Author : Sean Wilkins
On a star-laden beach near a rocky shore, wrinkled hands held, step in step toward a monolithic solar-tower. Mason felt the rounded edge of the tower, remembering the years, and was sad it had no use anymore. Alla watched the storm rolling in over a dark sea. He gripped her hand tight; thunder on the horizon.
Alla remembered the story he used to tell, when he bought the place, and how cheap it was. Mason told it again, and she listened, happily. She thought of the wedding they had on the beach: her dress and the beard he let out; the flowers and the guests; the food and the music and the air they all breathe. He didn’t mind if his family showed up, forgetting to invite his father entirely.
She watched the storm brew, lightning flashes over the water; him, the dead collector of light with no one left to see it. Shuttles broke the atmosphere, ahead of the storm. It was almost time to leave forever, she dreaded to tell him. In the sand were memories, where the children grew up, and they grew old. She still worried about them, so far from home, and knew he did too.
Near the cityscape, shuttles landed to whisk them away. He didn’t want to leave, and she couldn’t without him. He had stood by her side, through boring astrophysics conferences, and then the cancer. She had stood by his, from one editor to the next, another manuscript rejected.
They began their walk back toward the beach house, and shuttles in the distance. He wondered what they would be like. She liked to think cerebral. She remembered the day they made first contact, from the little orange star that takes light years to travel. She remembered the divide they all felt, some euphoria, others panic. Some scientists, others theologians.
Hand in hand, he joked what they looked like. He said tentacles with ganglion arms; she said cosmic vessels of light and star-stuff, with an intellect that dwarfed their own.
He told her it wouldn’t matter, as long as they had each other. She admitted hesitation, to leaving their home. She had spent her life on this planet, with him. It had never occurred to her to imagine she would die on another world.
They approached the beach house, one last time. Inside, they had holidays and movie nights. Outside, a truck pulled up to take them away.
“It’s time,” she told him.
“Okay,” he knew, tears in his eyes.
They climbed into the truck, the storm in the rear view.
“Mrs. Debroux, I’m a big fan,” the Alliance officer said.
The truck rumbled down the dirt road, away from everything they had come to know. Alla looked into the sky, at the tiny speck called Earth. She thought of the people who were in her shoes then, and the things they must have felt. She imagined how many were uprooted and scared; how many thought of this once red planet as alien.
Now they were to do it all again. Begin somewhere new. She didn’t know if she had it in her, gripping his hand tight.
The truck let them out; the shuttle doors were open. They found their seats, among the old and restless. The shuttle took off, toward their new home around the little orange star.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Chase peeled off her evening attire slowly, the fabric offering some resistance in the numerous places it was still actively staunching blood flow. The garments dropped haphazardly to the bathroom floor. The time for precision and planning was behind her, she’d clean up the mess once she’d slept.
Climbing the steps around the tub, she lowered herself gingerly to sit on the cool tile. Swinging her legs into the steaming liquid first, she gripped opposite sides of the tub and lowered herself slowly, not stopping until her head slipped beneath the surface, a crimson cloud blossoming around her like a rose.
She barely flinched as the fluid filled her lungs, oxygenating her as it cleaned the evening’s toxins from her insides. The bioagent surrounded her, slipping through her skin to permeate her deep tissue like smoke through cheesecloth, picking away at the scar tissue that was already starting to form, dissolving the deep hematomas, coercing the open wounds to knit from their depths out to the surface. The swellings slowly subsided, the throbbing aches eased, the fractures in her ribs mended.
All the while she lay motionless, the stain of an evening’s abuses slowly turning the milky white of the bath to a deep crimson nearing black.
She joked once that this tub had removed her last ounce of respect for her liver, and relieved her of any responsibility for it’s preservation.
On the other side of the city, in a similar tub soaked the inflictor of the cuts, and bruises, and other blunt force traumas she’d endured on this particular evening. He’d inflicted other traumas, over time, that even the tub couldn’t ease away, as near to magic as it was.
This other tub with its soaking man, however, differed in that even his tub, for all it’s advanced healing capabilities, couldn’t fix what she’d broken, or to put it more succinctly, couldn’t breathe life back into the dead slab of meat she’d left in its care.
It was a shame, really. She’d loved him, once, and for a time she thought they were the perfect couple, both at the top of their professional game, experts at solving sensitive problems involving… expendable people.
Until he betrayed her.
Why is it always those closest to you that betray you?
She’d instructed his tub to clean itself thoroughly, so it would be, at this very moment, diligently working to dissolve her once partner, once lover. It would be slowly atomically disassembling him, as well as the bed sheets and his clothing, the conch-shell decoration from the dresser, a coat hanger, two sets of chopsticks, two bourbon glasses and the handful of bath towels she’d mopped up and moved his broken body with.
In her pile of clothing remained an unfinished and particularly fantastic bottle of bourbon. She was an assassin, not a heathen.
As it turned out, he’d found someone he thought he loved more than her.
He’d also gone on to betray this someone, in the end, during the few minutes of begging she indulged him in.
Someone else would be tomorrow’s problem.
She was feeling her age at the moment, but she’d feel much younger come morning.
Author : David Henson
I was working in the lab late one night. My assistant Igorbot had left, but there was nothing for me to go home to since Loretta had moved out.
Left alone, I’d poured myself into my work even more than usual. We were on the verge of a breakthrough in transference. Tomorrow, Igorbot and I would conduct a frog-hamster mind swap. I should’ve been excited, but without Loretta it didn’t seem to matter. I had a shot of Adrastean Absinthe from the bottle I kept in my desk. Then I had a couple more. Then I had a bright idea.
My memory is a bit hazy — did I mention I’d had four or six shots of AdAb? — but for some reason I decided to get a jump on tomorrow’s experiment. I put the electrodes on the frog and the hamster. Then I had a couple or four more shots of AdAb. Then I thought — what the hell, the quantum implants provide more than enough capacity — and took the electrodes off the hamster. I started to attach them to my own temples, but I apparently had another idea. At least I have no other explanation for how the window got open. I do remember thinking — who wants to be a frog cooped up in a laboratory. The next thing I knew, I was hopping around my human body, which was crouched in the corner and drunkenly poking out its tongue. And I had an irresistible urge to get to the pond in Marsha’s Marsh on the other side of Konami Highway.
It’s a busy road. Traffic all night. The first time I tried to cross, I was nearly squashed by a lory, but I still felt I had to get to that pond. There was an opening, and I made it halfway across the eastbound lanes. Then I saw lights bearing down on me, backtracked, and froze as tires passed on both sides. There was another break, and off I hopped. I finally made it to the other side in fits and starts.
The pond was heaven. A symphony of frogs and crickets. The gentle splashes of surfacing fish — trout, I think. The water reflected a full moon, and a soft breeze rustled through the reeds. I just sat there on a lily pad and took it all in. I could’ve stayed all night, but knew I should get back in my own body.
At the road, there were flashing red lights everywhere, and traffic was at a standstill. As I was crossing, I heard a guy tell a police officer “I saw him bent down beside the road. Then he just … hopped.” I got a sinking feeling and looked at the mangled body on the pavement. Sure enough.
I started jumping up and down frantically, but nobody paid any attention till one of the cops kicked at me. I weighed my options. I could’ve gone back to the lab and waited for Igorbot, possibly got him to connect the dots. But then what? Put my mind in cyberspace or even a bot? Somehow that didn’t feel right. I was just so drawn to the pond in Marsha’s Marsh.
So here I am, croaking away on my favorite lily pad, happier than I’ve been in years. I especially love the fireflies — my own universe of twinkling stars. And they taste just like chicken.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
Swerve left and dive over a fence, roll once and spring through a gap in a wall, landing in what used to be a lounge, my face inches from a dead someone’s diary. As a former librarian, I can’t help it: I have to read the words neatly written on the page-
There’s a grinding noise nearby that sounds like distorted laughter. Nasser! Move! Seeing the page is the last one with writing, I rip it out and pocket it. One sheet of paper won’t weigh me down.
Out the doorway and through a parched backyard, explode through a chain link fence in a shower of rust and brittle pieces, then over another brick wall, to plunge down into an open cellar. I crash land and the floor gives way. Surprisingly, it’s only a short fall onto a van roof. I wait for the Nasser to descend on me, but things only get quieter as bits cease to fall. Minutes pass and my breathing slows.
“You alright, mister?”
I turn my head and she gasps at facing the muzzle of my gun. Training: aim follows eyes all the time.
Preteen. Bright-eyed. Cleaner than me.
“I’m good, miss. You on your own down here?”
“Had yourself a right good shelter, too. Sorry I made a hole in the roof.”
There’s a tentative grin. Then a smell reaches me. What the-
She sees my eyes widen as I sniff.
“Baking day. Nassers got no noses.”
True. The dreadful clones of a vengeful spaceman see very well, hear badly, have the tactile sensitivity of a car crusher, ignore odours, and I don’t want to know if they can taste things. Duke Benson got left in space when the shuttle fled the arrival of The Ship. Everyone thought he was already dead; he thought everyone had abandoned him. The giant alien manufacturing facility we call ‘The Ship’ may well have been a gift to humanity, an opening overture to eventual contact. Sadly, the first human it met was a mean, unhinged man with a brand-new lust for revenge. Now, ‘Nassers’ are perpetrating an extinction event that only the arrival of The Ship’s creators can prevent. That’s the only scientific conclusion reached: further research and related investigations were suspended in the face of genocidal empirical evidence and an overwhelming need to run and hide.
“I got rolls. Cake in about ten minutes. You want tea or coffee?”
“Dad ran a catering business. I was down in our storage when it started raining Nassers. Dad and Ben, his foreman, reversed big rigs down the entry ramp and blocked it. Nassers got ‘em as they tried to get in. I’ve been alone ever since.”
Two years. She’s been here two years. Barely a mile from what was our camp until a few hours ago, when it became a Nasser-overrun slaughterhouse. Bertrand’s tale about ‘baking on the wind’ wasn’t hogwash. I wish I could apologise to him.
“You ran from Bagnell?”
She knows. I look at her and nod. It’s too soon for words.
“Then you better come in. We’ll be safe, I can drop the security shutters between the carpark and the warehouse. My name’s Greta, by the way.”
I clean up while she makes tea. As I shuck my ruined jacket, that torn page flutters to the floor. I pick it up and read:
‘There is no Judgement.
There is no Qiyamah.
There is no coming back.
There is only the end.
It will be ugly,
And accompanied by laughter.’
Now I wish I’d left it behind.
Author : Samuel Stapleton
Classified Hearing AF:145-34a C3
Interviewer: Charles Witcomb
“If you could go back commander, would you alter your decision?”
“I’m going to note for the record that you didn’t even seem to reconsider…”
“I don’t need too. If I hadn’t swallowed that planet, they would’ve swallowed us.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Did you study much history in schoolnet?”
“As much as is normal I suppose, why?”
“How much do you remember about the Cold War between America and the USSR?”
“I recall that it wasn’t much of a war.”
“Correct. Because of MAD.”
“Mutually assured destruction?”
“Precisely. Both sides had a nuclear stockpile capable of taking out the other in a retaliatory attack. Therefore launching an offensive would inevitably lead to self destruction.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with this hearing commander?”
“I’ve been court martialed based on my decision to wipe out an entire alien species. I’m explaining my reasoning behind.”
I motioned for him to continue.
“If we continue my historical comparison we must admit that nuclear arms and the power they represent is now an infinitesimal speck in terms of the military capability that humans and other alien species hold. Worm-black-holes mean that MAD is no longer an option. If you’re attacked, there is no chance to retaliate. Destruction is complete and instantaneous and your species is ended. If humanity is to survive the inevitable encounters we are going to have in the future, we must change our military strategy to match these facts. We must seek in order to find before we ourselves are found, and we must attack immediately with the intention to fully obliterate all life besides ourselves. We no longer have the luxury of holding onto hope of any kind. One wrong decision and humanity ends. Personally I think it would be a tragedy for our species to have survived millions of years on Earth only to be wiped out by our own kindness once we began reaching into the cosmos.”
“And this is how you justify specicide?”
“I didn’t say it was justified, I only said it was necessary….”
I had no words for the monster who sat across from me. Or the monster within myself that was quietly agreeing with him.
“That we spent our few last centuries on Earth desperately trying to preserve the biosphere and save the species we had been wiping out. And now that we have left our solar system we will be desperately trying to wipe out every species we come across to preserve the galaxies for ourselves.”
“No one said we were adopting your military strategy commander.”
“No one has to. That’s the great thing about humanity corporal, we are so very good at looking the other way when we need too. And since we can’t look back, we’ll look forward to all that…empty space.”
Author : George R. Shirer
The alien wore a red flower in her hair. It was vibrant against her pale hair.
“What do you think of her?” asked Jon.
“I don’t know.”
Jon gave me an incredulous look. “What do you mean? You don’t know?”
“Honestly. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve heard the stories, but the reality is so . . .”
Jon laughed, patted my shoulder. “You just need to get closer.”
“You’ll see,” said Jon.
With a gentle shove, he propelled me toward the alien woman. She had been standing near the entry, scanning the room with crystal blue eyes. I noticed the crowd swirl around her, people glancing at her. Some seemed curious, while others appeared envious or agitated. The alien, for her part, seemed completely at ease.
As I drew near, I noticed something peculiar. A subtle scent, impossible to describe with any accuracy. It was pleasant, but like nothing I’d ever smelt before. My pulse quickened, my breath caught in my throat.
The alien turned to me and smiled. Her teeth were small and blunt, evenly spaced inside the chasm of her mouth. She had painted her lips an electric blue. As far as I could tell that was her one concession to cosmetics.
I was about to speak to her when our host, Jakk, appeared. He slid up to the alien and lay his arm, possessively, across her bare shoulders.
“Mica! So good to see you! I wasn’t sure you would make it!” Jakk’s voice was loud and high.
“How could I stay away, Jakk? Your parties are legendary.”
“You flatter me,” said Jakk, but did not bother denying it. He turned his smile to the alien woman. “Have you met Venus?”
“I was about to introduce myself.”
“Well, allow me to do it for you. Venus, this is my friend, Mica. Mica, this is Venus.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” I said, formally inclining my head.
“The pleasure is all mine,” said Venus. Her accent was a little strange, but she spoke our language very well.
This close, I realized that the beguiling scent I’d detected earlier was rising from the alien’s skin. I fancied I could almost see it, a faint cloud of luminous particles.
Jakk made some excuse and gently led Venus into the party’s whirl. I watched the crowd, noting the subtle jockeying of the men to move closer to the alien. As she passed by, I observed that many people were taking deep breaths, men and women.
“Well?” said Jon. He’d sidled up behind me with a pair of drinks.
I plucked one from his hand and took a tentative sip. “She’s very . . .”
“I know,” said Jon. “Her entire species is like that.”
“I heard the effect from the males is stronger.”
“How do they get anything done?” I wondered.
“It doesn’t affect them, just everyone else they meet,” said Jon.
I shook my head in wonder. “Humans.”
Jon just grinned and nodded his understanding.