Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
I’d always wanted my own planet, and now my dreams were about to come true. Sure it was my entire life savings plus everything of value I had. But what a deal! It was remote, but my very own world? With lush jungles, sandy beaches, plentiful resources, and friendly locals who would treat me like a king, who could refuse?
I put my palm to the screen, transferring the necessary funds and sealing the contract. Xanthomane smiled a smug green smile with his slobbery lips and slapped my open palm with an extremely slimy tentacle. “Congratulations Mr. Nussbaum, you are the proud owner of ‘Zephoria’ of the Signus II system,” he said in his wet bubbly broken common.
I looked over his shoulder and saw my old reliable star freighter being towed away by a lumbering industrial hauler. “You’re still going to keep up your end of the bargain and get me there right? After all, I just gave you my only transportation.”
Xanthomane gave me a slimy smile and his three left eyes winked knowingly. “Right this way Mr. Nussbaum, a transport is waiting to take you to your new planetary paradise.”
An hour later I was aboard a very cramped and smelly interstellar transport, packed in alongside a myriad of alien beings and their accompanying pets and androids. We jumped in and out of hyper drive over and over, stopping at this planet and that. Finally the conductor-bot floated down the middle of the car, “Next stop Zephoria of the Signus II system! All disembarking at Zephoria follow me.”
I was the only one who followed. We passed through another car and then into a utility area. The conductor-bot scanned my ticket and said, “Please climb into the escape pod Mr. Nussbaum.”
My mouth hung agape. “What? We’re not landing?”
The robot answered matter-of-factly. “No sir. Zephoria is much too small and remote for an express transport to land. But fear not, this pod will keep you alive until you reach the surface.” I saw little other choice so, without argument, I cautiously climbed into the tiny coffin.
No sooner had the lid sealed than there was an explosion and my little pod went hurdling away from the beat up transport. I hung on for dear life as I careened downward, passing through wispy white clouds, first a vast blue ocean then a lush green continent rushing up toward me.
I landed roughly in dense jungle, my pod tumbling over and over through the foliage. It finally came to rest and the lid unsealed, letting in cool fresh air. I was shaken up but unhurt. Excitedly I scrambled out and stood up to study my surroundings.
I was at the edge of a splendid clearing and there before me stood a tribe of blue skinned savages, spears in hand, faces painted menacingly. I wasted no time. “Greetings,” I said with a warm smile. “I’m Ronald Nussbaum, the new owner of your planet!”
The beings stood for a moment stone faced, staring at me without expression. And then they all burst out laughing.
“Not another one!”
“Bought yourself a planet did you?”
“Lemme guess, a fat amphibian named Xanthomane?”
They continued to laugh for a minute but then, seeing my look of utter disbelief and disappointment, they took heart and stopped. One of them held out a blue hand. “Come friend, there is a refugee camp set up by others who have been ‘sold’ our world in the past. You can probably squat with them.”
Wiping away a tear I began to follow the friendly aliens across the clearing.
Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The cigar from the dead guard’s pocket has a red and gold band that says it’s from Havana, the first pleasant surprise of tonight.
“Ricky. Help me.”
I look across to where Estevez lies in a pool of his own blood, his eyes over-bright with pain and anger. Nodding to him, I put the cigar down on the low wall, rise and cross to him. As he looks up, my carbon-steel spike drives through his right eye socket. He convulses once and settles with a rattling exhalation.
The cigar is twenty centimetres long and smells wonderful. I’ve just slipped the band off and put it in my pocket when a shadow rises where only the line of the wall should be.
“Puto. Mala puto.” The tone filled with trenchant disgust.
The shadow lurches before tapering and shrinking as its owner falls backwards. Determined, these people. But not very smart.
The guard who provided the cigar also provides the guillotine to clip the cap, matches to warm the beast and to my surprise, cedar spills too. This man was a purist. I salute his corpse in respect.
There is a red dot on the cigar. It slides across to join its companions on my chest.
“Do no move!”
Squinting against the glare of the spotlight. “You mean ‘do not move’, I presume?”
I clip the cap from the cigar as strobe lights commence beyond the wall. ‘Death fields’ are illegal for this very reason. As I roll the cigar briefly above the match flame, I hear the screams of the wounded cease one by one. It is a ‘death’ field. Things that attract its attention only lose it when they cease having a pulse or equivalent.
I ignite the spill from a fresh match, then light the cigar gently and evenly. Delicious. The unfortunate donor was a man of refinement and taste.
“Senor?” The tone is deferential and coming from some way off. A smart one at last.
“Please explain why you here. Then if you take efecto diablo away, you may go.”
The societies in the southern hemisphere retain their superstitious fear of invisible things that kill. Which is why I obtained a Serenti, a lifeform from Suli Serenta that’s larval stage now shares my body, filling the ‘empty’ places in me with frogspawn-like milky nodules, and getting from me whatever a Serenti does. Until it is mature and leaves me, it dies when I die. Unique energy manipulation abilities allow it to take certain liberties with how things stick together at an atomic level. It can sense everything within twenty metres or so, and react fast enough to reduce bullets to dust and energy beams to lightshows. Tonight has convinced me that I should have got one sooner and I will never be without one again, unless the pain of a mature one leaving is agonising.
Time to give the man what he wants.
“Consigilia paid us to kill Dupare and his people. Our broker, Hester, sold us out to let Dupare take us and Consigilia. I would be grateful if you could find Hester for me. Then I will take my diablo domestico to visit him.”
There is muted activity beyond my sight before the voice replies: “Senor Hester flew to Los Angeles three hours ago.”
I stand up and smile around the cigar in my mouth. “Then I’ll be going to the airport. Call me a taxi?”
“With pleasure, senor. Please never come back to Federated South America.”
Coming, Hester. Ready or not.
Author : Dina Leacock
I sat at the table for two and waited for my date to arrive.
We’d been emailing since we first “met” on “Find-True-Love.com and now we were finally going to meet. Taking the mirror from my purse I nervously adjusted my face.
Would he like me? Would I like him? Does he really look as good as the pictures he posted? How was I going to tell him my little secret. I was worried it would be the deal breaker and I knew, just knew, Jeremy was my real deal. I was in love.
I watched people enter the café and studied each one. None were right, and then there he was! Tall, dark, handsome. He looked around and then our eyes locked. He smiled, a devil-may-care, wolfish grin and my heart melted.
He rushed over to my table. “Luna Marie,” he said, reaching out and grasping my hands.
“Jeremy!” I replied and blushed.
We sat and both ordered cappuccinos and lemon cake, then laughed because our tastes were so perfectly matched. Then his smile faded. He looked at me with such a serious expression. “I am so excited to finally meet you, Luna Marie. I’ve been dying to see you since that first e-date. It’s hard to believe that we could be in love like this for three months and yet have never met face to face.”
I remembered Mama’s warning about computer dating, about the need to be with our own kind was more important than love, and I frowned realizing how mistaken she was.
“What’s bothering you?” he asked in alarm. “Did I say something wrong?”
I shook my head and smiled. “Oh no, nothing’s wrong. Jeremy, you and I, we are soul mates. I can feel it. Our lives are going to be perfect!”
Now he frowned, “Luna Marie, I haven’t been totally honest with you. From the moment I met you, I fell in love and I don’t want to lose you.”
His frown deepened and his grey eyes turned a stormy charcoal. “No don’t be so sure, I lied to you, lied by omission, I have a secret, one I fear will tear us apart.”
My smile froze and I suddenly felt scared. What could possibly be so bad, I wondered and remembered that I too harbored a secret, one possibly more horrific than his. “I’m sure it will be all right, Darling.” I assure him through trembling lips. “Tell me.”
He lowered his gaze, but I saw the pain in his eyes just as he broke our stare. “Luna Marie, please, I beg of you, forgive me but… but I’m a werewolf!”
I laughed and clapped my hands together in delight.
He looked up at me, puzzlement mixing with the pain in his gaze.
“Oh Jeremy, this is perfect. I knew we were destined to be together forever, because, you see, I lied by omission as well. I’m actually an alien to this world and, conveniently, my home planet doesn’t have a moon, full or otherwise!”
Author : Richard Halcomb
The electrostatic bubble crackled to life around the travellers; two scientists, a politician and a pair of media photographers. Dr. Tim Bilcks, Team Leader of Project Tempus, held the controls of the Temporal Transport Platform, as the sphere of energy surrounded them. “My friends, we are making possibly the most astounding journey in human history; to the birth of Life on Earth itself!”
“Most previous time experiments failed to grasp that ANY Time Engine needs to be able to accurately navigate in the traditional three dimensions, as well as in the temporal fourth dimension. Destinations are constantly in a state of movement through time, and failure to consider this aspect cost us many great, pioneering minds.” Dr. Bilcks paused, to make sure that his genius was understood. “This device, the T.T.P., incorporates a navigational computer which ensures that you land on the coordinates of your destination, at the temporal coordinates of your choice. We also have a terrain scanner, to avoid appearing inside a rock, or a tree!”
“All very good, Doctor. How long will this take?” Science Magister Tompkins had an important meeting planned, with a blonde reporter of questionable morals. He had worn his best kilt suit for this journey, and hoped to be rid of it by 2pm.
“Technically, we won’t be gone at all. We arrive back a nanosecond after we leave. It’s all a part of the genius of the…”
“Excellent!” Magister Tomkins interrupted, “The beginning of life itself! I can’t wait to breathe the Ancient air!” Or, he thought to himself, to smell the cologne of that reporter, whose name he had momentarily forgotten. Steve? Sven? Something with an S…
“Ah, well… the air of the time that we are visiting would be highly toxic to our evolved lungs! My assistant will give you one of these filters to inhale.”
Bilcks’ long suffering assistant Penny Worthington handed out small, black marbles. “Once this lodges in your throat, it will filter out the toxins, and balance the remaining gases, to give you the air that you need.” she explained. Dutifully, the marbles were inhaled, feeling unnatural as they descended towards the trachea. Dr. Bilcks deftly flicked the transit switch; the T.T.P. crackled a crescendo, and flicked out of existence.
For the travellers, all they saw was a blur. Then their new reality solidified around them, the crackling subsiding. They had arrived. Primal Earth was strangely beautiful. Water covered most of the view around the rocky outcrop where the T.T.P had landed. Sol, Earth’s sun, was a deeper orange in this time, and the rocks reflected it as a red hue. The Magister admitted to himself that it had been worth the trip. He inhaled deeply, as the photographers stepped out to document the moment.
“Damn,” Magister Tomkins beamed, “I was saving this for later, but this seems much more auspicious!” He took the cigar and lighter from his sporran, inhaled deeply, and lit up.
The mainly methane proto-atmosphere flared around the Magister. None of them had time to feel a thing. The T.T.P. was torn apart by the force of the explosion, and the five temporal travellers were ripped into millions of their composite pieces.
Quiet resumed, Earth’s natural soundtrack. In the surrounding puddles, the small carbon-based molecules scattered around started to change. They had a very long journey ahead of them.
Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer
He was sitting in his chair exactly where I’d left him six hours ago, looking out the window of the impeccably reconstructed early 16th Century workshop. His plate of fruit, bread and cheese remained untouched. I glanced at the blank canvas and sighed. He’d been in this workshop for three weeks now and hadn’t drawn even the simplest sketch or touched his carving tools. This project was already way over budget. Unless this over-priced, over-hyped, gene-resurrected artist produced something, anything, he was destined for the chemical vat and I would be out of a job.
But artists, particularly Italian Renaissance artists, especially THIS Italian Renaissance artist, were a sensitive lot and don’t respond well to economic pressures.
“Good morning, Leonardo,” I said in Italian, suppressing my frustration and getting into character, “are you feeling ill? You haven’t touched your breakfast.”
“I have no appetite of late, Francesco,” he said, not taking his eyes off the holographic representation of the Chateau D’Amboise beyond the window, the exact view he would have had from his workshop at Chateau De Cloux in France during the last years of his life. “Food does not taste the same to me anymore.”
Could he actually recognize that the food was synthetic? If so, a gross oversight on my part, but one that couldn’t be helped; real farms were a thing of the past due to environmental pollutants. Everything was now grown hydroponically from cloned hybrids deep underground.
“Mi amore, you must eat,” I entreated, cooing like a mother hen. “You must work. The King grows impatient.”
Leonardo dismissed my lie with a flick of his hand and remained staring out the window, waiting for something. After a moment’s silence he spoke. “I’ve been having a dream, Francesco, every time I sleep.” He was so quiet I had to step closer to hear him. “I’m in a strange, dead land, familiar, yet unknown. The sky is the color of ash and weeps black, sooty rain. The trees are stunted, barren of leaf and flower. Beauty has fled the world. The shrouded sun brings no joy to the starving soul, no color, no life.”
Did he suspect that he too was a cheat, a facsimile of the man he was? Could he somehow sense that his original body lay buried under the radioactive ruins of Chapel Saint-Hubert and had been for the last seven hundred years?
“But you’re awake now, Master.” I knelt beside him and pointed out the window. “Look, the sun shines! The trees are in bloom! The sky is clear as sapphire! It’s but a dream that troubles you, amore – A ghost of the mind.”
“There!” He said, pointing suddenly at a passing blackbird, “Every hour, the same bird flies the same path. The clouds too are different, but the same. I’ve been watching. Its like I am looking at a moving painting, rich in detail, but devoid of God’s touch.”
Damn! Some programmer just lost their job. I would too if I didn’t get Leonardo to produce a new masterpiece. “You must paint,” I implored, “or feel the carver’s chisel in your hands again. Then you will rediscover the world’s beauty.” So would we. “It’s been too long, Lolo.”
He looked at me then with cold, loveless eyes, which scrutinized every wrinkle and contour of my face, reconstructed to resemble his most beloved pupil.
“Inspiration is dead, Francesco,” he whispered with deep sadness. “This room is artifice. This view is an illusion. Even you, amore, are an imposture. My heart knows this. How can I paint a lie?”
I had no answer.