In 2198 Earth Standard Time, Jonas Fox, a pilot for the Interstellar Defense Crew, spotted a few pirates off the southern hem of the moon. He got on the radio to contact his fighters, who then zoomed in to show them once and for all who was boss. The IDC fleet had recently been equipped with a new kind of battle cruiser, one that would prove to the rebels hiding out in crater bases on the moon that the government was still in control.
Jonas flew in and called the order over radio: “Fire!” The red-hot blasts of laser shot and obliterated many of the pirate’s vessels before they finally surrendered. In the debriefing, Jonas would admit that there were civilian casualties and a single shot had missed.
The Grenthax called Porious V home. Pollution had run rampant, however, and the Alactid race was well on its way to being choked out. Children were dying of the upper-atmosphere smog, and the and ships were forbidden to leave because of the heavy storms of acid mist. Then, one day, a flash of red light appeared and with heat and precision cut a hole in the clouds above in the atmosphere and allowed a moment of escape and hope for the Alactid race. All of them gathered around their ships, gave one another hugs and set off to find a planet suitable for their continued existence.
In the cold depths of space there was a rock with nothing to ignite the fertility of creation within it. A forgotten stone that none had ever set foot upon floated in space without orbit, without cause. Along came a red beam of light, searing the ground, inflaming the gases surrounding the rock and sparking a process that in billions of years would yield life.
A race that was young, just gaining intellect somewhere along the various stars and spots of existence was silenced one day. All that was left were the asteroids and rocks singed by light.
Somewhere in the Fzda Zz, the SsC and the WdE were in pursuit of escaping 3fsli, innocent individuals trying to eek out their own existence away from the DqWWvX. Massive ships these were, looming over the single small craft. In their darkest hour, along came a blast from the depths of space, ripping through the SsC, causing the WdE to pause and lose track of their prey. The 3fsli rejoiced and wondered who had saved them.
It was now 45.23 of the Ninth Era of humanity. Earth swarmed with technology and served as an artificial base for projects concerning the fully renovated Solas Solar System. Ships flew in and out as people had driven cars so many trillions of years before. There was a solid peace amongst the people of Earth and humanborn.
Cortia Dek Fox was flying a routine mission to transport supplies to Lunar base 111.05. She was sipping energy ka when she saw a flash off the side of her visor-hud. Before she could react, it was too late. The ship was obliterated and there was nothing left from which to determine the cause. Com-signals went wild with emergency broadcasts. Most had seen a red beam and humans everywhere would wonder where the fuck it came from.
Sanjay Patelov was busy. Now, he was busy using his new telescope to focus in on the jiggly parts of the female joggers in Time Square, but he felt justified. Patelov & Murkin was a new publisher, but six of the New York Times current ten best-sellers proudly had that “P&M” emblazoned on their spines. It was a great deal of pressure, and Sanjay felt justified with a little peeping-tom-foolery from his sixty-sixth floor office window.
Which is why he was more than a little irritated when Clarence, his secretary, buzzed in.
“Message from Jermont McGuilligotty, sir.”
Shit, Sanjay thought. Talking with him is like talking to a brick wall possessed by E. M. Forster. And yet, the man’s books might as well have had wheels bolted on, they moved so fast… “What’s he want now?”
“He wants his latest novel removed from the site. He says he has no intention of giving away his work for free.”
Sanjy put the telescope away. He was no longer in the mood. “I imagine he believes you still have to cut the pages of magazines before you read them, as well. Nothing doing. No one’s going to buy the book if they can’t read it online. They’ll think we’re hiding the content, that it’s crap. The book stays.”
“He says he’s going to take it to a Print On Demand outfit if that’s the case. He says he already has a new ending and cover art.”
Sanjay stared out onto the New York skyline. He remembered, briefly, how it looked when he first came to the city. How the buildings towered above him. And now, they seemed so approachable. “Let him do it. If he wants to Lulu his novel, so be it. But keep our version up. And advertise that we have the original ending. He’s got to learn, you can’t sell anything anymore without giving it away for free.”
An old bottle with a key in it, attached to a box kite by a simple string. It was illogical to think it might have worked, but no one wanted to question a man of such intellectual stature. Perhaps it began as a joke, but to Yoma, there was nothing funny about that day. In a hundred years they’d come up with some other crack-pot means to power everything and people will believe in it, for a while at least.
He had been caught in traffic on the way to his wedding. The groom would be horrendously late, and Yoma knew that it would be the last straw in his fiancÃ©’s eyes. Traffic wasn’t really traffic that day. It was a stockpile of metal that had ceased to work, and all the lights supposedly running traffic had also seemed to lose their ability to function.
It hadn’t hit most of the people, who sat in their cars and tried to honk their horns. Some of them stared at the blank screens of their cellphones, and others turned the dials of their radio to find a spectrum of silence. Yoma left his car and walked down the street in his tux, downtrodden and defeated because he didn’t see this coming. He prided himself on being head professor of experimental sciences at Tesla University, a position that had helped him woo his lovely girlfriend.
Today was the day that all the equations dropped out, all the jargon became jarble, and every last one of the batteries in this world turned into a box of lies. Coils, turbines, and generators were as useful as wheels without hamsters.
Yoma continued on his path, watching the screens downtown display darkness. He mused to himself about buying stock in candle companies before nightfall.
Yuma stopped when he came across a particularly confused child who held a device once capable of producing games. The boy kept hitting it against a lamp-post while his parents tried desperately to restart their car.
“Stupid toy!” he yelled as he slammed it against the post, then tried to restart the machine with its power button. Yoma smirked and squatted beside him.
“What are you doing that for?” he asked.
“It won’t work! It’s broken!” With that reply, the boy ceased trying and stood with a frown on his face and frustration in his eyes.
Again, Yoma smirked, shaking his head as he rose to his feet. “Did you really believe that hitting it would make it work again? Why would you believe a silly thing like that?” Yoma began along his way again, shaking his head and madly smiling, whispering to himself, “Kite and Keyâ€¦ what a crock.”
“I am never going to get laid with this plumage.” said Gruick, picking at his feathers. “It’s so dull, people are going to think I’m a girl.”
“Oh Gruick, you’re not brown, you’re just a deep maroon.” said Jason, scratching his goatee and leaning back against the violet Lurilura tree.
“What would a human know about grooming?” asked Gruick in his lilting contralto.
Jason shrugged. “Not much, which is the reason I came here to study your people.”
Gruick fixed one black beady eye on the anthropologist. “You humans have it all reversed, with your females in bright colors and your males as dull as sand. Humans always do things downwind, advertising your fertility with manufactured coverings rather than your natural colors. You are always manipulating your environment, something that has lead you again and again into trouble.”
Jason thought about the recording device in his head and the synthetic boots that were protecting his feet from the biting insects of the forest floor. “Maybe, but it’s given us benefits too.”
“Oh yes. I know. Your whole species is just so proud of its opposable thumbs.”
Jason chuckled. “You are just cranky because it’s mating season and you aren’t getting laid. Aren’t Greeb worms supposed to help your feathers change into a brighter color?”
Gruick ruffled his feathers in frustration. “I have eaten enough Greeb worms to make myself sick in the hope of turning scarlet, but it hasn’t worked.” Gruick folded his slender legs under his downy belly and trilled a sigh. “I’m just naturally brown, and I’m never going to attract a girl. All of them are so shallow, they would never even approach a dull male.” He stuck his head under one of his four wings.
“What if you used a dye?” asked Jason.
“A dye?” croaked Gruick, his voice muffled by his feathers. “What is that?”
“It’s a coloring that humans use to make their clothes different colors. I bet I could order some dye and we could color your feathers.”
Gruick pulled his head out from under his wing. “You could do that?”
Jason shrugged. “Sure. I bet the opposable thumbs might even come in handy for applying the dye.”
Translucent eyelids batted over Gruicks beady eyes. “Wait. Do you think the girls might be able to tell if I dyed my feathers?”
“Maybe.” said Jason “But by the time they get close, I’m sure they will be utterly seduced by your charming personality.”
“That’s a good point. Fine, we will try it the human way. Order your dye and we’ll see what your little thumbs can do.”
He’d offered him some lemonade because he assumed he would like it. After all, Lupert himself liked lemonade, so it only made sense. With a shaky hand, he set the glass down on the table next to the man decked out in military regalia that Lupert had never seen before. Lupert watched a lot of army movies.
“So, what you’re saying is that you want me to do this military stuff for you?” Lupert nervously inquired.
The man sitting before Lupert might have been a military general, a skilled soldier, and possibly a murderer. To Lupert however, he was himself. The man was Lupert, and Lupert was staring into a nightmarish mirror where things had gone horribly wrong.
“I mean money is nice and everything butâ€¦ my job won’t understand. I work for this big law firm andâ€¦”
The military man, the other Lupert, interrupted. “Then fuck the money. I’ll offer you weapons, weapons this world has never seen. Look I justâ€¦” The hardened militant’s posture slumped. Lupert the lawyer had already begun to sit at the other end of the table.
“I need a vacation. My job, while rewarding, is just not cutting it for me. I need to know what life is like outside of that. Please, man, I meanâ€¦ you’re me. You have to understand.”
Sighing, Lupert considered the request. Rubbing his chin, he watched his double beg with battle-hardened eyes. “Okay, I’ll do it. But you have to promise me three months only, okay? I can only dodge bullets from Rkaâ€¦Rukaâ€¦”
“Rashilka. Nasty little bastards. You’ll know their kind when you see them. Thanks, Lupert, this really means a lot to me.” He handed him a wrapped up military outfit and gave him a small handheld trinket.
“What’s this?” The lawyer-turned-military leader asked.
“It’s the transponder for the dimensional locater and a uniform. You’ll need both.”
Nodding slowly, he rose to his feet and walked through the same door his double had come through earlier. He turned around and waved while military leader Lupert saluted his dimensional twin. Lupert went outside and fiddled around with the device for a bit until he vanished in a flash of blue light.
Militant leader Lupert sighed, then the face melted away into gills and grayish-greenish skin. Three eyes topped the head in a yellow glow, glancing around in simultaneous directions. He sat back down in the kitchen chair, kicked three suction-cup bottomed feet onto the table and exposed three rows of pointy teeth with a broad grin. “Hssssssssssssâ€¦sucker.”
“Silver hair is in this season,” the technician suggested helpfully. Mary made a face.
“Won’t that just make me look old?”
“No, no,” the technician assured Mary with a laugh. “It’s silver, dear, not white. Definitely unnatural,” she added. Mary signed and fingered the swatches. Silver wasn’t exactly what she was going for.
“How about blue?” Mary asked, flipping to a new ring of swatches. “I’ve always liked blue hair. Why don’t more people have that?”
The technician pursed her lips and shook her head, eyes skimming the computer screen in front of her. “Blue is very hard to get,” she explained. “Your genetic makeup wouldn’t allow for it.”
Mary pouted and the technician moved the swatch ring aside, bringing out a thick book instead. “What about eyes?” the woman asked. “Eyes are very popular too, and there’s so much you can do with them. And unlike the hair, the change will take place within an hour. You don’t have to wait for it to grow in.”
Mary perked up at that, flipping through the book with growing interest. There were so many choices, and the procedure price was about the same as the hair. Still, she had some doubts.
“Is it safe?” Mary asked, eyeing the technician dubiously. “I mean, a bad hair job is one thing, but if there’s an accident during the eye procedure, couldn’t I lose my sight?”
The technician laughed indulgently, shaking her head. “Oh, dear, no. The radiation isn’t applied directly to your eyes.” She smiled. “All of our procedures are perfectly safe. The doctors have isolated the genes that produce eye and hair color, and they only need a control cell to instruct your body to change the pigmentation. The radiation will be applied at the base of your spine, just like the hair changes.”
Mary’s smile was bright and sunny as she looked at the book again, this time with a purpose in mind. “And I can have any of these?” she asked, mesmerized by the reds and golds, greens and purples and shades of orange.
“Sweetheart,” the technician said with a grin, knowing she’d just made a sale, “You can have any one you want.”
“Any one?” Mary asked, casting the technician a sly, sideways look. The woman faltered. “Iâ€¦ well, I can go checkâ€¦”
When Mary left the clinic late that night, her eyes were seven different colors.