Thursday, May 31, 2012

5/31/12

Serpentine Garden
By Carol Summerfield


The lunar vehicle had on it a golden parabola, facing out to catch the sun’s rays. The sunlight would power the vehicle, but Liun didn’t know that. She just liked it.
“The umbrella would be a nice addition to the collection.”
“You don’t need an umbrella.”
“Still, you have to admit, it’d be something different.” She moved slightly to see what else was on the vehicle. Containers, wheels, probes, cameras. Really, she thought, they had enough of that stuff. And every visitor left the same stuff behind, so they weren’t even real trophies.
Liun watched the white-suited man bounce around. Each set of visitors followed the same routine, just in different locations. They would land, bounce around, pick up rocks, then leave. It was always the same. Liun found the visits a bit dull, now that the novelty had worn off. She shifted so she could get a better glimpse of this man.
Orna hissed and pulled Liun back behind the sandy hill. Liun snapped back, “Don’t yank on me. You aren’t mom.”
“I’m the oldest and mom isn’t here. So that makes me in charge.”
“You are always in charge. I’m sick of it.”
“I’ll tell mom.”
Baby, Liun thought, but she didn’t say it. If there was a second man, they hadn’t seen him yet. She wondered about the glass on the helmet. Could the visitor see perfectly through the glass?
Orna petulantly repeated their mother’s warning, “Leave the men alone.”
“Mom didn’t always leave the men alone.” Liun wondered why her mother never came to watch with them.
“Idiot, that’s how we ended up here.”
“Well it can’t get worse than this, can it? It’s just rocks everywhere.”
Orna looked at her sister. “Whose fault is that?”
“You had tantrums too. Mom told me.” Orna’s hair wrap was loosening. Liun only had to point to it to remind Orna to tighten the cloth. “And mom did most of the damage when she arrived, anyway.”
Liun kicked at the dust. She was sick of the endlessness of the days with nothing to do. When she looked at the man, who was now bending down to scrape up some random rock, she wondered why they would want so many rocks. Maybe they knew. It had been thousands of years, according to her mother, but maybe they still knew the story. Maybe they could tell from the rocks.
“Do you think they remember?” Liun asked Orna.
“No. If they did, they wouldn’t visit.”
“Maybe their helmets protect them.”
“They aren’t looking for us. You can just tell.”
“Maybe they think we’re dead.” Liun had tried to ask her mother the same questions, but her mother had given her one of her looks and Liun stopped asking.
“What do you think would happen if they saw us? Would they take us back with them?” Liun was scared and excited at the prospect, something she had thought about constantly since the first one arrived so long ago. Liun worried the visitors might stop coming and she would lose her chance. Suddenly she decided it was time to test her powers.
Liun stood up and walked around the hill, so she would be clearly visible to the visitor. Orna, stunned into silence for once, just watched. Liun unwrapped her head. The visitor caught the movement and turned to face her. She’d only heard stories from her mother about the change, back when her mother had been on Earth. Liun saw the look of surprise on the man’s face.
“He can see me,” Liun called to her sister.
“And?” Orna asked.
“Nothing yet.”
“I think it’s supposed to be instantaneous, Liun. Mom is going to kill you if he goes back and tells everyone we’re here.”
“If nothing happens, we don’t have to tell her. And if he changes, we just take him back with us.”
Liun waited a little longer, but the man didn’t move. She finally gathered up her courage and walked up to him. She could hear Orna gasp at her daring, but Orna didn’t tell her to stop.
She got close enough to touch him. He looked the same. She lifted the glass on his helmet. He remained unblinking. Liun tapped on his face. She was disappointed. Somehow in all her mother’s stories, the transformation seemed much more spectacular.
“Help me carry him. He’s heavy, Orna.”
“Stupid, of course he is. He’s stone. Wrap up.”
Liun swallowed her disappointment and bound her writhing snakes.


- - -
I wanted to explore the merging of ancient myth and modern science fiction with one of my all-time favorite characters. When I am not writing I am an efficiency expert in operations for a marketing company, which is more creative than it sounds.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

5/24/12

Stage Four
By Jake Wickenhofer


I graduated from medical school days before the first incident was reported. It was described to me as dangerous, but isolated. The horrid disease grew to be known as the Huron Virus, named after the small community where it began. It was unclear where the disease came from, but our directive was black and white: treat any carriers. I worked alongside Dr. Tevans, an aged doctor experienced in the ways of unpredictable disease control. We treated the citizens of Huron daily in a small building that was fashioned for our use mere weeks before we were sent.
The first sign was severe nausea that felt similar to food poisoning. After a few days, the skin of the host began to fade and turn yellow. Phase three caused the victim to sleep for abnormal periods of time, growing longer and longer until they were comatose. In its fourth stage, the virus reached full strength and was transferred by any contact as well as through the air. Within forty-eight hours of reaching stage four, the host died. Dr. Tevans attended a conference of doctors and members of the CDC once a week to distribute new findings and retrieve shipments of quickly-developed medication. We had to be careful, or the doctor and I could contract the disease as well.
“The objective,” the doctor told me, “is to keep all patients from reaching stage four. There have been no breakthroughs for vaccines or cures. It doesn’t look good,” he said.
The Monday of our fifth week, we had three cases of the Huron Virus. Those not infected were urged to burn their clothes and shower thoroughly after leaving. Our first encounter with the virus for the day was a man who had terrible nausea, but his blood work showed no signs of contamination. We urged him to get plenty of rest and to come back in a week for testing. The doctor handed her a bottle of little white pills to take. He was relieved that we found no evidence of the sickness, but this didn't make him safe forever.
Our next victim's hair had turned white and her skin faded to a dismal yellow. Her clothes no longer fit after a drastic loss of weight. She told us she had been sleeping at regular intervals. Though she looked exhausted, her blood tests revealed no signs of Huron. We were certain, however, that she was a threat. We told her to come back the next time she slept longer than nine hours. Dr. Tevans gave her the same white pills that he gave the first patient.
Our third patient had been sleeping eleven hours a night and could not be woken by any force until she awoke on her own. Her skin was yellow. She was drained down to her skeleton. She fit the description for a host, but her blood work revealed no traces of the disease. The doctor took out two white pills from a bottle in his desk drawer and handed them to me. He said, “Give these to her and make sure she takes them.”
I drew a glass of water for her and watched to make sure she swallowed them.
Dr. Tevans stood at the sink washing his hands thoroughly after placing her in an adjacent part of the small building that resembled a waiting room.
“Something has been bothering me, doctor,” I said.
“Yes?”
“I thought you said there was no cure yet. What pills are we giving these people?”
He ignored my question and sat down in his chair. From his desk drawer, he took out the same blue folder he had been writing in for weeks. After he scrawled something on three lines, he led me into the room with our third patient. She was slumped lifelessly in her chair. I was afraid she fell into the coma. Before I reached for her, the doctor put his arm in my way.
“There isn’t going to be a cure.”
“I don’t understand,” I gasped as I began to panic.
“Remember the objective,” he said. “Whether it is stage one nausea or stage three coma, we are to keep all carriers away from stage four. For now, our best option is medical euthanasia.”
“The pills?” I asked.
Our business was a sad one. We became dealers of death. His office was the reaper's lair. We were judgment and jury. I regretted every second of medical school. It sickened me to no end.
I felt nauseated just thinking about it.


- - -
My name is Jake Wickenhofer. I am a twenty-year-old author in Morgantown, West Virginia. Though I have been writing since the age of ten, I have always gotten the most fun out of writing science fiction, and I have also received the most short fiction success from such. I have had fifteen short stories published previously, several of which were science fiction in magazines like Antipodean SF and the retired Alienskin Magazine.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

5/17/12

Art
By Richard Paul / Peculiar Richard





We love them as we destroy them. We love the beautiful spectacle of their terror which then turns to fury, we savour their mingling hatred of us and love for their burning home which begets such delightful madness. They fight to remove us from their homeworld, to drive us away from their families’ doorsteps; those things which matter most to them; they are driven to delicious heights of emotion as those things are taken away.

It started with the colony worlds, a paltry seven in all. The first was virtually unguarded, in the vicinity of the planet we saw only trade vessels and enfeebled frigates providing a flimsy semblance of security. It was a display of complacence and an ideal starting point for us to put our brush to our canvas.

We destroyed it, left no one alive and ensured that the other worlds of our new canvas saw what we had done, this gave birth to terror, then fury.

Naturally, they fought us. We patiently awaited their reprisal in the debris encircling that colony world, known to this indigenous species, the Vanatharlan, as Banrosar. Our gallery-council had sent nothing but an expeditionary force to this region, but to the tiny fleet that came from their homeworld to confront us, we must have seemed to be a veritable Armada.

There were so few ships, all ancient, all underpowered. This was a small nation with no neighbours, we had had to travel a great distance indeed to reach them. Their navy must have been ceremonial at best.

There was little beauty to be found in that battle. They tried to speak to us first, their quivering voices imploring us to abandon our art. By the time they accepted that we truly intended to destroy them all and started to act appropriately, they were all but dead already.

The only sliver of beauty came when their flagship attempted to ram one of our vessels. It failed, and it’s communications systems were too badly damaged for us to see inside and behold the impotent rage and delectable despair within.

No matter, we saw plenty to appreciate on the remaining colony worlds, and now we’ve come to the final show on the surface of the Vanatharlan homeworld of Metanlonna. The remnants of this species have truly come to despise us now, and they fight with the passion of the doomed.

They watch and shriek as their world is torn down around them; more satisfying to us than all else here are the 9,000 year old houses of the Grand Marquises, obliterated in all seventeen capitols. Intact those houses oozed insipid peace and misdirected patriotic pride; as rubble they offer these stagnant people a true glimpse of the universe’s ultimate glorious fate for us all.

We rejoice in the beastly beauty of the horror we cause. We strip these people of their fear and inhibition; as we destroy their world we shape them into the purest form that any species can achieve. Before they were wasted, so many lived content and died as dross but now they achieve perfection through the purity of their feelings and the force of their expression, they are as alive as they can ever hope to be as they charge at us to meet their doom, their race dies perfect.

I envy them.

We record this for the delectation of our people, every second, every morsel. This exhibit shall join the ranks of hundreds of others in the great gallery palisades and the name of this species shall join all those we have crafted beauty from; Linaw, Faehar, Jarnaj, Human, Slanmena; (to name but a few). In the fullness of time we shall fill our palisades with the beauteous demise of all life everywhere.


- - -
When not scurrying about in the dust at his workplace, or procrastinating in some form or other, Richard partakes in writing, game reviewing and more recently producing dramatic readings of short stories. Both of which can be seen on his linked tumblr account.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

5/10/12

Bardo Bureaucracy
By ED Martin


She stepped from the darkness and opened her eyes. Light surrounded her, shining from everywhere and nowhere. People milled about the space, a space so large there were no walls, no ceilings. Just white light.

She was alone. She’d hoped that she’d been wrong, that he would be here with her. They always came here together. Always had, always would. That’s just the way it was.

“Ah, Psi-28657. Welcome back.” A clipboard-toting agent appeared in front of her. He - or she; an agent's gender was never apparent - checked his watch and wrote something on a piece of paper. “As usual, we’ll set up inspection and confession, then go from there.” The agent looked up from his notes. “Where’s your other half?”

“I don’t know.” She couldn’t meet his eyes. No one came here alone. “I arrived like usual, but he...” She brushed a tear away with her sleeve. “He didn’t.”

“Most odd,” murmured the agent. He glanced at his notes again. “They’re supposed to tell me about these...situations.”

“Hurry up,” said a voice behind her. “We don’t have all eternity!”

She glanced over her shoulder. A dozen people stood waiting to be checked in. All had partners.

“Yes, quite right,” said the agent. “As you can see, I’m quite busy. If you’ll have a seat in the waiting room, an agent will be over to explain your options.”

She nodded and headed towards a cluster of couches. Muzak whispered from unseen speakers. She sat down and flipped through a stack of magazines. It felt strange being here by herself. Her other half had always been here too. They’d usually stroll around the gardens while waiting to go back out, catching up on their experiences and plotting their strategy for the next time. Not that they remembered when they went back out, not right away at least. Now, however, it was just her.

She’d read through half the December 1974 issue of Reader’s Digest when an agent approached her. “Psi-28657B? This way please.”

She followed the agent down a hallway that materialized five feet in front of them and disappeared five feet behind. The agent stopped in front of an open door.

“Please, come in.” The agent waited for her to enter, then shut the door and sat down behind a formidable wooden desk. She perched on a cheap chair that left her head slightly below his.

“Let me bring up your file.” The agent typed on the computer that appeared on his desk. “Sometimes paths are crossed, signals are mixed. Could just be a glitch in the system. Let’s see. Female, 42 years old. Not a full life.”

“Cancer.”

“Ah, yes, there it is. You had cancer, and he had - oh. Oh dear.”

“What?” She leaned forward, gripping the edges of her seat. “What happened to him? What did he do?”

“Oh, dear,” repeated the agent. “This is quite unexpected. Did you have any contact with your other half while out?”

“No,” she admitted sadly. “We didn’t meet up this time. It’s happened before, but less and less frequently as we’ve had more experience.”

“Yes, yes, I see that quite plainly here in your file. What I mean is, any dreams of him? Revelations? Prophecies?”

She thought for a moment. “Yeah, now that you mention it. I had a dream about him not too long ago. I thought it was an effect of the medication.”

The agent watched her through the thick, black-framed glasses that all agents wore. All had the same white tunic with a gold sash, the same black hair that reached just below their ears. “And what was this dream about?”

“He told me not to worry. I thought he meant the cancer.” She tried to swallow the lump that was growing in her throat, push it down and squelch the knot of fear in her stomach. “Did he do something wrong?”

“It appears he struck a deal with a representative, and he wasn’t able to follow through with his end.” Though his voice was still level, impassive, she thought she could detect a hint of sympathy. “I’m sorry.”

“A deal? Without talking to me first?”

“The representatives can be quite persuasive.”

“There’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m sorry. A deal is a deal. He knew the terms going in.”

“So what happens now?”

“Well, you have options. We can assign you a new half; there are others in similar predicaments who are willing to be reassigned.”

“But he was my match! I won’t be compatible with anyone else. Not long term.”

“I understand.” The agent pecked at his keyboard. “It appears you’re not quite ready to be a bodhisattva. You could go back and try on your own.”

“Does that work?”

“No, not really. The system was designed for partners.”

“So I’m screwed.”

“Well...” The agent bit his lip and glanced around. “There’s a third option.”

“Yes?”

“I’m not technically supposed to tell you this, but there’s a small chance that the representatives would be willing to strike a deal with you to get him back.”

“I’ll do it!”

“Keep in mind, their terms are quite strict. Nearly impossible to meet.”

“I don’t care. I’d do anything to get him back.”

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Yes. How many times do I have to tell you?”

“Three, which you’ve done.” A thick stack of papers appeared in front of the agent. “Now if you’ll just fill out these forms, we’ll process your application and a representative will meet with you.”


###


She sat in the waiting room, Muzak still playing. She’d lost track of time, but the pile didn’t seem to be shrinking. He’d better appreciate this. Like the man behind her had said, it’s not like she had all eternity.


- - -
ED Martin is a writer with a knack for finding new jobs in new places. She currently teaches high school in Iowa while working on her novels. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Microfiction, Fiction365, and The Indiana Horror Anthology 2012. Find more of her stories at http://www.edmartinwriter.com.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

5/3/12

Procyon Descent
By John Conway


The day comes too soon. I work up the length of the crop terrace. My waist-high row is lined with scrawny beets sucking what they can from the muck of the nutrient stream. Across is a row of an old Earth grain called barley, followed by eight rows of sheet fungus and more rows of stuff we call food, lining the curved floor that turns up and out of sight behind the matching curved ceiling. It wraps around back to here, everything pressed to the floor by the spin of the ship that's been groaning under the strain for over 800 years. Or so it's told.
The lights wink.
"He's early," I complain.
Megan, two rows over, slows her gray-water flow to a trickle. "Just seems."
I gawk a moment, seeking her eye, just to confirm someone shares this feeling of being rushed. I see it's so. But it doesn't help.
She looks away, seeming small. She wipes the brown fungus stain on her hands. "Time," she says, and abruptly goes left--upspin. I set my blue-algae stream to 'overnight,' and leave the other way.
Dad crouches at the condenser tank pointlessly reading levels that haven't worked for generations. His jumpsuit hangs like a blanket. He must be 90 pounds.
"How ya comin'?"
He jumps, and then brushes his pants and gives me a tight grin that doesn't quite hide his resignation. "Still wanna star gaze?"
I confirm. It's our special thing, since I was real young and he showed me Procyon through an observation chamber view port and explained what it meant to be living in an ark with a destination.
Gina passes us, leading her mom to the Atrium. Good choice: closer to the center, less centrifugal force, and her mom loves the fake Earth garden. The adults think Procyon B will flower like Earth, so they permit the ancient seed and cell vaults to claw at our resources. But they won't suffer the result. They won't strain to restore centuries-idle machines to functionality. As if the Crossing didn't prove we don't need them.
Dad pushes a creaky hatch. "C'mon."
Icy frost bites my lungs. My breath roils, drifting counter-spinward. Down slick metal stairs, we grow heavier approaching the exterior bulkhead. Others are here, but we're dispersed. The view portals are clear, fresh ice recently reclaimed for the system.
Dad peers through. A pinwheel of stars spin around Procyon. "Almost there now."
"What happened to the Bluegrass?" I ask. He won't like the question. But it's my last chance to learn.
He hesitates. "Before my time."
"Carson said it betrayed us, and that's why the Landfall Act." I know he distrusts Carson. They all do. Carson was born during the mandatory birth gap--an illegitimate "travesty."
His head shakes.
"Bluegrass was Landfall supply."
He nods.
"They squandered the supplies on themselves?"
"As told."
He resists filling the gaps. I press. "I saw an old record ... with our family name on the Bluegrass manifest."
"It's a lie," he blurts.
I stare. His shoulders sag. "No one's business anyway. Especially not Carson Pitt."
I want to describe the real Carson. Strong. Decisive. Our leader. But he won't understand. Colonization is theory to Dad. It's reality to me.
"What really happened?"
He leans close. "They were all wasteful. Not just Bluegrass. The mission was doomed. Not enough supplies for fourteen ships."
A chill grips my spine.
"They had to whittle. But they needed a big lie to justify."
"People would know."
"Don't matter. Important thing is"--he glances both ways--"it's bad form to be from Bluegrass. Keep mum."
I swallow. "Okay."
He's right. There'll be times ... decisions will be made. I can't be singled out, ever.
"But stand tall, just the same," he says. "They'll take from you if they can."
That thinking was always the problem, and now it is clearer. While Crossing they competed for resources, cast blame for depletion. They finally cannibalized a ship. But it wasn't enough. Now the food and oxygen won't last-- not with our numbers. That's why the birth gap and the Landfall Act. They all decided. They agreed. Everyone born before the birth gap committed to self euthanize when the solar sails deployed ... so the mission would succeed despite the broken machines ... so we, their legacy, the young and healthy, would survive and descend. But now they've violated the Act. And only to protect their children from each other's-- the same petty competition. They're not eating. But that's not enough. And the time has passed.
"I'll watch out," I assure him, without saying what that truly entails.
He recites his mantra. Everyone's equal. Work together. Be heard.
"I'll assure the colony's survival."
"How are Lief and Dylan?"
My jaw tightens. "Fine." He considers them our leaders, trained in management, democracy, philosophy ... But they, too, know it's Carson.
The power flickers twice. I tense. My skin tingles.
"Dad, I ..."
I look away. He knows.
"It's okay, Son. Anything it takes."
Blood roars in my ears. I place my hands on his shoulders. "I miss Mom."
"Me, too." His smile is thin. His Adam's apple bobs.
I struggle to say something important, but can't. The world reduces in the moist haze of welling tears to an idealized image of him.
I must act. For my place in the colony.
My hands shift to his throat and tighten. He knows his mistake. They all do. They drain our resources. He struggles in reflex, but he is too frail. My eyes stream now as I bring him to the floor.
His grip loosens. I remain tense and locked.
Anything it takes.
The corridor is silent. Soon I'll report to Carson, as will we all.
He will be reclaimed.
My place in the colony is secure, and we will begin our descent.


- - -
I am a complex litigation attorney, the recent grand-prize winner of the Yosemite Romance Writers 2012 Smooch contest, and a winner with 2 science fiction stories in the 2011 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition - Genre Short Stories. I wrote and programmed the play-by-mail science-fiction strategy game Powerstar.


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