A Matter of Interpretation

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“I’m sorry, if I’d have realized you were coming tonight, I’d have prepared a more substantial demonstration.” The Professor addressed the Investor nervously, moving piles of notes and abandoned test equipment out of his way.

“Your message stated there had been a significant development.” The Investor stood unaffected amidst the chaos, collar turned up against the chill of the room, gloved hands clasped behind his back.

“Yes, we’ve made an exciting advancement.” The Professor ceased his tidying, and strode to the corner of the room, hefting a small wooden shipping crate from a half full pallet of the same. Stepping over the clutter, he carried it to the middle of the curved array of alloy beams that seemed to be the focal point of the laboratory. The structure itself was easily half again as tall as he was, resembling a giant sectioned orange, exploded and suspended in mid air. He deposited the crate at the approximate center of the array, and stepping beyond its perimeter he began to key noisily at a terminal while he spoke. “We had spent all of our efforts initially trying to find a way to accelerate a mass through spacetime, and quite honestly, it had us stymied completely.” He paused for a moment, thoughtfully. “So we reinterpreted the question.” The Professor alternated between keying instructions and monitoring the feedback on several attached displays. “If we didn’t ask ‘how do we accelerate matter through spacetime’, but rather simplified the question to ‘how do we move matter through spacetime’, we discovered that we could apply our theories in a different way, and we were able to successfully move matter through spacetime by decelerating it. Like this – watch!”

The Professor, satisfied with the data presented on the displays in front of him, stepped to a panel off to one side and pushed a pair of levers all the way forward, watching the crate with palpable excitement as it seemed to come into sharp focus for an instant before fading slowly from view, to disappear completely a few seconds later with an audible snap.

Pulling the levers back to their starting position, he turned excitedly to the Investor, who had stood motionless and silent through the entire demonstration.

“We’re not exactly sure where the crates are going, hopefully they’re not falling on someone’s head in another dimension, but the physical properties of the matter making up the crate remains completely intact the entire time, or at least as far as we can monitor it. In fact, we’ve…”

“You reinterpreted my directive?” The Investor’s voice stopped the Professor cold. “You wasted my time, my resources to build a matter decelerator? I know how to decelerate matter through spacetime.” He was shouting now, eyes smoldering on the verge of inferno. “I. Know. How.” His words sharply punctuated, delivered in coarse staccato. “If I had wanted you to recreate what I know, I would have specifically instructed you to do so, wouldn’t I?” His voice boomed as he closed the distance to the Professor, forcing him backwards through the steel tines of the array.

The Investor stopped to lean heavily on the control panel. “You were supposed to make me an accelerator.” He sighed deeply, in sudden resignation, throwing the levers forward again, and not watching the horrified features of the Professor pulled into vivid focus, face contorted in a silent scream as he faded and snapped out of his own plane of existence.

“You were supposed to find me a way to go home.”

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It’s Pirate Season

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

The sound of a bugle woke me up. Damn, reveille. I hate that sound. I swore an oath to myself that I’d fix that one day. I unzip my “bunk” and float out. As I began to put on my uniform, I smiled again at the poster on the far wall. It was Elmer Fudd wearing a spacesuit holding a K-138 phaser rifle. The caption read, “”Shhhhhhhh, be vewy vewy quiet; I’m hunting Piewits, heheheheheheh.” That always cracks me up. I swear, if I capture a pirate one day and he pleads, “But it’s duck season,” I’ll probably let him go. I imagine that some of them are probably decent folk, just raiders trying to feed their families, who would flee rather that hurt someone. But I don’t kid myself; there are some really bad ones too. Sadistic bastards that kill helpless passengers, including women and children. I blast those guys first, and then ask if they wish to surrender.

Halfway through morning chow, the battle stations alarm sounded, followed by the commander’s voice, “Prepare for battle men, we have Morgan Bartholomew’s ship on our long range sensors. “Morgan Bartholomew,” I said to my mates, “he’s the worst of the lot. The captain won’t break off this pursuit, even if Bartholomew flies onto the sun’s corona. We’re going to have to board her too. They won’t let themselves be captured.”

“That’s fine by me,” said the Sergeant Dobson. “I’ll buy a case of Martian beer for the person that vaporized that scum. Let’s suit up men.”

We caught up to them midway between Uranus and Neptune. No place to hide out there, so they had to fight. We punched a dozen holes in her hull, but they kept fighting. Unfortunately, we couldn’t just blow them up. Bartholomew generally kept prisoners alive knowing that it would force hand-to-hand combat. So, we boarded her.

Fighting on a ship exposed to the vacuum of space was eerie. No sound, except the tactical information being transmitted to our headsets. Fighting was fierce, and we lost a half dozen good men, but we killed all the pirates, including Bartholomew himself. I made a mental note to become buddies with the trooper that bagged that bastard.

In the end, we rescued fifteen prisoners, mostly women. No doubt their lives had been hell. But they’re in the infirmary now, and at least they’ll recover physically. All in all, it was a good day to be a pirate hunter. We had a big celebration in the mess hall that evening. The captain even let us break out the contraband liquor that we weren’t supposed to have. After several hours of bragging and exaggerating about our heroic accomplishments, we toasted our fallen comrades another time, and headed to our quarters. Well, except for me, I had a final mission to complete before sacking out.

The following morning, the address system woke us up with Herb Alpert’s Brasilia. Much better, I thought.

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The Return

Author : Grady Hendrix

“Wait!” he said. “Look at that!”

“What the hell is it?” she asked, slamming on the hovercar brakes.

“You’ve never seen one?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“You’re in for a treat,” he said, bouncing up and down with excitement. “Come on.”

He scrambled out of the hovercar and onto the blasted earth.

“I haven’t seen one of these since I woke up,” he said, jogging over to the green patch. “It’s called a tree.”

“I thought they all died in the Great War?”

His knees buckled a little and she caught him. It had only been two months since he’d been cracked out of his hundred year cryo-sleep, one of the first old growth humans to be brought back into this postwar world, finally judged capable of leaving the Citi-Dome and going on patrol with Sara-10.

“Steady on,” she said.

“They haven’t given me much history yet, but I haven’t seen a tree or a plant since I woke up. Look,” he said. “Its leaves change color with the time of year. See those tiny green things? They’re buds, new parts of the tree will grow from them. They’re capable of so many things that we can’t do…” a tear slid down his cheek.

Then a high pressure stream of burning liquid fuel hit the tree and it exploded into a fireball.

“What are you doing?” he screamed.

Sara-10 ignored him and burned the tree until her flamethrower was empty.

“We lost a lot of good men to bastards like that,” she said as the tree crackled.

“That’s maybe the only tree left alive after the Great War and you killed it?”

She slapped another fuel tank on her flamethrower and hit the tree with another blast.

“Who do you think we fought the Great War against?” she asked. “Fucking trees. Taking up all the land, breaking up our cities with their roots, killing everyone – “ she broke down crying. He reached to comfort her but she slapped his hand away. “Let’s just go,” she snapped. “I have to report this.

The tree watched them depart, cursing the mobile ones.

“We’ll be back,” it thought as it died. “There are more of us…we will water our roots with your blood…”

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Sheer Irony

Author : Sarah Klein

“You must think yourself pretty clever, Mr. Culler,” Parkinson said, snickering. “Look at all these devices you’ve rigged up to catch an intruder. Do you notice how I’ve been able to avoid every single one without losing a drop of blood?” He cackled.

Culler said nothing as he awoke from a drugged slumber, taking in his surroundings. He had been propped up in a chair and he was handcuffed. He clenched his teeth and very, very slowly eased his cuffed hands towards his pants pocket.

“You know, I’m just as smart as you, maybe even smarter,” Parkinson said evenly. He pressed the barrel of the gun against Culler’s temple. Click.

Culler had managed to get a couple fingers inside his pocket. He kept a straight face, looking ahead, groping silently.

“We were supposed to be partners! PARTNERS!!” Parkinson roared. “And you dismissed me! Why? Because you ‘felt like working alone’. Do you have any idea what that did to me, you worthless snob?!”

Flecks of spit hit Culler’s cheek as he grasped the lockpick and began to carefully ease it out, hoping he was being subtle enough. But Parkinson was too far gone to notice.

“You ruined my career!” he screamed, pushing the barrel in harder. Culler braced himself so as not to fall over. “You made me a disgrace! No one will even look me in the eye, much less work with me! All because you had to have all the glory yourself!” His red eyes bugged out as he trembled with rage.

Culler picked the lock without trouble, the small noise covered by Parkinson’s hysterics. He sat calmly with the cuffs still around his wrists, and slipped his hand into his other pocket just as subtly.

“You ruined my life,” Parkinson whispered darkly, “so I’m going to end yours.” He prepared to pull the trigger, but after a blink, saw only empty space. His mouth dropped open in surprise.

Click. A pair of handcuffs fell to the floor. Parkinson whirled around to see them, fallen on the floor – and unaccompanied by a person.

His heart sank as he remembered the theme of the project they were supposed to share.


He felt his neck being squeezed. As his vision began to blur, he heard a voice.

“You must think yourself pretty clever, Mr. Parkinson…”

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Author : J.R.Blackwell, Staff Writer

Maja’s ancestors conferred in her head before the date.

“Wear a dress!” said her great grandmother.

“Not that one!” cried her great grandfather “He will think you are a whore, and will offer you money for sex.”

“Old man, you are behind the times.” Said Florence, Maja’s grandmother. “Dresses like that aren’t considered slutty. Showing her nipples is a sign of strength nowadays, don’t you ever pay attention to the modern media?”

“Oversexed tripe.” Muttered Maja’s great grandfather.

They chattered on among themselves. Maja put down the orange dress and pulled out some pants and a long-sleeve shirt. She called her car to come to the front of the house and pick her up to take her to The Last Drop coffeehouse for her date.

“What if Maja marries this man.” Said great grandmother “I’m not sure if he would make a good husband. His job isn’t all that great.”

“It’s got lots of potential.” muttered Maja.

“Would you like to change your destination?” asked Maja’s car in a friendly voice.

“No! No.” said Maja. “I’m talking to myself, disregard. ”

“Look at that.” Said Florence “You are making Maja nervous before her date! You old fogies. All of you shut up until she asks for our guidance.”

“You mind your own-”

“Honored ancestors. Please allow me some peace?”

“Fine,” said Maja’s great grandfather, “but only because you asked politely.”

At the restaurant Maja missed the end of Tachi’s joke, listening to her great grandfathers lecture on the indecent table manners of the youth of today. Tachi was offended, and then surprised, when she told him why she had missed his witty banter.

“You have what, where?” said Tachi, his silver fork still poised in his hand.

“My ancestors.” Shrugged Maja. “They’re all in my head. They got their personalities patterned and I carry an electronic implant that carries them with me.”

“But why?” Tachi put down his fork, shuddering while he imagined his grandmother in his head at all hours of the day.

Maja leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “They guide me. They care about me, love me, they help me make choices.”

“They’re with you all the time?” Tachi fidgeted with the tablecloth. “Even when-”

“Even when what?”

“Even when you are in the bathroom?”

Maja sighed, relieved. Sex was a touchy subject with her ancestors. “Yes, all the time, even in the bathroom. They don’t really care much about what I do in the bathroom though. They care more about what I’m wearing or who I’m going there with, where I’m sticking my credits, my job, the entertainment I watch. You probably think this is weird.”

“It’s different, sure, but not weird. I mean, my grandparents live in a polyamorous commune where everything thinks they are teenagers. At least you’ve never had to worry about your grandfather stealing your girlfriend.”

Maja snorted. “I guess not.”

“That actually explains a few things about you.”

“Like what?”

“Well, when we met, at Rudolf’s party. I remember thinking how elegant you looked, both modern and refined all at once. Classic, I guess is the word. You’re classic.”

“He thinks we’re classic!” cried Florence. “Oh, what a nice man.”

“He’s trying to get into her pants.” Said Maja’s great grandfather.

“Thank you.” Said Maja.

“Do your ancestors say anything about me?” asked Tachi.

“Rude.” Said Maja’s great grandfather.

“I don’t think they’ve all made up their minds.”

“What about you? What do you think about me?”

“I’ve made up my mind, but you’ll have to stick around for dessert to find out what it is.” Maja smiled.

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Making Up For Lost Time

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The correctional facility did not work for me.

I left the building with the need to make up for lost time.

I waited exactly one day and sixteen hours before I grabbed someone and dragged him into an alley to resume work on cleaning the world like I was destined to do.

I guess the cops didn’t tell me about the remote probation device they’d installed in me.

I had my hand drawn back to start working on this terrified man the way the voices had directed when all of a sudden my body felt like it was on fire. My muscles spasmed and I collapsed to the ground in the dirty alley amongst the needles, newspaper and grease.

I stayed there for half an hour. People went through my pockets and found nothing. They stole my shoes.

I woke up angry.

I punched the dumpster beside me, denting it with my hands. My body erupted in searing pain again as I did this. My muscles spasmed and I collapsed to the ground for a second time.

The probation device was wired to my body’s pulse and respiratory system. It was wired to my brain waves.

I needed to remain calm and positive or I would be shocked into convulsions again.

No problem.

I practiced on cats and stray dogs for three months.

Now I can kill an animal with no change in my heartbeat or breathing. I can do it with nothing but positive thoughts in my head. The creator would be proud.

All the time I’ve been practicing on the animals, the voices have been demanding I resume my job. They don’t understand about the probation device. It’s maddening. It’s been torture knowing that I can’t resume my work until I perfect my innermost emotions.

It’s time now. I’m ready to do a human.

I leave the front door of the cave of boxes I’ve made in my squat like a trap door spider coming into daylight.

For the second time in my life, I feel like I’ve been released from prison.

I have to make up for lost time.

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