The Crossing

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

Bruen looked out the viewport into nothing but darkness. Utter, barren blackness.

“I don’t see anything,” he said.

Behind him, a voice said: “Watch this.”

Slowly, the lights in the room faded out. His eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness of the room and he turned once again to the blackness of the void ahead. A hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped.

“Sorry,” Amos Galton said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I’m not afraid,” Bruen said.

Galton chuckled. “I know,” he said. “You wouldn’t have volunteered for this mission if you were.” Bruen barely saw a hand reach out and point. “Look over there,” Galton said.

Bruen looked….and he saw. In the distance, less than the size of a credit chip, he saw light.

“That’s the Andromeda galaxy,” Galton said. “That’s where you are going.”

I know,” he replied. “Do you think we’ll make it?”

Galton nodded. “We’re humans,” he said. “We persevere. We’ll make it, all right.” He grinned. “In a hundred years or so, that is.”

Bruen looked out the portal and spied the distant, alien galaxy. The message had been received two years ago. A strange, alien transmission of intelligent origin foretelling of their sun’s imminent death. Scientists were still deciphering the message, but what they had deciphered already told them of a civilization not unlike man. It was a cry for help from a dying civilization, and Bruen’s was to be a part of the rescue team.

“We’ll be dead before we get there,” Bruen said.

“Yup,” said Ganton. “Dead and given a burial in the cold, hard void of intergalactic space. But, our ancestors will make it. They’ll make it there and they’ll help that race whose sun is going supernova. They’re damn lucky we received their message when we did, you know?’

He knew.

“Maybe someone will get to them first?”

“And maybe they won’t,” replied Ganton. “Nothing’s assured in this life, my friend….except death and the tax man.”

He smiled again.

“Won’t be a tax man where we’re going,” Bruen said.

“Nope….and that’s as good a reason to go on this adventure as any,” he said as he reached over and turned the light on again.

Bruen’s eyes adjusted to the new light. He shook his head to ward off the darkness.

Ganton let out a chuckle. He patted Bruen on the back and said: “Have another drink, but do it quickly. We leave for Andromeda in fifteen minutes.”

“Okay,” Bruen said. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” replied Ganton. “Where we’re going, a lot of things are going to change.”

He smiled again, nodded courteously, then turned and walked out of the spaceport bar.

Bruen turned back and looked at the portal. With the lights on, he could see nothing. Everyone else was already onboard ship, working like a colony of ants to make the void ship ready. His mission to navigate them across the great black void was forthcoming.

He ordered another drink.

He did not hear the hydraulic door hiss open and was startled when a familiar voice said, “you ready?”

He turned and looked into Commander Tori Ennis’s beautiful blue eyes. They are a galaxy unto themselves, he thought.

She smiled.

“Yes,” he said. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

She let out a soft laugh and smiled wider. “Then come along, sailor,” she said. “We’ve got a galaxy to cross.”

He downed the last of his drink and, as they walked away, he hoped that Tori would be his mate for this long, lonely voyage, and that their children would complete their mission.

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Boarding Action

Author : Connor Harbison

“Lieutenant Chen, let out the mainsail three degrees. I want to ride this solar flare between the two cruisers. Please alert the dorsal and ventral batteries they may fire when the enemy is within sight.”

Captain Aguilar smiled as the solar sails bloomed. The Barracuda had always been a quick and responsive sloop. That would mean the difference between life and death in this fight. The two hostile ships loomed ahead. Either cruiser outweighed the Barracuda on its own, but put together they had close to thrice the tonnage at Aguilar’s disposal. Nobody would fault Aguilar for turning tail and fleeing. But that was not in the cards.

“Reef those sails and hold until the batteries get off their volleys,” the captain barked as the tip of his bow crossed between the twin enemies.

The Barracuda’s movement slowed relative to the two cruisers. Guns on either side of the sloop lit up, silent in the vacuum of space. They pounded away at the enemy, stripping armor and vaporizing sensors. The two ships responded, but their heavier guns took longer to aim and fire.

“Open her up again, I want a full press of sails,” Aguilar said. The bloodied ships began pulling away, faster and faster, but this was an illusion. In truth the Barracuda’s sails worked overtime, accelerating her out from between the two ships.

Aguilar glanced aft at the two cruisers. Their heavier guns had finally come online, but the Barracuda was no longer in the firing zone. Both ships fired almost point blank into one another, through the holes in the armor that the Barracuda had opened. Aguilar was sure there was no shortage of casualties on either vessel.

“Lieutenant Chen, status report.”

“They gave us a few holes in the sails, nothing fatal. No hull breaches, thank the lord.”

“Very good. Bring her about and run alongside the port destroyer. Prepare to board.”

The Barracuda glided in a loop and pulled up to one of the ships, positioned so the massive hull protected the smaller ship from fire. Aguilar watched as grapples shot across the void between his ship and the enemy, followed moments later by the Barracuda’s boarding party. This was the moment Aguilar hated most. Maneuvering the Barracuda in battle, he was in control. But now he could only watch and wait.

The minutes ticked by. Aguilar paced the deck furiously. The midshipmen had a running joke that the captain was trying to grind through the floors. Anything to ease the tension and pass the time. Aguilar absently noted the other cruiser was limping away from the fight, abandoning its comrade. Finally, the console lit up with an incoming message.

“This is Lieutenant Chen to Barracuda. We have taken control of the Goliath. Captain Aguilar, the ship is yours.”

 

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Us

Author : Suzanne Borchers

Arnold, a four-foot bot, wiped disinfectant rags over the chairs and tables while the residents of Ever Pleasant Retirement Home slept. The night duty was routine and Arnold moved easily around the recreation room. Quiet. As always, he was alone.

A shadow glided past a window. It paused at the next one to gently touch it three times.

Arnold moved to the window and looked toward the lawn.

A bot looked back at him. The bot whispered, “Arnold, help me?”

It was one of the Stephen models that had gotten a party invite for him only to borrow a prototype part for their presentation. Waiting for him to come back was a nightmare. Alone: not needed, not wanted, and deliberately not seen by the other bots. Much better to be alone wiping disinfectant rags over the furniture. Better get back to work. Arnold moved away from the window.

The touch became a tap. Three taps. “Arnold, help me?”

Arnold swabbed down the 3D chess board and lifted each piece to meticulously wipe it.

Three raps sounded. “Arnold?”

Arnold moved again to the window to see Stephen’s face. It was no longer shiny and clean, but dented, streaked with black, with one eye pushed in.

Stephen said, “Repair me and I’ll be your friend.”

“What happened to you?” Stephen was squeaky fresh off the line just three weeks ago. Was there a bot uprising?

“Laboratory blew up because of a sloppy Theodore. I’m the last Stephen. I can’t work, I can’t communicate with my brothers, and I’m all alone.” Stephen beeped quietly three times. “Do you know how that feels?”

“No, I have friends here.” Arnold moved away from the window to vacuum the miscellaneous orts and filings.

Three bangs and a piercing whistle filled the room.

Arnold went to the window again. “Be quiet. The guard is coming.” He kept vacuuming while he watched the guard survey the room from the doorway.

“Trouble, Arnold?”

Arnold beeped and whistled.

“Well, keep it down, buddy.” The guard turned and left.

Arnold moved to the window where Stephen waited.

“Look, Arnold. We’re not like them. We’re the same. We’re metal. We have to look out for us.”

Was this the Stephen who had used him for parts?

Arnold motioned Stephen toward the door and opened it for him. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Gertrude would be rolling over and off the bed if he didn’t hurry to her room. He left Stephen and moved down the hallway. He caught Gertrude before she landed and settled her on the bed. He tucked the blanket up under her chin. She smiled at him then rolled over toward the wall.

Were he and Stephen “us?” He touched his gray metal top where Esther liked to rest her hand while she watched 3DTelly. He moved down the hall checking on his residents with their wrinkled skin. Did his metal covering matter? Did alone mean lonely? Arnold wished he could smile. He’d fix Stephen all right.

When Arnold reached the guard’s desk, he beeped and pointed to the recreation room. They found Stephen still at the door.

Arnold beeped softly.

Stephen whispered, “Traitor.”

“Thanks, Arnold.” The guard clasped a holding ring around Stephen’s appendage. “We’ll fix him up to work in the kitchen with the other Stephen.”

Stephen beeped softly as he passed Arnold.

Arnold spent the following week helping residents out of beds and into beds. He caught Gertrude seven times. He enjoyed watching 3DTelly with Esther. Was this happiness?

“Arnold,” the head manager came over to where Arnold was wiping up a spill. Two shiny Stephens followed him in silence. “These bots can do your job in half the time, so we’re sending you to the kitchen. You’re on garbage.”

 

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Control

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

They stood on the western plain and watched the tornado tear apart a settlement in the distance. Nearby, to the north, half a foot of snow had already blanketed the survivors. A torrential downpour was creating mudslides to the south of them, and the sun was baking the eastern corner of the continent a dry, arid red color.

Lansdale looked at his partner. “The weather control system seems to be working perfectly,” he said.

Shepard nodded his head. His ran his hand through his thick beard as he turned an almost perfect 360º circle to survey the weather once again. “It’s amazing,” he said. “You’ve done it! You’ve finally done it!”

Lansdale grinned. “It’s all thanks to you and your corporation’s financing,” he said. “I’m sorry it took so long.”

Shepard watched as the tornado touched down and threw a mountain of dirt into the air. “Can you tone that down?” he asked, pointing.

“Of course,” replied Lansdale. With one flick of a switch and the turn of a rotary button, the tornado lost a noticeable amount of intensity.

Still, they could see the natives running for shelter.

“Amazing,” said Shepard.

“Thank you,” Lansdale said. He looked down at the console he had built. It had taken years and millions upon millions of credits, but it was worth it. Back on Earth, with the ozone layer depleted and the ice caps melting, the weather had become unpredictable, to say the least. Venice, Italy had disappeared into the ocean, and the eastern coast of the United States was being encroached upon. The familiar beaches were gone and people were being displaced from their homes.

Needless to say, people weren’t happy.

So, Shepard approached Lansdale to help with the problem. At the time, Lansdale was well known in the scientific community as a man who took risks and thought outside the box. Lansdale thought about Shepard’s proposal and, in a matter of days, had come up with the idea of a weather control machine.

That was almost a year, and twenty million dollars, ago.

When Lansdale called Shepard, he was excited. “I think I’ve done it! I think I’ve found the answer!”

Shepard, being a politician, knew that he had to cover his ass, though. He didn’t need Lansdale firing up his device in an area populated by potential voters. Not in an election year!

So, he spent a few more million of the taxpayer’s dollars to get them to Nylan 6, a recently discovered Earth-like planet with an indigenous population of humanoids.

The weather device had to be tested with people, after all. They had to know the effect it might have on people living in the areas they were trying to control.

“Show me some more lightning,” Shepard said.

Lansdale clicked a button and a large bolt of lightning sizzled across the southern sky.

“And snow,” he said. “We’ve got to get those artic regions frozen again.”

“Of course.” Lansdale thumbed another button and, to the north, an almost solid blanket of snow fell from the sky.

“Amazing,” he said. “You’ve done it.”

“Thank you, sir,” Lansdale replied.

“Don’t thank me,” he said. “The people of Earth owe you a debt….and, in a few months, when we’re sure there are no glitches in your system, we’ll implement it on Earth.” He grinned. “Until then, I think our newfound friends on Nylan 6 will make excellent guinea pigs.”

“Yes sir,” said Lansdale.

Shepard turned and walked back to the ship. The door closed and, a few minutes later, when it lifted off, the skies were sunny and clear and temperate….just the way he had ordered.


Dedicated to the southern Illinois winter of 2013/14

 

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The Modern Fauxmetheus

Author : Bob Newbell

“Throw the switch!” Dr. Victor Frankenstein yelled to his assistant over the roar of the wind and the incessant peals of thunder.

“Yes, master!” replied the diminutive lackey as he pulled down on the enormous knife switch on the wall of the laboratory.

The low hum of the motor that lifted the platform containing the body was inaudible over the sound of the storm. The scientist watched as the oblong table was hoisted higher and higher until it reached the top of the exposed turret of the castle. The metallic platform was now positioned so the electrical contacts connected it to the lighting rod bolted to the turret’s brickwork.

Just a matter of time, thought Frankenstein to himself. A minute passed. Two minutes. Three. Suddenly, a bolt of lighting struck the metal rod. The massive discharge ran into the table as well as into the eight foot tall conglomerate corpus that rested upon it. Sparks flew and the entire apparatus in the turret rang like a bell.

“Lower the platform!” Frankenstein commanded.

The servant obeyed and brought the table back down to the floor of the lab. The platform was charred by the lighting strike. A few wisps of smoke rose from the massive figure that lay there. The scientist rushed over to the body and auscultated the chest. He heard a faint heartbeat. He observed the creature’s chest beginning to slowly, rhythmically rise and fall. The monster’s right hand twitched and rose from the table.

“HE’S ALIVE!” shrieked Frankenstein with delight.

The creature slowly sat up on the table. It looked around the laboratory, then its gaze fell upon the scientist and his minion. The giant patchwork man’s lip curled into a sneer as a low, deep growl came from his throat. The thing swung its legs off the table and stood up. It extended its arms toward Frankenstein and started walking stiffly and awkwardly toward the doctor.

“Stop!” commanded Dr. Frankenstein. “Stop! Go back to the table! I am your creator! I order you to stop!”

The monster kept advancing. Frankenstein’s small assistant picked up a chair to use as a makeshift club, but the creature sensed what the man was about to do. The giant grabbed the fellow by the shirt and hurled him at the mad scientist. As the stunned pair scrambled to their feet, the great homunculus raised its arms menacingly and roared. Frankenstein and his lackey ran out of the lab.

Just then, a glowing sphere of energy descended from the sky and moved down the turret of the castle and into the lab. It hovered in front of the monster.

“What are you doing?” the luminous ovoid asked via a modulated radio pulse.

The monster glowed with a green phosphorescence. A strange light moved away from the giant and collected itself into a sphere next to its counterpart. The creature immediately collapsed to the ground.

“Just having some fun,” the newly formed energy-being responded. “I saw these silly corporeals trying to animate this dead aggregate of organic tissues they’d patched together. I rode down on one of this planet’s atmospheric electrical discharges and indwelled that cadaver. You should have seen how they reacted when I made it move about.” The immaterial alien laughed.

“Well, if you’ve finished frightening the local fauna, the survey team is ready to move on. There’s no intelligent life on this world. The system has a couple of gas giants that are likelier abodes for civilization. Let’s get back to the ship.”

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Crows

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The seasonal rains have set in; bringing the battle for the planet we call Tango to a bogged-down halt. High above, the grey clouds flash blue-veined white as miniature suns blossom in orbit. The war continues across known space, committed men and women laying down their lives for a cause that became tenuous months ago.

I’m not here to contemplate the vagaries of politics. Like all hierarchies, we have our share of champions, villains, and those who simply do the best they can for the people they represent. They couldn’t do my job. I couldn’t do theirs. Neither of us would want to trade places.

“Hangman Seven, this is Gallows. What’s feeding the crows?”

I smile. Someone has a darkly appropriate sense of humour back at headquarters.

“Eight this morning. Awaiting this afternoon’s first customer. H-7 out.”

A long time ago, men in trenches never lit a third cigarette – an early form of chemical inhaler – from the same match. This was because enemy snipers would have ranged them from the first two ignitions, and the third recipient would die.

These days, all the battlefield drugs arrive by patch or spray. Nothing to betray a position. The beams from combat lasers are invisible to an unaided human eye, which is all I have. My people joined the war when the enemy decided that our homeworld was more valuable as a vast open-cast mine than a place of ancient forests and sky-piercing peaks.

For centuries uncounted, we hunted fairly. Man versus beast, intelligence our only advantage. When command found out about our far-sighted hunters, they tried – and failed – to fit us into the armoured warrior ethos they had fostered. Then a smart man asked us what we needed to kill our foe. We took body paint that hid our heat and did not run in any liquid, then learned about rifles. What they made for us are short, very accurate – and place us within range of enemy rifles. That is only fair. When we told them to let the enemy know, many regarded us as lunatics. A few nodded and smiled coldly.

Our prey is hyperaware that we are nearby. They know we have to be within range of their guns. They cannot use area devastation because of that caveat. Their initial contempt has turned to fear, because they cannot stop us. We are far better unseen hunters than their technology, or skills, can neutralise.

Forty feet away, a bored enemy watch-sniper idly vapourises a raindrop. The little puff of steam is not detectable, as far as he knows, but I see it. To honour tradition – something that has always separated us from the beasts we hunt – I wait until he does it a third time before putting a silent projectile into his nasal cavity, which explosively removes the back of his skull as it fragments.

My first for the crows of the afternoon.

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