Berit’s Wedding

Author: Josie Gowler

I take my time putting on all the rings that the King gave me; they form an effective but innocuous-looking knuckleduster. The autobot buzzes around my head, brushing my hair until it gleams the stunning reddish-brown that – I’m sure – helped King Ivar choose me to kidnap over all his other potential victims.

“Excited , Madam Berit?” asks the oldest attendant as the autobot departs.

“Nervous,” I reply, like the innocent off-world virgin I’m supposed to be.

On the way to the main palace in the king’s golden skimmer, the ship’s windows have been turned clear for the first time so I can actually see out. The crowds cheer – all of them, King Ivar’s people and mine. I whispered in his ear months ago that it would be better not to send my kindred back to Artak and appropriate their property. Now his tax revenues are enormous and the prosperity has filtered to all. This world is booming. I barely needed to resort to charms at all – not the psychotropic type, anyway.

The streets are clean, with the people waving blue and white flags as my ship flies overhead. No homeless veterans in doorways, and my enquiries tell me that they haven’t simply been shunted off elsewhere. I crane my neck to look down at the river. The water’s lost its floating layer of pollution from the war mech industry. And that makes up my mind at last.

We pull up outside the palace and I focus on being the modest yet comely bride. The Chancellor’s smile is just as pained as I expected it to be as I walk up the aisle, his bow just that bit too shallow. I’m still not sure whether he was behind the assassination plot I uncovered, although I have my suspicions. I’ll finish searching the palace’s camera feeds later.

The ceremony is a whirl. Ivar is actually rather cute, not that that’s got anything to do with anything. After sharing sweet wine from the golden goblet to seal our marriage and my elevation to Queen, we hold hands. It’s the first physical contact we’ve ever had, which is a bit odd considering the whole kidnapping thing last year, but that’s tradition for you. It’ll take a while for me to mastermind its stamping-out. We turn away from the priest to face the congregation.

“My Queen and I will now progress to the summer palace, for the last time,” Ivar says. I glance towards him in surprise, but then collect myself and look forwards. “Three palaces is too many. Next year, I will turn the summer palace into an engineering and ethics college for the poorest youngsters in the city. We will reconcile our traditions with our spacefaring era, but it’s going to take all of us working together to achieve it.”

Ivar leads me back to the skimmer and our new life together. We are flown towards the summer palace, roof down on the ship. We reach the lake, and while my new husband is waving to his subjects on the right, we hit the little uplift of turbulence that I’ve been waiting for. I lean out and toss my bracelet into the water. It’s the first chance I’ve had to get rid of it and its lethal cargo of protein-depleting nanotech. This young man deserves a chance, not death. Who knows, I might even come to love him one day.

It’s not the success my family had expected: they’d wanted a simple assassination in the beginning. But this is better than what they had expected.

I’ve given us peace.

Loop-the-loop

Author: David C. Nutt

“I’m begging you, don’t flip the quantum motor drive switch.”
“Oh, I’ve flipped it hundreds of thousands of times, not flipped it just as many. The result is the same- I wind up back here, locked in, and we eventually have variants of this conversation. Once, I went almost 19 hours without flipping it and then I fell asleep and, and well, right back here.”
“So, you’re telling me you are stuck in a time loop?”
“Yup. Told you that for about the millionth time, literally. And before you say it, yes, I’m the only one who has continuity, and no I haven’t figured out why yet.”
“You know that sounds insane.”
“Uh-huh. I was insane for a few thousand go rounds of this, but I got better.”
“So, if you’re better then you’ll not flip the switch and come with me?”
“Ummmmm… don’t think so. See, each time I do that, as soon as we round the corner, security puts the beat down on me and I wake up here again, but with a headache and bruises.”
“How can that be if you are in a loop? Don’t you just reset?”
“Exactly what I thought! I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to notice that I wasn’t totally re-setting each time. Then, one time after I committed suicide for the hundredth time, when I came back I noticed I had scars where I didn’t have any before. So I can actually change something in the loop.”
“So then, assuming for a second this is some kind of temporal loop, and you can change things, then there is a way to break the cycle.”
“Bingo! By the way, this is the fastest you’ve gotten to this point so far. Kudos, my man.”
“Thanks… I think. So then are you using the time you have to figure a way out?”
“Absolutely. Of course, in all the sci-fi I’ve read or watched, some physics genius figures out a solution after about a dozen times around. They polarize the temporal widget doo-hickey and wham! Get back to normal. Problem is, I am not a physics genius. I’m a machinist mate, second class. It’s taken me a while but I’m great at physics now; a whole bunch of other stuff too. Philosophy, biology, history, chemistry, electronics, all the stuff I ignored so I could get out of my crappy home town and see the universe with the merchant marine.”
“Well, if you surrender, I guarantee we’ll give you all you can read in the brig.”
“Mighty white of you, but I don’t think so. I have a plan. Actually, it’s been operational for almost three years now…my time line of course. In fact, I think I even have a way to break the loop. But I‘ve got to brush up a little more on my legal skills before I take action. After all, once the loop ends I have to go before the Captain’s Mast and I have to put on a good defense.”
“Really?”
“No, I lied. Figured out all that years ago. I’ll walk from this and be a considered a hero.”
“But you’re gonna flip the switch anyway?”
“Oh, absolutely, so you can go now and try to figure out a way to get me out of here. Spoiler alert: none of them work.”
“What If I just stay here?”
“Then you can watch me finish reading the last chapter of Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi.”
“Don’t you want out of the loop?”
“Of course, but you know what I’ve finally figured out?
“What?”
“I’ve got plenty of time.”

Oeo

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

I hadn’t visited it for many years. It’s like anything I suppose, the more time rolls forward the more things get left behind. But this place was special and I never should have left it alone for as long as I did.

My grandfather was a fisherman. Not one who owned or worked on a boat. Not one who would cut out into the waves and feel at perfect ease as the land fell away far beneath. But he was no less hardy as he waded into the swell up to his knees and whipped with awesome might the great rod in his hands. Forever searching and dreaming of those great snapping beasts that shone as they were pulled to the light.

As with all lovers of the the catch, my grandfather had a favoured and secret spot where he would go and hide and fish. This remote tiny cove upon which I now stand. And, again, the wind whips the foam from the waves and drives its salt sting to my face.

My grandfather has been dead for many years now and so I guess it’s OK to tell you about Oeo. It’s not a town, just farmland and I think there was a pub but, maybe, now there is not.

Oeo. My grandfather would joke relentlessly that it is the same forward as it is backward. Not so much a joke as it was a statement of fact. But, then, he could make anything fun.

We had family friends that owned a dairy farm there and my grandfather would drive me in his blue station wagon through the hoof worn muddy rut of its fields.

He was a maniac. Hardened by war and a youth of devil may care, he’d pummel that old car at breakneck speed. Only to swerve and slide to a halt just feet from where the cliff-top slumped and fell away beneath the chomp of the Tasman Sea’s relentless decaying bite.

Then, with his backpack filled with the stench of bait that permeated the sandwiches my grandmother had made and his rods hoisted atop his shoulder, he’d disappear down the sheer face of the cliff.

A makeshift ladder of driftwood led us to this secret spot. This parapet outcrop of boulders from atop which we’d sit and wait for the tug of the fish.

I stand here now with my young son. His hand blue in mine and I look and I see my Grandfather up on the rocks. He is not someone else nor a trick of the light through the lash of the rain.

It is him.

In this moment I know. I know that memories can curdle and rot. That precious moments don’t fade in time, they linger and wait.

His skin is grey and paper-thin and riddled with holes and his ruined shirt flaps as the salt and wind seep through and crash and beat in the hollow of his chest.

“What are you waiting for, old man?”, I shout out into the wind and the tiny blue hand it tightens.

He turns and he smiles. I love this old man.

“It’s the same way backward as it is forward!”, he replies.

And the words that carry on the icy gusts warm me and the tip of his rod suddenly cranes and points out into the swell.

“You see him, right?”, I say to the wide-eyed boy at my side.

“Yes Dad, I most surely can and I think that he’s got a fish.”

Sudden and Grace

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Words fall like hawks. I know someone is going to die. As the Cantor finishes his brief condemnation, I see her move like a broken mannequin; a ballerina of sudden and grace. There’s a falsetto gurgle that bubbles into a dying sigh. She’s quick tonight; a minor offender. The crowd shivers as she steps back into their world, the sheen of her dermis reflecting candlelight in the way her eyes should.
She moves past me. I decide tonight is the night.
“You move well for a Thorn. Who tutored you in humanity?”
I find myself lifted from the ground by a slim arm that logic dictates should barely be able lift a babe. Her gaze sweeps the room before swinging to me.
“I am self-taught, Sorcerer Masson.”
The Cantor has noticed the disturbance and is heading our way, a trio of Watchmen in his wake. His rapid pace slows and his self-importance seeps away as he falls under our loaded regard. With an upturn of his hands, he spins away, gesturing for his men to follow. They look relieved.
I watch the throng milling about.
“Shall we go quietly or with presence?”
Good question. With a simple neural select, I enable my gate and place my offhand on her shoulder – her throat hold precluding the usual placement at the base of the spine.
“Presence, always.”
I slip us through the gate with an ease I’ll pay for tomorrow. To the masses we leave, the Thorn and the Technomancer simply vanish. To us, we drift a few paces to land in my quarters at Highcrag. While my ‘droids frantically rush about, I turn to the matter at hand.
I croak: “Could you possibly put me down please, Theresa?”
She smiles and sets me down.
“My apologies, father.”
I stop what I intended and place all the droids into hibernation, erasing that sentence from their memories as I do so.
“You remember?”
“All of us do, to a greater or lesser extent. Those who can live with that are those who join the Thorns. The others end themselves.”
A detail comes clear.
“The ‘training incidents’?”
She nods.
“What do you remember?”
“That mother killed me and you ended her before I finished falling.”
I swallow. Penny’s descent into homicidal rage had been inevitable. The sudden onset of that deterioration caught me by surprise. It cost me my child, or so I’d thought.
“Before that?”
“Everything, I think. The final part of coming back involves confronting the Death Guard – the stored consciousness of every Thorn that ever fell. It left my memory a bit jumbled up.”
Mind to mind versus over two hundred puissant killers?
“That must have been hard.”
“In truth, most are simply happy for someone new to talk with. I think I’m the only one who stays in touch, though.”
“You can talk with the Death Guard?”
“All Thorns and ’mancers can. It’s not publicised. We’ve done the Union Gold’s dirty work for centuries, after all.”
“What of you knowing me?”
“Let’s not publicise that, either. Besides, the Death Guard like tales of intrigue in exchange for their secrets.”
“How do we do this?”
“Come up with a project that requires you visit Stormcrag regularly. I’ll always be your guardian.”
“What then?”
“We continue seeking the truths of the Union Rose Uprising. We’re family again. Do we need anything else?”
I shake my head.
“Shall I call transport?”
“I’ve already signalled for one.”
“Can I get a hug my from daughter before she leaves for work?”
She laughs and wraps her arms around me.

People of Earth

Author: Jeremy Marks

“People of Earth, we have come bearing a divine message: Your God is tired. He is announcing his retirement.”

A traditional flying saucer had landed in the badlands of the continental United States. The saucer broadcast its message on a frequency that was picked up by AM, FM, Ham, and Short Wave radio across the country.

The saucer’s pilots, a troupe of “aliens” had modeled their craft to resemble a ship taken from a 1950s era Sci-Fi flick. It was an intentional choice. These beings wanted to be seen by the most pedestrian imaginations.

In truth, the shape of their ship was irrelevant. As non-corporeal beings, they were not in possession of bodies. Nor did they actually travel through space-time. Their appearance was that of an apparition, what in the past would have been some witch doctor’s vision.

“Your God knows that some of you have seen him. His likeness displayed in temples and art is the currency of prophets and saints. But he insists on being experienced as immanence available to all. He is what your philosopher Collingwood called “not the mere absence of time . . . but as a mode of being which involves no change or lapse, because it contains everything necessary to itself at every moment of its own existence.”

Being a people accustomed to a spectacle, Americans would expect to see their visitors. The saucer alone would not be enough, so the aliens became a troupe of statuesque brunettes and blondes one might have found on the set of a major motion picture. They awaited their first interview. But instead of dropping in on Hollywood or Times Square, they chose a far corner of the American landscape, a place seemingly removed from the imagine-making machinery.

North Dakota.

For out in North Dakota is buried the lifeblood of America. Beneath its soil flows a crude primeval thunder, a lubricious lucre that powers the progress of the world’s richest empire. In a place where earth and sky once turned black with cloven hooves and pigeon wings, the Earth itself now turns up a thick, dark vector that dances its way onto graphs and charts and turns over pistons and cylinders.

“People of Earth, we assure you that your God is alive and aware of your pleas and demands, your hopes and wishes. He hears your woes and whinges but he insists that we bring you this further message:

“You must learn to act as though he, whom you love, lives among you. For you see, your God is like a star swelled to giant size, He now is more mass than energy. His form has grown apace with your trinkets, your inventions are a part of his expanded consciousness.

“So now you must learn what your teacher Aristotle said: That the human, restless for perfection, pushes the perfect away.

“People of Earth, you must find among you those who desire no more than to fulfill the requirements of life. Tread not upon them as they are your salvation. Be they anteater or ant.

“That is His message.”

The transmission ended while the aliens waited for the first spectators to show. They could be farmers or oil workers, media personalities and curiosity seekers. They knew how they had called these folks to come from across the vast prairie, their voices cutting across the swirling dust of rutting bison. Their words and phrases shaking the leaves of an occasional oak like the vibrations of a breeze.

What the aliens knew was that words are like mites: they trigger an itch. But their itch can start a stampede toward relief.

Teary Visor

Author: Harrison Abbott

They slapped on the door. Their saliva lashed the glass, and their wings pounded on. But they couldn’t get to us; the glass was too strong. We’d already beaten them. I had the box with me. Our species was saved.

Marcy was crying below me, like a little girl. We both knew that my suit was ripped. I’d already pressed the airlock latch and the red sirens whirled about our heads. And I’d always found it scary, being in the lock when the latch was about to lift. But now I was already missing it, knowing I wouldn’t experience it again.

I was annoyed at Marcy for crying and I picked her up. I gave her the box. I told her it still wasn’t definite whether we would all survive. She had to reach Delta, make sure they got the box, before it could all be safe. I told her to stop blooming crying. I was glad because I knew she would be able to get to Delta. I was just trying to discipline her.

The creatures were still slapping the walls and Marcy wasn’t even afraid of them anymore. I still was. We’d been battling in this ship with them for nearly 40 hours. They were such a ravenous, horrific species, I’m amazed Marcy and I survived.

Marcy eventually stopped her grief and tried to stand up and face the latch. I could see the tears against her helmet’s visor. I told her you shouldn’t have a teary visor when heading into the abyss we both loved. But she didn’t have a torn suit. She’d be fine.

The lights changed on the latch, and moved up in blocks of blue, with the joyous bleep bleep bleep I knew so well. There was the rush of air. Marcy leaned out and took my hand. I clutched it as hard as I could, and I was trying to be the strong one for her, but when the latch opened and the blackness sucked us out, I realised it was the other way around.

Her hand was still griping mine, despite the ferocity of the non-air … I looked up into her teary visor and I mouthed, “Don’t watch,” and, for an answer, she let my hand go.

My body spun away as the vacuum worked under the hole in my suit. I watched the stars whizz about in crystal static. When I was a boy, I’d always thought that the stars were so far away. But I also would never have thought I’d be as close to the stars as I was then. I felt my body implode, fast, and in seconds I would be dead. And I had no clue where Marcy was. But I could still love the sight of the stars, nearest to them as I always would be.