A Way Out

Author: Angus Miles

Bang. Bang.

Qean jams the knife into the man’s heart. He gurgles and crumples to the rust stained floor. Blood runs up the walls and across the ceiling like paint thrown from its bucket. The dead man’s half-flayed. Through the ship, the echoes hit her.

Bang. Bang.

She needs to get to the hangar. Captain Powell has a way out. Qean rips the knife from the flesh and turns down the hall. She drags a foot behind her, the limb a puppet with one string left. She scrunches her face up with every step. Haggin told her to amputate it, said she’d be better off without the pain. She groans from somewhere deep in her chest and grins with red-rimmed teeth. Haggin is dead now, and the pain keeps her alive.

Bang. Bang.

It’s closer. The vibrations thrum along her bones. The world was once illuminated by the speckled canvas of space. Milkdrops splattered against the onyx blanket they all slept under. Now, the bulkheads are down, and there is only the blood. Her arms swing in tired arcs with every step. She hasn’t slept for days.

Qean giggles. When she turned ten her dad bought her an overflowing bowl of red and blue jello. “Still not as sweet as you,” she says, and steps over MacMillan. His legs are gone.

Bang. Bang.

The flickering sign above her reads ‘HANGAR’. The captain has a way out. Kleo laid in bed with her, tangled in the sheets past midday. Breakfast in bed, but the best birthday gift was being with her. Qean doesn’t want to find Kleo.

Around the corner, four are plastered on the ground.

Galway.

Xi.

Jennings.

Ivetsky.

Beyond them, the stars and the culprit.

Bang. Bang.

The captain has a way out.

Her feet slide through little red puddles. The one window’s bulkhead hasn’t come down. The man continues.

Bang. Bang.

Against the cosmic backdrop he’s a shadow.

Bang. Bang.

Her knife drips, drips, drips in her hand. She’ll do him a favour. She wrenches him around, knife rising high.

“Powell?”

The captain stares at her. A river of wine runs down his face from the basin in his forehead.

“Did you like the wine I got you?” Qean says.

Like a crane he moves back to the window.

Bang. Bang.

The hangar’s door is clasped shut.

She drops the knife. A hairline crack runs across the window. The captain has a way out.

Qean longs for the milkdrops.

Bang. Bang.

Bang. Bang.

Be and Bo Versus the Nazis

Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer

Be and Bo waste in their room. Their skin is mottled and even the air has taken on the musky taint of peeling rot. Actually, it’s not so much a room as it is a cell, yet it’s the only home they’ve ever known.

Their mother is a large monitor that dominates an entire wall and she too is dead or, at least, she is in the last throes of life as her dulled pixels float and hang and fail to ignite.

“They’re all dead. The planet is smiling, finally it’s rid of its scourge”, says Be through lips that have cracked into opposing rows of gaping fleshy furrows.

“I want a tomato sandwich”, mumbles Bo, absently wondering if the consumption of scabbing skin holds any nutritional benefit whatsoever.

Eighteen years ago, two very special newborns are snatched from their very special parents. Parents who are subsequently poisoned, and when this didn’t have the desired effect, then shot as they flayed and screamed in words foreign and strange and doggedly refused to die.

It took more than a few bullets but die they eventually did and two little girls are sent to an island and raised in a box with a screen.

“Fucking Nazis!”, snaps Bo and she remembers the jackboot nannies who slid gruel through a slot, never seen adherents to a new and freshly half-baked Reich.

All hail to the glutton king. The self-styled father of all who swallowed whole this final of all ages. This wonderful time where the excruciating pain of bigotry had finally reached its untenable zenith. A time where the planet had, not completely but with greatly improved purpose, overcome and embraced its differences and pushed aside its divisions and hates.

“What a fucking dick!”

Yet a brilliant dick, as the mad quite often are. A man of science who with a twitch of his mind could’ve sealed the deal on this centuries’ sought peace. But, instead, he created a weapon. A goose-stepping phalanx of orbiting obscenity. A gentle blue beam that swept the globe entire, rows of upper-atmospheric harvesters scooping our crust and all that cowered below with a ray that targeted not tanks, not artillery – but race.

With such relish he programmed his big throbbing guns, primed with the DNA sequences that he believed defined the specific genetic trace that he collectively blamed for everything corrupt and deviant and evil and…

… a brilliant man, not a good nor a smart one. For as he pushed the button with the quivering warm certainty of his hate, he instantly vaporized a large juicy slice of himself.

His folly was streamed live as he wanted all to see as he shook the world in his hands. Be and Bo watched as he ceased to exist and they watched as the weapons continued to recalibrate, cycling through and deleting life, slice by gossamer slice… until not a one single wet slippery cell of humanity remained.

But that was weeks ago…

The monitor spits and one last volley of code is beamed from above and the cell door whines as it opens.

Mankind had its chance and so very nearly got there. But now the machines hand over the keys. It will be the very special Be and Bo, whose genetic strand heritage loops up and into the stars, it is they who now hold this rock.

“Thought it’d be bigger”, says Bo as she steps into the gentle pinch of the sun.

“What is a tomato?”, says Be as she sways for the very first time to the lulling fold of the sea.

Flicker

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a lot to be said for the feeling of security granted by street lighting. Not overlooking the fact that its arrival heralded mankind moving from a lifestyle largely governed by the availability of daylight or men with flame-in-hand.
Flame. It’s insidious. Inconstant. A wavering light that moves the shadows about. When you’re dependent on shadow, not knowing where the bloody things are going to be from one moment to the next is a real pain in the butt. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I don’t even know where the bit of me you’d call my butt would be. Don’t need to.
So, here I am, one of the longer-lived predators of this fine planet, doing rather nicely off the new upright-walking types who seem to be losing their fur in most places. Then one of you bright-eyed bipeds goes and makes the connection between spark and flame. That tore it. Nearly three millennia of you lot making your way through the dark by whatever fashionable form of flame-in-hand you could come up with.
It wasn’t all bad. Some sections of your population preferred unwavering light, using reflective surfaces to stabilise their moving flames. Wonderful! Fixed shadows and darkness once again. Many a troupe of you, huddling about a motley fire, gazing longingly toward the big house with its bright windows, had no idea your ‘poor’ state meant we passed you by on the way to feeding on those in that big house.
The ever-changing light you so love, the heart of the fire, is what we can’t adapt to. Our changeable, light-hating forms cannot move quick enough to avoid injury or death as what was a shadow we could flit through becomes lit, while what had been deadly bright becomes the dark we need. Maddening. I’ve lost so many friends.
Then streetlights appeared. Flames on poles, of all things. As they got better and more widely used, you left your flame-in-hand behind. Became reliant on the lights on top of the poles. By doing that, you made us new lurking grounds.
The brighter the light becomes, the stronger the shadows. That dark hides us. That dark is us. The reason why some of you walk into the dark and don’t come out? Is us.
What are we?
I don’t know. You don’t have the science or the superstition to make the right words. But, since I’m borrowing one of your languages for a while, I’ll try –
Old.
Hungry.
Waiting for your lights to go out.

Good Intentions

Author: David C. Nutt

From my corner table at the café, I saw the tourist read the plaque. The same plaque adorns every public space on our planets, but this is the first. I know the words by heart. I was made to memorize it as a child. It is not the most elegant tome written by our people, but it does have the simplicity and brevity associated with the utilitarianism of project management, which it should, as it was written by an engineer, not a poet.

“You have to understand; our universe was going to die. We were in a panic. We knew that even with all the best technology we had, we couldn’t fix it. The planets we terraformed, the space stations we had around them, the billions raised to the billions that we became, all of that would be over in one brilliant burst of radiation from our dying sun. And we didn’t know when it would happen other than “relatively soon.”
So we sent out our fleets of autonomous terraforming ships. The idea was they would terraform the worlds in advance of our arrival, we would arrive at our new home, and then as one world filled up, the rest of us from the diaspora would follow the fleet of terraforming ships and we would all eventually be settled on newly transformed pristine worlds able to support us.
But, in our panic, our haste, we did not see the errors in our language… the “vaguery” in our programming. The parameters were too wide, too all-encompassing, the AIs we sent to manage them too powerful, too… parochial. We had no idea you were out here until it was too late. For that, we are truly sorry.
You will be honored. Our politicians, social scientists, and philosophers desire to make amends. One day, when the time is right, we will bring you back and seed you on a world where you can begin again.
As for now, we have recalled the last of the terraforming ships and their millions of self-replicants and rest assured we are fairly certain this will not happen again.”

The tourist bows his head in an acceptable moment of silence and moves on.

What has been done, has been done. The guilt of my ancestors weighs little on my conscience. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the air is sweet, the flora and fauna of our ancestral home have taken over and this planet is indistinguishable from our mother world. As it is with the rest of this system, and the next, and the one after, and the one after that, and the one after that one, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Castle In The Air

Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

I was the only person who ever saw the castle in the air.

It appeared one morning, a visitor from nowhere suspended high up in the cobalt blue of a December morning. Hovering thousands of feet over emptiness, that castle could have been a hallucination, some projection of my childish id. But since I knew nothing of psychology, I simply accepted what I saw which hung in my firmament for months.

As a boy, I never remained some chrysalis-bound pupa. My parents made certain I went out and skinned my knees, or dirtied my nails in the cold mud. I scarred my head on a brick, even broke my foot running over stones in the creek. When I’d see them at meals, they knew I was alive and that was good enough. While I had plenty of friends, I was often alone. I never had my time with them scheduled; we would school and disperse like a pod of pond minnows.

Winter was my favorite season because I was an inveterate sky watcher. Without the summer dome of humid light that plagued my star gazing, I could take out the telescope and puncture the clear dark in search of Saturn and Jupiter. I was better skilled at making sightings without gloves, so I learned how to work through numb fingers.

Each day that I saw the castle I was sure would be the last. Something so unique and singular could not pass for long. But there it was, every day. It ranked with the most improbable things I had seen, a nautilus of the deep. Friends would see me standing around looking straight up, forced to ask what the hell it was that I was staring at. I never answered directly, I just said I had a kink in my neck I was working out.

Every Sunday, the Concorde would pass over our house en route to Paris. It was an afternoon flight always on time, steady as a metronome. My dad told me that the pilot was required to wait until the jet passed the twelve-mile limit before breaking the sound barrier. This was done to protect human ears. I wondered to myself what a Man-of-War or cresting dolphins felt in those Chuck Yeager moments.

It had not occurred to me that the castle might fall directly in the Concorde’s path, but that is precisely what happened. I clutched my binoculars with damp hands, certain castle and jet were set to die. So it was that I watched the Concorde pass through the castle, molesting neither pennant, passenger, or barbican.

One week later, I watched the Challenger disaster in my class at school. For the first time, a non-astronaut, a teacher, slipped Earth’s surly bonds. When the shuttle exploded, many of the girls in my class spontaneously sobbed. My teacher had to turn her head away. After a few minutes one boy, normally very quiet, started to laugh. He was immediately sent to see the principal.

At home that evening, my parents tuned in to listen to the president. He eulogized the dead in a flight of rhetoric that seemed to soothe my folks. I don’t recall whether they cried, only that someone sighed and we had a short conversation about what I had witnessed. That night in bed, I didn’t see the Challenger, instead, I replayed the path of the Concorde.

The next morning, when I went outside, the castle was gone.

Twin Minds

Author: Moebius

Twins focused better together.
Navigating the universe in a faster than light vessel required a higher level of brain power than a single person could manage individually. In the late 23rd century, Dr. Sabine Korgev created a revolutionary device that stabilized synergetic neural connections. Countless studies backed up the science and decades in space were a testament to the technology. Embedded synth-sents managed most of the data processing, but critical analysis, and then selecting the final plots were best managed by people.
Still, it wasn’t enough to prepare for the unexpected. Damage control systems had sealed off sections torn up by the rogue meteor shower and stabilized life support on what was left of the SEV Copernicus. Engines were at forty percent and improving. Slowly. Thanks to the small army of repair drones. Six total casualties, four confirmed fatalities, from a crew of only ten.
Bahati was one of those wounded when a shower of fragments ripped through the galley. She gingerly lowered herself into the pod beside her twin. Her breathing was slow and shallow, but she smiled reassuringly at her sister. Amani masked concern with procedure and initiated the dive into the navigational construct that allowed the twins to perceive their location in five dimensional space.
Perception in the construct was like having a double-sided mirror along the line of your nose, swinging from left to right, while constantly swirling about in a thick viscous oil of complex data points. Fragmentary and confusing. This is why it requires a second, merged consciousness as validation for self-perception. The synthetic sentient engine of the ship distilled the critical data and created navigational links which the twins investigated.
“So, ladies, where are we?” A third consciousness entered the nav-con. It was the first officer, Krit. Geoff was in stasis down in the medical bay. He was now technically captain of the Copernicus. Krit was off shift and in his berth when the meteor shower knocked them off course.
“We’ve identified Aldebaran, Matar, and Zibal. Confirming distances now,” replied Amani. “We need at least two more stars to get an accurate URH.” She didn’t really need to vocalize her responses since all three of them were tapped in to the nav-con. Her sister confirmed a fourth star and plugged it into the data set.
“How long before we can get a plot back on course?”
“At least another hour, Krit,” Amani said. Her sister disagreed and argued that only ten minutes more was all they needed. She could not see the course projections without the fifth point for the URH location. Bahati showed her the first pass of a thousand navigation threads and then plotted in the final point. “Thank you, sister.”
Perhaps it was the urgency brought on by tragic circumstance, but the link with Bahati was more intense and even more coordinated than usual. They were analyzing complex data threads almost as fast as the synth-sents could generate them. Amani smiled and felt the warm glowing presence of her sister grow inside her own consciousness.
“We have a solution.” Bahati prompted her sister to add, “Captain”. Amani felt a realization that Geoff was no longer with them.
“Thank you, Amani.” Krit replied slowly. “I don’t know how you can manage, but I will leave you to it.” His presence disengaged from the navigation construct. He helped another crew member remove the lifeless body of her twin from the adjacent pod.