The More Things Change

Author : Morghan J.

“You understand why I require payment up front in a hard currency; when I complete my task, you will have no reason to pay me.” The woman idly stirred her cocktail, eyes latched on the man in a wheelchair sitting across from her at the bar table, his eyes gaunt and traced in shadow, with a leg twisted and broken. The man picks up his drink and looks at it before setting it back down.

“Of course, of course. How much will it cost?” He asks, and she grins.

“Depends, how much can you afford? I’m not a charity; there is an inherent danger in my line of work.”

He knocks back the remainder of his drink in one swift motion, “I’ll make it worth your while. When will you be there?”

She shrugs “When I am. I have a lot of clients, some are higher priority than others. Should be within a month.”

“Think of the event,” she says, pulling a pair of electrodes from her watch. “But don’t focus on the details; details just clutter your mind. Focus on the when, and the where.” Attaching the electrodes to his temples, she continues, “Build the scene in your mind, think of what you could see, focus on what day it was, what time, what year.” A row of five red lights appear on the face of her watch.

“I’m trying, but it’s hard not to—”

She holds up a hand, pausing his speech, “I know, but that’s why we are doing this. My services are useless if I’m dropped in the middle of the ocean. When and where; focus. Here, take this as well, it will help you sleep after,” she hands him a pill and a glass of water, he drinks, and goes silent, lost in thought, and slowly the lights turn green. “Ah, excellent; your memory of this is very strong, normally it takes much longer to prepare.” She detaches the front face of her watch, handing it to him. “Now keep focusing on the event. Don’t let more than one of those lights turn red. This is your anchor. It holds you here. It holds me here more accurately. If you forget, if you stop focusing, you will shift,” she steps back a pace. “Remember, focus!” She taps a now exposed button on her watch, and two blinding flashes of light fill the room.

The stars clear from his eyes, and he notices two wires hanging from his temples. He looks down. An odd device connected to the wires sits in his hands, looking like the face of a watch, with five lights rapidly switching from green to red. He hears movement and looks up. A woman he vaguely recognizes is standing in front of him. A fresh cut on her cheek slowly oozes blood, a drop of which falls and splatters on the floor. He recoils. “Wh—Who are you! How did you get in my house? What is this thing!” He gestures to the watch face now sitting in his lap, one electrode having sprung loose from his temple and wound itself back inside the casing when he recoiled, the other still attached. She smirks, reaches forward, and plucks the other electrode from his temple, slotting the watch face neatly back onto its back.

“That is not important. What matters is the job I was hired for is complete. Good day sir,” she taps her watch again, and a third blinding flash fills the room.

He reaches up and rubs his eyes, clearing the stars from them once again. He pauses; probing his mind, he remembers where he knew the woman from; she fought off four men who were dragging him into an alley in the city many years ago. He thinks of the event, and remembers a flash from around the corner. The woman that saved him got a cut on her face when one of the assailants threw a bottle at her. It must be coincidental; he is in an entirely different country, halfway across the world. But yet, she was standing in his kitchen just moments ago. Seemingly out of nowhere, he begins feeling exhausted, even the troubling thoughts of the woman don’t stay in his mind for much longer as he staggers to his bed, collapsing into a long sleep. He wakes up the next day and goes for a jog, with no recollection of the evening’s events.

 

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Testing

Author : John Domenichini

Don held the phone closer to his ear and raised his voice. “Gramps wait. Don’t test anything. Wait for me… Gramps!!” He pulled the phone away from his ear. “Damn it!!!”

Don’s roommate, Hong, sat calmly on his bed. “That was your great-grandfather? The ‘silent’ scientist behind the atom bomb,” he said with an expression of wry skepticism.

“Yeah,” said Don. “I don’t need your disbelief right now. He says he’s got something figured out. I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I’m scared.”

“What’s he a hundred? He’s probably just senile.”

Don sat back on his own bed. “Just senile? Senile is the problem. Experimental and senility together is very bad. He says he’s testing something unbelievable. He won’t tell me what exactly. I guess I should go over there. Damn, It’ll take me thirty minutes to get to his place.”

Hong chuckled. “Dude, you worry too…”

A whirlwind suddenly appeared on the floor between them. Mud and fire spit out from its sides, then, with an explosion, the whirlwind disappeared and Don’s great-grandfather stood before them covered in mud. He smiled innocently as smoke drifted from his singed white hair.

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Christmas Stars

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Dara rolled out of her bunk and onto her feet in a smooth, practiced motion. On the way to the door she winced as the tightness in her calves made each footstep painful, but by the time she’d hit the column midship the ache had mostly receded. Aging in low gee sucked just as hard as aging planetside.

Grabbing the ladder loosely with both hands and using her boots for stability on the outside of the rails, she dropped the six stories to the lower observation deck and galley in a few measured breaths. The landing brought her aching joints back to the forefront of her mind, but only for a moment.

“What in Spanner’s Starweld is that?”

Turing turned from the beverage dispenser he’d been fiddling with and admired his handiwork. “It’s a Christmas tree.”

Dara walked suspiciously around the two meter tall green cone that filled the center of the room, the tables having been pushed back around it to make space.

“That’s no tree,” she poked the green surface of the thing tentatively, “I’ve seen trees in my day, and that sure ain’t one of those.”

Turing sipped from his mug while maneuvering to stand beside his Captain.

“Technically it’s not really a tree, it’s foamed vegelite, suspended on a cellulose frame. I’ve been growing it for the past few weeks, when the lighting switches to darktime, it fluoresces.”

Dara had never thought much of the religious holidays, nor had her crew, and that Turing had put such apparent effort into this thing surprised her.

“Why in the weld would we start celebrating Christmas now? We left the jolly fatman behind decades ago with everything else.” The smell of whatever Turing was drinking was starting to itch a part of her memory long unvisited.

“We have children on the ship for the first time this year, and it will be nice for them to have something to look forward to each year. I mean, we still acknowledge birthdays, and they’re just marking arbitrary revolutions around a star that we’ve been running away from for ever, so what’s the difference?”

He had a point, and Dara had to admit his handiwork was impressive.

“What in the weld is that smell, is that –”

“Coffee. Yes it is.” Turing cut her off, handing her a mug of her own. “I’ve been growing synthetic beans for months, I think I’ve finally got it right.”

She held the mug under her nose, breathing deeply of the aroma and letting it unlock that part of her brain she’d put in a box so many years ago. Morning rituals, sunrises over the bay.

“Merry Christmas Captain.” Turing stared past the tree and out into the expanse of space beyond, flecks of light slowly receding.

The Captain stood beside him silently for a while, savouring the coffee and admiring the view. Maybe somethings shouldn’t be left behind after all.

“Merry Christmas Turing,” she spoke finally, “Merry Christmas.”

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Twilight Cruiser

Author : Roger Dale Trexler

The ship skimmed the border between light and darkness as it had for millennia. Mankind found it by accident. In their quest to explore space, they had finally traversed the distance between Earth and Mercury. The ship had been so small that it was never noticed as it circled the planet along the terminator between its light and dark side. But, as the first manned vessel approached the planet, they used Mercury’s shadow to block out the brilliance of the sun. And, since they were now much closer than any telescope could possibly see, their instruments detected the ship in orbit.

Commander Ricci ordered his ship into a parallel orbit with the alien ship. As they pulled alongside, everyone marveled at the strangely beautiful vessel.

“Where do you think it came from?” Jeffreys, the pilot, asked.

“I don’t know,” Commander Ricci said.

“It’s been there a long time,” Cyrus Esch, the navigator, said. “Over two thousand years, from what I can tell.”

They looked at each other.

“We have to board it,” Commander Ricci said.

They talked about it awhile. Esch and Jeffreys tried to protest, but they knew that they had to board the alien ship. It was, after all, their purpose for going out into space—to explore. Jeffreys and Esch had different viewpoints as to why, but they had both become astronauts for precisely the same reason. They wanted to know what was out there. Esch’s Midwest religious upbringing had prompted him to see what God had created. Jeffreys, the atheist amongst them, simply wanted to know why the universe existed.

“We’ll draw straws to see who goes onboard,” Ricci said. He quickly took three pieces of wire and cut them to three different lengths and held them in his closed fist. Jeffreys drew the short wire.

He looked nervously at his comrades.

“We’ll be in constant touch with you,” Ricci said. “You’ll be all right.”

Unfortunately, that did not dissuade his fears.

##

Thirty minutes later, they docked with the alien ship. The universal docking clamp held firm to what they believed was an access hatch to the ship.

Jeffreys fitted himself into a spacesuit and stood by the airlock. Even in the cool climate controlled suit, he was sweating.

“What do you think is out there?” he asked Esch.

Esch adjusted Jeffreys’ oxygen controls. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. “But, someone or something left that ship here for us to find. There must be a purpose to it.”

“What if the purpose is to destroy us?” Jeffreys asked.

“I can’t believe that God would allow that,” Esch told him. “Besides, as old as that thing is, you’d think it could have destroyed us long ago.”

Ricci walked into the airlock bay. “You ready?”

Jeffreys nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Good.”

Ricci punched the button to the airlock and it opened. Jeffreys reluctantly stepped inside. As the door sealed, Jeffreys stared out at them, afraid.

Then, he turned and opened the airlock. He stepped through and touched the hatch to the alien ship. It glowed where his hand made contact and slid open.

##

Jeffreys rushed through the airlock. The panic on his face told Esch and Ricci everything they needed to know.

“Destroy it!” Jeffreys screamed as the airlock pressurized. He unclamped his helmet and shouted, “Destroy it!” again.

Esch looked at Ricci. “What happened?” Esch asked through the comm.

“Jesus…he’s …,” Jeffreys said, but he never finished the sentence. For, in the next instant, the alien spaceship exploded and took them along with it.

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Survival

Author : Travis Gregg

She deeply inhaled the damp and humid air, savoring the coolness. The forest was ancient and the tree trunks nearly crowded out the sky. Even though the air was thick with moisture, and condensate clung to the ferns in the underbrush, finding fresh water was the first major hurdle she would have to overcome. After half the day all she’d managed to accomplish was scouting the immediate area and the construction of a rudimentary shelter for the night. There was no fire to keep her warm but a hollow filled with old leaves and brush made an adequate substitute.

On the second day, already starting to feel the effects of dehydration, she set out to find water. Heading downhill was the best bet for finding some and hopefully something to eat. She knew she could go a week or so without eating but beyond that she wasn’t sure; water was the much more pressing concern. Luckily the weather was cool and cloudy. Exposure wasn’t going to be an issue she thought to herself.

By the third day with water secured and a reasonable clearing found, it was time to see about getting a fire going. The dampness made this difficult but she managed to find some dry tinder in the hollow of a tree. Getting a fire going was much more difficult than keeping one going. Once she had the fire blazing, she stacked the damper wood close, hoping to dry it out some so it would burn more easily.

It rained on the fifth day, not the misting cool precipitation that came in the afternoons, but a downpour that soaked through the shelter and threatened to extinguish the fire. With water dripping down her face and her clothes soaked she carefully fed the fire, stoking it just right to keep it going.

The game trails were abundant near the small stream she had found a few days ago, and on day seven she managed to snare a small creature. The creature was small, about thirty centimeters in length and was covered in a soft downy fur. The creature was something she wasn’t familiar with but it smelled delicious as she cooked it over the fire, a sure sign that it was edible.

Day eleven brought the certainty that she was being watched, maybe hunted. Coming back from a foraging run down stream she found her camp ransacked, her lean-to torn to pieces. For the last few days she’d gotten the feeling that there was something else in the forest, something ominous. Several times a day the forest would get completely silent and she felt a presence. Now she had proof.

It took two days to run down the beast but on the thirteenth day she found the massive lumbering monster collapsed along the trail. The trap had mangled its leg, but she had wounded it far less grievously than she initially thought. She plunged her spear into its chest, hoping that was where the heart was.

By day seventeen the skull of the beast had been cleaned of flesh by the local insects. It was every bit the trophy she had hoped for.

From her pocket the com crackled to life.

“Sir, this is Echo Two One in route.”

“I read you Echo Two One, what is your ETA?” Her voice cracked a bit, not having been used in weeks.

“We’ll be at the rendezvous in two hours.”

“Acknowledged Echo Two One, see you then.”

She sighed, vacation was over and it was time to get back to work. Looking around she breathed deeply of the cool clean air, relishing it. It would be a while before she’d be able to get away again.

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Hep to the Jove

Author : Bob Newbell

Culturally, they are the descendants of the hepcats and beats and hippies and hipsters and the other various subsequent nonconformists of the past half-millennium who organically came together to form distinct subcultures. But there the parallels end. Even the most unorthodox of those earlier bohemians could not have imagined the Plasmatics.

As a Special Activities Bureau investigator for the Sino-American Commonwealth, my job can take me anywhere in the system, but the magnetosphere of Jupiter is pretty far afield even for someone like me. It’s equally unusual for an agent like myself to enlist help from outside the Bureau. We typically pride ourselves on our discretion. But when an unmanned recon ship gets trapped in orbit around Jupiter carrying intel that could mean trade sanctions from the African Coalition and perhaps war with the Lunar Free State if said intel goes public, discretion is adjourned. That’s where the Plasmatics come in.

My ship settles into an enormously wide orbit around the gas giant to avoid the electromagnetic maelstrom that rings the planet, the same maelstrom that the Plasmatics call home. I beam a radio signal and wait. Within half an hour, I get a response.

“The ship’s computers are probably already fried,” I tell the locals. “But we were hoping you could make sure they are.”

In a few minutes, a modulation in the normal Jovian background radio emissions is received and processed by my ship’s computer: “Jiddy sups a boost. Not charming a glint.”

That is the closest literal translation my computer can manage. The Plasmatics have a slang all their own. The fact that they are a community of gigantic spider web-like entities flying through the Jovian magnetosphere does nothing to bridge the cultural gap. Of course, the people who gave up their humanity over the past century to become Plasmatics didn’t do so because they wanted to fit in. The connotative meaning of the message is something like “The human would like us to do him a favor but he isn’t offering us any reward in exchange.”

“What could the Commonwealth do for you?” I reply, having no idea what nearly immaterial meshwork creatures who live in a plasma sheet might want.

“Pum the Spot with Basu-Lovvorn 3.”

Basu-Lovvorn 3 is a long-period comet. It will pass through the orbit of Jupiter in about 10 years. They want the Commonwealth to deflect it to strike the immense anticyclonic storm system on Jupiter’s surface that is more than twice the diameter of Earth called the Great Red Spot. I radio back to my superiors. They agree to the terms. The Commonwealth Space Authority will undertake the project with research into Jupiter’s atmosphere as the cover story.

“The Commonwealth will do as you ask. Just for my own curiosity, may I ask why you want a comet diverted into the Great Red Spot?”

My computer struggles with the Plasmatic response. The only word it can clearly render is “Renovate”. I have no idea if it’s more Plasmatic slang for something or if, in some context I can’t imagine, it means what it says.

My sensors show repeated bursts of electrical discharges in the area of the derelict Commonwealth spacecraft. Presumably, they have fulfilled their part of the bargain. “The Sino-American Commonwealth thanks you for your assistance,” I transmit as I move to break orbit.

“Cohesive, Jiddy! Real cohesive!” comes the response a minute later as I begin my fall back to the inner system.

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