Kids and Pets

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

My world is Kayden, and it is orbited by a plethora of satellites with deadly defensive natures that all look really pretty from the ground. In higher orbit, space stations and roving warships patrol like sharks at idle. No ship matches it’s fellows in anything bar a small, radiant ‘K’ sent into a single panel. It’s about the size of a human child’s handprint, and that’s deliberate, because it’s the same size as his handprint.

Kayden was born into a prosperous merchant family and was expected to eventually fulfil some minor role, being fourth son. He lived six years of privilege before the family fortunes took a tumble at the hands of greedy investors. It’s a tale told so many times since man left Earth, and identical in many ways to all the others. Except for the details. The particular detail that changed this universe was Kayden being sold by his mother. He brought in a lot of money. He was told it was his purpose, that he had done well. He smiled through the tears as his new owners closed the door.

What happened to Kayden in the intervening three years can only be suspected. When Vealoris, my great-grandfather, found him, he was vomiting parts of himself into the dust of the partially-terraformed planet that would eventually bear his name. Grandfather noted that he eased Kayden’s hurts as best he could, but the damage was too much for the wasted body. Barely three months after Nursery Guardian Vealoris found him again, Kayden went on to a place where children could never be chattels.

That is why grandfather bought this world. He specified the last terraforming stages, the fauna levels and hazard distribution. Then he started rescuing children. After a while, he extended that to unwanted companion fauna as well. He said that while this place existed, no child would be without a place to be safe and loved, among those who would understand without question. All that on a world that is best described as paradise. You can sleep under the stars for most of the year. Nothing native is dangerous to the waifs and strays from a galaxy of civilisations with ancient, common problems.

Some of those first generation rescues stayed on. Some went to the stars. A few made fortunes. That trend continued in the second generation, and so on. And it all comes back to Kayden.

Slavers and orbital pimps fear K-ships. Their crews are motivated in ways that nothing can deter. Former adoptees of Kayden can call on K-ships too. It makes their businesses damn-near bandit proof.

But there’s no empire building going on. We are a single, resilient network dedicated to a simple, too-often-neglected purpose. That is more than enough.

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One Man, One Vote

Author : Sean Kavanagh

A third term as President.

No one since FDR had served three terms, but he could feel that tingling sense of anticipation, that odd, pulsing of the blood that foretold victory. He was on the verge of making history. The campaign had gone well. He’d connected with the electorate in such a very personal way and now he could almost taste that landslide. The speeches, the personal appearances, even the tedious writing of his manifesto, it had all gone smoothly.

A glance at his watch: 9.59pm – just one minute until the polls closed.

He sat down in his chair in the Oval Office to wait.

His eyes fell on the hands of an antique clock, which presumably one of his predecessors had installed, but which he’d not yet removed. The Oval Office did look a little threadbare these days, but times were hard.

The election was over: the clock struck ten. Now all that remained was the count.

He looked at the ballot box on his desk and smiled.

Wanting to savour the moment, he went back to the window and looked out. It was a dark November night in Washington, snow falling early, as it did now. But all the snow would be immaculate. Untouched. No footsteps. No sidewalks cleared. No hills littered with snowmen or the remains of snowballing fights between children.

The snow lay undisturbed by man, as there were no more men. Or Women. All gone. In a plague so swift it was over before panic even began.

But he had been spared.

Just him.

And, as the last living member of the human race, he intended to see out his days doing what he believed to be right and proper.

The country…the world… needed a leader, and he was proud to be President of…everything.

Slowly, he walked over to the ballet box. Unlocked it (tampering was unlikely, but he was a stickler). Up-ending the box, the single vote fell out. His vote. He picked it up.

“Commencing count,” he said to, literally, nobody. He unfolded the ballot paper. His eyes went wide with shock. No….No, how?

He looked closer.

In his haste he’d folded the paper before the ink had dried, and now the ‘X’ next to his name was smeared beyond recognition. He took a deep breath and showed the ballot to the empty room. “Spoiled!” He announced, and he set the paper aside.

Such a defeat was bitter. It wasn’t a charismatic opponent, or a popular ideology that had defeated him, no, it was nothing but his own sloppiness and arrogance.

They’d always said every vote counted.

He hated it when the dead were right.

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Gray Magic

Author : Rick Tobin

“So why spray millions of tons of toxic soup on the U.S. for years in chem trails if we had this fungus ready?” Harold Simpson leaned forward over half-finished plates of veal chop Milanese and Coho salmon amandine, adding impact while interrogating Elliot Thompson, Senator Farrell’s Chief of Staff. The two camouflaged themselves among dark business suites at lunch in Washington D.C.’s Fiola restaurant.

“Timing, like elections, is everything. You’ve worked D.C. long enough. We soften up targets first… then hit them hard. DARPA developed varieties of soups, confusing our enemies. Journalists wrote it was about metals used for HAARP communications or climate modification. Partially true, however, it was salts used in late winter and early spring that had a real bang. Those absorbed through their tough skins into their bio-operating systems. Made them vulnerable to what’s coming next.” Elliot leaned back and continued to dissect his salmon, turning his knife and fork like a Swiss surgeon.

“What about our people? You blocked the CDC conclusions: increased asthma and autism in children, obesity and lowered IQs. I met with the Director two weeks ago. They’re livid about outbreaks of common diseases, like measles, after mothers refused vaccination.” Simpson continued to hover over the table, whispering to his lunch mate. “Isn’t Farrell worried about the hell she’ll pay, revealing the back story on massive alien deaths next week? She approved the black project funds for Hawaiian research. Maybe she should delay.”

“Sit upright, Harry. You know the media vultures here watch for intense exchanges.” Thompson continued his repast, finishing the last bits of fish. “There will be inquiries, no doubt. She will deflect with standard collateral damage BS. You have to put the threat and risk in perspective. Simple fact is the Grays broke the Eisenhower agreement. In the 80s, a hundred thousand went missing…forever. Last year it was almost a million. How would you like to be veal on that plate?” Thompson picked up his heavy, red-cloth napkin, delicately touching his lips, removing almond chip debris. He noted his guest dropping his silverware as his jaw opened. “Really, Harry. You’ll make a mess of things. Pull yourself together.”

“So who gets the credit, or blame? I’m sure that’s been discussed.” Simpson waited for a response while quickly draining his glass of water, recapturing his composure.

“DARPA wants to stay on the sidelines for this one. We’ll probably tip the hat to Whittier and Mason. They may catch some flak for the early tests of ophidiomyces that took out the rattlesnakes on the East Coast and in Illinois. We covered that by comparing it to natural outbreaks of the bat fungus. Hey, the aliens read, too. It’s all a media war, but when we release the final product all over the country next week, good-bye Mr. Contact of the Third Kind…including their infiltration of hybrids into government and industry. It will be a slaughter.” The waiter interrupted the intensity with delivery of Italian ice cream.

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t share your enthusiasm, reelection season or not.” Simpson’s phone rumbled on the table. “I’ll have to take this, sorry. Give my best to the Senator.”

“Sure, Harry. I think she’ll be pleased. Oh, no need to get up to leave, even if you could. Overpowering thirst is the first sign. How was your dinner salad?”

No reply was expected as the Chief of Staff watched Simpson melt in his Brooks Brothers suit, becoming a pile of cilia and fine dust on the floor.

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Like They Used To

Author : C. J. Boudreau

The algae were there! In the deep permafrost. Turning up the magnification and refocusing the cam, he could see the nuclei. They were photosynthetic, the rare green color in the frozen soil. Perhaps hundreds of millions of years old. Mars was not dead! Arturo took several samples from the most populated areas. He sealed the case, and climbed back out of the ravine to the rover. He left the case in the car and went back for his remaining tools. He probably shouldn’t have been here alone but his time here was limited and he’d wanted badly to look at this site.

He was climbing out again, awkwardly, with the tools when the side of the ravine collapsed on him. He was lucky he didn’t damage his suit.

The fall back into the ravine stunned him. When he was able to appraise his condition he found himself buried. He tried his com unit and found it wasn’t working. His suit, tough, mostly carbon, told him that it was in otherwise good condition, all its heads up displays green. Most of its controls were voice op. A couple were chin switches in his helmet. A good thing, since he couldn’t move his hands. Just one foot. He ached from some bruises, but was otherwise unhurt. Someone would come looking for him soon and see the car, and his foot. His primary concern was oxygen. If he ran low, he didn’t like to think about it, but there was the Rescue Unit in his suit, Cold sleep. Not hibernation, but freezing.

He hadn’t been there long when the storm came up. Dust storms on Mars can be planet wide and last months. This one didn’t, but it was long enough. Within a few hours he and his rover were deeply buried in red dust. When his oxygen indicator showed a quarter hour left, he initiated the Rescue Unit and icy fluid roared in.

He woke cold and aching in a white room to see a pretty, but reed thin, young blonde woman leaning over him. She said “Don’t try to speak yet, just nod. Are you Doctor Arturo Hartwood?”

He nodded yes. It hurt. She turned to someone outside his field of vision and said excitedly what sounded like “Cee! Yeti Zim! Trooz!” To him, she said “Rest now, we’ll talk later.” Another woman in white, military uniform with a close fitting cap tapped something on his arm and he passed out.

Sometime later he awoke feeling somewhat better. The militaristic nurse came in, smiled at him, said something unintelligible, scanned him with a little handheld instrument and left. Then the blonde woman came in.

“Hello Doctor Hartwood, I am Dr. Enid Veeder. I’m honored to meet you.”

She’d an accent he couldn’t place.

“Hello Doctor. How long will I be here?

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you. We must ask the medics.”

“You’re not a medic?”

“No. I’m a linguist. I’m here because I speak your English.”

” No one here speaks English?”

“Not yours. You are a great celebrity. There is a statue of you in my hometown.”

“A statue to me?”

“Yes Doctor. I’m sorry your rescue took so long. They found your car and samples quickly but they couldn’t find you. Last Sixday, an aqueduct digging crew found you while checking for buried cables. Your discovery – oxygen producing native algae – made terraforming Mars practical. But your suit is amazing. It’s protected you, frozen in the permafrost, for two thousand years. They don’t make them like they used to.”

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Phantom Test

Author : Kate Runnels

“There,” said the doctor. “Try it now, agent Sasaki. The neural connection should be hooked in.”

Lia stared down at her cybernetic left arm, recently attached after a case went horribly wrong.

The murderer, after killing her last victim, sliced Lia’s arm, had nearly taken it off. If it hadn’t been for Ming, she’d be dead. It just didn’t feel like her limb, and yet her fingers clenched into a fist when she thought on it.

“Good.” The doctor beamed at her. “It’s responding well.”

Lia reached over with her organic right hand and felt along the seam that joined flesh to synthetic pseudo flesh material.

“That area should join and fuse together in the next few weeks. We’ll watch for any necrosis, but that shouldn’t happen. Things look good.”

Lia nodded at the doctor but her mind felt for the flesh that should be there, thinking it was there.

It wasn’t the same. It would never be the same.

Lia left the doctor’s office and went out onto the streets of Hong Kong, preoccupied- lost in her own thoughts: thoughts on the case; on her arm; on how close she had come to dying. She headed back toward the HK security agency she worked for, by routine alone. But pretty soon, she realized she was being followed. It was like an itch that wouldn’t leave and demanded attention. The person followed her.

Young, teenager, looked to be fully human without prosthetics. She turned into a coffee shop, and glanced over at him as she did so. He eyed her hungrily. No, not her, her arm. New prosthetics went for a premium on the black market.

She got her coffee and when she came out, he wasn’t in sight, but it didn’t take him long to drop on her tail. She kept walking through the streets of Hong Kong, heading in a roundabout way toward her office. She went toward the back of the building, and he came on eagerly, thinking her in his trap.

Around a corner and out of sight, she stopped and waited for him. He raced around, seeing her waiting too late to stop himself. About to run into her, he decided to tackle Lia. She swung her new left arm and it connected with his jaw.

She nimbly stepped out of the way as he hit the pavement, unconscious.

“Everything all right?” asked an Agent who had just stepped out of the building.

“Yeah. But I’ll need help taking him to lock up.”

The agent came over to help and asked, “Why’d he try to jump you?”

Lia raised her left arm. “New arm.”

“That’s right, you got cut up bad. How’s it working out?”

“Seems to be working out just fine.” Lia smiled as they hoisted the young man between them.

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Sunday Morning Abduction

Author : Izabella Grace

Inside the smoky crystal, everything glows. I hang suspended in sunlight and tiny bubbles, like a fly trapped in amber. I scream for Mum or Tyler, but the crystal’s hum swallows my voice, like it swallowed me. My pale skin glows orange as the sunrise over their jagged, glass mountains. My ragged breaths whistle like the hot wind over their white deserts.

The Great Library’s twisted spire flashes into my mind. It glitters black as night and beckons like an outstretched finger. I try to resist its pull, like in my dreams, where I haunted its echoing, musty halls, where I studied dusty shelf after dusty shelf crammed with species-filled crystals.

A pulse beats, thrumming like an electronic drum. The crystal jolts and floats upwards, away from my scratched pine desk. It quivers, dipping beneath the purple lampshade, and buzzing louder than a wasp over my English Lit essay and chewed biro. Abduction hurts. It grinds you down, like a pestle grinds salt, and steals your flavour.

My bedroom door creaks ajar. Tyler’s Black-Jack-stained mouth drops open.

“In here!” I yell. “I’m in here!”

But he just stares at the hovering shard.

“Don’t stand there, Ty. Go tell Mum. Get a hammer. Do something.”

I punch and kick at the honeycomb walls, but my flesh peels and swirls like snowflakes. Tyler swipes a pudgy fist at the drifting crystal and misses. He climbs onto the bed and swipes again, his small fingers brushing the shard’s outer edge. He yelps, jumps back, his chocolate brown eyes widening in surprise. Then he bursts into tears.

Footsteps rush up the stairs. Mum stops in the doorway, her round face turning pale as milk.

“Oh, God, Hannah,” she says. “I told you to throw that thing away.”

The crystal glides across my cluttered bedroom, crashes through the bay window and rises up over our grimy north London street. People point and scream, and armed soldiers try to catch us, but the shards buzz louder. The hum slams into heads and scrambles brains. Bodies topple in waves like dominoes.

Wintry sky wraps around me. It glints like a tropical sea, filled with sparkling fishes: creatures, like me, made of black rock and flecked orange-gold. We should’ve guessed they weren’t ships. We should’ve known they didn’t break up in our atmosphere by accident. We should’ve realised they were weapons. Grenades. Each glittering shard a potential trophy, catalogued and stored on a dusty shelf.

The afternoon trembles with silent screams. Then two helicopters rise up over dark rooftops, blades thudding, huge nets spilling from their underbellies. I shriek and wave. “Up here! Up here!” But they dip below me, scooping up dazzling shards, like whales feasting on plankton. The air thickens with cloud and confusion. I twist and turn, desperate to find the nets again, but fog hides everything.

The cloud cracks like an egg, and the sun’s glare hurts my eyes. I swipe away hot tears and scan the empty horizon. Beneath my bare feet, the grey cloud boils like thick soup and spits out another shard, which wobbles and dances like a honeybee. Inside it, a shadow shifts, too dark and blurry to make out any features. I fix my gaze on it.

Our crystals hum their intoxicating song and sail higher.

We soar out into open space.

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