Blue Planet

Author : Christina Richard

The walls of our Ford Starblazer convulsed as we broke the atmosphere of the tiny blue planet and hurtled through the gray haze of clouds, down towards a sprawling, rocky plane. Outside, there was a violent noise of metal ripping away from the body of our ship. Next to me, Harris’s teeth slammed together inside his skull, his eyes bright and narrow, his knuckles white peaks of bone on the controls as he fought like hell to keep us right-side up. Volcanic rock, reddish black and gaping with craters, grimaced, waiting for us.

“Here we go,” said Harris. Harris’s military training as a warship pilot was one of the only reasons I was still alive, but I closed my eyes anyway and felt the stomach-emptying plunge of our landing toss my bones around like a handful of pickup sticks. Somehow, Harris never seemed afraid, and maybe that was one of the reasons I kept flying with him, even after Williams and Carson were incinerated. That, and neither of us could afford a better ship.

When Harris said we could make it to a blue planet near enough to land on, I thought he read the map wrong again; why hadn’t the Pan-Asian Alliance sold it to the senior executive of some fuel company yet? Most of the blue planets had been turned into private resorts and were surrounded by battle-quality drones that wasted precious resources to incinerate drifters like us. People who could afford to breathe real oxygen and drink real water on the shore of some space beach under the light of two or three glorious suns did not like to be reminded that we were out here, floating amongst the asteroids, just hoping we had enough scrap metal to trade in for another day’s supply of fuel. We were always asking for air to breathe, water to drink, and hell, maybe even some real food, and they hated us because of it.

As we emerged, a burnt, brackish smell rose from the ship. Underneath me, my knees buckled, and I fell to the ground. My hands sank into dark silt. Harris was massaging his shoulder, and I saw him biting his lip through the plastic screen of the helmet that pumped low-grade, synthetic oxygen into his lungs. He looked up to the sky, which was the color of a storm. A thick cloud drifted past a mountaintop, uncovering the sliver of a moon.

I heard the sharp click of Harris removing his helmet. He tucked it under his arm, his shoulders sagged as he inhaled, and a shiver of pleasure rushed down his spine. His laughter echoed into the deserted, rocky plane we stood on. “I can breathe!” He said.

With less than an eighth of a tank remaining, we had found this place, a tiny, blue planet, mostly ocean with an emerald of land in the middle.

It seemed too good to be true; at any moment, drones could emerge from behind the mountains, their missiles targeting us before we even heard the metallic hum of their engines. I put my hands on either side of my helmet and felt my chest tighten, wondering if I dared.

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Poet224

Author : Suzanne Borchers

“Armpits must stink, be hairy and itch,
While snot pours down the hooked- nosed witch.”

Threading his fingers through his hair, Robert squatted next to his prototype. The Poet224 bot definitely needed more work. Okay, his rhythm and rhyme senses were in play, but what could be done with word choice? Robert opened a panel behind the bot’s right ear to gain access to language boards. He pulled out a blinking tri-pin and replaced it with new one.

“Poet224, create a poem and recite it aloud.”

“There once was a mare named Snow White
Whose eyes were a color quite bright
She jumped over a tree
To follow a flea
And managed a circular flight.”

Robert beat his head with a fist. This bot was his last chance to sell his idea that poetry could be produced by anyone using a computer–that technology could do and be anything for anybody–and that music, art, and all the former creative expositions were rubbish. His PhD thesis in Computer Science was not wrong. He had spent 23 months on it, and time was money after all. He wanted the college’s Google Seat of Technology post!

Perhaps he should start small and build up a scaffolding poetic intelligence. “Poet224, create a poem of three words and recite it aloud.”

“Mass
Of
Ass”

“You stupid piece of crap!” Robert paced around the bot. “You have intelligence, knowledge, plus a special emotion-chip stored in your artificial brain. You should be able to produce a simple, rational poem. I must have forgotten something.”

Poet224 swiveled its head to watch Robert circle.

Robert stopped pacing, and then he laughed. “That’s it! Time! I have lots of time! I’ll let Dad buy the academic post like he wanted to months ago, and then I can work on this thesis forever!” He reached down and placed Poet224 on the recycling bin’s conveyor belt. “Poet 224, create a poem and recite it aloud now, you hunk of shit.” Robert left, slamming the door behind him.

Poet 224 spun his head around to watch Robert leave, and then he swiveled it back to watch the approaching door of the recycling bin open.

“The irony of Time
lies in that moment
when its epiphany
dies unknown.”

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Cheap Eggs

Author : Callum Wallace

“A spray bottle?”

“That’s right,” she smiled merrily, pulling her gloves further up her arms. “To make it easier to apply.”

I stared, deadpan. “A spray.”

She nodded. “Have you tried pouring a bath of this stuff? It’s difficult to test the effects on larger animals. And the small ones just dissolve.”

My stomach danced unhappily at the thought. Kept my face straight. “How small? Like a frog?”

The smile faltered for a moment. “No, I said small. Bacteria, amoebas. Small.”

I looked down at the spray bottle, so innocent in the clinical light. All that was missing was a little label declaring it killed 99.9% of germs, with a hint of lemon.

“That’s alright then.”

I moved to take it, but she snatched it away.

“Probably best if I handle it, Sir, wouldn’t want any accidental discharge would we?”

I nodded. ”When will it be ready?”

“Depends on what you do with it.” I roll my hand to prompt her. “Well, for local area usage it would yield perhaps a ninety percent mortality rate.
“Buildings like schools, churches, office blocks and so on would have a lower rate at first, but as the chemical worms its way through the glass and brick, the rate would quickly increase.”

“A timescale, please.”

She drummed on the bottle. “Approximately twenty-four months, give or take. We’re still testing the effects on living tissue, as you—“

I cut her off, the eggs from the cheap flight breakfast still churning from her last vivid description. “That plastic,” I indicated the squeezable spray bottle she coddled, “is already immune to the chemical, correct?”

She glanced down, then nodded.

“And how easy to produce is that particular plastic?”

She blinked. “Exceedingly difficult, I’d imagine. It’s a complex string of polymers and—“

“A timescale, please.”

Her smile faded completely now. I felt a tug at the heartstrings, fighting with the queasy grumble in my gut, but didn’t show it. She mumbled under downcast eyes. “Four months, maybe less.”

I patted the slick plastic over her shoulder.
“That’s good. Continue your tests. Start even bigger. Cats, dogs, apes.” A greasy lurch threatens to betray me, but I stifle it. “Then begin human trials.” I swallow. “Children first.”

She looked up, eyes twinkling. “Already? That’s very good news! Human safety trials were projected for next year, at best.”

I smile again. “Well, I’m pushing things forward. I have faith. I’ll send you the amended timescale once the board agrees on the precise application of your chemical.”

She beamed at me. “Care for another demonstration? I’m sure bio has some mice—”

“No, no, that’s quite alright. One was enough, thank you.”

I take my leave hurriedly.

In the corridor my breakfast emerges into the obligatory rubber plant found in every large-scale organisation’s buildings, and I’m sweating. I wipe vomit from my suit and adjust the corporate name badge.

Modern business was getting so hard. Used to be corporations sold weapons to the highest bidder, cut costs on public services, and all the other wholesome activities big money attracts, the kind of evil everyone knew about and couldn’t have cared less regardless.

Now we’re melting kids, and I’ve got vomit on my suit.

And what’s with this airplane food?

Damned cheap eggs.

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Manter’s End

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The office is derelict, with many more overturned chairs than collapsed desks. Filing cabinets stand crooked and burst, the once-precious burdens they held now repurposed as nesting materials or fodder.

A few plasticised pieces of paper flick or wave in the desultory breeze, which enters through the hole where the wall collapsed into the alley – the piles of masonry broken by the protruding bones of some unfortunate caught in the fall.

Tonight the scavengers of this dank corridor, where the river Thames is slowly winning a guerrilla war against the low-end, are moving cautiously around the derelict office. In the only sturdy corner, one of the desks has been righted, and a chair placed behind it. In that chair a shadowed figure sits, the glowlight on the desk angled away, making the shadows of the alley seem more menacing.

In the alley, the new patches of inky dark cede before a black figure, who waits by the edge of the hole, invisible to the one who waits within.

“You know they’re going to blame you for this, don’t you?” The voice from behind the desk is conversational and cultured.

“I’m not responsible.” The reply from the shadows of the alley is guttural to the point of incomprehensibility.

“I did not say you were at fault. I said you were going to be blamed. It is a subtle difference; only for those directly affected.”

“What my sib did is not on me. Whyfor you blame me? Seek the one who held my sib in thrall.”

“Your sib, and you, are an urban legend, living testament to the errors of the early animorph projects. With your body in the light, the sensation will cause the spotlight to fall elsewhere. A monster is better for headlines than some convoluted plot about a chip and its maker.”

“My sibs are not for your diversions, Mister Manter. You should have looked elsewhere for them.”

The figure behind the desk quietly presses the button on a small, secure transmitter. The winds picks up, and the dark beyond the fading illumination of the glowlight seems to deepen. The figure behind the desk quirks his head, as if an expected event has not occurred.

A clawed hand extends into view. The pallid scales are almost obscured by dried blood. In that massive grip, a receiver flashes silently.

“We are not man-made mutants, Mister Manter. My father watched the sons of the Third Reich rain bombs upon this city, and his father swam through the bodies drifting away from the Great Fire. I venture that I will live to see all the outcomes of tonight’s endeavours. You, however…”

The voice growled into silence, and Mister Manter launched himself from behind the desk, his Sireo chargegun punching fist-sized holes through the outer wall.

“Damn you, Sharktor! You’ll not take me!”

The thrum of a compressor-pulse shotgun was nearly lost in the Sireo’s howl, but the impact wasn’t. It caught Manter in the kidneys and threw him through the hole in the wall.

As he ricocheted off the opposite alley wall, a gigantic hand swatted him down. Manter’s remaining breath left him in a rush as he slammed into the ground

“My name is Chak’tur, and I have no intention of taking you, Mister Manter. Here is as good a place as any for you to die.”

Manter gritted his teeth and turned his head – in time to see the monstrous, clawed foot descending.

A sudden scream rolls through the darkness, then cuts off, leaving only echoes to fade.

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The UFO

Author : Harris Tobias

The night Janet saw the UFO was the night she threw Frank out of her life. She had just finished dumping all his stuff—clothes, records, comic book collection—into several black plastic garbage bags and placed them on the lawn in a neat row. Let him come home to that, the miserable excuse for a man. She’d had a hell of a day— a visit to Planned Parenthood with her mom. Frank was too busy to or too squeamish to be present, the hypocrite. His idea of fatherhood didn’t extend any further than the end of his penis, the prick.

The plastic bags looked like aliens lined up on the lawn in front of the trailer. Their shiny black skins reflecting the moonlight. Just four bags. That was all it took to get him out of her life. Four bags and four plastic tubs of comic books. Franks precious comic book collection. The only thing he really cared about.

How could she have ever expected anything more from a big baby like Frank? Already the trailer seemed more open, more room to breathe, more space both physically and emotionally. Goodbye and good riddance, Janet breathed the first breaths of un-oppressed air in two years and she liked the way it felt.

Comic books. What a metaphor for her life. Her life read like a tawdry magazine filled with every cliche in the book. Frank cared more for his comics than anything else. He’d spend hours with them. “They’re going to take care of us in our old age,” he would say as though that justified the time he spent. How could someone be so anal about one thing and a complete slob about another? He’d leave the rooms a filthy mess but his precious collection was the example of organization, every book lovingly covered in plastic, labeled, cataloged and filed away for posterity. And where was the prick now? At some stupid comic convention.

He lived in a fantasy world, a comic book world of super heroes and impossible villains. Impossible things, that’s what Frank believed in. That’s why they could never get along because, deep down, she was a practical girl who liked practical things, real things, like a regular paycheck and regular meals. Silly, regular stuff like that. That’s why she was the one with the stupid job while Frank read the want ads and comic books.

When every last bit of Frank’s stuff was outside, it began to rain. Janet went in and fixed herself a seven and seven and sat down at the tiny table in the tiny kitchen. She looked out of the window. She could see Frank’s stuff outside in the moonlight lined up like an invading army of dumpy alien ninjas and laughed to herself. Frank would appreciate that image.

She was having her second drink when she saw it. At first she thought it was the moon, it was so bright and round and other worldly, but the shape was wrong and it was moving horizontally across the sky very slowly, behaving in a most un-moonlike way. The object hovered over the trailer park for a while then darted away as if spooked by something. A UFO, Janet thought to herself almost giddy with the novelty of it. Frank would be jealous that he wasn’t here to see it. I saw a UFO she thought just before the tears came.

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One Way

Author : Rosalie Kempthorne

“Are you quite sure you want to do this?” He was asked that question again.

And once again he answered “Yes.”

“This is a one-way trip.”

“Yes, I understand.” I know what I’m signing up for.

But not without signing yet again. Another form, crawling with fine-type, a cramped little box at the bottom for him to try to fit his signature. Rogan signed. There was no need to think about it, he’d already signed these documents five – no, six – times since he’d first been approved for the expedition. He’d had all the time he needed to reconsider his choice. Why would I? What the hell do I have keeping me here?

Somebody must have been satisfied, because the doors slid open and a hallway lit up – glowing green footprints on the floor showed him where to go.

When he reached the completion chamber, he saw that about half the pods were already occupied, the other half open, inviting their next guest inside. To the right of him a woman had just completed her cycle. Rogan didn’t mean to be rude, didn’t mean to stare so openly, but this was the first time he’d seen the process in real life.

She was wet with translucent gel, and still groggy, her hair knotted and plastered against the sides of her newly sculpted head. Her skin had turned golden, not really skin now but very fine scales. Gills stood out clearly against her neck. Third and fourth eyes were only just beginning to open. Heavy shoulders, stretched limbs – they’d be weird getting used to. But necessary. This form was ideally suited for survival on the planet’s surface – cheaper and less restrictive than a life spent in environmental suits.

The whole process took only a couple of hours.

It made sense.

It was all just so… permanent.

A company technician in a green, knee-length coat was waiting beside the pod, holding out another form for Rogan to sign.

“Are you sure you want to go ahead with completion?”

“Yes, I’m still sure.” He wondered if he’d grow to find them attractive: transformed women like the one he’d just seen. How long before the face he’d see in the mirror would start to seem like his own again? How long would it seem like an intruder in his life?

I’m sure, he thought to himself, I’m sure.

“This is a one-way trip,” the technician reminded him.

“Yes. Yes.” He scrawled a signature over the screen and waited for the pod to open. Two glowing footprints showed him where to stand; the green, fetal image of a human figure showed him where to lie, how to curl into the bright, fiber-glass womb. Well, this time, he thought, I’ll remember being born.

He resisted the instinct to close his eyes as a thick gel seeped into the chamber. It was warm and fizzing against his skin, then cool, as his skin adjusted. Once submerged, there was only brightness, over-white lights shining and refracting through gel, pinpoints of light impersonating stars, a sense of void, just outside the reach of his vision. As wires came out and found their target in the last few minutes of entirely human flesh, as a cool silence oozed down around him, Rogan felt perfectly calm at last. Whatever came from this he would be new, rewritten, repaired – in a genuine sense, reborn. He’d open four eyes and he’d see another universe.

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