Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
The shapeshifting aliens are untrustworthy. It’s not their fault.
They see the world for what it is, through a kaleidoscope.
Us humans, we only get to see one viewpoint of the world. People react to our outer shell with no variation. We can get fat or thin or muscled over the course of a lifetime with some cosmetic surgery here and there, perhaps, but for the most part, we remain unchanged. This inescapable fact colours how we percieve the world.
Shapeshifters are both invisible and at the same time, all things to all people. They sense the fantasies that will make their missions of espionage go smoothly. That general likes the young girls, especially bobbed brunettes with scars, for instance. That high-ranking banker woman is pining for an old love. It’s a simple trick for a changeling to make itself resemble that old love in order to grease the information tracks.
This ability to make any human bend to their will gives the ‘shifters a much truer insight into humanity than we ourselves will ever possess.
It makes the changelings unreliable, regardless of the punishment chips and id tags we install to make them subservient and identifiable to us. They don’t set out to fool us. They just have fuses on their minds because of what they are. They start to despise all humans, not just their mission targets.
After that, they fall in love with each other.
The thing is, a ‘shifter will never be satisfied with a human. They can only be truly pleased with another changeling.
It’s like putting two mirrors face to face and creating an endless hallway.
Two shifters, embittered and ready to defect, will rent out a motel room. Once inside, they will shudder with changes. They will have a game of trying to match what the other puts forth. Clothes will disappear, bodies will melt and flicker through age and skin colour. Body parts will grow, shrink, or disappear in an ongoing fluidic transition from one form to the next, faster and faster.
They will see how aesthetically perfect they can make themselves and then how repulsive. They will pull out their entire repertoires. They will have sex with each other in every possible way, heating up the room.
After they have exhausted their options of humanity, they will start to delve deeper into the imagination. They can only do this with each other. Without another ‘shifter present to spur them on deeper into the realms that they could never go to separately, they would only be able to go through human forms.
Dragons, dogs, octopi, half-imagined air creatures made of bone clattering with sexual hunger, panthers, chittering car-sized insects, and misshapen sculptures of flesh with many holes to fill.
The changes become too fast and quick for their minds to keep up. In a mutual orgasm of delight, they die, leaving behind protoplasm and a bundle of fertilized eggs.
It’s not uncommon. About twice a year, two of our shifter agents will stop answering their phones. It’s only a matter of time before we track down the hotel where they ascended to another plane of existence.
If they weren’t so useful otherwise, we wouldn’t employ them.
Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The bricks are antique but the ferropoxy used as mortar is a giveaway, after you scrape the film of cement coloured paint mixed with sand off.
“This is the place. Gird your loins, kids. Jig is on in three, two, one – strike!”
The doors are blackened oak. Their laminate armour cores fail to negate the demolition charges, but the military-grade shrapnel produced costs me three ops.
First wave goes in hard, ignoring my orders. The pit is classic trap-tech and I am surprised I hear no swearing from it until I peer in and see the bloody threads of asymmetrical monofilament. That’s just plain nasty. I’m seven ops down for two metres travel.
“Listen up! We’re seven-nil and not even in the bloody hallway! Sharpen your game or we’re offal. Clear?”
Twelve snappy assents and we’re back on. Bridging the pit with c-tube ladders takes time we don’t have. Forced to double-time, we avoid trip beams, pressure plates and searguns with microns to spare. Crashing through the door into the back room, I hear a metallic twang and drop as I shout a warning. Too late. I roll over and see four ops down with half-metre barbed bolts through them.
As I stand up, the timed charge triggered by the arbalest firing turns the room into a momentary inferno laced with bits of giant crossbow. Fortunately I have my back to the blast and my impact-absorbing backplate gets a workout. Doesn’t help the scorching to my butt or the backs of my thighs, but it’s better than the chest and gut shrapnel wounds sustained by three ops.
I’m face down in a corner and take my time getting up. Four ops left. This place is a death-trap! And with that, it dawns on me. This place is only that. Nobody would stuff their headquarters with this much lethality.
“Abort sortie. Out the way we came.”
Ten minutes of careful retreat later, we find a single sheet of steel blocking the hallway. Assessment reveals its set between runners made from old dockyard crane H-beams.
There are none. The building is alight and our only known exit is gone. The ferropoxy mortar work makes this place a Faraday cage: reinforcements are out.
“Stairway or cellar?”
The ‘up’ vote is unanimous. Less chance of structural unpleasantness.
Fifteen minutes later we’re at the roof hatch; bloody, rattled but still five up. The hatch is wired but defusing primitive detonator traps is my speciality. My legs about the ladder, I check the charge on my sidearm, wave everyone out of potential lines of fire and slam the hatch open with everything I’ve got.
The rumbling below starts as the hatch lands above. I’m looking for the cause when the floor falls away, taking the rest of my team with it into the basement along with the building interior.
I hang there, listening to the now-unsupported roof creak. The rusted ladder sways as I breathe, but at least I have a signal.
“Tiger One, respond.” Urgency in the words.
“Tiger One is down.”
“Mackie. Anyone else?”
“She said she’d make you pay for her husband’s death.”
“It seems that the Mad Trapper is actually the Mad Trapette.”
“We have your location. The lifter will drop you a line.”
Nineteen crems to attend after skin regen and psych eval. Rebuild the team in a month, up and running two months after that. Shite. She’ll have three months to prepare because she knows I’ll be coming for her. Next time, only one of us walks away.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
She stands in the doorway, arms crossed, deciding whether she has the guts to enter. The intervening silence is broken by the repetitive hiss-thunk of my artificial lungs and the various beeps and clicks of the life support equipment esthetically cluttering my immaculate bedroom. She makes up her mind and tentatively takes a step closer. I knew she would. This is, after all, her last chance to say her piece.
“I’m glad… you came…” I whisper through heart-breaking gasps for breath. I must look so weak, all shriveled up in this disgusting, aged, dying body. I give her my sweetest smile. I chose these dentures just for her.
“Shut up, Mum. I’m not here to reminisce or pretend like we’ve any love between us.” Indignant rage festers behind her eyes. I’m so glad she has my eyes!
“For that… I’m… truly… sorry.“ My face is a mask of remorse.
“And I’m certainly not here to forgive you.”
So much for pleasantries. I drop the sweetness and labored breath and speak bluntly, “Then why ARE you here, dear? Surely it’s not to wish your dying mother a fond farewell as she slips quietly into the Everafter.”
She doesn’t respond. The gears are turning. Anger and loathing battle for first strike. She scans my room, frowning at the very expensive medical equipment keeping my organs functioning, eyes my priceless collection of art on the wall. What’s this? Was that a covetousness twinkle in her eye? Don’t worry dear; you’ll get everything… in a manner of speaking.
“Was it worth it?” She asks at the end of a dramatic pause. The question drips with contempt.
“It?” I riposte with mock naiveté.
“Your life,” she sighs, “This.” Her gesture takes in my lavish room. “All this wealth. Was it worth dying alone for?”
“But, I’m not alone, dear.” My smile is cold. “You’re here to keep me company. My loving daughter.”
“Stop. Stop it. I am not your daughter. Not any more.”
Oh, but you are. My very special child.
“Money was more important to you than us, wasn’t it, Mum? Money and your conceit for youth and beauty. You drove us away, Dad and me. You drove us away and for what? Another fat million in your bank account? You had the best of everything, food, liquor, clothes, entertainment, art, cars, medicine, a face lift every five years. But here you are, kept alive, barely, by the miraculous machines you bought with all your god-damned money. You thought you could buy anything, didn’t you? But you can’t buy immortality and you can’t buy love.”
I begin to laugh. I hate that it sounds more like a cackle.
“Goodbye you covetous old bitch. I hope you rot in hell.” She turns to leave, but Dr. Swanson looms above her, needle already sliding into the meat of her shoulder. Her look of indignant shock is trumped quickly by the sedatives. Swanson lowers her into a chair as her consciousness ebbs.
When I wake later I feel forty years younger, but a phantom voice screams from the dark recesses of my mind. Shreds of her id still fight me, but Dr. Swanson assures me these will fade over time.
Dr. Swanson holds up a mirror for me.
“Oh, my dear,” I speak to smiling image of my daughter’s face in the mirror, my face, “you could not have been more wrong. I CAN buy immortality. You were my retirement plan, grown for a single purpose. As for love… who needs it when you’re richer than god?”
I’m so glad she has my eyes.
Author : Robbie Kowalski
“Hey Marv, have you ever wondered where all the shit goes once you flush the toilet?”
“I don’t know Joe.” Marv said unenthusiastically as he tried to figure out a crossword puzzle.
“Man all that added weight to ship definitely adds up over a period of time. Couple of thousand people per ship. One shit per day. Tons of extra baggage.”
Marv scratched his head and muttered, “Nine down starts with I ends with-”
“Hey Marv are you listening? I think we have a real crisis on our hands. Tons of shit could be barreling down on us at any second. One system failure and boosh. Death by brown tsunami.”
“Inspector? No. Ingenuity? No.”
“Marvin!” Joe yelled from his work console.
“What!?” Marvin yelled back startled.
“We got a real situation here. The walls are closing in man. I can feel it. One solar flare and pop goes the weasel. I ain’t dying in this death trap of a septic tank.”
“Imbecilic.” Marvin growled. “No.”
“Huh?” Joe replied as he turned side to side looking at the walls nervously.
“Look lugnuts. We are on a spaceship that goes faster than light and can reach the end of the galaxy in a blink of an eye. You’re telling me that the engineers who designed such a vessel are going to short change the pride of the human fleet in the waste management area?”
“Well you never know Marv. There was that thing on the Chernobyl.”
“Comparing a core meltdown on a dilapidated ship to a crap tank explosion on this ship is beyond-” Marvin looked at Joe and decided not to deride him any further. He was his best friend on the ship, after all.
“Oh never mind.” And he went back to his crossword.
“So you think they jettison it out an airlock or something? Sounds ecologically unsound. Shit just floating around the galaxy. What if it hits a ship? Could be a real catastrophe. I can see the headlines now, Poop Hits Ship:Kills All Aboard.”
“Sounds like a real constipated issue.” Marvin smirked.
“I’m serious Marv. What if it did hit a ship?”
“If it is shot out of an airlock which I think it isn’t, it’s probably burned up in our warp wake. Nothing can survive going out into the warp stream. You know that.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“But if they don’t shoot it out an airlock then where do they keep it?”
“Probably recycle it somehow. They recycle everything else around here. Wouldn’t surprise me if they use it to make something else.” Marvin said while he agonized over his crossword puzzle.
“Recycle it?” Joe pondered. “You mean I might be wearing shit laced uniforms or sitting on shit cushioned seats?”
“Maybe even faeces lined computer board switches for that extra fiber strength.” Marvin grinned.
“Ha ha, not funny.” Joe said as he inspected his console and uniform.“Well they definitely do something with it. I just can’t think of what.”
Suddenly, a hologram of a chef from the kitchen staff projected into the room.
“Hey guys, Ron from kitchen speaking, just wanted to tell you about our special for today, Hash Brown Casserole. It came out spectacularly. So, anybody hungry?”
“Ignorance. Ignorance is bliss.”
Author : Bob Newbell
I remember the day things started disappearing. I was driving into work listening to the news on the satellite radio. Astronomers had observed that a galaxy called MACS0647-JD could no longer be detected. It was one of the most distant objects known, over 13 billion light-years away. A cloud of dust or some such thing, it was speculated, had become interposed between Earth and MACS0647-JD. It made sense. Thirteen billion light-years is plenty of space for something to eclipse a galaxy. But that turned out to be only the beginning.
Over the following week, more astronomical objects started disappearing. There was no consistent pattern of location or distance that could be detected. A quasar billions of light-years from Earth vanished the same day two of Jupiter’s moons went missing.
“They’re gone! They’re gone!” my wife had screamed over my cell phone. I had the news pulled up on my computer at work. The “they” my wife was referring to were Portugal, France, and Spain. That area of southwestern Europe and everything and everyone in it had ceased to exist. There was no trace of the missing countries under the ocean and no signs of destruction. The sea and land now formed a coastline with the territory where France had bordered Europe as if that had always been the normal geography of the continent.
Science could provide no explanation let alone a remedy. The Andromeda galaxy winked out of existence. The planet Venus was there one moment and gone the next. A large section of the Midwest disappeared leaving the United States truncated. People were terrified, but civilization held together. Indeed, wars and disputes between nations came to a grinding halt in the face of the catastrophe as governments worked together as never before to find some way to deal with the existential nightmare.
Then, the Moon disappeared. That’s when civilization collapsed. Rioting broke out across what remained of an oddly abbreviated Earth with countries, mountain ranges, deserts, and seas missing, the expected gaps obliterated by the apposing sides of the wounds inexplicably abutting each other instantaneously. Somehow, even the disappearance of Earth’s own territory didn’t seem to affect what remained of the human race like the vanishing of the reassuring light in the night sky.
My wife and I have barricaded ourselves in our house. I have to fire a warning shot every few hours when someone tries to break in. We’ve had no electricity or running water for days. Too much of the power and water infrastructure gone for them to remain operable, I assume. We’ve broken apart our furniture and burned it in the fireplace to keep warm since the Sun vanished three days ago. She sits by the fire night and day — if those terms even mean anything in a sunless world — praying. And crying.
As for me, I find myself looking up through the skylight in the attic. I don’t know why. The stars and planets and galaxies are all gone. The skylight could be painted black and the view would be no different. But I keep going up there and looking out and wondering what we did to deserve this.
“Ready for lunch?” asked the alien of his companion.
“Yeah. Just powering down my computer.”
“Weren’t you running some big sim application on that?”
“Yeah. Haven’t done anything with it for a really long time. Just left it up running. I really need to get a new computer. This one takes forever to close programs and power down.”