Author : Ian Hill
They all gradually woke up, rising from the steely cradles to stagger to their feet and peer around in confusion. The mismatched assortment of befuddled people shuffled around the large circular room, taking in every detail of their surroundings while trying to find someone they recognized. A haze of the unknown settled firmly over them all like an unholy cowl.
A few of them woke up screaming, their already forgotten nightmares transitioning into what was presumably the real world seamlessly. As hours passed the people clumped up together in cliques. Some of the groups were ethnically similar, some were comprised of people of comparable height. The people naturally sought out those who they could relate with most.
They waited for a change. The domed room around them was featureless and sterile. The rounded ceiling parted at the middle to rain down a glorious beam of sunlight. There weren’t any doors, hatches, cracks, or crevices. The only break in the monotonous stone grey was the circular port that allowed light in from the foreign outside realm.
“What do you think is going on?” a thin, unhealthy man asked to his quickly acquired friends.
One of them looked up from and frowned. “Maybe we got kidnapped.”
The man shook his head and glanced all around at the large group of chattering people. “Why us though? What’s the common factor?”
Territories were subconsciously formed and the cliques became fewer as larger masses absorbed smaller groups into their fold. Occasionally a would-be leader stood up and silenced everyone with their booming voice. They called for a combined effort to continue the search for any sort of detail that would open a hidden door or something to the same effect.
Someone’s stomach grumbled. He laughed uneasily. “Getting a little hungry.”
His wan friends gazed at him suspiciously.
A day went by. Nights were always the worst under the dome. The few that could sleep were plunged into unrelenting nightmares that caused them to wake with an outcry of fear. Subtle blue moonlight drifted down to meet the middle of the bleached basin.
Rain came like a halcyon, sending torrents of precious liquid down to the ground. The desperate people all clambered to hydrate themselves. This was where the first whispers of competition arose. Some were thirstier than others, but the most powerful and driven of the pack filled themselves without pause.
There was a sect of nervous people that paced around the circular chamber on a regular basis, hands thrust into pockets and heads trained on their faded shoes. Tempers wore thin and arguments broke out nearly every hour. Cliques disbanded as schisms formed and smaller amassments compartmentalized themselves to form invisible partitions. No one crossed the unspoken boundaries.
The inevitable finally came on the third day. One of the thinnest walkers stumbled to the side and collapsed to the ground in a pitiful heap. After a brief moment of hesitation a flock of scavengers surrounded the prey and began to harvest his flesh.
Chaos took the reins as the large group of wayfaring strangers descended into a free-for-all. The concrete ground became encrimsoned with the blood of the weak. All human decency was set aside for the individual’s greater good. However, flesh was a finite and dwindling resource.
After some unknown period of time went by there was only one left. An obese shadow of a man, laying in his filth and gazing up through the distant port to the alluring sunlight beyond. An ocean of picked bones sat strewn about around him. What was once necessity became gluttony.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Yngtranzian Harvester incoming! Genghis Class – it’s huge!” Janice sounds terrified, but she’s new. She’ll get over it.
Many pre-spacers compared the depths of space to the seas of Earth. Truly prophetic words. A wise man once said: “The ocean is the only café where the food fights back.” Fortunately, in an environment renowned for big-eats-little dynamics, humans were a decent size. Unfortunately, in space we’re only just medium sized and nothing out here thinks we’re cute and worth protecting.
The ‘blip’ on the screen is about the size of the Isle of Wight. It’s filled with six-metre tall tripeds with wide mouths full of sharp teeth. They have a cookery book dedicated to making a whole range of delicious meals, for any time of day or night, out of human. Including several recipes where we go into the hot and/or sharp part of the process conscious. Apparently you can judge the succulence of human flesh by certain tones in the screams emitted by the owner.
“Alright, it’s big, but it’s not bigger than a Dobberil Grinder. Set up a pair of point-three light triple-stage boosters; add countermeasures packages Alpha Cream Nine and Pete Echo Four. Slap a teraton warhead on the second one. Fire control to me.”
The Dobberil are like whales in size, and that they like their food small. Minced, to be precise. They drive whole herds of people out of cover into open ground using sonics, then a Grinder class vessel swoops in, mulches them up – along with a decimetre of whatever they were cowering on – and serves the whole mess fresh with a splash of peroxide.
The Harvester comes straight in, ignoring the defensive batteries on the Moon and on Moon Two, the defence station that orbits opposite the Moon. But we’re on patrol today, back at last from persuading the Slavyesh that humans are not for drinking. We had to knock the society back to their stone age to do it, but they will think twice before squeezing one of our colonies for their morning juice again.
The fire control comes online and I wait. Yngtranzians are fussy. They’ll want to line up before entering atmosphere, and that’s when I can clip them.
Two, one… “Fire one!”
The missile leaves me, accelerates like nothing on Earth, leaves a rainbow contrail in high atmosphere and slams into the Harvester at a several hundred Mach. The Harvester pitches and yaws out of orbit, station-keeping drives and stabiliser fields spitting. By my head, trajectory calculations are coming in faster than they are correcting their yawing vessel.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. They have passed the orbit of both Moons. Time.
The night goes bright just as the concussion of launch fades. The first missile was slowed by atmosphere, its control systems keeping it from going to relativistic speeds. The second had no such limitations. No-one on this ship saw it go and nothing on the Yngtranzian saw it coming. For a few seconds, we have a third, supernally bright moon. I’m glad sound doesn’t travel in space. That would have been loud.
“Northern Hemi Control, this is Orca One. Please alert Russia for debriteors and add an Yngtranzian Genghis to our kill tally.”
“We hear that, Orca One. Orca Two has risen from Mars Base and will relieve you in twenty-seven hours.”
That’s the good news. A kill means we get a couple of days shore leave.
Slowly but surely, the predators of this ocean called space are learning that the tiddlers from Sol Three are vicious and have really big teeth.
Author : Jorge Mendoza
The gash on her forearm stopped dripping thanks to the two ounce can of epithelial hemming gel she stored under the bathroom sink. Survival instincts simmered down as muscle memory seized control over the bandages being wrapped across the exposed flesh. There was a dominating theme in the oncoming stream of thoughts. How did this happen? How did I just survive that? How do I get back?
Colonization aboard the Mars Terraforming Station was supposed to be the solution to Earth’s impending problems. The human population had sky rocketed far above the planet’s capacity as natural resources dwindled, wars erupted, and disease spread. The red planet symbolized a new beginning for a select thirty two thousand seven hundred forty seven souls.
Starring up at the fading blue sphere through the transparent wall of her living quarters, Marissa never thought she’d miss the claustrophobic conditions of the mega-cities. She’d dreamt of the vast openness of space from the day the pioneering program announced it was accepting applications.
“You’re crazy,” yelled her mother. “You’d go and not be back by the end of my lifetime child!”
“I know,” replied Marissa. “It’s just that I finally have an opportunity to make a difference. I can finally be someone, not just one in twenty some billion.”
A thin smile and loving gaze accompanied the tears running down her mother’s worn face. She knew her daughter’s ambition was a giant sequoia, unswaying at all requests and dismay.
Just once, perhaps I should’ve listened thought Marissa.
Marissa longed to float alongside the rotten sea weed in the murky green waters of the salty Pacific. She wanted to feel the light warmth of the sun’s rays breaking through the smog. She missed the feeling of the grains of sand between her toes and even the pricking sensation of stepping on washed up plastics. The petrified wood of the board walks and piers was a different feel from all the smooth steel and glass that made up the space station.
The drowned slapping sounds of hand on metal on the opposite side of the sliding doors grew stronger, the groans and moans progressively clearer. The number of infected collecting outside her room continued to increase as did the pace of her heartbeat. Thoughts of what they’d do to her if they broke in buzzed in her mind like an irritated bee hive. So long as she wasn’t ripped to shreds it didn’t matter if she starved, nothing seemed to stay dead for long on Mars.
Author : C. E. Page
Silt rained over her as she crawled from her hiding place; a pocket of air in the pile of rubble that had been her habitation tower. Others, some familiar, were emerging from the crumpled buildings to bay at the sky and drag grey hands over their anguished faces. The ground shuddered again shaking the rubble pile. It convulsed like a dying creature, collapsing in on itself, cutting off screams and creating more dust. She huddled against the ground gripping her shins, her face pressed against her knees; silently counting, pretending the roaring earth was thunder:
One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. . .
The tremor passed and she continued to rock. Icy fingers scoured her chest to grip her heart. She had to breathe. The air wheezed over her lips and down her throat to hang there like a jagged bone. She swallowed to shift the blockage. Still the air she gulped in short sharp breaths refused to fill the bellows of her lungs. Trying to ignore the fire that prickled up her spine and flooded the back of her skull she forced herself to crawl forward. Shale shifted under her hands and she slipped, her mouth filling with dust and blood as her chin cracked against the ground.
The others had started to hulk forward some missing limbs, some beaten and bloody, with glass embedded in their faces and angry red gashes where skin and muscle had been torn away from bone. They clawed towards her pleading for help. Asking: why, what, who?
Another vibration started in the earth bouncing small pieces of shingle and stirring clouds of dust. It seemed to be gaining power the closer the others got until it became a shuddering wave of force that rent the earth in two. The others fell, scattering among the churning debris screaming, roaring, and dying. She was tossed into the air and her hands torn open as she landed in a tangle of steel reinforcement wires. She pulled herself free and rolled to avoid being crushed by a column of steel of stone. Heat rolled over her as the gas cylinders in the maintenance quarter exploded, adding their echoing boom to the cacophony. Chips of stone and glass showered over her slicing the skin of her face and arms.
Then everything grew still. The screams of the dying and the roar of the earth sounded distorted and far away, like sounds distilled through water. She lowered her arms and a shining light blinded her grit filled eyes. Shielding her face she crept towards the source of the brilliance.
The cool planks of a wooden door met her questing fingers. It stood, haloed by light, amidst the ruins of an unrecognisable building. It was old and ornate trimmed with bronze fittings and ancient scrolling carvings. The door seemed to hover in a bubble of still air despite the destruction of the city around it and the light radiating from it washed away the pain and fear, beaconing her to pass through the door to see what wondrous world was on the other side. Her blood stained fingers gripped the gleaming handle and the door swung open to reveal a tunnel of soothing light. She looked back at the dying world then stepped over the threshold.
Cold clean air and fragrant grass waited at the end of the light soaked tunnel. A verdant meadow: calm, quiet, and eternal.
Author : Art Klein
I know there are more of them than before. Why have they stayed so long and why have even more of them arrived?
“What’s going through your head now, Jack?”
I looked at Tom across the table in a bar we frequent, and realized that I had once again fallen into that mood I had been trying to shake for…I don’t remember how long.
“Just thinking, Tom.”
“Those same thoughts about ‘Them,’ Jack?”
“’fraid so. I can’t seem to get them out of my head. And I do mean ‘Them’.”
“How much do you remember? Do you still have those vague spots you’ve told me about?”
“Yeah. They’re still there. And I don’t know how to fill them in,” I replied. “Maybe I’m getting worse. There are more signs in their language than in ours. Or am I just imagining that, too?”
“No, Tom. What you’re seeing is there: ‘Them’ and lots of signs in their language. How far back can you remember?”
“I remember the war. Not all of it, but more than enough of it to make my skin crawl. The radioactive, chemical, and biological sprays in building heating and air conditioning ducts, subways, sports arenas; any enclosed place where there were lots of people. Later on, crops shriveling and dying as they started attacking outdoor targets. The water turning that foul-smelling milky white.”
“Can you remember where you were when the war ended?”
I tried to answer Tom’s question, but the only thing I could come up with was one of those vague spots he had asked me about.
“Sorry, Tom. But I’m drawing another blank.”
Tom considered what I had recalled, and said, “That’s pretty much what happened. Do you remember when the UnifiedTerror teams broke into the big stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons here and in Russia and China?”
I had to dig for that one. “I think I remember some of it,” I replied.
“Do you remember when we received the first message about help being on the way?”
“Yes. That transmission was said to come from some planet located above the plane of our solar system. If I remember correctly, they, whoever ‘they’ are, said they were on the way to help us. Are ‘they’ my ‘Them’?”
Tom nodded his head slowly and said, “Not any more, Jack. They did help us. It didn’t take them long to finish off the UnifiedTerror movement. But even as quickly as that was accomplished, too much damage had been done for us to survive there. You were still unconscious when the wars ended. They took our side’s survivors home with them.
“Jack, here on their planet, we’re ‘Them.’ ”
Author : Tony Bertauski
It started with a flash.
Like the Big Bang, an explosion that swallowed everything. The pain sunk deep into my head, and then was replaced with blurry colors. There were no edges to the blobs floating before a background of gray. The pinks and the browns and the silvers and the blues shifted in silence that was so deep and perfect, like floating in a pristine ocean.
And then the silence was gone, obliterated by the sounds of a tapping keyboard and a young man talking. His name was Ben. He just broke up with his girlfriend, said he was ready to spread his wings. You know, fly a little.
“What’s wrong with her left eye?” Madeline asked.
She was the one making the keyboard rattle. A colorful blob merged into my line of sight and then—SNICK—my left eyelid slid up. More colors.
“Hand me the drops,” Ben said.
The drops were cold and slippery. They burned my eyes. I blinked the world into focus. Ben’s hair hung over his ears and he hadn’t shaved in days. His eyes were green, like the green of new growth. The white collar of his lab coat was pulled up.
He flashed a bright light in my left eye. “How’s that?” he asked. “Can you see me?”
He spoke like I was deaf or old. I was neither.
“Give me something. Sing a song, belch…something.”
“Stop badgering her,” Madeline said. “She’s not ready to talk.”
An argument ensued. I was left staring at a gray ceiling with an attached rail that encircled us with a heavy plastic curtain. I realized, not until that moment, that I couldn’t move. My body was like wet metal shavings, the table hard and cold. Madeline made the keyboard dance while Ben fiddled with a tray of medical tools.
That’s when the memories came.
I remembered Christmas and my dog and the time Simon brought flowers to work and sang and I blushed. I remembered all the little good things and the little bad things, how they hurt and how they pleased. That’s when I smiled.
“There,” Madeline said. “Give her the mirror.”
Ben stuck something in my hand. He lifted my naked arm, wrapping his hand around my dead fingers. I saw my red hair spread over my shoulders. My skin was fair and my eyes were green, like emeralds.
“Heather.” I watched my lips move. That was my name.
Madeline kept tapping the keyboard. Ben danced around the table and rubbed my hands and legs. The feeling came back with pins and needles. The sensations came in dense waves, as if my body had fallen asleep. Ben massaged my arms and shoulders and feet. I sank into the incoming tide of memories to escape the discomfort, each one a jewel that reminded me who I was.
There was sledding and the time I learned to drive and a funeral and my first kiss. I remembered my life.
Ben was rushing to the other side when he slipped. Falling, he grabbed the curtain. The metal rings pinged as the plastic ripped away. We weren’t in a small room, not like I thought. I let my head roll to the side. I saw more tables like the one beneath me. On them were nude women with red hair spilled over their shoulders and fair skin. Their eyes were closed, but I knew they were green.
“Damn it, Ben.” The keyboard clattered at high speed.
And those sweet, sweet memories went away.