The Bear Follower

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Across a starfield as vast as it is unexplored, two pinpricks of light crawl. Getting closer, their crawling progress is revealed to be a trick of distance. Both specks are moving at tremendous speed.

“How far, Davey?”

“Less than an AU, kid. How much less depends on how dead we want to be before the fuel runs out.”

“How much further do we need to go to outrun them?”

“Across the drift. Which we don’t have the fuel for. A fact that may be irrelevant.”


“We’ve picked up a close tail. One who can track us by vessel lock, not emission trail.”

“One we don’t have the fuel to shake?”

“Even if we had the fuel, the drastic manoeuvres required would attract the attention of the Roekuld, and delay us sufficiently for them to make up a lot of the head start your folks died to give us.”

“How dangerous is the close tail?”

“It’s an Urson Destroyer.”

“My mother’s people! Didn’t we have treaties with them?”

“Until the Senate tried to placate the Roekuld by reneging on them.”

“What do we do, Davey?”

“Remember, I can only advise. It’s royalty who make the decisions, kid.”

“Not really. Mum and dad were royal. They always tried to keep what they called ‘the pomp and circumstance’ away from me, at least until I got a little older.”

“That’s the problem with being Blood Royal, kid. Getting promoted usually involves heartbreak and tough decisions.”

“I’ve done the heartbreak. Anything else will be easy.”

“Then wipe your eyes, Eagle Princess of the Sunward Towers, and rise to be Queen of the Sunward Reach, with her one loyal retainer, David Knight.”

“It seems that I am in dire straits, good Knight.”

“You are, milady.”

“Then heave to and make parlay with those aboard the Urson ship. I will take their anger as fairer than the hatred of the Roekuld who slaughtered my family.”

“You do the queen thing well, kid.”

“Let’s see how short my reign is to be, Davey.”

“This is Sunward Talirand hailing the Urson Destroyer in our wake.”

“Hail to you from Destroyer Bearclaw. We note your ‘Sunward’ claim, Talirand. You have royalty on board?”

She places her hand on my wrist, then leans forward to speak clearly into the pickup: “Maliean Mar, Eagle Princess of the Sunward Towers. To whom do I speak?”

There is a pause. Then a warmer voice relies: “With regret, dear highness, we recognise and declare you to be Mar the Second, Queen of the Sunward Reach.”

I feel a tear splash onto the back of my hand.

“I suspected it would be so, Grandmother Chantrie.”

“You recognise me, Maliean? Well done.”

“We would have stopped sooner, but we thought you were chasing us.”

“No, granddaughter. We were overlaying your emission trail with ours, like the ‘Bear Follower’ in the nursery tale. The Roekuld are cowards. They will never provoke a confrontation with the Urson unless they can get someone else to do so.”

“What now, grandmother?”

“You and yours come aboard, Maliean. Then, again like the bear in the tale, let us carry you to safety. Once there, you can start to build your court-in-exile.”

Across a starfield as vast as it is unexplored, a pinprick of light hurtles. Far behind, a cluster of pinpricks mill about for a while, then turn away.

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The Hair of Nazareth

Author : Beck Dacus

The year is twenty – twenty seven. An archaeologist squats in the dirt, staring stupidly at a hair pinched between her fingers. An outside observer would have no idea that she was marveling at her way to bridge science and religion.

For years she had felt like she was forced to choose between science and religion. That the two would never agree. She was told that evolution was a bunch of lies spread by the devil, despite the fact that all the pieces fit perfectly. She was told that the universe had been spontaneously made, despite the fact that it was beautiful and logical in a way she felt only an intelligence could design. They were like two parents that couldn’t stop fighting, and she just wanted them to compromise and accept her.

And this could be the key to it. This hair, buried in Nazareth, would end the argument. There would be a second coming, but it would not be accomplished by magic. Jesus would return through cloning.

The Bible had been correct. Jesus would return from the dead. She would take him to America first, and he would circle the globe in that direction. He would come from the east, no matter where you were.

There was the matter of Judgement Day, as that would most likely not happen. But much of the Old Testament would come to be realized. And it would be accomplished using science. He would not magically return from the heavens, as predicted. He would be brought back using an orderly, proven procedure. He wouldn’t remember anything from the year zero, either.

The perfect compromise. The two would agree, and she could live in peace. If the involved parties weren’t too stubborn.

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One Man’s Trash …

Author : Edward D. Thompson (edacious)

It’s just like hunting, Marcus thought, as he scanned the past at double speed. Know where the good spots are, know how to watch and wait, and mostly, it was just dumb luck. He let himself go, drifting up the current of the past, waiting, watching.

Silva’s hungry whimpering only distracted him for a moment. Poor Sil, it was hardest on the youngest. “I know, Sil, I know,” he whispered to himself. “I haven’t found a good catch for a few days. One’s coming soon, I promise. I won’t let any of you starve.”

He avoided the more crowded focus spots, the landfills, the strip malls, the fairgrounds. Those would be picked over, and the temporal dampers wouldn’t let you harvest too much from one place. Too much chance of changing the present, they said. He didn’t see what would be so bad about that.

If anyone glanced out the begrimed windows, they’d see the present in all its over-harvested, dustbowl, sun-bleached-skeletons-of-the-starved glory. It could use a little changing. But he was in no position to argue; he was lucky to have the transporter at all. You did what you could to survive.

A small town, not too small. A few modest but busy eateries. He slowed around a promising site. And there! He scrolled back to watch the moment again, then forward to make sure no one else grabbed the stuff. Nope, it wouldn’t be missed. Just a little less waste in their already overfull landfills.

He scrolled by again, half speed. There was the moment when they decided to toss them. Then the moment when an employee dumped the trash. Marcus locked in on the boxes, but didn’t retrieve them. Not just yet. He skimmed forward slightly. There was the moment the restaurant closed. He tried not to think about the hefty people making their way out of the building. So much. They had so much and they just threw most of it out! Now, no one was around. He initiated the transfer, pacing impatiently as the unit teleported the target from the past to the pad. In the past, the boxes winked out of existence instantaneously; on his end it would take a while for them to rematerialize. He watched Silva and the other children, lost in the fitful, restless sleep of the hungry, and smiled sadly when the first whiff of hot meat and bread wafted through the room and he heard stomachs growl even before they woke.

And there they were. Six flat boxes, steaming slightly in the cold air. He waved the kids into the dining area. They knew better than to rush him, no matter how hungry they were. Slowly he slipped the top box out of the unit and looked over the contents. One medium supreme pizza with some moldy lettuce stuck to one side. Could be worse. He smiled, they’d feast tonight! And tomorrow, he’d resume the hunt.

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Nothing But Time

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Edison wasn’t immediately aware that anything serious had happened. The room he was in, a specially lined, sealed containment bunker in a facility designed for these kinds of tests, was devoid of any feature that would change noticeably. At least, not noticeable at first.

His vision was blurred, and the apparatus he’d been setting up when the test-fire happened prematurely faded in and out of focus.

He sat, back pushed against the wall where the force of the explosion had left him, and waited for someone to come, but no one did.

He had to move.

As he levered himself up the wall, the paint beneath his fingers first curled and then flattened, changing tone ever so slightly as though withering and flaking from age and being replaced over and over as he watched.

Odd. His hand was in perfect focus. It wasn’t his vision then, as that was clearly unaffected, it was everything around him that was blurred. He stood stunned, and watched as the shuddering in the center of the room seemed to slow, and coalesce into a variety of different experiments, as each were setup and dismantled, over and over again. Streaks of light coming and going as technicians, presumably, brought equipment in and out of the room.

Something was seriously wrong.

He moved towards the door, and watched it continually vacillate between open and closed before his eyes. He could see beyond the heavy metal to the room beyond, but he dared not approach lest he be thrown away into the wall again, or worse, crushed between the door and its frame.

He was trapped.

Hours of awareness passed, and he could do nothing but watch the flow of time around him. At first, the timeline seemed to be progressing forward, and there were brief glimpses of faces he recognized, other scientists from the facility, and an excruciating moment where Etta stood shaking more violently than anything else just outside the door, looking right at, or more likely through him, as someone must have been explaining what had happened. Then things reversed, Etta backed away, slowly at first and then accelerating until the very fabric of the place changed, colours in the lab morphed in waves, flashing lights and bundles of fibre optic cables gave way to massive refrigerator sized computers with tape reels spinning on their faces, then bare walls and manacled silhouettes of people mouthing silent screams, then darkness, only to play back again, forward through time. To Etta.

He was unstuck on his timeline, being whipped on an elastic tether, between darkness, through silent screaming, to Etta, and back again.

Each time her face lingered in his vision for a moment longer. Was it a trick? Or was this madness losing velocity? Was he even, could he possibly be… alive? At the end of this? Sane?

His mind raced, thoughts climbing over thoughts in the confines of his skull as lifetimes played out backwards and forwards, and all he could do was watch.

Edison had no answers. Without Etta, without hope, he had nothing but time.


Author : Rick Tobin

“Get down!” Carol yanked private Pennington to the ground below low walls of disintegrating bricks. Enemy snipers pinned them.

“Sorry Captain. Just wanted a look.”

Pennington stared at his commander. The ship’s cook was learning the game. An alien shootout in a California town was new.

Carol did a team perimeter search. Six still huddled below withering attacks.

“Just stay low. I’ll call air support…” She halted. Pennington disappeared below her. He faded, peacefully, without distress. The game screen froze. Her remaining team stopped playing. There was no cry of sorrow. It was the price of losing a member in cryosleep.

The Company psychiatrists invented cryosleep mind sharing to prevent deep-space ‘cold insanity’ that was devastating a third in long suspensions; however, they misreported the powerful side effects as crews realized chamber failures during sharing.

Carol shook it off, excising her demons, but her remaining team disintegrated, one by one. Horrified, she hurried back to the commander’s control center for hibernation. Her fingers pushed through the panel. She dissipated into dull shadows.

“What…where am I?” She was confused while acclimating to new views. She was slipping gently away from the shredded star ship Clemens, wrenching in meteorite hail. The titanium hull sparked as it turned and twisted. A kilometer away, Carol watched flashes of oxygen reach the fusion drives hydrogen recyclers. Explosive light and pressure waves raced through her with no effect. There remained six rotating orbs nearby, within a larger glow, all drifting like her toward the double star in an unfamiliar system. The spheres rotated and trembled, sometimes approaching each other; other times drifting apart, displaying bright colors, and then regrouping. Carol felt their pull but could not discern how to reach them. She had no sense of her own body or any means to move. She thought about Pennington and his final, peaceful stare. Suddenly, she was next to one of the shimmering bubbles.

“Didn’t have any beliefs beyond life, did you, Carol?” She heard Pennington’s question clearly. It was disturbing. “No, don’t be afraid. We are still us, or at least a core of us, whatever that is. Is this my soul? Maybe we are ghosts, but we exist, even if our bodies didn’t make it home.”

“So this is it? We just drift out here, in a vacuum, forever, with no purpose? I’d rather have pure darkness. Where is all this extra light originating?” Carol felt anger replacing her fear. “This is the hell idiots believe in. This is the ultimate punishment. We’ll never see Earth again.”

“No, Carol.” A deep voice, resonant, sweet and overpowering entered her. “We are here. Our joy is your return to the colony of souls, as we exist to assist all life traveling throughout this solar system. We collect the disembodied spirits of consciousness and then reunite them with the all knowing and all loving.”

“Pennington, did you hear that?” Carol saw the other globes about her glide behind her toward a fuzzy, lustrous patch of light. It was a comet hurtling past them to the twin stars.

“I hear it, Carol, and see the beautiful gathering on its surface?”

“Every system works the same,” continued the gentle voice. “Every star is connected in the web of creation. Listen to others sing of their returning.” Carol heard soothing choruses of a million life forms she now gathered with for her soul’s continuing evolution.

“You will enter the star incubator, returning to your system of origin through the multiverse threadways. We, the shining ones, are collectors— guides. We retrieve consciousness back to source creators of every system. Welcome home.”

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