. For twenty years I believed they were right, never even questioning the obvious insanity of the statement.

Life on old Terra was fine, a bit confining and boring, but at least I knew it. It was familiar. Comfortable.

That all changed the day my parents died. As soon as their dead bodies hit the floor, I knew it was time for me to leave. Jesus would not be looking for me. If anything, I had to get out right away before He did come back. So I dropped everything, including the bloody knife in my hand, and ran to the spaceport. I didn’t even pack, I wouldn’t have known what to take with me on such a long trip. I just ran as fast I could, hoping to catch the first flight out.

Lucky for me there was open seat on a freighter going to Nova Terra. I didn’t know what was there, but it seemed like a nice place to visit. All of the commercials I had ever seen showed white beaches and happy people. My mother said it was a planet full of debauchery; I don’t know what that word means, but I always took it as a bad thing. Maybe I would finally fit in.

The man seated next to me was a priest. I could tell by the weird collar thing he wore. He seemed proud of who he was, looking down his hawkish nose at me. He gazed into my soul with his black eyes, in an instant weighing me and finding me wanting. I looked back at him, still feeling the heat of my mother’s blood on my hands. The priest smiled.

I turned away, not wanting to feel the pain any longer. I had put up with it long enough, had dealt with my parent’s sin for too many years. They were the sinners, the ones deserving of judgment. Not me. Not me.

They say your life flashes before your eyes in hyperspace. In only a millisecond, you can relive every excruciating moment of your life. It’s true. I spent hours in the twinkling of an eye watching myself as a movie.

I never asked to be made, never asked them to break the law. It was their choice. I’m not the sinner.

I’m just a clone.

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Now We know

Author : TJMoore

Virgil crept through the vent blinking as the hot, humid wind caused tears to stream from his squinted eyes. The condensation caused him to slip and slide on the smooth, sweaty metal as he lifted himself up into a side shaft. The constriction made the air howl and Virgil had to push hard against the sides to keep from blowing back into the main vent.

Virgil rounded the last familiar bend and squeezed through a small rend in the screen. He caught the flick of a familiar tail at the far end of the vent.

It was Jarl.

Virgil crept up behind Jarl in the roaring torrent of moist air. He reached out and tweaked Jarl’s exposed tail with his major pincer. Jarl jerked, lost his purchase and hurtled, cartwheeling down the vent as the wind whipped him from his perch. He smacked hard into the screen and, after reorienting himself, glared up at Virgil’s mischievous grin.

“You didn’t have to do that!”

Jarl clawed his way back up the pipe to where Virgil waited and waved one of his secondary appendages at the exposed opening and the chaotic maelstrom beyond.

“It’s a pure underwear load!” he yelled excitedly over the howl of the constant wind.

Virgil snapped his head around and peered into the melee whirling around in front of him.

His mouth watered at the sight. Jarl pushed in next to him and started jabbing his primary into the turmoil trying to snag a bright pink sneaker sock that was near the center of the tumbling pile.

“Those will stain your teeth you know!” Virgil shouted even as he considered making a try for it himself.

Jarl gave a triumphant cheer as he snagged a frilly white piece of cloth that whipped by in front of his face.

Virgil laughed and pointed at the flimsy material fluttering on Jarl’s claw.

“It’s a dryer sheet you moron!” he laughed.

Jarl shook the inedible sheet off his claw and gave Virgil a snide glance.

“I thought it was lace panties.” He grumbled as he wiped the smelly softener residue off his pincer.

Virgil took the opportunity to snatch the pink sneaker sock from the turbulent tumble of clothes in front of him. Jarl’s insults echoed behind him as he hurtled down the vent and slipped through the screen.

“Hey! I don’t want any static from you!” Virgil laughed loudly as the air pushed him away with his prize into the darkness.

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Transporter

Author : Duncan Shields

I was standing in the five star hotel’s transporter half a second ago. Destination: Corroway 6. Pleasure moon.

I am now standing in a cold, dark concrete basement. One dying fluorescent light stutters the room with camera flashes.

From what I can see, the room was a storage room of some sort. Utilitarian. Possibly military. No ornamentation. Everything in the room has been overturned and smashed a long time ago.

Not my destination, in other words.

I look down at the transporter pad I’m standing on.

It’s damp and not much bigger than a floor tile. The field circle definer is naked to the elements around the base like a hula hoop. Wires snake out from the base like streets from a European city. It’s with a cold pit of terror in my stomach I notice that one of assembler spikes is missing.

I’m trying very, very hard not to imagine what might have gone wrong inside me.

I am rich. I am not fit. I crouch and step off of the transporter into the dank concrete room. Wiring hangs down from the ceiling. There is a moldy pile of fabric in the corner. Condensation is already gathering on my thick moustache. It’s wet here. The floor and walls are slippery.

The stuttering light is hurting my eyes and doing exactly zero for my mental health.

Breathing quickly and rubbing my arms, I walk through the fog of my own breath towards what looks like the door out of here.

It opens just before I get there.

About six people a year disappear when using transporters. There’s a quantum collision, a little interference, a random energy wave and poof! No more traveler. Since there are about eleven million transports of both people and materials a day, this is considered acceptable.

I wonder if I am currently standing where they all go.

It would be a heartening thing to think of, all those people alive and well somewhere, if it wasn’t for what I’m seeing before me silhouetted in the doorway.

It looks like it may have been human at one point. Its head is long and its eyes glow in the shadows. It’s bipedal but the feet look too large.

With a wet click, its eyes change colour and I can feel myself being scanned.

I feel like I’ve been collected and it’s an entirely unpleasant feeling.

I’m picturing a big dish pointed out towards space just collecting what it can and occasionally snagging a human or a cargo load.

I’m thinking that whatever would do something like that would probably value a cargo load more than a witness.

I have no way to prove how rich I am unless I can get it to take me to a terminal. I have no way to get it to take me to a terminal unless I can talk to it.

I smile harder than I’ve ever smiled.

“Dirk Jensen. Head of offworld accounts.” I say, and put my hand forward.

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Will of Our Mother

Author : K. J. Russell

The warhead has been planted approximately twenty meters beneath solid granite. Physicist Arthrike Brogan stood before some three dozen people, those scientists and politicians of higher power or renown. “At that depth, what we see should be pretty much equivalent to if the warhead had actually been launched remotely.”

“And this weapon you’ve invented, Mr. Brogan,” came the voice of a reporter, cameraman in tow, “Can you tell us once more, for the record, what the theory behind it is?”

“It’s simply a vehicle of mass destruction, like the nuke, but without any fallout and far more precise. Please, though, let’s hold off on questions until after the test.” With a polite nod, the reporter went off and found a decent position from which to film. The camera’s lens was soon focused away from the white-and-grey city behind, looking out on the red Kansas dirt and the makeshift buildings that were peppered across the testing zone.

A feminine voice began, pre-recorded from a loudspeaker, “Twenty, nineteen…”

“There’s my cue!” Brogan made no effort to hide his confidence as he turned to the onlookers, “We’re five miles distant, and I’ve set the bomb to a mere one-mile radius. We’re perfectly safe. Just don’t look directly into the light.” Brogan placed a pair of dark glasses on his face, and the others followed suit. There was a moment of absolute silence, the onlookers holding their breath, everyone in the city confined to the indoors.

And then there was a sublime flash; a sudden burst of the purest white light. This was the detonation, all heat and photons, the entire body of the destructive force. It spread quickly, the corona moving at a few hundred feet per second. Brogan smiled to himself, imagining the dirt and stone melting, the mock buildings being disassembled at a molecular level. Everything was going as planned, and he felt his confidence transforming into arrogance as the blast hit the mile-mark. And at that exact moment, Brogan’s whole world seemed to fracture, everything to change. Except for the progression of the blast.

Brogan took an unconscious step back, his stomach tightened. As seconds continued, so did the light and destructive force proceed, even accelerate. At two miles, one of the politicians shouted to Brogan. He called back, “It’ll stop!” At three miles, many of the onlookers were fleeing, and Brogan repeated himself, “It’ll stop!” At four miles, Brogan’s eyes found the city and his thoughts spun about the wife and daughter he had there. “It has to stop.”

At five miles, he said nothing. It didn’t stop.

Some minutes later, a single man stood at the edge of a fifty-mile bowl of glass, eyeing briefly the smooth new cut of a city with only its outer-most fringes intact. His hands came together, carefully shutting the time-worn book he held, and his smiling lips formed words, “And so was the will of our Mother,” though he didn’t make a sound. He considered for a moment an ID that stated his assumed name and title, the chief aid to Arthrike Brogan. Artfully, he tossed it on the glass, disavowing it all.

He thought then of a biochemist he had heard of in Germany, working in controlled diseases that could no doubt be turned to tactical applications. So, as he spun and walked into the city, ignoring the rising cry of panicked survivors, he mused, “My name is Kasch Oeberon, a biochemist with an incredible knowledge of chemical weaponry; research, construction, and application.”

And muttering again his new name, Kasch hastened to collect his car. He had a flight to catch.

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