Author : Martin Berka
Krinna Lorens blinked as she woke up. She felt extremely refreshed, and was wide awake in about 15 seconds – sleeping was healthy. The lid of the bed slid aside, and the date appeared in front of her, hovering in mid-air. With a start, she studied the purple-tinted numbers again. Yes? Yes! She’d been waiting so long – those five years had felt like an eternity, no matter what she’d told herself – and it was time. A quick glance at his last message confirmed it – she had until mid-afternoon.
Sending the display away with a thought, Krinna sat up and climbed out, carefully. She dressed simply, ate (purely out of nostalgia), and spent several hours checking the news and downloading updates. Yes, it took a long time, but she wanted to be completely clued-in when she saw him again.
After triple-checking that she was ready, the 32-year-old surveyed the tiny apartment. It had served her decently for the last five years. Sure, it was slightly larger than a jail cell (though considerably better-equipped), but without Jeff around, it fit her living style. She’d always been the more practical of the two. Agreeing that her fiance should go on the trip was perhaps her only lapse, but the opportunity had seemed so rare, and the financial benefits, substantial.
Without a backward glance, Krinna stepped out the door, which locked behind her. The antique elevator took her up 14 floors, to what was once known as “ground level.” Being a cross between the real sky and ground areas, it was kept open and reserved for foot traffic. The street-like area was full of aliens, though she could tell that many of them were theoretically human, somewhere beneath all the modifications. She couldn’t blame them, since she had gotten the bare minimum herself, in the last few years. The rapid trend changes still tended to catch her off-guard, but one of the newly-downloaded patches kicked-in, and she confidently made her way through the crowd.
The transit center was nearby, and she waited several minutes before a one of the space elevator cages returned to the ground, using the opportunity to check the Expected Arrival Time on the public network. She reached the spaceport with a half-hour remaining.
The incoming ship was obsolete, launched as part of a third-contact wave of knowledge exchanges, to a star system some 15 light years distant. Despite relying on once-amazing advances in propulsion, it had taken just over 32 millenniums to arrive at its destination (and after alien improvements, nearly 20 to return) with its small crew of robots and 95 stasis-bound humans sent for their artistic, scientific, and technical abilities – including Jeff. He would spend about five conscious years away, and they had agreed to wait for each other. While he flew off and spent five years on the alien world (waking a few times during the voyage to reply to her messages), Krinna spread the same time evenly across fifty thousand. The routine quickly became familiar – awake every few centuries, explore the new world order, and try to fit in for a several months. The people she met during these “visits” were very helpful, though over time, they increasingly questioned why anyone would wait for the future, when the present was so wonderful.
But the present had included Jeff’s absence, until now. The ship docked, and he returned to a changed world, immediately heading in Krinna’s direction.
Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Kaine rounded the corner at a full sprint, boots kicking up plumes of sand as he tried to outpace his pursuers. No gun, no backup and rapidly losing daylight, he fought the urge to panic, swallowed it down.
“Nowhere to run to Kaine, nowhere to hide.” The voice bellowing between breaths, his pursuer struggling to keep the pace, but as Kaine’s feet left the sand and skidded to a stop on hard rock, he knew he was right. Jagged rock faces rose up on three sides; too steep to climb fast enough not to be brought down by shredder fire, the route behind singular and unbranching.
When the three men arrived, he was leaning, back to the cold stone, hands at his side, absently chewing a chunk of root he’d fished from a pocket of his overcoat.
Realizing he was unarmed and cornered, they relaxed their weapons and caught their breath. The one closest spoke while the other two flanked him, shifting their weight on the uneven sand beneath their feet.
“I should shoot you just for making me run out here,” the words were muffled through the filter mask that obscured the lower half of his face.
Kaine smiled around a mouthful of chewed root, then spat thinly across one of the subordinate’s boots, the blackened saliva dripping down into the sand. “Shoot me? Then what, carry a hundred kilos of dead weight back to port?”
The soldier scuffed his feet, carefully watching his superior but saying nothing, controlling his anger.
“We could just take your head back, leave your body for the scavengers.”
Kaine chuckled, and spat again, this time hitting the other soldier in the shins. He started, stepping forward and raising his weapon before being barked back into submission in Altaic command-speak.
“What if your boss’s prize isn’t in my head?”
There was a pause as his words were considered and Kaine pressed the advantage.
“You’re new at this, yes? Ever wonder why your bosses hire men like me and don’t trust everything to you? You come to this back-world shithole in dress uniform? Are those parade boots? I’ll bet your feet have been bleeding since you landed. You see these?” Kaine lifted one heavily scaled booted foot in the air, “these are made from genuine spine-back dragon hide. Ever seen a spine-back? Local combustion weapons can’t touch it. You can’t put a vibra blade through it, can’t burn it, and energy weapons just piss it off. It’s got only one natural predator on this dustbowl, and you don’t get to wear a pair of these unless you’ve figured out how to exploit that.” Kaine sucked loosely between his teeth, then spat again, this time spattering both the commanding officer’s boots.
“Do that again Kaine,” the officer fumed, jabbing the air with a pointed finger,” and we will carry you back in pieces.”
“You know your biggest problem? No situational awareness. Take the spine-back. They’re opportunists. They eat anything they can catch, and they can catch almost anything. They have this soft spot for an indigenous root though, an addictive narcotic plant native to the desert. They nose through the sand to find it, then chew the roots until they’re high as cabot wingers. Trouble is, the same root drives another little critter crazy. Ever see a jacqueline blue scorpion? Nasty little bastards. The stoned spine-back’s drool brings the jackie-blues a swarmin’. Dragon’s too messed up to run and it’s dead before it ever knows what hit it.
Kaine’s grin widened, and he carefully spat a last great mouthful of juice and chewed root in the face of the nearest soldier as he crumpled to the ground, the iridescent blue scorpions already covering him to the knees and stinging repeatedly through the inadequate armour.
Finding a comfortable spot higher up the rock face he watched the undulating sand and the blue streaks below with sombre fascination. “Not coming down yet,” he called out, and laughed.
Author : Damien Krsteski
He heard the stairs squeak. A jolt of adrenaline shot up his spine, tearing his hand off her plastic face.
“What are you doing, Edgar?” His mother’s voice was shrill and loathsome.
The basement suddenly got colder and turned twice as dark. He was kneeling before Evangeline, hands innocently stuffed in his pockets.
“I c-couldn’t sleep,” he stuttered.
She shifted her weight and the wooden stairs gave another painful squeak. Out of all the places in the world, why did she have to be here?
“You look me in the eyes when you speak to me,” she shrieked and descended several stairs.
Edgar turned to face his mother. She was wearing her shabby white nightgown and pink slippers, and was waving one finger menacingly at him.
He hated that fat ogre more then anything, but managed to suppress his fear and hatred for a moment and said, “Yes, mother.”
She grabbed him by the hand and was dragging him up the stairs. Edgar looked down morosely at his Evangeline.
“Good night, Eva,” he whispered.
His mother tugged at his hand. “Don’t you call it that,” she hissed through her teeth. “It’s a freakin’ robot for heaven’s sake. I don’t know why your father insists on keeping it. He is as stupid as you are. Throw it out like a broken radio, I say.”
She led him forcefully to his bedroom and slammed the door shut. He heard the rattling of the keys, then the lock turned.
Pale moonlight flooded the room as he quietly pulled his Solar System curtains apart. Even after fourteen years, he couldn’t quite get used to sleeping in complete darkness. His mother called it cowardly. May be so, he thought, and climbed under the sheets.
That night he didn’t really think about his mother. Or the yelling he would endure first thing in the morning. He didn’t think of school, or of the neighborhood bullies. For the first time in ages, he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Yes, Edgar Little was beyond any doubt, unequivocally and irrefutably, very much in love.
Author : Thomas Desrochers
It’s just me and her out here. Stranded. Helpless.
I was taking her back home. She needed a change of scenery. Hell, we were a quarter of the way there when everything went wrong.
It was a bad wire. The gauge was too small because some stupid color-blind electrician can’t tell the difference between brown and green, and when I sent the signal to cut the acceleration to avoid another ship a few days away the already hot wire vaporised. Acceleration stopped, which was good. But now I can’t start it again. We’re going fast, but not fast enough to get both of us there on time.
There’s not enough food to last that long.
I’ve been over it a thousand times, sitting at the controls, helpless. We can slow down fine when we get there, that won’t be a problem. We can’t really turn without the rear thrusters, and the decelerators are single use. I try to turn around and then we’ll be worse off than before.
I have tools, I have parts. I could fix the wire. That is, I could fix the wire if it weren’t in the sealed tube on the outside of the hull that’s supposed to keep the primary wiring alive. I could switch to back-up systems, if it weren’t for the fact that when the primary wire went it took the whole tube with it. I could call for help but, let’s be honest, I’m not rich enough for anyone to care.
I looked at the food. Even on a survival diet, rationing things out to the very end, we’re a month short. If I just launched myself out the airlock she’d have enough to get by fairly comfortably. The problem is, if she knows I killed myself it’s all over. She’d relapse. She’d hear voices in her head again, see things move that really shouldn’t. She’d be dead a month before the ship gets there. But if she thinks I’m fighting, then she’ll be fine. She’ll fight too.
I really hate to lie to her like this. If she knew what was going on she would probably kill herself right then to save me. I can’t let that happen.
I programmed the computer to decelerate when we get there. It won’t need me for that. I’ve written this note, too. If I make it, fine, she won’t need to read it. If I don’t make it, and I don’t think I will, then she’ll know once she’s with family and friends.
I’ve stopped eating already. I’ll write it off as being sick. She’ll buy into wholesale.
I hope you’re not mad when you read this.
I love you.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
This is the best of all possible worlds. Or so the time-travelers tell us.
They have given their future away to make our present the best it can be.
They gave science a good, healthy goose early on around the Babylonians times. They killed the despots in their cribs over the millennia.
This is the land of perfect, near-immortal bodies and technology that borders on magic.
Every morning, they publish newspapers on the feeds. They’re the newspapers that would have been printed in the unaltered world. We all remember the picture of the Hindenburg and followed with great interest the antics of the World War Two issues. Every day there’s a new issue and every day we’re reminded how lucky we are. We’d never even had a small battle!
The ideas in the pages fascinate us but repulse us at the same time. This new present is obviously better than the one given to us in the papers.
Late at night, I dream of presidential elections, mass slaughter, ‘economies’ and death at 90. I wake up terrified and then immediately relieved that it was all a dream.
God bless our time-traveling saviors.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
Tesla shielding is a magnificent thing. Invented in the early Twentieth by the crackpot Serbian inventor Nicola Tesla, it absorbs tremendous amounts of energy harmlessly. A suit sized generator can withstand several plasma bursts or hundreds of micro meteor hits before the unit is overloaded. But they don’t do well against slow moving, low energy objects, such as an errant spanner, a lump of ore accidentally dislodged or … a bullet.
I was on an infrequent visit dirtside. I had only been back to Mars three times in twenty years. Twice for funerals. I don’t know why, I can’t raise the dead… too expensive.
This time was business. I had come in person to sign a contract with Belt Foundries Amalgamated for a massive find. I had to beat Dieter “Gritty” Schmidt to file my claim. The Sonuvabitch had been jumping me for the past ten years. I was damned if I’d let him get this one.
After filing, I wandered into an antique shop. Knives are handy when prospecting and I could always find a cheap supply at these old junk shops. I was sorting through a tray of rusty blades when an object on a nearby shelf caught my eye.
“What the hell is that,” I asked, stabbing a grimy finger at the thing. It was roughly shaped like a blaster, but looked metallic.
“This,” said the pawnbroker pulling the object out as if it were the Holy Grail itself, “is a .357 Colt Python. In the parlance of the time, a “GUN”.
I took the piece. It was damned heavy for a weapon. “Stainless steel,” he said, reading my mind.
“Where’s the power supply?”
“There isn’t one. It’s a chemical reaction weapon.”
“No Shit. So a personal T field…”
“Won’t even slow the projectile down.”
“How much,” I grinned.
I returned to my claim via a rather circuitous route. I came in out of Jupiter so the gas giant’s radiation would hide my ships signature. Sure enough, there was Gritty’s ship and there was Gritty nosing around my claim. I opened a broadband link.
“Hey asshole, what the hell are you doing poking’ around my ‘roid.”
“Hello Mike. Nothing wrong with checking out a lucrative prospect is there?”
“You know damn well it’s mine. I already filed. Look it up. It’s posted.”
“I was just being neighbourly. Just thought I’d stop by and see if you needed a hand.”
I popped out of the airlock and blasted his ship a couple of times with my plazer. That would get his attention.
“What, the hell…?”
Sure enough, he pulled his plazer and drew down on me. Just for fun, I popped his head with a quick burst. His T field held, but it sure pissed him off. He launched a string of profanities and let me have it several times with his own plazer, expectin’ me to turn tail for my ship. I stood my ground and pulled out my antique Python, levelling it at him.
“What the hell is your major malfunction boy?”
“Just this,” I said, and unloaded all six rounds into his suited figure. I watched the delicate ballet as his body spun, issuing a plume of scarlet from his breached suit. I watched his body became smaller and smaller as it drifted away from me. Then it hit me. In my haste for revenge, I hadn’t secured a tether.
A quick thought ran through my mind, “For every action…”
“SON OF A BITCH… If anybody ever hears this transmission, I have one thing to say. ‘NEWTON’S A DICK!’”