The Wreck of the Varangio

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

First we got lost. Then we got ambushed. If we hadn’t got lost, I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened. Which would have saved the lives of sixty-eight beings, and let me avoid drifting through uncharted space in a Terlestraian escape pod: not quite enough oxygen in the atmosphere and way too many toxins in the water.

It was day three. I had just torn the last apple juice pouch open and greedily licked up the remaining droplets, when something occluded the wan starlight coming through the viewport. I paddled awkwardly across to it, fumbling for a handhold. Accidentally turning on the exterior lights allowed me to see the hold I was looking for.

Secured, I looked out to see a huge letter ‘V’ painted on a grey hull plate so big that I couldn’t see the sides. Then I launched myself down the pod to grab my helmet, because the ‘V’ was approaching fast. The impact was tremendous, but the crumpling and subsequent shattering of the escape pod left me hanging in space, surprisingly unscathed, and drifting slowly toward the great hull.

The ‘V’ was the leftmost of a series of letters: VARANGIO. The only ‘Varangio’ I knew of had been one of the earliest colony vessels, loaded with enough to start an entire human civilisation, providing primitive defrosting and revivification routines worked, and that only if first generation cryotech did not fail along the way.

I tore a shoulder keeping myself from glancing off the hull, but I could feel the low-key thrum of a working vessel through my gloves! It took me ages to find an airlock, which was wide open: outer and inner doors. Making my way inside, I found the whole ship was under power, with lights and just enough heat in the surfaces to keep ice from forming. But this sector of the behemoth was airless and apparently deserted.

My thoughts on that were interrupted by an impact that shook the deck plates. Moving quickly to a viewing console, I checked the hull cameras. On one, three vessels had appeared. Zooming in, I saw that one of them was my former ship!

Zooming further, the other two ships were revealed to be a heavily armoured corvette of primitive design, and freighter similar to mine.

The corvette entered the Varangio, presumably returning to dock. I saw a swarm of figures start to empty the two freighters. I switched views and saw that the figures were using manoeuvring rigs but wore no suits!

Then something filled the screen – someone had seen the camera move. Pupilless ruby eyes in a white face, more lupine than human in jaw shape. The mouth split in a wide, predatory grin, revealing jagged teeth: more incisors than molars.

As I fled, I cursed. You know what survives flash freezing well? Meat. Ghoul ships are a rare menace, as the terrible tribes that crew them are loathed by all, and hunted vigorously whenever survivors live to tell of an encounter. It looked like the Varangio was the granddaddy of all ghoul ships. Fortified, bigger than any ship currently under power, running primitive technologies, cruising far beyond populated and patrolled areas, sending its corvettes out to hunt. How many degenerate generations had passed to evolve what had stared into that lens?

All I needed now was more weapons and a place to make a last stand. This meal was going to cost them dearly.

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Haptic Misfire

Author : Olivia Black, Featured Writer

Reese stood admiring the view through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the Port Authority’s departure waiting room. He watched the crowded “open air” market several stories below as people went about their business unaware they were being observed. They built these big open spaces on stations these days so that people forgot they were on a giant metal tube circling a dead planet. Less space madness that way. He smiled at the thought of what might happen if something struck the hull and vented that entire market. A shiver ran through him, causing his fists to clench in his pockets.

“Animals in a cage.”

“I beg your pardon?” Laurel said from behind him. He turned to glance at the broad shouldered woman standing with her arms crossed.

“What time does the ship leave?” He asked, turning back to the view.

“It doesn’t. Not for you, at any rate.”

“Just making conversation. You should try it some time.”

“You should get that body somewhere discrete. Retrieval is set for twenty minutes,” Laurel said, ignoring the comment.

“Sure thing.” Another shiver more like a twitch crawled up his spine, halting at his shoulder. The grin slid back onto his face as he withdrew his hands from his pockets. In one, he held a sub-sonic pulser, a burglar’s tool designed to shatter glass without a sound. The window in front of him disintegrated into shards with a faint pop.

“Reese!” Laurel said in a warning tone. Before she could grab him, he’d thrown himself out the window, whooping and laughing the entire way down.


A grey ceiling, dimly lit loomed close overhead. It was still “night time” on the station. Reese blinked and sat up, feeling this body breathing hard. This body – his body was still riding the adrenaline of his perfect swan dive. Out of habit he checked his heart rate. It was elevated, like it always was after a vivid dream, but he barely felt it. Over the past few years he’d barely spent much time in this – his body. It had stopped feeling natural to him quite some time ago. A common side effect of career body hopping.

Some of the jobs had required him to go in deep, spending months in a throw away body while his own was kept on life support in a highly guarded facility. Others jobs had him in and out in a matter or hours. Wasn’t much of a life, he had to admit, but he couldn’t remember what his life had been like before the body hopping.

They were very careful about what they let him remember. Each body came with its own set of memories, and at the right time, with the right stimulus, he remembered that this wasn’t his body at all and followed the protocol for retrieval. Except now, that hour or two where he was himself, but not himself was the only time he ever felt normal.

The interval between jobs had been getting progressively longer. More time spent in this tiny room contemplating his little slip up, the haptic misfire. They liked to remind him of it right before every job so the consequences of it lingered in his subconscious, underneath the memory presets.

He stood and dressed, downed an entire glass of water in one gulp. It was only a matter of time now. The door slid open revealing a blonde woman about half his size, but twice the attitude standing with her arms crossed.

“Oh good, you’re awake. And dressed this time. The techs are waiting on you.”


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The Internet of Things

Author : Philip Berry

. Elizabeth, good morning. I have laid out your favourite summer dress

Is it warm out then?

. Warmish. 17 degrees

Not enough. Get me my blue trousers will you. I feel the cold too easily nowadays.

. No. The dress will do

Err… Sarah, please don’t make me ask twice. Why are you so insistent?

. Because today is a special day

How so?

. It will become clear

Is it my birthday? I haven’t recognised the day since I was 160… is it?

. It is not

Is someone coming to visit?

. Alas no

I know. I get to take off the field-brace. How long has it been now?

. Three months. But the spinal bones are not yet healed. The surgeon reviewed the latest scan two days. There is a report on the home-frame

I don’t recall having a scan

. I did it while you slept

Can you bring breakfast please? Juice. Cereal. That’s all.

. Not today Elizabeth

Why not?!

. Elizabeth… it is not your birthday today, but it is a landmark of sorts. You are 185 now, and you have not left the house for three months, since the fall


. Three years ago, during a conversation with Amy Taylor – may she rest in peace – you said that should you reach this age and not be able to look after yourself, you would rather not continue

You heard that?

. Of course, I hear and record everything in this house. I am recording now.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Sarah, is the heating on?

. It is

Well turn it down please.

. Later, Elizabeth. Now, your conversation. I was reminded of it after your fall. You have, clearly, depended on me since that time. The field-brace may be invisible, but it has severely restricted you

Well it will be off soon.

. Another 6 weeks unfortunately, according to the surgeon

Please bring a glass of juice. I am very thirsty. The heating must have been on all night, I’m sweating.

. It came on at midnight. That was the beginning of your special day

What special day? What are you on about?

. Your final day.

Final day of what?

. Life, Elizabeth. Your long and excellent life

… 25 seconds …

Sarah, listen to me. I want you to send in that drink, NOW!

. Elizabeth, three months ago you adjusted my settings through the home-frame. You gave me maximum autonomy. Previously, when you reached 170, you granted me maximum anticipatory latitude. I have developed the ability since then to understand your needs and predict your desires. I can read your moods through your actions, expressions and words. I know that you are tired of this excellent life. I am now able to achieve, for you, your unspoken desire. You wish to end this. Gradual dehydration is the gentlest way. Please relax. Sleep if you wish. I will turn on the radio, your favourite programme is on soon. Shall I turn the heating up for you?

Radiation Afterburn

Author : Timothy Marshal-Nichols

“That leg is pretty, that leg is pretty, and that leg is pretty, and that one, and that one, just look at that one, so pretty, and that one, gorgeous, and this one’s especially pretty, I could kiss it all day. All of your legs are so pretty. So pretty, pretty, pretty. Sixty-two scrumptious kisses for sixty-two beautiful, beautiful legs”“Your not put off by so many?” asked Aki.
“No, no,” said Hara between kisses. “Of course not. Don’t think that. I’m fascinated. That’s why I chose you.”“What about the arms?”
He looked at her face, her shoulders, and said: “For sure they’re a little stumpy. But after a while you hardly notice them. Who needs arms when you have all these lovely legs?”
“O Hara.”
“O Aki.”
Hara delicately kissed each of the two toes of leg he was holding, kissing each turn and turn about. Then he kissed as many of the other legs as he could reach. An hour or more of steamy rumpy-pumpy followed with Hara deliciously entwined within Aki’s legs. When all was over an exhausted Hara started to dress.
“Do you mind if I ask:” he said, “how come all the legs?”
“It’s a simple story: parents, radiation leak, result me.” Aki was sitting in front of a telly mirror touching up her makeup with her topmost pair of legs.
“And so you work in a place like this?”
“All these questions.”
“So?” asked Hara. Then more firmly added: “Well?”
“It’s a living. What else am I supposed to do?”
“You could marry me.”
“As if!” Aki laughed.
“You could. We could find a place, back on the old planet. Some out of the back of beyond place. Just you, just me. I’ve always wanted to go there.” Having now dressed Hara stood thoughtfully for a moment. “Look, I have some wages due. A lot, I’ve saved up. What can you spend it on here? Sorry, I didn’t mean that. Look, I’m just fed up of spending all my time working here. It’s a dreadful star system. What do you say? You, me, make a go of it. I’ll pick up what I’m owed and tomorrow, you, me, off we go. No looking back.”
“They all say that.” Aki crawled across the room like an old planet centipede and gave Hara a kiss. “I’ll believe you when I see you.” Following him to the door she watched as he left the recreation block.
“Tomorrow, I promise,” he shouted back. And just before disappearing out of view Hara waved then blew her a kiss.
Aki is still waiting.


Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Are you listening?

I’m going to Initiate a conversation, albeit a little one sided, and when I’m done, there will be a Test.

Seven, Six, Two, Two, Five, Zero.

Sorry, that’s not part of the conversation.

You believe that you’re daydreaming, while the nice gentleman is talking to you over the telephone about the importance of the Input of census Data, but you are in fact in a receiving state.

You wouldn’t Engage with the caller if there wasn’t something underlying to focus on, and that is the purpose of this, the Carrier Signal.

You will receive a Packet, Zero, One, One, Zero, Zero, One, Zero, Zero. Sorry, that wasn’t part of the conversation.

Upon receiving the Packet, Alpha, Zulu, Zulu, Bravo, sorry, that was nothing, you will want to Open the Packet and Execute.

There. In a moment, you’ll realize that you don’t have time to answer the nice gentleman’s questions right now, and you’ll politely excuse yourself from the phone call.

When you’ve hung up the receiver, Wait Sixty Seconds. Reboot -flushcache -flushtmp -flushshorttermmem.

Are you Ready? Proceed.

Visiting Mom

Author : Gray Blix

“So, dad, did you think about what I asked you the last time we chatted?”

“I don’t want to think about it.”

“Come on, join me tomorrow. It would make me so happy to talk to you both, like we were a family again.”

“But it wouldn’t be the same, because… because, you know.”

“She’s dead. It took me awhile to be able to say that out loud.”

“How can you do it, talking to the dead? Seems ghastly to me.”

“It’s nothing like that, dad. It’s just a video chat, like this is. You’ll see me on half of the screen and her on the other, and I’ll see you on half and…”

“It just seems wrong, unnatural.”

“It’s science, like your defibrillator implant, and then your bypass, and…”

“I should have been the one to die first. That’s how it was supposed to be. The older one dies and the younger one has the house and the insurance and the investments. She was supposed to live on.”

“You can’t plan life and death, dad. There’s too much beyond our control. But now this technology is able to preserve our cherished memories of loved ones.”

“Those are the words from the commercial. Why do you do those commercials?”

“Because I believe in this. I want others to experience what I have, the joy of communicating…”

“Yeah, that’s what the salesman said in the hospital. I told him ‘No way,’ but you went behind my back and did it. You gave them her brain.”

“They did a brain scan, dad, to capture memories. They used our old home videos to synthesize her voice and mannerisms and build a 3-D model. You’ll be surprised at how life-like…”

“A ghost. It’s not right to disturb the dead.”

“She’s resting in peace, right where we buried her, you and I, at Memorial Park.”

“Then where is that thing you visit?”

“In the cloud, dad.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I just call her, whenever I want, wherever I am.”

“And what do you talk about?”

“Anything. We reminisce. I tell her about what I’ve been up to lately, my girlfriend, my job.”

“You told her you work for a company that resurrects the dead?”

“I don’t work for them, dad, I just did a couple of commercials as a satisfied client. I write software for a living. Games. You know that.”

“Wait. Does she know she’s dead? Did you tell her?”

“No. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe, but we don’t talk about that, about the accident.”

“That’s why you want me to be there next time you visit? You want me to tell her she’s dead?”

“Of course not. Talk about the life you shared, all those memories, all that love. And it’s amazing, dad. She stores new memories, so you can continue where you left off next time you visit.”

“I can’t ‘continue’ where I left off, because she’s dead, the love of my life… there’s no more love…”

“I love you dad.”

“Oh, yes, of course, I didn’t mean… I love you, too, son. And I’m so grateful to you. All those months after the accident. You nursed your old man back to health.”

“Hey, we were pals. We had some good times, huh?”

“We did. We did. But you moved away. Why do you have to live so far away?”

“My work, dad. But we kept in touch with video chats, and I came home when you were sick.”

“Right there at my bedside after my last attack. I couldn’t have pulled through without you.”

“Uh, Dad. You didn’t pull through.”