Interview With A Dictator

Author : Bob Newbell

(Thunderous applause over a musical flourish)

“Thank you! And welcome to ‘Interview With A Dictator’! We’ve got the old quantum teleporter warmed up and ready, so let’s bring on tonight’s guest!”


(Computer voiceover) “Tonight we have a despot from ancient Earth who ruled the Italian nation-state circa 8048 BN, Galactic Calendar, or 1922 to 1943 on the old Earth calendar. We’ve locked on to his coordinates and are ready for transport.”

“Folks, let’s welcome ‘Il Duce’ himself: Benito Mussolini!”

(Thunderous applause. A flash of light and a tired-appearing, heavyset man materializes in the chair opposite the host. The newly-arrived man looks terrified and confused. The chair’s armrests extrude themselves around his wrists to form manacles. The chair’s legs similarly bind his feet.)

“Where am I?! Who are you?! What is this place?!”

“Benito, I’m Davvit Ril-Watyn and you’re on ‘Interview With A Dictator,’ the Milky Way’s highest rated talk show. Now, you and your mistress, Claretta Petacci, are about to be machine gunned to death by anti-fascist partisans in the Italian village of Giulino de Mezzegra at the end of the Second World War in your subjective reference frame. We’ve brought you forward in time to what on your calendar would be the year AD 6893. We also installed a translator device in your brain during your teleport so you can understand and speak in Galactic Standard. The laws of physics will only let you remain with us for a minute or two after which you will rematerialize back in 1945 and die. So let’s have an…”

(Audience in unison) “Interview With A Dictator!”

(Mussolini trembles, perspires profusely) “This is madness! This is a dream!”

(Ril-Watyn leans in with his elbows on the desk, cradling his chin in his hands) “Ben, the Italian and German fascist militaries had exquisite uniforms. But it seems like the better-dressed armies always lose to sartorially inferior enemies. Do you think your impeccable sense of style was a tactical mistake?”

(The Italian struggles with his bonds) “I must leave here! Let me go!”

“I wouldn’t be in too big of a hurry if I were you, Ben.” (Ril-Watyn lowers his voice to a faux-whisper) “They’re going to hang your corpse upside down from the roof of a gas station using meat hooks.”

(Audience groans, Ril-Watyn smiles and shrugs) “Well, they are.” (Audience laughs)

“Okay, Ben, let’s get down to brass tacks. We all know that another fascist dictator got the spotlight while you — let’s be brutally honest here — had to play second fiddle. Why was that? Was it the mustache, you think?”

(Mussolini stares wild-eyed at Ril-Watyn) “You are working for that communist, Walter Audisio! You are doing this to torture me before you kill me!”

“Hold that thought, Ben. It’s time to put in a word for this cycle’s sponsor, ‘New You’. When you decide it’s time to change species, trust the species-reassignment company with over 2,000 years of experience. Trust ‘New You’. Now, Ben, even after almost 5,000 Earth-years, the word ‘Italy’ is still synonymous across the galaxy with great food. Let’s talk about fettuccine alfredo.”

(Buzzer sounds)

“Oh, Ben, I’m sorry but we’re out of time.”

“Let me go! I have money hidden away! I will give you a fortune!”

“Sorry, Ben, I’m afraid you died 4,948 years ago…right now.”

(A flash of light, the chair is empty)

“Folks, the very late Benito Mussolini!”

(Applause and whistles)

“Next week on the show: Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known to history as ‘Caligula’! Good night, folks!”

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Box of Rage

Author : Rollin T Gentry

In the lift, Lieutenant Andrews asked herself how she, of the two hundred telepaths in the fleet, had been so unlucky as to be assigned to the Vulcan’s Anvil, a third rate science vessel with an idiot for a Captain. She wondered what his latest discovery was. What had he dragged out of the nebula this time?

Stepping into the lab, Andrews could see the Captain, and the Chief Science Officer huddled over something emitting a bright, red-orange glow. As she approached, she saw a metallic box, the contents of which looked like lava throwing a temper tantrum. The stuff rocked back and forth as if it were trying to escape its container. She stepped closer and felt the most intense rage she had ever encountered.

“Eject it now,” she said. “I haven’t attempted to make contact yet, and I feel pure evil radiating from that box.”

“So it is sentient,” the Captain said eagerly, nudging the Chief Science Officer who, like a giddy schoolgirl, chimed in, “The box is made of an element that isn’t even on our periodic table.”

“Scan it, Andrews,” the Captain said. “That’s an order.”

So she reached out and touched it. The white hot rage reached into her mind, and as she lost consciousness, she let out a blood-curdling scream.

Andrews opened her eyes inside a bulbous body covered with a layer of slime. She paced the floor atop a multitude of tentacles, waving other tentacles in the air. She spoke angry words from a flap on her face set below numerous eyes. She/he was the ruler of this world. “Tell me again how you found the Queen with this commoner.”

“There is nothing more to tell, my Lord. What will you have me do with them?”

“Her lover goes to the dungeon. Rip off his tentacles and gouge out his eyes and take your time about it. As for the Queen, have her bound and delivered to our bedchamber. I will discipline her myself.”

Lieutenant Andrews tried to close her eyes, but they were not her eyes to close. She lived out the fast-forwarded life of a despot from a race that humans had yet to encounter.

When he laid waste to the temples of their ancient religion, the commoners finally rebelled. Andrews felt his surprise and disgust as he stood before the three priests, resting their upper tentacles on a slab of white marble, looking down on him. “According to the old ways,” they said, “we do not kill. Repent, and we will heal your mind.”

“Repent!” he laughed. “Heal me?” he mocked. “Of what? My rage is justified, and one day I will rise again.”

“So be it,” they said. The small, metal box sat on the floor. The tentacles of the priests began to glow. Andrews felt herself melting and materializing inside the sealed box.

For a long time he was in darkness, but after years of ruminating and rocking back and forth, he glowed red and yellow and black molten with rage. Memories and hatred were his only companions. Until one day.

The creatures had two eyes and two upper tentacles, and as he gazed up at them he thought, “I will kill every last one of you.”

Andrews opened her eyes in the infirmary. “Did they eject the box?”

“No,” the Doctor said, “we’re taking it back to Science Central.” He injected something into her IV.

“No!” Andrews said. “It wants to kill…” she whispered, as she fell back into a sedated slumber.

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Author : David Botticello

We only discovered them by mistake.
Waiting out in space, watching, listening. Deliberating.

We had this exploration drone, for a comet. It was supposed to land, take samples, send back pictures and analysis—you know the deal. The physics of the thing was astounding; firing what was essentially a ballistic camera off into space with only small maneuvering thrusters, trying to hit a chunk of rock and ice hurtling through space. It was almost comical, when it bounced off. Hubris you might say, that we thought we could accomplish such a feat. Space Command had given it fifty-fifty odds.

Well, it bounced. All that money, time, effort, skipping off the surface, back into space. And so we figured, might as well leave the cameras running, right?

And then three and a half months later, while going over the images in some lab late at night, my buddy says, “huh, that’s odd.”

That was how we discovered the Vorinii. They had it all perfectly timed, tapped into even our most secure networks, moving their ship around so that none of our satellites would ever see them—if everything had gone according to plan, that is. Damned deliberating aliens. Just waiting there. Watching us. But they hadn’t expected us to fail. No, I don’t even think they understood failure in those days. They just didn’t get the concept. Everything they do is a resounding success. Some people say they’re just that much smarter than we are. Others say they are a particularly lucky species, or that we’re an unusually unlucky one. Or that they plan so much they just rule out all the bad options. This priest from my bowling league thinks they have some sort of cosmic authority that conforms the universe to their desires, makes everything they do come out well. I’ve half a mind to believe him. But whatever the situation, however it goes, for some reason the Vorinii just, kinda, succeed.
And that’s why they were so interested in us—a kind of morbid fascination, when you think about it. We fail. Sometimes dismally, but other times, there’s a bit of comedy, or even glory to it.

Well they landed, made contact, explored, flew away, came back. The whole deal. They even took news of this odd new race called Humans to the stars.

Twenty-five years in the planning. Ten years of travel. Hundreds of thousands of manpower-hours. Resources from across the world, some of them near-irreplaceable.

So that’s our first introduction to the universe, I guess. We fail spectacularly.

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The Monkey Project

Author : David Botticello

“How was your vacation, Professor?” Huxley asked, glancing from the display in front of her.

“Oh, you know the Paradise Worlds, they always leave you feeling so relaxed…and yet unfulfilled at the same time,” responded Professor Tibbetz, nodding in acknowledgment to the other lab assistants. There were two of them—cosmology just didn’t attract the same crowds as physics, chemistry, biology, or actually any of the other disciplines. Even economics.

The professor sighed, nostalgic already. “So, how fares the monkey habitat? Have they done anything interesting in my absence?”

At this Huxley brightened—the monkeys were her pet project, so to speak. It was an effort to silence the critics really. See, theoretical cosmology was all well and good, but every so often the religious organizations would react to pure theory in a manner that was..less than encouraging. The last time, several years ago now, the critics had gone and done something rather rash. They had asked for proof. It was a new tactic, to be sure. And so, the cheerily dubbed ‘Infinite Monkey Project’ began. The hubbub all centered on a thought experiment: in theory, if infinite monkeys were given infinite typewriters and infinite time, they would eventually type out the entire works of the great poets, completely by accident.

Funding had been a nightmare, but eventually, a pocket universe was created and a world placed there. The trick was spinning up the time cycle so that it wouldn’t take forever.

And then a week before Professor Timmetz’ sabbatical, it was ready. An infinite number of monkeys was, sadly, beyond their meager budget—they went with ten thousand, figuring that the monkeys could reproduce and they could always warp in new typewriters.

The horrible little creatures had promptly smashed their typewriters, and by the time he was leaving on vacation they were busy sharpening the debris into weapons. He let the students handle it. It was an annoying project anyway.

“So, you remember how they broke all the typewriters we gave them?” asked Huxley.
Her professor nodded gravely.

“Well, we didn’t want to give them more; they were killing each other with the ones they already had. So we left them alone, hoping their violence was a temporary phenomenon. And when I came in on Wednesday, they had discovered fire, and were busy torching their forests.” Noting the professor’s unimpressed face, she continued on hurriedly, “but then yesterday, just when I was leaving, they started making their own typewriters. Not as good as ours, to be sure, but really, quite impressive. I was just going to look into it when you came in.”

“Ah, yes Huxley, good. Carry on.” Professor Timmetz had almost escaped into his office when the student spoke up again.

“Uh, professor? They…I think they did it. I’m getting text here. The script is a bit strange but, this is systematic, metered…it’s poetry.”

Professor Timmetz turned, surprise and alarm measuring simultaneously on his face, much to the amusement of the other students. His brow furrowed as a scanned the data hurriedly, moving inexorably toward the same conclusion the student had made. “Um…what…hmmm. Which monkey did this, exactly?”

“Right,” Huxley tapped a few parameters into the console. “Here it is, it looks like,” she paused, pondering at the pronunciation of a monkey language before deciding it didn’t really matter, “his name is Shakespeare.”

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Final Moments

Author : Bob Newbell

I hear the sound of alarms in the distance. An ambulance? A firetruck? No, the sound isn’t that. An alarm clock? The sounds get louder. Recognition hits me like a blast of cold air. I pick individual alerts out from the symphony of klaxons. Atmospheric pressure warning. Power failure. Radiation alert.

I open my eyes. It takes several seconds for the image to focus. The glare from the blue sun in the sky pours in through the cracked windows coloring the flight deck with a surreal light. Most of the ship’s displays are dark; the few still operating tell me the diverse ways in which my starship is dying. I hit the silence buzzer control. The cacophony of alarms is replaced by the sound of air hissing out of the ship from various points. Since the vessel’s life support readout is inoperable, I resort to my suit’s environmental display. Atmospheric pressure is 300 millibars and dropping. Less than the pressure at the top of Mount Everest.

I try the quantum spin radio. It doesn’t work. Not that it matters. Even if the spinrad were operational, there are no other ships in the vicinity of Alpha Leonis. The closest help would be in the 88 Leonis system and it would take eight weeks to get here under maximum FTL drive.

My spacesuit’s heads-up display informs me that my suit’s oxygen tanks are depleted. In addition, I have already absorbed near-lethal amounts of radiation. I think back to the centuries-old science fiction movies and TV programs I’ve watched, a not uncommon hobby for my profession. In those stupidly optimistic turn-of-the-millenium entertainments almost every planet in the galaxy was imagined to be Earth-like. The Australian outback or northern Canada are more inhospitable than most alien planets according to the first two or three hundred years of sci fi. I guess dying alone and pathetically on some dead rock of a world with no villain to heroically defeat wouldn’t have made for an interesting story.

I tap on the controls on my suit’s left forearm and issue the various voice commands required to initiate the spacesuit’s suicide protocol. I feel a needle slip into each of my antecubital veins. After a couple of minutes, I begin getting drowsy.

It’s tragic, but not uncommon. An old spacer once told me that for every planet or moon that’s been successfully colonized, there are at least two whose only inhabitants are dead crews. Or a single dead explorer. There are more extrasolar cemeteries than extrasolar cities, he’d said.

The alarms again fade into the distance as drugs and oxygen deprivation cloud my consciousness. My vision fades to blackness darker than the void between the stars.

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