Twilight Cruiser

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

The ship skimmed the border between light and darkness as it had for millennia. Mankind found it by accident. In their quest to explore space, they had finally traversed the distance between Earth and Mercury. The ship had been so small that it was never noticed as it circled the planet along the terminator between its light and dark side. But, as the first manned vessel approached the planet, they used Mercury’s shadow to block out the brilliance of the sun. And, since they were now much closer than any telescope could possibly see, their instruments detected the ship in orbit.

Commander Ricci ordered his ship into a parallel orbit with the alien ship. As they pulled alongside, everyone marveled at the strangely beautiful vessel.

“Where do you think it came from?” Jeffreys, the pilot, asked.

“I don’t know,” Commander Ricci said.

“It’s been there a long time,” Cyrus Esch, the navigator, said. “Over two thousand years, from what I can tell.”

They looked at each other.

“We have to board it,” Commander Ricci said.

They talked about it awhile. Esch and Jeffreys tried to protest, but they knew that they had to board the alien ship. It was, after all, their purpose for going out into space—to explore. Jeffreys and Esch had different viewpoints as to why, but they had both become astronauts for precisely the same reason. They wanted to know what was out there. Esch’s Midwest religious upbringing had prompted him to see what God had created. Jeffreys, the atheist amongst them, simply wanted to know why the universe existed.

“We’ll draw straws to see who goes onboard,” Ricci said. He quickly took three pieces of wire and cut them to three different lengths and held them in his closed fist. Jeffreys drew the short wire.

He looked nervously at his comrades.

“We’ll be in constant touch with you,” Ricci said. “You’ll be all right.”

Unfortunately, that did not dissuade his fears.

##

Thirty minutes later, they docked with the alien ship. The universal docking clamp held firm to what they believed was an access hatch to the ship.

Jeffreys fitted himself into a spacesuit and stood by the airlock. Even in the cool climate controlled suit, he was sweating.

“What do you think is out there?” he asked Esch.

Esch adjusted Jeffreys’ oxygen controls. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. “But, someone or something left that ship here for us to find. There must be a purpose to it.”

“What if the purpose is to destroy us?” Jeffreys asked.

“I can’t believe that God would allow that,” Esch told him. “Besides, as old as that thing is, you’d think it could have destroyed us long ago.”

Ricci walked into the airlock bay. “You ready?”

Jeffreys nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Good.”

Ricci punched the button to the airlock and it opened. Jeffreys reluctantly stepped inside. As the door sealed, Jeffreys stared out at them, afraid.

Then, he turned and opened the airlock. He stepped through and touched the hatch to the alien ship. It glowed where his hand made contact and slid open.

##

Jeffreys rushed through the airlock. The panic on his face told Esch and Ricci everything they needed to know.

“Destroy it!” Jeffreys screamed as the airlock pressurized. He unclamped his helmet and shouted, “Destroy it!” again.

Esch looked at Ricci. “What happened?” Esch asked through the comm.

“Jesus…he’s …,” Jeffreys said, but he never finished the sentence. For, in the next instant, the alien spaceship exploded and took them along with it.

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Survival

Author : Travis Gregg

She deeply inhaled the damp and humid air, savoring the coolness. The forest was ancient and the tree trunks nearly crowded out the sky. Even though the air was thick with moisture, and condensate clung to the ferns in the underbrush, finding fresh water was the first major hurdle she would have to overcome. After half the day all she’d managed to accomplish was scouting the immediate area and the construction of a rudimentary shelter for the night. There was no fire to keep her warm but a hollow filled with old leaves and brush made an adequate substitute.

On the second day, already starting to feel the effects of dehydration, she set out to find water. Heading downhill was the best bet for finding some and hopefully something to eat. She knew she could go a week or so without eating but beyond that she wasn’t sure; water was the much more pressing concern. Luckily the weather was cool and cloudy. Exposure wasn’t going to be an issue she thought to herself.

By the third day with water secured and a reasonable clearing found, it was time to see about getting a fire going. The dampness made this difficult but she managed to find some dry tinder in the hollow of a tree. Getting a fire going was much more difficult than keeping one going. Once she had the fire blazing, she stacked the damper wood close, hoping to dry it out some so it would burn more easily.

It rained on the fifth day, not the misting cool precipitation that came in the afternoons, but a downpour that soaked through the shelter and threatened to extinguish the fire. With water dripping down her face and her clothes soaked she carefully fed the fire, stoking it just right to keep it going.

The game trails were abundant near the small stream she had found a few days ago, and on day seven she managed to snare a small creature. The creature was small, about thirty centimeters in length and was covered in a soft downy fur. The creature was something she wasn’t familiar with but it smelled delicious as she cooked it over the fire, a sure sign that it was edible.

Day eleven brought the certainty that she was being watched, maybe hunted. Coming back from a foraging run down stream she found her camp ransacked, her lean-to torn to pieces. For the last few days she’d gotten the feeling that there was something else in the forest, something ominous. Several times a day the forest would get completely silent and she felt a presence. Now she had proof.

It took two days to run down the beast but on the thirteenth day she found the massive lumbering monster collapsed along the trail. The trap had mangled its leg, but she had wounded it far less grievously than she initially thought. She plunged her spear into its chest, hoping that was where the heart was.

By day seventeen the skull of the beast had been cleaned of flesh by the local insects. It was every bit the trophy she had hoped for.

From her pocket the com crackled to life.

“Sir, this is Echo Two One in route.”

“I read you Echo Two One, what is your ETA?” Her voice cracked a bit, not having been used in weeks.

“We’ll be at the rendezvous in two hours.”

“Acknowledged Echo Two One, see you then.”

She sighed, vacation was over and it was time to get back to work. Looking around she breathed deeply of the cool clean air, relishing it. It would be a while before she’d be able to get away again.

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Hep to the Jove

Author : Bob Newbell

Culturally, they are the descendants of the hepcats and beats and hippies and hipsters and the other various subsequent nonconformists of the past half-millennium who organically came together to form distinct subcultures. But there the parallels end. Even the most unorthodox of those earlier bohemians could not have imagined the Plasmatics.

As a Special Activities Bureau investigator for the Sino-American Commonwealth, my job can take me anywhere in the system, but the magnetosphere of Jupiter is pretty far afield even for someone like me. It’s equally unusual for an agent like myself to enlist help from outside the Bureau. We typically pride ourselves on our discretion. But when an unmanned recon ship gets trapped in orbit around Jupiter carrying intel that could mean trade sanctions from the African Coalition and perhaps war with the Lunar Free State if said intel goes public, discretion is adjourned. That’s where the Plasmatics come in.

My ship settles into an enormously wide orbit around the gas giant to avoid the electromagnetic maelstrom that rings the planet, the same maelstrom that the Plasmatics call home. I beam a radio signal and wait. Within half an hour, I get a response.

“The ship’s computers are probably already fried,” I tell the locals. “But we were hoping you could make sure they are.”

In a few minutes, a modulation in the normal Jovian background radio emissions is received and processed by my ship’s computer: “Jiddy sups a boost. Not charming a glint.”

That is the closest literal translation my computer can manage. The Plasmatics have a slang all their own. The fact that they are a community of gigantic spider web-like entities flying through the Jovian magnetosphere does nothing to bridge the cultural gap. Of course, the people who gave up their humanity over the past century to become Plasmatics didn’t do so because they wanted to fit in. The connotative meaning of the message is something like “The human would like us to do him a favor but he isn’t offering us any reward in exchange.”

“What could the Commonwealth do for you?” I reply, having no idea what nearly immaterial meshwork creatures who live in a plasma sheet might want.

“Pum the Spot with Basu-Lovvorn 3.”

Basu-Lovvorn 3 is a long-period comet. It will pass through the orbit of Jupiter in about 10 years. They want the Commonwealth to deflect it to strike the immense anticyclonic storm system on Jupiter’s surface that is more than twice the diameter of Earth called the Great Red Spot. I radio back to my superiors. They agree to the terms. The Commonwealth Space Authority will undertake the project with research into Jupiter’s atmosphere as the cover story.

“The Commonwealth will do as you ask. Just for my own curiosity, may I ask why you want a comet diverted into the Great Red Spot?”

My computer struggles with the Plasmatic response. The only word it can clearly render is “Renovate”. I have no idea if it’s more Plasmatic slang for something or if, in some context I can’t imagine, it means what it says.

My sensors show repeated bursts of electrical discharges in the area of the derelict Commonwealth spacecraft. Presumably, they have fulfilled their part of the bargain. “The Sino-American Commonwealth thanks you for your assistance,” I transmit as I move to break orbit.

“Cohesive, Jiddy! Real cohesive!” comes the response a minute later as I begin my fall back to the inner system.

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Where Honey Came From

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“What’s this, grandma?”

“It’s honey, dear.”

“Honey tastes nice. What is it?”

“It’s what the bees made for us, Matty.”

“Real bees made this?”

“Yes, dear. A long time ago, before they flew away.”

“Where did they go, grandma?”

“We don’t know, Matty. All we know is that they said they would be back.”

“How do we know that?”

“Because the beekeepers spoke to the priests and told them what the last queen said before she went. She said that when we had meadows again, they would be back.”

“What’s a meadow?”

“It’s a special grass that we can’t grow yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because the ground isn’t clean enough.”

“Is that why the cloud machines make the yellow rain?”

“Very good, Matty. They do that to clean the dirt away.”

“Where did the dirt come from?”

“The government people made the dirt and killed the flowers.”

“That’s when the corps saved us, wasn’t it?”

“Oh you have been paying attention at school, haven’t you? Yes. The bees leaving forced the corporations to step in to help us. They made the Cees that helped the flowers come back.”

“But Cees can’t make honey?”

“That’s right. They are tiny drones.”

“When I grow up, I want to be a drone pilot. I’ll help bring the meadows back.”

“You study hard and I’m sure you will, Matty.”

“Can I have some more honey, grandma? “

“Yes, Matty. But only a little. There won’t be any more.”

“Ever? “

“Maybe one day, dear. Maybe one day.”

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Hardcopy

Author : Michael Blewett

Her father glanced down at the watch on his wrist. “How long?” she asked.

“Two minutes and thirty seven seconds,” he replied, gazing out the airlock window. The curtness was for her, she knew, but it was hard for her to hear – especially now.

The girl looked to her father with tears streaming down her face. In all of her lives, he had been her rock – the constant that wove the thread between centuries and tied them all together. What would she do without him?

“I know it’s hard for you to understand,” the old man offered, “but you should know that I’ve been thinking about this for a long, long time.”

“But,” she countered, “why now?”

“How long have you been with me?” he replied, his eyes still focused out the window, “Three cycles? Remember, there were five more before that. Five whole lives – five deaths; five rebirths – before I saw your beautiful face. Five lives of searching; never once did I find purpose.”

“But then you met mother, right?” she pleaded, “And then you had me. And then you found that purpose. I was that purpose, I am your purpose!”

“My star, my darling girl, if only you knew! You might, one day. Maybe you won’t, you were always more like your mother in that way.”

“You never told me why she did it,” she inquired, knowing it wasn’t the right time, “Why she refused to take the implant.”

Her father’s eyes confirmed her suspicion. It all comes back to mother; it always has.

“She hated me,” the old man said. “She didn’t always, but after you were born she… She saw me as a freak. An experiment of my own creation for one purpose and one purpose alone: to play god.”

“But, you can’t believe that!” the daughter exclaimed. “Look at what we’ve accomplished! We’ve colonized new worlds. We’ve saved countless species of life. We’ve given humanity the reason for progress; the power to accomplish!”

“And I don’t regret it,” he interjected, “I don’t regret a single thing. But what I’ve realized – what your mother realized all those years ago – is that there is no progression without an end.

“Life is not the process of living,” he continued, ”it’s the process of dying. Time without end is infinity; infinity is nothing.”

Thirty seconds.

She tried to speak, but could only cry.

He opened the airlock and stepped inside. The door shut with a hiss.

She heard the comm-link switch on. “Can you hear me?” his voice said.

Twenty seconds.

“On my desk you’ll find a large file,” he said to her through the glass, “Right now, it’s nothing but memories and thoughts, but in twenty seconds it will be my life. The work of all my lives.”

She placed her hand on the glass. He reciprocated.

Ten seconds.

“I love you,” his voice said, “my god I love you.”

She mouthed the words back.

“It was you, my star. I never knew how important it was – how important life was – until I created it. One day, maybe you’ll know what I mean.”

Five seconds.

“I only wish I could have been there to see them.”

Three seconds.

Their eyes met; nothing more needed to be said.

Two seconds.

She saw the tears welling in his eyes.

One second.

The airlock opened, ejecting him out into the end.

His face was calm as he suffocated. And, at that last moment, she saw the implant detach itself from behind his ear. Never to be uploaded into another clone – free from time, free from infinity.

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Ultraviolet Evening Gown

Author : Steve Pool

Tess always threw the best parties; it was a fact that Lizzy was painfully aware of. Tess owned all the trendiest causes, giving her complete control over the calendars of every social climber in the city. She played the role of Alpha Queen with ruthless benevolence.

Earlier that morning, Tess mentioned to a few of her closest gossips that she had just returned from Paris and Milan; everyone, of course, understood the code. Tess dictated the absolute word on fashion; whatever anyone else wore to the party would now be “so last week”.
Lizzy considered this as she spotted Tess across the room. Predictably, Tess was the eye of a micro-storm; admirers ringed around her, touching her new gown, speaking louder and faster in the hopes of being noticed. Lizzy sauntered over to the group.

“It’s the latest fusion of taste and technology.” Tess sounded uncharacteristically excited. “They call it Hi-Lo Spectrum fashion. This gown is the color of ultraviolet.”

The women surrounding Tess gave her an envious sigh.

“It’s wonderful, Tess,” one of the women said. Lizzy thought her name might be Francine. “It goes really well with your eyes.”

Several others complimented her as well, noting qualities that seemed absent to Lizzy. Wasn’t the dress black? It was nice, but no more special than the one she herself was wearing.

“Oh, hello Lizzy,” Tess said, taking time to notice her. “Well…what do you think?”

“It’s really gorgeous, Tess,” Lizzy replied dryly. “I’m thinking, maybe though, that you might like to try an infrared dress, like the one I’m wearing. They’re remarkably slimming.”

The women surrounding Tess gave Lizzy an envious sigh.

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