The Bottom Line

Author : J.S. Kachelries

Kram Vidda occupied one of the twelve holographic cubes in the Executive Conference Room of the Planetary Reclamation Corporation. He would be the presenter in the meeting to discuss the possibility of salvaging Sol-3. The images of ten board members, transmitted via hyperspace relays from distant Sectors, sat patiently waiting for the Chairman to appear. When the Chairman, known only as Hapal, came into focus, the meeting began.

Vidda bowed his head respectively toward the Chairman. “Hapal, it’s good to view you again, as well as the other prestigious members of the Board. I know you are all very busy, so I’ll get right to the point. Sol-3 is probably the worst case of planetary self destruction that I have ever seen. Most of our previous projects involved salvaging planets destroyed by simple, mutual nuclear annihilation.” He smiled slightly as he delivered his favorite axiom. “After all, it’s the extinction method of choice for ‘intelligent’ species that have chosen to remove their genome from the evolutionary mainstream of the universe.”

As holographic pie charts appeared and slowly rotated in the center of the room, Vidda continued his presentation. “But the inhabitants of Sol-3 pulled out all stops. As nearly as our engineers can reconstruct, they started through the wormhole of self-destruction the usual way. Petty disputes between various political and economic factions prevented them from forming a consensus world government. The more powerful countries exploited the available resources without any thought of the consequences. They consumed their non-renewable carbon-based fuels recklessly, released copious amounts of green house gasses, destroyed their ozone layer, and they poisoned their air and water. The inevitable tactical nuclear devices were detonated, which escalated into a global holocaust. That’s usually where they exit and we enter. But somehow, the species was hardy enough to survive thermo-nuclear war, and they continued the conflict even as they had one foot in the disintegration chamber and the other on a tutber leaf. They created and then released biological weapons that attacked their own species. But, that wasn’t good enough, so they exterminated all animal life, followed by the destruction of all plant life. They also released some kind of silicon-based nano-mites that are still reorganizing the molecular integrity of the inorganic infrastructure of the planet. It’s a real mess. They actually developed a…”

Hapal, who was seriously doubting that Vidda was ‘getting right to the point’ interrupted. “The bottom line, Mr. Vidda. Can we reclaim the planet profitably, or not?”

“Sir, we will need 1748 atmospheric purifiers, 815 ozone regenerators, 2122 radiation neutralizers, over 5000 anti-toxin synthesizers, a full sub-space sterilization field, more than 14000…”

“Mr. Vidda, will you please focus. Profitability?”

Vidda was somewhat taken aback by Hapal’s directness. “Ah…well…Yes, sir. Four sextillion decknars after five years. Then 25% growth each year for the next…”

“That’s enough, Mr. Vidda. Start transporting the equipment, and begin the damned reclamation project while our genome is still on the ‘evolutionary mainstream of the universe.’ Meeting adjourned.” Unceremoniously, Hapal’s hologram abruptly vanished.

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The Black Maria

Author : Rae Walker

Dawn scrambled over the alley’s chain link fence, the ching ching ching of her climb ringing as loud as the siren had upon her escape.

Yes Dawn had killed the child; but how was she to know he was among the rubble? If it hadn’t been her then someone else would have brought the boy down; it was inevitable. Where had his Sitter been? What child was without one?

No matter now -the boy was dead- by her machinery and so by her hand. Dawn shuddered. The Black Maria had been waiting as She waited for every man, woman and child who dared deviate from the unyielding word of law. Unbiased. Without compassion or understanding of circumstance. Dawn was damned.

Joy rippled through the beast as She had come to life; activated to hunt down, try and judge the child-murderer. With gentle feet She had climbed over apartment dormitories, not making the slightest mark. That would be vandalism and so was forbidden. Long after the sun had set, when the stars shined with more than enough light She had spotted Dawn and galloped at her with hydraulic joints pumping, Her belly open to snare the deviant. In the belly of the Black Maria, Dawn would have been interrogated, tried, and found guilty. In Her belly she would have been executed, incinerated, ashy smoke rising from between the Black Maria’s shoulder blades and billowing into the night air. But Dawn had dashed into traffic, stumbling between vehicles and taking the chance of being sucked into an engine. The Black Maria had not followed; it was against the law to cross without permission, and so She waited. Her body rippled again as one more charge was brought against the child-murderer and She watched for the pedestrian crossing to light white. Two men huddled below Her drew away with hunted expressions but there was no law against fear -She ignored them.

Dawn toppled over the fence, scuffing her shoulder, tearing through her red wool sweater. She dared not go to friends, family, or they too would be charged. With assisting the deviant. With anything. There was always something. Dawn was alone as she dragged herself to her feet and forced them to run again, though her chest felt like bursting. No one had ever fought the Black Maria and won, let alone a diabetic construction worker.

The night’s silence and city-noises were drowned by the Black Maria’s siren, sounding like laughing, clapping hands. Clah hah hah claa claa clah hah hah. People in units above drew their blinds and bolted their doors. She was close. The siren blared, wearing on Her quarry’s nerve until she made a mistake and was trapped in that steel belly.

Dawn sobbed, her hand gripping the slow bleeding wound on her shoulder. With glistening eyes, Dawn limped onward, the hope having left her step. She wished she had killed the boy with her own hands, had slit his throat and watched him bleed. She wished she could have had that luxury.

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What is a Soul?

Author : Hope Evey

He put pen to paper, but it was just a mechanical act. The feel of the pen in his hand, the flow of ink onto the page, the crinkle of turned pages, none of these caused even a ruffle to his new, positronic brain. He was aware of all the sensations, of course. They just didn’t mean anything.

One stroke was enough to convince him that nothing could be worse than having another. Modern medicine could do many things, but couldn’t guarantee he’d completely recover from another stroke. Ages of therapy after the first stroke, physical and psychological, and he regained most of his manual dexterity, and most of his memory. The two days immediately preceding his stroke remained a blank, so he chose the very best positronic brain available, and a matching robotic body. Upload to a positronic brain had risks, of course, but he preferred them to risking his mind in an aging body.

The greatest risk, of course, was the transferal itself. He wouldn’t be copying his mind to the positronic brain – he would be transferring it. The process that encoded his mind onto the positronic matrix would, neuron by neuron, destroy his physical brain. If the transfer failed, he would be dead. He considered that better than to live with a brain that could break without warning. He wasn’t worried about the shock of suddenly finding himself in a mechanical body. His body only served to maintain his mind, and move it around. A mechanical body would do the job just as well, if not better.

He got back to writing as soon as possible after the upload. He’d only finished four of the eight books in his series when he had his first stroke. Thank God he’d taken lots of notes during the days he couldn’t remember. He was able to reconstruct the plot twist he’d been developing before the stroke wiped his mind. Some said the fifth book was the best of the series. He didn’t realize he constructed it completely from the notes he’d made while still biological. The sixth book sold even better. He used his pre-upload notes, expanding upon them by using the most popular parts of the previous four.

His writing grew in popularity. He could keep writing forever at this point. He knew writing was important, but he could no longer remember why.

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Destination Titan

Author : Patrica Stewart

Jim Roberts continued to stare at the chronometer in the center of the ship’s instrument panel. Thirty minutes past the scheduled departure time. Damn, why can’t they ever depart on schedule? He pressed the intercom button. “Sam, I’m losing the launch window.”

In an effort to calm himself down, Jim decided to use the delay to run through the checklist again. Primary oxygen, secondary oxygen, carbon dioxide scrubbers, food, water, medical supplies, telemetry, subspace transmitter, backup transmitter, antimatter reserves, etc., etc. He then reviewed the flight plan. He had worked out the details of the plan with a buddy of his, who had made a career of flying replenishment missions to the science, military, and adventure stations in the outer solar system. The plan called for a sling shot gravity boost around the moon, then maximum acceleration along a flatted parabolic path until achieving maximum velocity about 1,000,000 miles above the asteroid belt. Then, on to Titan for a retrograde capture.

Finally, Sam entered the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. “Ok, Ok. Every body’s on board, the cargo is stowed, and all the hatches are secured. We’re ready. Have you filed the flight plan?”

“Transmitted, received, and approved an hour ago. I’ve just been waiting for you, as usual. One day, Sam,” he threatened, “I’m going to leave you behind.” He activated the transmitter. “Tower, this is bravo-delta-epsilon-three-two-niner requesting permission to lift off.”

“Roger that, bravo-delta-epsilon-three-two-niner. You are number four on the launch pad. Follow Transport Tanker gamma-omega-epsilon-three-seven-seven.”

“Acknowledged. Buckle up, Sam.” Jim primed the antimatter engines, and taxied toward the launch pad. Three minutes after the Transport Tanker lifted off, he initiated the launch sequence. As the ship accelerated upward, he felt his back begin to press heavily into his seat. With the skill of a seasoned pilot, he adjusted the inertia compensators to maintain 1g. Once in orbit, he set the powerful engines to maximum, and headed toward the leading edge of the moon. After the close approach, the ship wiped toward Saturn (actually, slightly ahead of Saturn, and slightly above the ecliptic). The engines roared continuously for three hours before they automatically throttled down when the ship’s velocity reached 0.55c (Max-V). Jim peered out the viewport and watched Vista’s thin crescent disappearing behind them. “Ok,” he said, “double nickel for the next two hours, then deceleration begins.”

Sam had no idea what Jim was talking about. “Double what?”

“Double nickel. It’s an archaic Earth term from the twentieth century. It means your velocity is 55 MPH.”

“What’s that got to do with nickel?”

“Not the metal, dummy. A ‘nickel’ was a unit of American currency equal to five cen…” Jim stopped himself mid-word. Earth had stopped using coins over 300 years ago. Nobody but a history buff like himself would know, or even care, about primitive societies. “Oh, never mind,” he finally said.

After a few awkward minutes of silence, Sam decided to change the subject. With a thumb motioning toward the passenger compartment, Sam said, “You know, it’s been awful quiet back there.”

As if on cue, a shout came from the passenger cabin. “Stop it.”

“No, you stop it.”

“Stop it, or I’ll tell Mom. Mom, Katie keeps touching me.”

“He’s on my side.”

“Am not”

“Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Liar.”

Jim cupped his hands over his ears. “Well, Samantha, I hope you’re happy. You jinxed us.”

“Did not,” she replied mockingly. “Besides, we just set a family record. We made it all the way to the asteroid belt this time.”

“Next year, I’m putting a force field between them.”

“Dad, I’m hungry.”

“Me too.”

“I have to pee.”

”Me too.”

“Are we there yet?”

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Breach of Contract

Author : S. Clough

“All units, fall back to waypoint epsilon. Marking recommended routes now.”

Reeve did as he was told. Command whispered into your head and they could easily put pain there instead of whispers. He was with four tax regulars, covering a breach in the stronghold’s outer wall.

“There has been a breach of contract,” command spoke softly, melodiously. “Dropships are inbound to epsilon, and a communiqué has been sent to all aggressors. We are leaving this fight to the regulars. All non-secured equipment will terminate in five – four – three – two – one…”

Reeve smirked at the cries of surprise and horror that came from the Tax soldiers nearby. The equipment the Legion had hired out began to melt in the hands and on the body of the Taxers. The drone guns which had been holding the Anti-Tax combat frames at bay exploded violently. Discarding his weapons, Reeve began to run.

The Tax battlefield radio was swamped by screams. Command switched it off.

“Estimated time till total overrun by anti-tax forces: eight minutes. Step on it.”

Four other Legionnaires had caught up with Reeve. They’d thrown their primary weapons, too. They didn’t speak, but just ran with a measured, rapid pace.

“Anti-Tax unit will cross your path, twenty seconds. Retfire only.”

Reeve held seniority, so drew his sidearm. A lithe, low combat frame slid out of the shadows ahead. It saw them, and hesitated for a fraction of a second. Quickly, it pressed itself back into the shadows. As Reeve passed, it bobbed it’s sensor cluster almost imperceptibly, a weak imitation of a nod……

……Ana flicked the screen off ‘mute’, just in time to hear the Tax representative’s final denouncement of the Legion’s withdrawal. Reeve stood at her shoulder, in full battle gear: his presence was intended to give the Legion’s pretty face a degree of authenticity.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Powell. The contract that you signed clearly stated that the detonation of any N.B.C weapon on the battlefield constituted a breach of contract. I’m sorry for your losses, but you were the one who broke the terms. We had no choice but to withdraw our forces and equipment.”

“After your retreat, we were completely wiped out. You have the deaths of eighty soldiers on your conscience.”

“No, Mr. Powell. You are mistaken. They are on your conscience, as you are the one who requested the detonation of a micronuke. Each of our legionnaires received twenty sieverts, adjusted from the explosion. This constituted a clear danger to their health. Legally, it was as if you’d ordered your men to turn and fire on us.”

“We had no choice! Even with you, we were going to lose.”

“We never lose, Mr. Powell. We have traded upon that very fact for many years now. Too many people have interests in our organization for us to achieve anything but victory on our own terms.”

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Service the Masses

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He eyed her cautiously as they undressed, her gaze wandering over his muscular frame, he picking out the subtle characteristics that identified her as a mech; her stance, the symmetry of her body and its flawlessly calculated motions, the perfect geometric arcs her hips cut as she walked. Afternoon sun seeped reluctantly through smokey acrylic to carve dusty fingers in the stale air. The light accentuated her form as she closed the small distance between them on the balls of her feet. In an instant, she was on him, twisting him in a wiry embrace that found them both locked together on the bed. He felt the sheets beneath his bare skin, faux cotton made soft from too many washings.

‘Are you ready?’ She barely breathed the words, but he was, and they rolled together as one on the bed, exacting murderous complaints from the wood and metal frame beneath them.  He could feel the corded muscle beneath her polymer skin, feel the way the fibers contracted and released as she flexed, her body a geometry text of angles and curves, throwing shadows on the rice-paper walls, one moment acute, the next unnaturally obtuse.

‘Come on baby. Harder – Faster.’ She was on her hands and knees now, looking back over her shoulder, her irises ratcheting through various degrees of dilation, straining to optimize the light. ‘Pull my hair.’ He wrapped one hand in the long soft fibers cascading across her back as their bodies blended into one. He could hear her air exchanger accelerate and then stop suddenly, her entire frame in an instant becoming rigid within the supple flesh of her body, seizing almost completely before fail safes spurred the air exchanger back into motion, and each pair of joints were reflexively released.

He sat on the end of the bed, smoking a cigarette, and watched as she dressed in silence and then strode purposefully toward the door. ‘I’ll see you again next week.’ She paused a moment, pulling a handful of paper money from her purse and tossing it on the desk. ‘You know, you are my favorite.’ She smiled at him then, a warm, almost caring smile, before she disappeared behind the closing door.

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