Cargo

Author : S. P. Mahoney

“Freighter Tigris, Control. You’re straying out of your flight path — explain. Now.” Maria and Crone shared a look, before Maria put on her headset. Rank hath its responsibilities.

“Control, this is Tigris. Something hit us when that courier buzzed us before. We seem to be losing some navigational accuracy. Can you give me a course correction?” She looked back at the pair of commandos filling the back of the cockpit. EnGorillas. Enhanced, rather, in intelligence and dexterity; the slaves of the Imperium. Specifically, these ones were combat-enhanced, bolted into a suit of powered armor. Under Imperial law, a gathering of two was already a major crime — to say nothing of hijacking a starship. “I don’t want to get myself blown out of the sky for a silly mistake.”

Tigris, Control, sure thing. We don’t want to get the fireworks started early, either.” Easy for him to say. “Come about twenty degrees to the right for me?” She looked back again, and the commando leader touched his pointer finger with his thumb, then made an almost-fist. Ninety seconds. Piece of cake.

“One moment, Control.” She raised her voice. “Get the shutter open, now! We’re going to have to navigate by eye.” The copilot nodded and retracted the cockpit’s heavy window-cover. Sunlight streamed in through the transparent half-sphere in front of them. The second EnGorilla was typing away on a computer attached to the wrist of its (his, Maria was pretty sure) armor. Calculating.

“Control, Tigris, we’re going to try navigating solely with the thrusters. Cutting power to the right thruster . . . now.” She waited ten long seconds, then toggled her mic back on. “We’ve determined the problem, Control, the autopilot is locked-in and won’t deactivate. It’s following the shortest route to our destination. My copilot’s under the console right now, he’s going to see if he can yank the power without killing us all.”

Tigris, Control.” The voice was tight. “You have twenty seconds. Your autopilot picked a bad day for this. I’m going to feel bad if I have to shoot you down, but . . . ”

“Security, yeah. Acknowledged, Control.” It was going to be close. Very close.

“Hold this course, Captain. You’ll know when it’s time to change it,” came the leader’s voice. Calm, like this was just another day.

Maybe it was, for him. By Maria’s count, it was eighteen seconds before the ship began shuddering. The cargo bay alarms lit up like a Christmas tree as the doors on the ship’s bottom opened, spilling two hundred tons of fertilizer into the air. The next alarms were from the weapons-detection sensors: missiles were on their way.

“WHAT NOW?” She screamed at the EnGorilla, who just looked back, unperturbed.

He nodded to his comrade, who stomped out. “I told you you wouldn’t be harmed if you cooperated, and I intend to uphold that guarantee. Those missiles will not hit you, though I suggest you break atmosphere before the next wave.

“We’ll be leaving. The cargo fees have been transferred to your ship’s account; that fertilizer is going exactly where your client wanted it.” On the muted news channel the ape had put on, she watched as the capitol building, all fancied-up for the Centennial, was suddenly pounded by a deluge of high-grade animal waste.

***

And that’s how this particular rebellion kicked off, Spaceman Brown. And that, incidentally, is why “monkey flings poo” jokes are punishable by death in both the Imperium and the Unchained States. So keep them to yourself until we’re back in free space, hey?

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Ticket to Paradise

Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

Two-hundred and twenty years had finally passed. We had reached our destination. From our sleep tubes we could see the first images of the beautiful green planet on our displays. But I did not care about any of it.

Then as our ship descended through the light wispy clouds we were shown the first views of the surface close up; wonderful lush forests and meandering green rivers flowing from one marshland to the next. Rolling hills the colour of emeralds glowed in the distance. Yet still I did not care.

We were all still mostly paralyzed by the stasis drugs and unable to communicate with one another. But I wanted to converse with no one, and if my guess was right, no one would want to talk to me either. The mere thought of it was almost unbearable. Even though I could finally open my eyes the only other thing that worked right now was the thing that had always worked.

Finally we touched down in a lush green meadow and I began to feel a tingling in my extremities as my physical mobility was at long last returned to me. It would be some hours before I would be able to exit the tube, but soon I was at least able to key the console.

Just as I had feared, the malfunction had not been isolated to my chamber alone. I quickly deduced that sixty-five of the ninety-eight of us were dead. Not surprising all things considered. But how had they been so lucky when, pray as I might, I had not been able to wish death upon myself all this time.

After several hours I slowly dragged my still-numb body from the stasis tube. I noticed a couple others doing the same in another part of the chamber. I did not look at them or greet them, and they paid the same respect toward me. I was pretty sure that they had the same destination and ultimate goal in mind.

I didn’t care that we were mankind’s first explorers to another star system, or that the new world outside was more beautiful than any description of Eden. All I wanted to do was to get to sick bay and the cabinet with the suicide pills.

We were finally here, in an extra solar paradise, but the malfunction that had occurred in the chemical mixer over two centuries ago, paralyzing our bodies and our bodies alone, was to blame for our current state.

Our minds, our poor tortured minds had stayed alert all this time, trapped behind cemented eyelids. And all we had been able to do for the entire horrible journey was to think, and then think, think and think some more. More thinking than anyone could ever want in a dozen lifetimes.

I reached sick bay first but there were other tortured souls shuffling in behind me. We were finally free to take our own lives. We were finally free from the forever trap.

Yes we had arrived in paradise at last, and we were completely insane.

 

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Big Brother

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The battlefield is silent and empty. In the city beyond, we can see figures on the remaining vantage points. All of us gawking like children as the spectacle continues.

The dawning light reflects from angles or scatters in rainbow flashes across Sean’s body. With unbelievable grace, he executes a swooping lunge; his head briefly level with his ankles as his arms curve back and up, like wings spreading. The slipstream of his passing bends trees and flattens the few shanties they had supported.

“Colonel Jones, please instruct your brother to carry out his orders.”

The voice in my earpiece is stiff with disapproval. This paradigm shift in warfare is beyond them.

“Brigadier Stephens. Major Jones is doing just that.”

“Pardon me, Colonel. I had the silly idea that attacking a city involved fighting.”

“Brigadier, you misunderstand me. I do not expect this city to fall.”

“We don’t have the men for a hundred and eighty square miles of urban combat, Colonel.”

I see Captain Andrews raise a hand, his other one pointing at the white flag bobbing towards us from the city.

“Gentlemen, I expect hostilities to cease within the hour. Yes, Brigadier, I will resign before court-martial if I am wrong.”

Sputtering over the earpiece is my only reply. After a while, the Captain arrives with our flag carrying visitor, who cannot take his gaze from my brother, even when he speaks.

Lieutenant Sprindi translates: “The humble representative of the people relays a request that when his august leaders capitulate, would the dalishen do them the honour of accepting their surrender in person?”

I smile at our visitor and switch to the command channel.

“Sean. Finish that pattern and get over here, will you?”

Sean finishes with a beautiful circling move, his hands moving so fast at it’s culmination you can hear the wind roar around them. After a simple bow toward the sun, he activates his gravtac and drifts our way, setting down with a gentle thud that only slightly demolishes our encampment. His feet are placed either side of the command tent. Our visitor is shaking like a leaf in the wind.

“Lieutenant, tell the humble representative we agree before he faints.”

A few moments later said representative is sprinting back to the city as Sean lets himself down carefully into a cross-legged sitting position. I lean against his toes until he extends a finger and gives me a boost to perch on his knee. I grin up into the immense sensor arrays so carefully designed to look like monstrous eyes.

“You were right. A two-hundred foot tall cyborg doesn’t need weapons; it only needs to be invulnerable. The terror inspired by facing something that can swat aircraft by throwing tanks at them is stupefying. Your destructive potential is unthinkable and you devastate their morale by just arriving.”

Sean chuckled over his speakers before resorting to command channel: “Good thing they needed the size to fit the first gravitic core. Sleight fields will keep me awesome until someone makes their own titans. Then things will get interesting.”

“Which is why I recommend you add Pehlwani and gada to your Wu-Shu.”

“Why?”

“They can’t shoot you, so they’ll take your lead. Seeing videos of your patterns, they’ll select a striking art. Which will be utterly buggered by Indian wrestling and Hanuman mace.”

“My big brother, still looking out for me. Love ya, Feargal.”

I look up at him, my quadriplegic brother turned ad-hoc battlefield god: “I think the ‘big’ bit is yours now. Call me older.”

I see the watchers flinch as Sean’s laughter roars out.

 

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Sisters of Mars

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I watched as the Martian women came down the stairs from their shuttle onto the tarmac.

Regular Martian humans smeared red clay into their skin but these Ambassadors had tattooed their entire bodies red. They believed that if your skin matched the colour of your blood, you had purity of mind. Their hands and feet were intricately tattooed a darker shade of rust with rings of triangles, dots and bands. Their red cloaks billowed slowly in the calm summer day as they came closer to our delegation.

They were all wearing red sunglasses. Back home, their sun didn’t beat down on them the way ours did.

When Mars humans come to earth, our colour palette is sensory overload. The blue sky, the green trees, the black night. Putting on a pair of rose-coloured glasses helps them. They’re used to red dust coating everything, a small red sun, and twinkling red and pink stars nestling in the bloody ribbon of the Milky Way at night.

They were getting closer. They were taller and thinner than us. We waited in our suits under the July sun with some hand-picked reporters gathered around us. The Martian ship was clean of weapons but we had firearms just in case. Ever since the war ended ten years ago, our planets had been estranged. The planet named for the god of war had lost. Mars had seceded from the solar-system federation after that.

Now we were face to face in the silence of the tarmac. Every one of the Martian Ambassadors had the naturally ginger hair that was common on Mars. Strawberry blonde all the way down to a red-yarn scarlet that doesn’t exist on Earth.

The lead ambassador took off her glasses and smiled at me. Her eyes were a dark, iridescent, fire-flecked reddish brown that we didn’t have a word for. Hair the colour of a Kansas sunset pulled up tight above grenadine skin. An ornate pattern of red tattoos splayed across her exposed red arms and neck. Her nose had the same long sweep as the profile of the face on the Martian twenty-dollar bill.

“Mars is leaving.” She said in a startlingly low voice for such a fragile-looking person.

Confused, I waited for more but she was finished talking. “I don’t follow.” I replied. “You seceded from the System years ago. You have already left.”

“You do not understand.” She said again and smiled at me.

The buds in the ears of the reporters around me started up. The generals standing behind me reached for phones, nodded into them, and quickly walked to their vehicles.

The reporter to the left of me said into his communicator “Gone? How can it be gone?”

I looked back towards the lead Ambassador. She was still smiling.

“We have uncovered the secrets of the ones who lived in harmony before us on the red planet. We have discovered where they went. And we have extrapolated. We can bring the planet with us. We are here to tell you that in person. It’s only fair.” She said to me.

Then she turned to the other ambassadors and nodded. As one, they crossed their wrists. Some of the people around me reached for weapons but before they could draw, the Sisters shimmered, a crimson glow rippling around them, and disappeared with an arcing clap that ended in a twinkle of ruby light.

I stood there in the following silence and looked to the sky. I knew I’d be up on my roof tonight with my telescope looking for Mars.

 

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Twitch

Author : Christina Richard

More often than not, pretty girls do not get master’s degrees in neurorobotics. I am as ugly as your worst nightmare, but the bots I design have made grown men forget how to pronounce their own last names. And considering what happens to some of the bots I rent out, I’m goddamn glad I have thin, mousy hair and a crooked nose.

Take Dahlia for example, my most popular model. Her hair is chosen from the heads of only the most lovely slave girls, and her skin is a special rubber blend that feels almost human to the touch. Every Dahlia should have a gaze as empty as a wormhole, their sapphire-inlaid eyes luscious and vapid, but every now and then a few wires get knocked around and they do something interesting.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, the busiest day of the year for my company. One of my rental Dahlias came back this morning with half the rubber blend that was her face ripped away. Steel cheekbones underscored her eyes, and I noticed that her right iris was full of copper sockets from where the sapphires were shaken out. A dent in her temple made it look like she had been hit so hard that they loosened, spilling all over the carpet of someone’s bedroom rug. Dahlia’s red velvet gown hung off her in shreds. Amazingly, the white silk corset underneath was unharmed, still hugged her torso and breasts. Dahlia blinked vacantly, the sensor in her ruined eye glitching. She stared to my left.

“Hello mother,” she said. “My wires are loose.” Long lashes closed over her eyes, and stayed closed for a second too long. I wondered if there was a short circuit and cursed. The wiring would be no problem to repair, but the cosmetic damage would be costly.

Dahlia tilted her head when I swore. “Have I made you angry?” She said.

“No Dahlia. Lie down.”

Obediently, Dahlia hopped onto the metal table in the middle of the room and pulled the small lever below her clavicle. Both of her breasts released to either side of her torso, laying bare the wiring at Dahlia’s core. Sentimentalists keep the motherboard in the chest, where a human heart would be, but I find the stomach more efficient.

“Hold these for me,” I said, giving Dahlia a pair of pliers. I began to examine the internal damage. She had held up quite well, much better than the Venus model that came before her. I was impressed.

“You are just perfect, Dahlia,” I told her, smiling.

Dahlia’s face was very still as she stared at the ceiling tiles above her. I saw one of her eyebrows twitch, and stopped what I was doing; it’s rare for a bot to show involuntary movement, but in Dahlia’s damaged state it was no surprise.

“Will I be beautiful again?” She asked. “Can you fix me?”

“Yes, I can fix you. It’ll take time, but I promise you’ll be beautiful.”

Something in her copper iris looked almost human as she took the pliers in her hand and plunged them into the wires surrounding her motherboard. A shock pulsed through me and I was thrown back as Dahlia fried, the rubber blend bubbling into the wiring. Dumbfounded and bleeding, I peered over the side of the table to look at her. The eyebrow on her mangled, melted face was still frozen in that involuntary little twitch.

 

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Before Ruin

Author : Cruz Andronico Fernandez

People were getting sick everyday. Scott could care less. It was just something talked about on the television. So when he fell off his bike and tore up his arm he was only thinking about when he could get back on and ride again.

The day after the accident Scott’s arm hurt most of the day. His bones felt like they were grinding together. He thought he could hear them making little snapping sounds. It was weird he thought. The swelling was going down by the minute. The color was returning to normal. But it hurt! The pain reached a crescendo and he heard a pop. It wasn’t in his mind. He heard his bone pop.

It was the sound of it popping back into place. His arm was better. He could move it again. Scott didn’t know what they had given him at the hospital but it sure as hell worked. His arm had healed itself within a day of his accident.

Scott threw himself on the floor and did ten push ups. No pain. He did twenty. He did another thirty. His arm was better. Better than before. Then the pain in his head began.

It happened fast. Sharp pain shot from his eyes to the base of his skull. He threw up cold pizza. Sweat poured from his body. His muscles felt like they were being ripped from his bones.

911 was experiencing a high volume of calls. It didn’t matter. He crawled into bed. The light hurt his eyes so he left the lights off. If his television had been on he would have seen that this was happening all over the world. He would have known that people were dying. He would have known what happened after they died.

Scott closed his eyes and dreamt. His dreams were wild. He was in a wasteland. Cities buried in sand. He became a bird and flew to a half buried power line. Then he melted into the power line and was pure energy. He coursed through the line into the wasted city. He found himself in dead appliances. He emerged onto television screens and computer monitors. His eyes became street cameras. His ears became discarded and dead cell phones. His voice radios and mp3 players. He screamed for someone to answer him. No one did. He was alone.

For a time he waited silently. Breathing in the desert air. He was a ruined city. He was a world without people. He was the last thought of a dead civilization. Rain began to fall and each drop was his tear. Then he got angry and he was lightning. Then he was still and nothing.

Scott’s heart stopped at nine o’clock at night. His apartment was dark. It was still. In the streets fires were burning. Around the world people were dying just like Scott. There was panic. There was fear. Eventually there would be nothing left.

At ten o’clock that night the lights in Scott’s apartment came on. His television turned on. His mp3 player started playing. His blender came to life. Every electronic device became active. At ten o’ one Scott’s eyes opened.

 

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