A Mother Knows

Author: Andrea Goyan

In the stark examination room, I cradled Maxine. When I kissed her forehead, her bitty fingers grabbed my nose, and she giggled. My six-month-old miracle baby.
“There are worse things,” the doctor said.
I kissed her again. “I don’t think so.”
Penner Disease had come for my daughter. It was named for the scientist who’d found microbial evidence of the virus in Arctic glaciers. Cell by cell, it would destroy her, until she slipped away like the melting ice shelves that unearthed it in the first place.
But not before I loved her for 1,269 more days.

#

I spooned pureed vegetables into my almost four-year old’s mouth. “Swallow,” I said, wiping away the food that dripped from Maxine’s paralytic lips.
I changed her diapers.
“And I’m one of the lucky ones,” I murmured, repeating the empty words spoken to me at this month’s compulsory insemination. “Humanity’s hope.”
I rubbed ointment onto the lesions that bubbled on Maxine’s waist. She groaned, her face red, pained. I replaced her bandages.
Only eight percent of women on Earth can conceive. I’m one of them.
I sipped the secret herbal potion that rendered me infertile, by choice.
It was my life. My choice. Humanity be damned.
With Maxine fed and cleaned, we went outside. Slumped sideways in her wheelchair, her eyes lit up as she watched the birds.
I lifted her frail hand to point at them. “Spread your wings, little darlings. Be free.”
Maxine’s icy hand nestled in mine remained motionless. Despite a cloudless sky, warm wet drops moistened our skin. It wouldn’t be long now. A mother knows.

Goodnight, Moon

Author: Jeremy Marks

No safety or surprise, the end
-The Doors

Our city was built to live with water, water and ice. Our city was an engineering marvel, a hydraulic metropolis. It managed the drainage of two rivers, two giant serpents slithering through our streets during the annual spring melt.

Our city was mere minutes from the shores of a glacial lake, an ancient sump that swelled in the spring like a mother rabbit, a guppy prepared to give live birth. The rivers and that sump would mingle, mingle and merge and we were ever ready.

Our main streets doubled as rinks. In winter, we would skate to work, spare our skies the discharge of burning coal and oil. Our lamps never burned gas. Every one of our buildings was translucent, soaking up lumens from the sky. We had four seasons then. Four seasons and a single moon.

Now we have only one season. One season and two moons.

The first moon, known simply as “Moon” gave birth to a second, a “child moon.” This happened after someone detonated charges beneath the lunar surface. We were told that this was done in search of precious minerals, rare Earth metals grown scarce down here. But those charges were too great and the moon split apart, inviting our end . . . for you can imagine the impact of two moons on our planetary tides.

Now we live with water, water being our only season. The rivers, that great lake have become a single beast, slithering across the landscape like quicksilver. Our lives are lived in a tub: turn on the taps, unstopper the drain. We rise and fall on half a league of water each day. But we know that all of this is temporary.

The child moon has spurned its mother, choosing our dear Earth for its parent. Every day it comes closer, stalking the magnetic skirts of our atmosphere. When it crosses the Kármán line, that transparent boundary between breathable air and the vacuum of space, our experts say everything will be over.

Engineers and planners, formerly the most rational of folk, gathered today in our downtown. They shook their fists, tore their hair and swore at the sky. They spurned the moon and spat upon the water, claiming that a great hand would come down and spirit them away. God is an engineer who cannot allow so many great minds to perish. The Lord is lonely and he is jealous, they insist.

Other folk, a mixture of young and old, sat on boards and practiced Yoga. They meditated and intoned, hammering at tablas and strumming tamburas, sending out a message of peace. They love the child moon. The many Yogis now in our midst, insist that our city is paved with copper pennies and we should make one collective wish.

Tonight I sit on my roof watching the moon approach. It is now so big, there is almost nothing else in the sky. Our city bobs up down like fishing bobbin, the water rocking us all in our temporary cradle. On other roofs, other witnesses like myself light tiny fires that we press to our lips. Our fragrant prayers smudge the sky; we grow light-headed with this ritual. There will be no Deus ex machina, no second act. I know the performance is over.

The sky groans like a mother in childbirth. There is a deafening blast across the azimuth. Far away, someone has their finger on a button. We’ve been promised a thousand rockets that will birth a new republic. A leader says, “It will be the greatest show you’ll ever see.” The greatest show on Earth.

Closing my eyes, I feel the air shudder and remember a bedtime story from childhood.

Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Good night noises everywhere

Lights Camera

Author: Ken Carlson

As mayor of Chathamville, a small town, Collette had to work late often. Don and the kids adjusted.

She was in her office to spend a few minutes on a Sunday. She wasn’t due back ’til Tuesday, but she liked to make sure nothing caught her by surprise.

Growing up in this do-nothing-burgh Collette couldn’t wait to get out. Now that she’d been to law school and lived in Chicago too long, it felt great to be here.

The job wasn’t easy. The town never replaced mill jobs lost a generation ago.

Her laptop wasn’t connected to the network. She’d have to speak to Tony, her assistant, 24-going-on-17.

Footsteps, probably Mr. Traynor, the janitor. But that wasn’t the slow plodding of a sixty-something custodian.

She saw a dark form running, wearing a mask and tank of some kind.

“Tony?” Collette called.

The figure stopped.

“Mayor,” he said, “You’re not supposed to be here.”

She laughed a little. “The kids were driving me nuts, I thought I’d catch up on…”

“No,” he said, “Mayor…Collette, you were supposed to be at the lake house, a safe distance away.”

“What is it?” Collette said. “What’s wrong?”

“The Council met on Friday.”

“To review the parking rules; nothing new.” Collette frowned and took a few steps toward her plucky, young administrator who was different, pale.

“They,” Tony said, “brought in somebody Gerry Monahan knew about the budget deficit.” Collette frowned. Monahan was a nut ready to call for martial law if there was a report of torn mattress tags.

“This guy was a consultant for Bucks Pictures. They were going to film here last summer.”

Collette said, “Some alien invasion movie, the next Grovers Mill, but it cost too much to bring the actors and special effects out here.”

“Monahan put forth a new plan. It was put to a blind vote. With the motion carried, he and his people ended the session and walked out. The next day the rest of us found out.”

Collette said, “This town needs the money. When do they start shooting?”

“Tonight.”

“What? Where are the actors? The crew.”

“They’re not coming. They’ll put a few stars on a green screen, add a few more in post. They sent some cameras to be put up around town. They didn’t want to build a small town to act as a movie set for their story, couldn’t afford it. They just wanted a place that was …disposable.” He sprinted for the door.

Collette ran down the hall. Tony had hopped in his parents’ Honda as they tore down Main Street.

The mayor walked slowly down the middle of Main past a dead stoplight. The first building to blow was the library. She fell to the asphalt.

Another explosion, the high school; then a car dealership by the town green. Back on her feet, she walked through the center of her hometown, small businesses went up in flames; the bakery, a nail salon, a Mexican restaurant. It was an inferno, a war zone with no allies, only enemies.

A lone car barreled toward her, the headlights bearing down. She couldn’t run. She fell to her knees.

The Volvo wagon screeched to a halt. It was her husband Don. He picked up Collette. Sounds from her car were her children screaming for her.

Don helped her into the car as the fire station went up. Collette, the town’s last mayor, looked back at the devastation that was Chathamville. They say you can’t go home again. That became true for her when her home was gone.

Scores

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I’m free of traffic and clear of the city. Time to open this beastie up. I press the accelerator and the response is like a gigantic hand pressing my body into the seat. In the stowage space I hear bullion smashing into the boxes of gems and jewellery. Must remember to check under the carpets when I empty out.
“Unidentified perpetrator, northbound on the MM2 hyperway. Stop now or we will deploy countermeasures that may endanger your life.”
Having just stolen treasures worth over a billion, I’m surprised there aren’t missiles chasing me down the road already. My guess is they don’t want to explosively scatter the goods. Can’t have some heirloom being found by a down-and-out from the sticks. Wouldn’t be right.
“Unidentified perpetrator. We are-”
I tap for two-way.
“The name’s Nat.”
There’s a pause. One-nil.
“Thank you. Okay, Nat. You should know this road is screened on both sides to a height of eight metres, and the baffles mean ten metres either side are impassable for unshielded lifeforms. That racer can’t ram through the screens, so you’re effectively on rails until you hit the waypoint at Leeds.”
I was hoping they’d rely on the installations rather than go for something ad-hoc.
“Big junction there. I could skate a lane or two.”
“No, Nat. Air units have already closed those options off. Your rocket pack won’t have the thrust to get you far enough to evade us.”
So they noticed.
“Somebody deserves an award for spotting that, officer.”
Another pause. Two-nil.
“Thank you, Nat. I’ll mention it, but my boss doesn’t look happy enough. If I could get you to pull over, that might do it.”
The curves around Birmingham go by without any attempt to stop me when I drop under 300kph to navigate the last S-bend. They really think the security fortress at Leeds is going to do it. Only two on-ramps between me and there, and I’m too fast for conventional rolling roadblocks.
“How’s your fuel, Nat? You’ve been running overboost for a while.”
“What makes you think I’m overboosting?”
“That’s a Trefoil 4 with the aftermarket Sprinter conversion. Looks well done, but the consumption at the top end is ridiculous. It’s why they went bust: they couldn’t fix the power drain problem.”
The police lady is a gearhead. Surprise. Two-one.
“A gearhead in uniform? Never thought that would happen.”
Is that a little laugh?
“Nor did I, but a career is a career, and they’re rare these days. Speaking of which, yours is soon to be over. Why not pull over and we can talk Trefoils?”
“You have one?”
“Sprinter body on top, stock Trefoil 3 underneath.”
“So that’s how you knew.”
“Nat, my boss says that at this speed, you’ve got about thirty minutes before you smash into the barriers at Leeds. He’d like you to take my offer, says we can talk while they organise retrieval and arrest, but he’s also arranged for clean-up crews at Leeds. Says the choice is yours.”
“That’s kind of him. So, what’s your name, gearlady?”
“Constable Tuhina O’Conner. What now, Nat?”
My skyscan flashes green.
“I fixed the power drain problem on the Sprinter conversion.”
“How?”
“The Sprinter fastback gives enough room to plumb in a Ceres-Class gravitic core.”
Pause. Three-one.
I pull the stick back and the beastie unsticks like 1000kph is nothing and space is where it wants to be.
“Blow your boss a kiss from me, Tuhina. Chat again next heist.”
“The rocket pack casing conceals your environment module? Clever. Catch you next heist.”
Good comeback. Three-two, and on for a rematch.

The Mushroom and the Cold

Author: John McNeil

The weather was too good. It should be twenty degrees with snow on the ground, but it was sixty-five and sunny. Milo hiked the forest outside Edgewood with unease. Edgewood was a mean, hypocritical, self-regarding city, a place of enlightenment so bright that all the people sleeping under the bridges couldn’t even sleep in the dark.
While he hiked Milo’s sweat evaporated from his neck as soon as it formed. They didn’t deserve this pleasantness, he thought, and would pay for it. He gathered mushrooms often in these forests, and today he searched for one that looked like a rotting orange peel. A mycologist by training, he was three years unemployed since the beginning of the Unraveling. That was what they now called the cascade of plague, depression, and strife they had thought was just one bad year when it started.
In his days as a scientist, he hadn’t believed the myths about healing mushrooms in the forest. The world so plainly needed healing now, though, that he tried to believe. If he were a doctor he would have researched a cure, if he were a sociologist he would have proposed a social program, but he was an ex-mycologist, so he searched for magic healing mushrooms.
They would like the shade over this hilltop. There might be some there. But “I got them before you,” said a familiar voice as Milo stepped over.
“Hi Blake,” Milo sighed. A rival from grad school, the only other person in Edgewood who cared as much about wild mushrooms. And indeed, Blake already had a basket full of orange.
“You don’t need all of those.”
“No, but you don’t get any.”
“We need them to fix us.”
“That’s stupid.”
“They could stop the Unraveling.”
“It’s sad you talk like that. You used to be a scientist.”
“Used to be.” Milo lunged and tried to grab the basket, but Blake picked it up too quickly, so Milo just tripped and fell into Blake, knocking him over. They both rolled down the hill, twigs, and brambles dragging against them till they stopped.
Milo imagined grabbing a sharp stick, raising it high, and plunging it into Blake’s heart, killing him. Then he’d stand and with the basket of mushrooms held high in the air, inhale a deep breath of pleasant air on a sunny day, skip out of the forest and catch a bus to the Water Treatment Facility, bribe someone to drop the pulverized mushrooms into the water and then kick back and watch the world get better.
Instead, he sat up. “Never mind. Keep them.”
“You’re giving up?”
“Yeah, it’s stupid anyway.”
“Okay,” said Blake, “is this a trick?”
“It’ll be cold tomorrow,” Milo said. “This can’t last.” He stood and dusted himself. “Keep them,” he said, and walked back over the hill.
“I’m glad you gave up,” Blake yelled after him, “but you look a little pathetic right now.”
Once out of Blake’s sight he walked faster, then run at full speed, until he crashed out of the forest onto the streets. Inside his jacket pocket, his hand clenched the mushroom he had grabbed during the scuffle. He ran till he reached the bus stop. There he halted, doubled over and panting. As his body heat from the run dissipated, Milo felt chillier, like a cold front had come in just then. The cold and the mushroom, Milo thought. One of them had to work.

Imprudent Judgment

Author: Rick Tobin

“Who brought that thing on deck when we’re closing in on the ORC?” Captain Telsey snapped at his first officer, Eloy Thompson. They were a generation apart with Thompson’s massive athletic structure a contrast to the wizened, gray-haired Captain.

“Orders from Fleet just came in. We have no choice. She has been given authority for access, sir.”

Thompson accompanied the teenage girl with almond eyes and frizzy black hair. She pulled away from his grasp.

“You won’t want to touch me again, Lieutenant. I know more about you now than your real mother…the bad one you don’t talk about.”

“Didn’t they warn you about them, Thompson? Never contact…and we have secrets. Fool!”

Thompson looked away, blushing at his reprimand as his guest pointed to the viewscreen.

“So that’s an Odd Radio Signal? It seems so…well, nebulous. We must be close to the black hole in this sector now. I can feel the disruption in the Dark Matter. It’s just another form of water, you know, like us.” Elise Montrose trembled as she held her empathic hands outward.

“Your opinion, mutant. I’ve heard your speech against this trip before…how you don’t trust us, our duties, or our black hole-drive engines. You’re a troublemaker…pure insolence.”

Telsey turned his back to her as he pointed to Thompson to take his assigned chair. “Bring it around, Mr. Thompson. We’ll stay out of range until we can study it a bit more. This is as close as anyone’s come since the new engines came online. Mastering a Hadron drive is still an art form.”

“Yes, sir, holding position. Ready the probe.” Thompson pressed the activation panel to send in a long-range detection drone.

“It’s moving, look there.” Elise blurted out her observation as she slipped past the Captain’s security agent to touch the screen.

“Get her out of here, blast it! Use a prod or something without contacting it. I don’t have time for…”

“They’re coming…there are many coming!” Elise cried out, falling to the floor.

“What now?” questioned Telsey. “Having a seizure?”

“No…no! Too close. Mistake. They circle the black holes. They transform them into…into light torches!” Elise was screaming and rolling along the ship’s hull as security guards searched for anything to control her without contact.

“Thompson, you’ve been around her. What’s the idiot doing?” The Captain gave a sharp look at his second.

“No idea. Look…the screen. What the…” Thompson reduced magnification, revealing dozens of previously unknown ORCs arriving from outside sectors, beginning to surround the ship.

“You should not have come,” Telsey screamed, turning to the Captain. “The water is alive. It is conscious plasma. Black holes are cancers that must be treated to balance the order of the universe. The ORCs are like white blood cells. They absorb and transmute. Their healing is a quasar…and we are…” She stopped, mid-sentence, as the ORCs closed in to heal the ship’s engines.