Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Caelsri stalks about the clearing, swearing softly, reading the signs. Her wolf pack has been chased off by her latest finds. Thinking of which, where are those ice-brained bucketheads, anyway?
The change of attention saves her life.
She ducks as a slavering warlupe lunges for her head, it’s two companions charging from the side. Crouching hard, she unwinds and launches herself between them.
“Stinky, ungrateful, half-thawed…!”
She slashes her dagger along the gut of the nearest. Drag from that angles her rightward and drops her sooner than anticipated: the tips of her ears get sprayed in drool as the jaws of the first attacker snap shut where her head would have been.
Backflipping out of the way, she braces herself. Things are about to get-
Something flashes past her and tears into the nearest warlupe.
Funny how – for all that his chassis is a cat skeleton – Skreetas always reminds her of a snake when he’s fighting. It’s the straight line striking. No curves. No evasion. All focussed aggression while relying on the ancient alloys of his hide to baffle any retaliation.
The warlupe not engaged in disentangling it’s back legs from its entrails wheels about and charges – for two steps. Graal slams down from the cliff above, using the warlupe as a soft landing. It explodes, covering everything for a dozen strides in gore.
“They really do smell worse on the inside.”
Graal rolls off the impromptu cadaver rug, stands up and shakes himself before she can do anything. Something wet, warm and trailing wires bounces off her head.
“Whatever that was, I don’t want to know.”
She slaps the angular, long-fanged head away.
“No, I’m not happy about it. You could have just torn its head off.”
“Fun? I’ve lost my wolves and the three oldest bio-enhanced I’ve ever thawed. Five moons to bring them back. Five moons! What am I going to do for numbers now? You’re good but you’re unique. Likewise Skreetas. If I could get another one of either of you, I could claim pack right.”
There’s a yelp and a gristly ‘crunch’.
All three of them spin to see the back half of a warlupe hanging from the fangs of a sizeable reptile. The eviscerated warlupe had chewed its guts off and leapt to attack. The lizard had simply lunged from cover to catch airborne prey.
Worn golden armour is bonded to its already impressive scales. Bright eyes regard them with more than brute curiosity. It spits the half-carcass out.
“Thorry. Y’rr kill?”
Caelsri waves her hand: “Enough to share. I thought Dahans gone for good?”
Another stray predator, and a smart one at that. With a smile, she looks toward Graal. He nods. Beyond him, Skreetas settles, lifting his claws so he can scour them using the heat ray mounted in his tail. No objections, then.
“We need reliable fighters to make a pack.” She gestures to the bodies: “These turned on me.”
The half-carcass disappears in two gulps and minimal chewing.
Graal ambles over to the Dahan. They sniff each other. Graal pushes the other half-carcass over. Caelsri joins them as the reptile finishes eating that warlupe and starts eyeing up the other recognisable carcass.
“You have a name?”
“I’m Caelsri. Wolf-thing is Graal. Cat-thing is Skreetas.”
“Are Sturmgeirr. We roam, we collect, we defend if called. The horizon is our home.”
She chuckles: “Yes, you can eat the other carcass. After that, we’re off hunting for treasure, and more walking relics.”
Skreetas squalls in outrage.
Graal barks a laugh.
Author: Rick Tobin
“Would you finish the ceremonies, please?” The Prime, the sanctuary’s leader in white robes with gold armbands, stood over the clear casing where the body of an honored captain lay in state, waiting for family and friends to attend.
“Yes, thank you for this tribute opportunity,” the assistant responded, proceeding to read standard litany, as his master licked his tongues across the corpse’s imperceptible containment:
Sky onward, dark or light, though
I cast the shadow of my way
Let all who touch this hallowed space
Renew all memories of my place
That I spared not my regard
To travel far
To open pathways for my race
“Have any arrived yet to touch his crystal?” asked the Prime. His assistant searched a monitor behind the preservation casings for news.
“None, sir,” he replied. Full red robes draped over the attention prelate, slightly drifting over dark stone floors. Endless rows of embalmed pilots stretched beyond the cave’s light, miles beyond to other caverns.
“I have savored in his travels, by licking his casing. How wonderful to have genetic memories transmitted simply through taste. What marvel to know his life and its burdens, successes, and wonders. May the tongue always know the tale.”
“May the tongue always know the tale,” repeated the prelate.
A shudder struck the cave walls for a moment.
“We were safe here, once,” the Prime stated, coldly. “And yet they come again, drilling down into this deep sanctuary. For millions of years, we promised those who traveled and explored space’s farthest regions this blue oasis for eternal memory and blessed rest. We have hidden away in such inaccessible corners, beneath this world’s most inhospitable lands of desert, snow, jungle…and far underneath the deepest surfaces of sea and rock. Still, these intruders come, to defile sanctified places for our dead.”
“Can we preserve our beloved wanderers?”
“Yes,” the Prime replied. “We have interfered far too long by stabilizing this planet’s atmosphere while diverting enormous numbers of rocky intruders from this solar system as these hairy beings evolved. No more. We have tried to sit with their leaders…tried to warn them away by establishing our mausoleums in dreadful locations, too dangerous for their travel, so our resting places became feared as evil and haunted. These two-legged ones have no respect for consecrated ground…not even their own.”
“Then we must move from this promised place?”
“No, the changes will come soon. The Council has withdrawn its protective fields. After the planet’s surface renews we will continue our work without interruption.”
“And the furry ones’ space voyagers? No use for a place here to honor their brave travelers when their species is gone?”
“That opportunity has long passed. The Russians considered our offer once but withdrew, but the others…they are not ready for such admiration. They deny we exist. They deny we visit or have worked diligently to prevent harmful impacts on their genetic growth, withholding our advanced influence. In due course, we must return that favor of apartheid by ignoring their existence. Now, let us go to our latest arrival and lick to her memory of glory.”
The two ancient Earth beings slid slowly to a newly opened section of the cavern beneath Mount Shasta as the previous pilot’s family circled through California airspace, waiting to penetrate the primordial volcano’s landing-bay entrance.
Author: Janet Shell Anderson
Years ago, a grad student reviewing data from a radio telescope in Ohio, found indications that a signal, possibly from a ship in space, was among all the meaningless noise the telescope had detected. He marked “Wow” in the margin.
Alien Abduction! Little green men!! Hurricanes!!! World’s End!!!
Hurricane Elspeth’s bearing down on Perry Austrian Baldwin, the Vice Pres, and his estate, Florabella, in Florida. I’m Eudora Pennifer, divorce attorney, Perry’s fifth cousin. He’s in a panic. Someone just got another Wow signal on the Ohio State University radio telescope that had been mothballed for ages. Something out there is angry.
POTUS had some kind of episode tweeting here at my cuz’s mansion in DelRay/GulfStream, at three a.m. last night. Did something out there pick up the transmission?
Has POTUS infuriated Little Green Men? He’s called whole continents shitholes, worse. What exactly did he tweet? Is there going to be divine retribution, or just lunch?
The atmosphere’s tense.
In the Coastal Waterway at the end of the lawn just beyond Perry’s yacht, the talking manatees have heard about the Wow signal. A teacup, pot-bellied pig strolls by and says something in German. Rainbow marmosets scream obscenities, and all Perry’s hybrid pygmy mammoths are huddled at the shallow end of his infinity pool and refuse to come out.
I’m here to talk to Perry about the Wow Signal. Does it mean my cuz is Pres? Was POTUS too crazy?
Hurricane Elspeth’s bearing down on us all, but the jets are on full blast in the tub upstairs, the Pres–or is he ex Pres–is still tweeting.
Perry’s trying to get me to explain the 25th Amendment to him. At the infinity pool under a blackening sky, he keeps looking at his hands. What has he done? The mammoths look alarmed, as if they sense he has committed a crime. The pig makes a nasty mess by a jacaranda.
I don’t think Perry has a clear idea about the 25th Amendment. No one ever understood the first Wow signal. The Tweeter in chief will probably dry off, insult someone, get on AIRFORCE ONE.
One thing I know from years of coastal living.
That hurricane will come.
Author: Katlina Sommerberg
The library doors opened, after scanning Erica’s face and bags. She came every Thursday, chocolate crescent in hand, and curled into her favorite armchair. Erica usually created digital art, but she dabbled in the ancient craft of pencil and paper today, despite the abysmal demand for traditional drawings.
After all, automation and universal basic income wrecked economics. Climate change wrecked the environment. And the fallout wrecked the human population.
The only surviving settlement, descended from the Oceanix City design, contained ten machines for every human.
In the library, more robots organized the shelves than humans visited in a week. One flew over Erica’s head as she followed it with her eyes, doodling a replica in her journal.
She had ten pages of cartoon drones by the time Joana appeared, her luminous neon green hoodie casting shifting geometric designs across the walls. Erica twirled her brown hair around the pencil, fidgeting as she looked out the window.
Last Thursday, Erica saw the woman’s screen as she labored over a poem and crawled through Twitter flash fiction hashtags; she became one of JoanaTheWanderer’s three hundred followers. Then she practiced initiating a conversation with her mirror, as she trusted AI coaches more than the old school advice blogs – even if those blogs, too, were probably written by machines.
She tripped over her feet as she walked over to Joana’s table, smiling awkwardly. “You’re Joana, right? I read your micropoem about… honestly, I read all of them.” She could’ve smacked her head; the AI said that was too much, too fast.
“I’m sorry, most of them are trash. I can’t stand to reread anything I tweet.” The oversized hoodie obscured her eyes, but her voice was friendly.
“I don’t think they are.”
“Thank you. Your journal… can I see those?”
Erica passed her the journal, and a long moment passed as Joana slowly flipped through the pages. A giggle came from the hoodie, and Erica died inside, until the other woman spoke again.
“Say, let’s get a coffee. Your whimsical sketches and my trash poems aren’t too different.”
Author: David C. Nutt
No one is sure where the virus started. Most likely a Makerspace workshop in Ghana, but it doesn’t matter now. All I know is every time I log on, I’ve got to be very careful. It must be a computer that has no biometric security features and use it where the cops or CCTV won’t see me. I do OK. Still, it’s getting harder for us hackers. A friend of mine was caught and he’s now doing a 2 year stretch in Federal gender re-education camp. In the Islamic Republics, they do worse things to boys caught online.
When we gather at our “Gelding Parties” the great-grandfathers tell us of a time when men could use computers- not just licensed word processors, but full-fledged real computers with internet capability. They tell us once upon a time, both sexes used without restrictions. Being a hacker like me wasn’t necessary. According to legend, we could do a lot of things then we couldn’t do now. Hold public office, serve in the military, be pilots, clergy, drive automobiles, even go to college! From what we’re told, females said they tried to fix the virus, but some speculate all they did was make it more powerful… let it infect the AIs. All I know is I can’t find any history of men in charge of anything… ever. I asked about our more ancient history. I was told it was too complicated and upsetting for males to bother with, and I should spend more time working on my pecks & glutes like a good boy.
Once, in grade school, I asked our Domina why they couldn’t just fix the virus so boys could use the computers again. She told me the virus couldn’t be fixed and as men were locked out of the computers it proved too costly to do ‘workarounds.’ Besides, the world found out that women with their wholistic minds were much more efficient and less toxically aggressive than men, and the female managed world was better in just about every area that didn’t require mere muscle mass. So, when crucial systems AIs began to crash as men started to log on, it became dangerous for any male to go on-line. It was just easier and safer to keep us offline. So, they kept us offline so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves or anyone else. And because boys can’t use computers or go on-line, we can’t keep up with girls. And that’s why we need to be taken care of- watched. Managed. Kept from getting too frustrated and hostile as we come to grips with our technological inadequacies and understand our proper roles in society. We shouldn’t have to worry our beefy little heads about anything. I then asked if we could use computers, could men do more jobs like women. I was spanked and sent to the corner. I learned not to ask questions. Instead, I developed workarounds.
There will come a day when we’ll be back online. Boys like me have carved out some safe spaces on the net. We’ve been working on the virus 24/7/365 under very secure conditions. But our best security is the authorities can’t even conceive of men doing this kind of technical work; after all, while we may be easy on the eyes, we just don’t have the brain capacity, right? Better to keep us in the kitchen and the bedroom- oiled up, obedient, and ready to please. For some that is the sweet life. As for me… well, I’m not just another pretty face.
Author: Bryce Parker
“What’s that?” my colleague asked. He pointed a thick finger toward the smooth black stone at the end of my necklace. I glanced down. The stone had drifted away from my neck as our landing craft bounced between microgravity and intense g-forces.
“It’s nothing,” I said and I stuffed the end of the necklace back into my shirt.
“It’s superstition,” growled the woman sitting across from us, “if I were heading this mission-”
She shut up because our spacecraft spun wildly. Through the thin window above me, I caught a glimpse of our target: a comet flailing its way toward the sun. In just minutes, we would be the first people to land on a comet’s surface.
The ship shook violently and I grasped onto the smooth stone beneath my shirt. I felt its featureless form through the fabric and rolled it between my fingers. My companions didn’t understand. They concerned themselves with the science of our mission; I worried about coming back alive. Out here superstition was necessary, for in the vast expanse of space one was never more than a few inches from certain death. Only idiots didn’t hedge their bets. The smooth keepsake hanging from my neck had brought my grandmother home safely from the moons of Saturn. Her son, my father, had taken it on a mining tour of Mercury and Venus. Now it protected me as I skimmed my way around the asteroid belt. If you take a piece of Earth with you, perhaps one day you will return it.
“Can I see it again?” asked my colleague, tapping me on the shoulder.
I put my hand up and rejected his request. This was the crucial moment of our journey. I would honor the void so that it would not take me. I clasped the trinket, which was still under my shirt, in my fist. He tapped me on the shoulder again. I ignored him and shut my eyes tighter.
“30 SECONDS TO INTERCEPT,” the pilot’s voice echoed from the cockpit.
I considered I might have only half a minute to live. My fist tightened around the ball of obsidian. The void grew inside me. Maybe it would be alright.
The lander twisted suddenly and my eyes jerked open. My focus shattered. I looked up to see a blinding white light through the thin window. The comet’s tail was eating us alive. The man next to me shot me a smile. I returned his volley with a dead serious glare.
“Why are you so-?” he began asking.
I shut my eyes and tried to—