Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer
Levon regarded the timepiece in his hand carefully, balanced on an open palm as if weighing it, he frowned, then spoke. “Sixty seconds,” his words brought nods and murmurs of agreement from the small crowd gathered around him, the sounds rolling away to be swallowed by the blackness of the parking garage where they’d chosen to gather on this night.
He carefully wound the outer ring of the watch face one complete turn, feeling rather than hearing it click through the seconds. He paused a moment, letting the tension in the crowdÂ steep, feeling the weight of their gaze upon him. With a practiced motion he depressed the crown and rolled it forward slowly, deliberately, until it could be wound no more. He could feel the energy of the tightly compressed spring, quivering with anticipation within the case in his hand.Â Â “Ready?” it was unclear if the question was directed at the crowd, or himself, but there were a few more hurried exchanges, then a nod from Charlie and two thumbs up.
It was time.
Levon made sure the watch’s tether was wrapped tightly around his wrist, then plunged both hands into the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie. His eyes clenched tightly shut, he tugged the crown back into position, setting the works of the timepiece into motion.Â Â He could feel the energy flow through him as the tight coil began to unwind. He reeled for only a moment with the dizzying nausea that always accompanied the ticking of this particular clock. He knew better than to open his eyes, he’d made that mistake only once, and had waking nightmares for months after. The human mind was not meant to see some things.
The momentary yaw and pitch ceased, and new sounds and sensations leaked into his consciousness, begging him to open his eyes. Disoriented, he felt his feet sink slightly into wet sand, and then the air was suddenly alive with staccato snapping as it blistered and split all around him.Â Â He froze as men in uniforms sprinted past him up a beach, only to stagger back and fall in a relentless hailstorm of bullets.Â Â A sudden impact from behind knocked him to the ground, and winded he could barely hear the voice screaming as a figure clambered over him “Get your bloody head down, or you’ll get it shot…” the remainder of the warning was torn violently away in a barrage of gunfire.
Levon curled up on the ground, trying to disappear into the blood slick sand. ’55, 54, 53…’ A boy, no older than he fell backwards to land upside down and face to face with him, his eyes filled with the terror that comes with one’s last seconds ’50, 49, 48…’ The stench of immediate death burned his nose, the screams of the dying assailed his ears mercilessly. All around the frantic yelling of men trying hopelessly to stay alive. Levon squeezed his eyes shut tight, but could do nothing to block out the image of this dying boys eyes, bright, blue, vacant. His ears offered no protection against the deafening audible horror all around. ’40, 39, 38…’ He was sure that he was going to die here, on a beach he had no reason to see, in a time in which he didn’t belong, and for what? A couple of hundred dollars and a brief rush of adrenaline? ’25, 24, 23…’ This was pure insanity, every other time had been fields of flowers, landscapes painted in snow. He’d never seen a soul before. ’18, 17, 16…’ Levon opened his eyes, the boy still staring, lifeless, the color in his eyes having run out. The dirt coated face and the bloodied lips etched themselves into Levon’s mind, forming a caricature of a life blown apart, and those eyes… ’13, 12, 11…’ Reflexively he squeezed his own eyes shut again, ‘5, 4, 3…’ this boy just one of many that had died so Levon could have the freedoms he’d enjoyed his whole life. And this was the best he could do, using stolen tools and mocking these sacrifices for beer money?
He did his best to compose himself as he snapped back into the crowded parking space. Half hearted praise, the sounds of money begrudgingly changing hands, these things leaked in muted tones into his consciousness. These noises were meant for another Levon, the Levon he’d left on a beach in some other time. He knew there were things the human mind was not meant to see, for once seen one could never look at the world in the same way again.
“Double or nothing,”Â Â Charlie’s voice slipped in through the haze, “double or nothing?”.
“No,” his voice came from somewhere else too, “no, I’m done, I’m all out of time.”
Author : JR Blackwell, Staff Writer
“I don’t want to go to the United States.” Wilkin slumped, his head falling into the cradle of his arms. His lawyer, the Silver Cyborg, as he liked to be called, put a heavy sympathetic hand on Wilkin’s shoulder.
“Sorry Willi, I wish I could appeal this again, but it looks like they’ve made a final decision on your case.”
Willi looked up from the metal table. The skin around his eyes was red and puffy. “Tell them that if I have to leave the European Union, I will kill myself.”
The Silver Cyborg shook his gleaming head. “Willi, don’t be rash.”
“Have you heard what they do over there? They eat animals and kill each other for diesel fuels.”
“They have a different way of living. I’m sure you’ll become accustomed to it.”
“This is cruel and unusual punishment! They can’t do this to me!”
“Willi, calm down.”
“God, you were my lawyer. You were supposed to keep this from happening!”
“Wilkin, and I don’t want to be too forward here, but I’ve been curious. What did you think would happen when you started leaving those abusive messages all over the network? What did you think would happen when you were sending those e-mails to those girls or pretending to be a girl yourself and taking people’s money? What, honestly, did you think would happen?”
“I don’t know. I thought, maybe, I would get fine or something, a net ticket or whatever.”
“Willi, they’ve been deporting Trolls to the U.S. for fifteen years now. I don’t know why you thought you could get away with this.”
When Willi heard the word Troll, it made him slump in his chair. “It just got ahead of me. I would see something and I just couldn’t help but comment, track the poster down and really get to them, I don’t know. I couldn’t help myself.” Willi’s face brightened. “Say, do you think you could push this off as a psychological problem? We could tell people I’ve got an addictive personality. You think you could appeal on that?”
The Silver Cyborg picked up his data pad, which was modified to have a silver surface that matched the Cyborg’s own skin. “Honestly? No.”
Willi pounded the table. “What if I have a nervous breakdown?”
The Silver Cyborg knocked on the wall, signaling the guard to unlock the hidden door. “Have a nice flight to the U.S. Willi. I hope people enjoy your flames over there.”
Author : Clifford Hebner
They met at the Imperial Academy, her slight and boyish, the youngest woman ever admitted, and he old, with the face and toothy grin of an ape. They were outcast, too young or old to be useful to anyone, but by the time she accepted her first commission, serving as ensign on a tiny scout ship, their legend had already started to grow. When she was promoted to the Captaincy, and given her own battleship, it was his ancient Admiralâ€™s hands that pressed the pin to her breast and drew the ceremonial drops of blood, said to seal sailor to Emperor forever.
History, in its wisdom, called the rebellion inevitable, the Emperorâ€™s arrogance and madness driving fully a third of his armies from him in desperate revolt. The rebels, outmanned and outgunned, were hounded across space, until, at a worthless piece of rock called Martinâ€™s Folly, the ape-faced former Admiral marshaled what forces were left to stand and die. The Imperial fleet came on and the first thousand ships flamed and died in the embrace of minefields and artillery orbiting The Folly; but she, who had been both student and lover, held her third back, and when they fell from hyperspace and in among the rebel ships it was with the whispered voice of Death.
In the end the Admiral, his ship crippled and burning, ordered all power to the engines and forward shields, seeking to lance the flagship, and it was without the thought of tears that she maneuvered around and sent him to a death in fire and a grave in the void they both loved so deeply.
She gathered up what ships were left to her, after the old ape had ambushed them so mercilessly, and limped on home with her men singing celebration and feast-day songs. She sailed through an infinity of stars and into the heartworld of a grateful empire, and then through an ocean of courtiers to the Emperorâ€™s audience chamber. He, in his lust, and his madness, came down from his throne, where no man could kill him, and sought her embrace; and she, with her loverâ€™s ugly face first in her mind, drove seven inches of the finest Imperial steel into his blackened heart, stilling it on the spot.
She left the Emperor on the floor, dead and discarded, and with him all the names and honorifics she had ever been given. She walked back to her ship, and the armies followed her once more, back out into the infinite ocean, always seeking new conquest. From that day forward she was called only Victory, and her name was battle-hymn and funeral-hymn on the lips of her men, who loved her- but she, who had killed both her lover and her God-King? Haunted by the memory of an ape-faced old Admiral, she loved nothing at all.
Author : Patricia Stewart
March 26, 2167. It was the best of days; it was the worst of days (if you permit me to paraphrase Charles Dickens). At 8:00 EMT (Earth mean time), I accepted delivery of the Galaxy-Clipper. Although named for the nineteenth century sailing ship, it was not made to cruse Earth’s watery seas. No, it was made to dart around the solar system at one half the speed of light. It’s a four passenger, forty foot diameter, gleaming metal saucer, powered by a Rolls-Royce 427 terawatt antimatter engine, and 32 ion-drive plasma guidance reaction jets. Man, she’s pure supernova. It set me back two years salary, but there isn’t a better babe gravity-well on the market. Surely, the best of days.
However, in hindsight I should have been satisfied with the Clipper’s standard equipment package. But my dim-witted, testosterone blind buddies convinced me to take her “off pathâ€ to get the underbelly coated with a mono-layer of promethium-deuterium-phosphate, otherwise known as PDP. For those of you unfamiliar with PDP, it’s a catalytic coating that promotes the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Under the right conditions, you can cause rarified hydrogen gas to spontaneously fuse into helium, liberating a substantial quantity of energy. As it turns out, those “right conditionsâ€ are the temperatures and pressures generated by the hull of a sleek new spacecraft as it skims across the upper atmosphere of a gas giant; say Saturn. It’s called nuclear wake surfing. It’s illegal, but fun as hell. I assume you can see where this is going. At 11:45, I was docked outside Bubba’s Astro Parts and Body Station in Mars orbit. At 14:00, me and three of my idiot friends (that’s four idiots total) were streaking toward Saturn at 0.499c (the ship was new, so I didn’t peg the throttle). Nine hundred million miles and three hours later (not counting time dilation), we were in geosynchronous orbit over Saturn.
We spent the next two hours calculating the required velocity and angle of inclination. Too steep and you burn up; too shallow and you bounce off the atmosphere. At 19:00 we caught our first ride. Man, what a thrill. From 25,327 miles per hour to 0.1c in millisecond bursts. Uncontrolled nine gee pitch, roll, and yaw buffeting. The most exciting 20 seconds of my life. When we pulled around for a second run, part of Saturn’s northern hemisphere was on fire. We didn’t hang around to figure out what happened, but my guess is that Bubba’s PDP was defective and broke loose while we were surfing. Since the dispersed particles are just catalysts (i.e., they are not consumed) the nuclear fusion reaction became self-sustaining.
By now (21:30), the fusion reaction has undoubtedly spread throughout the entire planet, and the rings have probably dissipated. Although we cannot see Saturn, I’m sure the view of your new mini-star is quite spectacular from Earth, especially at night. For the unforeseeable future, my buddies and I are fugitives hiding deep within a crevice of an unnamed asteroid while the Spaceforce hunts us down. Clearly, the worst of days.
Author : Adam Zabell
In one of those rare moments of unity, the nation sits in stunned silence at the scene laid out before them. A few short seconds from now three different wild howls of exclamation will be broadcast from two billion different voices.
A third of those voices will be shrill with anger, proclaiming to their chosen Gods how vile that scene was, how crude, wrong and immoral. In time, prayers will be spoken and letters written to politicians and newsfeeds about how Something Must Be Done. Some of these folk will demand retribution; a pound of flesh that must be extracted from those who brought this terror to their homes, their families and their children.
Another third will be aghast with despair, certain that yet another pointless and fruitless war is about to be waged. A war filled with violent rhetoric that will prove nothing and divide the people ever further into the camps of the extremists. Most of these folk will hunker down in their shelters, intellectualizing what they saw and afraid to act for what they see as the path towards a greater good.
The final third, the youngest third, are probably the most profoundly affected. They know what is supposed to happen, and where, and know what they saw today totally flies in the face of those rules. Deep in their souls they know that what they saw today has changed, will change their life forever. And they will be the ones who cry out the loudest, their voices from chuckle and chortle to bray and bellow. And all the inevitable conversations on their electronic chatspaces and in their personal stomping grounds will boil down to a single, visceral sentence.
“Dude, can you even say ‘fuck’ on hypercast?!”
Author : Gabrielle Kinsman
The transport completed its descent and settled onto the ground. The landing gear clamped to the landing pad, like a bug latching onto a leaf. The hatch opened and people started filing out almost before it touched ground. There were scores of people; many of them were specialists, workers for the newly-terraformed planet Arian. Another large portion were business men; both rich and poor, looking to start anew or create another branch to their prospering business. But the bulk of the people were ordinary folk, settlers who had volunteered (or been volunteered) to populate the new colony.
Samantha Headford was among the ordinary colonists. Her swollen belly differentiated her from the other passengers; she was just under the maximum length pregnancy allowed on the trip, and well over the recommended length. She had been worried, but she couldn’t stay where she had been before. She wasn’t safe there, and neither was the baby.
The baby’s father walked next to her, gripping her hand. Grant was three inches taller than her, had the same sandy blond hair as she, and was currently suffering from a broken nose. It would heal up in a day or two — they couldn’t afford the treatment that would heal it within hours — but in the meantime he wore an unsightly bandage over the middle of his face.
She stood off to the side and waited for him while he retrieved information on their assigned living quarters. Mothers with their children gave her knowing smiles when they passed by; she smiled back, a little wary, but happy. None of these people knew who she was. All they saw was a pregnant woman waiting for her husband.
One overly friendly woman walked up to her and smiled at the little package. “Oh, how far along are you, dearie?”
“Uh, five months,” Sam said.
“Ooh, he’s coming along soon, isn’t he?” The woman grinned at her.
“She,” Sam said, her smile growing.
“Oh, pardon. Hard to tell from out here, you know.”
Sam laughed. “Do you have any of your own?”
“Ah, yes, but they’re all grown up.” Sam noticed the gray strands in the woman’s hair. “Angry at me for adventuring out into the great black unknown again, likely. Oh, pardon, I’ve forgotten all about my manners. Name’s Haley.” She offered her hand; Sam shook it.
“Such a pretty name. Do you know where you’ll be staying?”
“Thank you. Um, not yet, my, the baby’s father is finding out right now.” Sam gestured towards where Grant was staring at a screen.
“Ah, I see.” Haley winked at her. “You ever need any help with that little one, you let me know. I have a bit of experience under my belt, raising little ones in far off places.”
“I will, thank you.” The women smiled at each other, and Haley left her alone.
Grant returned, grinning, took her hand and led her away.
“We’re on the east side,” he told her. “The sun rises in the east here, just like on Earth. You’re going to love the view.”
The walk wasn’t very long, but it seemed much longer to her tired body. At the moment she didn’t much care about the view; she was more interested in the bed, and how much sleeping she would get done in it.
Her ambivalence remained until they were in the living room, and Grant hit a button next to the opaque windows, making them clear. She’d never realized that people meant the word ‘breathtaking’ literally; for a moment she really did forget how to breathe.
“See? Told you.” He grinned at her, like a boy at Christmas. “It’s as beautiful as you are.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop.”
He came up and hugged her from the side. “We’re going to be okay here.” He put his hand over her belly. “We’ll be safe.”
She leaned into him and smiled. “Yes.” She put her hand over her brother’s and said, “No one knows who we are.”