Author: Glenn Leung
I am Amara Theseus, Captain of the Battle Starship Atoma. I have recently taken over command from the previous Captain and my mother, Laura Theseus. Our great ship has led the people of the Kuiper Federation to countless victories against the imperialist forces of the Earth Empire. How did we stand up against a force superior in numbers and firepower? Well, we have a technology that Earth scientists do not even think possible. Atoma has been ‘time-primed’, that is, every atom of every material on board has been charged with tachyons. It is the only ship in the history of humanity to have time travel capabilities. It isn’t much, only a few minutes back to take the place of our past selves, but it was enough to correct mistakes. So successful were we, that the Empire had started recklessly executing their own for suspected treachery.
Today, on the twentieth of September, 4019, the Atoma crew and I learned the hard way that our fortunes were finite. We were finally closing in on the Empire’s lunar base, Area 1220, when a miscalculated strategy cost us the right flank and half the left, along with two of our engines. No matter, this sort of thing has happened before. The nanobots fixed our engines really quickly, and I gave the order to jump back five minutes to avoid the ambush. A crackling came over the intercom.
“The ship can no longer time travel, Captain!” The Chief Engineer’s cries were panicked, yet disbelieving. They were the cries of a man who was the first to know of our fate. Like me, he had also just been transferred, and was still getting used to the ship’s unique abilities.
“Explain!” I commanded.
“Every time we took damage in battle, the nanobots would fix it up with materials from our environment or supplies. Parts were gradually replaced, and after the most recent fix, we have an entirely new ship, one that has not been time-primed!”
There was commotion on the bridge, the crew had heard the conversation. By now, Empire ships were circling around us, beaming the signal for an unconditional surrender.
“Shouldn’t the interior still be made of primed material?” I knew from my briefing that the priming process had made use of holographic network technology, so as long as even a tiny screw onboard had been primed, the whole ship could time travel.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am! The new nanobots that were added… There were a few extra functionalities. Not only do they fix exterior damage, they perform internal maintenance as well…”
I noted the Chief’s use of the passive, and the drifting of his voice at the end. It was pointless chiding him now, and this was only the immediate cause anyway. Overconfidence, nepotism, negligence, a lack of communication, and scrapped projects. We ended up putting all our eggs in one time traveling basket. For a miracle that is the first of its kind, five years of decisive victories were enough for the scourge of incompetence to seep in.
I leave this story as my final report. My officers and I have agreed to destroy Atoma, the technology, and ourselves along with it. I do not know how big a loss this would be, but it would not be as bad as letting the Empire learn of our secrets. I just hope that the Kuiper Federation has the resources and time to prime another ship, and the humility to learn from this very silly tragedy.
Author: Hari Navarro, Staff Writer
John Swann probes blindly with his heavy boot. The lamp at his shoulder sears a bolt through the gloom but he can still not see the path at his feet. Is it a path, or is it obsession that has sculpted this barely there ledge?
Retreat? The ship. He’ll lean his bell-jar helmet into the shale storm’s whip and make his way back. The lake. Its endless depth consuming the dark ink of the night. Beautiful nothingness. The pull of home.
“Mondo Oscenità’s a lie!”, he screams into the fog of his visor.
But how? She’d stowed these exact coordinates into her very last breath. This fabled place to shed and renew. Dear sweet Sonja, her name now but ink on his chest.
Suddenly a door hewn into the stone.
An elevator descends, as does Swann to his knees. His helmet falls and sobs rip at his empty lungs as he inhales the warm oily gush of the plunge.
Naked. A mist hovers. Euphoric high never once had. Pores eased open, coaxed to empty their weight. Cleansed. Dirt rolls and drips through the grate in the floor.
Dressed. Elegant. Exquisite perfection.
A corridor and a young woman with smiles that beam from her eyes.
“Welcome, Mr. Swann.”
He is drawn to the youthful puff of pearlescent skin that cups beneath her chin. Golden-brown hair plays bunched at her shoulder. Skin… something about her skin.
“We’ve not”, she blushes, filling her creamy cheeks with swirls of purple. An artist’s dipped brush in a jar.
“I know you.”
“The nymph. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ‘Nymphes et un satyre’, 1873. Oil on canvas.”
“You believe me a nymph?”
He reaches for her face, she retracts and fingers are left playing the air.
“Synthetic? Projected? Only I see this? The other guests see someone else, right?”
“No. Though the idea does have fascinating commercial implications. The distance travelled to get here plays with perception, Mr Swann…”
Sonja. The warm autumn sun pierces the curtains and casts a ghost of its lace across her bare breasts. So vivid, so cruel these thoughts. Cold dead things in the reeds. Blood on her wrists, her waist and across the gentle roll of her hips. Why?
“…your suite awaits.”
They enter his room and Swann immediately smiles. Slowly, he claps.
“The Nightmare, Fuseli, 1781. So exactly perfect. Unmade bed. Table, mirror, phial, book. Red velvet curtains. Is there a hell-eyed hack to peek out from behind their fold?”
“We’ve a strict ‘No horses’ policy.”
“You missed something.”
“A beautiful woman to flatten these rumpled sheets. And a daemon…”, he says unbuttoning his shirt and flexing the muscles that tighten the names on his flesh.
She is naked. His hand slips her hip and up to the base of her breast. Pale skin puckers, folding into itself. He recoils at the scent of linseed and wet death. Paint drips from his fingers, as frosting scooped from a cake.
“I’m Sonja, no Frances, or… what’s the name of that girl wrapped in carpet and sunk in the lake?”
He makes for the door.
“I’m on the mountain. Oxygen gone.”
“No… Hunger will eat you.”
“Nobody will miss you.”
“I will, but madness will dine. You’ll beg me to speak. No sleep. Silence will roar and you’ll smash your head to the wall. No death. Fragments of your skull will float and click behind your eyes. You’ll watch me turn to dust. Eternity alone, Mr John Swann. We here at The Mondo Oscenità Deluxe are so very glad you came.”
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
A flickering light spasmodically turns the twisted wreckage into a black and white sketch of a chaotic mess. The illumination comes from a workspace lamp, it’s shade torn away during the bombardment that ruined this flagship.
There’s a glint in shadows. A half-empty bottle of ‘With a Bullet’ bourbon emerges to be placed carefully next to the battered lamp. A grimy hand, protruding from what were once pristine officer’s whites, retracts into the darkness.
“Hello, little beast. Who sent you?”
Teriela Masson, the owner of the arm, leans forward and steadies the lamp. The drone swings to get a better view of this tattered Admiral. In doing so, it reveals the perfect Union Roses etched into its tiny flanks.
“Good timing, drone from home. How lovely to see the unbesmirched emblem of those we died for.” She chuckles: “Nearly as pristine as the history you’d write to cover this dirty deed.”
It hovers, activity lights bright, signalling lights off.
“What, no praise for the woman who supported your betrayal to this inglorious conclusion?”
The woman reaches down, lifts herself a little, and drags an upturned ammunition box forward. Sitting back down, she winces, then extends her right leg and points to it.
“Shrapnel. Likely to be bone shards from my lovely Lieutenant. He threw himself between me and the blast that finished this deck off.”
She takes a long drink, puts the quarter-full bottle down, then grimaces sidelong at the drone.
“You’ve escaped, haven’t you? The entire uprising was a diversion. A million people put their faith in lying thieves. We’ll be lucky if ten thousand of us remain to face whatever justice the Thorns of the Union Gold mete out. All that propaganda about ‘making a better history’. There’s no way this is a coincidental outcome. You deliberately threw twelve colonies into bedlam.”
The signalling lights blink rapidly, staccato Z-code spelling out: ‘You delayed them longer than expected’.
“I fought to save people who believed. Not for a cause I’d started to distrust.”
The light flashes in reply: ‘You still fought’.
She picks up the bottle and drains it.
“As I intimated, I fought to limit the evil you begat.”
The bottle spins away to smash unseen.
“I fought because either way, I would have a victory.”
A short sequence: ‘How?’
“I’m presuming you loaded everything from the storehouses on Largo Four? It certainly looked like the sort of loot greedy cowards would take. All those containers of treasure and fine wine.” She leans forward: “My marines added a three shielded boxes and a receiver. The latter being the only way to deal with the Ulam Chambers in the former. I’m no kind of expert, but my people told me such units – taken from three Ra-Class nuclear pulse drives – could produce very big explosions if set up correctly.”
Teriela smiles: “About now, your security people are laughingly informing you that they’ve already found and disabled the receiver – assuming your security is competent, of course. Did you know that a clockwork timer to release a spring is all you need to trigger an unconstrained antimatter injection into the reactive mass? That receiver wasn’t to set anything off, it was to let me warn you of my paranoid mistake in time for you to eject those boxes and reach a safe distance.”
The drone goes dark and drops like a stone.
“Time’s up. I win. You don’t get to write the history.”
Reaching back into the shadows, she pulls out another bottle of bourbon. With a rueful smile, she starts drinking.
“Bring on the court martial.”
Author: R. J. Erbacher
Please! There had to be a way to save him.
Widge was hit bad. The blast took out most of his right midsection including a portion of the flexible titanium rod that was his spine. He couldn’t stand. Cerulean cream-colored liquid leaked from a variety of tubes and pumped out of others. The ends of wires crackled as the fluid sparked against the electric charge. If only Charlie could hold him together with sheer will power, and love.
“C’mon Widge, you’re smart. Think of something!”
Widge’s words came out garbled yet understandable.
“You could pull my memory drive, use it in another unit. But a lot of my idiosyncrasies would get lost in the reboot.”
Charlie had practically rebuilt Widge from scratch. An older model that he’d tinkered with for years perfecting him into not only a valuable weapon and soldier but a friend as well. And most parts for him were long obsolete. Besides, there was no way he could duplicate the humor, intensity, and charisma that were never originally programmed into these prototypes. But now he was permanently failing on this battlefield, too heavy to move and no tools to minimize the impairment.
Widge coughed out a wet mist and continued. “I’m sorry but anything you transferred into another AI just wouldn’t be the same…me. By the way, my proximity sensors are picking up two invaders, five seconds out.”
Charlie, still cradling the massive weight of Widge in his arms, brought up his weapon as the first steel- encrusted alien jumped over the ridge. A perfect blast hit the enemy center mass and knocked him back into a devastating deployment of shredded metal armor. The second moved more cautiously and blast-fire was exchanged between the two foes, Charlie feeling one shot too hot and too close for comfort. Finally, he nailed his target, blowing off the entire head, the rest of the bulk collapsing into a lifeless jumble.
Charlie saw Widge’s arm sticking up but missing the hand. He’d sacrificed the appendage to deflect the shot meant to hit him.
“Dammit Widge, what did you do?”
“Saved your ass again. At this point, it was probably a moot gesture.”
It wasn’t the first time Widge had saved his life. Charlie had stopped counting after the explosion that Widge had shielded him from; tore up his back terribly. It took Charlie nearly a month to repair those wounds. This war had damaged them both.
“What am I going to do Widge?”
“Well, you can’t stay here dipshit. Get out while you can, back to the base. I’m beyond saving. We both know that.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“That’s not a wise de-de-de-de-“
For more than ten years they had been partners. Fought side by side. Clung to each other during the repeated shellings because there was nothing else to do and if they were going to get obliterated it seemed rational to be holding a friend then to end alone.
Charlie looked down at the mouth frozen in mid-speak, eyes gazing at nothing. Charlie dropped his gun and put his other hand on Widge’s shoulder.
Sometime later the crunching of approaching boots came over the din of distant firing. The enemy soldier marched over the hill and saw the weaponless two lying in a depression. One was already gone. He sighted on the other and blasted it.
Charlie erupted into a fountain of blueish spray and short-circuiting electrodes.
The guy disconnected and removed his armored helmet, revealing a three-day growth and scarred cheek, as to more closely inspect the hugging dead forms.
“Fucking robots,” he quipped and moved on.
Author: David C. Nutt
Chaos and wreckage all around me. How did we get this way? Collision? Battle damage? Malfunction? It was still hazy. I pulled myself up and limped down the corridor. Not really wanting to look down I did anyway and saw that mercifully the six-inch gash on my thigh stopped inches before my femoral. My suit was doing a good job of stopping the bleeding and puttying the skin-and-clot so in a few more steps (and after the drugs kicked in,) I was walking close to normal. Then I saw him. Obviously, he didn’t belong. Alien, feline like, yet familiar. But what he was doing did not make sense- he was ripping out non-critical system wires behind a panel.
Suddenly, I felt my shoulder jerk back and was pulled passed the intersection of the corridor. He was dressed like me. He looked rough, maybe as rough as I did but at least I still had both eyes to his one.
“We have to get out of here; something went drastically wrong.”
I nodded. “I don’t think we can make it to the escape pods. We’d have to get past that cat-thing and to get there and-“
“You don’t get it? Crap. We’re really screwed.”
“Ummm.. yeah, we are but let’s get a hold on the situation, pull from our academy days. You know, like we were taught.”
“No, man it’s not like that at all… this ain’t what you think we-“
I cut him off. For some reason I was furious. “We are officers of line; we took an oath to defend the-
“We’re eleven years old on a couch in your playroom.”
“You. Me. The new game system. The bootleg version of ‘Battle of Altair’ we installed but we needed at least three players.”
I closed my eyes. I tried to think back. I got mixed pictures. Riding long boards in our town cemetery. Battle drills at the academy. My first dance. Getting pinned for Lieutenant Commander ahead of time due to my outstanding performance. Getting a C- on a geography quiz. Two sets of memories battling it out. I shook my head. Sparks were still flying. My head ached.
“You, me and no third player.”
It didn’t sound right. But it didn’t sound wrong either and that was more disturbing.
“The third player- we needed a third player. The cat- your cat, we jacked your cat into the system. Bad idea, really messed us up.”
It made even less sense now but felt less wrong on a weird second level, one that made me panic more than the alien tearing up my ship. Or was that my cat?
“You have to pull the self-destruct lever. I don’t have command authority. You have to do it before Tibbs- your cat- comes back here and messes us up again. Holy shit that kitty’s a beast. Do it man, I can only thought-project ‘tuna behind the panels’ for a few more seconds.”
Ah. Yes. He’s our ship’s psychic. Battle grade skills. Best in the force. All my solution sets flashed before my mind. Nowhere did self-destruct come into play. There was a horrible yowl.
“DO IT! PULL THE LEVER!”
Without a second thought I reached up and pulled the self-destruct lever. A low rumble filled the ship. From directly in front a moving white wall, began to overtake us. All around us white hot oblivion enveloped us, the result of a science and physics I barely understood. At that moment, an odd thought invaded my mind- I wondered if Mom remembered to get more chips.
Author: Josie Gowler
Janelle rounded the corner. She stopped next to me and sighed, all the usual motivational talks abandoned. “It could have been so beautiful here, David,” she muttered.
The ship was on its way and I didn’t have time for pleasantries. “You knew. The whole time, you knew,” I said. The bits of my face not covered by my beard itched from the acidic mist that we’d all had a hand in creating. “It wasn’t a tragic terraforming disaster – you knew there was life already here and you went ahead anyway. You just didn’t care about the risks.” She’d tried to hide it well, I’d give her that. Both this time and last time. If I hadn’t been searching the database for pathogen inactivation pathways I wouldn’t have spotted it.
I carried on. “Next time we should care about the silicon-based higher lifeforms before we settle on a planet, not just the carbon-based ones. Appreciate more than two DNA strands.” She winced: it was the three-stranders that ate half my body, the settlement before this one. Janelle was expedition director then, too.
“So what?” she snapped, leaning right over my wheelchair. “So what? You think they care about a few crappy lower organisms back on Earth, when we need a home?” It felt like a slap – I’d expected at least some attempt at a denial.
“Not your decision to take,” I spat, as I shoved my wheelchair at her, knocking her off balance and down into the toxic lake she’d created, “Not your decision to take,” I repeated, “and you won’t ever have that power again.”
Now I’m at the landing strip all I can think about is Bailey. “Call it a cascade, domino effect, runaway collapse, heck, call it whatever you like. It’s another colossal disaster of our own making. And the biggest victims aren’t us. Again.” Despite all that, he smiled as he said: “I’m staying. I can’t leave them. Not now. It’s not… it’s not fair.” The geliphant next to him stared at me with all of its eyes, unblinking. There was empathy but no reproach, which made me feel even worse.
The last time I saw Bailey, he was riding away on a gelephant, its trumpet blaring. They will die. He will die.
So it’s another year, another failure. I sigh, counting the pioneers up the ramp as the massive storm clouds rush towards us over the pods of our brief settlement. Twenty settlers left to get on.
As they pass into the bright interior of the shuttle, I can hear the usual clichés. All picked up by the roving reporter from Earth. I’ve already had to chuck him out of the way twice. Everyone thinks they’re being original.
“Ah, loads of time.”
“Walk in the park.”
“Sunday drive, eh?”
“What kept you?”
“We’ll do it better next time.”
Next time. The thought of a next time still makes me feel physically sick, despite solving the Janelle problem. I tick the last name off the manifest, trundle through to the seats and pull myself into an acceleration couch.
Two fewer people than came here. As we reach escape velocity and the shuttle powers towards the baseship, I wish I’d stayed, too.