Author : Thomas Desrochers
The crowd is fast on the heels of the gate guards. Evacuation sirens are blaring, deafening. Over everything the massive ship looms, engines warming up. Everybody is running, but from what, or why, nobody can say. They’ve been trained to for years. That’s all they know.
In front of them a guard turns and fires a single round.
A man looks down at his gut. He’s been shot, he realizes. He could live with enough time and the right care, but there is no time and right now nobody cares.
‘Daddy,’ the little girl says, ‘you’re bleeding.’
‘I know.’ He looks at the young guard, still holding the pistol in shaking hands, unsure of what he has done. On either side the crowd surges forward. There are two more gunshots, a shout. It’s over quickly.
The man picks his little girl from between the legs of the adults, trying not to scream from the effort and the pain. ‘Come on, honey,’ he tells her. ‘Close your eyes.’
The people surge over the body of the guard and the man who killed him, trampling their bones and blood and flesh back into the dust.
The man staggers forward, every step measured in blood and shortness of breath.
Around him the people scream and scream and scream. They’re about to be left behind and they know it. Everybody is climbing over one another in a bid to get forward even a little bit. Many are crushed beneath dirty feet. They leave the man alone, however. He is large, a steel worker covered in scars and plates, augmented and able to easily crush any one of them.
But he’s dying. He looks down again. His pants and shirt are soaked in blood, more blood than it should be possible to lose. He looks forward, looks up. The boarding ramp is only fifty feet away, cordoned off by strong men with large guns, fighting for their lives against the mob. The soldiers begin backing up. Time has run out.
So the man moves. One arm holds his child while the other pushes bodies away. To him they’re nothing. He moves onward, inexorable.
He’s forty feet away.
The crowd begins to run: Ignition is coming. One of the soldiers notices him, raises his gun, fires.
His chest burns, the body he is shielding his daughter with is sputtering blood, bone, and oil. The ramp begins to rise.
The man collapses half on it, his little Sarah spilling from his arms onto the metal. Everybody is gone away now, and the soldiers are simply watching.
‘Daddy,’ she is crying. ‘Daddy. Get up. Please. You have to get up. Please get up.’
The soldiers look anywhere but before them.
‘Love,’ he whispers. He needs to say more, but his time is up. One broken hand gives Sarah’s arm a squeeze. Then the ramp has risen too far and his legs are too weak. He falls to the ground like a bag of cement mix.
Sarah is looking over the edge now, down at him. ‘Daddy,’ she screams. ‘Daddy. Get up!’ She is about to jump down to help him when rough, calloused hands grab her and pull her back.
The soldier holds her to his chest while she cries, one gentle hand on her head. He says nothing. As the ramp seals he squeezes her tight, but he may as well be a ghost to her.
Little Sarah turned six today. The dress her daddy got her is dirty and torn.
A roar – the ship begins to rise.
Everybody is leaving something behind.
Author : Desmond Hussey
We’re cutting it damn close. The three Gyth gliders are closing quickly as we jink in and out of the towering rock spires attempting to stay out of their line of fire. We’re gaining altitude quickly enough, but Kharla’s running low on water to convert to hydrogen for lift. She isn’t used to this pace. If we don’t make it to the event horizon we were done for.
I turn to my helmsman. “How’s she doing?”
K’li’ilk swivels two eye stalks toward me while the other two keep close watch on the jagged wall of rock, foliage and jutting stone terraces flashing past our portside. He answers rapidly in his clicking insectoid language. He’s morbidly pessimistic, as usual.
“I was afraid you’d say that”, I reply. “Just keep her going up.”
Another barrage of angry clicks.
“I don’t know! Tell her she can have all the water and sunshine she wants when she gets us to the other side.”
K’li’ilk scowls with his eyes, then closes them all as he concentrates on making empathic contact with Kharla, our ship.
Kharla’s a Palori, a pseudo-sentient plant. She uses photosynthesis to convert water into hydrogen for mobility through the vast airspace of this uncanny, improbable hollow planet. The H2 is stored in the one-hundred-forty thousand cubic foot, translucent gas membrane looming eighty feet above our gondola. Below the two crew decks, her four enormous, leathery leaves are currently making critical course changes, acting like rudders and/or sails when necessary. Dangling forty feet lower, her water sac and other organs are contained within a smaller, thicker, venous membrane. Trailing nearly a thousand feet, her many hollow, prehensile roots whip about in the gusting winds. She is a thing of beauty.
Jarku, my centipaur engineer, scuttles over on eighty spindly legs. “Ballistas are loaded. CO2, H2, O2 tanks fully charged, sir.”
“Let’s hope we don’t need them.”
We clear the highest spire and make a mad dash for the Event Horizon, a spectacular band thirty miles thick of low to nil gravity which divides the upper and lower hemispheres. Vague, amorphous shapes float within, likely large water bubbles filled with the strange algae that grows up here. If we’re lucky, that’s all they are.
Kharla’s gas membrane has become significantly smaller. We’re losing momentum fast and air pressure has decreased significantly, further slowing our assent.
The leather winged Gyth open fire, raining stone bullets across the hull, tearing chunks out of my ship. The twins, Torrah and Neb return fire with CO2 ballistas, but the fast moving, acrobatic Gyth are difficult to hit.
“Three thousand feet to EH.” Jarku reports. Too damned far.
K’li’ilk informs me that Kharla is nearly out of water.
Time for evasive action. My girl needs help.
“Jarku, fire up the thrusters. K’li’ilk, let Kharla know.”
Kharla’s gas membrane begins deflating, shriveling into a tight, organic ball above us. My stomach lurches as our upward momentum ceases and we begin to plummet.
One Gyth gets too close. Kharla lashes out with her roots snaring the bird-beast in their sinewy grip. She rips off a wing then drops the howling Gyth tumbling to the ocean one hundred miles below. One down.
“Jarku. Now! Make it count.”
Another Gyth swoops up from below as Jarku ignites the short-range pulse-jets mounted below the gondola, catching the avian in its searing blue flame and rocketing us straight up. The remaining Gyth retreats.
We’re going to make it, but our troubles aren’t over yet. We still have to cross the Event Horizon. I hope our cargo is worth it.
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
“Good morning, children,” said Nek-orf La’Erer.
“Good morning, Mx. La’Erer,” replied her students in unison.
“We have a lot to get through today,” she said without preamble. “So, we’ll continue where we left off yesterday. Tjen’er, you were about to show the class the specimen that you collected during the perihelion break. Where is it, by the way?”
Jumping to his feet, Tjen’er sheepishly explained, “It’s in the hall, Mx. La’Erer. It’s rather large, you see. I have it on an anti-grav sled.”
“Well, go fetch it Tjen’er. We’re all waiting to see it.”
“Yes, Mx. La’Erer,” replied Tjen’er as he scurried out the door. A moment later, he guided the anti-grav sled into the classroom. In the center of its rectangular tabletop rested a large liquid filled transparent cylinder. Despite the fact that the contained was sealed, a faint whiff of formaldehyde permeated the classroom. Suspended in the liquid was a strange looking alien creature.
The creature displayed bilateral symmetry, noted Mx. La’Erer, which was not uncommon in extra-terrestrial life forms, especially the lesser evolved varieties. It had an abnormally large head, a compact torso, and four appendages, each one longer than the torso. Mx. La’Erer motioned the children to gather around the specimen. “What’s it called, Tjen’er?”
Tjen’er consulted his notepad, and sounded out the words. “It’s called a ‘human’, Mx. La’Erer. They live on a planet called Earth in the spiral arm known as, er, Orion–Cygnus.”
“Take a marker,” instructed Mx. La’Erer, “and write the word ‘H-U-M-A-N’ on the cylinder so the class can see it. And while Tjen’er is doing that, I want each of you to tell be something you can deduce about this creature. Pi’ige, you go first.”
“It’s all soft and puffy, Mx. La’Erer, like it lost its shell. Maybe it’s molting?”
“Perhaps, Pi’ige,” cautioned Mx. La’Erer, “but not all creatures have external skeletons like us. Some have internal structures called bones. Sjov’v, what can you add?”
“Its mouth is stuck open, so it must be a girl human,” offered Sjov’v with a broad smile. The boys in the class began hooting and laughing, but stopped abruptly when Mx. La’Erer’s eyestalk panned each of them. “Sorry, Mx. La’Erer,” they all said in unison.
“Tjen’er,” asked Mx. La’Erer, “maybe you can help Mz. Sjov’v? Do you know the gender of your specimen?”
“No, Mx. La’Erer, they all looked the same to me.”
“Well, we might as well find out before we go much further,” she stated. “Let me look it up in the Xenobological Encyclopedia. Let’s see…hmmm…Humans. Here they are. From the order of primates. Their family group is Hominidae. Hmmm, this doesn’t seem right.” She glanced up at the creature for a second, then continued scanning the encyclopedia as the children looked at her expectantly. “Tjen’er,” she finally said, “I don’t think you brought back a human. According to the encyclopedia, that’s got to be a chimpanzee or an orangutan. It’s way too small to be a human.”
Suddenly under the spotlight, Tjen’er felt his slam dunk “A” plummeting to a “C”, or worse, because of shoddy research. On the verge of panic, he rapidly paged through his notepad. “Give me a second, Mx. La’Erer. I know I wrote it down correctly. Oh wait. Here it is. Sorry, Mx. La’Erer. I’ll fix it.” He picked up the marker and approached the cylinder. He reached up, and above the word “HUMAN” he wrote “B-A-B-Y”.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Janice curled up in the corner of the overstuffed couch, watching as Dora mixed drinks at the sidebar. She studied the woman with lustful fascination, eager to explore the flesh beneath the low-back, high hemmed dress and learn for herself where the real woman ended and the augments began.
Dora mixed the gin martinis like an old pro, not looking at what she was doing, but rather watching Janice coyly over her shoulder as she poured without measure, picked ice with carefully manicured hands, then shook the cocktail before finally dispensing it into two long stemmed glasses. She plucked large stuffed olives from a jar and dropped one into each glass, licking her fingers slowly.
“I hope that’s dirty enough for you,” she smiled as she pressed the glass into Janice’s outstretched hand then slipped into the couch beside her, close enough to touch, but only slightly.
Janice felt electric thrills run up her spine.
They studied each other as they sipped their drinks and engaged in playful banter. The front, Janice decided, was all original skin; the face, throat and down the plunge front of her dress to the exposed cleavage. The breasts themselves were clearly enhanced, but expensively so, they weren’t rock hard and constantly erect like many, but rather moved as the slightly older woman moved. The legs had to be manufactured, the skin was supple over corded muscle, calves to die for and not a vein or trace of cellulite in sight. Janice had for a moment in mind the image of an old building front, brickwork and classically styled facade maintained while the entire structure behind and beneath was torn down and replaced with something more modern. The facade of Dora smiled, while the legs of her powerful undercarriage propelled her upright.
In deliberate slow motion, Dora slipped the shoulder straps off her dress and let it slide down past her hips to the floor. Janice blushed at her complete and sudden nakedness, not having noticed her lack of undergarments before.
Dora leaned in and rescued the glass from Janice’s fingertips before it slipped, and cupped her face gently with her free hand, slowly drawing her polished emerald nails along Janice’s cheek.
Janice felt a warmth overwhelm her, and wondered for a moment how she’d got here, then in the next instant no longer cared.
“You’re practically perfect,” Dora purred, running her tongue down her ear before gently sucking at the lobe. “All original equipment, not a single touch of hardware.”
Janice allowed herself to be pulled slowly, Dora’s hands firm on her hips until she was no longer in the corner but rather lay flat in the middle of the couch. Dora’s scent was overpowering, her breasts invitingly within reach, if she could only raise an arm to touch them.
“The hardware whores are impossible to catch, and so easily traced. They’re so eager to give up their flesh for metal, they don’t even know what they do.”
Dora’s straddled the younger supine woman, placing her hands gently on her shoulders and running them slowly down across her chest, fingering occasionally the silk of her blouse.
“I was born metal, and I’ve coveted the flesh my entire existence.” Dora bent to hover over Janice’s glassy eyed face before kissing her gently on the lips. “When we’re done, you’ll make some wonderful contributions, then we’ll grow old together, like all of god’s creatures were meant to, until we’re allowed to die.”
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
The situation was bad; twenty-nine hostages, mostly women and children, and these guys were a whole new breed of terrorist. Similar instances as this had already ended horribly when any type of extraction was attempted. They were usually wired up heavily and vibrating on hair triggers, quite prepared to take themselves out along with everything around them at the first sign of trouble.
The Russian scientist entered the command center with his silver briefcase. An underling leaned over to his superior and whispered, “I don’t trust this Russian.”
“Never you mind. Besides, what other option do we have?”
The commander crossed the floor, hand extended in friendship. “Doctor Volstok, welcome. I expect you’ve already been briefed.”
“Da, my bugs are in position outside of the bunker. Tell me where I can set up and we’ll go in for a closer look.”
Inside the stronghold the prisoners huddled together shivering and crying on the dirty floor. Eight armed guards stood around them swatting at flies when suddenly a handful of new insects entered the room.
Back at the command center the Russian scientist manipulated the controls inside his open briefcase. “As you can see on the display gentlemen, normally this situation would be pretty much hopeless.” They could all see, through the tiny camera lenses of the robotic mayflies’ eyes, the eight terrorists with their plasma rifles and their wired vests packed with enough C9 to make a crater the size of Damascus. “Now that we have visual conformation through the mayflies, my mosquitos are in position.” He looked back to the commander. “Are you going to follow protocol and give them their final warning?”
As much as he hated to, thinking, there was no way these insane bastards would ever pay them the same courtesy, he opened the hostage negotiation comlink.
In the bunker the wall screen lit up with the commander’s brown face. The lead terrorist pointed his rifle at the screen. “Have you met all of our demands?”
“No reverend Smith. In fact I am only following protocol as laid out by the Canadian Convention of 2070. This is your final warning. Release the hostages immediately or you will be neutralized.”
The former Baptist minister and his cohorts broke out in a chorus of laughter. Smith held up his vest trigger. “Empty threats when I’m holding the magic button!”
“I’ll take that as a no then.” He pointed at Doctor Volstok, a signal to proceed.
The Russian keyed his console. Suddenly eight tiny androids built to look and act like mosquitos dropped from the ceiling and landed on the necks of the terrorists. Before a single one could react, they all dropped to the floor dead.
“Good job Doctor.” The Syrian general on the wall screen then addressed the frightened Muslims on the floor. “Please remain calm. Your captors have been neutralized. An extraction team will be there in minutes to assist you. Praise Allah you’re all safe.”
Author : George R. Shirer
There are three types of people who become FTL-pilots: crazies, masochists and sad sacks.
I’m the last.
At least, that’s what my boss would tell you. That I’m one of those sad bastards who can’t let go of the past. Then he’d probably tell you what a fine pilot I am because he doesn’t want to risk alienating a good FTL-pilot.
Today’s run is just a short hop, from New Mars to the colony on Weaver’s World. The cargo bay is jammed with stasis pods, loaded with replacement workers. It’ll take sixteen hours to get to Weaver’s World. That’s just long enough for a nice chat.
As soon as I’ve got clearance from traffic control, I flip the switch. All the hairs on the back of my hands stand on end as we transition to FTL-space.
Three hours into the flight, Grandma Peg appears. She doesn’t look like I remember her at the end, careworn and sick. This is grandma as a young woman, in her twenties, wearing her engineer’s coveralls, ready to kick ass and take names.
“Hello, Charlie,” she says, taking the copilot’s seat.
“Hello, Grandma. How are you?”
“Still dead. And yourself?”
“Still not dead,” I say, cheerfully.
She laughs and we settle into comfortable silence. After a little while, some of the others show up. My dad, who died in the Newt War, and my sister, Caroline, who bled out in the delivery room because of a faulty auto-doc.
They’re hungry for news of the living. Especially Caroline. She wants to know all about the daughter she died giving birth to.
“She’s thinking of becoming a pilot.”
My dead sister’s face lights up. “Really?”
“If she does, she won’t stay,” I warn. “She doesn’t believe in ghosts.”
Dad laughs. “Another rationalist. If I only knew then, what I know now.”
Lots of people don’t believe you can interact with the dead in FTL-space. This, despite the evidence to the contrary. Most of the doubters think ‘the dead’ are just some type of FTL-space life-form with telepathic abilities. None of the doubters have been able to explain why aliens would appear as our dead and I don’t believe it anyway.
At the halfway mark to Weaver’s World, Allison arrives. My wife looks as lovely as ever. The rest of the family fades away, to give us our privacy.
We talk. I tell her about my life and she tells me about her existence. You can’t touch the dead, so we can’t dance. Not properly. I still cue up the music and we shadow dance with each other, swaying back and forth.
At the deceleration point, a chime rings. I turn to the controls, but Allison calls my name and, smiling, takes my hand. Her fingers are warm and solid.
“Oh God,” I say. “When did it happen?”
“A few minutes ago,” she says.
“Does it matter?”
I decide it doesn’t. My dead wife takes my hand and we dance into eternity.