A Long Way Home

Author : Ellen Ahlness

“We’re entering the closest point of the arc,” Yeltsin calls. “Fourty rels now!”

We all take our positions, Marko, Kovsky and I. Marta’s already been at her place since we got in range of the Planet.

Earth. It’s such a strange word, tingly and rough on my tongue. Yeltin’s always saying they’re like our cousins across the solar system—they just haven’t gotten around to visiting us. Koysky says they’re actually our descendants, that some bastard children got left here when we last visited millennia ago.

That’s ridiculous. Koysky’s the worst conspiracy theorist of the lot. The proof’s irrefutable that our first trip here was nothing but damage. All we did was kill all those lizards.

“Why can’t we just make contact?” Marko’s got the worst job of all: systems upkeep. Of course he’d want to be home sooner than later. He handles the cold of space worst of all.

“Don’t be stupid!” I poke. “We need to land to prove ourseves. If the humans have made anything clear, it’s their ability to explain away even the most explicit evidence.”

“Oh, you’re the mission genius now, are you Korzna?” Marko rolls his eyes over his tablet. I make a not-at-all nice comment about his father, and then we’re laughing, trying to blow off anxiety in one of the few ways we can. Our chuckles quickly fade, and soft pings take over the chilled space.

“This isn’t right…” Yetsin’s going over the charts, and I agree, even from here. The lights are changing position every few seconds, charting new courses. Each one lead further from…

“Earth! We’re approaching too fast!” Marta buzzes in on the intercom. “When we rebounded into their system we started accelerating. It didn’t seem like much, but it’s been increasing. If we keep at this speed…”

“We’ll burn,” Yeltsin finishes. Marta hums agreement.

“It’s likely they’d burn with us.”

Yeltsin purses his lips. He has less than twenty rels to decide. “Is there any way to slow down?” None of us have to answer. Marko’s not a specialist, but even he knows what happens if we approach Earth at this speed. “Then it’s decided. Pull out immediately!”

“Sir! We’ll still be close—”

“Do they have long-range analysis capability yet?”

Koysky checks his pad. “No, sir.”

“Then they’ll think we’re debris. Or an asteroid.” He pauses. “Act immediately. That’s an order.”

“Yes, sir,” I bark, fingers flying to the console keys. They do their job dutifully enough, but it still hurts. “Course changed.”

“Very good,” his tone suggests it’s anything but. “Will you let me know when…”

I nod and watch the data flowing in. “Closest point, sir, and…” the moment lingers. “We’re past Earth.”

A gloom settles over us. I rest my head against the console. The cold’s a comfort now, reminding me I’m here. Yeltsin is the first to speak. He’s always been uncomfortable with disappointment. “The miscalculation was to be expected. We hadn’t anticipated such drastic atmospheric changes. At past levels we’d have been able to make it in.”

There’s muttered agreements, hushed acceptance. We’ll be home soon enough, and our descendents will see the next departure leave for Earth. They’ll leave in a better ship—one that’s bigger than this, where they won’t be so high-strung. I push myself up from my slump, but when Yeltsin steps away, I send one more glance to the screen, to the green and blue sphere slowly shrinking. We’re going, yet they remain unaware of the life that desperately tries to reach them. Their night sky remains empty.

We leave. And their lonely planet keeps turning.

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Room 101

Author : Jonathan VanDyke

With a rush, the ground was beneath me. The blacktop was cold, wet, and unforgiving. I pulled my jacket close. I was sure I looked ridiculous. We’d comprised my outfit from old pictures of the times. Leather jacket with a sheep skin collar, flannel shirt, rugged jeans and brown leather boots. Cliché at best, but as long as I blended in, that was the important part. The cold nibbled at my cheeks. I took a deep breath. The oxygen flowed through my lungs freely and abundantly. The air was so fresh. The smell of pine from the nearby wood line behind the motel lingered in my nostrils. It reminded me of being a kid, although I wasn’t quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because the air was so pure, almost innocent. It was absent of smog. Absent of the smell of motor oil and lubricated metal. Absent of the smell of blood and feces.

I pulled out a small strip of paper with the numbers 101 hastily scribbled onto it. The snowfall cast a halo around the parking lot’s street lights making each one look like an oil painting. At least, I thought so. I’d only seen a few of those in my lifetime. Room number 101. The light was on. Through the blinds I could see a woman sitting on the bed. Sad looking. Tired. Next to her laid a baby curled up and fast asleep. I stood there for a moment, in the silence of the cold. The baby wasn’t really responsible for what happened, not yet. He wasn’t capable of comprehending the horror, the atrocities he’d commit. Maybe he could change. I thought about choice, about free will and fate, things we’d all discussed for countless hours over and over again. For a moment, just a split second, I almost felt empathetic. Then I thought about the machines. He didn’t deserve a chance. He didn’t deserve a choice.

The pistol was already in my hand. I had come to terms with my intentions. I knocked. The door opened. My hand cupped the woman’s mouth and I pushed her back into a chair. The fear in her eyes struck me. Blue eyes. I had expected brown. She whimpered as I leaned in close.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered into her ear.

I stepped back into the cold to flee the scene. A noise a few doors down stopped me. A baby’s cry. A wave of anxiety raced down my spine. Despite the weather, I began to feel hot. My body temperature rose. I was sweating. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the piece of paper. My hands were shaking as I tried to read it again. 101. I pulled it closer. My eyes scanned from left to right. In black ink there was a one, followed by a zero, and then I saw it. A faded angle. It wasn’t a one. It was a four. Room 104.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

We meet every six years.

The project churned out over two hundred of us. When they ordered us terminated, twelve of us escaped. There are eight of us left.

The government made a Superman straight out of the comic books back in 1952 but you know what they say about absolute power. They gave the strength and the nigh-invulnerability and the flight capability to a handsome, decorated young soldier named Walter Johnson. You should have seen him. Blonde hair, tall, honest, great shape. What a shame. He did what he was told for almost six months until one day, in a fit of pique, Walter killed his commanding officer by accident by punching him in the face.

They found the officer’s helmet embedded in a brick wall about a block away. They theorize that his head may have been atomized. Walter had been ordered to kill a few too many innocents and his sense of nationalism finally eroded to nothing. The rest of the team, following the eventuality scenario orders, opened fire. It didn’t work. He killed them, too.

Feeling hurt and betrayed, he went rogue. He tried to go underground but he was recognized wherever he went. He couldn’t get plastic surgery because nothing could penetrate the force-field around his body. Eventually, they cornered him in a warehouse in Texas where he’d been posing as an airport mechanic.

Their last-ditch insurance policy was cruel. Walter had a brother. They hauled the brother out and said that if Walter didn’t kill himself, they’d kill his brother. Walter was borderline suicidal by this point anyway. He’d been thinking about ways to do it.

He flew up into space. The vacuum did him in. He may have been invulnerable to the cold but he still needed to breathe. It didn’t take long. His body fell back to earth like a meteor and landed outside of Lubbock.

They killed his brother after that. No loose ends.

Using a specially designed drill bit, they drilled into Walter’s body and scraped a few cells out from beneath the force field.

Enter us. We were a batch of clones made from Walter. They figured if they could make us and control us from birth, we’d be more obedient. They kept us off the expense charts and away from the media. We were to be covert. They outfitted us with new tech as it became available. Things went great until puberty.

Scientists are always so shocked by nature. Wet dreams, anger issues, sullen feelings of not being understood, the need to explore, sex, growth spurts, massive confusion, floods of hormones causing borderline insanity. They couldn’t control us.

They had weapons that could penetrate our force fields. One morning, mechanical soldiers came in and opened fire on our bunks. They got most of us right then and took a bunch more of us out in the ensuing battle. Sixteen of us fled. Twelve of us made it past the outer defenses and survived the trek to civilization.

We were homeless for a while. We drifted apart. We stole where we could but some of us got jobs. The secondary backup that they had was to turn off our powers remotely. They wanted us intact in case they collected us so that they could make more.

Every six years, we meet up. Joey’s missing an arm. Jamie’s got cancer now but it looks good for a complete recovery. Sarah only pops in for a second, looking great in her suit. This time even Jake made it but he looks like the heroin is winning.

We talk for a while.

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A Mind of My Own

Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They never understood how I could be so smart when it came to food. Of course, when I was rushed into hospital and they found Deke, it all came out. He’d started out as one of the things that lives in our guts, but he either evolved or was a mutant or something. ‘Or something’ being the winner of the vote, I was told.

Anyway, he got big and his smarts came from me. Funny, we never talked about him because he had no history apart from suddenly waking up in me. Took him a while to work out what he was and trawl my memories to get real words and pick himself a name.

I’d been having tummy trouble for a couple of days; there I am, sitting on the throne and this voice in my head says. “Hi. I’m Deke. Sorry about the pain, just moving myself out the way.”

Well, I fell off the toilet and just about brought the place down screaming. Thankfully, Dad wasn’t home. All the time, Deke’s talking to me, explaining, calming. In the end, I could either go to the doc’s and get carted off in a long-sleeved T-shirt with buckles up the back, or I could get to know Deke.

So I got to know him-it. Within a few months, I was a lot smarter (two minds are better than one) and my ability to detect stuff in foods was attracting attention. Give Deke a ‘taste’ and he could recognise it in any food I ate.

That was the problem. Some protesting people found out about me and asked for my help. Since Deke and I liked the idea of good food, we helped. A lot of corporations got to look silly and got fined heaps of cash.

The next thing I know, blokes in black suits and doctors in white suits turn up at my Dad’s place, all wearing masks. They said I’d been ‘invaded’ by an ‘organism of unknown origin’. Dad never liked my habit of talking to Deke. So he let them take me away. As the mask came down and the men made reassuring noises, Deke said to me: “I’ll be back.”

After they let me out of the special hospital, I wasn’t so good at stuff. Things didn’t make sense anymore and most food I ate made me hurl. I ended up racking carts at my local supermarket.

Then early one morning, there was banging on my door. Dad went downstairs all fired up, opened the door shouting and then went quiet. So I got up and went downstairs, cricket bat at the ready.

She was standing in the hall; Dad was laying on the floor behind her with a silly look on his face. She looked up at me and smiled. I recognised that smile. I saw it in the mirror every morning.

“Deke? What did you do to Dad?”

“Gave him something to help him understand, Eddie.”

“How did you – what are you doing in – How?”

“Found out something new, Eddie. I can split off little me’s. But I wasn’t happy with the bloke they put me in. This is his daughter. I’m just hitching a ride with Linea in Julie’s body for now.”

“Until when?”

“Until I can come back to you.”


“Kiss us, Eddie.”

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Tick, Tock in the Candlelight

Author : Dakota Brown

The familiarity of it comforted her, but her mind was busy with preparation.
The lights had gone out in a moment, the fluorescent image of the room around her burned into her eyes. The radio had ceased the peppy tunes of bands long disbanded and commercials for products long forgotten. What remained was the towering clock perched against the wall near her bed… ticking… tocking.
Clockwork. In a way it was all like clockwork. She checked to see that the front door of her twelve by twelve room was locked, despite the fact that she had abandoned the idea of leaving it unlocked long ago. The process involved testing a series of bolt locks and iron bars covering the lone entrance/ exit, and though the security measures were constantly in place, she found that the check settled her mind. Next, the candles were lit. Fifteen candles scattered around the room somewhat resembled electricity, but with two now burned out and another thirteen near the end of their wicks, the room was far from its typical acceptable state. She would have to leave for some more candles when the lights came up. But for now, she fell to her bed gripping her father’s knife tightly and waited.
Tick, tock.
Tick, tock.
At first it was tolerable because she could see the other apartments being illuminated as well through her now boarded up window. But one by one the candlelit rooms remained pitch black and neighbors she had once known had been whisked away.
Despite it all, the silence forced her mouth into a smile. It gave her purpose, it gave her fight. The dragging sounds and dull, wet thuds echoing in the hallway made her giggle and when a hollow voice would call “Please come with us” she had to bite her lip to keep herself from mocking the creature on the other side of her door.
She would wake in the morning to a prerecorded radio show she had heard many times before and wipe the drool of a pleasant night’s sleep from her jaw. She would turn the radio down and listen to the gentle pendulum of the clock while considering her next night.
Tick, tock.
It has been fun.
Tick, tock.
But there’s no one else left.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
I guess that makes me the winner of this little game.
Tick, tock.
Maybe tonight I’ll let them give me my prize.
Tick, tock.
Tick, tock.

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