Pest Control

Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

With a single, well-practiced motion, Ernst flicks a cigarette up from the pack and brings it up to his mouth. The filter barely touches his lips, but as he swipes the pack away, it remains behind, dangling precariously. His other hand comes up, a cheap plastic lighter tucked loosely in his grip. With a rasp, it offers up a meager flame. For a moment, the harsh terrain of the old man’s weathered face is illuminated by its reluctant glow.
“Well, boys,” Ernst wheezes through a plume of tobacco smoke. “I remember when this was a simple job. Drive your truck around. Put down some chemical. Shoot the breeze with the customers.”
Mueller isn’t listening. He clenches Caldwell’s sleeve and stares wildly up at him. “No, you got to wet it,” he hisses. “Otherwise it’ll stick.” Caldwell nods anxiously and fumbles for his water bottle.
“I ain’t saying formicidae weren’t capable of complex behaviors back then.” Ernst snags his cigarette between two knobby fingers and pulls it far enough away to dig his thumb into the wiry hairs of his mustache. “But it used to be things like eusociality could be exploited. Give ‘em some neonicotinoids and let trophallaxis do the rest.”
His hand shaking, Caldwell soaks down the dressing and gingerly presses it against the tangle of intestines bulging out from the large gash in Mueller’s belly. Mueller clenches his jaw and gurgles out a pained whimper. A gush of crimson seeps up into the bandage.
“These days it’s all emergency combat medicine, tactical entry, small arms proficiency…” Ernst cuts his list short to suck in another lungful of smoke.
“When you started out you could squish an ant between your fingers,” mutters Caldwell. He glances at the bullet-riddled carapaces piled up around them. “Back when humans figured we were the dominant species.”
Ernst’s eyes crinkle as he coughs out a soulless chuckle. “What about them damn aliens, plopping down their technology for a bunch of bugs instead of us? Them pylons changed the game, for sure. How long was it ‘fore we started getting calls about ants the size of a fist? Then big as dogs. Now look at ‘em.” He nods down at one of the carcasses. “Put a lot of money into this industry though, I’ll tell you that.”
Mueller screams, writhes, and kicks at the ground. Instinctively, Caldwell claps a hand over his mouth to silence him.
“Oh, let him scream.” Ernst kneels beside Mueller and gently pulls Caldwell’s hand away. “Won’t hurt nothing.” Caldwell looks frantically over at the gaping hole in the floor. Ernst snorts a blast of air through his nose to bring his attention back. He taps his pheromone alert badge. The indicator light is softly pulsing red. Caldwell’s eyes widen and he scrambles for his weapon. Ernst slips the cigarette out of his mouth and gently offers it to Mueller. Mueller ignores him. The old man shrugs and flicks it away. Stiffly, he stands, shifts his shotgun around in its sling, and racks a shell into the chamber. The chattering sound of chitin stabbing into rock begins echoing up from below.
“Sounds big.” Ernst coughs and spits. “Seems like we got the soldiers riled up.” He rubs his nose with the back of his hand. “Y’know, used to be hardly anybody died in this line of work. Not all at once anyway. I suppose the chemicals weren’t real good for…”
Before he can finish, the first soldier emerges from the hole, its head as wide across as his shoulders, mandibles as long as his arms. Caldwell opens fire.

Evergreen

Author: Ian Hill

We came to the dead planet, left our vessel in orbit, and used an old mining lighter to reach the surface. The gray, withered husk of a world was even bleaker than it looked from above. It was a dry place, all wind-scoured and slaggy, porous, rolling—or maybe falling. There were mountains and valleys, plateaus and caves, fissure-sewn sprawls and high-walled defiles. All bare. We set out carefully, for that lifeless desolation was so perilous. Before long, our progress across the small, quick-curving planet blocked our hanging ship from sight. The sky was little more than scraped white—the arching dome of a pale egg in which we were the incubates. White and void-gray, with a single, diffuse green dot representing the glow of the system’s mild sun.

We hoped to find something, but it was all just uniform slate. We scuffed our boots on a scree of chipped basalt, and we wandered through a field of tumbled talus; the boulders were as big as houses, each one rolled into monumental rest. There were no signs of life in anything, save for a few sumps and corners gathered thick with a powdery dust that resembled ash. It was naught but another one of the universe’s gloomy derelictions, left behind to desiccate and perish without ever knowing the soft grace of a hopeful eye. Except ours, of course.

After a dozen hours of effectless exploration, we stopped on a blistered plain to rest. My partner and I sat heavily, and—for the first time in a while—gathered the courage to tip our heads back and peer up at the intimidating abyss of pastel murk. That pinpoint of green haze was still there; it had been swinging about overhead all day, never sinking and always peering in a subdued, indifferent sort of way. It wasn’t hot; it wasn’t sustaining. In fact, it barely did anything. There it loomed, remote, inscrutable. I couldn’t tell if it was indifferent or baleful. The worst thing is, I didn’t know which scared me more.

And then, it changed. The glow intensified by degrees until neither of us could deny the reality of it. At its smoldering height, the solar beacon became like the bulb of a glaucous flashlight hidden behind a thin membrane. I thought I saw a filament discharge from it—a thin, winding tapestry of a flare, insignificant and fleeting, like a strand of gossamer peeled from a spider’s egg. Then, once the ejecta faded, the star cooled back to its sedate, dull simmer. My partner and I were uneasy, but our devices didn’t register anything dangerous.

Then, like a spear of fluid emerald driven overhead, aurora jetted over us. The dead fields glared dazzling green, and our eyes shone in the verdant haze. The whole sky danced and flowed vitreous, like molten glass wrought by formless powers above. After only a few seconds, the phenomenon dissipated, and the lingering shimmer of the world leached away. I looked at my glove and marked the drain, like a rod quenching.

Disturbed, we decided to go back. On the way, we noticed things. There were scars on the rock—tiny pits where things had been; there was floury ash in every crevice. And, as we crested the final hill before coming in view of our ship, we saw before us a picturesque field lush with grass and rushes and creepers and ivies. We froze and stared at the impossible meadow, static and perfect. Then, like the passing of a shadow, it all withered colorless and broke apart, crumbling to wind-tugged dust. All was gray again.

My partner pointed up. I looked and saw, hanging there listless, our vessel. Except it was green, now. Green and shrubby and damningly dismasted.

Transmissions

Author: Suzanne Borchers

*This is Romey, Outpost 324, District 19, Outerlands.
#Homebase here. Go ahead, Romey.
*Thank the Stars! I’ve been transmitting for weeks with no answer.
#Homebase here. Go ahead, Romey.
*Catastrophe!
#Standard procedures must be followed. What is your situation?
*A virus has wiped out all personnel. I’m alone. Send help!
#All ships are busy at this time. Are you well enough to maintain Outpost 324?
*Yes. Bodies are shredded and deposited. Decontamination completed.
#Good work, Romey.
*I need to get off this Outpost! I need people! Send more personnel!
#Unable to comply at this time. Do you have sufficient supplies?
*Yes, um…no. No, I need a supply ship.
#All ships are busy at this time. But we will expedite service to you.
*How soon?
#How long can you ration your supplies?
* I have no supplies!
#Redirecting and restructuring directives. Please hold. Homebase out.

*This is Romey. It’s been months! Where are the personnel and supplies?
#Homebase here.
*This is Romey. I need help!
#Non sequitur. Romey is dead.
*What! No! I’m not!
#Romey died from lack of supplies.
*I lied, you idiot! I lied. I can’t stand being alone!
#Romey is dead.
*How can I be dead if I’m talking to you now?
#Romey died from lack of supplies.
*Look, you blockhead of circuits, I lied! I don’t need supplies.
#Supplies are not needed?
*Of course not. I’m here alone!
#Romey is alive. Outpost 324 is manned. No supplies are necessary.
*Help me, Homebase. I…I can’t stand being alone. Please send personnel with the supply ship.
#The next available ship will arrive in 3 hours, 15 days, 9 months, and 2 years.
*I won’t be here.
#You must remain. Outpost 324 must be maintained. Homebase out.

#Outpost 324. Homebase here. The requested ship is scheduled to arrive presently.
#Outpost 324. Homebase here. Your requested ship is scheduled to arrive presently.
#Outpost 324. Homebase here.
#Romey?

Double Date

Author: Thomas Tilton

Their date had gone fabulously well, which was why Simon was so depressed. Invariably, dates ended badly for him. Par for the course when you had a softball-sized parasite attached to your left flank.

“I should go,” Simon said, poised to leave Alice on her front doorstep.

“Please don’t,” she said, and her eyes shone with a bright pleading, though Simon detected a hint of reservation at the downturned side of her half-smile.

“I really can’t–” Simon started to explain.

“But you can. Please. Try it.” Alice’s words were insistent, but her tone bespoke hesitation and reluctance.

If Simon’s self-esteem were any lower, he might think Alice was trying to lure him inside to rob him or something equally sinister.

He sighed. “I suppose I could, but there’s something I should tell you first.”

She cut him off. “I have something to tell you, too. But first, come inside.”

Inside the foyer, neither one moved to take off their heavy coats, though it was stifling inside Alice’s apartment.

They stood there, awkwardly, for maybe a minute.

“Aren’t you warm?” Alice asked.

“Aren’t you?” Simon said.

Alice nodded, lowered her head in what seemed to be a gesture of weary resignation, and started to shrug herself out of her large purple coat.

Once decloaked, there was no mistaking the round protrusion on her right flank.

“You’ve got…” Simon began excitedly, though Alice must have mistaken it for disgust, because she crossed her hands over her right flank and looked away from him.

“No, don’t,” Simon said, shrugging out of his own heavy coat. “Look at this.”

He took off his shirt too, and he displayed himself proudly to her, was half-naked in front of someone for the first time in years and felt no shame.

“I picked him — it? — up on a mining colony off-world, when I was overseeing a dig,” Simon said, unselfconsciously stroking the parasite, which began to grow red, seemed to be sprouting orifices — yes, there were nostrils now, and a small gaping mouth.

“He gets hungry,” Simon laughed.

“Why don’t you feed him?” Alice said, and she removed her blouse.

Hours later, their bodies entwined in the sheets on Alice’s bed, Simon tickled Alice’s feet with his tongue and Alice stroked Simon’s calf tenderly with her fingers.

“I don’t ever want to be apart from you,” said Alice dreamily.

“I’m not sure we’ll have a choice in the matter,” Simon opined.

Between them, their two parasites clung together in an embrace, a glowing red furnace between their naked bodies, conjoining them.

Hell’s Cells

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

The Prisoner

Lucian Lockley is in a cell on the moon. He lays on the stainless steel bench and his eyes take leave and run up the side of his cage. The walls seem to angle inward. Elongating in his mind until they all but touch at a point miles above his head.

Earth. That filthy scratched eyeball that spins miles below the back of his mind. A wasted rotting place. Paradise, he thinks.

He wants to go back. But he never will. He wants to smoke and watch television and fuck other people’s wives. He wants to slide the Earth’s dirty sheath deep down into his skin. He wants to feel its warm sweating tongue, as it licks through the halls of his veins. He wants to play with his kids.

It’s been years now since the end arrived and a new beginning began. When wealth and circumstance again divided us up into tribes. How fast the richest of the rich raked at our resources. How swift and neat as they built, and then ascended to their purgatory villas in the sky.

And, here, they will wait as we that were left wipe away the shit, the filth from sides of the bowl.

“You’re gonna need a bigger rock. There are so many more just like me. This new time, it’s an incubator. They’re not repairing the Earth, they’re acclimatizing to it. Only the fool now awaits a new Eden. My beautiful, Eden”

The Prisoner’s Wife

Eden Lockley is laying stretched out on her now half-empty double-bed. Her gaze follows the peeling seam of the wallpaper and her walls too stretch, like monolithic slabs above her head. But these do not taper, they just go on and on until they fade to a blur.

She touches the spot where her husband once lay and she loves that his warmth isn’t there. The crack in her eye-socket hurts as she squints and she calls on out into the nothing.

“I’ll shovel in the street. I’ll feed the furnaces as they swallow back down this waste that we laid. I’ll step atop the tiny minds that seek to control me and I’ll climb right up from this hell. I’ll heave up my children and we, too, will live in the clouds. Adapt. Overcome. Kill, if I have to. But I will win.”

The Prisoner’s Lawyer

Leonardo Tito sits on a bed, surrounded with his toys, deep within his sprawling inflatable mansion. A grotesque puff of opulence, that tethers to a cable that holds it 35,786km above the Mariana Anchor Station, deep beneath the polypropylene sea.

The whiskey stings. Its memory pours into his sunken morning eyes and his walls, they appear to slope outwards, and they funnel the most devilish things.

A seething spillage that engulfs him now as he huddles. His clients. Surface dwellers that he allows up into his world, so he can bask as they fawn and scrape for the heady treats that he forces down into their mouths.

“The river…”, he sighs.

Animals. No matter how he cleans them. No matter how he scents and smooths their skin, he cannot rid them of this new world’s acrid taunt.

Tomorrow, he’ll descend. They’ll again bow as he walks to the river. He will wade out into its bubbling swirl and though its acids will feast, he will sit and he will smile and he will lay down in the surging clink lap of its flow.

Belonging

Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Another flawless afternoon.
“Spin for me.”
I smile and cut a perfect seven-twenty, poised on one heel, arms spread to imitate the mantling of an eagle. As I come to a stop, I let a flash of dragon wings spread down from my outstretched arms before dropping the visuals, transferring, and collapsing into a heap on the couch next to Lizzie.
She squeals, slaps me, then rests a finger on the end of my nose, the other hand raised in admonition: “You promised to stop using instant transference.”
Sinking deeper into my slump, I sigh: “Habit. Too easy to do magic when there’s a yottahertz CPU with a billion cores handling the reality.”
The admonishing hand slaps my forehead: “No-one knows the specs of Heart or Mind.”
“Some might do. It’s only been forty years.”
Lizzie tilts her head in surprise: “Hadn’t thought of that. It’s not like we can ask them, though.”
She’s right. The Ecofleet is still underway, Alcubierre drives sending us toward the eighty-six destinations most likely to tolerate Earth fauna. Until the drives are shut down, each vessel of the fleet is isolated. Even after that, the distances involved will hamper communication. According to some theories, the Earth we try to communicate with may never have known us or may not even have evolved homo sapiens.
“Duty calls, dancing man. I’ll be back in a few thousand ticks.”
She vanishes, leaving an echo of a laugh.
I switch the enviroscape from lounge to Kingley Vale. A friend dragged me there just before we departed. My reluctance yielded to slack-jawed awe as I beheld great trees and primal landscape, the last protected place in the UK, home to the relocated Stonehenge, serene under the biggest Eden dome ever built. Thankfully, I had capture gear in my daybag, so was able to snapshot the place for my personal envirolib.
It’s here I find my peace, a longing that provides no solace. It’s here I understand the increasing number of voyagers who refuse to exit their personal enviroscapes.
We’re humanity renewed, escaping catastrophe and mortality, taking our vision to the stars in great arks, each filled with the seeds of a whole new Earth. Eighty-six strains of humanity will grow from this scattering, guided by the digital host that brought them forth. A wondrous future created by the genius of man.
I don’t think I’m the only one who hides away to cry virtual tears that never hit the ground. We left Earth, righteous and smug about getting to live forever while growing our world anew.
To live forever. There it is. I have eternity to look forward to, yet all I want to do is rest my palms against an ancient tree in a valley forever lost.
Lizzie appears next to me. She looks about in sad-eyed wonder: “Every now and then, I realise full spectrum capture was inadequate.”
I whisper: “He was right.”
“What?”
“The man who showed me Kingley Vale was some variety of pagan. I gave him a hard time about that. The last thing he said to me was something I laughed at. I wish I hadn’t.”
“What did he say?”
“‘It’s not the land that belongs to you, it’s you who belong to the land. You can’t convert another planet to be Earth.’”
Lizzie takes my hands.
“He spoke the truth. All we can do is remember why we yearn and guide our branch of new humanity to do better. Make sure they know they belong. Let them become caretakers as well as a civilisation.”