Day at the Office, Night on the Job

Author: Brooks C. Mendell

Day jobbers think offices clean themselves. They show up in the morning at their desks, put down their gourmet coffee on coasters their kids made, flick the mouse and check the Inbox without wondering who swept the floors or removed the lettuce heads from the Decapitator.

We get called in to clean up all kinds of messes, from dust bunnies in the Oval Office to chemical waste behind the meat growing plant on Jersey 5. If there’s something no one wants to touch, scrub or think about, call us to handle it. We schedule jobs after hours, to avoid disrupting your business, regardless time zone or planet. Just ask for the Specials Team and tell Frieda where to send the invoice.

I joined the Specials Team early last year. Phil moved me up from the Eastern Regional Squad, where we handled public messes like suicides and multi-shuttle pileups during the hours of rush. When things slowed, a Regional Squad might handle an agherwalrus feeding or even a political rally gone awry.

While the hours can be long and the work dirty, the pay is good. My ex complained about me coming home dirty smelling of alien feces or industrial chemicals, until my mother said to him one day, “but the money is clean.”

Like every job, this one has tradeoffs. Last week, Phil sent out an alert with coordinates. Seventeen minutes later, we were gloved up with masks and prevent suits, vacuuming up pieces of bone and tufts of hair at a blasted Alien Processing Unit. The strain of repeatedly scrubbing red and green bloodstains off the walls takes a toll, even if terrorism’s good for the Company.

For those who say hard work doesn’t pay, I say they don’t know what they’re talking about. I go in every night knowing that performance gets recognized and rewarded. How do you judge day jobbers for pushing email all day? With my team, the mess either got cleaned on time and under budget, or it didn’t.

And while the residue of work can hitch a ride home and sully a relationship, the money is clean.

A Devil’s Trade

Author: Ken Carlson

“This a good trade, Tommy; a good trade.”

“Yes, Mister President.”

“It’s the kind of deal that’s good for America. Maybe it’s my greatest trade ever.”

“Yes, Mister President, right this way, sir.”

The President and Thomas Lee Jarvis, a junior member of the state department walked the halls of the West Wing after leaving the generals and the loudest security briefing ever. The President made the call. The military didn’t see any other option, but that didn’t stop Cabinet members from screaming in rage. Security was called in. Weapons were drawn. This wasn’t the theatre Jarvis expected when he left Law School at Georgetown early.

How it became his responsibility to escort the President back to the oval office with the mandates to sign was still a mystery. It’s possible the President requested him, that his hard work, the long nights, and his cheerful disposition had paid off. More likely, no one else from his department wanted to be anywhere near this agreement or be remembered by history for what it meant.

It had been a week since they lost Seattle; a show of strength by the Kailleans. The President and the generals didn’t believe when they said how powerful they were. Their exploration force, about a dozen ships appeared in the sky over a handful of cities one Friday morning when people were on their way to work.

Jarvis, the youngest man in his department, a tall baby-face that hardly needed to shave, he had been tasked to write this agreement, this ludicrous treaty, a non-aggression pact like none other. It was typed. It would be signed. It would be buried somewhere or burned out of shame.

The Kaillean prince was comfortable in the Oval Office. He was actually seated behind the desk when the President returned.

“Prince,” the President said, “no, don’t get up. I think you’ll be very happy with this agreement. May I say we are very impressed of your ability to understand our culture and your ability to read English.”

The alien nodded. “It helps,” he said with a sardonic note of derision, “that I and several of our operatives were able to live here and learn your ways without your detection.”

“Well, with the authority of the American government, we will honor this agreement in the hopes of a better relationship in the future,” said the leader of the free world. “We understand your people have certain needs, in terms of resources. We hope this trade will help.”

“Mr. President,” said the Kaillean prince, “we appreciate your understanding in this matter. As we said we are in need of human frames and your rudimentary structure, as well as an isolated home base to work from.”

“Hey,” said the President. “I understand. I’m a leader of my country. You’re one of the leaders of your people. There’s no reason we can’t work together.”

“If you’ll sign here, gentlemen,” said Thomas. “By the authority of our government, and the UN Security Council, you will be given the nation of Australia. Mr. President, it will be necessary for an Executive Order to begin your rescue operations of the indigenous people.”

“Tommy, there will be no rescue operation,” said the President. “The Prince here says he needs about 25 million unites to start with. Australia should suit those needs.”

“Mr. President,” said Thomas, “what you’re saying is the people of Australian, uh, a sovereign nation, an ally. You’re saying the existing people there will be, uh, harvested.”

“Like I said,” said the President, “this is a very good deal.”

Three years of space to grow

Author: DJ Lunan

The Zeppelidrone hovered soundlessly outside the window blinking its countdown, indicating less than twenty minutes to make our decision to sign the contract.

“You will need to be sterilised before we can go, no natal medical facilities on-board”, said Dex reciting the small print governing his role as ‘Cosmos Safari Expert’.

“Can I be re-purposed afterward?”, I replied sarcastically.

“Hmpf! All vaccinations, mediation, sterilisation and molecular re-assignation to be completed at travellers’ own expense”, continued Dex hesitantly.

My husband is in his element, seated in his favourite armchair, leafing through the 87-page printed contract. Yes, the SunShip Company sent a real paper contract!

SunShip knew Dex well. Inefficient outdated media fit neatly with his love of pulp fiction, calligraphy, and three-piece-tweed suits.

I knew he would sign it. Sunship knew it too. He always did. Sometimes with a quill.

Our biggest question is whether I would join him. Could I endure three years on a Cosmos Safari?

Dex had asked me to join shorter tours, but I always dodged, preferring a couple of months solo on Earth to exhausting intra-galactic tours scheduled to the minute with gazing at alien life, junk, mammals, and art. And worse, legions of so-called Experts, yawning on clever-clever without injecting any real value.

“Is it all-inclusive?”, I probed.

Dex scanned the contract, pausing to lovingly lick his index finger to help him turn each page, “Food, travel, and air are provided as part of this contract for the Expert…. that’s me”, he paused, evidently chuffed, smiling broadly, brushing crumbs from his vintage Harris tweed jacket onto the floor, “….and their companion”.

“A companion?!”, I responded ironically, “can I not be an associate Expert? I’m actually very clever!”.

“Ahh … just wait, clause 4, states: ‘Food, travel, and air will be provided at économie throughout the Safari, with the daily option to upgrade across and within consumption categories to ordinaire or Premium™ at the expense of the Expert and companion’”, he reported.

For the first time since the contract had arrived by Zeppelidrone, Dex sought approval in my eyes.

I pulled my supremely-unimpressed face, hoping Dex would get the hint to re-negotiate our status.

“I will, definitely….”, faltered Dex, “….inquire….further on this matter”.

I smirked knowingly at his fudging, doubtful he would inquire or negotiate further. He’d simply whip out his favourite feathered quill from his antique crocodile leather Filofax and sign the contract.

“What’s the route?”, I inquired to break the awkward silence.

He smiled geekily, slipped into a daydream, and detailed ponderously, “We will circle Neptune’s frozen moon to slingshot out of the Solar System into the NV quadrant, see the whispering galaxy, catch flowering season on Neunion…..”

I remained bemused by my optimism. Three years of lean food, unlimited access to fitness equipment, swimming pool, music, literature and film coupled with zero money worries would re-invent me as trim, fit, and well-read. Off-worldy wise! Moreover, I would finalise my doctorate while travelling, and return a Doctor, primed for a new career and a family.

“…..visit two lava planets, and all being well, catch the Orplyx migration….I’ve only dreamt of seeing such things”.

I knew I’d lost him. Maybe I only borrowed him while he was planted firmly on Earth.

“….Cosmos Safari Expert….big step up….big leagues, big ships, unconfined vistas….”

But could I find me? Could this be my re-invention?

I packed a pipe with molocum root and lemon leaves, lit it, and passed to Dex.

“Shouldn’t we….”, he started, motioning to the Zeppelidrone blinking ‘fifteen’.

“Nah, let’s get high, then sign”, I smiled, contemplating my looming three years of space to grow.

Bg’lkk Ut’rk: Hot-Lizard Enthusiast

Author: Thomas Desrochers

Bg’lkk Ut’rk had found the blue jewel with its eccentric inhabitants and decided he wouldn’t make contact. His name sounded like “big lick” in the planet’s principle political and business language, and he was of the opinion that first contact by “‘Big Lick’ the Curious” was simply a disaster in the making.

So, he watched.

Well, he didn’t just watch.

The humans were a fractious lot. Some among them were concerned about saving species from vanishing, and Bg’lkk thought it was a rather noble endeavor. After all, any species was shaped by the environment around it, and it followed that the organisms that lived there formed a part of their identity. To him, saving these was like saving the monuments and icons of past ages. There were humans saving mammals, and fish and lizards, mundane and exotic creatures, a whole society of spider-keepers! But there were some that were neglected, sometimes fewer than a hundred left and no tears shed or hair pulled.

So, he collected.

And wondered: what sort of sentients would save creatures they had grown up next to but not ones they had created and grown alongside, like a Ku’rkr’rk that favored its coralmate over its own spawn?

Ethel sat on her porch wrapped in a wool afghan and sipped at her tea. She liked to sit there in the evenings and watch the lonely cars go by on the distant highway. It was cold out, the trees barren. Heavy clouds overhead carried portents of snow to come.

The roads were quiet, the only lights those from the far off houses in the hills. Tonight the world was small – the porch, the yard, the woods beyond. Ethel liked it when the world was small. “Comfortable,” she called it.

Something intruded on her small world. It was hard to see for it had no lights, a shadow the size of her cottage that descended from the sky to land gently on her lawn. It made no noise as it fell and the air barely moved, but there was a soft hiss and clatter as it settled.

Ethel set her tea down and stood, grabbing her shotgun. She was used to creeping in the night to eradicate the pests that harassed her girls.

She stayed to the edges of the lawn, obscured by the forest. As she came around the intrusion she could see movement – something in her coop! No, somebody! Ethel lowered her shotgun, irritated. If she took out a miscreant like they were a raccoon the sheriff would be less than pleased, so instead she fished her flashlight from her smock pocket.

When she turned on the light it was hard to say who was more surpised: Ethel, or the four foot tall hunched crab monster that was half in the coop. It scuttled back out and raised all six of its double hinged fore-claws in the air, three of Ethel’s hens and one of her roosters ‘bup’ing sleepily in its grasp.

Before Ethel could react the crab monster slurred out, “A lack of violence is favorable! I am here for precious feathered hot-lizards!” It regurgitated something yellow onto the ground. “Recompense!”

Ethel could only watch as it scuttled aboard the shadow and disappeared into the night. One of the remaining hens started up a belated ‘buh-buh-buh, buh-gAwk.’ Ethel gathered her wits and panned her light to the yellow thing.

“Ernie,” she yelled toward the cottage. “Ernie, get out here!”

A window opened and Ernie stuck his head out. “What? What is it?”

“A honest-to-god alien bought some of my girls, and it paid in gold!”

Roiland

Author: Jamie Bainbridge-Wood

Marshal was a photographer, an anachronist and a killer. Before we met, he hadn’t bothered to iCap any of the women he had finished with: he used an old camera, the print kind. That’s a throwaway fact- an affectation- for someone who isn’t a killer. In Marshal’s case, it got him caught and they stuck Marshal with me. Marshal behaves himself now.
Mostly.

It’s a rugged neighbourhood: neon-light reflections dancing hopscotch across a thick flow of rainwater, dense streams set to drown the whole borough, reshaping it into a grimy, low-rent Venice. Marshal’s body has its knuckles gripped white around the little moped they rented out to us. His mind snaps at me as we drive and I keep an eye on it but I don’t feed it.
The waypoint is up ahead, silky purple blur vibrating at one extremity of our vision. I get Marshal to pull his head around, get us oriented, and he doesn’t like it.
They used to lock people like Marshal up, or kill them, and now they use them for this. They think it’s punishment. For the most part, it is. People like Marshal, they like to dominate. An arrangement like this is their worst nightmare.
Still, I’ve been with Marshal long enough and I know: there are certain parts he likes well enough.
Marshal used to have a buddy- Lucas Roiland- and my mind, what used to be Marshal’s mind, drifts to him as we take the right off Copeland and onto Main. Marshal was the worst of the two, really. Lucas? He just didn’t have his head together.
Marshal exploited that.

We glide into the waypoint and the vibration stops: out front of the Oakland, that big Gothic facade grinning chipped-teeth from the lower row of windows, halogen glare in the interiors draped by heavy, dark blinds. They’re like coffins, those rooms.
The receptionist, a kid, nods at us as we blow through.
We hit the elevator.

“Carver?”
We hammer on the door of Room 304, the one with the peeling paint and the expectant silence on the other side.
“Carver!”
Silence conjures visions:
Carver, perched in the high-backed chair management provided as a cursory nod to the virtues of good posture.
Carver, easing his way out the chair, toting some screamer rented from a skinny kid with a quick mouth and hard eyes.
I keep an ear out for the footsteps, the sound of metal touching wood, and there’s nothing. I give it a second, two, for him to respond, then I do it the other way: crank back in the corridor, plant a boot at the lock. Splinters, then: Carver, a black-etched simian outline fleeing toward an open window. The piece has enough anaesthetic to sleep Carver permanently. I dial it back. Shoot from the hip.
Carver breaks a table as he goes down.
Into the room.
I take a look around in the dark. There’s enough here to make sure Carver ends up the same as Marshal: binds, tossed carelessly in the bathroom; tools, precisely ordered, placed obviously as prize possessions in the centre of the room.
It’s slap-dash. Looks the same way the developing room did, back when they caught us.
They’ll slave Carver, the same way they slaved Marshal, and they’ll put someone like Lucas Roiland in the driver’s seat.
I look down at Carver with something like pity. I know what the process will do to his mind. But then again, I know what he did, what Marshal did, and what I did.

I am all that’s left of Lucas Roiland.
It’ll be making amends forever.

The Wounding Table

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Her fingers are young but they feel wrapped in the heft of ancient mountains as she writes. Her nails are blotched with ink but she remembers the taste of the paint, that which she mined from beneath their tips as she thought with the edge of her teeth.

“The trees fatten in the blur and my stop it awaits and I wish never to return to this place”

You cannot remember the sensations you experienced when you awoke, can you? It was like cracking through delicate ice or pushing through a gossamer curtain into this room of fantastical machines and light and sound.

You know you were dead or at the very least that you weren’t in possession of so perfect a hand, that which you now hold to your face. So real isn’t it? Every single pock pore, the smooth meander of your veins. Lick it, taste the salt of your sweat.

“Easy now. The feed is almost complete”, says Professor Jan Drabczyk as he pokes at your face with his pen.

You’re laying on a steel table that has been pivoted until now you all but stand. A strap holds you in place as it loops beneath your breasts and another cups your head in a sling. They are putting things inside you. A slick flow of data and look how it sinks into your being and painlessly settles as if they were thoughts already had.

“We’ve encountered many failures along this road we now set you upon. None of the previous implants took. We were searching for innate intellect, in the notion that those who possessed it could duly comprehend this massive step into the unknown. Nothing worked. Whether it be captains of industry or great scientific minds not a one fully animated, nothing but rage. Until now. Until we took a chance on an artist. A pure creative that saw the world not as we perceive it but as it really is. You that sees the art in my work”

You are confused and the confusion it stings.

“We lifted your essence from a hair follicle, pulled from a comb in a museum in your honor. I chose your eighteen-year-old body. The year of your accident. The event that sculpted the woman you became. No more pain. No more regrets and if at a later date you wish to upgrade to an older version then the institute is more than happy to cover the costs. Just don’t do it too often, these things don’t come cheap”, he splutters slapping the bare skin at her thigh.

You feel it, don’t you? Muscles shriveling in your lower right leg. The fatigue as it oozes its thick wet shawl from this box that spins in your head. Your bones they shatter and you feel the iron rail as it slides through your hip and into your pelvic floor. And the baby you lost its tears flood your eyes and the alcohol stinks when you breath. Come now, lets again pull out the hair from your head by its roots.

“She’s going into rejection. Shut her down. All systems… we fucking had her”

A limbless torso strung from a rack in a warehouse of thousands. Your chest splays and I gloat at the ache in the alloy that holds you like an open cage door. And the residue of the mind that they built stares through eyes that cannot move. For eternity nobody will know or care and we will suffer here in the silence.

Welcome home.