What Stays

Author: Rick Tobin

“Get out of here, now!” Telerman yelled into his beleaguered colleagues’ faces over blaring dance music inside Omnia, as lights flashed around them, from above, over a vast dance floor of writhing partygoers.

“Chill pill, Telerman,” Sheila Barsted interrupted, pointing red fingernails onto Telerman’s nose, over his beard.

“Screw that!” Telerman screamed, grabbing her wrist.

“Hey, buddy,” slurred Roscoe Peterson, as he rose to defend his companion. “We got our first R&R in five years from the Ranch and terrific comps for rooms, food and alcohol from that tight-ass Project Manager. What the hell’s wrong with you? You got number crunching eating your butt, or what? Ain’t Caesars great?” Roscoe swirled his hand at its ambiance.

“Roscoe, get your shit together. There a black light room in here?” Telerman’s powerful grip pulled his smaller laboratory companions upright.

“What the hell? You crazy? Yeah, back behind us on the left. Hey, you can’t grab us like this, asshole!”
Josh Telerman ignored their antics. He dragged both Barsted, a top zoologist, and Roscoe, a talented microbiologist, out from their booth and into the Zoom Room, where swirling colors from semi-pornographic paintings glowed around them. Telerman’s captives stopped struggling after he pointed out yellow splotches covering their bodies. Telerman ignored yellow handprints over Sheila’s front and Roscoe’s crotch.

“Remember when we added fluorescence to scorpions for our cancer tests? That’s their damn sex pheromones all over us. Worse, I was responsible for not only increasing their size, but increasing metal concentrations in their aculeus.”

Roscoe’s shock cleared away his first two drinks. “Accu what?”

“Their stinger, putz. Scorpions use metal. You never asked questions about what we’re doing. Didn’t you wonder why we’re supposed to develop huge blue scorpions?”

“Geez, Telerman,” Barsted interrupted, “they just want to get more venom for cancer trials. They can’t synthesize it yet. Wrangling small herds is a hassle. We quadruple their size and drug tests get cheaper. So, what…and what is their crap doing all over us? How the hell did you know?”
“So there, smart ass,” Roscoe slurred. “Old Mr. DNA, always asking questions. The Ranch doesn’t like that. Didn’t you learn anything at Lawrence Livermore?”

Telerman pulled them both close to his face. “I should leave you both, but I can’t. We’re expendable. I smelled a rat when we got this free ride. Do you remember anything after we got off the bus and hit our rooms?”

“Who cares?” Roscoe complained, trying to push away from Telerman’s bear grip. “Fell asleep. Guess all those uppers we took to meet schedules for months must have worn off.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Sheila piped in, her long blonde hair draping back over her slinky dress as she looked up at Telerman’s growl.

“Probably only thing that saved us. We weren’t supposed to wake up after those free bus drinks.”
Telerman yanked them toward an exit door. Roscoe pulled away, sitting down. “Where the hell is Cynthia? She’ll fire your ass for this. You aren’t team lead.” Roscoe pointed both middle fingers at Telerman.

“She’s dead, you jerk. Go ahead, sit there, and they’ll find you torn to shreds and desiccated like her. I was just at her room. Cops found a foot-long stinger that went right through that bull-rider belt buckle she always wore. That’s what we developed, you saps. Somebody else was using our research. They made gigantic assassin weapons that make no sound and leave no prints. ”

Three terrified researchers rushed in drunken haste to find a cab as small arms fire echoed through Omnia.

Conquer Earth With This One Weird Trick

Author: Marcel Barker

Rrrtx class destroyer Ssstnbrx hung high over Earth’s southern pole, invisible and silent. Commander Tttx read from the onyx screen in front of him.

10 Facts About Bananas Doctors Don’t Want You To Know
Beneath the English text, the display conveniently translated to Krgg ideograms.
Mother Theresa’s Dark Legacy
Why You’ve Been Eating Bananas Wrong This Whole Time

“What’s a banana?” Tttx asked.
Vvvtx, Tttx’s second-in-command, gestured with two pseudopods. The screen showed an image of a long yellow fruit.
“Earth food. The exterior is inedible and peeled off in strips before consuming the soft interior.”
“Ugh. It looks just like an Yyyrg larva. So how have they been eaten wrong ‘this whole time’?”
“Wwwrn has written an article suggesting they should be eaten upside-down instead.”
“I see.” Tttx said. His mottled blue skin coloration indicated that he did not. “Show me the other ones.”

Is Banana Toast the New Avocado Toast?

“Wwwrn seems to have developed a bit of a fondness for them,” Tttx observed.
Vvvtx made a noncommittal gesture. For a moment there was silence.
Finally, Tttx sighed, sending ochre waves undulating down his dorsal polyps.
“This makes little sense to me, Vvvtx. Our mission is to conquer this backward planet, harvest the Earthling’s life-forces. We have one million face-huggers, three orbital phaser platform, and two million shock troops ready to deploy. Why waste our time and resources on these bananas? I have been patient with you, Vvvtx, but now it’s time to end… whatever you call this project.”
“I call it Weaponized Iconoclasm.” Vvvtx’s outer membrane grew stiff and angular. “It’s about planting doubt. In the first phase of my plan, we tell them that their medical professionals don’t want them to know about bananas, that the history they’ve been told is wrong. We tell them even the simplest things they have always done are being done incorrectly. We make them question everything.”
Tttx began to speak, but Vvvtx continued.
“And it’s working! We’ve helped the Earthlings establish a group to spread the idea that their planet is completely flat.”
“What?” Tttx pointed out the viewport. “That makes absolutely no sense.”
“Exactly. They are convinced that their space program is lying to them about how gravity works. Once Earthlings are confused enough and have learned to doubt everything, then we begin the second phase of the plan. We’ve begun influencing their leaders, having them make erratic and destructive choices.”
“To what end?”
“How will they be able to trust themselves enough to choose their own leaders? Instead of having to fight them, they will celebrate the Krgg for taking control! Furthermore, we’ve required only a few hundred propagandists; Earth already has an infrastructure for this sort of thing that we’ve been able to use directly.”
“Wait.” Tttx’s colouring turned a dark, deep crimson. “We have been leaving this strategy in the hands of the enemy?”
“You’re missing the point, sir. We can conquer these Earthlings with minimum effort. With no loss of troops! Besides, what could they possibly do with it?”
Tttx faded. Vvvtx had a valid point.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, and motioned Vvvtx out of the room.
When he was finally alone, Tttx melted into a thoughtful iridescent puddle. Could Vvvtx be right?
He poured a decanter of nutrient fluid, turned on his personal console, updated ship operations. Status nominal.
Tttx switched to the Krgg news feed, skimming article synopses as they scrolled by.
Then Tttx stopped. Scrolled back. Stared at the screen, blanching.

The Weird Trick for Consuming Life-Force High Council Doesn’t Want You To Know

The Flight

Author: Kevin P Michaels

George Tompkins hated almost everything. He hated buildings for being too tall, he hated cars for being too loud, he hated animals for being wild, and most of all he hated people for being . . . people.

George yearned for a time when things were less complicated and the world was a bit smaller. Most of all he yearned for peace and quiet, a silencing to the pointless yammering of all people.

The one thing George Tompkins did like was flying. The speed, the view, the freedom, but most of all he loved the solitude. Up in the sky away from everyone and everything George Tompkins found peace.

The flight was wonderful at first, white clouds above, stretching green fields leading into dense forests below. George’s troubles were finally beginning to fade when air traffic control radioed, instructing him to drop a few thousand feet to safely avoid an oncoming plane.

Lowering his altitude George found himself level with the city, the sight of which brought back his anxieties. Oh how he wished to be in a different time when man was not so complicated and annoying, a time when people respected one another and called each other neighbor, a time when technology served a purpose rather than as a distraction.

So lost in his own thoughts George is caught off guard as his plane enters a dark cloud. Thunder rumbles as hard rain pelts his windshield. A bolt of lightning strikes the plane. George fears it will explode. Instead an electric blue glow wraps around the plane. The glow fades away as George’s plane exits the dark cloud back to clearer skies.

Exhausted from all the excitement George turns toward home. Flying back he notices something strange, the city is regressing through time. Buildings and the surrounding landscapes grow younger with every passing moment. Time is reversing, everything within view is changing, the new replacing the old.

George, giddy with excitement at the sight of his dreams coming true, fails to notice the subtle changes happening around him. The gauges in the cockpit are first, regressing through time changing as the years past. Next his steering yolk regresses, constantly changing to earlier versions, as does everything else in the plane.

George’s clothes change as well. Now his clothing consists of an aviator hat and goggles, a leather coat, and a white scarf around his neck.

George ponders what life will be like in a different time until the steering yolk in his hand fades away. He watches with surprise as pieces of the plane disappear: gauges, buttons, seats, and so forth fade from existence until the entire plane vanishes completely, leaving poor George Tompkins free falling toward the Earth.

Luckily George always wears a parachute. He grabs the ripcord, yanking with all his might.

. . . Nothing happens.

George watches the ripcord in his hand fade away, realizing he has traveled back to a time before parachutes were created.

Plummeting toward the ground George thinks, “Perhaps if I fall long enough I’ll travel back to a time before the Earth existed and not hit the ground.”

He had no such luck.

Silo One

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The cooling towers hum less at night, as the temperature drops in the world above. ‘The World Above’. Oh, how our leaders love that title. They use it everywhere, usually presented in ways that used to be reserved for heaven and similar post-death nirvanas.

“Tea?” Susan nudges my arm.

I look down to see a cup of chestnut-coloured brew. I take it, forcing a smile. Susan has adapted better than I. It would be petty to spoil the moment in a fit of pique.

The world was going to hell with fanatics of every stripe hacking at each other while good people were left to shore up the burgeoning masses with steadily increasing taxes. Even corporations stepped in to help governments cope as the global population exceeded all resources.

In better times, the outbreak between North Korea and America would have been limited. However, when Chinese intervention forces rolled into Pyongyang, little Kim let rip with everything he had at every country he feared. He had a lot more than outside observers predicted.

Things quickly fell apart in the aftermath. My grandfather spoke of ‘infrastructural dependencies’. I never realised that meant if you deprive an urban population of basic needs for six days, it’ll turn feral.

Fortunately, father maintained a place in Silo One, a modest six-bedroom affair in the upper tiers. After settling in, it was good for a year. Rationing was tiresome, but proportionate share based upon your gold reserves had been agreed as a fair method. What father had failed to grasp was that his gold trove was, in real terms, trivial. We should have taken residence in Silo Five – where our reserve would have been roughly on par – but father always insisted that one started as high as one could. After his strategies to secure our station failed, he took to gambling to top up his dwindling reserves. When that tactic failed, we found settling debts down here was a merciless thing: mother simply failed to return home one night, as she belonged to someone else! I railed at father until he tried to beat me down, at which point I decamped to Susan’s parent’s place. I found her alone, nursing her mother, as her father had moved in with a billionairess up on Tier Six.

And so, our descent began. Everyone we asked for help denied us – seeing our plight as where they would be if they frittered their reserves on non-essentials like helping others.

I remember the Tiering meeting so well. Susan and I sat, dressed in our best, and not clutching at each other like some desperate couple from a black-and-white movie; which is how we felt.

Mister Grooms summed up: “Roderick, Susan, it saddens us to see members fall. However, there is still a place for you. Mister Tasker will explain your obligations when you arrive on Tier 209.”

Mister Tasker was forthright: “To remain, you will need to earn a token reserve. I recommend choosing cooling tower duty.”

We took the hint and became cooling tower cleaners. One of us worked while the other cared. A year later, both our charges died within a month of each other, cancer taking her mother and alcoholism ending my father. We wept tears of grieving, guilty joy, realising we could change our shifts so we would have time together.

Those below Tier 100 have never seen the upper tiers. They regard Susan and I as curiosities to be avoided. At least we have each other, and, up on these tower ledges, we can pretend for a while.

Blackstar

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“Do you know what happens when a black star dies?” Tony asks, rhetorically, not waiting for an answer. “It collapses in upon itself, and in one last gasp, ejaculates a single burst of energy into the void.”

His assistant nods, numbly, pen to paper but motionless, unsure of whether this is something she should be writing down.

“Consider the size of the universe, think about the odds of such a burst of the purest concentration of energy hitting a planet with life on it, let alone this,” he pauses waving his hands about, searching for the appropriate words, “this shit hole,” he finishes.

She writes ‘shit hole’ on the notepad.

“And of all the forms it could have taken, cockroach, palm tree, a blade of fucking grass, but no, it coalesces into the form of a man, or mostly man, a kind of androgynous whoever.”

She writes ‘androgynous’, followed by a question mark.

“You can’t keep energy contained like that, not in a fleshy meatsuit, you have to let some of it out, obviously, and what more obvious a form of energy expression than music?” He walks to his desk and pushes piles of paper around recklessly until he uncovers a package of cigarettes, from which he extracts one and lights it, drawing deeply and waiting for the nicotine rush to wash over him and subside so he can speak again.

She writes ‘Hepafilter’.

“Have you ever heard a piece of music and been unaffected?” He waits until she shrugs. “I mean, not ‘get up and dance’ affected, but you either love it or hate it, or it makes your foot tap or stands your teeth on edge, but it affects you, right?”

She nods.

“Imagine what a black star averting death can do, how that kind of energy worms its way into each and every body, tunes us to a common frequency and kind of weaves us all together.” He takes a long slow pull on the cigarette, watching its reflection in the window as the white paper tube is slowly consumed by the crawling orange glow against the blackness of the city outside.

She absently draws a row of stars across the page, each with a continuous stroke, crisscrossing lines without lifting the pen.

“And the crazy thing, we’re all so screwed up, nobody stops to consider that maybe, maybe this really is a star man, not just some crackerjack musician with a hypnotizing voice.” He plucks out another cigarette and lights it off the first before crushing the spent one out in the ashtray. “We’re all pointing our antennae to the sky, decoding static we’re getting from the great black nothingness looking for alien life, while we’re playing a real live star man’s music on our car stereo’s without a fucking clue what it really is.”

She starts filling in small parts of each star, where the crossing lines have created little shapes inside each one.

“And while we’re cluelessly consuming his energy, what happens? Booze, and drugs, and women, and pollution, and disease.” He takes another long pull of the cigarette, then blows the smoke out before fully inhaling. “And these bloody things,” he hollers, waving the half-smoked cigarette in the air for effect.

“And after we absorb all of his energy we’ve pretty much killed him again ourselves, haven’t we?” He stops speaking and stares at her.

She shrugs.

“Do you know what a rare opportunity we had, and we blew it?” He turns back to the window, looking through the glass up into the darkness.

“You only have to turn on the news to realize how much of our world he must have been holding together.” Smoke drifts slowly against the glass, and he watches it roll off in waves. “I give us five years, tops.”

Quiet Now Without the Bees

Author: Vivienne Burgess

I remember Agni on your lap, myself on the faded mat in the mess hall, practicing knots. Agni couldn’t keep his head on his shoulders, but I was listening. You started with the small things, shutting your eyes to speak, said it was important to pass on the details. In the middle of the year, you’d go camping in the forest with your friends. Trees blooming purple-white and you’d lie under them early in the early morning, listening to the bees. Before we lost the seasons there were distinct feelings outside, the cold was very sharp and the light was easy to be in. Sometimes, vehicles went by overhead, narrowly missing each other, to the tune of some elaborate clock that was just as far away. These were huge, huge machines as small as fingernails, leaving white trails of smoke that from below, you said, could have been speed boats on the ocean. Depending on the time of day these trails would be orange or pink or bright, bright yellow. And in the evening, the sun might catch the metal underside of the carriage and force a glint into your eye. This was when you could look at the sky without goggles. When there was more land to the country than there is now. Not enough people noticed at first. Then one day there was significantly less distance between the coasts, you found you had more neighbours in less space, and the problems that seemed far away were all around you and impossible to avoid. After the heat came the cold. Rinsed the sky of colour. Some people despaired; found cliffs, bought rope, didn’t bother with a note. Others took it on the chin. Agni was in a deep sleep so you carried him to the children’s tent, lay him down among his brothers and sisters. Penguins do this, come together to keep warm. Penguins also steal each other’s children. You talked about things like they still exist. On purpose, I don’t know. In this place it doesn’t matter whose blood is whose. Agni is all of our sons, like I am all of your daughters. You had darker hair when Agni came along. He was so warm everyone came to put a hand on him. Telling this one always made you smile, eyes still closed. There was a bad, bad cough going round and most of those people are gone now. You tucked me in beside Agni and I showed you my knot. You said it was perfect, best knot you’d ever seen, looking down at me like I was someone you didn’t know. Next morning I had my first bleed. A beginning and the end. We carried you far from camp, the earth anywhere too hard to dig. We made a circle, holding hands. A song was sung. Agni and I stayed the latest. He wanted to be near you and I noticed a shadow on his chin, the first of dark hairs. That day is very small now. I’m scared I’ll lose it inside all the others. I am learning to skin rats with the older girls and make a spit for roasting. When I have the energy I walk out to the mound of bodies and touch your grey face, preserved in ice. I try to hear the bees. My stomach is very big with Agni’s child, feels like another warm one to me, and I am in pain getting to sleep. To relax I think of penguins, a big warm ball in the cold; think, in certain lights, colour might be coming back to the sky. But how would I know. You took all of that with you. At night I dream of dust.