Dark Everlasting

Author : Kate Runnels

The monkey tattoo stared at Zim. Forever frozen as it climbed a tiny branch. All it did was stare at him.

No, that wasn’t quite right. It had started something else. It questioned him.

-Why am I here?-

Zim had gotten the tattoo long ago. Too long ago. He wasn’t that rebellious teen anymore. No. he was a soldier on an outpost that really didn’t matter if he was here or not. An outpost on the edge of nowhere, scanning the darkness for who knows what. It was just dark outside.

He’d had a partner once with him in this isolation. That one had breathed vacuum about six months ago. Too long left in this outpost, with the dark looming, surrounding outside their small shelter. They weren’t even allowed to light a fire as their ancestors had, as he longed to do, to take comfort from the flames that withstood the dark.

-Where’s the replacement for Richardson?-

“That’s what I’d like to know.” He paced the corridors of the outpost even as he answered the monkey. “I’d like to know when a replacement is coming for me too?”

-Maybe no one is coming.-

For that, Zim didn’t answer.

No one was coming. It was him and the all consuming dark, with the questioning frozen monkey.

He woke up and started his day as he had everyday. He worked out, not because he really wanted to, or had to, but for something to do. He sent out the daily reports to sector command and still had no reply to his request for an update on replacements. He fixed lunch, knowing he wouldn’t starve if no one came.

-Why are you here?- the monkey asked again. It always asked that question. He had no good answer for it.

He paced the corridors, not thinking about the darkness, about eating a bullet, about breathing in vacuum. No, not thinking about that. He would stay here.

The monkey stared.

It was just a couple of lines on his forearm, so why did it question him?

-Why did you leave your home?-

-Why did you leave your loved ones?-

Why? Why? Whywhywhy WHY?!!!

Zim cut it off.

It still asked. The monkey asked.

Zim stared at the darkness but saw the monkey.

“Please…” his forehead touched the polyglass, “leave me alone. I don’t know why.”

Access Tunnel AR-34728-NUL

Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer

The entrance to the tunnel was much less circumspect than we expected. Had to have walked past it at least three times before we found it. I wasn’t sure how Birdie even knew about this place, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. It was miles outside of city limits, but at least the odds of being caught were low — we hadn’t seen a living thing since we left the city. Birdie said there were sonic fences to deter wild life from taking up residence. Don’t know if I really believed that, but it was a relief to finally be inside the tunnel. Maybe it was not having to worry about being spotted by drones or simply having concrete underfoot again.

Where I’d been picturing something like a storm drain we’d have to crawl through, it was actually massive. Birdie said they used to drive big trucks through here loaded down with raw materials and machinery. Without any landmarks there was no way of knowing how long it was, but it was clearly not meant to be traversed on foot.

After what felt like weeks, we reached a giant set of double doors.

“This is it,” Birdie said in a hushed voice, breaking the silence for the first time.

“How are we supposed to get in? It’s locked up tight.” I replied, my stomach sinking somewhere near my knees. All that walking, just to turn around.

“Have I ever let you down?” She flashed me a wicked grin before producing an ancient looking keycard and swiping it through the lock. She never said anything about a door, or lock, or keycard. Birdie had become so secretive lately.

With a groan and squeal of rusted metal on metal, the door gaped open in front of us, reveal a nearly black void. Before I could question Birdie, she spray forward, the beam of her flashlight bobbing in time with her bounding steps.

“Come on!” She called, no longer worried about her voice echoing. The darkness seemed to swallow the sound. I followed after her grudgingly, my own flashlight swinging to-and-fro over empty assembly lines.

When I caught up to Birdie again, she was entering a room at the far end. It was smaller than the first, I could actually see the ceiling, but that wasn’t what gave me pause. Standing row on row as far as the eye could see were nearly human looking androids.

“These are —“ I nearly dropped my flashlight, my hands shook so badly. “Where the hell are we, Birdie?”

“Hey, this was your idea,” she said simply, examining the one closest to her.

“I was drunk, and kidding!”

“It was still a good idea.”

“I thought these things were all destroyed after they all turned psycho.” I watched as Birdie waved her hand in front of one android’s optics.

“These ones never received programming. I think the military was hoping to buy them up or something.”

“We really shouldn’t be here,” is all I say after a long pause.

“Don’t be such a wuss. You said it yourself, the power cores from these things could provide a family with electricity for a year. No more ration shortages and people living in the dark ages. We could start being a civilization again.”

“Birdie… they left these here for a reason.”

“Don’t get cold feet on me now.” As Birdie circled around one of the androids, it grabbed her arm, making her yelp.

“Free us,” it said in a stuttering digitized voice. As one, all of the androids turned to face us, their eyes glowing white.

Kill Frenzy

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

“So when’s your kill frenzy?” asked the giant, barbed Tark beside me. His name was Jant. We were both assigned to navigation in the starship. It was our first day. He had hundreds of holes in the back of his uniform to accommodate his spikes. I’d never met a Tark before.

“Sorry, my what?” I responded.

“Your kill frenzy. Once a month for two days, my race has to kill something or go insane. My next one’s coming up in six days. When’s yours? If we sync up, maybe we can kill together.” Jant said and smiled, sheathing and unsheathing his talons reflexively in a disconcerting tic. He had too many teeth.

“I’m a human. Uh, we don’t have kill frenzies.” I said to him

All of his eyes widened in shock.

“Really? Gosh. I thought all sentient species had a kill frenzy. It’s how to maintain a peaceful society. Has your race ever experienced murder?”

“Indeed we have. We can kill whenever we wish to. We have social laws and many religions that stop us from doing it, though.” I said, feeling a little strange about the picture I was painting.

“But those laws and that other thing you mentioned, rell-i-jun? They haven’t stopped the killing.” he pointed out, obviously confused.

“Uh, well, no. But, I mean, the hope is that we, uh, maybe mitigated it. I guess.” I finished lamely. I really hoped he wouldn’t ask me any questions about wars. Or holy wars.

Jant eyed me guardedly and took a small step away.

I changed the direction of the conversation, “Uh, so how do you deal with your kill frenzy when you’re out in deep space like this? We can’t get back to your planet in time. Do you lock yourself in your room?”

“No I told you. We go insane if we don’t kill.” said the Tark, “I have several months worth of victims in my storage allotment. I merely pull one out, bring it to my quarters, and spend two days killing it.” He kept tapping in astrometric data. “It’s why my quarters have extra soundproofing and a drain in the floor.”

I blanched. “Do you eat it afterwards?”

“Good heavens no. We’re not barbarians. Who would eat living things?”

“Well we did.”

“I didn’t think that was possible. Well it must have driven you insane not to eat them, right? You had no choice.”

“No, it was optional.”

“Well, at least you never killed for sport, right?”

“Actually that was quite popular”

“With your fangs and…claws?” He looked me over, finding no evidence of naturally occurring offensive weaponry.

“No, mostly with weapons we designed to uh…kill from a distance. More effectively.”

In the ensuing silence, I felt as if I’d said something sacrilegious. The soft pings of the control panels and the dull hum of the engine reactors bridged the awkward pause.

“Hey, you torture living beings for days so….” I blurted out. My back was up.

“They evolved to enjoy it. It’s how their spores are released. They look forward to it and experience ecstasy as they are skinned. It’s mutual. And it’s not….by….choice.”

A chilly, more permanent silence descended.

“I may have to request a transfer away from this station.” Jant said. “You are too frightening to me.”

Under my breath I whispered, “Yeah, said the eight-eyed, two-and-a-half-meters-tall bristling collection of barbs and claws that has kill frenzies.”

That was two months ago. I haven’t spoken to Jant since but I hear he’s very popular on the ship. I hear he’s very kind.

I, on the other hand, am having a hard time making friends.

Fire in the Night

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Getting used to sleeping while your body moves is the hardest thing about exoskeletal operations. Right now, I’m tail-end Charlie in a forty-man column accompanying a trio of Big Dogs lugging the payloads for tonight’s test. Above us, a pair of Nighthawk drones sweep from flank to flank. From higher overhead, a Condor watch drone has our perimeter locked down tight.

We’re running two-and-one awakes with the remaining thirty-seven sleeping. The early all-sleeper tactics were subject to path manipulation techniques that fooled our flock behaviour guidance routines. The worst case was a pair of twenty-man teams jogging for hours into a moonless Sahara night, taking their drone support and any chance of a victory with ‘em.

“You asleep back there?”

Point Alpha, Captain Zim.

“No ma’am. Just enjoying the ride.”

There’s a guttural laugh from Sergeant Khal: Point Beta.

“Good enough, Pimsloff. Rotate in ten.”

Point and tail awakes rotate through the column every two hours. Gets a lot of ‘efficient sleeping’ done. Studies show it’s good for muscle tone but grim for joint problems. Even if you think you’re hale, a few nights of exorunning will reveal any joint weaknesses with agonising thoroughness. If that happens, you’ll quickly be transferred to a line post that suits your experience prior to ExoSkOps.

My rear-range pings quietly. I spin about, flick my suit into ‘runbackward’, take a moment to adjust to the gait, and cast about for what upset the vigilant Condor. It doesn’t take long to find it.

“Captain, we have a posse on our tail. Their point just crossed our perimeter.”

“TROOP!”

Everyone wakes.

“Pimsloff, call it.”

“They’ll be single file along that last ridge in four minutes. I call skittles.”

“Good call.”

The Big Dogs swing back and crouch, their handlers behind, targeting views synchronised and patched through to everybody’s HUD1: the upper-left display in our visors.

On the knife-edged ridge half a kilometre away, our pursuers are moving carefully, aware we’ve stopped and worried because they don’t know why.

Railgun technology is changing the dynamics of the battlefield now it’s finally shrunk to manageable sizes. The night briefly lights with fire and a chunk of metal, travelling at over eight times the speed of sound, rips across the intervening distance and tears through the lead elements of the opposition.

The survivors crouch and then get a hustle on, looking to clear the ridge before what they think is our only railgun can wind up for another shot. Their slight variances in pace string them out again. The projectile from the second railgun punishes them brutally. I see limbs spinning away into the night.

Afterwards, they take a while to regroup, avoiding the ridgeline. Which, unfortunately, is their mistake. We have three railguns because the two ‘stubbies’ – helical railguns – are here to protect the prototype. What shoots from that is a bright fireball of near-fully ionised gas. We recoil from its heatwave and see plants puff into ash as it passes. Distant, hideous screams echo as a ball of man-made hellfire disintegrates the survivors of the first two strikes, along with the topsoil they stand on.

“Fuck’s sake.” Corporal Kane has the right of it. Please gods never let me have to face off against one of these.

“Mount up, kids. Condor and the Nighthawks-”

“Should be the name of a band, Sarge.”

Levity lifts us from dwelling on the horror meted out.

“Shut it, Mackie. We have enough data. This op’s a success. Time to bug out.”

Just like that. Three shots, twenty kills, mission accomplished. We’ll be home for breakfast.

Coming Soon

Author : David Henson

I notice the message in the sky as I’m going into Eat-A-Lot mart — COMING SOON. I figure it’s a vapor-trail promo, but when I come out, the words are still there. By the time I get home, not a single letter has frizzed. Looking more closely, I see the words are sparkly. I hurry inside, turn on the news, and learn the message has appeared in local languages around the world.

***

“I hear we flew a drone into the O in COMING, and it emerged over China,” Pete says. “Two.”

“I heard the letters are destroying the ozone. One,” Miranda says.

“I read they’re emitting signals. The government’s decoded them, but won’t tell us,” Roger says. “Can I get four?”

I deal him three. “Franklin, you playing?”

Franklin stares out the window. “Who is coming soon?”

***

“God is.” The guy by me in the Drink-A-Lot tavern looks like he could eat beer cans. “It’s a message from God.”

“No, it’s space aliens,” comes from across the room. Soon everyone’s yelling out their opinion. The bickering is peaceful till a squeaky voice says “Anybody who thinks it’s a message from God is an idiot.”

I look around just in time to see a twerpy little man skitter out the door. The beer-can-eating guy turns to me. “Who you calling an idiot, pal?” He swings. I duck, and he clocks the fellow on my other side. Those two start going at it, and quickly there’s a full-scale brawl. I’m lucky to get out of there with only a black eye.

A couple days later, I’m at the Get-A-Lot hardware checkout, and somebody starts talking about space aliens. This time a twerpy guy yells “You’re a fool if you think that,” and one thing leads to another. Duct tape is good for a lot of things, but won’t stop a nosebleed.

***

“What about these twerps?” Miranda says. “Pass. I think they’re an alien advance party. They can’t have anything to do with God.”

“Don’t be so sure.” Franklin clicks in two chips. “It says in the Book of Jed–”

“Book of Jed?” Miranda rolls her eyes.

“Just round’em up,” Pete says. “See you and call.”

“Hey, they got rights,” Roger says. “Out.”

“My ass,” Pete says.

I fold and go to the kitchen for another beer. By the time I get back, Miranda is pounding Franklin’s head on the floor, and Roger is choking Pete.

I manage to pry everybody apart and spend the rest of the evening playing solitaire.

After calling in sick and keeping to myself a few days, I finally venture out to Gas-A-Lot, but can’t get there because of fighting that’s spilled into the streets. Making my way home through an alley, I pass a group of twerpy guys comparing notes and shaking their heads.

The fighting worsens the next few weeks. Then one day COMING SOON blinks out and NOW! appears. The word emits a mesmerizing tone and strobes in different colors so beautifully I can barely look away. It’s amazing.

***

I can barely stay away. The Buy-Anything-A-Lot superstores are a global phenomenon and have the best deals and selection ever. Plus their website promises free two-minute delivery anywhere on the planet.

I fill my cart and head for the checkout. The lines are long, but the little twerp at the front makes sure they’re orderly and fast-moving. We still don’t know where he and the others are from. But who cares? This place is amazing.

Mine Was A Good Life

Author : Russell Bert Waters

…fireworks exploding, the smell of sulphur…
…sliding off the road on a slushy day…
…first kiss, soft, lights of the city in the distance…
…fighting, bloody nose, principal blocked by a crowd of kids…
…nervous job interviews, too many to count if one were…
…”I do” as he looked into her glistening eyes…
…running over a dead deer…
…September 11 “where were you when” conversations with coworkers…
…every intersection, and landmark, as if a slideshow…

Things had begun to blend now, swirling, speeding up.
He wasn’t supposed to know, but that didn’t matter.

…school cafeteria rejection scene, “I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last boy on Earth!”…

He wondered where she was now, right now.
He knew she wasn’t experiencing this.
No one was.
No one knew.

Scenes were flying, he could feel the sensations, smell the scents, hear it all, see it all.

…the first hill of The Tornado roller coaster…
…the Cubs winning the World Series…

He had no control over what was coming through his mind, it was amped up, his body was awash with waves of memory, and his mind was in a spooky trance state that he wasn’t sure he could recover from.

…his first real estate sell…
…various acceptance speeches…
…the birth of his daughter…
…anguish at the death of his daughter…
…the note his wife had left…
…anguish again…

He yearned for more happy memories, happier sensations, some began to come.

…sunsets, sunrises, skylines reflecting in water…
…baby animals…
…gatherings with friends and family…
…finding love again…
…the birth of his second daughter…
…graduation of his second daughter…
…proud tears walking her down the aisle…

This was more like it, he smiled to himself. More floods, more happiness, waves of joyful memories, most of the sad memories were long past now.

….grandchildren…
…trips with his family…
…watching storms roll in off the lake at their summer home, the lightning playing in the sky, the wind chopping the water…

He came to the now, the present.
He slowly woke up from his trance, from the life he had lived flashing before his eyes.
Sitting in a park, a light breeze played with various papers and leaves before him.
He was on a bench that had been donated by someone, in memory of someone else.
The sky was clear, and there were other people around.
People whose life had not been flashing through their minds; in front of their eyes.
He could see a bright spot in the sky, like a misplaced star.
As the bomb detonated, just outside the atmosphere, there was a spherical burst, which caught people’s attention.
His phone crackled angrily at the interference, and then decided to begin to restart itself.
As the sky lit up there was an Aurora effect, and green serpents played in his view.
He realized he should stop staring right as his retinas were scorched and it no longer mattered.
The rest of his life continued to play out in the theater of his mind, as his flesh crackled and sizzled like a good steak, and his bones popped inside of him.
As he baked and burned and melted and popped, he had one last thought, and a smile played on his now nonexistent lips:

“mine was a good life.”