The Little Nothing

Author : Adam Wiesen

White. Sterile. No roof, no walls, no floors. No shadows. Make a sound. Hear anything? Of course not: no acoustics. You look nervous, Ben. Don’t. We’re not there yet. This is just a test. Plugged into your parietal lobe, running a line into your implant. The real deal takes way more power than I have in this little box. No, for a full-on semiotic transplant, you’re going to sit in the Big Chair down in Valley Stream, and they’re going to plug you right into the Nassau County grid, along with the rest of the recalcitrant douchebags who can’t seem to stop shitting in society’s mouth.

You’re sweating, Ben.

That’s okay.

I’d be scared, too. I mean, this little corner of eternity’s hardly scenic, and you’re slotted for a good thirty years. Where do you sleep? Oh, Ben, you really don’t get it, yet, do you? The whole point to this is you don’t sleep. Don’t eat, don’t talk, don’t hear, don’t listen. It’s just you and the the long white nothing. The Little Bardo, they call it. No sleep. What’s sleep when we’re technically plugged into your REM mode, anyway? No, you’re doing your full thirty wide awake. The Nassau County grid dumps into the National Readjustment Processor down in Quantico, where your personality will sit in happy reconstructed nothing for the entire stretch of your bid.

It could be worse, Ben. In the old days, they filled the Little Bardo with all sorts of terrible stuff. The best bits from the Bible, used to scare you to sleep at night. Fire and brimstone. Punishment, y’know? Retribution. No one really came out of that in one piece, though. Lot of catatonic freaks. Couldn’t control their piss function. Terrible smell. Lots of screaming. Then they tried to pamper them with a Heaven meme. That worked like bunk. I mean, for half you rotten sons-of-bitches, Heaven is raping kittens and stabbing nuns. Ever see a smiling coma victim? I hear half the Federal budget that year went to buying clean sheets, just to cover up the number of wet dreams you freaks had. So, then they came to this. Nothing. Nada. Nirvana, baby, for thirty years. The Little Bardo. Time to think, right?

Ben, we have a toilet for going to bathroom. Someone’s going to have to mop up after you. That’s not very considerate is it?

How are you going to receive visitors? Your mother? Ben, look at me. Does this place look like it’s got the facilities to hold your toxic miserable ass for thirty actual years? We’re going in through the parietal lobe, champ. That controls time sense. You’re going to be in and out of here in twenty minutes.

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Troublesome Customer

Author : Jeremy M. Hall

“Welcome to Chrono-Real Estate-Advertising. How may I help you?”

“I’m here to buy from March 1, 1650 to March 30, 1650 for the entire city of Jamestown, Virgina.”

“Sir, we can’t do that.”

“I have a suitcase with several million dollars that says you can.”

“No, sir. We cannot do that. We do have a nice spot in upstate New York on August 30, 1921 that we have on sale. Upstate New York is a hot commodity in the Pre-Branding market.”

“No, ma’am. I want that time period for Jamestown.”

The gentleman opened the suitcase that he was carrying, showing off large stacks of hundred dollar bills.

“Listen sir, I’m sure you’re big in the Pre-Branding business, especially to carry that much cash in a briefcase, but there is no way we are going to let you buy any time period before the Nineteenth century, especially in an area that big. The Historical Protection Commission would be down our throats before we could even place your advertising, and they would be yanking our Time Equipment through our tonsils. In fact, there isn’t a reputable Time and Space Advertiser that would take your offer.”

“I can’t believe this crap. I have several million dollars cash, and you aren’t going to take it? And for what? Because of some government regulations. You people are-”

The receptionist’s phone rang and she picked it up.

“Yes, sir,” she said into the handset. “This is a TC level three. You have a B three million ready? OK, the code is alpha gamma omega beta. Yes, sir. I’ll be sure to let him know.”

“What’s this?” the customer asked. “I heard three million there. Are they considering it?”

“Say hello to the dinosaurs,” the receptionist said, and then hit several keys on a small terminal. The customer had a shocked look on his face as a small pinhole appeared behind him, then sucked him in backwards. The last thing the receptionist saw of the man was his bulging eyes and the tips of his shoes. She looked at her watch, and then counted to five, at which point the customer returned the same way he’d left, except for the stain in the seat of his pants.

“I hope you enjoyed the T-rex greeting. If you continue to bother me, or any other employee of Chrono-Real Estate-Advertising, we will file for a Harassment Clause which would allow us to send you back to Mister T-Rex and let him finish the job. Do you understand?”

The customer only nodded, his face still frozen in fear, and with his briefcase clutched, white knuckled in one hand, he slowly backed out through the door.

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See Food

Author : Viktor Kuprin

When the alien ship reached us, we were down to four hours of oxygen and nothing in our prospector ship’s food storage.

It was the Tsoor who rescued us, the ones who look like walking man-of-war jellyfish. Oh, they were nice and polite enough, and they even had a Tsooriski-to-Russki translator unit, thank God!

But they didn’t have any human food.

When I queried my hand-comp’s database, all it said about Tsoor nutrition was “Some terrestrial protein and carbohydrate compatibilities.” We didn’t have any choice. We were starving.

The Tsoor like to take their meals sitting in pools of their home world’s sea water. Anton and I sat soaking in the briny liquid when the biggest Tsoor brought the food, a metal pot filled with ball-shaped mollusks.

“God help us,” Anton muttered under his breath as our server crushed one of the gray shells with its tentacle-fingers, yanking out a still-quivering slab of pink-white meat.

“Shhh! Don’t offend it!” I warned.

After days without food, I didn’t care how badly it might taste. Or smell.

Big Tsoor picked up a shallow stone bowl filled with yellow powder and rolled the mollusk flesh in it. It offered the morsel to Anton.

“See. Food,” said the alien’s metallic translator voice.

Anton slowly accepted the dusted meat from Big Tsoor’s tentacle-fingers, pulled down his respirator mask, and leaned forward to sniff.

“Alan, I think it’s sulfur! They season with sulfur!”

Big Tsoor stood motionless, watching.

I urged Anton on. “Wipe some of the powder off and try it. Come on, it’s waiting for you to taste it.”

Anton used his thumb to clear most of the Tsoor seasoning off a side of the slab. He shut his eyes, bit, chewed, and gulped.

“It’s like a big prawn, but it reeks of rotten eggs,” he said between gasps.

Big Tsoor cracked another shell and another. We silently wolfed down the gritty shellfish.

When the pot was half empty, Big Tsoor held out its tentacled-hand towards us.

“Culinary exchange,” announced the translator.

Quickly I thumbed my hand-comp: “Tsoor guests at a formal dinner are expected to offer their hosts a token gift of food or drink in exchange for the meal.”

“It’s part of their hospitality custom. I’ll be right back.” Dripping wet, I ran out of the mess hall, across the airlock that connected our ships, and rushed to our all-but-empty galley.

Yes! On a rack was a half-filled bulb of Anne Bonny Cocktail Sauce. I squirted it into a bowl, hurried back to the alien dining hall, and sat back down in the warm brine.

I pointed to the shellfish and pantomimed rolling the meat in the red sauce. Our host understood, and it shoved a sauce-covered mollusk into its mouth sack.

Big Tsoor turned red, then purple. I could see its plum-shaped eye throbbing. Its tentacle-fingers clenched into tight coils.

The alien bolted straight up. Anton screamed. I tried to jump out of the pool.

Through the chaos, I could just make out the translator.

“Very tasty.”

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The Prodigal

Author : Benjamin Fischer

“Have a seat, Jim,” said the General.

“Is this what I think it’s about, sir?” the Colonel asked, shutting the hatch behind him.

He sat down. Across from him, a LED nameplate proclaimed “Major General David Pietz USAF, Commander-in-Chief Colonial Expeditionary Force” on a broad, glass-covered aluminum desk. Behind it the General reclined in a plush leather chair halfway turned to face a bank of monitors behind him. Blown up to maximum magnification were the latest from the reconnaissance office–an impressive fleet of spaceships, moored like the petals of a flower around a long, cylindrical space station.

One of the ships was highlighted in red.

“Your thoughts?” asked the General.

The Colonel shook his head.

“Yeah, that’s her,” he said.

“The Charleston,” the General nodded. “Old Chucktown. Lost with all hands. Five years, six months, and two days ago.”

“You still keep track of that too?” the Colonel asked.

“Yes,” General Pietz said.

They sat in silence.

“Definitely, positively destroyed in a meteorite collision,” the Colonel finally said. “They found pieces, they found bodies. No doubt at all.” He was paraphrasing a report.

“And yet the Colonials seem to have repaired her,” the General responded.

The Colonel snorted.

The General sighed.

“OK, Jim, confession time,” General Pietz said. “I don’t know whether to be completely pissed or crying with joy.”

“Yeah, it took the wind out of me, too,” said the Colonel. “She could be alive.”

Pietz let out a sharp laugh and turned away from the telling images. He set his elbows upon his desk and leaned towards his guest.

“Oh, she most definitely is,” he said, his face half-smiling, half-grimacing. “My girl was always tougher than that. I knew a handful of damn buckshot couldn’t have killed Marissa.”

The Colonel swallowed.

“So that means?” he said.

“Yes. The god damn rumors,” said Pietz, “are apparently true.”

“Apparently,” agreed the Colonel.

“Well, here’s another one, for you to spread,” said the General. “Tomorrow, at twenty one hundred, we’re deploying. Our eventual objective will most likely be those facilities at Lagrange Two. And the fleet defending them.”

“Jesus,” said the Colonel.

“To say I am disappointed in the Security Council would be a gross understatement,” said Pietz.

“Jesus,” repeated the Colonel. “We’ll have to use nukes. There’s no other option.”

“Eventually, when our hands are untied, yes,” said the General. “And that’s why I called you in here.”

“Sir?” asked the Colonel.

“When Lieutenant Colonel Pietz and I last spoke,” the General said, “she was convinced that full independence was the only reasonable course for the Colonies. She told me that any sort of half-measure was an invitation to open, violent rebellion, and that she sympathized with secession. I disagreed. It was not a pleasant discussion.”

“Lord,” said the Colonel, his eyes wide. “She told you.”

“Almost,” said the General, shutting his. He snorted softly. Then:

“Jim, I’ve known you and you’ve known me for damn near two decades now, so listen to what I say very carefully now. This contest will be for control of mankind’s future. We can not lose. I say again, we can not lose. If at any point–if at any point you feel that I am holding back even the least bit-”

“You’re not the only one who misses Marissa,” the Colonel said.

The General opened his eyes, and they were cold.

“I expect everything up to and including the last full measure from everyone, myself included,” he said. “Marissa will be very hard to kill.”

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The Return

Author : Grady Hendrix

“Wait!” he said. “Look at that!”

“What the hell is it?” she asked, slamming on the hovercar brakes.

“You’ve never seen one?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“You’re in for a treat,” he said, bouncing up and down with excitement. “Come on.”

He scrambled out of the hovercar and onto the blasted earth.

“I haven’t seen one of these since I woke up,” he said, jogging over to the green patch. “It’s called a tree.”

“I thought they all died in the Great War?”

His knees buckled a little and she caught him. It had only been two months since he’d been cracked out of his hundred year cryo-sleep, one of the first old growth humans to be brought back into this postwar world, finally judged capable of leaving the Citi-Dome and going on patrol with Sara-10.

“Steady on,” she said.

“They haven’t given me much history yet, but I haven’t seen a tree or a plant since I woke up. Look,” he said. “Its leaves change color with the time of year. See those tiny green things? They’re buds, new parts of the tree will grow from them. They’re capable of so many things that we can’t do…” a tear slid down his cheek.

Then a high pressure stream of burning liquid fuel hit the tree and it exploded into a fireball.

“What are you doing?” he screamed.

Sara-10 ignored him and burned the tree until her flamethrower was empty.

“We lost a lot of good men to bastards like that,” she said as the tree crackled.

“That’s maybe the only tree left alive after the Great War and you killed it?”

She slapped another fuel tank on her flamethrower and hit the tree with another blast.

“Who do you think we fought the Great War against?” she asked. “Fucking trees. Taking up all the land, breaking up our cities with their roots, killing everyone – “ she broke down crying. He reached to comfort her but she slapped his hand away. “Let’s just go,” she snapped. “I have to report this.

The tree watched them depart, cursing the mobile ones.

“We’ll be back,” it thought as it died. “There are more of us…we will water our roots with your blood…”

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