The Head of the Snake

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Dominating the center of “The War Room” was a large horseshoe-shaped mahogany conference table. At the head of the table sat the President of The United Earth, and his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Along the two sides of the conference table sat the Cabinet Members, Ministers, and Regional Governors. A large holographic 3-D map of the “Local Galactic Region” filled the space within the horseshoe. Glowing red spheres about five centimeters in diameter represented Sol, and the systems controlled by Earth Gov. The star systems controlled by the Eridani were glowing blue. Currently, there were thirty-seven red spheres creating a thin crescent that nearly encapsulated the eleven closely packed blue spheres.

Also within the horseshoe stood Fleet Admiral Fritz Haber. He purposefully walked through the hologram of the Centari System, and stopped within arm’s reach of Sol. He gave a sweeping gesture with his right hand toward the small cluster of blue orbs a few dozen meters behind him. “Mr. President,” he projected in a baritone voice that radiated both power and confidence, “the Eridani have retreated into a small defensive shell, and our noose is tightening.” He balled his extended hand into a fist. “It is time, Mr. President, to use the hyperspace transporter, and end this war quickly and decisively.”

“We’ve had this discussion before, Admiral,” responded President Rutherford with more than an edge of agitation in his voice. “The hyperspace transporter is a cowardly form of warfare, which does not commend itself to me or Earth Gov. We will win this war using conventional weaponry.”

“With all due respect,” protested Admiral Haber, “that will likely cost us billions of lives. The Eridani will not give up easily.”

“Perhaps,” conceded the President. “But transporting bombs directly onto the bridge of enemy starships, or into Eridani factories, is unethical. Need I remind you of Earth’s pre-stellar barbarism? Poison gas, biological warfare, and nuclear weapons were used against defenses soldiers and civilians. This new hyperspace transporter can penetrate all known mass and electromagnetic barriers. At lease there are countermeasures for conventional transporters. We must engage the enemy in a fair fight. If we use this new hyperspace technology, history will not look favorably upon us.”

“History is written by the victors, Mr. President. Besides, it would be naive for us to assume that the Eridani aren’t also developing this technology. Fortunately, we beat them to it, which gives us a brief strategic advantage. I emphatically recommend that we use it with impunity now, and deal with the consequences after the Eridani are crushed. Then, if a Galactic Convention wants to outlaw its use, so be it.”

“No, Admiral. I will not authorize the killing of defenseless beings.”

Admiral Haber realized that he needed to change tactics. It was clear that he was not going to win this argument, so he decided to attempt a compromise. “Understood, Mr. President. But, sir, can I at least offer a counterproposal? What if we only use the weapon once? Would that be acceptable? Perhaps we can kill the snake by cutting off its head. My tacticians say that with proper trilateralation, they can place a bomb under Emperor Sune-ku’s bed. Without Command and Control, the Eridani resistance may crumble. We could still achieve a quick victory.”

Just them, a metallic object about half a meter across appeared at the admiral’s feet. It had the Eridani phrase “Ezel on-ze k’ussen” printed in bold letters around the circumference. Seconds later, The War Room, and its occupants, were vaporized in an antimatter explosion.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

She left me for a space trucker. I wasn’t even mad. Hell, I understood.

The thing about space truckers is that they drive space trucks. They go from place to place. They come in to port, drop some stuff off and then, and this is the important part, they leave.

I liked it here. She didn’t. I thought that marrying her might change that. She was eighteen when we married. I was thirty-one. She was my second wife.

Susan grew up here. Ever since her fourteenth birthday, she couldn’t face a single day without illicit drugs to make her feel like it wasn’t so bad. Her doses were increasing. Her late-night searches for anything to distract her from her existence were becoming more frequent.

This rock isn’t a very big place. There are only six bars.

I’d heard stories about her late-night carousing with other men. I put it down to being young. Given time, she’d adjust. I forgave her. It’s not like her behavior was unusual. Anyone in their teens here tended to go a little insane for a while.

Anyone can watch the screens and see that there’s a whole connected universe out there with excitement and input. For teenagers, it’s the biggest tease there is.

For us folks over thirty, it’s a little reassuring to know that we’re safe from all that noise down here in the rock, away from the noisy universe.

Here, we have the rock, each other, and a perpetual night sky. If I were to wear an outsuit and walk around the entire asteroid, I’d be back home in a month. It’s not a big place.

Mining runs in my family. I honestly don’t know what else I would do.

Susan was the soft body that took the edge off of my constant world of grease, dust, and machinery.

Turns out she was doing more than just carousing in the bars with other men. She was, like a lot of the girls and boys here, looking to trade sex for transportation and get the hell away from here. The prettiest ones succeeded.

It’s a shame. It seems like our second highest export besides the ore is beautiful teenagers.

I’ll always remember Susan.

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To Sleep Alone

Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Nathan hated fighting with Claire. It was inevitable; they’d been awake and otherwise alone with the ship, tending to its needs, granting their minds a temporary reprieve from the long sleep. If you spent a few months alone with only your partner hurtling through deep space, you’d find things to disagree on too.

He never meant to argue, she was just so pig-headed sometimes. Before he knew it a rolled eye and sharp comment became a tennis match of barked recriminations and rebuttals, and the inevitable storming off to opposite ends of the ship.

He watched her from his perch in the observation deck as she moved among the rows of plants in the greenery below. The outer hull plates were transparent now, the ship having rolled towards a star similar enough to Sol, so close as to provide light, yet distant enough not to scorch the delicate plant-life. He studied her as she stripped to the waist and soaked up the sun’s rays herself.

It was his captivation with the sheer beauty of her that afforded him the best possible view as a cluster of meteoroid’s lacerated the hull, tearing through the weakened greenery hull-plates like hot knives through fresh snow.

Nathan screamed at Claire’s upturned panicked face before the defense systems hardened the hull, opaquing his view and hers.

Nathan ran. He barely heard the warning messages describing the breach, and the steps being taken to contain it. He threw himself headfirst down the vertical shaft towards the core channel, grabbing the lower rungs of the ladder as he exited and with jarring force flipping himself to land feet first on the floor below. Sprinting to the greenery doors, he found them sealed tight.

He could only watch through the window of the door, pounding with flattened palms until his hands stung while mechanical spiders attached plate and injected alloy to repair the damaged hull inside.

On the ground, scant metres from where he stood helpless, a maintenance droid methodically held and sliced the scaffolding and shattered structure that had Claire pinned to the deck. Carefully removed pieces were set aside as it busied itself with freeing her. While it carved, a surgical droid scanned, glued and stitched the broken pieces of her body as they became accessible, it’s hands flitting in and around the cutters and clenched claws of the much heavier machine towering over it.

By the time the atmosphere was stabilized, and the doors opened, Nathans hands were numb and Claire was fully exposed on the floor. Her body was a latticework of suture lines and micropore patches, and while her chest raised and lowered, he could see the labour of her breathing. The surgeon stood still, its chest a billboard of vitals, its work done save for the occasional jolting of Claire’s heart back to motion. Nathan could see she was struggling, the muscle repaired but the shock to her system too great.

“You can’t leave me here, you can’t leave this all to me.” His voice caught in his throat, tears rising unbidden.

“You can’t quit, I need your help, I can’t do this by myself.” There was a too long moment of silence until the surgeon reminded her heart to keep beating.

Nathan felt his anger rising. “This is just like you, storming away from anything that seems too hard.” He found himself yelling without meaning to.

In his mind he saw Claire at their last argument, balled up fists and the fire of purpose in her eyes.

Nathan dropped to his knees, gently placed his cheek against hers and whispered, “I don’t want to live without you. I love you. Please don’t go.”

His tears fell warm against her skin, the only sound the now steady beating of her heart.

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Author : Shannon Peil

The Daughter looked sullenly around the council, at the hopeful eyes of politicians, bureaucrats, magistrates, and men of wealth, and their chosen suitors, knelt before her. She nodded to the back of the room, and they began to filter out slowly, risking glances over their shoulders at the four boys on their knees before Her in total reverence.

“And close the door.” Her eyes scrunched up in resentment as she heard the door latch.

Her name was Zee. The very Last.

When the men had left the boys with her, she returned to her seat, floating feet above the prostrate supplicants with their eyes on the floor. Beads of anticipating sweat had begun to form on their perfectly manicured brows. The boys were beautiful. She knew they had the most aesthetically pleasing features, healthiest immune systems, strongest bodies, and highest IQ’s that the last batch of humanity could offer.

“Stand.” She had never once said the word, ‘please.’ When the boys rose to their feet, she imagined having them for a lifetime of servitude. But, She knew, even if she produced a good amount of offspring – and God willing, that they were healthy, it was next to impossible that one would be a Female before Zee reached menopause.

“And why are you here?”

The boys looked nervously at one another and continued staring at the floor just below Her feet. She was enjoying this. Leaning forward, she raised the cutest boy’s chin with a long fingernail. He gulped deeply and shook when their eyes made contact. Males always swooned over the Last.

“Do not make me repeat myself.” Her words dripped with disdain but she held his eyes as he blinked rapidly and framed his answer. The silence was broken by his inevitable reply, the one she expected all along.

“Because, Daughter.. -” He scrambled for his thoughts and barely collected them in time, “because you are to be humanity’s new Mother. You are the Last and our only hope as a species. The four of us have been selected,” he glanced to each of the silent boys beside him, “to try to give you another Daughter.”

Zee sighed and traced her fingernail back off his strong chin and stood, whirling her robes as she kicked her chair across the room. Watching it float gracefully towards one of the long windows overlooking the city, she turned back to them. She commanded the boys to stand as the window impacted and shattered, glass sprinkling the city below.

“And why – why on Terra would I want that?” They looked quizzical, they always did. The males never understood why this wasn’t all She wanted. They kept quiet, but kept their dumbfounded looks. Finally, Zee continued.

“Why would I want to do this?” Her harsh exterior was visibly fading, replaced with sorrow, a dull resentment for the years leading up to this, knowing her fate from the moment she was old enough to speak. One of the boys cleared his throat, and she turned to look at him. His eyes met hers and he understood her pain.

“Miss Zee. Your duty is that of a Mother. Like Terra itself, it sacrifices its all for its children. To allow them to grow, to continue their cycle. If mankind were to die out…” He trailed off and once again allowed his gaze to hit the floor.

“If mankind were to die out,” she continued for him, “then Terra would be able to continue her cycle.” And with that, she stepped through the broken window, and slid silently downwards towards the city.

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Author : Steven Odhner

I’m weightless, then suddenly formless like the universe before God spoke to it.

I’m behind my desk, staring at a black screen. There are three bananas on the desk and no peels in the trash, so it’s probably a Wednesday morning. The desk is one at SureTech and I’m wearing a wedding ring, so it’s between May of 2004 and July of 2010. Everyone is standing up and looking around, surprised by the sudden power outage. I check the phone, but it’s dead so I just sit back and wait. I have all the time in the world.

“Tom?” It’s one of my coworkers. I haven’t spoken to him since he died of lung cancer two years ago. He looks healthy – so it’s probably not later than 2009. For a second I have trouble speaking for some reason, but then the words tumble out.

“Yeah Josh? What’s up?” I’m pleased with how casual I sound, but now I’m thinking that I should have sounded concerned. Healthy or not, Josh looks scared. Maybe he just found out about the cancer? Did he even tell me about it before it was obvious?

“Tom… does your cell phone work?” I pull it out knowing that it won’t, but I make a show of checking. Josh just nods.

“I need to step out. Maybe get a drink. I can’t get anything done with the power out anyway.”

I’m at the bar across the street, and I don’t remember going there. The feeling of disorientation passes and I realize that Josh is talking to me. He has an empty glass in front of him and is holding one that’s mostly melting ice.

“I… it was the strangest thing. Right when the power went out… I don’t know, I guess it was a kind of hallucination or something, but I… it’s like all of these memories. It has me confused, I remember my… it was just that I must have nodded off or something. It was a dream, but so vivid and so detailed. It was the next three years of my life, right up to my funeral.” I’m fidgeting with a cocktail napkin, trying not to react, trying to remember to breathe. This isn’t happening.

Josh and I are both back at my desk. I’m still holding the cocktail napkin, though I don’t remember coming back from the bar. I shouldn’t be blacking out. The power is still out, which is strange because it should only last fifteen minutes at the most. In the grand scheme of things that’s less important than Josh having displaced memories. He wasn’t there, he didn’t come back. He wasn’t even alive, and you can’t remember your own funeral in any case. Josh is still talking; I’ve missed part of what he said.

“So… are you coming?” We must have just gotten back, but he wants to go somewhere? I nod and stand up, and we both walk out of the suite and down the stairs into the lobby. Josh throws what looks like a full pack of cigarettes into the trash can as we walk past it.

“Let’s just hit the bar across the street,” Josh says, and my stomach is a bottomless pit. We haven’t gone to the bar yet. My fist tightens around the napkin that shouldn’t be there and I pray that I’ve just lost my mind, that the consciousness transfer failed and I’m in a coma somewhere.

God forgive me, I’ve broken something.

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