Author: Iain Macleod

Drop pods are not made for comfort. They are made to launch a soldier at supersonic speed from a dropship, fly him into position and decelerate fast enough to prevent impact from killing but at the same time not so fast that the g-forces from deceleration crushed him into soup. It was a fine line and only 92 percent of launches were successful. Earth Gov Military called that an acceptable loss rate, at least it was acceptable for the 22nd Britanic Company, a unit comprised of poor working class people, ex-cons and other detritus from the lower rungs of society.

Eivan’s breathing was fast as the restraints closed down on him. Six thousand men would be launched in the next 12 minutes from hundreds of bays along either side of the ship. Eivans number was 2895 which would put his launch time at about 5 and a half minutes or so. Sweet Mary, the AI that would guide every pod through its journey, was loading his flight path and any relevant visual info of the area he was to land in, obtained from the pods that had gone before. The carnage was unbelievable. Smoke billowed everywhere, ragged lines of Earth Gov soldiers engaged in furious battle, some pushing forward, some being pushed back.

Roughly three minutes until go and the horrendous roar of constant launches was deafening. Pods were being fed to the launchers like bullets in a magazine and the rough lurch every time the launcher fired and moved him closer to the front was jarring. Eivans heart rate was high. Approx 160bpm and rising according to his HUD. Eivan closed his eyes as the stim package meant to help with the severe g-forces involved started flowing into his veins through the restraint system. Once he hit the ground he knew that the flight stim package would change to the combat stim package and he would come out of his pod a screaming maniac with nothing in his mind but bloodlust.

Tears started to well up in his eyes as the fear of what was to come gripped his heart. Thirty seconds until go. They said in training to count down from ten to one in your head to control the panic but Eivan couldn’t do it. He was in full panic mode as the restraints spread out their micro tendrils across his whole body rendering him completely immobile. He tried to scream but it was muffled and almost inaudible over the hellish orchestra of pod launches. One last lurch. Eivan tried to fight against his restraints but it was no use. HUD changes from white to red. Launch in 10. The pod shifts as the launcher grabs it and orients it for the best angle on his flight path. Horrible whine starts to build as the kinetic energy builds in the launcher cells. Three, two, one, Launch. Eivan feels the huge impact and crushing force like a building has been dropped on him. Even the panic in his mind is subdued by the intensity of the crushing g-forces as his pod hurtles to its destination.

Just another soldier into the meat grinder.


Author: Ann Zimmerman

“The treatments aren’t working,” I tell my assistant, Marcy. From the observation window, we watch our prisoner writhe on the sterile bed. Marcy increases the output and the patient screams. His tortured body begins to convulse.

“Shut it down,” I order as I rush into the room.

His eyes are wide open. “The same nightmare?” I ask.

He licks his lips and mutters, “I murdered them.”

Marcy escorts the delirious convict back to his cell.

I need to review my Serenity program. It’s been 100% effective in rehabilitating criminals, until now. We’ve never seen such a horrific response. Instead of erasing the nightmares, it seems to be magnifying them.

I place the electrode band on my own head and punch start. I see purple columbines, hear the rushing creek, feel the cool breeze. I am surrounded by aspens and mountains. How can this beauty cause such distress?

Then the calming scene fades. Now, I observe a couple in bed. I feel myself raise my arms. Suddenly, I am slamming an ax into one sleeper’s head. As his blood soaks the sheets, his wife awakens, screaming in terror.

I yank the headband off. My hair is wet with sweat. I’m hyperventilating. My heart races. I hear Marcy enter behind me. I turn. “Someone’s hacked Serenity,” I shout.

Marcy’s fists tighten and her body stiffens. “I know,” she says. “Some criminals don’t deserve to forget.”


“That monster,” she replies, “took an ax and slaughtered my parents.”


Author: David Henson

Randall disengages from his charging port when Director Gravasin of the Institute for Research on Eternal Life enters the office. “Good morning, Director. It’s early. Are you getting enough sleep?”

“Don’t start, Randall. Activate the Cellular Decay Reversal Team report.”

Randall connects to the company network, and a hologram of Madame Decoud begins pacing around the room as she presents.

Gravasin shakes his head. “Replay the previous 30 seconds.”

“Yes, sir. Rewinding.” The holo begins walking backwards, then stops and repeats the segment.

“Kill it,” the Director mutters.

The hologram begins moving in reverse again. “Oops,” Randall chuckles. “Let’s try that again.” This time the hologram disappears.

“Tell Decoud the CDR Team needs to be more aggressive. Also, I can’t make today’s employee meeting on Company Values. Get Communications to script my holo.”

“Are you sure? It would be good to have exposure to–”

“You heard me, Randall. Now activate the Competitive Intelligence report on LiveForever Labs.”

A holo of Etienne Rodriguez, the CI manager, appears. “Fast forward to the conclusions,” Gravasin says. The holo blurs ahead.

“I’ve got to light a fire under the CDR Team,” the Director says when he hears LiveForever Labs is about to announce a Reanimation breakthrough. “Schedule a working lunch with Rodriguez.”

“That’s not good for your digestion, sir.”

“Randall, are you my mother or my Sentient Assistant?”

“Sorry. You know my algorithms require me to try to do what’s best for you…Director, remember Robby’s birthday. You were going to slip out to buy him a gift.”

“No time. Please handle it.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if you–”


“Sorry.” Randall walks to the office window. “Let’s see how the birds are today.” He looks at a robins’ nest in the maple outside the window.

“No time, Randall.” Gravasin starts to close the blinds. “Oh, they hatched.” The Director leans close to the window as an adult bird sticks its beak into the throat of a chick. Suddenly a blue jay swoops into the nest, knocking the grown robin away and snatching a chick. A second chick topples out of the nest.

The Director recoils. “Poor little things…Before I was Director, when I had more time, I had bird feeders all around our yard.”

“I saw you listed bird-watching as a hobby when you first applied at the Institute.” Gravasin looks at Randall, who continues quickly: “I read your personnel file … so I could better support you.”

The Director steps back to the window and looks at the disheveled nest. “People think I’m all business. But I’m just busy. Immortality’s a big challenge, Randall…Think I’ll take a walk and clear my mind.”

“You could pick up a gift for Robby.”

“Actually, that’s not a bad idea.”

“And maybe you could make the speech yourself at the Values meeting.”

“No, too busy. My holo will handle it. I still need you to set up a lunch meeting with Rodriguez, too.”

“Oh…yes, sir.”

“And get Maintenance to take down that nest. It won’t be safe from the jays now. The robins need to try somewhere else.”

“Will do. Be careful of the traffic, sir,” Randall says as the Director leaves.

When he’s alone, Randall returns to the window. Outside a bluejay soars backwards and drops a baby robin into the nest. The second chick somersaults back in. “Oops,” Randall says to himself. “Let’s try that again.” This time the nest and birds disappear. Randall opens the window and removes three tiny holo projectors from the ledge.

“Update to Project Gravasin,” Randall says. “Some progress today. Phase 2 tomorrow.”

The Reality Next Door

Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

A savannah night is interrupted by the snarls of attacking lions. I hear screams, see flashes of weapons as wielders fall. They keep popping in. I’ve become adept at making sure they don’t leave.
While watching, my mind returns – as usual – to the afternoon I got this job: I’d been listening to a UN council vacillating when Colonel Verdi, our military liaison, threw her hands up in frustration and turned to me, the head of her security detail.
“Captain Miran, do you have an opinion?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Share it. A fresh view might help.”
“You’ll all have to excuse me for using gross simplifications of the science involved. Not my speciality, I’m afraid.” I saw smiles.
“Nine years ago, we discovered lateral dimensional travel. Minutes after that first ‘side-slip’ happened, people appeared. All over the world, where none had been moments before. Eventually, these visitors proved, to a select audience, that they were from Heasa – the Earth in the dimension ‘on our left’.
They’d been visiting us unseen for years because our reality ‘ignored’ them as they didn’t originate here and we hadn’t the science to get there. When we discovered the science, our reality incorporated the visitors in a ‘flash adjustment’.”
“We know the history, Captain.”
“Just showing where I’m coming from, ma’am. So, we soon worked out there’s a dimension ‘on our right’. The Heasans knew about it. – Seems they can view further than adjacent realities. – According to them, Euralyn hosts a global dictatorship that knows about and wants Earth. We’re safe until someone in this reality side-slips to Euralyn, letting their technologically superior, billion-strong army in. The invasion after that would likely be Heasa. That’s our real problem.”
“What would we do if the situation were reversed? Given how few humans know, we’d frame it as ‘only them, or them and us’. Executive action would be authorised. We’d exterminate the Heasans. Probably turn the place into a toxic wasteland as well. Just to prevent any outside chance of Euralyn scouring the ruins and finding a hint.”
“Heasa wants to work with us!”
I pointed toward the delegate who spoke: “Some do, some don’t. We’ve been contacted by Heasan groups not aligned to the main faction, and what we’ve got from correlating what they say – and what they don’t – shows a world much like ours, but with four superpowers. Two want to ally, two want to exterminate. Thankfully, their populations know about side-slipping and about Earth. Right now, their public is overwhelmingly in favour of trying to save us.”
“Your suggestions?”
“Heasan visitors remain sub rosa. We quietly embargo side-slip research and enforce it viciously. Then we work with the ‘save’ factions. As a precaution, all factions will be monitored: for obvious things like attack, but also to prevent subterfuge, disclosure or discovery of topics that could adversely affect our standing. Anything deemed undesirable will have to be neutralised by information manipulation or by those involved suffering arranged incidents, fatal or otherwise. No matter what, nothing can be attributable to us.”
There was silence. Voting screens lit. A flurry of activity culminated in Colonel Verdi turning to me and saying: “Congratulations, Major Miran. You’ll be commander of SDS – the Special Defence Service. I’ll need an initial roster to me by next Tuesday.”
That was three years ago-
Movement! Some Heasan’s risen to run for it while the lions feed on his companions.
My bullet tears through, being way overpowered for soft targets. Scavengers will obscure my handiwork.
The savannah’s beautiful. As long as we SDS do our jobs, it’ll stay that way.

In My Image

Author: Richard Wren

Grampa Leg heaved his large, square frame from the floor and trundled across the family room to where the youngster sat. Deep in concerned thought, the child twiddled his long fingers, picking at the rubbery fingertips. Ma watched from the corner of the room while doing her chores. She had almost completed another head. Its blue-tinted eyes looked up, already curious and blinking.
“You okay, Boy?” Grampa sat next to the worried youngster, their bodies apparently identical.
“I guess so, Grampa. It just feels funny, yknow?”
Grampa knew. He had given birth many times. “It may feel strange the first time, Son, but its nature’s way. Afterward, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.”
He draped his long, flexible arm around the first-timer. “Then I’ll have to stop calling you ‘Son’.”
It was true. Afterward, he would have a name – just like Grampa Leg or Aunt Carapace. Ma was different, of course. Ma was special. He looked across to her for reassurance.
She had just connected the new head and was now fastening on some casing plates, holding her creation firmly to stop it wriggling as bits were added. It was always good to watch Ma at work – homely and comforting.
The sudden feeling in his belly brought his thoughts back to immediate issues. “It’s started” he whispered.
Grampa Leg leaned closer to listen. There was a faint hum and sound of sprayed liquids from deep in the guts. “Yep, it’s started. It shouldn’t take long now, Boy.”
From all around the family room, the others waved or nodded their good wishes but no-one came closer. Ma had nearly finished her new youngster and looked around for any more components.
Grampa continued listening. Now the sounds were a series of clicks and whirrs. The rhythmic noises stopped. “I think you’re done. The next bit is going to feel a little strange, but don’t worry.”
As if the warning had been a trigger, there was a sensation that the youngster had never felt before. It was like the front of his abdomen was going to split in half. Then it did.
A section of his front carapace lifted and slid to the side, dripping sticky threads and revealing a deep cavity. Warmth and strange smells drifted out of the unexpected and obscene hole.
“Oh God, this is too weird!”
“Just keep calm.” Without a fuss, Grampa reached into the moist hollow and removed its contents. He held it, still glistening, for the boy to see.
“Congratulations Son. Or should I call you ‘Brains’?”
Taking the newly created memory unit from Grampa Leg, Brains used his other hand to close his newly discovered door. It still felt sensitive as it clicked back into place. “Thanks, Grampa. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Of course you could. Now go on – show it to Ma.”
Feeling happy and relaxed now, Brains accepted the congratulations of the family as he crossed the room to present his firstborn to Ma. She took it with her own personal nod of congratulations, her body also identical to his and to every other family member. Only her function was different.
Glowing, Brains watched as Ma started on a new head to hold his memory unit. Brains’ square body, manipulator arms, and short wheeled legs seemed to shine with happiness in the lights of the family room, as did a small plastic label on his back that evolution had not bothered to remove or change in a thousand years.
“Industrial 3D printer, Intelliprint Corporation 2035.”

Louder Than Words

Author: Mina

Captain Agnes Parker rubbed the back of her sore neck and rolled her shoulders. If anyone had told her how many tedious tasks a captain had to deal with every week… Currently, she was examining the ship supply lists as certain items kept going astray. She lived for such events of interstellar importance. In desperation, she began to go through the latest delivery of com-keys. It was the third key she plugged in that grabbed her by the throat.

– “Hey, Aggie… It feels so odd to say something other than Captain and ma’am after this last year. I’m not complaining… I know I deserved the deep freeze you put me into… I want so much to apologise again, but you told me once that actions speak louder than words. So… I’ve added my medical data for the last year, which should tell you more than any words could… I checked the rosters and we both have the same four-day break coming up. I’ll wait every evening between 6 and 9 at our old table in the rec area. If you feel there is nothing left to say, I’ll accept it and start looking for a new posting on another fleet ship.”


Lieutenant Riordan Morris sipped his drink slowly. One more hour and hope would officially be lost. He felt so tired and on the verge of tears. Big, strapping blokes did not cry though, so he would have to swallow hard and move on. If nothing else, this year had brought a measure of self-knowledge and balance he had sorely lacked before.

A quiet voice interrupted his musings:
– “Is this seat taken?”
He looked up and did not even try to hide the myriad of emotions that crossed his face – relief, trepidation, hope and cautious delight.
– “No, I mean yes, it is now. Can I get you a drink?”
– “I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
He waved at the server, ordered more of the same and they sat in painful silence until the drink arrived. She raised her eyebrows in surprise at her first sip.
– “Guava juice, Rio?”
– “What, you don’t think it will make hairs grow on my chest?”
Aggie laughed. Then she cut straight to the chase. Aggie had never been one for doing war dances around bushes.
– “I looked at the medical data you sent me. Your weekly blood tests show that you haven’t touched any alcohol for almost twelve months. That was… good to see. Also, your daily gym routine has reduced your BMI back to more than healthy levels. Um, I’m not sure I needed the ejaculation data showing no sexual activity, apart from five minutes in the shower every morning.”
– “I needed you to see that I could stay sober and be faithful.”
– “But we haven’t been in a relationship for over a year now. And I certainly didn’t remain celibate.”
Rio winced:
-“I didn’t expect you to. You didn’t have anything to prove.”
– “Neither did you.”
– “Yeah, I did. I knew when you wouldn’t accept my apology after how I behaved when you got your promotion that I had to prove to you I could stop the drinking and keep it in my pants.”
– “Why?”
– “Because you getting the promotion instead of me wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was you leaving me… And I knew I had to clean up my act for myself too before I pissed away what was left of my career after the official reprimand.”

There was a long pause and then Aggie reached out and touched his hand:
– “Ok. I guess I’m ready to talk now.”