Author : Javen J.
“Bring her down.”
On command, a barrage of fusion bursts flew out the side of the federal heavy-orbiter, through the silence of space, and into the PV Song Bird. Each burst blazed like a miniature solar flare. Captain Roger Benet watched the bombardment through the orbiter’s crystalline bridge wall. He stared through his own reflection and watched his order eviscerate the Song Bird. He avoided his reflection, and his eyes. Roger Benet surveyed the destruction with his father’s hazel stare.
“Vaporize the debris. No loose ends.”
* * *
Five minutes before the destruction of the Song Bird, Jenna’s image came alive above the graphics interface. Her breathy, gasping voice flooded the bridge. “Roger? ROGER!?”
“Darling, I’m here.”
“Roger! Oh god, Roger, they think I took something- they deactivated the engines- I didn’t take anything- I don’t know what to do- What should I do?” She sobbed uncontrollably. “I-I need help Roger. I . . . what do I do. Tell them I didn’t take anything. Help me Roger!” She wept furiously.
“Darling, I need you to check yourself . . .” Captain Benet stepped closer to his wife’s image. “Check for any blemishes or breaks in your skin. Whoever did this could have planted it in your body. Are you itchy or rash-ing anywhere? Do you have any unusual discoloration or-”
“NO! Roger FedFleet’s message said this already. They must have hid it in the ship- let me look through the ship- it . . .”
“Calm down. Darling, you don’t understand what’s happening.”
“I NEED TO-”
“Jenna!” Roger’s inflection became stern and imposing, “You need to CALM . . . DOWN!” He did not speak with a husband’s understanding, but with the utilitarian timbre of a starship captain. Jenna immediately stopped crying. “Jenna, a sample of an . . . unusual genetic-weapon was stolen. Song Bird can’t house it . . . but you can. You will notice some kind of change. Check yourself again.”
Her wide eyes were bloodshot and begging. “Darling I checked myself a dozen times.” Her anxiety grew. “I don’t have it! Please tell them Roger.”
“I will Darling. I’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you. Roger . . . I love you.”
Roger smiled at her, and said as a husband, “I love you too.” His wife’s image disappeared just as quickly as his smile. Captain Benet perched himself in front of the crystalline wall with the hard and cold demeanor of a gargoyle. He gazed for only a moment.
“Bring her down.”
* * *
The cooing of the energy recycling system filled Captain Benet’s quarters. He left the bridge without formally relieving himself, but Lt. Commander Reltan Johanes had followed silent orders before. Captain Benet sat and saw the Song Bird’s demise, in the grain of his desk.
After the orbiter’s fusion chambers were cold, Roger Benet walked to the lavatory. He placed his hands in the sink and cool water ran over them. He pooled the water and splashed his face. The liquid soaked his collar and misplaced his tears. He focused on the mirror. He looked at himself. His irises were smoldering gray. Father.
Author : Glen Luke Flanagan
“I’m sorry,” the shopkeeper told him. “I can’t hire you. We can’t accommodate your condition.”
George nodded sadly. He was used to this kind of response. As the last Windmill-Man, he was an oddity, a curiosity – but not a productive member of society. His people had once built a thriving culture, but now they were gone. He didn’t know when or why they left, only that he had been left behind.
He turned sideways to make room for the wooden blades on his back, and slipped through the door. Everywhere he went, he got the same response.
“You’d distract our customers.”
“You wouldn’t be able to do the job.”
“Your windmill would be a health hazard to the other workers.”
As he wandered the streets dejected, George chanced upon a shop window displaying old-fashioned wooden toys and delicate porcelain dolls. Drawn by memories of a simpler time, he entered. Seated at a bench, carefully hammering together parts of a wooden toy like the ones in the window, sat a rosy-cheeked old toymaker.
“Hello, hello! Come in!” He turned to greet George with a smile. “Are you looking for a toy?”
“I’m looking for a job, actually.” George dared not sound too hopeful. “Might you be needing anyone around the shop?”
The man studied him thoughtfully. His eyes were old, and seemed to see far beyond the here and now, into a person’s life story. Finally, he set his hammer on the table, and spoke.
“Yes,” he said, quietly. “Yes, I think I could find a place for you here.”
George had steeled himself for another rejection, so it took a moment for the words to process. When he understood, his eyes got a little misty, and his windmill gave an excited little spin.
“Can I start today?” he asked. The man smiled and nodded.
George was happy at the shop, happier than he had been in a long while. He found that he was quite good at making toys, and he found that his toys made children smile. The toymaker became a good friend; kind, perceptive, and interested in George’s past. He never pried, but George seemed to want to tell him about the Windmill-People of his own accord.
One day, George found himself gazing upon a small wooden windmill. He hadn’t entirely realized what he was crafting until it was done, but now that it was, he was pleased with it. He gave the blades a spin with his finger, and his own blades whirred contentedly in response.
When the toymaker saw it, he looked thoughtful.
“The first Windmill-Man built his own windmill, didn’t he?” he asked.
“That’s what the stories say,” George explained. “Most of us were born with our windmills, but it’s said that he built his own, and those of the first families.”
The toymaker nodded, spun the windmill blades gently, and said no more about it. But the conversation had set off a spark in George’s brain. He began tinkering in his free time, building windmills of various sizes and shapes, and wooden skeletons to mount them on.
Many of the experiments ended up gathering dust in his attic. It was an imprecise process, and he had nothing to base his work on. Building a new race from scratch – or rather, rebuilding an old one – was a daunting task. But it was a labor of love, and it made him happy. And maybe, one day, he would no longer be the last Windmill-Man.
Author : Helstrom
Jerry threw his notebook into a corner and rubbed the bridge of his operculum: “Fuck this, it doesn’t make any sense.”
I had it: “No. No, it makes perfect sense.”
“Sure. We need a break.”
He wasn’t one to wait for a consensus, not even when it was just the two of us. Jerry opened the fridge and fished out a couple of drinks. I was glued to the screen. He nudged me with the bottle until I snatched it from his pincer.
Jerry was agitated: “Mike, I’m telling you, we need a break. This is going nowhere.”
“Jerry, I’ve got it. I’ve really got it. Look.”
Jerry took a sip from his bottle and looked at the screen with nothing but boredom. The pink humans were crawling over each other and grunting, the same we’d seen for untold hours since we figured out how to translate the ancient code to audio-video.
“What am I looking at that I haven’t seen before?”
“Mating.” Jerry squinted, “I don’t see it.”
“That’s because they’re doing it wrong.”
“Look,” I pulled up a textbook, “Here’s how it’s supposed to be done.”
“I know the biology, Mike.”
“Yes but look. Look! They’re using all the right parts, just… A bunch of wrong ones too. Here, check this one.”
I loaded up another data file and converted it. Much the same, really.
“Dammit Mike I have a class to teach tomorrow, I can’t…”
“Look! It’s the same pattern. The male goes from here… To there.”
“That could be a religious practice for all we know.”
“It happens again here,” I loaded a different file, “But the order is reversed. And here, another orifice entirely. Here they try it with several specimen at once.”
“I don’t see a pattern.”
“That’s the point! That’s the whole point!”
Jerry perked up. He set down his drink and sidled up to me at the screen: “You’re saying…”
“They forgot how to mate?”
I started crunching the numbers: “In eighty-five percent of the samples we see seminal fluid being applied externally or even consumed by the female. Of the remaining fifteen, nearly half is injected into the wrong orifice or caught in a container and presumably discarded. None of that is conductive to procreation.”
“And this happens just a few centuries before the extinction event.”
“Do you see it now? Forget Frank and his ideas of this global data network being used for communication or trade. The data we have comprises over seventy percent of the raw information stored. This thing wasn’t built to sell home appliances, this thing was built for sexual education.”
“And it failed.”
“So how does a species forget how to mate?”
“Well,” I said and raised my drink, “I think we’ll need some grant money to figure that one out.”
Author : John Kinney
Food. His stomach is a knot, coiling together tighter and tighter each day. Food. He has not eaten in almost a month, his blue eyes are sunken in his pale face, his scraggly black hair hangs down to his thin shoulders and his thick beard is long and full.
Food is all he can think about.
The world in front of Jack Stramm is ice and snow. Snow fell in torrents for months, covering the old world, trapping millions in their homes, all had hoped that it would end sooner, that it would go away with the summer. But the snow fell and didn’t stop for months.
Now Jack trudges across the snow in makeshift snowshoes. Behind him he drags a sled full of old camping gear. He is weary. Thin clouds of mist cover his view with each shallow breath, and he scans around the frozen tundra, knowing he will see nothing, but hoping for anything.
He comes across a body. A frozen mass heaped in the snow. Jack stands over it and sways, his sunken blue eyes wide. The body has blue skin, and Jack cannot tell if it is a man or a woman. Food, thinks Jack.
The camping gear behind him is covered in a thin frost, which breaks away as he unzips the small, front pocket and pulls out a pocketknife. He falls to his knees in front of the body and his hand hovers over its exposed arm, shaking violently. But it isn’t the cold gush of wind that sweeps light snow across the frozen surface that chills him to his core.
His eyes open again, and his daughter stands over the body that lies in the snow.
“Baby,” he says out loud. “Baby I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, baby”
She says nothing and stands there, watching him and watching his shaking hand hover over the arm of the body in the snow.
Jack weeps and closes his eyes. In a fleeting moment of despair he tosses the knife down, and he howls upwards toward the sun.
“Save me!” he shouts. “Save me now!” His eyes ache from staring into the light and he bows his head. “Why don’t you stop this?” he mutters.
In the darkness of his thoughts, he hears a soft voice.
“Come home, Jack.”
He sits on his knees in the snow, his eyes open but blank. He reaches down for the knife and cuts out a small chunk of flesh. Although it is cold, the body has been resting in the sun and is warm enough to slide a knife through.
“I’ll find you, baby” he said. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll find you and we can leave this place.”
He slides the cold flesh into his mouth and swallows it quickly. A cloud passes over the sun and he is enveloped in the shade.
Author : Morrow Brady
Pressure surge from the Reece tube flung slaters from the nozzle. I batted them away into space with a dirtied glove.
“While you’re there, get rid of them too!”said Captain Boscobel over comm.
I worked Dockmouth, the parking garage for a bastardised space station called the Dock.Built by orbital robots from spent rocket boosters, decommissioned satellites and frozen astronaut shit, it was at best shambolic. Dockers ranged from spacefaring cyber-hippies to pseudoscientists and FIFOs. All suckling at the intoxicating teat of a lawless frontier.
I moved here after EarthDay43, when an asteroid fractured our Moon. It changed Earth forever and turned the Dock into a budget staging post for humanities propagation into deep space.
Crab-bots teased slaters from micro-meteorite gashes in Boscobel’s hull. Storing them in operable faulds along their flanks. Creasey’s Galley would credit me handsomely for their tasty innards.
Through my scratched visor extended Dockmouth’s berthing deck. Like a frozen wave of debris, it gently arced for a mile into space. It was interrupted randomly by ships of various shapes and sizes attached like suckling pigs.
Facing away from Earth, Dockmouth’s solemn darkness changed as the moon broke Mouthside. Shadows shrouding locking clamps and airlocks became diluted with a clandestine hue. Witching hour had returned as we caught up with the moon.
Moonbeams reflecting off Dockmotes flickered as a ship of shadows appeared from nothing and approached the far berth. Refuel credits logged, so I left Boscobel to the crabbots and jetted for the strange ship.
Approaching cautiously, I rendezvoused with a Reese tube, escorting it aft to an inconspicuous point on the seamless hull. To my amazement, the nozzle disappeared below the shadowy skin and fuel flowed immediately.
“Sponge, you old juice pusher!”
I flinched as I pictured my frightful facial scars. Soolong’s tinny voice had reawakened horrible memories of our last SpaceCore posting on the moon when the asteroid hit. Soolong literally became half the man he was.
“Slug, you old juice burner! It’s been years. Nice ship! Is black the new black?” I said, struggling to control my anxiety.
“Sorbnets Sponge! and you can call her Betty”
Docktalk whispered of a new dark tech that thrived on enemy fire. Operating within the slip-field fissures born from battle energy. Soolong must have reenlisted.
“Sorbnets? Thats dark energy isn’t it Slug?”
Suddenly comms went down. A bright light, moving at rail speed, lit up Dockmouth like a guzzling fire eater. It slammed into Slug’s ship, turning the sorb-net near me transparent as power transferred to the impact site on the opposite side. Beneath the matt black hull was a glowing latticework supported on armour plating. Nauseous from my high-G escape manoeuvre, I braced for chaos.
Moonbeams shimmered again as another sorb-net ship appeared. I searched frantically for a survivable vector but I knew any ship to ship weapon exchange this close was terminal.
Comm reinstated and laughter bellowed from multiple sources.
“Should have seen your face Sponge!” Slug laughed.
The second ship slowed to approach speed and berthed.
“He took off like a rabbit!” Laughed the second ship’s Captain.
“Sorry Sponge, but out on Europa, I heard you were Dockside. I thought I might drop by
and see if you still had some Core left in you”
“You bastard Slug. I’ve popped my catheter and now I’m swimming in piss”
“Well I’ll buy you a coldie and we can call it even. And while we’re at it, I’ve got an offer that
involves a long journey, a Captain’s hat and a sorb-net ship called Barbara”
Author : Willis Weatherford
Weighty darkness pushed in on the edges of the cavern, craving admittance to the subterranean council meeting. Eight faces made ominous by three weeks of beard growth stared across the glowrods at one another. Blued gun barrels, gripped tightly, glinted softly, and the steady flow of an installed stream gurgled up from a crack in the floor, like the last bloody breaths of a dying animal. They were the Remnant.
“Chronos, how long until sunrise at our entrance point?”, inquired Achilles with a quick glance at the timekeeper. Chronos had been an executive before the Excavation and Descent, and owned the only working watch. His detail oriented mind was also adept at estimating the two times that still mattered: sunset and sunrise.
“Five minutes until the sun first touches the horizon.” They had quickly discovered – all of them – that the Excavators could still function in the pre-dawn sunrise glow. Only direct light sent them lumbering underground.
“Good.” Achilles rubbed his heel, injured in a past foray. He had chosen his “Nom de Bellum”, as they called their new names, for just that reason. One of the first things they had done after the Excavation was cut out the subdermal IDNodes and change their names. Both had been crimes against the State before the Excavators emerged. Now, there was no State to enforce the Universal Identification Act of 2063, and any connection to the DataBase was a death sentance.
“We top out in one minute, arrive at the target at 0 past sunrise, extract Citizens 11 and 12 within two minutes, reboard as soon as possible, and hopefully return by 8 past sunrise.” Everyone seated around the glowrods was familiar with this routine by now. Everyone except citizens 7 and 8, now renamed Guns and Bolts, had been on at least one or two successful rescue missions. Guns and Bolts had been on only one, a failed attempt to extract citizens 9 and 10. They had been Guns’ friends. He glowered in the monochrome light, eyes sunken and red.
“Remember,” Achilles said with a new weight in his voice, “more than two is not an option. Gravity will not allow it. Only 11 and 12, nobody else. Ok. Let’s move out.”
Eight pairs of boots stomped through the grey dust towards the surface. At the hatch, they donned tanks, and regulators, and headlamps. The hatch opened, the cold rushed in, and they walked out onto the dark surface. A few miles away, they could see the familiar band of sunlight right where it always was, highlighted on the circular rims of craters. A few steps brought them to the only remaining functional vessel: StateProbe 21. They clambered inside, buckled in, and blasted off towards the earth. As they hurtled through space, Chronos could see the Moon quickly diminishing behind them from one window, and the earth quickly growing in another. They were headed straight for the line between terrestrial day and night, light and darkness. Then he caught Achilles’ eye. The old man, once a maintenance worker at a city park, gave a grim smile, and gave a familiar speech:
“Rescue Mission 5 is underway. May we bring new souls from the terror of light into the safety of darkness. May each man count it a glory to blow even one Excavator off the surface of our planet. May our return add a few more to the the Remnant.”