Ruffles and Flourishes

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

“… as well as outstanding valour…”

He stood unmoving before the division. His dress blues, marking him as a Master Gunnery Sergeant of the Northern Confederacy’s elite Marine Corps, stood out under the brilliant lights against the muted grey of the NCS Carpathia’s hanger bay.

“… facing overwhelming numbers…”

His great-great grandfather had watched as flamethrowers were used to rid the caves of Guadalcanal of their Jap defenders during the Great Patriotic war.

“… facing not only an entrenched enemy…”

His lips twitched into a barely perceptible smile as he mused over the delicious irony of history’s repetitiveness. He himself had used a similar device, a plasma projector, essentially a plazer with broad band dispersal. Not particularly useful on hard targets, but remarkably effective against battle suited combatants in methane ice caves.

“… the distant shores of Europa…”

He nearly lost his military bearing as the thought of the Jap soldiers of the Asiatic Alliance spilling out of the ice cave after his initial blast. He almost laughed remembering how the environment suits dissolved from the bodies, how the flesh was rent from the bones leaving behind nothing but a carbonized skeleton.

“… saving the lives of not only his own men, but the lives of hundreds of colonists…”

Saving lives my ass, he thought to himself. He just enjoyed mowing down those soldiers.

“… a contingent of Japanese on Europa…”

“Fuckin’ Nipos,” he muttered under his breath.

“It is my honour and privilege to present the Medal of Honour…”

Clearing his thoughts, he straightened his back, and stood even taller. The epicanthic folds of his eyes becoming more pronounced as the angle of the light changed on his grave face.

“…bravery and fortitude far above and beyond what a proud nation can expect of any of her sons. Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests and dignitaries, please allow me to present; Master Gunnery Sergeant Chiang Kai-shek III.

The four star general and commandant of the Marines fairly glowed as he applauded the slight man who stepped off with his left foot and took the podium.

“Sir, thank you so much. I don’t know what to say… I guess it’s just a family thing.” He beamed.

The assembled crowd rose to their feet as one, roaring their approval.

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The One True Thomas

Author : Jason Frank

He fumbles at the door and we, the Thomases, look over even though we know it’s him (even the human’s speculative fiction hasn’t imagined the technologies that hide that entrance). Our door opens and the Outside Thomas shuffles in, looking much the worse for wear. He doesn’t make eye contact with a single Inside Thomas, but he does find a spot on the couch devoid of other Thomases to collapses on. He sighs deeply, a sigh not unknown to any Thomas.

Sometimes a Thomas needs time to collect himself. We give him that. Then we crowd around with overloaded trays of our best tasties and fill up his glass with our best mess-you-up. A few backslaps and drinks drunk and the Outside Thomas perks up. He’s smiling and taking off his suit and relaxing into standard Inside Thomas-ing. I stand apart, watching. I am next in the rotation; I am to be the new Outside Thomas.

The music gets louder as the Thomas welcoming festivities lurch towards full boil. The dispenser is nearly silent as it produces my outfit, correct to wrinkle and stain of the Outside Thomas when he came in. I put it all on and look in the mirror and see that I look very Outside Thomas. I go out the door and nobody says goodbye or good luck or anything.

I take in a deep breath of outside air and head off towards The House. We Thomases set it up so that it wouldn’t be a far walk, but far enough to let a Thomas get his mind right. Walking helps with the standard Outside Thomas mental exercises: I am the Outside Thomas (x 15), I am the one true Thomas in the eyes of the world (x 15), (in the eyes of Youngstown, Ohio anyway (just once, just for me)).

It is what non-Thomases call a lovely day. No Earth days can compare to the worst day back home, but no Thomas expects a non-Thomas to understand that. I hardly notice the weather, or thoughts of our once home. The face of the last Outside Thomas crowds my mind.

At the door of The House I pause. No technologies mask its presence; entrance is given to anyone with a simple (easily duplicated) bit of metal. Several more deep breaths go in and out of me before I use my bit of metal and enter.

The shock of activity is immediate. It puts to shame even the more rowdy efforts of the Thomases. Several of the half-Thomases run about randomly, somehow avoiding the toys that threaten any foot fall. The youngest of the half-Thomases bolts by, pantless (though closely pursued by Viv, pants in hand). All thoughts of the last Outside Thomas slip away as I yell out, “Honey, I’m Home!”

Dinner is a delight. All of the half-Thomases have begun to show hints of rascality that any Thomas would approve of. Viv’s cooking is amazing. Viv has gained some weight (A Thomas likes some meat on his Viv). A Thomas likes to sit at the head of the table sometimes. A Thomas can be happy as the only Thomas around.

The little ones go to bed then we go to bed. I can’t keep my hands off of Viv. She asks what’s gotten into me. I tell her I’m more interested in getting something into her. She starts laughing and we do it and she laughs most of the time then she falls asleep. I hold her in my arms and can’t imagine what could exist on the outside that could bring a Thomas down.

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The Bay It Buzz

Author : Harris Tobias

I knew they were lying.

“Don burry Bill, ebry thing bill be all bright,” in that crazy accent of theirs with their “B’s” and “W’s” crossed.

The house was a horrible mess. The furniture was dirty and old. What pictures there were were crooked and not of anything anyone in their right mind would hang on a wall–a photo of a toilet seat, a painting of a crumpled sheet of paper. The yard was littered with trash; the lawn was some sickly tufts of wiry grass; the gate was hanging by a single hinge.

“Ebry thing bill be just the bay it buzz,” he had said.

But it buzzn’t…er, wasn’t..

It wasn’t just that the house was a mess, it’s what lay beyond the gate that really stunned me. Desert. There were a few forlorn little houses like mine and then nothing but scrub and dust and tumbleweed as far as the eye could see.

“You call this the way it was?” I said to Bork. The alien stood a full seven feet tall and grinned down at me with its idiotic grin and its shiny suit. It looked human but you could tell he wasn’t really.

“Bell, it buzz harder den be thought. Wut, all in all, not too wad.”

I could only groan for what was once a lovely Midwestern town in the corn-belt. Put through Bork’s analyzer it was supposed to be digitized and reassembled exactly the way it was. But it didn’t take a genius to see that the reality that went in wasn’t what came out. In went my gorgeous sofa with the art deco arms and the fabric I searched all over Chicago for; and out came this dumpy Sears hide-a-bed I wouldn’t even sit on. In went my little dog, Muffy, and out came this cat-like fur beast.

“Stop” I yelled. “You’re getting it all wrong.”

“Don burry,” Bork said and squirted me with something that knocked me out for a week. When I came to, things were pretty strange and Bork and his pals were gone. He paid me though, just as he promised. I have a stack of hundred dollar bills in the basement. Every one has a picture of George Bush on it.

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Time Travel

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

God give me patience, she thought, as Peter ran into the living room with another ‘great invention’.

Peter was wearing a flanged-open broccoli steamer on his head with a crude system of wires sticking out of it like dead flowers in a vase. He was wearing what looked like most of the entertainment system strapped in pieces around his left arm and joined together with more wires.

The iPhone duct-taped to his right wrist was glowing in a series of rapid colour flashes. A bucket was on one of his feet and it sloshed water on the hardwood.

I’m going to have to call the police again, she thought. He’s going to have to go back to the mental hospital. I barely made it through the last stretch. This was supposed to be Peter’s last chance.

“What is it this time?” she sighed.

“It’s a time machine!” he shouted gleefully. His eyes were wide and it looked like he’d chewed most of his nails down to the bloody edges. His lips were raw. He’d shaved part of his head. “It was the capacitor. If I reverse the polarity on it, this should work. I’ve got a line running up to the satellite dish turning the data into energy. That was the power problem I was talking about, remember?”

“No.” she replied. She was actually a little worried. He might electrocute himself this time.

Peter chuckled at his own brilliance and actually danced a little jig of anticipation, splashing more water around.

“Peter, let’s just calm down a little.” She said, starting to stand up and walk towards him.

“Wait! No. I have the prep field humming. Don’t come any closer. This is going to work! Now, I’ve set the reception point to be right here in the apartment in one minute. It’s going to take a lot of power so be prepared for a brownout. It takes a lot to send but it shouldn’t take any to receive. I’ll be okay on the back end. Oh MAN, this is the GREATEST! Honey, we’ll be so rich!” he shouted.

She looked at him warily, really worried now. More worried than she’d ever been, even more than the time with the knife-juggling. But it didn’t make sense. There’s no way this could actually be anything other than a danger of electrocution.

“I’m going to start singing a song and hit the button. I’ll disappear and then in one minute, I’ll appear right here. For you, there will be a one-minute pause but for ME, it’ll be as if nothing happened! Are you ready? On the count of three.” He said.

“Peter, I’m not sure-“

“ONE!”

“-this is such a good idea.”

“TWO!”

“let’s talk about this.”

“THREE! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE ALL THE-“

And there was pop, a shower or sparks from the light socket in the kitchen, the lights went out, and the bucket that Peter’s foot had been in clattered onto its side. Peter was no longer standing in it.

She stood there with wide eyes staring at the spot where Peter had been. She dropped her coffee.

Thirty seconds passed.

She picked up the phone to call the police and actually forgot what number to call. When she remembered, she stopped after the first number when it occurred to her that she had no idea what to tell the police. She waited.

Twenty more seconds passed.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

One minute. Nothing happened. Two minutes. Nothing happened.

She waited for an hour. She waited for a week.

She’s still waiting.

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The Witness

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

It didn’t bother me at first. Killing them I mean. They had come to our home world with plans of conquest. I can’t even dignify what happened by calling it a war. They claim we fired first, which was true, but nobody asked them to just zip into our atmosphere without knocking first. Besides, you’d have thought that the orbiting mines of the PLeiaDeS, the Planetary Defence Satellites, would have made them change their minds.

They were like hydras. Strike one down; two more appeared in their place. They were relentless, always moving, never slowing, always onward, crusading. Spreading like a great plague.

We are pacifists my family, but even my sainted grandmother hugged me the day I took my oath and joined the Corps. She told me to “be good” and to “kill every last one of the bastards.”

I’ll never forget my first combat drop. I nearly shit my pants when I leaned out the open hatch and saw them below us. It was impossible to make out individuals, there were so many. It was as if their army was just a vast undulating sea. With no more individuality than a drop of water.

If I was scared then, it more than doubled when we hit the deck and engaged. I unslung my rifle and laid into them with a green ribbon of plasma. Still they came.

We were confused by their intentions at first. They were unarmed, so we were hesitant to fire at first, but we soon learned that they had weapons far more devastating than our mere blasters and pulse cannons.

They could enter our minds.

It was one thing to fire into the faceless hoard, vaporizing them in mid stride. It was altogether something different when the faces became friends, family… my wife. The bastards got to her too, and I was the one who had to reduce my own beautiful bride to an unrecognizable lump of charred meat. Later things got so bad; I would have eaten that burnt flesh. I vomited until I passed out.

I was miserable for days, but had to push on. We had the weaponry, but they had ever growing numbers as more and more of our people were overcome by their sinister power. One year flowed into two. We no longer fought their onslaught; we fought to stave off the inevitable. The mindless smiling faces of the ones whom we loved. We mowed them down, believing that in death they escaped a living horror. Towards the end we resorted to singularity Turing devices. Too little too late.

It became a war of attrition. Our men abandoning their posts, some took their own lives; the worst fate was to become one of them. A mindless grinning drone.

Finally they found me. Hiding like a coward in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse shitting myself in fear. I knew there was no way out. I stuck the muzzle of my blaster against my chest. There was a faint whine and a whiff of singed hair. The power cell was totally drained.

I curled up in a tight ball, expecting a rain of cruel merciless blows. Instead, I felt gentle hands pulling me to my feet. They talked to me, they talked and they talked. They took me back to their ship. They cleaned me up. They fed me. They weren’t so bad after all.

After spending time with them I now understand what they want. I understand.

“I’m sorry to wake you… Would you like to buy a copy of The Watchtower?”

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Earthsick

Author : Matthew Callaway

It looks like snow, except there’s no snow here, no rain. The foamy droplets float down from the decontamination sprayers as a ship lands, speckling the faceplate of my respirator. When I was a kid seeing snow was like seeing a planet for the first time. Every ice crystal glimmering, the trees bent over from the weight of frozen branches. No trees on this planet. I wonder what season it is on earth right now. My display says its October back home, I think that’s Autumn, the colors are pale in my memory. We left when I was so young it feels like a less of a home now than this sand pile, or that last rock. The droning hum of the landing craft is just above me now.

“Look alive!” The boss bellows at me from inside the comm booth. What a prick, I’ve got it under control. The ship settles into the docking lock, not gonna get a scratch on her shiny hull. All thats left is the particle scrub and ‘Welcome to Splendora’.

This ship looks like thousands of others, sleek but utilitarian, the whole thing rings like a bell when the mag locks engage. Like the bell between classes at school, before the frontier, before the remote classrooms, skipping from one new found rock to another, and the lonely light years started piling up between me and what once felt so much like home. My brother went back and became a droid mech, they’re practically outnumbering people there now, droids I mean, not mechanics. Then you have ‘people’ like me.

My shield plated arms slide under the ships’ drive core to disconnect the cables and clasps to free the device, a couple thousand kilos of metal and glass is like a toy in my hands, twenty degrees or seven hundred, as was now the case. The glow of the reaction inside shines off the blueish tint of my elbow joint. You can get them to look basically unaugmented, of course, but the company only pays for basic. A message flashed on my view the other day, news from home, another heart for Mom, she says the new one loves me just as much and I should visit sometime.

The sun’s setting again, must be about lunch time, this core is clear and humming. Snapping closed the panel I can almost smell the air outside my respirator, for a moment I smell the mildew of a leaf pile.

“You ever go to the Vega system?” Keplen, who was actually born on Splendora, offers me a cigarette and tries to bait me into asking about his lucky streak at the Vega Casinos, and with the well tanned ladies of the Vegas’ asteroid colonies.

“‘Hear it’s a good time, didn’t you make the trip a few months ago?” Taking the bait, and the cigarette from his extended mechanical arm. There was a deep gash on his forearm plate where he caught a bit of plasma, as they say, in a bar fight. Another great one I’ve heard twenty times. He might get it repaired if it wasn’t such a great story. I display some images of Vega across my view to color the tale as it rambles along. It makes me want to see a cruiser from the inside again, but not one to Vega. If I’m going that far I might as well go all the way. I’m sure these arms can rake leaves, or shovel snow if it takes me a few months to get there.

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