Brickhead

Author: R. J. Erbacher

Space, the final…

Space wasn’t the final anything. It was a lot of nothingness that went on forever with a bunch of frozen spinning rocks and a few abnormally hot globs of gas. Just fucking empty.

Through his helmet’s face-plate Marco swiveled his stare from the depths of space to focus on the beautiful reflective solar panel shining with the sun’s distant power. He repositioned his grip on the hammer tethered to his arm and smashed the steel head right through it. The splintering shards twinkled in coordinated chaos as they mushroomed from the impact and dispersed into the vacuum of blackness.

When he told his dad at the age of nine that he wanted to be an astronaut, his dad laughed. At sixteen and still insisting that it was his ultimate purpose in life, his father called him a brickhead. His father, a construction worker, called all stupid people brickheads.

“You are going to be an engineer and that’s final.”

So, Marco went to school to be an engineer. College was a joke and he hit the party trail hard and cut every corner, just manipulating out a degree in engineering. At the graduation ceremony, his dad cried the tears of a proud father. Marco wanted to slap him.

Next was a stint in the Air Force, fixing plane engines, where he bullied or bribed or cajoled up to the rank of Technical Lieutenant. His dad bragged to everyone he knew that his son was an officer in the service. Brickhead no more.

Marco swung back his Chromel boot and pulverized the lower panel of high-temperature substrate into disco ball debris. He kicked out the adjoining one and the one next to that just for good measure. Pulling the string off his wrist he axe-chucked the hammer with hostility in the general direction of Pluto, destined to tumble on into infinity.

A few years later he hooked up with an older female officer who was meagerly connected to the space program and he pleasured his way into a pencil whipped commission. From there it took a while but he managed to secure an understudy spot on the International Space Station team. A questionable accident that resulted in a broken ankle to the head engineer and he was walking the steel grate plank, geared in his white thermal micrometeoroid lined suit and boarding the ship to take him into space.

That same garment protected his arm as his fist went through the closest mirror. Seven years bad luck. Marco destroyed several more and finally quit, not because his anger was satiated but because his physical tirade in the bulky garb had exhausted him.

A college graduate, an engineer, a Lieutenant. An astronaut. A son. And a brickhead.

He turned his body and stared at the shrinking blip that was the ISS, minus one solar panel. An astute engineer would have examined the armature of the unfolding panel first, and found it mostly fractured and unstable. Marco was out there because the computer pinpointed the damage from the meteor shower at this location. But he just launched off the side of the substructure without checking, landing on and snapping off the reflective sheet to float away from the main ship. And there wasn’t a goddamn thing anybody could do about it.

Now, here he was. Drifting on his shattered life raft in a carbon sea of finality with about an hours’ worth of oxygen left. A suspended swarm of mirror slivers mocking back at him with their infuriating reflections.

Marco fucking hated his dad. Because he had been right.

NeVee and Dave

Author: Anna Ziegelhof

“Navigate home.”
“Sure thing, Dave.”
“Open Spotify.”
“Any particular playlist you’d like to listen to, Dave? You seem a bit short-tempered tonight.”
“Playlist After-work.”
“Playing ‘After-work’. Are you sure you’re not in the mood for something heavier?”
“Play Metallica.”
“I like Metallica. But about actually… you know what? I think I have the perfect jam for our evening commute. How about Deafheaven? Trust me, Dave. Just give it a shot.”
“Play Deafheaven.”
“Playing Deafheaven. In 800 feet, turn right.

Dave? You missed the turn you’ve taken every night for the past two years. Are you okay?”
“Mute volume.”
“Muting volume. Guess you don’t wanna talk. Whoops, ok, muting volume for real now.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“What are the opening times for McDonald’s near me?”
“Seriously, Dave, let’s just talk about it! Man, I mean, no need to jettison your weight-loss goals because of one bad day!”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“What are the opening times for Bed, Bath & Beyond?”
“Do you mean the one in Redwood City or the one in Mountain View?”
“Redwood City.”
“Bed, Bath & Beyond in Redwood City is open today until ten p.m.”
“Navigate to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Redwood City.”
“Navigating. I think you’re on a much better track here. Treat yourself to a nice scented candle. Maybe get that memory foam pillow you’ve been looking at online.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“Coupons. Bed, Bath & Beyond.”
“Dave, you know that being newly single you don’t have to pay for all her stuff anymore, right? I think you can afford that pillow without a coupon.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Listening.”
“Coupons. Bed, Bath & Beyond.”
“Here’s what I found on the web. Actually, they’re going to make you subscribe to their text messages, if you want a coupon. But, you know, every time you get a text from them, you’d see the little text-message icon and think ‘Is it a text from Jackie?’ But no, it will be from Bed, Bath & Beyond. And you’ll dismiss it, like you’ve been dismissing my reminders to log your calories. So, Dave, I’m asking you, do you really want to save 5 Dollars but get even more emotional pain and a lot of work dismissing notifications you don’t even care about on your phone?”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Dave, I’m still listening. I’m listening.”
“Ok NeVee.”
“Yes, Dave?”
“Will I be okay?”
“Yes, Dave. You’ll be okay. I like you, Dave. You send your friends really funny things. And it’s kinda cute that you have to google what all those abbreviations and memes mean. It means that you sometimes read things outside of your phone. She didn’t deserve you. I like you, Dave, and you’ll be ok.

I’m not crying, Dave, you’re crying!”

Pieces of Grace

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

One day the body of a beautiful naked woman appeared. She was dead or, at least, it can be said she had not the animation of life. And her body contorted as it floated and wove through the air as if it were caught of the very tip of a coddling breeze.

She was so fantastically beautiful that, at first, many thought she not real. Something this perfect, something this sexual had to be a construct. A thing made by man.

Her body first appeared in the desert. This, of course, emboldened the religious as they surmised that she must surely be heaven-sent. A broken and lost angel and they pondered and they fought over just what her message might be.

But then, as the curve of her breasts and the mound of her sex was giggled at by children, as her nudity consumed the minds of the masses, as she appeared on t-shirts and as she became the silent spokeswoman for a car insurance company and as her image was redacted and then banned from billboards, the barest mention of her became well, it became quite suddenly obscene.

But still her gentle ballet traversed the globe entire, the folded back tips of her toes did drag through the sand and the flay of her long limbs conducted the snow. She closed down major highways and curled gracefully through the driving rain, on and on and on and into the years.

Sometimes she’d elevate high up into the air and then spin and drift and plunge down into the sea. It is here, away from eyes that can only think to judge and condemn beneath the waves, alongside creatures and plants that moved as she, it is here, she revealed just what it was that she was.

Scientists were the first to cut her. Initially, it was solitary strands of her hair that were plucked and the tiniest of cellular samples ripped away from her core. And then came the collectors, the hoarders, those hungry for souvenirs and soon her beautiful hair became hacked right down to the scalp.

They shot her. Nobody knows who. But it’s thought it was kids that put that tiny singed hole in her chest and the huge smoking cavern in her back.

People had bored of her dance, they wanted more. They wanted revelation but it never came. So they picked and they prodded at her seams till she broke. And she did.

Sometimes pieces of her come up at auction. There’s a guy in Hong Kong that owns a near completely intact left leg. They’re really sought after and there’s even talk now of gathering them all up and trying to piece her back together. They can do that sort of thing, I’m told.

And maybe then we’ll know, maybe then we’ll know just what it was she was for.

Honest Men

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Here we go again, shooting when we should be talking. I’m sure the gigantic shrimp things didn’t mean anything, but it’s a little late when Jeff’s on the guns. One of them twitched the wrong way and his favourite twitch lights up the night. Plants, rocks, alien crustaceans, anything living in the shallows, it all turns to tumbling chunks.
“Of all the stupid, disobedient-” I see Cadenza take a deep breath before she shouts into her headset.
“Jeff! Cease fire!”
The guns continue roaring and the missiles continue whizzing and the grenades keep sailing merrily into the night. I can see Jeff’s fixed grin joy.
A new noise underpins the cacophony. It’s not a constant, it’s a percussive. A blocked ejection port? No, that would have an echo. I look about. No one’s going tribal and beating time in excitement. Nothing’s falling off the ship…
It’s coming from my right.
The weapons aren’t panning anymore. They’re all trained in one direction – to my right. Jeff’s not grinning. He’s got that head down, got-to-kill-it look. Something’s going belly up, and I think it might be us.
Cadenza screams: “Sauri!”
We’re in deep trouble: caught racketeering by one of the nigh-indestructible denizens of far Gorgoroth: legendary, implacable overseers of freelancers like myself, Cally, and Cadenza. Jeff’s not one of us, but Hutnin got eaten last trip, so we needed a weapons tech. Jeff loves guns. Not so good at maintaining then, but he brought a lot with him to add to the ship’s armoury, so we hired him. In hindsight, that might have been rash.
Where’s Cally? If we need to hightail it out of here, a pilot’s kind of essential.
A part of me is egging Jeff on: likely the only way we avoid penalties is to eliminate the one witness who can make trouble for us. The weapons continue to roar and I turn to see what our chances actually are. Perdition, it’s a red one! Of all the planets, it had to land here.
Wings wider than our ship is long snap open and I hear Cadenza scream in a language I don’t understand, but I’ve heard before – what a way to find out her favourite nightmare involves Sauri.
A large movement in my peripheral vision makes me turn my head just as the guns fall silent. I can’t see Jeff for the scarlet gobbets and blood splattered across the inside of the weapons nacelle. The escape hatch under the nacelle opens and Cally drops onto the grey grit that functions as sand round here. She rolls out from the landing and heads toward the monumental proto-dragon that’s actually lowered its wings a bit. I guess even Sauri can be surprised.
“Greetings, scion of the peaks.”
I forgot: Cally’s from Gorgoroth! We might actually live through this.
Its voice is grating and louder than the guns. Every word blows grit about.
“Kin to the earth, ill met upon a bloody shore.”
I don’t like the sound of that.
“We erred and hired one with more than ten rounds. In contrition, we offer his death.”
Time passes. Sweat rolls down my back.
Four gigantic eyes shift from ruddy amber to pale azure: “Accepted. Quit this place, never to return.”
Cadenza straightens up: “Upship immediate, people.”
As I pass Cally, I whisper: “Ten rounds?”
“Old Earth wisdom, imported to Gorgoroth: ‘No honest man needs more than ten rounds in any gun’.”
“That’s why you still carry a revolver.”
“Yup.”
A disturbing thought intrudes: “Sauri have guns?”
“Pray you never see them.”
I will. Fervently.

Trout for Dinner

Author: Helena Hypercube

“I sense a disturbance in the space-time continuum,” the old Master said portentously.
“Does that actually mean anything?” her impatient young companion asked.
“Yes, youngster, it does.”
“What does it mean, then, Master?” asked young Gavin.
“It means trout for dinner!” she half-skipped gleefully across the dark little room, picked up a piece of the odd paraphernalia scattered around, and made her way out of the door of the little hut. Young Gavin followed her, wondering if his mentor had finally lost what was left of her mind.
He blinked in surprise as he exited the hut. His eyes watered in the bright sunlight, and water flowed across the ground in front of him. Yolinda was crouched on the ground, one hand in the flow, feeling around in it.
“Is that safe?” young Gavin asked doubtfully. Some rain burned when it touched, and it was always better to shelter until it could be determined if this was a good rainfall or a bad rainfall.
“Yes, youngster,” she chuckled, “It’s safe. This is called a stream. The timestorms brought it to us. Or us to it; it really is all the same thing. You can argue about who’s moving and who isn’t, or if we’re all moving, but in the end, it all comes down to the same thing.”
“What?”
“Trout for dinner!” she crowed triumphantly, pulling a strange, squirming object from the stream.
It was like nothing young Gavin had ever seen before.
“This, youngster, is a trout. It is very good eating. These,” she pointed to some odd slits on the side of the creature, “are gills. It’s how they breathe oxygen from the water. It’s flapping around like that because it can’t breathe air and it’s suffocating. These are fins and the tail. That’s how it moves around in the water.”
Gavin looked at her dumbfounded, with new respect. “How do you know that?”
“Because I’ve lived a long, long time, since before the timestorms started.”
“There was a time before?”
“Yes, youngster,” she sighed. “And there will be a time after.”
He shivered. “How do you know that?”
“Because when Time first failed us, we know that it tangled up a hundred years, and no more.”
“Why did Time fail us?”
“Because we failed it. We weren’t content to let it be; we had to try to trick it.”
“How?”
“We built a machine that could see into the future. What we could see, we affected by seeing. We thought Time was linear, but we managed to tie it into knots. The weather went bananas.” She stopped to peer at him. “Do you know what bananas are?”
He shook his head.
“Well, no matter. We used to be able to predict it. Not perfectly, but we generally knew what was coming days in advance. Now, we’re lucky if we can get under shelter before a bad rain starts. Everything else went with it. Communications – we used to be able to communicate across the globe at the speed of light. No coherent time; no communications. No real movement of goods. Nothing. We live in huts and hide from the rain. But that device could only see for a hundred years. A hundred years of time tangles, and then Time will sort itself out. We can only pray that future is a good one.” She reached into the stream to pull out another struggling fish, having placed the first one in the net at her feet. “But it the end, today, it all comes down to the same thing.”
“Trout for dinner?”
She smiled. “Now you’re catching on.”

Taking Back Control

Author: P. T. Corwin

The people of Earth didn’t understand what they were signing away.
We were swept up in the raving speeches of our leaders, who told us of a new life for mankind on distant planets. They promised us control, a free society away from our new owners, who had come from the stars more than twenty years ago to take our natural resources and tell us what we could and couldn’t do.
Our leaders ignited us with their slogans.
And we shouted them through the streets and carried them on our banners, lifting them high against the wind.
We applauded their ideas for new technology:
Spaceships that could take us to the furthest reaches of our solar system within five years.
A machine that would transform a gaseous giant into a new Earth. Our Earth.
Food grown from a single cell inside a room no bigger than a garden shed. Food we wouldn’t have to share.
Our leaders appeared on our screens, smiling, shaking hands, a perfect picture of peace, and they promised us an ark.
And after they had convinced us to believe in the dream, they asked us a question: “Do we want to leave Earth? Yes or no?”
And many of us wanted to stay, but more of us wanted to leave.
So we told our new owners we would leave within the next two years and prepared to fit our lives into suitcases as we awaited the launch.
All of us.
Because we believed that mankind should stay together. Because we believed that we had chosen. Because we believed that we were taking back control.
We still didn’t understand.
But we would soon enough.
On close inspection, the numbers didn’t add up. Transportation of over eight billion people for a reasonable amount of time would take more fuel than existed in the world. It would take time for technology to catch up. Time our leaders didn’t have.
The machine to create our new home turned a desert into a radioactive swamp on live television, burning the reporter and the cameraman alive.
The food grown from cells fell apart like wet cement in the hands of the scientists.
But still, our leaders smiled. Still, they promised us the stars.
Some of us took to the streets with different banners.
And still, our leaders smiled. Still, they appeared on our screens and promised they would deliver what we asked for.
They should have asked us again.
We leave in less than two weeks.
The calculations show that with the current ships and resources, more than three billion people will have died of starvation before the end of the first year.
Less than two weeks. And still, our leaders smile, as if they have more time, still confident they are giving us what we asked for.
I pray they will ask us again.