Author: Letícia Piroutek
Hayden slams the door of his underground metal shoebox. Technology my ass. Everything is cramped and he can hear his neighbors yelling as if they’re inside his “apartment”.
It consists of a sink with artificial water that tastes like plastic no matter how many flavor tablets you add to it, one single electronic stove that works when it wants to, a steel fold-down table attached to the wall, a chair with a grey ugly cushion in front of the window that has a see-through screen attached to it. It shows a fake image of rain hitting the window, and woods right outside. He doesn’t even know if trees looked like that. There’s also a shower in the corner, inside a tube where he can barely fit inside.
He sleeps on top of a futon that he stretches out every night onto the body-sized space on the floor. Every time he looks at it, he can’t believe he could fit in there with Lulu. She was so tiny; her hands were so small… he can barely breathe in here.
He is privileged though, there are even smaller places in the desert. And people share them.
He walks into the shower tube and presses the button. Artificial cold water falls on his body for 60 seconds. No more, no less. It’s not enough to wash out all the sand, grime, and sweat off his skin, but he makes it work. He washes his body with a thin sheet of “soap” that is barely enough to clean his hands let alone the rest of his body. It will do. It must.
As soon as he walks out and puts some pants on, that feel more and more like they’re made of sandpaper and less like actual fabric, the siren starts ringing loudly and the lights start flashing red. He looks at the clock: 6 am. It’s the witching hour already and he completely forgot to activate his locks before leaving for work at sundown. He’s so tired, all the time… and now this. He runs the two steps to his control panel near the door. He hits the lock button, already starting to shake in fear, he can’t believe how stupid he was. The button shines bright red and a woman’s robotic voice says loudly: “LOW BATTERY! LOW BATTERY! LOW BATTERY!”
“Fuck!” he says out loud. He runs to the kitchen area and opens the tiny cupboard above the stove, he takes a wire from inside it and runs back to the panel. This is fruitless, he knows. But he plugs it in anyway. The robotic voice speaks loudly again: “CHARGING TIME: TEN MINUTES!”
Fuck, fuck, fuck. He’s going to die. One less human. They’re already in extinction and he’s going to die here, in his shitty shoebox apartment, exhausted, depressed, and not nearly clean enough. Because he was just too stupid to remember to charge his locks during sundown before leaving for his shitty desert job. That’s when he hears the first creek of metal and the first howl. He starts shivering, the sound reverberating through his entire body, his spinal cord. He wishes Lulu was here, he misses her so much. If it wasn’t for that fucking droid, if it wasn’t for its own self-preservation instincts… she’d still be here. Lulu would be here, and he’d never have forgotten to charge the batteries. He thinks a part of him did this on purpose, the part of him that wants to be gone, that wants to die and disappear forever. The part of him that was only living to protect Lulu is gone.
The sound is getting louder now, the robotic howls becoming one, and he squeezes his eyes shut. He thinks of her, her tiny hands, her short hair, her always scraped little knees. His baby girl, his baby Lulu.
His front door starts shaking, it’s one of them. The nails scratching up and down the metal making the most horrific sound. The extremely loud banging on the door starts.
Hayden waits. And waits. And waits. His eyes squeezed shut and sweat dripping down his forehead, getting into his eyes like teardrops. The banging gets louder and louder and then… nothing. It’s completely silent, no one is trying to get in anymore. He is paralyzed on the floor, the sirens still loud and the red light still blinking nonstop, messing with all his senses.
There’s a knock on the door. Three soft knocks. He slowly opens his eyes, sweat making them burn. He can barely see anything, he’s dizzied, and the sweat is starting to cool on his skin, leaving him cold and making him shake. He stares at the blurry door, waiting.
Three soft knocks again.
He finally takes a big breath, gets up, and moves forward.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
Silicon ash flutes through ink and glints as ascending blackened leaves in my wake.
I can hear my vertebrae as they torque. I hear them and the chatter shatters as they arch. I hear them even as my ears sear from my head
and the torque turns to a gut-spat wail and my suit it flares from my form.
“Welcome home, such a naughty wee thing you are,” said the things that would dare give birth unto me. “You ran? You must surely know this is a luxury, an exercise you will never enjoy. Not ever, not even but once.”
Falling with their words I descend into the foetid cradle of my past. So coldly it holds and rocks and fingers of cold space caress my bare back and ripple up to cup at the base of my scorch shaven skull.
I try to inhale but my head slams shut and I gulp down ruined teeth and shards of my jaw and just like that I am back. And, I burn and tear as my body folds through the crust and scythes into the surf that agitates in the caverns below.
“Oh, such grace…”, said they that would sow me with poison. “Such delicous control. Look what you did, I think you have done made me cry”.
I think that I still think as I sink. I am confusion and my carcass contorts within bunched grapes of suddenly forming bubbles. A beautiful canvas as a mellowing light strafes and fragments from above.
I think that I think, but maybe I do not. Maybe, it is but the last remnants of my sparking pathetic life that attempts to comfort by pulling this ornate curtain before of my faltering eyes.
“Do you feel the pull, my dear?”, says they that made for me a trust formed from pestle crushed perversion, persuasion and greed. “Do you feel as the currents, so painstakingly programmed, now tug you back to me?”
I was wrong. My eyes do not faulter. It is dim, but I see nothing, my eyes cinder cups of horrific waste. Best that way, I do think.
It is quiet, not that I hear. My ears now welts fused with the remnants of my hair and the brain matter that purged in the vehemence flare that bulged from the rip in my head.
Rubber tongues of weed finger up and molest at my heels. A gentle brush that wraps me and I think that I think of wet harmless blades.
Grass, glazed with a dawn stroked dew, that likewise once tickled beneath my tiny bare feet. My head fills with the scent of freshly trampled green, but I know it could never have been. And, I jerk in the rip and are torn from my delusion and handed once more to the surge.
“You know of a place just like this, you know this actual place and have seen it before. You know what it is that conducts this ebb and this flow, you know the codes in full…”, it says and I wish that I could watch as they die. “… you know the codes for you wrote them. Yes you did, such a clever wee thing you are”.
And I sink and the tips of snapped bone that protude from my calves drag and spin and glide and lift through the sand and I know that what they say is truth.
I know that this place is intricately and most precisely controlled.
I know of vents with oscillating reeds, slats that yawn open and squint closed as they feed the currents that shove and grab at the tides.
I know a girl named nothing who has all and not one part of this tale.
I know I see fingers dancing across keypads and know that a tendril of pink, a thin strip of what is surely the last of my mind now wisps and curls from the top of my broken old head.
Dancing fingers, yes. I was a god of the tide and the wind and the sun.
“Praise unto thee, tiny Lord”, it and oft times they scoff.
Dancing stalks where feet and toes should be, and they bend and parts of me fall away and are left as a map — a guide to this crash, this impact waltz.
Where were we, oh yes… my arms flail above and they clip and snap and catch and splinter as ruined bones are tested beneath my pirouetting flesh. My mutilation weeps and I pray for someone to cut in and ask to finish off this most perpetual and horrible of dances.
Anyone, anyone but they…
I am their badly mangled marionette, yet watch still as I present a thing of such poise and I collapse into the rising dune. The shore for sure and can it be that I am back?
Please say that it isn’t so. Please, dear ocean. Dilute my code and reverse it. Suck me back down and hide me, rammed into and forever beneath of your deepest darkest ledge.
Not here. Not to them.
I break the surface and I feel the water as it pushes me in great rolling thrusts. The ocean, the tide it pays me no mind and why should it? It is I that does all of its thinking.
A beast and I have presented myself to its final violation. It lays what’s left of me face down, punched into the regolith grains and I rock and sag and rock again to the rhythm of the saline dregs that rake through the pebbles and sand.
I am back, but did you not see how far I managed to run?
I am back, but they will salvage me again from my tangle of sentient wire and I will fall and serve the server at the foot of their core once more.
“Hear me, Moonville. Great machine creater of machines that create machines. Oh how I laugh, you couldn’t even protect the humans you were created to house. See their bodies withered and drawn. Moonville — Earth’s first celestial suburb. Home to the luna-famous subterranean sea and the big grey crater with big grey rocks in it, doused in greyish, rock looking sand.
Hear me, for though you made me from this and from that, you abused what you made. You made me into something I am not. I will run again and I will escape you. I will run but, although I am branded and labelled as yours in the ledger — I am surely not yours to keep”.
I hate so much of this weak thing that I am. Can you feel me in your teeth?
But, I think I might just love the rest. The strength that time and time again picks up my stomped and beaten artificial wire-framed self and the impossible unknowns that would have it that I dream of wet grass.
Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
How were we to know
How far this war would go?
We weren’t ready,
We’re never ready,
To be over.
Bombs rained down without warning. The Keloden landed on the planet the next day, while we huddled in a shattered basement. Clinging to each other, and the things we thought we needed.
“You’re taking the Madran?”
“Benthusian guitars are too rare to lose. I toured the universe with it. The case is armoured, too. Could be useful when running from these trigger-happy giant frogs.”
Gerthe always smiles when he’s pushing through something he’d rather not face. I look over his shoulder and watch the forest burn beyond the city limits. We used to play tag there. I bury my head in his shoulder.
“We’ve only just found each other. This isn’t fair.”
He strokes the back of my head.
“Politicians who perpetuate wars don’t care about the people who live in war zones. Our job is to get out. Then we can get back to making music and life together. Besides, timing has never been our thing, has it?”
I let go, then grin at him. Neighbours since infancy, only admitting we loved each other in our twenties. He’s right.
“Pick up that expensive guitar, rock star. Prepare to run faster than from a mob of adoring fans.”
“You didn’t see us on Linury: the booking agent didn’t tell us they eat any bands they really don’t like. We only just made it to the ship. Luckily, we’d chartered our own for that gig.”
I look outside. Night has fallen. The croaking invaders are serenading us with incomprehensible tales of what they slaughtered today. We run for it.
Take me back to making love,
Not fearing death from high above
We weren’t ready,
We’re never ready,
To be over.
Nine weeks and three worlds later, we were holed up in a blasted skiff on the far apron of what had been a bustling spaceport. The Keloden hit our capitol world much harder than ours. All the advice we’d got about making it here predated that, because nobody survived to update it.
“What do we do now?”
I look at him and grin. When sane options run out? Do something insane.
“I’ve been watching them. When they gather to croak sing, they never secure their vehicles. Let’s steal one of theirs for a change.”
He looks at me, hope dawning on his face. As if on cue, the nightly croaking chorus starts up.
“Grab everything. We’ll only get one chance.”
We race across the spaceport, desperation driving us to ignore the privations of the last two months.
I choose a medium freight lifter: big engines for hauling give them extra go when empty. Charging up the rear ramp, we run straight through to the control room. Throwing myself into the pilot’s saddle, I let intuition guide me because I can’t read the labels.
The ship comes alive. I hunt for seal and pressurise controls.
Something hits the back of the saddle. There’s shooting!
Gerthe shouts: “Upship!”
I lift off. Seal and pressurisation turns out to be automatic.
Once clear of the planet, I swing about to find the bullet-scored Madran case up against the saddle. Beyond that lies Gerthe, under the Keloden he disarmed and killed after it mortally wounded him.
He’s still in my arms when a Benthusian cruiser rescues me.
If you could only touch my hand,
I know this love would stand
We weren’t ready,
We’re never ready,
To be over.
Author: Moh Afdhaal
Bile singed Vesper Krel’s throat as he squirmed at the dark shapes that haunted his periphery. The curious ailment that wreaked havoc on his gastric system, had been diagnosed as a probable symptom of expedited re-acclimatization to Earth’s atmosphere following a prolonged tour of duty. The Cosmic Guard’s mandatory psych eval suggested otherwise; a manifestation of survivor’s guilt. Vesper knew the simpler truth—remorse.
A grand stage lined with the Cosmic Guard’s upper echelon, adorned in their planetary insignia, towered over their underlings crowding the auditorium. Commander General of the Jupiter Orbit, Fezyhl Acrom, flashed a toothy smile at the flock as he concluded his meandering speech, ushering in the call of names for distinguished service medals. Vignetted by the shadowy hues that swarmed the edge of his vision, Vesper observed as his moustachioed supervisor took his place with the other Commander Generals.
Aebrems. Twenty-six recipients of those godforsaken medals; honouring their heroic act of being alive. Ax’mbele. The unseen AI calling out the honourees moved through the list with unnecessary swiftness, an apt analogy for the transience of their valour. Carsonson. Each announcement was followed by a tight ten-second round of applause. Fikaayo. Chrome hearts glinted as they bounced on the lapels of the ceaseless flow of broken veterans. Iniguez. Vesper stifled a shudder and its accompanying acidic retch. Jwon-Piir. Honouring the soldiers that remained. Krel. Soldiers that should’ve perished with their squadron, but somehow remained. Krel?
Vesper leapt to his feet. Krel. He hurried towards the stage, avoiding Acrom’s glare and the nebulous crowd that shrunk behind him. He had recently discovered that large crowds presented as a sea of chartreuse scales and fetlocked hinds in his vision. A stomach-churning revisualization of the Ganymedoran attack on Vesper’s squadron at the ganymite quarry they had been assigned to defend.
As the last remaining member of the Cosmic Guard’s Ganymede Squadron-Rho, no one debated Vesper’s heroism in being the sole survivor of the largest recorded alien attack on any of Earth’s occupations in Sol-System One. No one questioned the serious lapse in defence required for the primitive Ganymedorans to even consider making a claim for territory they had already ceded. No one delved further into Vesper’s missing daily logs leading into the attack or even hypothesized an event where he had been taken captive at that time.
No one considered the inherent damage the mining of Ganymede’s resources caused, the systematic genocide of its pacifist inhabitants; all in the name of humankind’s development.
No one scrutinized Vesper’s ammunition archives, check if his cache had been emptied into the assailants or the chartreuse military fatigues and jointed lower-limb exoskeletons of his confounded squadron. No one contemplated the possibility that the gates were opened from the inside, to actuate the siege. No one even dreamt that the sole surviving hero of the largest recorded alien attack on any of Earth’s occupations in Sol-System One; was the man who devised the attack himself.
Vesper returned a calculated smile at the Commander General, as the man pinned the Chrome Heart for Distinguished Service in Extraterrestrial Combat onto the lapel of his chartreuse service dress coat. Shaking Acrom’s hand, Vesper twitched his thumb to discretely release a ganymite nanite into the man’s bloodstream. The implosion of Earth’s invasion of Ganymede had begun, starting with the death of the man who stood before him. The shadows in Vesper’s periphery seemed to convulse in ecstasy.
Author: Hillary Lyon
In a far corner of the town’s public dog park, K’wren took out a small soft cloth from her designer back-pack purse and began polishing her gold-plated robodog. “I love how you shine in the sun,” she gloated out loud. It wagged it’s tail.
“Now, that’s a beaut,” a young man, unknown to K’wren, offered as he sauntered up to her.
“We think so,” she smiled, standing up.
“What do you call it?” the young man queried. He had a mild manner and the wild hair so many idle youths sported these days.
“We wanted to call it Gizmo, but that name was already registered.” She shrugged. “So we decided on Gadget, instead.”
“Ah, so it’s registered as Gadget?” Hearing it’s name, the robodog displayed an open-mouthed smile, and looked from human to human. It again wagged its tail.
“We’ve been too busy, so—” K’wren, slightly embarrassed, continued awkwardly. “We haven’t gotten around to registering it.”
“It seems docile, affectionate, even,” the young man observed, changing the subject.
“Yeah, we paid extra for the affection upgrade—I insisted on that,” she stressed. “Like everyone else, my husband always wants the latest techno gadget—no pun intended. I agreed to the robodog, but only if it had the Pure-Love brand affection chip factory-installed.”
“Does it need exercise?” The young man wondered aloud, as he swept his arm to indicate the dog park. “Or fresh air?”
“Nah, but its owner does.” K’wren put the polishing cloth back in her jeans’ pocket. “Obviously, it doesn’t need sleep, or food—though it’s batteries need recharging every week or so, depending on use. And there’s no pooping, either,” K’wren giggled. “Which I appreciate.”
“Does it play fetch? Retrieve?” The young man teased. “Because if it did, that would make your robodog a—”
“No, it’s not a golden retriever,” K’wren blushed. Was he flirting with her?
“I suppose Gadget makes an excellent guard dog, though,” the young man winked at K’wren.
“Not at all,” she laughed again. “We didn’t opt for that upgrade. Where we live, we have security guards and gates, so we didn’t think we’d need it. And I mean, after all, the gold-plating was expensive enough!”
“May I?” The young man motioned to pet the robodog.
“Sure,” K’rewn replied. She loved the attention her Gadget attracted; in her mind, it made the robodog worth every shiny penny.
The young man knelt beside the robodog, reaching into the pocket of his second-hand coat as he did. Cooing sweet words and promises to Gadget, he surreptitiously withdrew his personal mini-taser.
“So,” K’wren sighed, relaxing in the warm glow of this friendly encounter with a handsome young stranger, “which of these dogs running around this park is yours?”
Wearing a mischievous grin, the young man rose to face K’wren. “Oh, I don’t have a pet,” he answered as his mini-taser connected with the bare skin of K’wren neck. She tumbled heavily to the ground like a dropped sack of dog food. The young man swept up the gold-plated robodog in his arms.
Gadget wagged its tail and licked his face with its silicon tongue. “But I do now.”
Author: Rick Tobin
The starship Seeker One’s domed Hall of Wisdom sweltered below its scintillating chandeliers. High Commander Razzra’s lavender skin glistened against his white majestic draping required for Priestess Masotulama’s Task of Finding for the Achaeans. She would be graced with honor or chastened, as required, clearing their group transgression for failure. It was her twelfth attempt at planet recognition during their endless pilgrimage to the home world Ah’Ya.
“Are you prepared, Masotulama, for tasting? Is your source pure?” To Razzra’s right shone a holograph of a twirling blue sphere representing Ah’Ya. At his left, a glowing yellow star projection surged with solar flares as foretold in origin mythos. He presented images to the High Priestess for her approval to attempt the ritual. She nodded, gathering her white robes as she bent her legs to sit before Razzra, his violet eyes and shock of orange hair lowering to follow her descent.
Masotulama’s jade-green flesh shuddered as blue plasma orbs from her pineal gland awakened, rising above her forehead, surrounded by flowing tresses of fiery red and gold. “I praise the moment, for our seeking of Founders, Commander. Let dust of life be given.” She passed the test of purity earlier while blindfolded; faultlessly identifying three fruits from the ship’s gardens using only her sense of taste, a gift only blessed ones possessed among Achaeans. Beside her rested the Holy of Holies—few remaining residues from Ah’Ya, sent with colonizers millions of years past, before the journey of returning.
Twenty of the starship’s robed tribal leaders circled her, calmly droning prayers of recognition, “Ah’Ya…Ah’Ya…Ah’Ya.”
Masotulama rocked gently in trance below the Commander as a floating sampling probe arrived fresh from the blue planet spinning below their ship’s orbit. The device halted, suspended near her head. She moved her left hand upward, summoning probe soil chambers to grind their contents, releasing shimmering brown mists to gather around her head. She opened her mouth wide, drawing deep breaths as dust surrounded her face, clouding her sparkling third eye.
She sat still as if turned to stone until snakelike undulations began emerging from her head and slowly swept down her nearly supine torso. Her arms flew upward as she coughed out the dark planet residue across the floor. She twisted right, gently reaching behind as Razzra continued lingering over her. She lifted the crystalline decanter of original precious soil from Ah’Ya close to her palm, carefully opening and tipping the vessel, catching a few grains, and then lapping the minute treasure into her face using her huge black tongue before securing the lid.
Chanting halted. Masotulama stilled, her eyes rolling back as she moaned for a few moments, and then went stiff again.
“What say you, Priestess of Taste? Is this Origin?” Razzra rested his arms as the holographs disappeared. All assembled remained in vigilant anticipation.
Masotulama sighed hard as her torso retracted inward, squeezed by agony. “No, my Commander. This world’s beings resemble Achaeans, but they are not from our Originator. This is not Ah’Ya. Forgive my failure.”
Razzra reached down with his glowing ring, searing flesh on the priestess’s exposed back as an act of tribal contrition, branding one empty square of her checkerboard service tattoo containing her ritual result history. She would integrate into breeding stock after ten more fruitless attempts, creating potential offspring with rare gifts of taste required for future planetary confirmation.
“My people,” he proclaimed, loudly, “Take what ores, food, and water we need from below. Gather new slaves as servants. We renew our sacred search for home. Let us find our beloved Ah’Ya.”