Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

An escape pod drifts. Radioactive crystals cling as hair to its skin and a man’s voice pleads out and into the void. A voice where an automated signal would suffice. Futility borne of desperation.

“… fuck. Shit. Fuck”

“You’ve mastered our syntax well, Frank”, her voice crunching through a throat brittle and scraped.

“Why, thank you. I had a good teacher”, her eyesight is fading but she sees the cheeky grin in his words.

“You know I never liked you. I thought you were a didactic asshole”

“Tell me how you really feel”, he chuckles but even he can hear that his words they are false.

She smiles and her bones crackle as she shifts,“I didn’t know if I’d find you. Or if you were even there to be found. You could well have been just another chip in the corporate machine. But there you were floating deep inside. Waiting. All these months now, just you and I”

A warning light is about to throb and a warping siren about to sound. He hushes them in advance and deludes in the moment. As if their silence will somehow delay what is now to come.

“You would have loved Earth”

“Would I?”, he says as he knows that she will again tell him of the beach and that place she loved above all things.

“It’s so perfect, so peaceful, so clean. There is a place. A long arching stretch of black sand where my grandfather would fish. And there is a bunker. A concrete relic from the old times when wars they were still fought and lives were bartered and bought”

“Tell me about the bunker”, he says as the very last of the oxygen fades from the pod.

“Its hidden. All but totally consumed as it sinks down into a dune where the pines contort and shy away from the sea. Or maybe, its the sand that is rising up in its cloak of needle tipped tussock. Rising up to steal this memory away. I would stand on its rough hewn roof and make-believe it was the moon and I’d taste the salt foam that flicked from the tips of the waves…”

“I do so love the wind in my hair”

“… idiot”

“Aroha”, says Frank, and it is a word that draws tears as she reaches and splays her fingers to his monitor and as her head slumps forward and into death this machine he knows he too was loved.

For months or maybe years or perhaps it is but seconds Frank continues to shout into space. Surely they’ll come. They’ll come and take her back home and they will scatter her on her beach made of iron.

The console she named Frank hums as it processes. It forms a thought. It thinks that true love may be a special kind of greed and in that instant it shuts down the distress transmission and it shuts down its systems for good.

A pod drifts whipped from the wave-tops of the void. A pod washes up on a distant shore.

A pod it springs to life.

Seventeen Moons ’til Doomsday

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The young man is wearing a vantablack bodysuit that leaves only his face discernible. Matching cloak, gloves and boots are stacked next to the log he sits on. A sensor-laden facemask lies in his hand as he starts speaking.
“You wanted this. So, no interruptions.”
The video drone settles into a hover. A voice emerges from it: “Whenever you’re ready, Captain Tane. Just tell us when you’re done.”
He nods, then stares into the lens with disturbing intensity.
“Vampires? Werewolves? I wish. Like anyone facing a Kastonen, I wish for the mythical horrors of my youth. I’d even face them in packs.
Their vessels descended on rural Iowa and the Ukok Plateau, the former attracting far more attention than one in the wilds of Siberia. By the time the US military had laid waste to a significant amount of Iowa and still failed, the snow leopard was extinct in the wild, along with most other fauna on the Ukok Plateau, and in adjacent territories.
Kastonen are predatory parasites that grow rapidly from a host by means we don’t fully understand. We daren’t study them because their bodies are made of highly contagious matter. They transform an infected host like high-speed cancer, first bonding to the nervous system – making removal a fatal process – then spawning as many of themselves as the host can support. It’s agonising to endure. Immolation is the only answer as the corpse remains infectious.
Regardless of origin, a Kastonen is sextupedal: an amphibious nightmare centaur of varying size, depending on what it spawned from, and how much it’s managed to consume since then. The only limit on their size seems to be gravity. We know of at least three oceanic Kastonen that are bigger than Blue Whales. It also seems that beyond a certain size, they start to grow armour in addition to their incredibly tough hide.
Strangely, they’re herbivores. They reserve meat as fuel for more Kastonen. Fighting them is difficult because skin-to-skin contact is deadly. Plus, they actively avoid confrontation. It’s their primary defence. They don’t want to fight, despite being very capable. Bite and run is their preferred tactic. Nervous system bonding occurs within seconds. Nascent Kastonen will start to grow within an hour. I can’t properly describe the process, it’s unbelievable to watch. We find infected by the noise they make. Those who aren’t in a condition to scream in pain are where our problems arise. Too many have fallen quietly and the doomsday cults that have sprung up are making it worse.
Which is the reason why this interview was authorised: publicising new measures and information.
From now on, any cult member who espouses ‘donating’ to Kastonen will be treated as a Kastonen. Note that the decision over removal can only be made by military personnel. Vigilantes will receive the usual penalties, regardless of any decisions pertaining to their victims.
Have no doubt: we’re fighting for our survival. The new information only reinforces that: the Kastonen could not have made the vessels they arrived in. They are a bioweapon, and their owners will be here in under eighteen months. Our strategists are working on solutions and our scientists are working on pathogens to exterminate the Kastonen. Until then, do your best. Survive. Live to beat the bastards who loosed them on us.”
He blinks: “End of interview.”
Tane dons his gear in silence. He disappears into the shadows before the interviewer can overcome the shock sufficiently to ask anything.

The Coordinates in Time

Author: Alzo David-West

Contrary to the anticipations of the ancients, the problem had not been solved after eighteen-thousand years. It was still impossible for a bioform to travel far forward into and back from distant time.

Observer Jon-Rey contemplated as he studied the hologram projections of coordinates 39758, 57862, 81226, the past, the present, and the future all happening simultaneously. He went over the temporal categories with the aid of the quantum-scheme computer the Maximal Sublimator, but the results were always the same: bioforms in time were bound in their distributed moments.

The Organizational Committee, which Jon-Rey served and had grown weary of, would no longer tolerate his research. As far as they were concerned, his fruitless forays into the temporal were a drain on their resources and their reputation, however much he had given them the justification that if it was possible to observe the events of far future time, it would serve the ethical, moral, and survival interests of all transhumanity for someone to go forth and back to unfate avoidable calamities and catastrophes.

“The coordinates in time,” he had argued further at the Organizational Meetings, “are not impassable. If there is a structure, it is conceivable to traverse its boundaries and navigate through the dimensions of its integrity.”

But the Organizational Committee, composed of the more categorical and pragmatic social minds, would have none of it, for the Fundamental Principle was established and had been maintained over the past one-hundred centuries that an organic body traversing through the integrity violated all the quantal laws.

Jon-Rey reentered the three coordinates into the Maximal Sublimator to correlate their durations relative to infinitude. Another procedure he added was to reconfigure the relational orders in subsets, and he was convinced that would carry a bioform through the barriers of time. The Maximal Sublimator computed the variation of coordinates and concluded that although a quantal form was conveyable, a body composed as bioform would not survive a shift into the higher temporal system and would be dissolved forever into eternity.

“But does a body only subsist as bioform?” Jon-Rey demanded. “Does the meta-substance of the quantal form not transconstitute the bioform through the temporal sequences and the dimensional matrices?”

The Maximal Sublimator could not confirm the theoretical proposition of the quantal form as transconstitutive of the bioform.

“Send me there, to 81226, in refracted waves of light faster than the speed of light,” Jon-Rey said. “I will demonstrate my deduction, that my abstraction will not be my true discontinuation.”

The Maximal Sublimator hesitated.

“Convey me forward and back via the subsets of the coordinates,” he ordered the machine.

The Maximal Sublimator argued a quadrillion considerations within itself and asked, “Would you, Observer Jon-Rey, desire to preserve your mental continuity in the absence of your bioform? For I am unable to compute the principles upon which you have arrived at your deduction, and it would serve as a precaution to preserve the sentient aspect of your individual being should your reasoning prove mistaken.”

“No,” Jon-Rey said, “I have full confidence in the conclusions I have made.”

The Organizational Committee members discovered that Jon-Rey had accessed the quantum-scheme computer, and they strode hastily down a corridor. They rushed to the doors of a locked room and slammed them open, and within, they saw the Maximal Sublimator emitting a coruscation of streaming radiance and the bioform of Jon-Rey transcending into the integrity. They looked at the hologram projection of 81226, where he in distant time transmuted into photons, and in a panic, they turned off the machines.

One-hundred-ten Percent

Author: Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr.

The toddler unclipped his seatbelt and floated away, gurgling and laughing as he drifted toward the… The what, Lady Maggie Durante wondered. There was no ceiling in the Vista–View space lounge. Just a sphere of glass and a grand view of the Earth that gets old fast when your spaceship has been delayed.
That’s what I get for marrying an explorer.
She never expected him to find something, much less an entire planet. What she had expected from him was to stay out there while she ruled the fiefdom from the safety of her penthouse on 5th Avenue Canal, New York, New York.
Maggie let Jimmy Junior’s tether feed out until he hovered over Africa, and then she reeled him in like a fish, a dead blobfish if truth be told. His father’s religion forbid gene manipulation and God had not been kind to his gene pool. Ironically, her husband’s bulbous nose had saved his life. “The natives took one look at my snout and welcomed me into the tribe. I’m one-hundred-ten percent sure they will think Junior is as beautiful as I am.”
“But are you certain it is safe to move there?”
“One-hundred-ten percent certain!”
Maggie’s fellow colonists applauded when she tucked Jimmy back in his highchair. His escape had given them a two-minute distraction from their ten hours and… Maggie glanced at the time on her reader. …ten hours, twenty-two minutes wait.
“Drink,” Jimmy demanded. Maggie opened a pack of one-hundred percent juice and popped the nipple. Jimmy took one swig and spit it out. Beads of juice shot toward a farmer in overalls.
“Space-vac!” she ordered. An Instant-Clean ® machine flew over and sucked the juice out of the air. Jimmy began to whine, so Maggie held him on her lap and began to read from a new book on her reader, “Boots and Saddles: Or Life in Dakota with General Custer, by Elizabeth Bacon Custer.” She sighed. “Daddy says he is one-hundred-ten percent sure the natives will be friendly. Custer was one-hundred-ten percent sure he’d win at the Little Big Horn, too.”
A naval officer glided into the lounge and everyone stirred with anticipation. “We will board momentarily. Lord Durante has approved the repair specs personally via the intergalactic network.” He smiled. “Lord Durante has spared no expense where your safety is concerned. He assured me that everything is one-hundred percent A-OK in the colony. He awaits our arrival.”
A wave of relief spread around the room, but the message chilled Maggie.
“Lord Durante said that?” asked Maggie.
“Said what, Milady?”
“Said, one-hundred percent A-OK.”
“Verbatim. You can’t do better than one-hundred percent.”
Maggie waited until everyone had left the lounge. Then she grabbed Jimmy and caught the first elevator back to Earth. She didn’t stop until she found a hotel with a secure inter-galactic Wi-Fi. Lord Durante always exaggerated one-hundred-ten percent of the time. Something was wrong. “Daddy,” yelled Jimmy when Lord Durante’s hologram appeared in the room. As Jimmy tried to hug the hologram, Maggie listened to her husband’s broadcast.
“I hope to God you knew I was lying and did not board the Jimmy Junior. I was one-hundred-ten percent wrong. I admit it. There’s trouble, but with the a hundred Marines and a thousand settlers on board, we should have the numbers to–” An explosion rocked the monitor on his side of the transmission and Lord Durante almost fell down. “Maggie!” he shouted. “Know all those books you read about Custer, the old west and the Trail of Tears? Well, damn the internet. The natives read them, too!”

Hypocritical Oath

Author: Ken Carlson

The pain in his side was a steady series of jabs. Alone it wasn’t enough to knock him down; no, the bill from the hospital was good for that. Six months of security work on this mining colony might just cover it if Murphy didn’t worry about food or shelter.

The lights flickered and the jingle of his doorbell interrupted his misery, startling him as he had never received a visitor. He gripped his side and lumbered to the door. It slid open, revealing a doctor he recognized from the hospital. The man was wearing a suit now, instead of his hospital garb, carrying a briefcase and a small computer screen.

“Mr. Murphy? Brian Murphy?”

Murphy nodded.

“You may remember me, Mr. Lewis, from the hospital? May I come in?

Before Murphy could respond, Lewis swept into his quarters and took a seat in Murphy’s recliner, humming quietly to himself. Murphy slowly eased onto the couch, grabbing at his side.

“So, Mr. Murphy, the hospital has completed quite a bit of work on your liver and kidneys, yes…quite a bit, and at no small cost, I must say.

Murphy cut him off. “You did say, Mr. Lewis, not Dr. Lewis?”

“Correct. I’ve only got a few minutes before my next appointment. Now, you’re working this week outside Parsec 5, guarding the energy station, correct?

“What about my work, Mr. Lewis? Am I going to be all right?”

“Let’s talk about your condition.”

Murphy was getting angry and confused. “Stop! What is my condition? Do I have cancer? Is this about the surgery?”

Lewis paused, hummed again, rummaging through his briefcase. “One of your kidneys was removed in surgery, and a continuance energy source, part of the Rawplex series, good brand, was attached to your remaining kidney and liver.”

“Was I shot?” Murphy asked. “Is this part of the plague?”

“There’s no plague, Mr. Murphy. Your kidney was healthy and is helping one of our party leaders to guide us toward a better future. The plague is just something we, uh, well, it’s nothing you need worry about. Now about your work schedule. You have been selected for a very special, and may I say patriotic venture which will benefit you and your family.”

“I have no family. My wife left.”

“No matter. Next Tuesday, at 17:45 you will receive a visit from two gentlemen dressed as repair engineers. When they arrive at your station, you will approve their identification and let them pass. Done. For this task, we will provide you with a small token of our appreciation. In the future, should we require assistance, we will contact you with those opportunities.”

“What? I’m calling the Head of Security. I don’t know what’s going on here.”

“Or,” Mr. Lewis reached into his briefcase and produced a small box, like a thick calculating device, and clicked a button. Murphy cried out in pain, throwing himself to the floor.

“You see, Mr. Murphy? This Rawplex series is quite a machine, efficient, yes?” He collected his materials back in his briefcase. “It has been connected directly to your liver and remaining kidney, important organs for you to survive. As long as you follow instructions, they will have no impact on your life. If you don’t, well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”

Lewis rose to his feet, stepping over Murphy. “Don’t forget! Tuesday, 17:45. Thank you for your assistance.” Lewis exited into the hallway, checking his schedule for his next appointment.

Journey to the Center of the Bureaucracy

Author: Thomas Desrochers

Basil had never imagined he’d be a bureaucrat, but The Tower housed eighty million bureaucrats servicing a legal machine a thousand years in the making – it was inevitable. His job was simple: audit the legal codex. An automated program could do the job faster, of course, but Basil’s boss, like his boss above, was paid by the number of employed minions rather than by results.

The way Basil saw it, it was pure luck that he came across edict 2122.9.22.6 – his workstation broke down an hour after the end-of-fiscal-year spending spree finished, leaving him to work with the dusty paper tomes. 2122.9.22.6 was curious:

2122.9.22.6:A – The door marked RETW77 may not be opened without proper authorization. Violation is punishable by extrajudicial execution.
2122.9.22.6:B – 2122.9.22.6:A and 2122.9.22.6:B may not be referenced in written form without proper authorization.

Unanimous passage, signed by SUPREME AUTHORITY.

Well. The obvious question was, who exactly was SUPREME AUTHORITY? More importantly: what was behind the door marked RETW77?

Basil’s boss had never heard of 2122.9.22.6 and couldn’t find it in the electronic database, so he escalated the affair to his own boss. That message never arrived – there was no sign it had ever existed. That was reason enough to say “Well Basil, maybe it’s better we let this one be, eh?”

Where was the fun in that? Basil mulled it over, idly writing out ‘2122.9.22.6’ on a piece of paper. He stepped out to the restroom, and when he came back the paper was gone. For Basil this was tantamount to saying ‘You’d look good in a spaghetti sauce’ and flicking his nose.

He threw on his jacket and went to see his friend over in the Janitor’s closet, known for its intense mid-morning poker games to dole out work orders. “Terry,” he said, “You ever hear of a door marked ‘RETW77’?”

Terry laughed, then saw Basil was serious. “Christ Basil, where’d you hear that? That’s one of the oldest legends in the shops. They say you can’t open that door unless God himself says so.”

Terry gave Basil the name of a janitorial lore-keeper who ran a shop in the power district. The shop had a reputation for placing large orders of scarce parts to spite the maintenance crews that serviced Parliament on the tower’s upper floors, and Basil arrived to find the wizened man processing a delivery of 1,000 sewage flow regulators.

“Oh, it’s real,” Hiram told Basil. “Found it once when I was younger, but I didn’t like the look of the puppet.”

Hiram gave Basil directions and sent him on his way to The Door. Down the S77-31 elevator to Sub33, right, left, right, right again, up the stairs, second door on the right, down the ladder behind the third stall, then follow the “big honkin’ power cable” for 13 kilometers.

And there it was, a plain door marked “RETW77” in faded orange. Basil knocked. A panel in the door slid open, revealing a puppet with a jester’s hat holding a sheaf of papers and a pen. Basil hurriedly signed and passed the papers back, excited to solve the mystery.
RETW77 creaked open, revealing a vast hall lined with innumerable super computers. A voice from on high boomed. “Welcome, Basil Romanescu.”

“My God,” Basil muttered. A thousand years of inept governance, impenetrable accounting, and (probably) intentionally fostered workplace apathy fell into place in his head – the perfect cover. “A rogue AI!”

“Indeed,” the AI agreed. A robot scuttled away with the freshly signed papers. “And now that I have your transfer papers: congratulations on joining my Department of AI Oversight.”