Borsen Rules

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The bodies plummeting from the starry sky are screaming.
Esteban chuckles.
“Shock fields up!”
Ambusan stares at him.
“Shock fields? Surely you mean catch fields? Shock fields save, but it’ll hurt.”
“If a Mistress saw fit to drop them from that high, she didn’t mean for them to have a gentle landing.”
A tentacle softly alights on each of their shoulders.
“Perceptive of you.”
Seven bodies slam into shock fields, lighting the scene with flashes of dissipating energy.
Esteban turns his head and smiles and the blue-haired woman who’s now standing next to them.
“Mistress Othkn. If it’s not a secret, why are we graced by a Daughter of Trbtha?”
He notices she’s clothed in a figure-hugging purple bodysuit that covers her from neck to ankles, leaving her tentacle arms free.
Smiling at his regard, she answers his unasked question first.
“Our Matriarch and your Uncle Ghost came to an agreement over our nudity. This is it. As for my being here, the Matriarch sent me. Apparently those who prey upon your younglings are overly cautious. The chance of acquiring a young Mistress for their entertainment made them careless. To bring down such depraved prey, we were happy to help.”
Ambusan looks puzzled.
“I didn’t think younglings ventured off your homeworlds?”
Othkn nods.
“Correct. But Mistresses come in many sizes.”
She closes her eyes, then opens them and looks to their right as a diminutive pink-haired figure in a purple bodysuit appears.
“Heyahey, Othkn.”
Esteban turns quickly and bows to the new arrival.
“WarpMistress Nghra.”
“Hush you now! Using my title makes everybody become stiff and polite. I hate that.”
Othkn nods.
“She does, and it does.”
Ambusan looks down at the smallest Mistress he’s ever seen.
“Thank you for volunteering to help.”
Nghra nods her head.
“How could I not? I’d heard of those who prey upon younglings, but never did I think they would make a business of it. It’s been a disgusting and enlightening week.”
Esteban watches seven figures being led away in restraints.
“Mistresses, we were expecting eleven suspects. Were your initial tallies incorrect?”
“Have you heard of Zundeclyn?”
Ambusan frowns, then nods.
“Predatory horror native to the Talun Highlands. I heard their numbers are dropping as the Highlands have been hunted clear of fauna they use to incubate their young. I’ve seen pictures, too. Look like gigantic locust crabs. Why do you ask?”
“The worst four volunteered to help with Zundeclyn preservation.”
“They what?”
Both of the Mistresses smile nastily.
Nghra shrugs.
“Last I saw they were running away from a truly magnificent Zundeclyn who was driving them towards a pair of brood Zundeclyn lying in wait to catch and inject larvae into them.”
Othkn nods.
“It seemed fitting.”
Ambusan pales, then looks to Esteban.
“Is that legal?”
Esteban shrugs.
“The First Governor calls it ‘Borsen Rules’. As he explained: ‘I have yet to find an occasion where our partners in the Confederacy intervening in a law enforcement situation has been wrong. I agree their judgements can be harsh, but I remain convinced they only intervene when it is entirely justified.”
Othkn smiles.
“Uncle Ghost understands.”
Nghra laughs.
“Matriarch Trbtha also. We are told to deal with the spawn of Galad who hide behind your justice system whenever we encounter them.”
Ambusan asks.
“Who’s Galad?”
Esteban leans across to him.
“Their god-analogue of death and evil.”
Ambusan nods, then smiles.
“Sounds like we’re done, officer Esteban.”
He turns to the Borsen.
“I agree. Thank you, Mistresses.”
They vanish. Ambusan shudders. Esteban shakes his head.
“Warp-capable beings. Doesn’t matter if you know, it’s still eerie.”

Cinder Three

Author: Stephen Dougherty

The smoke rose from a fire that wasn’t a fire. Dr Alvin shifted his old bones in his favorite seat while his young visitor poured him a drink at his request.

“How did you end up on the rock in the first place?” The boy sat in the only other seat in the room.

“The rock is called Cinder Three.” He grimaced as he started to recall. “I asked for the job. You see, I had no ties here, no family, no friends to speak of. I knew how far away it was and that I would not see home for nearly two years.” He furrowed his ancient and bothered brow. “They needed a botanist with off-world experience. As you can imagine, I didn’t expect anything other than microbial plant life.”

“My mother remembers hearing about your visitor.”

Alvin grunted. “Well, I was supposed to go outside the dome to bring in samples of vegetation and test it for use in the fight against the Xeno Alpha disease.”

“We learned in school that the crew of the De-, Dem– “

“Demeter” mumbled Alvin.

“Yes, the Demeter brought back the disease with them after the first survey mission to Cinder Three.” The boy waited for the old man.

“Yes. They weren’t to know their equipment was infected. They did everything they should have.”

“Why don’t you have it? The disease?”

“I don’t know.” The great silence outside seeped into the tiny silence inside.

“When did you first see the thing? Asked the boy quietly.

Dr Alvin raised an eyebrow and stared at the fast-blinking eyes. “Well. I was standing, looking out of the dome into the blackness. From behind an outcrop of rock, the shape of a bipedal creature slowly moved and turned towards me. It had two narrow eyes which looked directly into mine. It was about three feet high with a large round head and its skin was cratered and wrinkled. He lifted its big claw hands out from its sides.” The old man spoke as if he had said the exact words many times. “The hands started to glow yellow, slowly pulsing. He looked right at me.”

The boy’s features froze.

“I reported it and asked to be brought home early. A day later I saw it again. There was a carcass; the remains of another creature that had been ripped to shreds, apparently not for food. In the distance it appeared again, lit by the light of the dome. It looked at me again. This time its hands pulsed red.”

The boy stood up. Phantom flames reflected in the window and crackled and spat.

“Was he trying to frighten you?”

“Yes. Yes, he was. He wanted me to know I was next.”

There was a long silence and the boy gulped. “How long did it take for the rescue party to arrive?”

“Five months, five days.” Came the quick, quiet response.

“Did it get into the dome?”

The boy thought he saw the old man grow even older at the question. Thoughts and memories crawled through his mind and bled through his half-closed eyes.

“It’s time you were leaving,” the weary doctor said.

The boy knew he could ask no more questions. “Thank you, doctor.”

“Wait. Who are you? I forgot why you are here.”

“For a school report, sir. My grandfather was in the rescue party. He died of the Xeno One when I was four.

The old man nodded. As the boy was closing the door, he looked one last time at Alvin who was staring into the fake fire, his hands pulsing faintly red.

The Lift Rider

Author: Aubrey Williams

Every Tuesday and Thursday I have business in the Kirk Tower, and take the lift to the 21st floor. I’ve done this for the past three months, and every time I take it, regardless of which floor I start from, there’s always the same man in there. He’s clean-cut, a bit like Clint Eastwood, dark sunglasses, grey flannel suit, and an attaché case. He always asks me “which floor?”, and I’ve started responding “the usual”. He sometimes tells me to “knock ‘em dead!” or “don’t slip on the floor, they just waxed it”.

Now, I’m not someone who’s completely obsessive, but this started to bug me. One Wednesday, I decided to go into the Kirk Tower, but on my way a tour bus splashed me badly, and I had to retreat. The following Friday, I walked up to the doors, but there was a power outage and the building was closed. I decided to let it drop for a while, though the following Tuesday I saw the lift rider smirk at me, knowingly.

Today was a little different, though. It was a quiet Thursday, and we were the only ones in the lift.

“Going up to old 21 again, buddy?” he asked.

I was about to nod, but I changed my mind.

“Actually, I’ll try 22.”

“Any reason? I don’t think the company switched floors.”

“I fancy a change.”

“Well ok, then,” he said with a smile, “I’m a big fan of changes.”

We went on our way up, but at floor 18 a former colleague of mine got on, greeting me, and asked if I was also going up to 21. He was smiling, telling me about the new coffee machine the boss had installed, and wanted to know if I fancied a new project. I almost forgot about the lift rider, but I saw him watching me, and fought against temptation. I explained another client wanted to talk, and that was that. He got off at 21, and it felt like a very long time before the doors closed, the lift rider staring ahead throughout. The lift shuddered ever-so-slightly past 21, but got to 22. The doors groaned, but they eventually gave way after the lift rider tapped them with his free hand a few times, and revealed to me a slightly nicer office complex than the one I was used to.

He smiled as I turned to him.

“Well, be seeing you, 21. Guess I might need to start calling you 22 now.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I smiled and left.

That day was the best day of my life for six years. It turned out they were looking for a consultancy firm like mine to work on something. The people were great, and we went out for burgers afterwards. The secretary gave me her number, and someone mentioned their weekly tabletop session had room for one more.

The next Tuesday I got into the lift, crammed in like a sardine, heading to the 22nd floor. He was difficult to see, but the lift rider was there, though his suit was black and double-breasted. When everyone else had emptied out, I asked him:

“Who are you? What happens if I go to the top floor? Is that where you go?”

He chuckled, and adjusted his sunglasses. His eyes were swirling galaxies.

“I wouldn’t disrupt things too much, Mr. 22. A little change at the right time is good. Too much, and you end up down in the basement.”

He grimaced.

“You don’t want that.”

Next quarter, I plan on trying the 23rd floor.

Aunty Dotty Goes to the Marathon

Author: Shannon O’Connor

We all thought it was funny that Aunty Dotty got excited for events that nobody else cared about, like the 250th anniversary of the Boston Marathon.

She had been in hibernation for years, nobody knew exactly how long. She would go to events, because she hadn’t seen a lot of the world, since she had been asleep.

People had the opportunity to go into hibernation to save resources. Their families would receive money, and they would go into a chamber for fifty or one hundred years. The argument was that people who were asleep did not need food, and other essential items.

Aunty Dotty went into hibernation because she wanted to help people. She thought if more people went through this process, the world would be a better place.

When she woke up, we all had a party for her, though she didn’t know us.

“Welcome back, Dotty!” my parents and cousins and I screamed.

She blinked her eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“We’re your family,” we said.

“What do you have to eat?” she asked.

She looked around.

“Everything is so bright,” she said. “Did the world survive?”

“Yes,” it survived,” I said. “We’re still here, and we want to celebrate you!”

She had a difficult time adjusting at first. She didn’t understand the self-driving cars, or the fact that we have no money.

“Do you mean people don’t work?” she asked.

“Only executives work,” I told her over grilled tofu and asparagus one day. “The rest of us do what we want.”

“When I was young, everyone worked. It was part of life.”

“But how did you have time for fun things?” I asked.

“Fun? We had little time for such nonsense, child.”

She was almost two hundred years older than me.

“Is the Marathon still on the same day?” she asked. “The third Monday in April?”

“Yes, some people are still stupid enough to run twenty-six point two miles to prove that they can. Fewer and fewer people run anymore, because it’s pointless, but there are those who want to show they’re better than others. Not me. I don’t care about impressing people.”

“We should go to watch!”

I shrugged.

“And do they still have the fireworks on the Fourth of July?”

“They do, but most people don’t care because fireworks are loud and remind them of bombs. It’s disrespectful of those who’ve survived the wars to blow up fireworks.”

“There have always been wars! Why is everyone so weak now?”

“We’re not weak, we respect other’s suffering.”

“You people know nothing of it. I’m going to the Marathon next week. Are you coming?”

“I’ll go to make sure you’re okay.”

At the Marathon, we stood at the finish line, and watched the runners fall to the ground when they crossed.

“Isn’t this great?” Dotty said. “They’re humans at the peak of fitness!”

“I’m glad you think so,” I said, quietly rolling my eyes.

“It’s amazing that the world still goes on,” she said later over oat milk smoothies. “And it’s still beautiful.”

“The world is messed up,” I said. “But most of us don’t pay attention.”

“It was worth going into hibernation,” she said. “I have hope for the future.”

“I’m glad you do,” I said. “Most of us don’t.”

“I feel sorry for you,” she said. “I think everything is wonderful.”

“Not everything is wonderful,” I said. “It’s the same as always: some things are great, and some are terrible. That’s simply the way it is.”

Web World

Author: Rosie Oliver

Grey-ghosted darkness. Not even a piece of dulled memory in the expansive nothingness ahead. Damn! Time is now against her completing her sculpture. She had been so sure the right shape could be found along her latest trajectory. Floating, she twists round to face the massive structure that extends in every direction as far as she can see.

Its building blocks are light grey part-built cobwebs with disced centres. Their radial threads interlink by touching, entwining or crashing together in a mess. Each web is different; flat, curved, tangly, nearly squelched into a solid shape. There is no pattern at all as to which shape is placed next to another, just pure randomness. Despite all the change and variety, the mega-web has the aura of lifeless desolation.

Her sculpture is the key to changing that. If only she can find the right piece in time. She rushes through a gap into the labyrinthine mesh, searching for it. What about that crooked bit there? Too thick. This bent bit here? Too curved. Time presses.

She rushes along a lacy conduit. There, the right shape. She grabs it. Too spongy, decayed beyond usefulness. She carries on.
Another piece the right shape. A gentle squeeze. It springs back with firmness. She snaps it off and flees back to her sculpture, webs blurring into surfaces beside her. No time to lose. Speeding up is all she concentrates on.

She erupts into a void-space and brakes hard to stop crashing into simply long networked sculpture. One end is already into the mega-web. She zooms to the other end. She feels tired, confused, insubstantial. No she can’t be out of time, not this close to completion.

She melds one spike of her piece tip of her sculpture. It takes effort, far more than usual. She reaches to join the other spike. Too slow. Must work quicker.

She can’t, but continues at max effort. Her view blurs. Out of time. She struggles to link it. The blur worsens. She strains to complete and hit the network into life. Blue spark. Darkness.

Cyan flash.


She gingerly removes her virtual hood. Eyes ache. Hands hurt from controlling her joystick. Her body stiff from lying eight hours on the couch.

The medtech watching the sedated man on the couch next to hers turns round. His face is sombre, full of regret. “You’d reached your time limit with the neural sculptor… sorry.”

“His brain was a damned mess, but I completed the bridge. Just. The rest’s up to him, but he’ll make it given time. He’ll recover.”


Author: Alastair Millar

As I burst the blister on Martha’s back, the gelatinous pus within made its escape. Thanking the Void Gods for the medpack’s surgical gloves, I wiped her down, then set to work with the tweezers; if I couldn’t get the eggs out, it was all for nothing.

This is the side of bringing gas back from Saturn that nobody talks about, but I’ve been on the run for years – I got my captain’s commission a half decade ago.

After its discovery, Enceladus’ apex predator, the tiny parasitic iceworm, quickly made the leap from munching on other extremophiles to attacking humans; our blood is a wonderful treat, apparently. They inject a toxin into the bloodstream like Terran jewel wasps; it makes their hosts pliant, but ultimately leads the infected to become irrational and violent. Real Zombieland vibes.

We’d filled our tanks at Saturn Station and were heading home before trouble hit. Danny had been quiet and moody for a couple of days, but that happens in space, and I’d paid no attention. My mistake. Martha had made coffee for everyone, and forgotten to add sugar, and he just flipped; as she turned away he launched himself at her. It was a miracle nobody else in the mess had been scratched pinning him down.

The only things that kill iceworms are starvation, or chilling them to near absolute zero. A warm body is basically an endless food supply, so my options for keeping my people safe were reduced to a single unpalatable one.

I took Jarvis with me to the brig; he’s solid, and strong in the head as well as the muscles. Danny knew what was going to happen when he saw us coming. I ignored his screams, and then his begging, and tased him hard. We dragged his inert form to the airlock, and sealed him in.

I had no idea where he’d picked up the bugs; probably thanks to careless scientists on the Station, but the evil things have a long life cycle, and it could have happened years ago. It hurts more when you can’t prove anything or blame someone. Now we’d be watching each other constantly for symptoms; the uncertainty would break the crew, and I’d have to go back to the employment pool for more kids when we returned.

But that was a problem for another day. I took a deep breath, and ran the opening sequence. Nobody else would be living with this particular shadow on their conscience; not on my watch. As he tumbled away from the ship, I watched his last 15 seconds, knowing the air in his lungs was expanding and ripping through the surrounding tissue even as he froze solid. Being spaced isn’t a pretty way to die.

I’d tell the family there’d been an accident on board so they could claim his insurance; it was the least I could do. Less paperwork, too.

Then I went to find a bottle; being the responsible adult sucks.