Infantem Gradus

Author : J.P. Flarity

We were too busy planting flags and making speeches those first times our planet’s inhabitants touched the moon. But eventually, hidden in the crevasses on Luna’s dark side, we found it.

The first Tablet.

Made from a tungsten superalloy of impossible purity, it stands a meter tall, two meters wide, and only ten millimeters thick. Three words are somehow etched onto its surface, written in a fine, cursive Latin. They read:

Servare in ingressus.

There are many translations…to keep going round, to keep on entering. The most popular one?

Keep going.

How did it get there? Encouraging aliens? A humorous God? Or the most likely explanation–a monumentally expensive prank?

There were no footsteps or landing marks around it, as if a divine hand had wedged it gently into the dust, and its presence awakened mass hysteria. After years of suicide bombings by religious cults, censorship by scientific cults, and unbridled madness by alien cults, our society eventually stabilized, and heeded the tablet’s message.

We missed it on the first trips to Mars, and began to comb the planet’s surface with focused tenacity. Finally, in the crater on the peak of Olympus Mons, we found the next Tablet.

It was identical to the first, but with different words:

Modicum longius.

A short amount further. A little bit more distance.

A bit farther.

This caused the cultists to grow quiet with studious speculation, and aliens took the lead as the most likely explanation for its origin. We began to dream…

There was an age where satellite dishes grew like weeds from our planet’s surface, as attempts to communicate with the theorized aliens consumed us. But the universe was silent.

Only with cooperation on a global scale, we were able to successfully design a detector to locate the tungsten superalloy. Our ships got faster, and more efficient. But the area to search was massive.

Then, the breakthrough.

On Jupiter’s moon, Callisto, in the center of the Valhalla impact ring crater, we found the third Tablet. How long had it been there?

It reads:

Fere ibi.

About thereupon. In general therewith.

Nearly there.

And our attitude changed. We lost our optimism, experiencing ennui on a global scale. What were we, children? Why must they torment us in such a demeaning way? Were we so beneath them? After all, we were not a young race anymore.

At least we thought so.

Disdain for the supposed aliens grew into anger, and we forgot to search for many years. We do not heed the Tablet’s message. There was brooding for generations, until we remembered.

Hundreds of moons were meticulously probed until we found the last Tablet. Not on Pluto, but on the dwarf planet Eris.

It was a huge strain on our resources to travel so far away from home, but we finally arrived. Thank goodness somebody remembered Latin…it’s been so long. Would they have changed the language for us?

Now I stand with my crew on the planet’s icy surface, a glorious forty degrees above absolute zero. The Tablet reads:

BENE. Ingrediamur unum centum perfecta. Sepelivit est lumen celeritate machinam. Te ad proxima stella.

Our crew decides on this translation:

Good job! Step one of one hundred complete. Buried here is a light speed engine. See you at the closest star.

Our species celebrates its first birthday. They even got us a present. How thoughtful.

If we’d only brought a shovel.

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Author : Mark Jacobsen

In the middle of a dark, lightly wooded area, three figures can be seen moving against the black background of night. An older man is talking with a younger man. The older man is trying to start a fire by friction. There is a third man there, who remains silent and in the shadows, intently watching the other two men work.

“Okay, once you have all the elements together, then it’s a simple process”, the older man said. He arranged the wooden sticks, shavings and bow string and proceeded to work the bow to create fire.

“You know, I’ve seen this in books, but never in real life” the younger man commented. “Since the low power laser emitter has become standard on personal communicators, there isn’t any need to do this”.

“Well, it is an old skill…some old skills are fun to learn”. The older man was sweating slightly because of the effort.

“Yeah, I agree”, the younger man replied. “Way back in 2245, when time travel was perfected, one of the first things they did was to go back and learn manual crafts”.

The silent figure in the shadows moved forward slightly, intently staring at the friction rig.

“Do you think he’s getting it?” asked the younger man.

“I really hope so…after all, this effort is for him”. The older man’s arms were aching now, and he was becoming slightly winded.

“Yeah…for him. For all of us, actually” the younger man said grimly.

The older man smiled and nodded in agreement. He then noticed a small ember. He laid the bow down and knelt down, blowing slightly on the ember, encouraging it to grow. He lifted the piece of wood, still blowing on it. The ember was glowing brightly now. He tipped the wood onto a pile of dry tinder. The tinder started to smoke and he fanned it slightly. The tinder caught and an orange flame wicked up and started to engulf the tinder. The older man quickly put some small dry sticks on the tinder and soon a modest fire was burning easily.

The silent man seemed very excited. He moved forward to see better, then stopped, too scared to get too close to the fire. The firelight danced in his eyes and he grunted his approval.

The older man handed the rig to the silent man. The silent man quickly assembled the rig and mimicked the motion that the older man had done to create the fire.

The younger man smiled and nodded. “Looks like he got it, this time” he remarked.

“Third time’s the charm” the older man smiled. “I knew he was the one!” He turned toward the silent man and pointed off into the darkness. “Okay, get going! Back home. Back home. Show. Show them fire!”

The silent man understood. He grunted and turned toward the darkness and started lumbering toward his clan.

The younger man pulled a small device from his pocket. He inspected the reading on the device and showed it to the older man. They both smiled. “All is well, eh? Back to normal?” The older man said.

“Timeline restored”, the younger man said. “What was his name?”

“I’m not even sure if they had names at this stage of development…why do you ask?”

“I dunno…just seems like we should know his name. After all, he is bringing fire to humanity. Funny how this is how it happened”.

“I agree”, said the older man as pulled a remote from his belt and starting punching in commands. “Let’s go check on the wheel”

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Rachel's Treasure

Author : Suzanne Borchers

Rachel closed her eyes to the grayness surrounding her. She shut out gray clouds overhanging the gray sky and gray broken concrete and the metallic landscape. Heavy eyelids shielded her green eyes from the present gray existence of hopeless humanity. Her gray filthy fingers picked at her ragged gray covering. She stood alone, a part of the scene.

Rachel shivered, opened her eyes, and searched the ground for gray treasure among the gray dirt.
All were gone. Radiation, disease, hate, and starvation had taken her family, friends, strangers, and enemies. She adjusted the torn scarf to hide her scant wisps of hair with her bony fingers covered with oozing sores.

She clutched her cavernous stomach and tried not to retch once again. She retched nothing but pain. Moaning softly she cried dry tears as she scratched through the gray clutter.

Then her fingers felt the smoothness of the treasure. She breathed in great gasps of poisoned air and smiled a toothless grin. She grasped it to her body as she fumbled to open her pocket. She tugged out the first treasure and placed the second treasure within it.

She pushed the treasure into her mouth and pulled the trigger.

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The Zoo

Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

“The Vulturi Zoological reserve is home to the most dangerous collection of species within the galaxy…”

The dull-as-Arcosian-Slug-Art tour-guide is a spastic, Mark-VII resembling a stick-figure assembled from recycled gas cylinders, aluminum coils and rubber bands. Whoever programmed it should be boiled in their own gastric juices. It’s yammered non-stop since we left the Deep Space High School three hours ago, droning an incessant litany of factoids as it jerks up and down the aisle of the 0-g passenger hold.

I try to tune it out and simply stare morosely at the scene slowly enlarging beyond my portal as we near the tiny, blue-green moon; our final (thankfully) destination on this tour through the Vulturi system. The lush satellite is dwarfed by its host, a milky-white gas giant, marbled with vibrant orange and yellow stripes, which swirl in intricate eddies around its equator.

As we blaze though the upper stratosphere, every passenger clinging desperately to their crash belts, Mark-VII, suctioned to the forward bulkhead, recites a shopping list of redundant data pertaining to atmospheric pressures, gravity ratios and mineral compositions of the moon.

Once we’re within the lower atmosphere the outer heat-shielded hull is jettisoned and suddenly, we’re all suspended mid-air, strapped to our respective seats and linked to each other via spidery struts and cables.

“The entire crew compartment is encased in a high-impact, transparent orb providing a nearly 360 degree panoramic view,” Mark-VII commences to outline the procedure in excruciating detail. He then points out our odds of survival should we find ourselves beyond the protection of the shuttle craft.

“… If you look left you will see the first specimen on our tour; the Giant Gorger rescued from its home world before its sun went nova. Known for its terrifying speed and ravenous appetite…”

The maroon dragon is a thing of beauty as it wings majestically through azure skies. I snap a few pictures for the kids back home before it dives into the clouds below.

Soon our sky-bus-bubble soars over a lush savanna, teeming with diverse wildlife. A herd of bounding, fluffy monopods is pursued by, what appears to be, dun-coloured blurs, slithering through the grass at dizzying speeds.

“…The Torthian Grass Snake only stops moving when it has gorged upon a sizable prey, in this case…”

One of the monopods bursts into a mist of blood and fur. What remains is a bulging, coiling mass of reptile beginning its long, digestive bask in the hot afternoon sun.

Hours later, we are hovering over an adobe dwelling. Two semi-clothed bipeds stand outside looking up at us, forlornly. Mark-VII informs us that these are the infamous Homo-Sapiens of Earth.

“…These tool users will kill not only for food – often enslaving and breeding their prey in foul conditions before slaughtering them – but will also kill for pleasure, territory, resources, abstract concepts and bizarre religious motives unknown in any other parts of the galaxy. Their misuse of primitive technology was particularly destructive, responsible for the mass extinction of many species and the poisoning of their home planet’s air, land and water.

“This is the only remaining pair in existence, bred in captivity after the survivors of their home world were rescued by Vulturi Zoologists. Alone, or in small groups, they are relatively harmless, but if left to breed unchecked, they are capable of global devastation within a hundred generations. Easily one of the most dangerous species in the galaxy.”

Boring. I snap a few pictures anyway before we bank east.

“And if you look to your right…”

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Runaway Groom

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Where are you?”

“Same continent.”

“That’s a relief. I was so worried when the news said you’d been cornered in Rio.”

So was I. It was only after fleeing I found it had only been media hype, not a snatch team.

“Doctor Flowers says we need another sample.”

A chill ran down my spine. She said ‘doctor’, not ‘professor’. That meant she was under observation, duress, or both.

“Tell him I’ll contact him tomorrow afternoon.”

“Will you have time to visit?”

Not good. That was a ‘do not come near this town’ warning.

“I’ll see what I can do. Love you, Tara.”

“Love you to. Bye.”

I called MI6 as soon as she hung up. I identified myself with the agreed code for day and date, then got them to send an armed MI5 rescue team to our home. The home I had never seen.

Four years ago I had been stood at the altar, Tara’s hand in mine, when something blew the vicar’s head apart. The slaughter at my wedding was the culmination of two years of international frenzy over my unique ‘condition’. I fled from the venue alone, over the bodies of the small army that had been allocated to defend me.

I worked at the New Calder Hall reactor. I was there the day that its ‘revolutionary innovation in reactor cooling’ failed, bequeathing Britain with Chernobyl-on-Cumbria.

Tara was my specialist during treatment. To everyone’s surprise, I showed no ill effects whatsoever. Tara received several awards for the work she did that led to the identification of ‘blue cells’. She says that her engagement ring is the only one she treasures.

My body had been exposed to quantities of radiation almost guaranteed to cause cancer. Whether my mutated white cells were a freak result or a pre-existing condition will never be known. But the results are clear: people who get a shot of my ‘blue cells’ have their cancerous cells destroyed. No-one has yet managed to replicate blue cell serum. I am the golden goose that bleeds the cure for cancer.

Tara and I decided to make blue cell serum available to the world on a critical need basis. An anonymous billionaire provided funding, as well as starting a research project to artificially produce blue cell serum. It was in its early stages when the first attack occurred. Someone had decided that the value of controlling the only source of the blue cells was worth murdering Tara’s colleagues wholesale.

A year later, the body count had risen to a point where I called a stop to the procession of body guards and safe houses. Our wedding was the last event to be heavily guarded, as the protocols for me becoming a fugitive had been agreed. The wedding showed just how far they would go.

As to who ‘they’ are, it seems that it is a consortium of powerful and greedy people. They want to market the serum made from my blood. It would become something available only to the wealthiest, with a black market for placebos worth even more.

Tara and I will not have that, and we are supported by people at all levels and seemingly everywhere. I cannot count the times that I have evaded a snatch team solely because a stranger intervened.

One day, I will exchange vows with Tara. One day, I will walk into our home. One day, when the researchers at the fortified and hidden laboratory work out how to refine blue cell serum.

Until then, I run.

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Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

All six of my previous brothers had gotten past this point with little difficulty. The smoldering remains of my crashed lander blended in nicely with the gray hillside behind me. My atmospheric and biofunction readings continued to flash in my view screen as other red-lettered warnings popped in and out.

Here was the first one I was waiting for. “Motion detected nine-point-five quadrant.” I already knew that this was the troll that had decapitated clone one. I ducked and twisted just like my five other successful brothers had done before me, and felt the wind blast inside my helmet as the slicing plasma sword narrowly missed my head. Before it could turn around and regroup, it was neutralized into a pile of burnt carbon-encrusted ooze.

I pushed forward, up a rocky trail past fissures that spewed toxic gasses, glad for my breathing apparatus, and made ready for my second deadly challenge. Clone two had been sniped from behind a rock high above. Clone three had ducked but had still been pegged off in retreat. After that, my remaining three brothers and I had all successfully managed to dive into a nearby gully each in our own turn. And like my departed replicas, I too managed to cut around and creep up behind my assailant, slitting its throat with my plasma knife. I continued onward and upward.

The rockslide that had taken the life of clone four was an easy sidestep for those of us remaining. I moved up the safe, secondary ridge toward the tower. I knew there were a few one-eyed muck-mongers hiding behind black stumps above, but just like the other two of my remaining brothers; I dispatched them to their makers with little difficulty.

Approaching the gate of the stronghold I faced the killer of clone five knowing full well that there were no guarantees. Just because clone six had defeated this giant in a previous battle didn’t mean that I would. For all the maker cared, we could all start back at square one. But it was our religion. I prayed to it and believed it to my core.

The goliath stumbled toward me, its massive spiked club raised high. I sprung off to the right, mindful of the loose stepping-stone that had almost foiled six, and rolled away to safety as the club came crashing down into the dirt. By the time the hulking killdroid had spun around I managed to release the heavy launcher from my cloak and hoisted it upward, its butt-end nestled firmly against my shoulder. There was an explosion as I tapped the trigger, and when my eyes reopened I was on my back, looking up, as smoke billowed from the now headless collapsing form of the killdroid.

I scrambled to one side and avoided the tons of crashing steel. Then as I stood and faced the tower, the dust cleared. All I needed to do was follow six’s path up and over the wall. It was almost as if I were merely floating along in a dream now. I needed only to follow his footsteps. And this held true until I got to the spot along the top of the wall where the polymer arrow had pierced his heart. I dove off the wall a second before the shot arrived, and crashed down into the brush below.

I stood up and stepped out of the shrubbery. I heard a thump, and looked down just in time to see the grenade roll up to my boot. Damn it! Eight would have to learn from my mistake.

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