Threshold

Author : Kenny R. Brown

Our research ship; the Threshold, hovered about 800,000 kilometers from the event horizon. We could’ve taken better readings by moving closer, but then even the most powerful engines ever designed wouldn’t have been able to hold us back from the intense pull of gravity generated by our test subject.

Though our shielding was sufficient to protect us from the intense X-ray radiation, there was something unnerving about looking at the black hole with the naked eye. Some compared it to staring down the barrel of a weapon. I felt more like a projectile; about to be forced through the barrel at inconceivable speed.

We were on the final leg of our mission, examining the black hole known as subject K14-683. For the last three days, it has been business as usual for us; taking readings and performing tests.

“Sir!” Lieutenant Caruthers shouted; “Positive contact in optical.”

“What’ve we got?” I asked.

“It looks like a vessel of some kind, holding station about 12 kilometers from the event horizon; spherical, 6 meters in diameter.”

“Analysis?”

The Lieutenant scowled as he examined the various displays arrayed at his station.

“Unknown, it seems to have no source of propulsion. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

I ordered a routine scan of the object, probing the object in a wide range of spectra and frequencies.

Ensign Michaels began shouting, bypassing the usual chain of command. “The unknown is moving. It’s on a collision course!”

Lieutenant Caruthers hit the collision alarm. “Time to intercept; 25 seconds.”

The expected impact never came; the unknown vessel stopped 10 meters off of our bow. Then our engines went dead.

“Main engine shutdown! We’re being pulled in.” The Lieutenant paused a moment, then continued; “40 seconds to event horizon.”

There was nothing left to do, every member of the crew knew there was no hope; the bridge was silent as we each prepared to meet death. The unknown kept its position off our bow, exactly matching our acceleration. We reached the event horizon, but instead of being destroyed; we suddenly found ourselves in normal space once again.

The silence was finally broken by Lieutenant Caruthers; “Ensign Michaels; report.”

“The unknown is still off the bow; engines operating at station keeping.”

“What’s our position?” I asked.

Lieutenant Caruthers consulted his stellar maps. Finally; he responded; “Position… uncharted.”

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Jack

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jack smiled across the card table, and the newly bankrupt old man glared back with open hatred. Jack busied himself stuffing his winnings into his cavernous coat as the coin was collected by the dealer, counted, and after the house tax paid, credited to one of Jack’s many account cards. He’d compensate the dealer later for the extraordinary luck he’d had tonight.

The rest of the nights losers had already wandered off, a teacher, a housewife – beholden now to Jack for a fortnight, and the young ranger who’d lost his recoilless pistol to a low pair. Jack hefted the weapon for moment before it too was stuffed into a pocket. A chronometer, food ration tokens, several knives and a nice pair of long glasses all disappeared into the coat. As he picked up the old mans last offering of the game, a velvet bag full of beans, Jack paused.

“Beans?” he thought out loud “What the hell am I going to do with beans?”  Jack hadn’t wanted the old mans beans, but he had wanted the win. There was something special about cleaning someone out of everything they had, no matter how worthless the items themselves.

“Magic beans.” the old man spat at him, “You’d best be careful with those, you don’t respect ’em and they’ll bite you in the ass”

“Sorry about your luck, and thanks for these.. magic beans.” He spoke over his shoulder, turning towards the door “If you can muster up something else to bet with, I’d be happy to take it off you some other time”. He could feel the mans eyes burning into his back as he strode out the swinging doors into the night, twirling the bag of beans deliberately by its drawstring as he left.

He walked quickly, down the alley past Madame Harlots House of Whorers, over the canal bridge and down the path along the waters edge, still twirling the bag.  It was here that the straining drawstring broke, sending the bag and it’s beans skittering across the path into the shallow of the water.

Jack could have cared less about the beans, and had almost walked past them when the ground began to shake. The shallow water erupted with explosive force, and a thick vine began to claw its way skyward at an impossible rate, sending Jack staggering backward as he stumbled and fell. The vine thickened as it grew, strong roots visibly churning their way outward beneath the ground, some erupting in the canal proper, some unsetting the underbrush lining the edge of the forest that traced the shoreline.  Jack lay on his back, watching the vine rocket into the dense fog of the night sky, and for a moment, childhood stories filled his head.  The old peddler and his beans, a ladder to a dimensional rift in the clouds and a castle filled with riches beyond imagination. Jack’s eyes lit up at the thought, and he scrambled excitedly to his feet, rushed to the base of the towering vine and began climbing, feet and hands finding purchase on the shoots protruding from the vines’ spiny flesh.

He pulled himself skyward tirelessly, in and out of the fog, great boots tearing broad gashes in the plant flesh beneath them as he went. After some time, the fog cleared, and he could feel that the vine itself had stopped rising. Jack had stopped where the plant had taken a sharp perpendicular turn, snaking out sideways into the darkness.

‘This is it’ Jack ventured into the night ‘this must be it…’

Something stirred just on the edge of his sight, an area of blackness, growing, blotting out the stars peppering the darkness beyond.  Could this be the portal?  Jack strained to see as the patch of void moved towards him. The dark shape took form as the distance closed, revealing itself as the end of the vine itself, truncated in a misshapen clutch of petals. It paused, just a few meters away, and the petals peeled back, revealing row upon row of barbed and ribbed spines, bristling inward and foaming angrily.  Jack recoiled in horror, his feet slipping on the torn wet welts his boots had left behind in the haste of his climb. The words of the old man rang again with finality in his ears ‘Best be careful, treat em badly…’

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Market Special

Author : TJMoore

The butcher brought his cleaver down with a meaty “THUNK” and scraped another festipods head into the waste bin. He hung the shimmering body on a hook in line with a dozen or so just like it and grabbed another from the pile.

“These are as fresh as they get.” He advertised to the customer waiting at the counter. “I just got them in this phase.”

“Sixty a quarter pod is a little steep even if they are fresh.” She complained. “What about your grizorma, does it have preafers in it or is it gnashy?”

“I make ‘em myself with the sharpest preafers in the valley.” He bragged.

“I’ll take a third of a half loaf then.” she decided and continued browsing the cold case at the front of the counter.

“Are those Humans really twenty apiece?” she inquired.

“Yep, special introductory price on those from a new supplier” he confirmed.

“How do they get them so cheap? Aren’t they incredibly hard to find?” she asked.

“Not these” he gestured; “They’re farm raised by the supplier”.

“My, at that price, we can have them every ten-revs” she chortled. “I’ll take a half pod.”

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Pickup

Author : Duncan Shields , Featured Writer

It was the numbers tattooed on the backs of their necks that always got me. Why couldn’t they have them in a more obvious place? Halfway through a conversation with them, I’d still be trying to catch a glimpse of their tattoos in reflective surfaces or craning my head around in what I hoped was a casual gesture to sneak a look.

It was awful when I’d be flirting with a hot girl only to realize that I wasn’t flirting with the same hot girl I was talking to three nights earlier. I’d have to lay foundations all over again. Not that it ever really did any good.

I was a bit of an anomaly on this ship.

There were over 600 crew members on the ship that picked me up but there were only 60 people, if you know what I mean. Clones. 60 types of clones. 10 copies of each. Each had a number tattooed on the back of their necks. 1 thru 10.

My ailing rustbucket of a ship had been out of juice on the fringes. I’d been put in emergency cryosleep to conserve energy and my beacon had been turned on.

I’d been floating for 60 years. I’m not a guy with a lot of friends so it didn’t take me too long to adjust to the fact that a lot of my buddies had shuffled off into the deep black or were old and retired by now.

One of them was doing really well back on Earth-3-Perisolstice and said that he’d set me up. Once I got there.

I had been here on this ship for two months. It would be another three months before we docked where my friend lived. All of the crew had been picked for fitness and intelligence and then bred to a higher level and copied. The copies had been filled with knowledge in clone school and upgraded to super healthy status before being sent out into space to complete missions of research.

They worked well but boy, these people had no concept of down time or humour. I’d joked with a few of them, gotten a few of them into bed, and tried to start fights with a few of them.

The jokes were dissected to find the humour successfully without laughter. The sex was clinical and reported on and filed. The fights ended badly for me every time but the hospital facilities were excellent here. I was fixed up in a jiffy every time with no hard feelings.

David-3, Terry-6 and I think Peter-1 flinch a little if I make any sudden movements near them but it isn’t out of fear, but rather just recognition of possible physical danger. You might not think there’s a difference but trust me, with these guys it’s a world of difference.

They’re just no fun.

They think I’m immature and barbaric and they’re right. I’m going to be as immature and barbaric as possible until we get to port.

I’ll end this trip with a friend if it kills me.

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Oak Island

Author : Alasdair Stuart

The last morning, we gathered on the beach. Someone made the inevitable Nevil Shute joke and too many people laughed. The noise was braying, desperate and I moved away from it, worried, somehow that I might get some on me.

‘Leigh?’

Vanya was heading towards me, his bald head gleaming against the unnaturally blue sky. I’d been told why it had happened, something to do with too much oxygen, with the plants that were choking most of Europe now. I’d not listened. There didn’t seem to be any point.

‘Hello.’

‘What did you dream about?’

‘Nothing.’

He smiled, having none of it. ‘I don’t believe you. We all dreamed last night, all different. I checked. Mike dreamt of spacecraft buried beneath city streets, Jo dreamt of dinosaurs being corralled beneath a double moon. Shulta dreamt of a war fought between toys.’

I thought about being annoyed, storming off. My only options were to join the group further down the beach or go back to the hotel, watch the news and see how bad things had got since I woke up. Neither seemed attractive.

‘What did you dream about, Vanya?’

He smiled. ‘I dreamt of riding an escalator through time.’

I snorted. ‘That’s ridiculous.’

Vanya threw his arms wide. ‘As ridiculous as a plague of glass? Or forests swallowing an entire continent? Look around, Leigh. Ridiculous is relative.’

I stared at him for a long time. ‘Why is this happening?’

He grinned, his coffee mug steaming. ‘Because God plays with dolls, not dice. Because creation needs to be reset every once in a while and the consolation we get is here, now.’

I looked at the forty people on the island, the music, the false bonhomie, the burnt sky.

‘Hell is other people.’

‘And heaven is other worlds.’ He looked at me, cradling the coffee mug. ‘You never told me what you dreamt.’

‘That I was married.’

‘Really?’ He tried for disappointment and nonchalance, managing neither.

‘Yeah.’

‘Who to?’

‘You.’

Vanya’s jaw dropped. I smiled. ‘So, I hope you’re right.’

‘That makes two of us.’

‘Could I have some of your coffee?’

‘Oh, sure.’

I walked over to him, taking the mug and letting the warmth ease through my fingers. After a moment, I sat down. After another, he joined me and together we waited for the new world.

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Resuscitation

Author : Josh Romond

The neurosurgical tech Andrew Asher clutched his overcoat tight over his scrubs and tried to concentrate on the National Guardsman eying him across the barricade. Overhead the city’s kilometer-long support pylons reverberated like infernal gongs, torqued by the psychic eruption. Columns of refugees spilled around the dirty plastic barrier propelled by its unnatural, cold wind.

From behind her silvered faceplate the Guardsman said, “Buddy, we’re here to get people OUT, not let you IN.”

Andrew shuffled his feet, impatient and cold. “This has to be the last of them.”

“Doesn’t matter, you’re not getting in.”

Andrew bit back his retort as, ‘TAKING TOO LONG,’ appeared inside his contact lens. He glanced back at the tractor trailer idling in the tide of refugees.

“Give me a minute,” he subvocalized.

‘30 SECS.’

Andrew turned back and through gritted teeth said, “We won’t get in the way, we’ll be gone in an hour.”

The Guardsman drummed her fingers on her rifle. “Turn that thing around and get out of here.”

‘ERUPTION WAVEFRONT DEGRADING…’

Andrew sighed. “Limit?” he subvocalized.

There was a pause, Andrew imagined the Doctor querying their client, then, ‘NONE.’

“How about five thousand each?” Andrew shouted so the other Guardsmen could hear. Several heads turned.

After a pause the commander’s faceplate hissed up revealing bloodshot and sunken eyes. “Ten.”

Andrew shrugged and pulled blank bills from his pocket, thumbing ten thousand into each.

The commander verified them one by one then motioned over her shoulder. Two Guardsmen began beating back the crowd with their batons while the others dragged the barricade to the sidewalk. People screamed. One man caught a baton across the temple. He jerked like a cut marionette and toppled to the sidewalk.

Andrew turned and trudged to the rear of the trailer amid swirling litter. He heaved open the doors and slipped inside.

The Doctor stood before the pMRI holograph in the trailer’s instrument bank clutching his keypad. Beaded sweat stood out on his forehead.

Seated in back beside the small, brain-dead boy in the bed was the Widow, staring off at nothing. She gripped the boy’s hands so tight her knuckles stood out like little white marbles. The only sound was the slow, rhythmic cycling of the boy’s ventilator.

Andrew said, “We’re good.”

The Doctor nodded and tapped the go ahead on his keypad. The truck lurched forward. Andrew imagined the refugees parting in their flight from the psychic eruption, the warp in space-time, birthed by the city’s sheer crush of consciousness, into which they rushed headlong.

He dropped onto a stool beside the boy, examining the ring of cables extending from the boy’s shaved and sutured head. They led to an antenna on the trailer’s roof.

The Widow’s gaze slid to the back of the Doctor’s head. “This WILL work,” she said.

The pylons’ groaning whalesong reverberated through the trailer. Andrew rubbed his throbbing temples, they were approaching the outer regions of the eruption.

“Oh yes,” the Doctor said, nodding vigorously, “Yes of course.”

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