The Great Space Race

Author: Glenn Leung

The continents were coming into focus; the race was almost over. Niu Mowang checked his hyperscan; the only other racer close by was the Tiger clan’s, about seven thousand kilometers behind. This distance could be closed in under ten seconds. He had to stay on his hoof-like toes.

Mowang’s sights had not been this forward in a while. He had defended the Ox clan from other human-animal hybrids; from the ferocious Tigers to the deceitful Rats. Yet he and his kin were no match for the might of the Chimera-Dragon clan, which swallowed the Galaxy in a Blitz-like conquest. The heavy shame of surviving the defeat had kept his head down, and he was now in the race for redemption.

The Dragon’s Jade Emperor had announced the race, knowing his own clan’s advantage. The first in this new rotational rule system could make irreversible laws and a Galaxy that’s essentially theirs. The Dragons had the best ship technology among the twelve; a fact made very clear during the war. They knew how to grip the soap just right; a stable hold on the conquered involved carefully tailored olive branches. There was supposed to be little risk to them, but the Jade Emperor had not counted on his chosen racer turning around and helping his competitors that were trapped by Jupiter’s gravity. Mowang was surprised that the Dragons actually believed in the honor they preached.

‘Well, they’re certainly not Rats,’ he thought.

Rat rule was not something Mowang felt he could stomach; their tiny bodies paired with their not-quite-human faces would bring dread even without knowing the extent of their chicanery. He had all manners of scars from skirmishes with those rodents. He shook that thought aside. If he won, his clan would keep the vermin in check and there would be nothing to worry about.

Wait. Where was the Rat’s ship? After the Dragon racer’s heroics, all twelve ships should have been accounted for, but it seemed the Rat had dropped off the hyperscan. Mowang wished he had been paying more attention; such creatures do not just disappear.

Luckily for him, it was getting late for surprises. The massive ring marking the finish point above the Earth’s North pole was coming up, and he had managed to increase the distance between himself and the Tiger. Things were looking good; his breath was gushing out his giant nose in excitement. He could only see forward now; the Earth no longer a sketch but the majestic planet that gave birth to his ancestors and their stories. Victory was in sight!

A slight shake and a small boom reverberated through the ship’s hull. To Mowang’s horror, a Rat-sized ship began undocking from behind his cockpit. Having conserved its fuel by hitching an uninvited ride, it was able to dump the lot into its afterburners. A blinding glow emanated from its miniature thrusters and in less than a blink, it was blazing through to the finish, its wispy trail dissolving into space like a certain clan’s hopes and dreams.

Mowang followed the petite ship through the ring, mouth still ajar from shock. Surely the Jade Emperor would not allow this travesty! No, he was being naive and he saw it now. The Dragon racer had been honorable, but that wasn’t true of his entire clan. The Rats may be crafty, but deals with them could serve the Dragons’ agenda better than working with the stubbornly righteous Ox.

Mowang hung his head once again. The Year of the Rat has arrived.

Kolson

Author: Alex Z. Salinas

Back when I was at the Academy, on the outskirts of the Red Asteroid Belt, I bunked for six months with a trainee whom I can still say, with absolute certainty, is the most memorable person I’ve ever met. His name was Kolson, or at least that’s how I’ve remembered him.

Every night before lights out—though we always had, out there, the feeling that lights were out no matter the time—Kolson, that bizarre entity, would bend my ear trying to convince me that he really wasn’t Kolson, a man born on Praxis-7 the night of Moonseve, but the fragments of other souls since passed. Kolson, who had Germanic features—dark blonde hair, a strong sharp chin—said he remembered living a day as Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, in New York City in August 1962. Kolson claimed he not only remembered living as Stan Lee, but he understood what it meant to live as Stan Lee.

“Since then, us boys of the human race, all of us, have never ceased modeling our lives after the superhero,” Kolson said. “Even now when heroes aren’t necessary.”

“Shut your mouth,” I said.

It got better; by better, I mean batshit crazy.

One night, Kolson said, to my complete bafflement, that he knew what it was to play chess against Einstein—yes, Einstein—as Garry Kasperov. Or Bobby Fischer.

“His wit—their wit—my wit—is short distance, like a sprinter with massive quads,” Kolson said matter-of-factly, “whereas Einstein’s wit, akin to a bicyclist, is long distance. Small and spindly. Remember reading about that guy named Lance Armstrong? The cheating bastard!”

“They must’ve poisoned your make today, you’re talking like a drugged lunatic,” I said after a loud yawn.

“I don’t own a part of Christ’s soul, though, don’t get me wrong,” Kolson said, changing the subject nonchalantly. “That would imply I possess God, and if you understood what it was to be Albert Camus, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Stephen Hawking, Stephen King, Genghis Khan, or even Jorge Luis Borges, you’d know then that God’s little more than a kill switch in our easily corruptible brains. A pawn invented for domination.”

Deploying a different tactic—and what was about to be said has never left my conscience, like a cancerous sore—I asked Kolson:

“And myself? Do you know what it means to live as me?” Then I added: “Do you own a piece of my soul, Kolson? Huh? Do you own me, you slimy snake?”

In utter darkness, in lights out, somehow still I saw—I swear—a smile so huge it beamed, emitted its own perverted light.

“Remember, Salinas,” he answered softly after a short pause, “I collect dead souls. When the time comes, when yours cuts its tie, you can ask me that again.”

After graduating from the Academy, we went our separate ways. Shipped off in opposite directions, gloriously. I’ve never seen him again. The likelihood I will is practically nonexistent. A shot in the dark, eyes closed.

But to tell you the truth, I’d be lying if I said, every once in awhile, when I see a streak of red slice across the cosmos, that a part of me doesn’t feel, beyond reason—beyond awful, terrifying conviction—that I could be, I might be—very, very wrong.

Well Suited

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jake rides the lift to the eleventh floor, walks to the corner of the hall and lets himself into his apartment.

The lights automatically bathe the room in a warm afternoon glow, the delicious sounds of Charles Mingus coming from everywhere and nowhere, Pithecanthropus Erectus filling the space, and before Jake has made it to the bedroom Monterose and McLean’s dueling saxophones have him well abstracted from the stresses of the office, Waldron fingering the ivories, Willie Jones punctuating the remains of the day with staccato strikes, and Mingus himself holding down the bottom end, Jake unconsciously keeping time with each step.

In the bedroom he stops facing a floor to ceiling mirrored wall where he absently admires the well-suited man before him, his attention divided now between his reflection and his musical reverie.

The nine to five suit, the office suit, the ‘bringing home the Soylent’ suit.

With a thought he calls up a carousel of images in the mirror, cycling through the available meat-suits for after work.

The gym suit, the swim suit, the dinner and a show suit.

He settles on the dance hall suit, tighter and leaner than the current meat-suit, more graceful, the musculature dialed in and conditioned for an evening at the club on the dance floor. It had been upgraded since the last time he’d worn it out to include swing dancing and salsa, and he hoped the evening would give him the opportunity to try those out.

Standing on the loading pad facing the mirror, he pushes the palm of his hand flush to the glass, the dance suit mirroring his movement. There’s a rush of consciousness while he transfers, and when the fuzziness of migration is complete, Jake in the dance suit stands in the bedroom, the nine to five suit having rotated away into storage, the reflection now vacant.

Stepping back, he dismisses the carousel and regards his new self, now lean in the version of his body ready for an evening of frenetic exertion.

The audio suite has shelved Mingus and now pipes an upbeat M83 track into the apartment, his body reacting appropriately as he makes his way back through to the door, where he checks himself in the hall mirror to be sure he’s absolutely perfect.

The dance suit pauses the nine to five persona, calling up a carousel of Jake versions in the hall mirror.

Swiping left on nine to five Jake presents dinner Jake, then meet the parents Jake, emotionally available Jake, then killer date machine Jake.

Dance suit smiles, and pushing the palm of his hand against the glass of the mirror, he waits for the fuzzy transfer of personas to complete, nine to five Jake safely stored for work in the morning, and killer date machine Jake loaded for the evening’s entertainment.

Nine to five Jake is a good provider, but KDM Jake is where the action‘s at, and dance hall meat-suit isn’t going to waste its new talents.

Jake positively vibrates in the lift with anticipation, summoning a car to take him downtown.

He knows exactly what he’s suited for.

The Faster Strand

Author: Arkapravo Bhaumik

“No, it is not that. It is not bio-engineering. Bio-engineering is a lot slower. This is on a planetary scale. Bio-engineering cannot do this, this is mother nature.” Alec said.

“Then? The turtles just got together and found the secrets to the atomic structure? Higher mathematics? And they can work together as a hive mind spread across the entire planet? The latest reports suggest they had started with plans to design technology – somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.” I said in bewilderment.

“You see, it has been forty-three days and they already know more than what humanity has known in its entire existence. It is a leap of evolution. Have you never wondered how one fine day an ape started walking upright and in less than forty-thousand years we became a space-faring civilization?” Alec said.

“Alec, Gwen … have you read this?” It was John with his mobile phone.

“Oh God! Really? Why did the military attack them again?” I said as we read the news article.

“It seems they are using psyche as a technology. And, amalgamated across five billion turtle brains it really works well. One hundred seventy-three military and civilians dead, and like last time, the nuke has been rendered sterile. This scares me.” Alec said

“It will only get worse from here. The turtles know now that we are their enemy. As the second-best intelligent species – we may either be made to be their slaves, or worse, be eliminated” John said.

“A faster strand of evolution, we have enjoyed that privilege for a long time. Now, nature has made another selection. It was always in the cards – we never connected at a higher level of humanity, and hate, greed, and acquisition were our dominant social tools for cohesion” Alec said.

“Humanity, so, will it be Turtle-ity next? I am assuming that they are able to communicate at a level of language – social exchange of ideas” I said.

“Maybe they just don’t need to. It is as if each one of them opens up their minds to the rest of them, and they ‘see’ the thoughts like a movie on the screen of their minds – no language or gestures – walk into my mind. Turtles have often been connected to Zen Buddhism, it may be a link to their wisdom and their harmonious working, as they are showing now.” Alec said.

“So, what happens next?” I asked

“The two most intelligent species will contest for the planet, and one way or another, the lesser intelligent one will lose,” Alec said.

Children of Silence

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

I began in the winter. My sister’s legs spread as bloodied wings atop the kitchen table and I secrete from her womb. Into the breach I fold, a sluice of screaming muscle and I barge through shuddering thighs in a gush of amniotic tabletop wash.

My youth comes to me in fragments, violent images that flutter down like crumpled Polaroids and dissolve against my beading midnight skin. Flakes so vitriolic, so stunning in the purity of their agony that they would have me beg – no – crave to slip beneath the bubbling comfort of an acid bath’s sweet caustic wrap. Or, as the pain drew me to hate all that I saw, claw for the sickening release of a straight-edge razor’s slow corneal caress.

“What are you thinking father?”, asks my five-year-old self.

“I thought your sister an angel”.

I was six the last time I saw him, I was six and he was sick. His mind eaten through by the gorging worm of obsession. His intellect, sagging in the deep of the iris black like a chute caught hitched atop a tree of rapier thorns.

As my memory’s sticky filth clings as much as it molts, I taste again the stringent zing. It films the roof of my mouth and sings in notes of sweat and ripping pain. It crackles my jaw and dribbles down my thigh. It is doctrine. It is god and gods. See them, the devious daemons and voyeuristic deities that huddle between these words. Words I shouldn’t think let alone speak.

Beware their followers – the sycophant adherents whom mass at their feet. Fear them most, for they are not hobbled by the constraints of fiction. They that are men.

These slaves to an alien master would shepherd my youth, a few bad apples they say. But it is not apples that rip so ravenously at innocence, only to leave it to fester and curdle in darkness – voiceless and alone. They are rapists. But the analogy does hold true in that spoiling fruits do cast a furry cloak of ruin across all that stand at their side, where not even the basket that holds them escapes the creeping decay.

I was to grow up in such a building, one upon which the spores of abuse had long dusted every inch from sacristy to narthex. A tired old facade that shone no less as it enticed with its surly mask of goodness and light. A mask that slid askew the moment I first heard the cries in the night and knew there was darkness at bay.

It that tugs at my hair as I sleep alone in a room empty but for me. They the creeps that creep between stone and plaster and stand atop volumes of scripture, clambering to reach the hole in the wall that faces the foot of my bed. Supposed peers to peer upon my body – rest and motion. Their cold vitreous cradled in sockets caked with the shed scales of evil absolved. At once so celibate, so obedient; they who would anoint me with adoration most foul.

An old familiar scent brushes the edge of my pillow, and he again whispers into my ear.

“Don’t hate me, Frances, I was commanded to lay with your kind and propagate a god, to bring forth a true child of the heavens. I truly thought I was the one for you, as I did with your dear mother. But I step aside for the convocation has spoken, my replacement awaits… so go now, you have such wondrous work to do”.

More Teeth

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Caelsri stalks about the clearing, swearing softly, reading the signs. Her wolf pack has been chased off by her latest finds. Thinking of which, where are those ice-brained bucketheads, anyway?
The change of attention saves her life.
She ducks as a slavering warlupe lunges for her head, it’s two companions charging from the side. Crouching hard, she unwinds and launches herself between them.
“Stinky, ungrateful, half-thawed…!”
She slashes her dagger along the gut of the nearest. Drag from that angles her rightward and drops her sooner than anticipated: the tips of her ears get sprayed in drool as the jaws of the first attacker snap shut where her head would have been.
Backflipping out of the way, she braces herself. Things are about to get-
Something flashes past her and tears into the nearest warlupe.
Funny how – for all that his chassis is a cat skeleton – Skreetas always reminds her of a snake when he’s fighting. It’s the straight line striking. No curves. No evasion. All focussed aggression while relying on the ancient alloys of his hide to baffle any retaliation.
The warlupe not engaged in disentangling it’s back legs from its entrails wheels about and charges – for two steps. Graal slams down from the cliff above, using the warlupe as a soft landing. It explodes, covering everything for a dozen strides in gore.
“They really do smell worse on the inside.”
Graal rolls off the impromptu cadaver rug, stands up and shakes himself before she can do anything. Something wet, warm and trailing wires bounces off her head.
“Whatever that was, I don’t want to know.”
“Urff.”
She slaps the angular, long-fanged head away.
“No, I’m not happy about it. You could have just torn its head off.”
“Noffun.”
“Fun? I’ve lost my wolves and the three oldest bio-enhanced I’ve ever thawed. Five moons to bring them back. Five moons! What am I going to do for numbers now? You’re good but you’re unique. Likewise Skreetas. If I could get another one of either of you, I could claim pack right.”
There’s a yelp and a gristly ‘crunch’.
All three of them spin to see the back half of a warlupe hanging from the fangs of a sizeable reptile. The eviscerated warlupe had chewed its guts off and leapt to attack. The lizard had simply lunged from cover to catch airborne prey.
Worn golden armour is bonded to its already impressive scales. Bright eyes regard them with more than brute curiosity. It spits the half-carcass out.
“Thorry. Y’rr kill?”
Caelsri waves her hand: “Enough to share. I thought Dahans gone for good?”
“M’exile.”
Another stray predator, and a smart one at that. With a smile, she looks toward Graal. He nods. Beyond him, Skreetas settles, lifting his claws so he can scour them using the heat ray mounted in his tail. No objections, then.
“We need reliable fighters to make a pack.” She gestures to the bodies: “These turned on me.”
The half-carcass disappears in two gulps and minimal chewing.
“Join?”
Graal ambles over to the Dahan. They sniff each other. Graal pushes the other half-carcass over. Caelsri joins them as the reptile finishes eating that warlupe and starts eyeing up the other recognisable carcass.
“You have a name?”
“Eth’l.”
“I’m Caelsri. Wolf-thing is Graal. Cat-thing is Skreetas.”
“We?”
“Are Sturmgeirr. We roam, we collect, we defend if called. The horizon is our home.”
“And food?”
She chuckles: “Yes, you can eat the other carcass. After that, we’re off hunting for treasure, and more walking relics.”
Skreetas squalls in outrage.
Graal barks a laugh.