Launch Pad

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

It was a beautiful day for a ship launch.

These are the things I remember:

I remember the sun shining down out of a blue sky that arced from horizon to horizon over the beach with only a scattering of clouds above the water.

I was perched on the small hill about a mile away from the launch site with my mother. Her bright red hair was still full and lustrous but shot through with grey. She’d say to me that every grey hair was from a time I fell and hurt myself. That’s how much she loved me.

I remember her bringing her hand above her eyes in a salute to shield them from the sun. She was perched sidesaddle on her hip in a red dress. She’d tucked her heels up underneath her and was leaning on her other arm, her hair was teased by the wind. When I remember her, this is the image that comes up the most, her leaning into the breeze. As an adult, I can look at this memory objectively and see her not only as my mother, but as a woman. I can see how attractive she must have been.

She squinted, bringing a half-smile to her face.

In my memory, she looks out across towards the massive ship.

The ship was white with scooped shapes. It didn’t look aerodynamic but my mom told me that it wasn’t that kind of ship. It was a ‘long-range’ ship which meant that the science was different. It didn’t need to worry about drag and other wind-tunnel qualifications. It would ‘slip’ up and out from this plane of existence and then come back to this dimension at its destination. It wouldn’t take as long as the other way, she said. He’d be back soon.

When I asked her when daddy would be back, she just looked away from me, back up at the ship. I could see love there, but also a little resentment. My father, the astronaut, was going on this trip against my mother’s wishes. I’d heard them fighting at night when they thought I was asleep.

We sat there on our red-checkered blanket having a picnic at the launch. We were there with hundreds of other people. Red-necked sightseers, teenage couples, scientists, keen students, and the families of the other astronauts, all of us on blankets with picnics, ready to see the launch take place.

Ten. Nine. The numbers rang out from the loudspeakers in the distance. Our little radios shouted out the numbers as well, a half second before the sound from the launch pad got to us. It made an echo of the numbers. I remember feeling like I was in a dream.

My mother’s hand tightened on mine. I leaned up against her. I was eleven, old enough to be embarrassed by affectionate gestures from my parents but not old enough to do without them. I held onto her and we both watched the ship that held my father.

There was a clap of thunder and a ripple of imploding wind and the ship was gone.

That was sixty years ago. Their calculations were off. The ship came back this morning.

To everyone on the ship, they’d been gone for two months.

They were being briefed. My father was being told that my mother had died twenty years ago, ten years before my own wife. He was being told that I was in a wheelchair and that I had six grandkids.

I was about to meet my father. He was still thirty-six. I was looking forward to it.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Ever in Your One-Legged Life

Author : Trent Isaac

The man wrestled a pile of rods, plates, wires, lights, and fingers through the door and let it crash in a heap.

“Or there’s this one,” the man said as he swabbed his bald head with a towel.

Brennan scratched his arm through the frayed hole in his sweater as he compared the two robots. One was nearly seven feet tall. Its white plastic helmet and gloves gleamed, and its black body reflected bits and pieces of the robots on display around it. The second robot looked like a skeleton marionette that had been buried by an avalanche and left to rust and petrify. The man wrapped the second robot’s boney, copper arms around the waist of the nearby security robot to stand it up.

Brennan read the patch on the man’s uniform. “Johnny?”

Johnny looked up.

“Is he supposed to only have one leg?”

“Uh… no.” Johnny chuckled. “For the missing leg, I’ll drop this little guy’s price to 5,000 dollars.”

He patted the robot on the back and the metal man’s right eye popped out and shattered on the floor.

“Or if you want to leave here with absolutely no worries, you can take this specimen for just 3,000!” He motioned to the black and white giant. With a shrug of his shoulders, he added, “We overstocked.”

Brennan eyes rested on the limp marionette. The ding at the corner of the android’s mouth gave the bot a crooked grin. Brennan gripped the multi-tool in his pocket.

“Okay, I’ll take him.”

The man nodded and punched some numbers into the giant’s back. The robot whirred and its eyes flickered on.

“No, the one-legged one!”

###

“Brennan?” called a feeble voice.

“Yes, Grandma, look what I found!” he said as he rounded the corner into her bedroom. The robot followed, rolling on his modified foot. Brennan hoped his grandmother would think he had found the robot by the side of the road. His grandmother might not approve of him spending money this way, but she wouldn’t throw away something that still had use in it.

“Oh, Brennan, I don’t need that thing,” said his grandmother. She straightened her shoulders and looked at him from her chair. Lifting her arm, she pointed at him with her bone-like finger.

“Listen here,” she said. But a cough stopped her. To him, the cough sounded like a car backfiring. She swallowed, opened her mouth, and coughed again, and could not stop until she had drunken a glass of water.

“I’m going to be gone most of the day, now that I’m moving rubble for Mr. Fleischman’s company,” Brennan said quietly. “It’s a nice robot, Grandma.”

His grandmother looked the mechanical man over.
The metal stick figure tilted his head at her. Then the robot zipped across the floor and reached out his boney hand. His fingers clicked in their sockets as he stroked her shoulder. The android’s other hand took the glass she was holding and returned it to the stand. He lifted the pitcher of water and refilled the glass in slow, jerky motions.

The wrinkles on her face relaxed and she said, “Yes, I see that now.”

She closed her eyes and crossed her feet, her real foot sliding over the prosthetic one.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

Swamp Shack Encounter

Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

Billy-Jim Crenshaw was snoozing in his swamp shack when the explosion shook him fast awake. “What th’…?” He scrambled to his feet and, throwing the crooked door open, stumbled out onto the back porch. There, upon a small hillock that had been recently occupied by Billy-Jim’s dilapidated outhouse, sat a smoldering metallic disc.

“Gall dang it,” he said aloud to himself. “That thar flying saucer thingy done o-blit-ar-ated my gosh darn privy!” He stepped back into the shack and procured two items. Reemerging with his squirrel gun in one hand and a big jug of moonshine in the other, he watched as a strange door opened in the still-smoking disc. There was an electric hum and a staircase extended down from the saucer.

Billy-Jim took a long swig as he watched the little green man emerge. Suddenly from the woods, his hunting dog, Brutus sprang forth, teeth bare, growling like a raccoon caught in a rattrap. The rottweiler leapt at the alien. The green man calmly extended a finger and bright lighting flashed forth, instantly turning poor Brutus into a charred, unidentifiable smoking heap.

The hick slammed back another mouthful and cast the jug aside as the alien continued to advance. But before he could raise his gun, another four-legged beast again rushed growling toward the little green man. This time from the swamp came Billy-Jim’s pet alligator, Pork Chop. The six hundred pound lizard moved blindingly fast, but the alien was faster. Again the lightning flashed from its fingertip, again its would-be assailant was turned into smoldering ash.

“Poor Brutus, poor Pork Chop,” sniffled the hick. “This is fer you two!” The alien had been continuing toward him and was now halfway across the patchy back yard as Billy-Jim pulled the trigger. It quickly held out a palm and suddenly there was a muffled explosion as the barrel of the squirrel gun split open. The green man continued to advance unharmed.

Now a strange and eerie metallic voice reached Billy-Jim’s ears. “Please do not attempt to harm me again human. I am here to make peaceful contact with your race.” The alien strolled up to the porch as the confused man stood silently, his destroyed weapon hanging uselessly from his hand.

Billy-Jim finally uttered, “I…I…I won’t sir.”

The alien stopped and stood there staring at him with giant black, pupiless eyes. “Remain calm human. Please, pick up that vessel and continue to consume your fermented substance. I do not intend to make you uncomfortable in any way.”

Billy-Jim relaxed ever so slightly and picked up the jug. “Wha… what do ya want?”

“I need to contact your scientific department as I seem to have had a mishap with my ship back there. It’s quite simple really, I only need to procure a paltry ten or fifteen thousand terawatts of power to recharge my vehicle’s capacitor.”

The swamp dweller hadn’t a clue what the green man had said, but he again tipped back the jug and had a great long swig. Then he leaned forward and let out a mighty belch. It echoed off the trees. Then the cloud of burp-smell reached the alien. For a moment its black eyes bulged out in surprise. Then, its arms flailing, and its mouth gasping wordlessly, a paleness came over its face and it collapsed suddenly to the ground stone cold dead.

Billy-Jim spat between his few remaining teeth and said, “Serves ya right ya dang space invader! That thar was fer Brutus and Pork Chop!” He rocked back on his heels satisfied, and had another long swig of moonshine.

 

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

 

Natural Selection

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Brigitte! Slow down!”

I thought I loved Adrian. I really did. I even fooled myself for the first year of our Outer Reaches tour. Then on Certys I had to stop him turning the planet into a game reserve so he could quietly harvest the luxurious pelts of the quasi-feline Pelmuk.

“Brigitte! Run faster, it’s gaining!”

He was a predator who had groomed me into giving him a free ride to the heights of our profession. My trust-fund supported his petty side-projects whilst plagiarising my work got him through university and our early tenures. I was naïve and besotted by the visions of our wonderful future that he spun.

“Brigitte! How far to the ship?”

The tour is ten years with no opt-out. Who would want to? Every planet that has indiginous large fauna is on the itinerary: a xenobiologist’s dream. Except when she’s stuck with a smooth-talking gold-digger who only wants an easy life and gonzo sex on demand. Not that he got much of the latter after Certys.

“Two kilometres.” Replying on the exhale as my years on the treadmill pay off.

The final argument occurred on Tangentia, where the Martonsee’s gold-flecked ivory carapaces sent him into a frenzy of greed. When I vetoed the fraudulent cull order, he told me what he really thought of me in his fury. Afterwards, his apologies rang hollow and his touch revolted me.

“Can’t you shoot it?”

“Would only annoy it.”

The Dangtrazian Sun Ferret is not a product of natural evolution. A long time ago forerunners with life-splicing skills we can only dream of created a polar-bear sized monster. It has a hide that acts like hyper-Kevlar covered in a double coat of refractive fur that fragments energy beams before they impact that hide. That hide wraps a physique that is hailed as the perfection of predator development. The intelligence of a dolphin guides this beast with two hearts and the forerunners coloured their masterpiece in shades of gold. It is beautiful, deadly and can eat anything not tougher than its claws. So far, that’s proven to be two things: spaceship plating and bedrock.

The ‘ferret’ name comes from a scaling error during satellite image analysis. It stuck, despite the first landing team discovering the error and becoming entrée. The sun ferret’s immunity to energy fields was discovered by the second team moments before being the crunchy scientist special. The third team discovered the bullet- and beam-resistance, then were dessert.

We were assisting in establishing a new sensor-web to gather more data on Dangtrazian’s infamous residents when one of them spotted us.

“Use the gun to lead it away while I make a dash for the ship!”

I draw my pistol and slow down. Adrian catches up to me, that smug smile smeared across his sweat-sheened face.

“Me saving us again! I’ll come and pick you up.”

How exactly are you going to find me, you lying bastard? You never bothered to learn how to use the locator array. I smile and he frowns. My eyes must show how I feel.

“Brigitte?”

I shoot him in the calf. A clean through-and-through, no bone damage. As he screams and topples, I holster the gun and sprint for the ship.

“What did you do that f-”

The sentence cuts off with a wet crunch.

An alpha predator in a closed or limited environment will usually fall fast when it is introduced into an open environment that has established alpha predators of its own. Conversely, prey that has learned to flee finds that single skill is always applicable, if applied soon enough.

Good riddance, Adrian.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows

A Game of Chess

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

The white Silracan clicked its chest-legs together and reared back in what was the human equivalent of a bored sigh. Between it and the hologram of the Earth forces commander lay a chess board made of light. Admiral Grimwald gazed sternly at the board, concern creasing his angry brow.

“As you can see, Admiral. I’ve created a version of our battle here in what you call a chess board. A very interesting game, I have to admit. I’ve quite enjoyed forcing our armaments and troops into an approximation of it during our takeover of your race’s empire.”

The Admiral’s face might have been carved from wood for all the change it showed at this statement. He still looked at the board, contemplating the layout.

It was going bad for black. The white pieces took up most of the board. The black only had a few pieces left to protect the king.

It wouldn’t be long before they lost Earth itself.

“One thing you need to admit, Admiral, is that at this point it would seem you are quite close to checkmate, as you say. If you are the Black King and I am the White King, then I think the game draws nearly to a close. However, I can give you a chance to end the game now and abdicate peacefully. Here. I’ll appeal to your…..ah, yes, that’s the word….sentiment.”

The Silracan clacked its mandibles together in a staccato demand. An underling brought a mutilated human forward. A soldier, still able to stand through sheer force of will. She trembled but managed to bring her head up into a level gaze with the hologram of the Admiral.

“If you give up now, Admiral, I’ll spare this hostage’s life. Though she may be a lowly pawn, I believe you can see the symbolism here. I will spare both her and the rest of your people. Slavery is an ugly word but I believe your race will find it preferable to death.”

The Admiral looked at the hostage. For the first time in six months of military action that had descended into costly attrition, rebel tactics, and guerrilla warfare, he smiled. It was like he’d forgotten how.

“Well I’ll be damned. What’s your name, private?” he asked.

“Sheila Bailey, shir.” She managed to push through her ravaged mouth.

“Your family will be notified. You’ll get more posthumous awards than anyone else in history. Well. Are you ready?” asked the Admiral.

The Silracan’s head craned back and forth between the human exchange in bewilderment.

“Quebec Uniform Echo Echo November.” Said the captain.

The Sirlracan checked the translator to see that it hadn’t malfunctioned.

The soldier fell to the ground and writhed. Smoke started to pour of her mouth as the nanotech in her bloodstream went to work, turning all of the chemicals in her body into very powerful explosive device.

“All of my soldiers were given this injection. All of my ‘pawns’ as it were. The hope was that at least one would make it over to the other side of the board. I never thought you’d actually help with that.” Said the Admiral to the Silracan sadly, watching the soldier die.

The Silracan screamed and tried to twist away from the now-glowing body of the soldier. Milliseconds later, a giant explosion tore the mothership in half.

Without leadership, the Silracan forces dissipated.

“That soldier is no longer a pawn.” Said the captain as he watched the mini-nova from the mothership’s imploding drive, big enough to be see with the naked eye happen in the night sky.

“Now she is a queen.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows