Author: Rick Tobin
“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” Luke 14:13
“Colonel, we can’t hold the line. Radars don’t work. The bastards have taken our coasts and Rockies. If Kansas falls…”
“Drop it, Major.” The aged Colonel McDaniel leaned over battle maps while dripping sweat in his dirt bunker, studying alien strategy. Invaders destroyed civilization’s support: satellites, power plants, and transportation, paralyzing resources, causing riots, hunger, and widespread heat deaths. Invaders didn’t destroy cities…they simply let inhabitants perish by violence or exposure. Land-based systems still worked in the heartland while enemy forces moved slowly with a reserved intent. This let human military defenses migrate inland.
Shortness of breath impacted speech from squat Major Covington, as he stared over tactical considerations. “Five days without downing a single ship. What can possibly change anything today? Anything?” He left sweaty palm prints on the wrinkled, dusty map.
“One prayer might be coming on an Osprey from St. Louis. If she’s onboard, and that pilot can find us without GPS, we might have a fighting chance.” McDaniel stared through his bleary red eyes at Major Covington.
“Who the hell could fly that far without guidance? We don’t have…”
“We have one from the Vietnam War. He flew WWII planes to airfield shows all over the Midwest. Charlie Pringle will make it…I’m sure.”
“Pringle? Really? He’s an alcoholic relic in some nursing home. What were you thinking?”
“I don’t need a glass-half-full guy, Covington. I…listen to that. Can’t mistake an Osprey landing. He’s got to have her…got to!”
“Who the hell is this ‘she’ you keep going on about? Did we finally get a new weapon?” Covington shook his head, wondering if heat exhaustion made McDaniel unfit for command.
“She is one of three known. Canada and Russia found two teen girls. Our old woman is half paralyzed, but she’s also a pentachromat. She can see parts of the spectrum we can’t. Reports came in that their mutated vision could spot enemy ships as ghostly ripples. Canadians shot a ship down their military couldn’t detect without their pentachromat. We think that’s why aliens bypassed Canada, for now, trying to repair their error.”
“Ridiculous!” Covington pointed his finger at McDaniel. “You’re not going to risk any more of my men with some geriatric cripple doing hocus pocus on our last battlefield. I think it’s time I took command. You obviously have lost your capacity…”
There were no more words from Covington after McDaniel fired a round into his forehead. Guards outside joined the Colonel as he rushed to meet a gray-haired woman under a white shawl being whisked off the plane’s rear ramp. She squeezed into McDaniel’s command vehicle, heading to his artillery batteries. Without time for formalities, he motioned her caregiver to wheel her under webbed canopies for camouflage. McDaniel begged her to look westward, pointing out anything she felt was abnormal. She immediately identified three areas, including one almost overhead. McDaniel gave coordinates to a captain nearby wearing headphones. Missiles whistled past from carefully concealed positions. Officers watched…praying. In seconds, orange explosions filled skies with gigantic ships falling, cascading in flames and detonating while striking ripe wheat fields.
She motioned again, further downrange, but close enough for another volley. A cry of joy and hope rose as those celebrating realized her skills were turning the tide, at last, and if nothing else creating a delay in further conquests by an invisible foe.
Author: Hari Navarro
The bullet that didn’t kill my distant ancestor struck him just above the peak brim of his steel helmet. Our histories are boxed and sent and folded for us so neatly. I received my past on my ninth birthday, no surprise everyone does. Memories gleaned and projected from DNA so as we can sit and cringe and laugh and cry at just how so damn lucky we are.
I played it back. I listened to it so many times. The old man with eyes like mine who spoke of himself and a bullet. I listened to it late at night though I’d been told to turn down the light. So many times that it should of numbed my attention and lost its legs and become just another of the many childish things that I swallowed. But it was a story that grew as I grew and it flourished into a truth, whereas once I had thought it a tale.
As I grew to a teen he told my young ears that bullets they make a sound in battle that cannot be easily described. It was not so much their sound so much as their feeling, he said.
As if they were fingers. Fingers that stretch out from barrels and peel strips off of the airs true flesh. It a sound that becomes a reflex cringe that pushes down and has you want to claw into the earth, away from even the foul air that feeds your lungs, away from the screaming and the broken away skin and away from the ones that you love.
His bullet was a gush wail that ended in a crack. A snap that struck at the helmet that then grabbed at the strap that hung loose beneath his chin. The sky it rose up and he felt his eyelids clap shut and then the dark it swallowed him whole.
I loved the humour of this beautiful man. That smile as he told of the typed notice which would ride the wires across oceans and all the way back to his tiny home so many far miles away. False news of his death that would slap at his mother Mary and his father George and fold them both down to their knees.
The smile was for the message that followed “Condolences but your son he is still very much of this world”, or at least that’s how he said it did read.
I think about my ten times great grandfather often. I think about that tiny projectile that released and flew away from its shell. I think about the jolt of the Germans rifle and the smell of burnt fire that stunk in his nose. And I imagine myself fading to nothing had that fragment of flesh-eating lead been but a fraction of a fraction bit lower.
I sit in my car as it shimmers on air and I look at the whore as she sits in her chair. I look as the night heat it plays with her skin and I wonder just how she would taste. I think to snip off her hair and savour it stacked and bound in a box and I think of her frozen in ice. I want to soak her sweet bones and have them come out all clean and I want to then etch and then rub into them my blood, so as to draw out this tale of a shot.
But then I think of that bullet and I push the knife back under my seat and I drive away into the night.
Author: Leanne A. Styles
The day the parade came to town was the best day of my life. I remember jostling through the crowd to reach the front, before begging my mother to lift me onto her shoulders to get a better look.
My idols were even more beautiful than I’d dreamed. Seven angels floating by in seven glistening glass boxes. Each girl wore a different coloured dress – the colours of the rainbow. Every time they struck a new pose, their arms twisting and torsos bending into the most elegant shapes imaginable, the crowd let out a collective gasp.
“Aren’t they amazing, Mother?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “They’re very lucky.”
“She’s just like me!” I said, pointing at the redhead girl in the green dress.
Her smile was so sweet and pure, and I wished that someday I would feel that happy, so I could smile like that all day.
“I’m going to be one of them!” I said, drawing amused looks from the crowd.
My mother reached up and stroked my hand. “It’s a lovely dream, Katie.”
“I mean it. I’m getting out of this town.”
The crowd teased at the idea of a girl like me making it as an idol. If only I’d taken it to heart, then maybe I wouldn’t have ended up trapped… a prisoner of my dreams.
But instead, I watched until the idol with red hair disappeared around the corner of the old brewery ‒ the heady scent of malted barley floating on the breeze ‒ planning how I was going to become her.
Everybody I knew back then is dead now. The streets of my childhood town are lined with unfamiliar faces. A new generation of children sit upon their parents’ shoulders, gawping in awe as we roll by.
If I could speak, if I thought they’d hear me through the glass, I’d try to save them from this hell. But the glass is too thick, and my vocal cords are wrecked from the chemicals our handlers use to preserve our aging bodies, so any attempt would be pointless. Even if I could still talk, my face muscles are too weak to crack the lacquer they use to fix my phony smile. My legs tremble beneath my skirt as I strain to hold my pose. There was a time when maintaining the perfect pose, in the stifling heat of the box, and under the crushing weight of the dress, was a challenge I relished. But that game soon grew old. Like me.
The girl who dragged her mother along to parade all those years ago feels like a fictional character from a far-off land, a deadbeat town beyond my tank.
Without warning, we hook a left at the brewery, leaving the crowds, before stopping in front of a blue door in the side of the building. The door bursts open, and a young redhead girl runs out. She circles my box, caressing her prize. The handlers surround me, open the box door, and yank me out. I plead, silently, through tear-filled eyes for the other idols to help me, but they won’t, they can’t.
Two handlers hook a hand under my armpits and drag me through the door and down a dark staircase. The bitter aroma of burnt hops intensifies as we descend, and my perfect memory of riding high on my mother’s shoulders, her coarse brown hair laced between my fingers, marveling at my idols, plays over and over.
The day the parade came to town was the best day of my life.
And it always will be.
Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer
The bulb swings in lazy figure eights on its long cable. Somewhere in the darkness above, there must be a breeze. The shifting light is doing more to soften me up than the ministrations of the knuckledragger dancing round my chair like he’s fighting with someone who’s not tied to one.
I smile carefully because my face already resembles mushy steak: “Pick a topic.”
He hits me again: “What I asked!”
I straighten up: “Must’ve slipped my mind.”
He hits me again.
“I came to kill your boss like I killed Wallace, Kitson, and Gadro.”
“If you hit me whether I talk or not, I may as well not.”
“No more lies! They took their enemies with them in a blaze of glory!”
I look up at him: “No need to shout.”
Every time, a gut shot followed by a cross. It may be cliché, but it gets the job done. I’m going to be on a liquid diet for a week, even after a nanorebuild.
Spitting blood and teeth, I grin lopsidedly: “A real leader wouldn’t cower in an armoured hideout, too afraid of his enemies to venture out without a swarm of sacrificial bodyguards and drones.”
He doubles up on the hits this time. I go with arching backwards, then slumping forward and hanging limp. He backs off.
There’s a voice in my head: “Jimbo, you idiot. Did you have to get caught?”
I mutter: “Cara, how else was I going to get in so you could work via my cyberwear to hack the digital underside of the den of this cautious capo? He knows his rivals didn’t go out in blazes of glory. He’s hyper-paranoid because he’s terrified.”
“Give you that. So, I’m in and I have the trigger sequence. You ready?”
“Ready to collapse in a drooling puddle. Send Suzy.”
“That bad, eh? Okay. Cue your crazy daughter in three, two, on-”
High in the darkness, something breaks. My sparring partner steps across to stand by me, looking upward curiously. As pieces start to land, he dodges away from me.
A chunk of girder crashes down between us, barely missing him.
“Close!” He grins.
Something purple drops behind him and the blade she wields cleaves him from sweaty crewcut to the crotch of his baggy tracksuit. Without even two halves of a startled look, he goes down.
Suzy brings the blade up and performs O-Chiburui while her left hand picks a pale cloth from her sash, allowing her to flow through a deft chinugui before sheathing her sword.
She smiles, then frowns when she sees my stare.
After looking down at her graphene and latex bodysuit, she grins: “It’s comfortable, protects well, and lets me move properly.”
“You might as well be wearing bodypaint.”
She raises a hand: “We’re not doing this again. Say one more word and I will do the next mission wearing nothing but purple bodypaint, so you can get a close look at the differences – along with everyone else.”
I know when I’m beaten, so I shut up while she cuts me loose, secures the drop line, and gets us both whisked up to the already ascending gravsled.
“We’re clear, Cara.”
The building below us trembles as flames belch from its windows and other weak points. Seems like every criminal boss has their headquarters rigged to explode or implode. It’d be rude to not take advantage of all their hard work, and save public funds, by skipping the trial and going straight to execution.
Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Jodie climbed into the passenger seat of the big sedan, the door closing itself with enough force to remind her never to leave anything in its way too long.
Jacko was already behind the wheel, flipping switches and bringing the old turbine engine to life, mumbling the startup sequence under his breath.
She twisted the rearview mirror to make sure her facemask was still in place and caught a glimpse of B sitting in the back seat. She blinked, then reached and tried to hold the mirror steady, but everything was vibrating and trying to focus on him made her nearly vomit.
She pushed the mirror back towards Jacko and opened the window, breathing the cold morning air and the thick smell of aviation exhaust.
“What’s the deal with him?”, she waved a thumb back over her shoulder, not taking her eyes of the horizon, “he creeps me out.”
Jacko, having gotten the massive engine settled into a steady throbbing squared himself in the seat and pushed both throttle sticks forward before answering. The carbon fiber giant lurched into motion on a cushion of air towards the city.
“B’s not a he, it’s an it,” he corrected her, “just because it’s built on a bipedal biochassis, doesn’t mean it’s human.”
They reached the end of the long driveway, leaving the decrepit barns and old farmhouse behind. They drove in silence along the regional road, then the interstate, then finally exiting into the maze of inner city roadways that would lead them to the office tower they’d been studying for the last few weeks.
Jacko pulled along the curb at the intersection of Fifth and Twenty Seventh streets, stopping just long enough for B to climb out of the back seat before continuing to a midrise car park a half block further on.
Jodie risked a look in the side view as they glided away, watching as B disappeared into a crowd of pedestrians, a blur she could only almost see if she looked away from him. It. Looked away from It. When she tried to look directly at where B should be, she found it impossible to hold her gaze there.
She turned back, her eyes and head aching from the strain as they turned into the skyward cover offered by the old parking garage.
B followed the pack of pedestrians as it was programmed to do. Beside, never in front, and vibrating at a range of frequencies from head to foot so as to be virtually impossible to look directly at.
Cameras and sensors along the pedestrian walkways would pick B up as merely a blur, but with no electronic signature, no alarms would be raised. It would only be after, should they review the recordings, and only if it were to be flagged up for human attention that B may be noticed. By then it would be too late.
At the banking tower, B followed the lunch crowd through the detection panels without incident, lost in the flood of staff returning to their offices.
B resonated through every bandwidth, echolocating and triggering passkeys and code fobs, and storing the respondent code in memory cells grown just for this purpose within its chassis.
In the elevator, one fidgety intern looked B directly in the eyes for a moment, instantly regretting it as he convulsed into a mild seizure. The elevator cleared as his coworkers, concerned, hustled him back out into the lobby, leaving B alone.
This simplified things, as B now had the elevator car to itself. It thumbed the datacenter level, oscillated an extended digit in response to the passkey challenge, and the car descended without complaint.
The data center itself presented another series of doors, each unlocked with a previously stored key, vibrated through the hardware without contact.
Once inside, B walked slowly between the rows of racks, soaking up the electronic traffic as barely perceptible oscillations in the atoms around it until it located the specific server it was sent to find.
It then pinched the network cable between two fingers, synchronized with the host and uploaded its code payload directly into the wire.
Its job complete, B walked to one of the large exhaust vents at the end of the aisle, stood on top of the grating and vibrated itself into dust.
From Jacko’s vantage point at the garage up the street, he could see the sudden gust of black dust blow up from the sidewalk grating before it was lost in the early afternoon bustle.
“We’re done,” he turned and climbed back into the sedan, “Vatican dot local has chosen a new benefactor. Funds should be fully diverted by the time the markets close.”
“What about B?”, Jodie asked as they pulled back into the street, heading away from the bank.
“Don’t you worry, after today, I’ll grow you an army of Bs”
Author: Lance J. Mushung
I tightened my grip on my black mini tote and stepped out of the elevator on the top floor of Parasol Corporation’s headquarters. The CEO, Kal Shakti, used the entire floor for his office.
A few steps brought me to a human receptionist with trendy long blue hair like mine. She said, “Ms. Eriksson, Mr. Shakti will see you immediately.”
A portion of a mirrored wall slid open and she motioned me toward Shakti. He was wearing his trademark white turban and sitting behind a walnut-colored desk on the far side of the floor.
The wall closed behind me as I crossed an expanse of sandy colored carpet to him. He’d set the window glass surrounding him to privacy mode. That deprived us of a panoramic view of Geneva, but suited my purpose.
When I stopped in front of him, he pointed at the wood guest chairs without looking up from a screen built into the desk. I didn’t want to think about smoothing my skirt under me, so I perched on the edge of one.
He looked up. “So, Elsa, why do you want to see me?”
“It’s sensitive.” I took a surveillance detector out of my tote. It signaled clean.
“We’re alone. My system checks continuously for any spying and recording.”
I put the detector back in my tote. “I figured, but better safe than sorry. I know what you did on Geras.”
His eyebrows rose, but only for a moment. “What are you talking about?”
“Like most, I figured pirates destroyed our research site. But then the Virgo Cartel told me you’d contracted with it to destroy the comm tech of the long-gone species there. Was comm using quantum entanglement such a big threat to your wealth?”
He nodded. “Parasol manufactures huge numbers of courier drones for interstellar messaging. The tech you found would soon make us like the proverbial buggy whip manufacturers at the beginning of the automobile age.”
“It turns out Virgo’s raiders collected what we’d found before wiping out the site and most of my team. I’ve been developing the tech for the cartel since being told about you. I can now entangle sets of nanoswitches, resulting in each being in the position of the one last changed.”
He sighed. “So, what will it take to suppress the tech?”
“I entangled four of the special nanoswitches used in replacement hearts and Virgo got three of them into the one put into you last month.” I pulled a black fob with a single covered button out of my tote. “The fourth is in this remote. When the nanoswitch in it opens, your heart stops. It’ll look like an act of God. I could have pressed the button from anywhere in the galaxy, but wanted to see your face.”
Singh sputtered as I flipped open the cover and pushed the button. An astonished look flashed over his face, after which his head fell forward to hit the edge of his desk with a thump.
I muttered, “Enjoy hell,” before putting a shocked expression on my face and running back to the receptionist while screaming for help.