Author : Ryan Swiers
From the sand she raised herself. The desert wind had coursed over her exposed flesh and the gritty pain of its wake made the effort slow. Sleek tendrils of sand rolled from her back. She realized a layer of the sand had once been her skin. She could feel some of it filter through her skeleton, passing around bones and organs and pocked limbs, surprised that it hadn’t claimed all of her as a fossil.
She stopped to rest on her hands and knees. Nine feet ahead she saw her discarded helmet. The color had left it. She swayed—an old, obstinate fruit on a wind-worn branch—to shake away the remnants of the desert floor. Careful, let it ease out. Don’t want the important things to go too. It was a slow, exhausting ordeal this resurrection.
To pass the time while her strength recovered she fiddled with the error in her date system. She picked at it like a child would a scab. Errors like these gaps in time and memory were becoming more frequent. Hadn’t she just done this?
Star alignment gave her the local time. That was easy, but when had she fallen? An estimate put her between twenty three or twenty three hundred days. And the time before that? Maybe a millennium. Who could say?
A human expression came to her: time can heal all wounds. True, in her case, it could; not many humans would bother rising from the dead much less wear their worthless skin again. Yet, this wasn’t what the expression meant.
“Forget it.” She said. Memories fade and rinse the soul clean.
Awake now, she felt scrubbed, thoughtless, and relieved. Forget the errors.
It was time to get up. Make new ones.
Although, maybe another five minutes. It was Monday after all.
Author : Zachary Murray
My mind came awake before my body. I was thankful that the sense of detachment was short lived, and it was good to feel the warmth of the fluid that filled the tank around me. I hated being in the tank. The whole breathing liquid aspect of it always left a bad taste in my mouth, and the regular sting of electrical pulses was the closest thing I could imagine to being cooked in a microwave oven. They said the shocks were to prevent muscle atrophy, but to me they were just a pain in the ass. I tried to laugh at the joke I stumbled upon, but having your lungs filled with fluid makes it difficult.
It’s not hard to get restless when you’re stuck in a near perfect state of sensory deprivation. I tried to open my eyes, but all I got for my trouble was a searing glimpse of the life-lights that lined the tank. It was still amazing to me that they had figured out how to keep a person alive off of light alone, for short periods at least, but they could have at least included a dimmer.
At that point I figured I may as well get comfortable, not that I could change anything of course, as there wasn’t much I could do until the techs pulled me out. In pre-jump training they told us to refrain from violent movements when we first woke up. They wouldn’t want us to break their fancy equipment after all. I could still see their smiles as they told us normal tank extractions averaged only five minutes, and not to be alarmed if it felt longer.
That thought was of little comfort to me since I didn’t have a clock to look at. Not that I could have opened my eyes long enough to see it even if they had bothered to include one in the tank with me. I could still remember how pissed I’d been after my first dunk. No one does well their first time and I was no exception. I came out swearing, my fists ready, and I didn’t calm down until they told me I’d only been awake for three minutes. Those three minutes had felt like a lifetime though, and just thinking about it made my chest feel tighter.
To pass the time I contemplated some violent movements I hoped to show the techs when they pulled me out. My dark reveries came to an abrupt end when my tank shook hard enough to send me bouncing from side to side. Several choice curses came to mind as I floundered around, but once again the fluid in my lungs kept me from expressing myself.
When things were once again still, and nothing else happened, I sat trying to decide if I should be getting nervous or not. I’d just come to the decision that everything was probably fine when the grow lights kicked off and I was surrounded by darkness. I realized the electric pulses had also shut off along with the lights. Oddly enough I missed the sensation. The tank felt much smaller as I hung there waiting, and I couldn’t help but remember that the lights never went off during training.
Author : Rebecca L. Brown
They hop-scotched their way to work, jumping between the numbered squares and collecting coloured stones as they went. The inner child told them they had to. On arrival, they coloured for the proscribed amount of time, the thick, waxy crayons clutched in two hands. The best pictures would go up on the wall.
They had replaced the inner child recently, moving from the almost teenage predecessor to a toddler barely old enough to qualify. There had been a general shift from skateboards and sparkling lip sticks to dollies and story time. Sally hadn’t minded too much, the glitter had gone everywhere and grazed knees had become tiresome, even when they were regularly kissed better.
Before they had the inner child, she had heard, there had been nobody to kiss it better when you fell down or make sure you coloured between the lines. With the rise of automated processes and the ban on travelling for pleasure, there had been mass suicides in a world where the majority lived lives filled with the meaningless and the mind-numbing.
This was better.
Soon, it would be nap time. Sally’s crèche mother would round her up with the rest of her group and they would go (holding hands, two at a time) to their mat. Afterwards, there would be milk and cookies and time for show and tell.
Today, she had brought a flower to show the inner child. She thought he would appreciate the bright purple colour. The inner children were chosen from those babies who were too sick to exist outside of the life support. Through their machines and speakers, they could live through their city populations. The last inner child’s favourite colour had been red. Nobody asked where they went when they grew up.
The flower was in a little vase on her desk. She drew a flower on her paper and coloured in the petals.
Author : N. Thomas Parshall
“Twenty minutes to launch, Shortfall”
“Roger that, Command. Shortfall ready for launch.”
“Copy. Stand by.”
Lt. Commander Warren Sheffield looked over at his co-pilot, Major Emery West, who was busy with his own checklist. “Almost that time, Em. You ready?”
“Are you kidding me? Who in his right mind would be ready for this?”
“You volunteered, smart ass, same as me. Besides, they’ve been launching the satellites this way for a couple of years now. This is just the next step back into space. And the mice were ok.”
“Great! From mice to men. Whatever happened to chimp trials? Oh, yeah, the ASPCA and the ACLU. Never should have taught the little bastards to sign.”
Sheffield grinned over at the other man, who flipped him the bird. They both focused back on their pre-launch tasks and the minutes dragged by.
The bottom dropped out from under the two men, followed by an odd sliding motion as the crew module rotated one hundred eighty degrees. This at least gave them a slight pressure at their backs, and took the edge off the nausea.
West, as Science Officer, kept up a running commentary into the recorder. “Hundred miles. Two. Three-fifty. G-gradient steady. Glow from ports increasing. Auto-polarization effective. Heat negligible. Two-thousand miles. Three. Phase two imminent.”
Both men settled deeper into their seats and watched the dial wind down to zero.
An elephant dropped on their chests.
There was no more commentary. The sensors would record what they could, and later the men would fill in what they could from their tunnel vision, near black-out memories. For now the weight just went on and on. And on. And on.
Finally, after both were convinced it would never end, it did.
A circuit was tripped, communications was restored, and they were weight-less. Traveling faster than man had ever gone.
“Shortfall, this is Command. Shortfall, this is Command.”
“SON OF A BITCH! It worked! Command, it worked!”
“Roger that, Shortfall!” Sheffield could hear the cheers in mission control in the background. “We have reacquired your telemetry now. You both are showing elevated blood pressure and pulse.”
“Yeah, well, that was a definite E-ticket ride. We’re fine, aside from some bruising.”
“Good to hear. Tracking has you right in the groove. Get some rest boys. You’ve got to go on that ride again in just under eleven hours.”
“Roger, Command. Shortfall out.”
Eleven hours. Sheffield stared out the forward port at the moon. Not four days. Eleven hours.
Eleven hours until they slipped out of faze with the rest of the universe and plunged through the core of the moon to bleed off the momentum they had acquired from dropping through the Earth, and accelerating out the other side. Hopefully, to be left sitting at rest a bare hundred yards from the remains of Armstrong’s Lander.
He listened to West whispering into the science log.
“The mice made it!”
Author : Martin Sumner
McCloud joined me at the round table in the bay window of the Red Café. I was on my second double espresso. The day was just beginning to come into focus. “Good morning, Professor.” He put his cup of hot water on the table before asking if it was alright to join me. A rhetorical question.
“Good morning Mister McCloud. Are you well today?”
He had been around the Red for about a month. I’m an early morning regular, and you pretty soon know the whole early morning community, by sight if not name. The daily doubles, like me: people with time to start their day slowly. The quick coffee crew: fuelling up before office hours. The takeouts: no time to stop. Fairweather visitors. Pre-shoppers. Post-school runners. Occasionals.
“Excellent, Professor. Positively excellent.” He craned his neck, eyes on my book. I held the paperback up for him, to take in the title. “Fahrenheit 451. A little light reading today, I see!”
McCloud had soon become a recognisable regular. One of the Sociables – I’d watched him make his way around to me after a couple of weeks, via others of the Red’s early morning community. I knew he would get to me, eventually. It had taken a couple of weeks. He was easy enough company.
“My guilty pleasure, I confess. It does one good to escape the strictures of academe once in a while. Now, what’s all this positivity about? You seem in fine fettle this morning.”
McCloud took a small silver container out of his pocket, something like a snuff box. Flipping open it’s lid, he pinched a sliver of dried plant out of the box and dropped it into his cup of hot water. “Ginger root,” he once explained to me, “for flavour and stimulation.” It didn’t look like ginger to me, but I am not a botanist.
“My last day in town, Professor. Tonight, I set off on my journey home. Now, I have enjoyed my stay here, make no mistake. But I look forward to my own bed, my own comforts. And of course, as an adventurer, I love the journey, too.”
He had excellent English, with that American twang of a well-educated non-native English speaker. It was difficult to place, and I, so early in the morning, had been rather disinclined to ask. Until then. It felt the situation had been rather contrived for me to ask that one specific question.
“Well, Mister McCloud, I shall miss our early morning, um, social time. And where is home, exactly?”
He smiled. “Exactly? Well, that is a big question, not easily answered. Impossibly distant, shall we say.”
I wasn’t in the mood for such games. In our previous conversations McCloud had been direct, surprisingly so. I assumed he was feeling playful as a result of the joy for his homeward destiny, wherever that might be, but I couldn’t match him on that.
“Impossibly distant? I don’t quite follow. Please, indulge me. My geography isn’t so bad you know.”
“Professor Cranham, I’m not here by chance. At this table, now. I’m here to see you, to discuss an opportunity with you. Could you give me a little of your time, do you think?”
He called it The Opportunity of a Lifetime. I had never pegged him for a fantasist. A reasonably well-known professor of linguistics, I’ve been head-hunted before. But this was surely a joke. Of course I dismissed him out of hand.
Nowadays, when I look at the night sky, I wonder.
Author : Jason Frank
I walked around an hour ‘fore I found where they landed, no crowd, no cops, no reporters, not no more. They weren’t out yet so I unrolled my blanket and didn’t pay no attention to the dog hairs flying up off it. I had plenty of time to sit and start in on the wine I brought.
I counted five eggs. I’d seen more but hadn’t seen anything like the crazy colors the late October sun was throwin’ off of them. It was beautiful, I had to admit it. I felt a bunch of stuff swelling up in me. You had to have someone with you when you saw something beautiful so you could share it with them. I wished Cain was with me, even if no dog ever cared about a bunch of colors, even if I wouldn’t be there if he was still around.
I was doing pretty good on the wine by the time the eggs got moving and I was so caught up in looking and thinking and feeling that I didn’t hear her walk up behind me and I damn near jumped out of my skin when she said hello.
I could see she was there for the same reason I was. We got a little while yet, I told her and asked her if she wanted to sit a spell and have some wine. She sat down but said no to the wine, she had a flask. She focused in on them eggs solid but I couldn’t help stealing glances at her. She was some kind of woman, hair all braided around her head and her face beautiful without any makeup on it. I tried not to stare but some of the hairs that stuck out of her braids caught the sunlight and made it look like she had a halo on.
The horns started breaking through the shells, working back and forth to grow the cracks they’d made. It was a bit before them cracks got big enough for the things to start forcing their way out, stumbling on shaky legs like anything born regular on this planet. They didn’t walk around too much ’cause they were exhausted from getting out.
She got up and asked me if I was just gonna sit there or what. I laughed a little too hard and a little too loud from the wine and went to get up and stumbled a little bit. She asked me if I was okay and I said yeah I was fine and she said we should do this and I agreed we should.
Being a gentleman, I told her to go ahead first and she did this joke curtsey before shouldering up her piece. it was just a twenty gauge but her aim was dead on. I waited till she reloaded to start in with my twelve. We switched off like that, settling into a smooth rhythm. We blasted those little bastards till they were all gone and then we blasted them all again.
It was a hell of a thing that something could be hard enough to fall through space and get here alive and be able to live here but would be dumb enough to have a taste for man’s best friend, out of all the things we got here. Some things could make a planet inhospitable right quick.
At the bar, she told me she lost five dogs to those bastards and I told her about Cain and we both cried out half as much as we drunk.
There hasn’t been a day since we been apart.