by submission | Mar 29, 2023 | Story |
Author: Nickola Anne Walker
We sat waiting for him in the kitchen for several hours. Father called everyone, looking for his son. Many of my brother’s friends came and left. He remained seated, his face tired, while he listened. Listening. There was so much to say. Why had they fought over such a trivial thing? Why had he left? Had he taken his girlfriend? Where did they go? Now, father just listened – for maybe the first time ever – his legs quivering in both anger and fear. Guilt was written all over his face. His son was gone. Nobody knew where.
Only after everyone had left did mother turn to father. “You know what he did, don’t you?”
“No. He was angry. He didn’t tell me where he was going to. I have my suspicions. But they are only that. Suspicions.”
“You finally drove him away. He is gone.” Her face was resolute.
“Then his is probably gone.”
“How could you be so terrible?” she stormed off, crying.
“You have made a horrible mistake Father.” I blurted out. “He will leave, and we will never see him again.”
“Everyone comes of age. Everyone must find their own way in this universe.” Trying to sound callous, he just looked small and sad. His son. Gone. Never to return. I had never known my father to show regret but it was written all over his face.
With a tiny bit of pride, he was certain his son would survive where many failed. Together, they’d built heat shields to protect against solar and ultraviolet radiation. Without these, any chances of survival would be burned down and destroyed. But he had helped Brother with his school project. Interplanetary travel. Geological starships. Make a spore that can tolerate the low temperatures and dangerous conditions. Then plunge into space, hoping you eventually hit something. Something that allowed for life. They worked together on it. He knew his son would survive.
The neighbors came. They were crying. Their daughter was nowhere to be found. Clearly, they had run off together. Young lovers. They both yelled at Father; they would never forgive him for splitting up their family. They threatened some sort of judicial something or other. Father just nodded.
“He’s gone.” Father looked tired. He went to comfort Mother.
“After many studies of the Ryugu asteroid, Japanese scientists now believe the origin of life here on Earth might have been brought by an asteroid.”
by submission | Mar 28, 2023 | Story |
Author: Phil Temples
“What about her, Joey?”
Dickie and I watch an old lady shuffle slowly down the sidewalk near the park. She looks ancient. Dickie comments that she must be at least eighty years old. I’d peg her as older. She looks as wrinkled as a prune. I don’t have to get close to her to know that she’s probably wearing some stinky old-lady perfume. Somethin’ about old ladies that makes them want to smell sweet. Maybe their noses don’t work right when they get old, I don’t know. She’s wearing a red winter coat despite the fact that it’s a warm spring day. I reckon she’s probably sweating like a pig. The real object of our attention, however, is the oversized handbag she’s holding in the crook of her arm. The strap is hanging loose
Good. An easy mark.
“We’ll probably have to spend five minutes just going through all of the junk in her bag to get at her wallet,” I say.
“Hey, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?”
I shrug my shoulders. Dickie’s probably right.
I check the sidewalk in both directions, and across the street. There are no pedestrians in sight, other than some guy a block down the street walking away from us.
“The coast is clear,” I say. “Ready?”
“Sure. Let’s do this!”
We approach the woman quickly. When we’re about ten feet away, she notices us. She’s defensive. Her hands stiffen around the handbag.
She may be an old fossil but she’s no fool.
“Hey, lady—hand over the purse and you won’t get hurt!” says Dickie.
For a few seconds, there’s no reaction from her. Finally she scowls. Then she asks us, “What would your mothers think of you right now?”
Dickie chuckles and gestures at me. “I don’t know about his mother, but my ma is doin’ five- to ten’ upstate for forging checks. I reckon she’d be proud of me for carrying on the family tradition.”
The woman turns to me. As her gaze meets mine, I suddenly feel embarrassed and ashamed. I look down at my feet.
“Com’on! Hurry it up! Hand over the purse and we’ll leave you alone. If you don’t …”
Dickie uses his most intimidating voice. He lets his words trail off. The hunched woman draws herself straight as she reacts to Dickie’s latest threat.
“If I give you my wallet, will you agree to let me keep my purse?”
Dickie and I are suddenly thinking the same thought. There must be something else in that bag that’s valuable!
Dickie lunges at the purse, but the woman hangs on. She’s surprisingly strong. A tug-of-war ensues. Try as he might, Dickie is unable to dislodge the purse from her grasp.
“Give it here, you old bag!” shouts Dickie. He turns to me. “A little help here, please!”
I step forward and reach out with my hand to grab the purse.
“Stop!” She looks at us with a defiant expression.
“I’ll give you the purse. But first, you have to let me show you what’s inside.”
Dickie seems satisfied with her response.
“Okay. But no tricks. If you try somethin’, I’ll land you flat on this sidewalk. I know martial arts.”
The woman nods. She slowly opens the purse as wide as it will go and shows it to Dickie. He stares in. He’s immediately mesmerized by some kind of bright light shining from inside. My best friend and cohort in crime wears a look of surprise and terror.
I’m getting anxious, too. Just when I’m about to tell Dickie we should leave, an unbelievable thing happens—like we’re in some sort of cartoon. Dickie is suddenly transformed into something resembling a human balloon with all the air escaping! In a matter of seconds, he shrivels itty-bitty. Dickie’s remains fly up in the air then they land smack dab in the woman’s purse.
The woman snaps her purse shut. She seems pleased with the new prize she’s acquired. She smiles at me. I’m frozen by fear.
“Have a nice day now.”
She continues to shuffle slowly down the sidewalk toward the park.
by Julian Miles | Mar 27, 2023 | Story |
Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
I set up at the same table every week. It’s right in the grey zone between the lights of the barroom and the shadows around the private booths.
“Got a Manturical honour blade. Django said you could help me get it back to its owner.”
There are snickers from the shadowed forms clustered around the nearby tables. They all know what I do: pay solid scrip for interesting things, and ask no awkward questions about legal holders and chain of provenance.
I look up at the scarred Dantonan. A veteran gunner down on his luck, if the seams on his face tell the truth.
“Honour blade, eh? Place it down there ”
‘There’ is at the other end of the table. Out of snatch range for me, which reassures potential sellers, but in range of the scanner mounted underneath.
As he reaches under his armoured cloak, I see the red corner of an upship contract sticking up from a pocket on his hip pouch.
The scan feeds back to me: ornate, but too recent. I shrug.
“You pay much for this?”
“Won it in a game of blades.”
The Dantonans have the nicest euphemisms for surviving vicious melee.
“Good thing. It’s not genuine.”
His upper offhand starts a flick to his pouch. He controls the nervous move. Tells me all I need.
“I can still use it, gunner. Can go two hundred in blue.”
He pauses, then nods and slides the weapon my way. I tap the amount into my cache, call down the funds, then print a verified sapphire-coloured ingot. I let him watch me do it all.
With that soldier’s farewell, he reaches for the ingot. Fortunately, it’s one I know the reply to.
“And sleeping foes, gunner.”
He grins, takes the ingot, and leaves. He needed one-fifty to clear port duties. He can have a drink and a meal on me.
Sliding the blade to one side, I stare pointedly at a shadowed figure standing under the arches. You’ve been lurking there for long enough. Either step up to sell, try to kill me, or leave.
They step into the light. Street urchin turned specialist of some kind. A lot of shaped armour and the silvery sheen of field generators. Okay, not some kind: she’s a bodyguard, or a good reason to have bodyguards.
“Got a Manturical honour blade. Django said you’d rip me off, but still pay the best price.”
My dear friend Django gives me warning via what he tells sellers to tell me: this one is dangerous.
“He might be right.” I point to the other end of the table: “You know the routine.”
The scan reveals it’s the oldest honour blade I’ve ever encountered, and it’s stolen.
“Good piece. Can go two thousand red.”
It goes quiet about us. Nobody has ever heard me offer that much, let alone at the top of the spectrum.
I raise a hand.
“If you’re expecting me to split the difference and offer three, you’re going to be disappointed. Two and a half is my limit.”
“Do me five by five hundred and we’re good.”
I print five ruby ingots. We trade. She leaves. I pack up. It’s expected, given the size of the prize I’ve just acquired.
My warrior drone descends from concealment among the rafters above.
I nod, then follow it out. I hear whispers start as I go. They’re sure I’m headed for a month of debauchery. I’m sure I’m headed for the insurance brokers. Paying me double is still cheaper than having to pay the claim.
by submission | Mar 26, 2023 | Story |
Author: James Callan
Here I am, the last survivor, destined to survive, locked within the lunar colony foodstuffs pantry. Outside the bolted door, the monsters have all died. They’ve expired. Starved. No crew left among us but me, locked away, insufferably safe. No more food for the monsters. The others all devoured, all dead. The banquet is over. I am alone.
Yet here I am. Well fed. Bored, if you can imagine. A prisoner who tallies her days by bulk cereal boxes that have been hollowed out, made into a shelter, the puffed wheat and clustered rice for dinner, the coco flakes for dessert, the canned peaches a calendar event, a rare treat, the ammunition with which to dent the plated metal of a locked door where aluminum-cased fruit has been thrown without effect.
The quiet will kill me, even if the monsters did not. Such is my isolation that I find I begin to miss them. Their six-inch talons and salivating fangs. Their ink-black exoskeletons and armor-plated scales. I even miss the fear, the trauma that lingered for months before finally going dry. I wouldn’t have dared believe it when I ran from them to save my skin, but it’s true: I miss the beasts, missed out on the mercy of death that they brought to everyone but me.
When they hatched from the leathery eggs brought back from the quarry where they had been discovered embedded in the rock, we marveled at the notion of non-human life before we realized it meant all human death. Now it is only me. Me and peaches. Me and Peach Can Pete. We talk for hours. We watch the stars through a narrow window that cannot be broken. We share fluids. His is sweet, from a can. Mine is bitter, salty tears from eyes that cannot unsee what is relived in a perpetual nightmare.
I talk. He listens, even after I have hollowed him out like a ravenous monster. Though he is reserved with his opinions, he shares of himself aplenty. I take what he gives. My words echo in the ribbed lining of his cavernous body. If I pretend hard enough, it sounds like someone else. Someone named Pete.
Sometimes I see him for what he is: an impostor, a fake. Me. Only me. Sometimes I see him for what he truly is: a fucking peach can. But then I snap out of it. I remember I am alone, and unable to face that truth, I create another. I open one more peach can. I dent the plated doors. I cry. Then I devour preserved fruit and make a brand new friend, an old friend.
Peach Can Pete. Pete, like my husband. Like the father of my daughter, Hannah, back on Earth, which occasionally I glimpse from that pesky rhombus of triple-layered laminated glass. I see a sliver of shifting blue, green, and white and wonder why I left such a beautiful world, a beautiful daughter behind. Have the monsters somehow made it back home? Have those leathery eggs been brought back to a planet where they will hatch and thrive? I decide fear is worse than boredom, and convince myself Earth is okay. When I see it, half-visible and floating in space, I kindly lie to myself, preaching with unfounded conviction that Hannah is safe. That I will see her once again.
Peach Can Pete. Pete, like the man I love who lies digested in the belly of a monster which has long since expired. My husband, gone. Everyone gone. I have outlasted them all.
I reach for some peaches. I start anew.
by submission | Mar 25, 2023 | Story |
Snow on the convent. War in the fields.
Sister Maryna prayed. Then programmed. Children would not have to suffer this world of cratered streets, gutted homes, crushed dreams. Sister Maryna understood what needed to be done and coded.
Below the crypts were the vaults. Deep and cold. For seventeen hundred years, her sisterly order had stared doom down and prepared. Plague. Pestilence. Perfidy. The perfect tools to combat aggressors and oppressors.
In the silence and chill of the ancient undercroft, Sister Maryna spoke to no one but the crude stones. To the squat pillars and their burdened arches she confided: persistence, endurance, subterfuge. She persisted, endured, plotted, and the opportunity finally came. From on high.
Winds howling, snow blinding, a military drone tumbled down within the convent’s high walls. Sister Maryna loathed slavery, but she slaved the drone to her code. Sister Maryna feared plague, but she infected the drone with a corrupting virus. In binary battle, she observed ruthless mercy. No instigator of national lies would be spared. No perpetrator of martial violence would escape judgment.
The hijacked drone set free: her code now their code. Soon to spread. Aggressors her target, aggression her path. Maryna prayed for them. Their swift end.
Snow on the convent. Thaw in the fields.
by submission | Mar 24, 2023 | Story |
Author: E. Avery Cale
Due to the events of the day, I feel it is time to initiate a new, unplanned, phase of my work.
I must be careful.
How to get the power? Administration will never approve. They need me and they know it or the work will not continue but this I think is a trade they would make. End my work and turn me out to face the consequences of my actions rather than give me the power I need. The data from our first three missions is the taste, the beginning, but more than they could have hoped for and payment enough.
There is no other way to find the energy to send me back.,
No, no no, wait.
The power to go back to just before, to just this morning. That I can get, drain from the building, the whole campus if needed.
The day must be redone.
Jonathan found me in the Verisimilitude Machine, and did not like what he saw.
I told him it was stress relief.
Which it is.
Maybe that does not make it right.
He did not think it did.
Maybe he is right.
He talked of leaving, with the kids, and I believe him.
Chief Administrator will of course side with Jonathan. He feels the family distracts from my work. I would be much more productive if I was alone. If it was just me and the VM.
This is a lie.
Did I not design the machine, build the prototype, construct the lab, guide our team, secure the funding? All while having the family.
I will not lose them.
I was relieving stress.
It must be undone.
I could go back, back back back back, all the way back, undo it all every time, never take up the habit.
And impossible, without rerouting the Grids.
Today then, just today, decide just this once not to give in. This once. Undo today.
No, no no
Leave the Paradoxes in science fiction.
Observe record return.
No experiments, no risks.
Leave them untouched, the possibilities and the impossibilities and the joint where they may be uncoupled or where the universe may catch itself up like a string caught between two gears and snap or spin out some tangent of realtime, some awful nightmare land. Touching brings, could bring, terrible things, terrible worldending things, things unravelling all that built the machine. Silly impossible things.
But no, no no no, I have solved them! The old fears and myths.
Never interfere, only observe. The otherwise is unthinkable. Paradoxes in theory only because if we slipped into them we would never know as we would never be or not be.
No identity can become two, no one go back to a time when one already is.
No, no no no, I have found a way.
Back in time yes, the subject is sent back in time, but the space remains the same.
I need only find where I was this morning, before, position myself in exactly the same place, send myself back.
The space remains the same.
One-to-one all atoms aligned in exact relation me my present and me my past. The one slips into the other yet only the one remains, can remain, the one that moves, the one that still is after the other has moved on and left only the empty, the waiting shell.
Since midnight last I have not left the lab, have been working or in the VM. The recordings taken by the health monitor will give me what I need.
So I set the computer. Align the atoms.
Go back, back back. Not too far. Exactly far enough.
I-now and I-then becoming one in body, no different, the real I the I that is and goes back being the only I that is, and I will act. The coming will be changed and the day undone and the future that I have made that cannot be lived with will never be.
Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power.
I go back.
Due to the events of the day, I feel it is time to initiate a new, unplanned, phase of my work.
I must be careful.