Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
God give me patience, she thought, as Peter ran into the living room with another ‘great invention’.
Peter was wearing a flanged-open broccoli steamer on his head with a crude system of wires sticking out of it like dead flowers in a vase. He was wearing what looked like most of the entertainment system strapped in pieces around his left arm and joined together with more wires.
The iPhone duct-taped to his right wrist was glowing in a series of rapid colour flashes. A bucket was on one of his feet and it sloshed water on the hardwood.
I’m going to have to call the police again, she thought. He’s going to have to go back to the mental hospital. I barely made it through the last stretch. This was supposed to be Peter’s last chance.
“What is it this time?” she sighed.
“It’s a time machine!” he shouted gleefully. His eyes were wide and it looked like he’d chewed most of his nails down to the bloody edges. His lips were raw. He’d shaved part of his head. “It was the capacitor. If I reverse the polarity on it, this should work. I’ve got a line running up to the satellite dish turning the data into energy. That was the power problem I was talking about, remember?”
“No.” she replied. She was actually a little worried. He might electrocute himself this time.
Peter chuckled at his own brilliance and actually danced a little jig of anticipation, splashing more water around.
“Peter, let’s just calm down a little.” She said, starting to stand up and walk towards him.
“Wait! No. I have the prep field humming. Don’t come any closer. This is going to work! Now, I’ve set the reception point to be right here in the apartment in one minute. It’s going to take a lot of power so be prepared for a brownout. It takes a lot to send but it shouldn’t take any to receive. I’ll be okay on the back end. Oh MAN, this is the GREATEST! Honey, we’ll be so rich!” he shouted.
She looked at him warily, really worried now. More worried than she’d ever been, even more than the time with the knife-juggling. But it didn’t make sense. There’s no way this could actually be anything other than a danger of electrocution.
“I’m going to start singing a song and hit the button. I’ll disappear and then in one minute, I’ll appear right here. For you, there will be a one-minute pause but for ME, it’ll be as if nothing happened! Are you ready? On the count of three.” He said.
“Peter, I’m not sure-“
“-this is such a good idea.”
“let’s talk about this.”
“THREE! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE ALL THE-“
And there was pop, a shower or sparks from the light socket in the kitchen, the lights went out, and the bucket that Peter’s foot had been in clattered onto its side. Peter was no longer standing in it.
She stood there with wide eyes staring at the spot where Peter had been. She dropped her coffee.
Thirty seconds passed.
She picked up the phone to call the police and actually forgot what number to call. When she remembered, she stopped after the first number when it occurred to her that she had no idea what to tell the police. She waited.
Twenty more seconds passed.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
One minute. Nothing happened. Two minutes. Nothing happened.
She waited for an hour. She waited for a week.
She’s still waiting.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
It didn’t bother me at first. Killing them I mean. They had come to our home world with plans of conquest. I can’t even dignify what happened by calling it a war. They claim we fired first, which was true, but nobody asked them to just zip into our atmosphere without knocking first. Besides, you’d have thought that the orbiting mines of the PLeiaDeS, the Planetary Defence Satellites, would have made them change their minds.
They were like hydras. Strike one down; two more appeared in their place. They were relentless, always moving, never slowing, always onward, crusading. Spreading like a great plague.
We are pacifists my family, but even my sainted grandmother hugged me the day I took my oath and joined the Corps. She told me to “be good” and to “kill every last one of the bastards.”
I’ll never forget my first combat drop. I nearly shit my pants when I leaned out the open hatch and saw them below us. It was impossible to make out individuals, there were so many. It was as if their army was just a vast undulating sea. With no more individuality than a drop of water.
If I was scared then, it more than doubled when we hit the deck and engaged. I unslung my rifle and laid into them with a green ribbon of plasma. Still they came.
We were confused by their intentions at first. They were unarmed, so we were hesitant to fire at first, but we soon learned that they had weapons far more devastating than our mere blasters and pulse cannons.
They could enter our minds.
It was one thing to fire into the faceless hoard, vaporizing them in mid stride. It was altogether something different when the faces became friends, family… my wife. The bastards got to her too, and I was the one who had to reduce my own beautiful bride to an unrecognizable lump of charred meat. Later things got so bad; I would have eaten that burnt flesh. I vomited until I passed out.
I was miserable for days, but had to push on. We had the weaponry, but they had ever growing numbers as more and more of our people were overcome by their sinister power. One year flowed into two. We no longer fought their onslaught; we fought to stave off the inevitable. The mindless smiling faces of the ones whom we loved. We mowed them down, believing that in death they escaped a living horror. Towards the end we resorted to singularity Turing devices. Too little too late.
It became a war of attrition. Our men abandoning their posts, some took their own lives; the worst fate was to become one of them. A mindless grinning drone.
Finally they found me. Hiding like a coward in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse shitting myself in fear. I knew there was no way out. I stuck the muzzle of my blaster against my chest. There was a faint whine and a whiff of singed hair. The power cell was totally drained.
I curled up in a tight ball, expecting a rain of cruel merciless blows. Instead, I felt gentle hands pulling me to my feet. They talked to me, they talked and they talked. They took me back to their ship. They cleaned me up. They fed me. They weren’t so bad after all.
After spending time with them I now understand what they want. I understand.
“I’m sorry to wake you… Would you like to buy a copy of The Watchtower?”
Author : Matthew Callaway
It looks like snow, except there’s no snow here, no rain. The foamy droplets float down from the decontamination sprayers as a ship lands, speckling the faceplate of my respirator. When I was a kid seeing snow was like seeing a planet for the first time. Every ice crystal glimmering, the trees bent over from the weight of frozen branches. No trees on this planet. I wonder what season it is on earth right now. My display says its October back home, I think that’s Autumn, the colors are pale in my memory. We left when I was so young it feels like a less of a home now than this sand pile, or that last rock. The droning hum of the landing craft is just above me now.
“Look alive!” The boss bellows at me from inside the comm booth. What a prick, I’ve got it under control. The ship settles into the docking lock, not gonna get a scratch on her shiny hull. All thats left is the particle scrub and ‘Welcome to Splendora’.
This ship looks like thousands of others, sleek but utilitarian, the whole thing rings like a bell when the mag locks engage. Like the bell between classes at school, before the frontier, before the remote classrooms, skipping from one new found rock to another, and the lonely light years started piling up between me and what once felt so much like home. My brother went back and became a droid mech, they’re practically outnumbering people there now, droids I mean, not mechanics. Then you have ‘people’ like me.
My shield plated arms slide under the ships’ drive core to disconnect the cables and clasps to free the device, a couple thousand kilos of metal and glass is like a toy in my hands, twenty degrees or seven hundred, as was now the case. The glow of the reaction inside shines off the blueish tint of my elbow joint. You can get them to look basically unaugmented, of course, but the company only pays for basic. A message flashed on my view the other day, news from home, another heart for Mom, she says the new one loves me just as much and I should visit sometime.
The sun’s setting again, must be about lunch time, this core is clear and humming. Snapping closed the panel I can almost smell the air outside my respirator, for a moment I smell the mildew of a leaf pile.
“You ever go to the Vega system?” Keplen, who was actually born on Splendora, offers me a cigarette and tries to bait me into asking about his lucky streak at the Vega Casinos, and with the well tanned ladies of the Vegas’ asteroid colonies.
“‘Hear it’s a good time, didn’t you make the trip a few months ago?” Taking the bait, and the cigarette from his extended mechanical arm. There was a deep gash on his forearm plate where he caught a bit of plasma, as they say, in a bar fight. Another great one I’ve heard twenty times. He might get it repaired if it wasn’t such a great story. I display some images of Vega across my view to color the tale as it rambles along. It makes me want to see a cruiser from the inside again, but not one to Vega. If I’m going that far I might as well go all the way. I’m sure these arms can rake leaves, or shovel snow if it takes me a few months to get there.
Author : Ron Wingrove
Discovery of the Omniflower should have been one of the greatest of the 23rd century. It happened on a distant planet, to a ragged crew from an equally-shabby exploration ship. Anybody who could cobble together an FTL drive went into exploration. Most never made it back.
The landing was hard with the heavy gravity, but the ship got down safely. The captain had one important question to ask his science officer.
“There air outside?”
“Yes sir, but…”
“It’ll do… MAC!” A dirty face appeared round the hatch to Engineering.
“Make sure nothing broke after that bump. We’re going for a walk.”
The crew was met just outside a settlement by an alien. Yellow skin, vaguely human. The captain was a more casual than the movies liked.
“Kwishath ack narothdack?”
“Sure, man. We come in peace, and leave in pieces, and stuff. Yeah.”
“Astana retoothka? Squirly a chondack?”
“Yep, that too… What the hell is that?”
“That” was a short plant that appeared by the alien’s feet. It grew from a seedling to a small bush, put out some blue leaves and one fruit, then died back to nothing in the space of a few seconds. Totally calm, the alien bent down to pick the blue fruit. He broke it open, removed something from inside, and handed it to the stunned captain.
“So, what’s this? ‘English-Narothdack phrasebook?’ You gotta be kidding me!”
Flicking through the pages, the captain looked for one specific phrase, and found it in a chapter marked Social Colloquialisms for Informal Occasions.
“What in God’s name is going on? Kveesta unacktra ban de plositch?”
Plositch was the closest the language could come to God.
It meant “Small blue plant that provides us with all we need.”
With the phrasebook, the alien explained to the spacefarers. It was called the Plositch, and popped up wherever something was needed. Dinnertime? One would open with your favourite food. Nighttime? A larger one, with a bedroll. Predator attack? A long one would open containing a spear. All you had to do was imagine a flower opening nearby, and what it would contain. The captain named them Omniflowers.
A week later, and it was time to go. Efforts to make the omniflower grow anywhere other than the surface failed, but there were no limits to what it could make. When Mac dropped his ancient pocket watch in a stream and wished for a new one, it was discovered that the plant could produce complex mechanisms, and the captain figured out a way of making some serious money. The ship’s library had pictures of collectables, and the omniflowers produced crates of small “antiques.” A moment of whimsy produced a large gold watch. It fitted nicely into a pocket of the captain’s jumpsuit, just right for timing the lift-off.
“5… 4… 3, first stage ignition… 2… 1… Lift-off, we have lift-off, retracting landing gear…” A pause. “Altitude 35,000 meters, standby for second stage ignition…”
“Hey, that’s not right!” The captain’s shout made everyone turn and stare. Instead of a watch, his hand held a pile of greenish slime. A second later, it had dried to dust.
“Oh, bad luck, captain. The things made by the plants can’t leave the surface either. That means those crates are gone, too.”
“Second stage ignition in 5… 4… 3… 2, first stage shutdown complete… 1…” An ominous silence. “Second stage ignition failure! Mac, what’s up with your engines?”
Mac went deathly pale.
“Boss? The second stage fuel pump! Needed replacement, but we didn’t have one…”
“I replaced it with one from a plant.”
Author : Thomas Keene
The Secretary set the tablet in front of the Director. “This is the file we have been asked to review. The news is calling him the ‘felon artist.’ He’s quite the celebrity right now.”
The Director thumbed through the man’s profile. “Convicted of murder at twenty-four, five counts of rape, and theft. Sentenced to wear a behavioral correction collar for twenty years… I don’t understand, is he famous because he went on to become an artist after correction?”
“No. After he was issued the collar, he decided to take up painting, and discovered he was quite good at it. He claimed he was never good at it before, and that the effects of the collar were what “unlocked his genius.” The mechanism tends to have negative side effects like neuroses, synaesthesia, and reduced IQ, so it’s entirely possible that there could be positive side effects. We’ve been using them for decades, but the ban on experimentation has made data on this topic very sparse.”
The Director finished reviewing the tablet. “That’s quite a lot of money he made as a professional artist! It’s a great example of how the collars can help felons function in society. Did he lose his artistic ability when the collar was removed at the end of his sentence?”
“Allegedly. He apparently planned this as a career move, he had already been scheduled for several talk shows months before his sentence was up. He claims he can’t paint anymore, and demands that the government have his collar returned. Critics claim he’s only doing this to drive up the prices on prints of his later works.”
The Director growled. “No, we can’t! These collars are dangerous! They change the way people think, and that power can be abused if it falls into the wrong hands. Cities could start collaring people who are diagnosed with minor mental illnesses, and then minorities. Companies could put them on their employees saying they’re keeping them from stealing and being lazy, but they could just make them be loyal so they can abuse them and not be reported. Hell, parents could try to collar their kids just to make them sit still in church!”
“And that’s why it must be abundantly clear to the public! These collars are a safe, cheap, and effective alternative to prisons. They keep the public safe, and they help felons reform. That’s it! Anything more violates the human right to think!”
The Secretary sighed. “I know, but this man is threatening to kill someone to force the government to collar him again!”
The Director uncomfortably adjusted the tie around his neck. “These collars are to prevent atrocities and crimes against humanity, not change us against our will. If he’s going to use them as an excuse to do something regrettable, then we will have to act, not only to protect potential victims, but to keep the collars in the public eye as a tool for good. Put some pressure on local law enforcement, see if there’s any institution left in this country that we can have him jailed in for intent to murder…”
The Secretary took down a few notes, then left the Director’s office.
The Director reached under his shirt and scratched at the plastic collar wrapped tightly around his neck. “We have to prevent atrocities and crimes against humanity, not change people against their will…”