The Hatching

Author : Jason Frank

I walked around an hour ‘fore I found where they landed, no crowd, no cops, no reporters, not no more. They weren’t out yet so I unrolled my blanket and didn’t pay no attention to the dog hairs flying up off it. I had plenty of time to sit and start in on the wine I brought.

I counted five eggs. I’d seen more but hadn’t seen anything like the crazy colors the late October sun was throwin’ off of them. It was beautiful, I had to admit it. I felt a bunch of stuff swelling up in me. You had to have someone with you when you saw something beautiful so you could share it with them. I wished Cain was with me, even if no dog ever cared about a bunch of colors, even if I wouldn’t be there if he was still around.

I was doing pretty good on the wine by the time the eggs got moving and I was so caught up in looking and thinking and feeling that I didn’t hear her walk up behind me and I damn near jumped out of my skin when she said hello.

I could see she was there for the same reason I was. We got a little while yet, I told her and asked her if she wanted to sit a spell and have some wine. She sat down but said no to the wine, she had a flask. She focused in on them eggs solid but I couldn’t help stealing glances at her. She was some kind of woman, hair all braided around her head and her face beautiful without any makeup on it. I tried not to stare but some of the hairs that stuck out of her braids caught the sunlight and made it look like she had a halo on.

The horns started breaking through the shells, working back and forth to grow the cracks they’d made. It was a bit before them cracks got big enough for the things to start forcing their way out, stumbling on shaky legs like anything born regular on this planet. They didn’t walk around too much ’cause they were exhausted from getting out.

She got up and asked me if I was just gonna sit there or what. I laughed a little too hard and a little too loud from the wine and went to get up and stumbled a little bit. She asked me if I was okay and I said yeah I was fine and she said we should do this and I agreed we should.

Being a gentleman, I told her to go ahead first and she did this joke curtsey before shouldering up her piece. it was just a twenty gauge but her aim was dead on. I waited till she reloaded to start in with my twelve. We switched off like that, settling into a smooth rhythm. We blasted those little bastards till they were all gone and then we blasted them all again.

It was a hell of a thing that something could be hard enough to fall through space and get here alive and be able to live here but would be dumb enough to have a taste for man’s best friend, out of all the things we got here. Some things could make a planet inhospitable right quick.

At the bar, she told me she lost five dogs to those bastards and I told her about Cain and we both cried out half as much as we drunk.

There hasn’t been a day since we been apart.

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The Third Millennium

Author : Laura E. Bradford

“Here we are,” said the time traveler; “the third millennium.”

“Oh my God,” said Jamie, looking around. It was his second day with the red-haired girl who could travel in time, and everything so far had been magnificent. “It has a bit more electricity than ancient Greece.”

“Everything’s solar-powered. Everything! Even the sun.”

Jamie frowned, and followed her along. Everything looked a bit … bright around here. Buildings were painted in flashy colors: neon reds, oranges, blues. The streets were cobblestone, lined with flowers. He bent down to look at a rose, but when he touched it, it flickered blue and translucent for a second: a hologram. “Neat.”

“Just don’t sneeze on anybody. The people here are incredibly touchy about germs. Everything’s sanitized, and their immune systems are rather … weak.”

Jamie passed a shop window with wipers cleaning itself, and his eyes widened. “I see.” He pulled out his cell phone, wondering faintly if they still had some semblance of the Internet here.

“Put that away!” she said. “They don’t use cell phones here anymore. Everyone’s telepathic.”

Jamie was puzzled. “Wait a minute … I thought you said it was illegal to travel in this time.”

“It is. Technically, all time travel is illegal.”

“So those cops over there … they can read our minds?”

The time traveler brushed her hair out of her eyes, and squinted at them. The image of uniformed men carrying weapons at their belt spanned many times. She swallowed, hard.

“Jamie, I’m going to give you another piece of advice,” she said, bracing herself. “Run.”

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Author : Jeremy Herman

Gilbert smeared a napkin across his glistening face as he watched the stage anxiously. The crowd around him was enthralled with the performance they were watching. Big Band music had been popular with the people for years now. On stage the drums, trumpets and piano were all playing in harmony. Men on the dance floor spun their ladies in tight circles pausing every so often to clap their hands or snap their fingers to the beat of the music.

Gilbert, the club manager, eyed one of the musicians in the back with a nervous eye. The drummer that was hitting the hi-hat in time was barely visible. Gilbert had made sure the spotlight was as far away from him as possible. God only knows what the patrons of the club would do if they found out the drummer for the house band was not human. The usual drummer for the band was at home right now in a cast due to an auto accident. Gilbert had made the choice. Pay a pro a wad of cash to learn all the numbers in a couple days or program a replacement.

Androids had come a long way since they were first introduced but people still wanted a flesh and blood person hitting the skins up there and not a drum machine. That is why Gilbert started to groan as the machine malfunctioned in front of the large crowd. At first the mistakes were hardly noticeable. A snare hit when it should have been the bass drum. However, as the song progressed it got worse and worse. The android would speed up and then slow down. The tempo was disjointed at best. The time signature jumped from a normal 4/4 to a strange 5/8 beat.

The other human players in the band didn’t know how to respond. How could you play in time with someone that had no rhyme or reason to their playing? The crowd on the dance floor had slowed as well. Then there was glint in the eye of the piano player. He began to improvise along with the ever changing beat of the drums. The horn section quickly gathered what was going on and followed along.

Some in the crowd started to razz the group on stage to try and get them to return to the music they were playing before. Others concluded it was just nonsense and said they had enough of the jive. Decades later people would speculate the word jazz came from a combination of the words jive and razz. Gilbert would never know if that was true but he did know some of the greatest discoveries are through accidents.

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Author : George R. Shirer

Our Father, Who art in Heaven . . .

Jode eyes the pressure door’s lock. In the lower right corner of her eye, the timer is counting down. The numbers, though, are still green so she’s not too worried.

Hallowed be thy name . . .

The lock is dead and Jode knows there’s no hope of running juice to it. No time either.

Thy kingdom come . . .

She slaps a micronuke on the door, hits the switch and scurries over the hull. The nuke goes off a bit early. Jode’s helmet polarizes to protect her from the flash. She doesn’t feel the heat at all and the rads don’t even break the suit’s outer layer.

Thy will be done . . .

The pressure door is gone. So is a large part of the surrounding hull. Jode swings through the hole and discovers the gravity plating is still working.

On earth . . .

The suit wasn’t configured for gravity. It hangs on Jode like dead weight. Swearing, she lurches down the corridor toward the target while the suit reconfigures itself.

As it is in heaven . . .

The door at the end of the corridor is shut, but it barely slows her. Jode bulls through it and finds herself, unexpectedly, in freefall again. She bounces off the walls like a rubber ball.

Give us this day . . .

The sudden change in environment makes the suit go spastic. It bleats in Jode’s ear and starts to slide into its battlefield mode. She lets it.

our daily bread . . .

In the corner of Jode’s eye, the countdown has gone yellow.

And forgive us our trespasses . . .

She swears, cursing God, the devil and all nine-hundred saints of the Incorporated Church.

As we forgive those who trespass against us . . .

Blinking, she pulls up her map of the ship. It glows against the inner surface of her helmet. Jode glares at it.

Lead us not into temptation . . .

She’s not even halfway there and the damned timer is yellow. The smart thing to do would be to turn tail and run.

But deliver us from evil . . .

But no one has ever accused her of being smart. The target is straight ahead, more or less. Taking a deep breath, Jode hauls ass.

For thine is the kingdom . . .

She jets down the corridor, ignoring the debris that smashes against her. All her thoughts are on the target.

Get to the target, she thinks. Complete your mission!

the power . . .

The last obstacle is another door. Jode slams into it, reducing the door to synthetic splinters.

and the glory, forever and ever . . .

Jode spots the target immediately, a conical object sticking out of a control board. It radiates a soft golden light. Snarling, she grabs it.

The minute her fingers clasp the shipsoul, Jode is aware of its thoughts, its emotions. They rush into her head and, for just a second, the world goes white.

I didn’t think anyone was coming, weeps the shipsoul. I prayed and prayed but. . . .

“Shush,” says Jode. “I’m here for you now, but we have to hurry. Your orbit’s decaying fast into the planet.”

She clutches the shipsoul and lets the suit retrace their path, at speed. The gravity plating near the outer hull is dead now and they burst free of the Caravagio with no trouble. Above them, Jode’s ship, Sister Bertrile, glitters like a diamond above Pistachio’s poisonous green sphere. In the corner of Jode’s eye, the timer has gone red.

“Jode, are you all right?” Sister Bertrile’s voice hums inside Jode’s ear.

Jode clutches the Caravagio’s shipsoul against her side. “We’re fine, Bertie. Both of us.”

“Thank God,” says Sister Bertrile.

Smiling, Jode secures the shipsoul to her suit and echoes its sentiment. “Amen.”

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Last Dusk

Author : Ian Eller

Immortality. He had wished it, wanted it, even demanded it. When it had been offered, it seemed too good to be true. But he took it and despite all his fears, despite all the cliches and platitudes that warned him he had flown too high, it was real. There had been no trick, no twisting of words, no fine print. The bargain struck would be upheld, truly and precisely.

At first, he was content to watch. With their little lives, humankind scurried about under the perpetual belief that they did not have enough time. They were right. Their lives blossomed and withered like cherry trees, leaving nothing behind but seeds. Then more trees. More blossoming. More withering. Wise with centuries yet still bearing the faults of mortals, he stepped down from his observatory and into the thick of them. He wore many masks and bore many titles — president, king, commander, warlord, architect, destroyer. At first briefly and hiding his true nature, but soon enough he dispensed with this masquerade. He ruled them openly then, a god-emperor as ruthless as he was immortal. They tried to end his reign and his everlasting life, with guns and blades, poisons and diseases, fire and lightning. They tore matter itself asunder. Yet, when all else lay in smoking ruin around him, he endured. Eventually, however, even the mastery of all mortal life could not hold his immortal attention and he quietly slipped away, disappearing among them as quickly and seamlessly as he had risen to rule them.

No longer held beneath his iron heel, mankind blossomed again, spreading farther than ever before. They spread out into the heavens, and he followed. He watched them remake planets, tame suns and bend the very fabric of space and time to their will. In their hands, matter and energy became interchangeable expressions and the vast distances between galaxies were rendered meaningless. Their machines as vast as solar systems were wonders to behold even for his immortal eyes.

They too sought immortality, then, and for the first time in ages beyond counting, he was among peers. No longer was he forced to walk either above or beneath them, but truly with them. Almost incomprehensibly, he lived and loved again. But after a billion years, the weight of eons proved too heavy for them. Long removed from the struggle for survival, they withered one final time, leaving no seeds behind. From the bow of a star he watched the last of them spiral beyond the event horizon of eternity. They were gone and he was again alone.

He ventured home then, a billion year trek through the ruins of humanity’s incalculable achievement. He watched sadly as stars, free of man’s engines, slid quietly back into their celestial places and as great clouds of interstellar gas eroded and ultimately erased whole artificial worlds. Space and time themselves, no longer stretched by man’s whims, rebounded and the cosmic dance resumed as if it had never been so rudely interrupted.

By the time he arrived, he was the only trace in all the universe that man had ever existed at all. The sun was red and huge in the sky, and the world was hot and dry. All things on earth had died, consumed by the ever growing star. All things but he. Even as the very rocks of the earth turned to slag and flowed beneath him like water, he endured. He was immortal. There had been no trick, no twisting of words, no fine print. The bargain struck had been upheld, truly and precisely.

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