Author : Olivia Black, Staff Writer
“What is wrong with that cat?” Jacob grumbled under his breath what was easily the millionth time. All morning the furry creature had been meowing like something was very wrong in the world. He didn’t get it. The thing had food, fresh water and the door to his tiny little balcony was left open so it could sun itself, but somehow, none of that was enough for the demanding little beast.
He vividly remembered the day Marna had brought over the cat and flushed with frustration. It hadn’t occurred to her to consult him before presenting him with a mewling, ventilated box as if she were doing him the biggest favour in the world. His sister was always taking it upon herself to improve his life. Had she broached the topic with him first he would have suggested adopting an older animal instead, something calmer and less likely to be a living terror like this one was.
Having the creature in his workspace had been an unmitigated disaster so far. It chewed on cables, knocked over stacks of books and papers and had spilled his coffee all over his desk, ruining his keyboard no fewer than three times. Not to mention the constant din that issued from its gaping maw as it glared at him with judging eyes.
Not for the first time, Jacob wondered how mad Marna would be if he simply put the thing out on the street. He’d gotten less work done in the last month than at any other point in his career and his deadlines weren’t going to wait.
“MeeOW!” The yowling cut through his thoughts t the precise moment he’d set his fingers to the keyboard.
“What do you want from me, cat?” he demanded. He was two meows away from having cat stew for dinner. As he was about to open his mouth to say as much, the cat ran into the room chasing a glowing ball of blue light.
“What the hell?” Jacob stood with his mouth hanging open. The orb flew over to his shelves of books, rising up to seemingly scan each one.This couldn’t possibly be happening. He must have finally lost his mind, just like Marna had always predicted he would if he didn’t change.
After several moments the orb refocused on Jacob. He froze, wholly unprepared for this moment. The cat ran from the room with a hiss as the orb drew near. The light from it cast a sallow hue on his skin when he reached out to touch it. The orb shied away from the tentative contact to flit around the room in distress until it found the door.
“Wait! Come back!” Jacob called as he chased after it. It was either madness or scientific curiosity but he needed to follow this through. The orb was nearly outside of his apartment complex by the time he caught sight of it again. He was breathing hard and drenched in sweat as he burst onto the sidewalk, startling innocent bystanders.
The orb floated across the street and Jacob bounded after it, heedless of the loud honking. Too late, he turned his head to see the truck speeding towards him, only seconds away from turning him into paste.
“Huh, that actually worked,” Borlax said as he deactivated the targeting drone.
“I told you these hairless primates aren’t much smarter than silla,” Ludex said with a self-satisfied grin.
“Shall we try another?” Borlax no longer begrudged the diversion from their mission.
“Okay, but pick a female this time. They jiggle almost like a paroc when they run.”
Author : Aaron Koelker
Two Cardinalis cardinalis, the northern cardinal. Five Zenaida macroura, the mourning dove. One Toxostoma rufum, the brown thrasher. And the highlight of the excursion – one Pandion haliaetus, an osprey! I couldn’t wait to tell Maria, but for now I only had Ron’s apathetic ear.
We hefted our packs upon our shoulders, took up the instruments in their polypropylene cases and set off for the CP. The thick bed of pine needles beneath our boots made the walk more bearable, and the cool steady breeze told us autumn had finally made its way south. We picked our way through derelict neighborhoods of crumbling gingerbread houses drowned in kudzu and sunshine.
Crossing the river where the interstate once did, we paused to plunge the sonde into dark waters and recorded the numbers. From the far bank came a splash that I thought might be Mugil cephalus, the striped mullet, but neither of us had gotten a good look.
We made the CP just before dark and I told Maria about what we’d seen. She and Sarah had seen Dryocopus pileatus, the pileated woodpecker, but the osprey would become the talk of the CP. It marked another confirmed apex predator, and was the latest in a string of positive indicators for the region. With any luck the council would approve resettlement by this time next year.
Sara wandered off for dinner and Maria led me by the hand to their tent. I gave her a kiss and was about to try for more when she stopped me.
“Have you thought about staying yet, Harold?”
“You mean here?” I asked.
“Yes, when they resettle. Mild weather all year round. More water and sunshine than we’d know what to do with…”
“A little. But what about Tom and Jenna back on the colonies?”
“I think they’d understand, don’t you?”
“Well, when the resettlement gets approved those applications are going to go fast.”
“I know. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“I think so.”
“Let me think on it some more.”
“Don’t think too hard,” she said with a smile, pulling me down onto the cot alongside her.
At the evening debriefing Ron and I reported our findings and were met with generous applause, and the following day we were dispatched eastward along the coast. It was midmorning by the time we arrived and the tide was low, leaving a wide, sloping beach littered with sargassum weed and small white crabs, Ocypode quadrata, darting in and between. I was watching a pair fight over an old plastic bottle cap when a thunderous boom sounded from overhead and frightened them back into their burrows. Two gulls, Larus delawarensis, hiding in the dunes behind took flight and made for sea, chanting in protest.
“Another colony ship,” said Ron, pointing.
The massive vessel plowed its way through the afternoon clouds, heading somewhere north and deeper inland. Sand from the top of the nearest dune broke loose under the vibrations of its thrust and collapsed quietly. I was drawn back to the gulls by their incessant screeching.
“Do you think this planet is ready for us to come back?” I asked Ron.
“They’re talking about resettlement here within the year.”
“I know what we think. But did anyone ask them yet?” I gestured to the birds, now almost invisible against the sun-clad waves. “I just wonder what makes us so important when we seem to screw up the most.”
I looked to Ron for an answer but he was already walking toward the dunes. When I turned back to find the birds, they were gone.
Author : Mark Cowling
I had Dad drop me off at the rear of the complex. Last time I didn’t know better and rolled up to the front, got swarmed by the news-crews and the paps and like a thousand screaming fanboys. It was super embarrassing to be driven there by my parents, but I’m only fifteen so I needed them to sign a bunch of contracts and stuff.
I made my way past security and then I get escorted to makeup by two dudes with crewcuts and sidearms. They tell me you have to have makeup because of the cameras, everyone does it. While some guy is messing with my hair, he’s pumping me for info. How did I get here? Am I nervous? That kind of thing. People are always looking for some kind of story but there isn’t much to say. I’m just a normal kid with good grades and no drama. My father expected me to become a doctor like him and my aunt, but no parent would stop their kid from going pro. The sponsorship alone is seven figures.
This was to be the first time I got my hands dirty. Before, they didn’t let me near the action. I had to see this guy who I guess was a psychiatrist. He was asking a bunch of questions he read off a form and didn’t really seem to care if I gave one word answers. Some people don’t think kids should even be given contracts, but it’s a simple fact that our reaction times are better. So they passed a bill or whatever and here I am.
I first started taking things seriously at thirteen – which was when I chose the dorky tag I’m now stuck with: MegaKillz. After only a few months of playing on the semi-pro circuit, I won back to back events and that was the first time it had happened like that for a kid my age. Soon after that second win I got the call-up from the US Armed Services.
After the makeup people were done, the crewcuts lead me through to the control room. Looking around, I had to try and keep my cool. Some of the biggest names in gaming were there, including the big man himself, Merlin. Merlin was ancient as far as the pro game goes at twenty-nine. The man was a legend; his last feed got the highest ratings ever on the US Army’s Freedom of Information channel. Which just about makes it the highest ratings of anything ever.
I was too nervous to speak to anyone so just followed the crewcuts who took me to my plugin. I was still more used to playing in the sims than real life, but everything was real natural in the tests the army made me run. I made a few little movements and the symbiot reacted good, minimal timelag.
“Hey kid, don’t sweat it,” Merlin said, shouting above the noise. I looked around like a fool before realising he was talking to me. He flashed me that famous, doped-up smile. “Hey, the blood and shit don’t even look as real.”
I turned back to my screens and hoped no one could see my hands shaking. Soon the cargo drone would drop our symbiots onto the battlefield and it would be show time.
“Yo, who we schoolin’ today?” someone said.
“Egyptian fucking terrorists,” said Merlin.
“Syrians,” said a crewcut.
“Why is that guy still in here?” said Merlin without looking up from his screens. “Clear the fucking room.”
Author : Anthony Tedeschi
“Okay, so look – I don’t do nitrous anymore.” Sirius Dunbar whispered through a weaseled grin. He sat on the splintered wooden floor within the cabin of the flying fortress. Around the crooked table, littered with disheveled playing cards and open bottles of whiskey, sat the other three participants of the gambling.
The propellers spun on the wings of the mammoth zeppelin as it caught a bout of wind and ascended abruptly. The SS Marmaduke was out in front – leading a caravan of wing-ships through the Kalahari Desert. Her mission: see to it that the cargo (84,000 quarter-kegs of nitrous) makes it to the Pittsburgh metropolis unscathed. 38 zeppelins followed directly behind the Marmaduke.
Captain Mathias Chelmsford sat across from Sirius Dunbar, drinking from an aged bottle of red wine. “Like bloody Hell you don’t do nitrous you senseless wit! Do you not remember your last hand? Going 64 on a pair of lows! Don’t try to fool me; I know your pockets are drying up! Drier than the air outside.” The Captain rambled through his rich gray beard between swigs of the tart nectar. Sirius Dunbar stopped talking then. Chelmsford looked around the table to the other two gamblers – on the left was his first mate, Hille Fitzroy. Fitzroy had spent many years in the dregs of New England, which had become a ravaged battlefield once the Industrial Expanse began. On the right of Chelmsford was a new conscript of the Marmaduke, a world-weathered man by the name of Eli Grave. The crew knew little about him besides the fact that he knew his way around a 308 Zep-Engine. The lantern in the middle of the table lit the room dimly as wax dripped from the wick.
Chelmsford furrowed his brow and addressed Fitzroy: “Mister Hille, I believe it’s your turn.” The Marmaduke convulsed then; oil and grease spewed out from the copper exhaust pipes just beneath the cabin.
Fitzroy reached into his pocket, searching for a wager as Dunbar opened in a snide grin once more: “There have been whispers aboard the Tulkinghorn of a Dead-Ringer on board. No one’s seen his face, but they say he moves like an apparition, disappea-…”
Chelmsford roared: “I won’t submit to such preposterous rumors, Dunbar, I just won’t have it! Dead-Ringers are myth, legend.” Fitzroy pulled from his jacket a hand-carved, snub-nosed blunderbuss and placed it on the table.
Dunbar began again: “That’s a rather hefty sentimental sum, Fitzroy! How much trust you have in them cards?” Hille Fitzroy sneered towards the dimwitted cannon-jockey. “Some of the crew aboard the Tulkinghorn says he is moving freely from ship to ship.”
Captain Chelmsford caved: “And what animal adorns his watch? He then turned to the new conscript: Mister Grave, I believe it’s your turn to wager.”
Eli Grave reached into his pocket, breathing deeply. Dunbar whispered through a furrowing moustache: A Serpent….
Just then, Mister Grave produced an emerald pocket watch – engraved on the surface with a hissing rattlesnake. He placed it on the table, and promptly disappeared.
Author : Alicia Cerra Waters
We were lost in the desert on Omega, sitting under one of those skeleton trees, slowly drying out like everything else around us. They call Omega the first and the last; the first planet from its galaxy’s sun, and the last planet anyone would ever want to live on. The alpha and the omega. I heard that’s supposed to be a reference to some ancient culture’s religion.
We were dehydrating, my baby and I, and I was thinking about the only blue sea I’d ever seen. When I heard a man’s sigh, I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things or not. Then I saw the shape of him, thin and bedraggled, hunched over a weary horse. I began unwrapping my hair, the only part of me that was still beautiful. As he approached, I noticed a water skin bobbing at his side.
I leaned against the skeleton tree as he approached. “You look like a tall, cool drink,” I said.
He was wearing a dazed and beaten expression. “Cover your head, lady. You’ll get skin cancer.”
I spent what little energy I had to lift the baby, leave the shade of the tree, and walk at his side. “Nice of you to worry about me. Any chance you’d share some water?”
The man shook his head. “Can’t. I need it to get to the nearest ranch, and there’s no water between us and that ranch. Guaranteed.”
“I can offer you something better than water,” I said.
The man scoffed. “Out here there’s no such thing.”
“Please,” I said, peering up at him, batting my eyelashes. Anything was worth a try.
He shook his head. “My horse can’t carry us both. My water won’t stretch to me, you, the horse, and the baby.”
“Fine,” I said, “Then take my baby with you.”
“If you don’t, we’ll both die out here.” I held up my child. He was small and dull-eyed as he squirmed in the rags I had swaddled him in.
The man turned his head. “Ma’am, I’ve got to think about this.”
The man sighed. “I knew it was a mistake to take the main road.”
“Is that a yes?”
He pulled the reigns on his horse and the creature came to a halt, grateful as the man tied its reins to the base of the skeleton tree. He detached the water skin from his pack and said, “I’ll give the child some water.”
I reached for the water skin, my eyes stinging with an effort to produce tears, as I let the water drip into my baby’s mouth.
The man sat down underneath the tree and leaned against the trunk, watching me with bloodshot eyes in layers of cracking, leathery skin. I sat down next to the man and put the baby in my lap. I held my son’s little hand as he licked water droplets from his pink lips.
“I’m sorry a nice lady like you is all alone out here,” he said, laying a fatherly hand on my shoulder. He was being sincere. That made it harder.
“I’m sorry too,” I said. In a quick movement, I withdrew a dagger from the folds of my blouse and plunged it into his throat. The shock of pain filled his eyes as he collapsed like a fallen tree, his blood flowing into the sand like the only river in the desert. I stayed with him until he was empty, then I took a drink from his water skin and climbed onto his horse, bound for the nearest ranch.
Author : Priya Chand, Featured Writer
I put two bottles and two cards in front of the NGO lady. She scooped them and nodded. “Karen Wallacho. Your sister isn’t here?”
“She’s eight. She doesn’t get up this early,” I lied. “Your scarf is pretty.” She always had a scarf on her head. Today it was bright orange.
The lady smiled, with big white teeth like I wanted, and gave me two bottles of fresh water.
“Thanks,” I said, and skipped out past the line. Mom made Sharon wake up early, but she didn’t have to come here until she was ten.
I went straight to our basement. Sharon was standing in a corner instead of running around. I walked over, quiet. When I got close, she pointed at something on the ground.
Little pink things squirmed in a pile of ragged strips. A fat brown thing—but covered in short hair—came over and sat on them. It had black eyes and a flat pink nose, and long white hairs coming out of its face. A mom animal and her babies! I almost screamed. No one ever sees animals, especially not with babies.
But our side of houses was on recycling duty today, so I pulled her back.
“What were the pink things, Kary?” she said. “I thought there was only one kind of animal.”
“Babies. That was a mom animal.”
We ran up to Mom and told her all about it, but she just looked at us and told us to go help with the paper. I wanted to pull apart the old tech things, but that isn’t allowed till you’re 16. And even then I bet I’d be stuck watching Sharon. Being older sucks.
Sharon and me were walking to the pile when we saw some wiggling shrub. It’s little green needles on long brown wire things. It’s alive just like we are, but it doesn’t move by itself.
“Another animal!” Sharon tiptoed forward.
“Don’t scare it.”
Not it, them. There was a whole bunch. We watched them for five whole minutes. In school we learned animals came out at night, but these guys were running and squeaking all through the shrub. “We have to go back and tell Mom,” I said.
Mom looked up, but the sky wasn’t anything special, it was just windy. “Kary, take Sharon to the basement, and stay there.” She walked away. I wanted to make her come back but I knew she was Weather Monitor for our neighborhood. I had to help by keeping Sharon out of the way.
We went straight to the babies. Their pink bodies were wrinkled like Mom’s forehead. Some of them made hungry faces.
“Where’s their mom?” Sharon said.
“Watch, she’ll come back. I bet she had to do important animal work.”
Sharon giggled and moved closer to me. We stood together until she was leaning on me and my feet hurt. I heard the wind outside roar. Our windows shook. The babies squirmed and squirmed. I wanted to hold them but everyone knows animals don’t like that.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
It was the NGO lady, except her scarf was missing. She had amazing hair, wriggly and sticking out everywhere. “You need to come with me, kids,” she said.
“Why? What’s going on?”
She shook her head. “Please come upstairs. There’s been a storm. You’ll see your mom in a bit.”
“Where’s our mom?”
The NGO lady said nothing, just walked straight out the door of our house, and we followed her because we didn’t know what else to do.