Author : S. ‘Hrekka’ Clough

The launch chamber decompressed, the escaping air flushing Will’s Swarm from the Carrier like so much flotsam. His sixteen Swarm were joining others who were launching from the Colichemarde and her two sister ships. His visor highlighted each group as he looked at them, bringing them into focus against the inky blackness.

“Remember, the enemy ship is down!” Talen barked over the radio. He was remonstrating a few of the most inexperienced members of Will’s Swarm. They had been falling upwards, their faces pointing towards the ship that they were assaulting. The Athena‘s guns could shred their helmets like wet cardboard. It was only the wasplike sheath they wore from their waists down that was truly armoured. Soon enough, they were all dropping together, like oversized shells, towards the doomed Athena. His Swarm dodged the Athena‘s anti-missile munitions with ease. William scanned the battlefield. Everything seemed illuminated in the dull secondhand light. Except the three carriers. Now high above, each ship gleamed, a newmade coin hanging in the heavens.

The first of his Swarm touched down onto the Athena‘s hull.

“Hook! Andrew! I need some holes in this bloody ship!” Will bellowed over the radio. He hovered about ten metres off the hull of the ship, AG humming. A little dartgun secreted in his glove spat four darts. Red circles blossomed onto the hull, and the two drillmen got to work. Their armour split, and retracted partially, allowing them to stand and brace against the industrial drills they carried. It didn’t take them long to finish. The drills quietened, and Andrew carefully dropped a blasting charges into each of the holes. He finished just before the ship’s lattice attempted to heal over the surface wounds.

“Hold fast! Blast in five!” Will shouted. Hook and Andrew cleared the area, discarding the drills, and drawing their assault weapons. The rest of the Swarm did likewise: boarding axes and pistols, shotguns and blades of all descriptions came out of their sheaths. Will drew his long-handled chainaxe, and waited.

The explosion, when it came, was quite beautiful. The four charges detonated in succession, blowing pillars of fire down into the bowels of the ship, and up, fueled by solidox and the ship’s atmosphere. Gas vented from the breach, and the panel floated away. Then Will’s Swarm were pouring in, their agrav packs keeping them aloft against the pull of the expensive gee-floors. They tore through the ship, blasting holes in bulkheads, forcing decompression. Choking, dying technicians were dispatched by the Swarm’s flashing blades.

And it was all over. The bridge still had air. All the command crew lay dead at their stations. Five Swarm stood in a semicircle in front of the captain’s chair, their armour fully stowed. The captain lay on the floor. Will’s axe lay across his exposed throat.

“Separatism is a doomed cause,” said Will. He lifted the axe, and smashed it down, just once.

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Author : Michelle Pitman

A holo-spa is not really that much fun.

For one thing you can’t actually feel holographic water. If they ever figure out how to make holo-water feel like its real, someone out there is going to become 1: Real famous, real quick! And 2: Make a fricking whole lot of money!

Sonic Particle Wave showers and baths have pretty much replaced water for the job of getting clean. A holo-spa is basically warm air and SPW’s. The warm air makes it bearable, just.

I remember being in real water.

I was a little kid back then. There was this neighbour of ours who owned a water tank in his back yard. It was illegal of course and he used to go to great lengths to hide the damn thing. Had this elaborate shed constructed over it in expensive stealth tiles so that when the Police Probes flew over it, it didn’t register as being a tank etc. Rather clever really.

A holo-spa isn’t a patch on that old water tank, although the water in that tank was pretty much filthy and fetid most of the time. We never queried what manner of foul and pestilent matter lurked in the bottom, all we cared about was the sheer wonder of the sensation of being in water! Bloody marvelous that feeling! Still gives me goose-bumps even now, remembering it.

So anyway! They’ve done all the usual hocus-pocus science stuff to create water. We’ve got hydrogen fuel cells pumping out hot water as fast as they can, it’s just not enough. The oceanic desalinators are all but exhausted now – the sea has become too salty even for them to cope. Nearly all the water manufacturing plants from water re-claiming to water synthesis have been so heavily regulated in output by the Foundation that many of them have just gone bust, shut their doors and given up bothering to try. But that’s typical of frickin’ governments isn’t it? What we need the most of they ensure is always in the shortest supply!

It’s pretty tough having to live in this weird dry world. It’s getting so bad now that there’s talk of an evacuation to the off-world planets. I don’t see how that’s going to make a difference really, seeing as hardly any other planet around here has enough of anything, let alone water, to support a couple of million life-forms. It seems the whole galaxy, has pretty much dried up!

Water: the stuff of life! Yeah! But that was all well and good when there was plenty of it about. So now its holo-spa’s and synthesized liquid proteins to satiate our need for the wet stuff.

I guess if people had been a little more careful back …oh well! Can’t go whining now that the water horse has bolted eh?

But geez! I miss that water tank!

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UN Resolution 951167-B

Author : Pyai (aka Megan Hoffman)

Max sat behind the deck, and yawned. He saw out the glass through the dusty blinds of his office two men in dark suits walking briskly down his dark hallway. He looked around, quickly. He shoved the Twinkies into his desk drawer, flicked the entire ash tray into his trash can, and took his feet off the desk.

The two men opened the door to the office without knocking. “Clyde Agbai?”

“Uh, Clyde went home sick yesterday. I’m Maxwell Fitzkee. Can I help you gentlemen?”

The two men looked at each other, their glances inscrutable.

“Are you handling the transmissions which emanate from that dish?”

The first man nodded out the one small window in the office towards the giant white dish that sat out maybe half a mile from the base. The GBD, Great Big Dish, also referred to as the BFD, was entirely operated from this little bunker which was all that remained from the decades of scientific studies. Recently its total monetary support had been coming in from commercial messages sent into outer space and the sale of little magnets bearing the GBD logo.

“Uh, yes.” Max straightened his tie. He wasn’t the number one sales lead for nothing. “In fact I have over one thousand transmissions on my record. So anything you gentleman need, I can arrange for you. We also offer package deals if you have a longer message, want to encode video, or are buying it as a gift for a relative.”

Max reached into his desk and pulled out a bright pamphlet.

The second dark-suited man who hadn’t said anything yet handed him a single sheet of paper on heavy cardstock. There was a gold seal at the top that looked vaguely familiar. Max quickly scanned it so as to make a semi-personal but not intrusive comment in order to win their trust.

“This is a UN matter of urgency, regarding the cause of all the recent natural disasters. Please just send the transmission.” the first man said slowly.

“You mean like Hurricane Uli and Hurricane Zetta? What exactly is their cause? Global warming?” Max smiled, trying to be charming.

The first man looked at him. “Solar flares.”

As no more conversation looked forthcoming, Max pursed his lips and began scanning and typing in the data. As he did, he was surprised to find it was an official UN resolution of condemnation for the actions of a terrorist body.

“Okay gentleman, your message has been encoded and it ready to be sent out by the second largest satellite dish in the entire world. Now, where would you like this aimed?” Max slid out a sky chart including celestial bodies, famous constellations and religious stations. “Here’s a list of our more popular destinations if you need some help deciding.”

“No thank you, we already know. Please send it to the sun.”

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Three Strikes

Author : Duncan Shields

The black non-stick plastic of the cop’s fist presses my fat lips up against my teeth until they split. The drugs from the gas are slowing all this down and adding the colours. I’m seeing so clearly and feeling none of it. My own blood squirts hot into my mouth and I can taste the pennies.

Through all of this I maintain eye contact with where I guess the cop’s eyes are behind the featureless dark face-shield he’s wearing. I can see myself reflected there and warped around in a fisheye way. I’m smiling at myself. I look like a clown in a whorehouse. I look like I’m having the time of my life. I chuckle wetly at that and wink at myself. Looking back, I can’t decide if it was the laugh or the wink that made the cop angry.

The cop’s hardened riot-fist loops around again and this time my head rings like a bell and it all goes dark.

I wake up in the holding van, cuffed to the seat, with a head full of crunched up milk cartons. The effects of the gas have worn off.

This is the third time I’ve been caught red handed by the cops. The first time, I took my behavioural modifier out with a knife during the Black Out in ’76. I was caught employing minors as delivery girls four months later. They took me down hard for that. No sims. I did my time. I got out.

The new behavioural modifiers were in the blood. They couldn’t just be dug out. I was happy. I helped old people across the street. I stopped to feed puppies. I stepped into the middle of arguments and tried to mediate. That’s how I met Jake.

Jake was arguing on the sidewalk near Shacktown. I stopped there and tried to get them to see both sides of the issue. Jake shot the other guy and then shot me in the knee. Seeing me apologize there with one leg useless made him realize that I’d been conditioned.

Well, one good turn deserves another, they say. Jake strapped me to a black table in shacktown and brought in some Doctors With Problems. They gave me a transfusion that scrubbed my veins clean. It’s not an experience I recommend.

Jake took me in and got me going again. He told me about the heist.

We were in the building and it was going well. Only two of the hostages were dead and the creds were being packed into the coffins right in front of us. I guess Jake should have put a few more bullets into that manager guy’s armoured head. It was him who pressed the alarm.

The rockets came up and through the windows into the bank, billowing their green joker gas. The officers came in after that.

Jake is looking at me from across the van with a sheepish smile. I’m going to go down hard for this. Three strikes. I’m out.

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The Flawless Nature of Deductive Reasoning

Author : J. S. Kachelries

We had been in Antarctica for two months studying the alien spacecraft. It had been discovered a month earlier when a portion of the Ross Ice Self caved into the sea. Based on the thickness of the ice covering the ship, we estimated that it was buried approximately 120,000 years ago. The ship was saucer shaped (big surprise), and was 318 meters in diameter and 72 meters tall. The ship had ten habitation floors in the upper portion, with a large cargo hold below that. We did not find any alien bodies, so we assumed that they were either rescued, decomposed, or they wandered off. The ship appeared undamaged, so we don’t know why it was abandoned.

My name is Steve McCoy, a Xenobiologist, and I’m heading the team trying to learn about the alien’s physiology (mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions). I admit, not having a body is inconvenient, but as scientists, it’s routine for us to deduce information using limited data and our powers of deduction. For example, we concluded that the aliens were much shorter than us, because the ceiling height was only 1.2 meters. Furthermore, they were not humanoid, because we could not find any furniture for sitting or laying down, utensils such as knives and forks, or equipment that required hands for gripping or manipulation. Therefore, you could logically deduce that they were probably serpent-like, insectoid, or hoofed quadrupeds. In addition, if they died on site, their bodies had no “hard” parts, like bones or teeth. We found traces of degraded biomass along the cargo hold walls, which we believe are remnants of their food supply. It smelled “fishy,” but everything smells fishy in Antarctica. Remarkably, this degraded biomass contained amino acids and proteins very similar to our own. The similarities were sufficient enough that had the aliens crashed on land, anywhere but in Antarctica, they probably would have been able to survive on Earth’s plant and animal life. Unfortunately, the poor devils crashed in Antarctica where there was no food. They no doubt starved to death once they consumed all of their supplies.

I was reviewing my interim report when Dr. Smith (Information Technology Team Leader, aka, head geek) paged me to come to the bridge. Recently, Dr. Smith had been able to download data from their mainframe computer. Fortunately, their technology was similar enough to ours to decipher some of their language. His cryptologists identified a dozen or so words: a, the, is, we, no, it, yes, food, home, safe, mission, suitable, predators, desolate, etc. There were also sub-routines containing what he believes to be digital images. When I arrived on the bridge, Dr. Smith was at his interface terminal. “I’ve got it, Steve,” he said. “I’ve accessed their personnel files. I’m uploading the crew manifest now. There should be images of the aliens. We’ll see if your hypotheses are correct.” Slowly, horizontal streaks cascaded down his monitor, and an image of the aliens formed. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. “They’re penguins!”

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Tears from the Sky

Author : C. Hale

Shortly after the perfection of the gravity lens telescope, astronomers had tracked a celestial body twice the size of Earth and calculated its trajectory as intersecting Earth’s orbit. A full year of recalculations and simulations had all yielded the same results. Announcements were made. Debates were sparked. Cults rose, and fell, and governments toppled. Humanity had one hundred and three years to enjoy the planet, and two generations grew up knowing that they would be the last.

Dauk looked up at the sky towards the brilliant sunburst of another meteor entering the atmosphere.

“Is that the one, Mommy?” he asked, clutching at a tall, pale woman’s hand.

“No, sweetie. There are at least two days left. Go play with the other boys,” she said, brushing a tear away as Dauk ran off to romp. Inside, the broadcaster was making his final remarks.

“Reports say that the meteor cloud preceding Celestial Body 09-22-2011 will peak at approximately midnight tonight, leaving a nineteen hour window for the departure of the American arkship. Asia reports tentative success with its early-window launch and the European Bloc arkship has been reported as failed during separation. No word on whether auxiliaries are being prepared.”

Outside, Dauk watched another meteor streak by.

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