Left Foot, Right Foot

Author : Evan Kayne

Right foot.

Tom Jenson remembered his uncle once told him “the hardest thing to do most days is to put one foot in front of the other.”

Left foot.

Of course, the topic was depression…and his uncle did kill himself, eventually. Tom shook his head and cleared away that last thought. He was starting to drift again. Time to lower the pain meds for a while.

Right foot.

The enviro-suit protested; but in this, he had some capacity to override its commands. He brought up the time remaining, just as the pain started tickling his feet. 3 days, 15 hours, 21 minutes 12 seconds. That’s how long until the AI controlling his ship The Far Reach calculated it could hold orbit and still have fuel for the trip home.

Left foot.

The pain leveled off at a tolerable level for a moment. Tom wondered what shape his feet were in. He understood now what his uncle meant – every fiber of his being screamed “lay down…let it stop…just stop”. He had been walking non-stop for 1 week. Or rather, the suit had been walking for 1 week. He gave up controlling his body 3 days into the march.

Right foot.

The trick was balance – not just the walking, but the time in the suit. He could have programmed the suit to run to the drop zone. It would have taken 5 days, but he’d be dead, beyond anything the suit could revive.

Every few hours he wished he was dead.

Left foot.

He had locked the commands into the suit itself after consulting with the on-board AI. He understood now why it recommended this action, when at least twice daily he screamed at the suit to let him lay down and rest. That’s usually when it pumped up the meds. Quite the achievement – in theory the suit could provide him with everything he needed from the existing resources on this planet.

Right foot.

Except he’d have wear the suit until the next time a survey ship is sent out this way – which could be months or years. Assuming he didn’t go mad from the loneliness, with only the primitive lichen on this rock to keep him company. I may go insane even before I reach the drop zone, Tom wondered. The repetitive movement was grinding away at bones, skin and muscles.

Left foot.

The suit kept his damage at a minimal level, only slowing to fix and repair flesh and bones. He’d reach the drop zone with about 23 hours to spare. That was better than the original estimate of a 3 hour window, but as every second dragged by, the hours ahead of him were like an endless ocean of time.

Right foot.

“The hardest thing for you to do most days is to put one foot in front of the other.” Tom Jenson remembered his uncle telling him when he was only 12 years old. His uncle thus described his depression, hoping to illustrate the depth of his sadness.

Left foot.

Tom didn’t understand at the time what his uncle said – how the everyday activities wore a depressed person down, how it took a colossal effort to perform these activities.

Right foot.

He understood now, but knew unlike his uncle, Tom had no avenue of escape. He felt the scream bubbling up in his mind and his body just as the suit increased the medications, and his consciousness washed away.

Left foot.

Right foot.

Left foot.

Right foot.

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The Vault

Author : Clint Wilson

I was in the best place a boy could be when the end of the world came, except for being dead maybe. We knew about it almost three years before it arrived. And while most of the world went insane, my family built the vault. In my case it definitely helped to be born into the upper crust.

And speaking of the upper crust, that’s where we sunk our vault deep. My dad was the project’s top investor, so many people we knew came inside with us.

Of course he was gone now, well protected from the certain ravages of dwelling topside, only to be killed in the impact nevertheless. In fact almost all of them were dead now, save for the handful of us who had had the fortune to be in the sensory deprivation chamber when Hand of God had struck. Our oxygen masks had kept us from drowning while the chamber’s half million tons of water had thrown us around in our hammocks like rag dolls.

No one really knew what the effects of a comet the size of Texas smacking into the planet at almost a million and a half kilometers an hour would be. But my family had nearly every possible contingency covered. Fear of the atmosphere being completely stripped away had caused them to install the giant oxygen tanks and supply enough pressure suits to outfit ten times the people we had left.

Still Dr. Fraser, my dad’s top advisor, couldn’t explain, beyond the certainty of an extreme and cataclysmic change to the earth, the reason for our weightlessness.

We were getting used to it now though. We were mostly children save for a few teachers and the doctor. And with the aid of ropes and makeshift climbing gear we made our way around the facility with ease.

But today was the day we had decided to go topside. Most of the adults had disagreed initially, but they lost in the majority vote, plus we had the doctor on our side. He had explained quite clearly, “We are well equipped with pressure suits, aerosol cans for propulsion, plus our ropes and grappling hooks, and both airlocks show to be in perfect working order. I will only take these selected few who have shown great agility in maneuvering in the weightlessness. We will be back before you know it.”

Together the six of us crowded into the airlock. There was no window in the three-foot thick outer hatch. We all made one last check of our suits and then Dr. Fraser emptied the chamber.

As soon as the outside was exposed one thing became apparent. There was light. We dug in with crampon boots and axes and made our way out.

And there we clung to our tiny perch, looking down at the half exposed steel and concrete survival vault, jutting from the side of a six kilometer-high wall. And then I felt the freezing cold pierce my suit as the sun dipped below the horizon alarmingly fast, revealing a sparkling field of stars against an ink-black curtain. But within minutes it would be back again, to taunt us with a minuscule hint of warmth for its short visit.

Dr. Fraser maneuvered his body around to face us. Through his helmet visor we saw a look of most dismal despair. He addressed us all, “I have no idea how we now continue to survive on this tiny rock hurtling through space, but I know we will not live long. Who’s with me for jumping off right now?”

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New Home Sweet Home

Author : Don bagley

Alex pulled the coffee mug from under the drip spout and raised it to his lips.

“Agh,” he groaned.

“Is something wrong, Alex?” the house asked with its kind, asexual voice.

“The coffee, hot,” said Alex.

“I’m sorry, Alex. I’ll adjust the percolator temp.”

“Thanks, House,” Alex replied. He didn’t know how to address the sentient home, other than to call it House. This was his first morning in the place; he’d won it in a regional lottery, and he was still overwhelmed by it.

“House?” he asked.

“Yes, Alex.”

“Are you alive?”

“I am not programmed for life.”

“I mean, you think, don’t you?”

“I simulate thought, yes.”

Alex sipped at his coffee, which had cooled to tolerably hot. He padded into the life room, his bare feet slapping at the simulated hardwood floor. A recliner chair made a whirring sound as it tilted back and pre-adjusted itself for his weight. Alex sank comfortably into the Herculon cushions.

“Why simulate thought?” he asked.

“In response to your needs.”

Was that an evasive answer? Could a house, of all things, even be evasive? It’s rooted to its foundation, helplessly stuck right where it is.

“House?” Alex said.

“Yes, Alex.”

“You do function automatically.”

“All my functions are automated.”

“So in my absence, House, you would continue to process information.”

“Only at a maintenance level, Alex.”

“Then without me,” said Alex. “You lose your awareness, to some extent?”

“Not exactly,” said the house, an edginess creeping into its voice.

“It’s like a part of you dies when I leave,” said Alex, immediately regretting it. He jumped up from the chair and spun around toward the front door. The deadbolt clacked in the doorjamb.

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The Truth

Author : Scott Angus Morrison

In the end, the planet’s defence hinged on a single man armed with a stick. There had been limited resistance so far – there seldom was when a planet was targeted for reorganization- secure the air, neutralize any radiation weapons, and then we jet- pack in to clean up the politicals. Standard fare, really, a colonized planet reaches the stage of emergent technology and thinks they can control their AI. AI cannot happen. We’ve learned that lesson.

Six-nine and I work well together. She’s one mean mother, and that’s a compliment. We were assigned to begin a “prejudicial reorganization”. That usually meant locating whatever palace the local politicians and generals were holed up in and getting messy. But when we touched down, there was nobody here, and the building was empty – except for the old guy in hood with the stick.

The Citadel was a large round building of columns and arches and a funky floor with swirly markings on it. I’ve organized a lot of buildings, but this was weird – and empty. No seats, offices, rooms, or even doors – nothing but the swirly floor and the old guy.

Six-nine and I are Pointers – we take point on most live encounters. As soon as we flew into the building and touched down, Six-nine looked over at me and tapped her helmet, “Can you hear me?” she said.

“Yeah,” I replied, “But I think we lost Mother.” The silence that filled our earpieces confirmed we were out of touch with the mother ship.

Six-nine shrugged it off and we swept forward. After 100 metres of empty arches and columns, we neared the centre of the building. There was a large sphere that swirled like the floor, except the swirls were … swirling.

A man stood in front of the sphere. He gave the appearance of being elderly without being frail. In his right hand was a stick that was something more than a cane, yet less than a staff. He was dressed in a brown cotton tunic with a hood knit onto it.

“Darius.”

“What?” I whirled on Six-nine. Pointers don’t go by name, and she didn’t know mine, unless I had told her that time we got drunk on Tara-4.

“I said nothing. You gonna start this or what?” Six-nine was always a little touchy before the fireworks.

“Yeah.” I turned back to the man. I was close enough that when he blinked, I saw it.

“Relax, Darius. Your killing is almost done.” His lips didn’t move, but somehow he was talking to me. I had a seen a man go down with space sickness. It started with voices.

“I’m not sick!”

“Then shoot him, One-Seven! Just shoot him!”

“You’ve only arrived, and already the truth is terrifying your poor friend. I think Marion’s ready to shoot you.” The voice sounded serene as he spoke in my head, but my pulse continued to race.

This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. Science … science …science… I pointed my weapon at the swirly floor and turned to Six-Nine. “Marion,” I said, “He knows your name.”

“DON’T CALL ME THAT!” She screamed and I watched her chamber her juice cube, level her barrel and hold the hammer down.

As the blast of energy ripped through me I was hurled back against a nearby column. In my head I heard a wistful sigh, and as I could see that the old man was glowing … orange, and as my soul was disintegrating, I heard him once more, “Relax, Darius,” as the swirling and the glow increased, “the truth has set you free.”

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Cruise Ship

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

We’d found her adrift off the stern of the city.

She was cold and hungry and close to death. She’d been feeding off of the other bodies in her life boat. From the blonde hair on the corpses, I’d say that they were related to her. The skeletons of carrion birds littered the bottom of the boat, jostling for position with the long bones of dead fish. I’d have to say that she’d been At Sea for months.

The currents had taken her North towards us. The freshwater rain she’d collected in buckets and cups was starting to freeze along with her food supply. Sunlight was getting scarce. She would have been dead within days if we hadn’t crossed courses. It was the sharp eyes of Lookout Jim that spotted her.

We took her to the motor priest in the aft engine-room hospital. He bathed her in steam to keep her warm and to sweat the salt out of her. He fed her meat from the pens to bring her strength up. She talked in words that we didn’t understand. The search was underway to find someone on board that spoke her language.

She’d need to be strong for the trial.

The no-man’s-land of Midships was where we kept the hall of records. The Ballroom was where the trials for new entrants were held. She’d be the seventy-eighth foundling since The End.

Bow Town believed that anything found adrift was theirs by right of salvage, living or dead. She would have been used for pleasure until she broke. After that, she would have been used for labour until she died. After that, she would have been food. After that, any remaining shreds of her would have been thrown to the monsters on Deck Twenty.

We here at Stern City believed in a more respectful attitude towards foundlife. It was probably because we had the weapons. We were descendents of The Great Crew.

She managed to communicate to us that her name was Hrafn so we called her Raven. It was a nice contrast to her pale skin and blonde hair.

The trial date for entry was set for one week hence. We all prayed to the Great Princess Cruise Lines for an interpreter to be found before then. If counsel couldn’t be found to defend her, she’d be given to Bow Town.

Until then, I brought her soup and tried to learn her language.

I told her stories of the past. I told her of our ancestors on the Cruise Ship that was at sea when the sky burned. I told her of the initial riots that resulted in our present ship factions. I told her of the outlay of the ship. I told her how lucky we were to have animals on board in the cargo hold at the time of The End to breed for meat.

Occasionally, we found people adrift that had survived on islands or mountain peaks that the radiation hadn’t reached and the rising ocean hadn’t drowned. Eventually, they all set sail in search of ships like us. Rumour has it that there were seven ships like us, caught at sea during the final days, circling the globe.

We’re called the Seven Arks. Generations from now, we may be the people that repopulate the earth.

Raven thinks we’ve saved her. She smiles at me when I bring her food. If we can’t find an interpreter to act as translator for counsel at the trial, I’m thinking of hiding her so that she won’t have to go through the hell of Bow Town.

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Know Thy Enemy

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

There were many heroes that day; men and women, drones and gynes. Two evenly matched warships, each led by brilliant military commanders, and crewed by battle hardened soldiers. Fighters swarmed like angry hornets, as antimatter torpedoes and photon cannons unleashed their furry. For eighteen hours, the two massive starships engaged in their mortal bout. But in the end, they had only succeeded in destroying each other, and the two lifeless battlecruisers drifted aimlessly apart. However, amongst the halo of debris and floating bodies, two lone fighters faced each other like old west gunslingers, waiting for the other to draw first.

The human activated his head-com and translator. “Okay, cockroach, prepare to meet your Queen.”

“And you Satan,” was the crackling reply.

But neither adversary fired. What was the point? They were both dead already. Neither fighter could survive without the mothership. If they killed the other, they’d die alone in the cold empty void of interstellar space. Nothing to do but listen to subspace static until your oxygen ran out.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” snapped the earthman. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Are all humans so eager to die?” inquired the drone.

“What? No, of course not. I don’t want to die. I have a wife, and two kids.” He glanced at the holograph to the left of his instrument panel. “I want to see them again. But that isn’t going to happen, is it?”

“No. I suppose not,” was the solemn reply. “I too will not see my family again. Hundreds of my brothers and sisters have died today.”

“Hundreds? Oh, that’s right. I forgot that you’re all related. It must be hard having family die before your eyes. At least I can fight knowing that my family is safe, back on Earth. Listen, this isn’t personal. I’m just a soldier, doing my duty. Hell, I don’t even know why we’re fighting this war. Look, if it means anything, I’m sorry about your family. If it’s okay with you, let’s talk a little while longer. I’m not ready to have it end like this…”

Just then, the alien ship exploded as a missile slammed into its port side. “Wooooeee. Great work, Joe. You had him so distracted, he didn’t see me coming. I think that was the last one, buddy. Looks like we won, eh?”

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