Thursday, March 31, 2016

3/31/16

Her Eyes, In Hazy Dreams
By E.S. Wynn


Lynn.
“Sean?” she asks, and my fingers get loose around the stock of my trusty hunting rifle. Lynn. I know the voice. It's her. Jesus Christ, fifteen years, sixteen maybe. My raspy lips whisper the words.
“Lynn? Is it you, Lynn?”
We're standing a dozen paces apart at the top of a low rise where Highway Four ripples west to east over rolling country. She's older, but somehow, she still looks the same. Sad eyes, piercing and blue. Thick, brown-black hair dry and wild from a decade and a half in the wasteland winds. There's a scar on her left cheek that wasn't there before. A burn mark with inkvine lines snaking out from a mottled strip of scorched flesh at her neck. Gone are the sheer sarongs and colorful sun dresses I remember. Leather vests and the belts of tire-tread pauldrons wrap her steady chest instead. Pants, layers of denim patched and stitched together. Stout leather belts tight around the knees, around elbows. Fingers dark and dappled with grease, dirt and the bruising of breaks still healing. At her hip, she carries an old six-shooter. At her back, a light-weight, composite twelve-gauge as black as a beetle's shell.
“I'm not dreaming?” She asks. It's all I can do to shake my head. It's been so long since I've seen anyone. It's been even longer since I've seen anyone I knew from before everything ended.


* * *

We talk until dusk comes. Nothing else seems to matter. We are each a piece of the world as it once was for the other. We are each of us the closest thing the other has to a sense of the way things were, a sense of home. Hunger sets in. We decide not to let night catch us on the road. Lynn knows a place nearby. An old barn where she's been sleeping for the past week, living off of roasted crickets and carpenter bees. I can practically see her mouth watering when I offer to share my meager supply of pork jerky with her. “Real food,” she slobbers.
We build a fire with sticks and twigs and a heap of rotten clothing from a farmhouse closet. It isn't much, but it's enough to keep the cold away until we're comfortable enough to touch, to sit together, breathe together. It's strange, at first, being so close to another human, trusting another human. It's been so long for both of us. So long.
“I still haven't forgiven you for choosing Theresa over me,” she says at one point. Theresa. Another memory from fifteen years ago. The woman I was living with when the bombs fell. Lynn and I had been dating, growing closer and closer, until one day she suddenly announced that she wasn't ready for love, needed to weigh her options, play the field a little more. I was devastated, heartbroken. Then Theresa came along, and she'd been ready. She'd been ready for so much, so much more than Lynn had ever been.
I don't say anything. I still remember the argument. We had phones, then. We didn't even have to meet in person to scream at each other. Two months with no word from Lynn and I was ready to marry Theresa. Social Media. Facebook. That's how Lynn found out about the plans. That's where the first burst of nastiness came in. Remembering it is enough, even now, to make me shift, uncomfortable.
“We were both so young,” I offer. In the flickering light of the dying fire, I see Lynn nod, feel her breathe a tired sigh. It helps. We've both spent so many years being chased by the hungry hordes from the cities, so many years growling and scrapping with strangers over powdered milk and cans of refried beans. Forgiveness, human kindness, accep-tance, surrender – they're almost alien concepts, warming all the same.
“Meet anyone else?” She asks. She doesn't look at me, doesn't need to ask if Theresa survived the war. Fifteen years, and Theresa only made it through the first few months. I hadn't been able to protect her from the chaos that had exploded in the wake of the first strikes. I'd spent every day since trying to scrub the memory of how she died out of my mind.
“No,” I shake my head. “You?”
“No,” she says. She's quiet for a moment, seems to hesitate, seems momentarily terrified, swal-lows it back into a belly full of butterflies. “I couldn't move on. Not after you. Not after the bombs.”
I know what she means. I know, because I've lived it. So much time spent just surviving, just getting by, living day to day. Seeing everyone as a potential enemy, trusting nothing, no one. I haven't been this close to a woman I wasn't trying to kill or keep from being killed by in over a decade. Buds of tears pull at the weathered edges of my dry eyes. I reach up to touch her hair. She flinches at first, looks at me with those big, watery eyes as if assessing my motives. My hands are as dirty and bruised as hers are, but somehow, somehow, I manage to make my touch gentle, manage a caress so soft she shivers, settles back into the palm of my hand.
“I missed you,” she admits. “I dreamed about you, when I dreamed. Everything fell apart, but somehow I knew you were still alive. Somehow, I knew I'd see you again. I kept expecting it. I kept expecting to come around a corner and find you standing there, still dressed in jeans and that blue cotton shirt I bought you for your birthday all those years ago. I kept looking for you in the eyes of every man I met on the road, every brute who tried to take me, carve me up or rape me, but you were never a brute. You were too good to let the bad world change you. I'd almost given up. Must be a few years now since I stopped looking for you, but there were always the dreams.”
I don't speak. I lean in, bury my face in her dirty hair, pull in the scent of her, familiar even after all these years. The shiver that rolls through her body is desperate, delicious, brings with it something close to a moan.
“I'm here,” I whisper against her neck, kiss her just behind the ear, just gently. “I'm here.”
Her arms wrap around me, and in the near darkness, we pull each other close, hold each other. So grateful, so grateful. She sucks in a shaking, sobbing breath, her fingers tight with need.
“The only thing good about the end of the world,” she whispers. “The only thing good, is this. A chance to start over. A chance to get it right, one last time.”
“We'll get it right,” I whisper back, and in the pause, I can feel how desperately she wants this, how desperately she wants to believe that we can make it, how ready she is to love again, to trust someone, at long last. I feel it all. The same feelings are surging as keenly through me.
“We'll get it right,” I breathe the words again. “We'll make it. As long as we hold on to each other, there's a chance for a better future.”
“I'll never let you go again, Sean,” she says. “Not like last time. I promise.”
“I know,” I whisper back, rock her as she sniffs against the tears. “I know.”



- - -
This story appears as part of E.S. Wynn's 62nd book, Gold Hills, Rust Valley: 20 Tales From Apocalyptic California.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

3/24/16

The Big Visit
By David Castlewitz


Prompted by the comment from the man beside him at the bar, Sam Spears turned to his right and looked at the front page of the stranger's newspaper with its two-inch high headline concerning the West German chancellor's visit to the USSR.
"The war's been over for ten years," Sam said. "I guess we can trust Germany now."
"Not them."
"The Russians? They were our allies during the war, but -- "
"Not the Commies. These guys." The stranger set the open newspaper flat on the bar. A circle of water seeped into the newsprint. He jabbed a finger at a column of black type.
"Astronomers?" Sam said.
"Can we trust them to tell us what they know?"
Sam scanned the story, a report by several major observatories about a large object headed for Earth. An asteroid, they surmised, and predicted a near collision. The military promised to stop it with its latest Atlas rockets if "near" was too close.
If it hits, Sam thought, I can stop looking for a job. He'd spent the summer pounding the streets, sitting through interviews in hot offices barely cooled by whirling electric fans, and now he faced autumn with little to show for half-a-year's effort to change his life. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he'd studied bookkeeping to raise himself up a notch from messenger and sweeper and delivery man.
He'd finished trade school last June and, with certificate in hand and a typed resume light on experience, spent two months chasing every job ad in the newspaper.
"I don't trust any of them," the stranger said, and slipped off the barstool, the newspaper under one arm as he walked out of the bar.
The weeks passed. News about the space visitor moved to page three and above the fold. Prominent enough for casual readers to see. Radio and TV newsmen featured a minute's worth of information on a daily basis. When the asteroid suddenly changed course, scientists speculated that it hit a tiny space rock, and predicted it would miss Earth by more than a million miles.
A feeling of disappointment fell over Sam when he heard the news. The TV commentator sounded just as disheartened, like a kid who's told that Santa made a detour and wouldn't visit this year. Sam had hoped the panic caused by the oncoming piece of space rock -- said to be as big as the Queen Mary -- would keep his landlord from demanding rent, the electric company from dunning him, and Ma Bell from turning off his telephone. Who'd want to pursue such mundane matters as money and bills with the end of the world encroaching?
Sam continued looking for work and visiting the usual bar where he sat on his usual stool and drank the usual ten-cent glass of beer with a shot of rye. That's where he heard the TV news report that the space object had again changed course. Now it hurtled towards Earth on a collision course at a rate of speed no one in the scientific community could explain.
The army vowed to be ready. Sam laughed, imagining soldiers lined up in rows aiming their M1 rifles at the sky.
The UN convened a meeting of the world's scientists.
Religion played its part. TV showed throngs of men and women and children walking to various holy sites, sitting in vast cathedrals, with chants and song and prayer, the mainstays irrespective of any specific belief.
Soon, just to the right of the full moon, a white blob appeared. City lights obscured it, but Sam took a trolley car to the countryside and watched with thousands of others gathered in the dark, pointing and speculating.
The blob grew so big after the Winter Solstice that it dwarfed the moon and Sam didn't need to leave the city to get a good look. Even during daylight hours, the visitor loomed in the sky. Soon, its elongated shape became clear. Red and blue and white lights blinked along its sides. Antennae-like projections sprang from its top. Silvery fins extended from its underside.
Scientists reported, the object had moved into orbit around the Earth, with 12 revolutions every day. Without a doubt, it was under intelligent and alien control and everyone voiced speculations as to their origin. The military prepared to meet the visitors. Politicians spoke of peaceful intent. Religious leaders looked for portents in scripture and other writings.
The world stopped worrying about German-Soviet strife, NATO, quarrels in the Middle East, rumblings from Southeast Asia, anti-colonial yearnings in Africa.
The world waited for the aliens to land.
And then the object shrank in size. The moon dwarfed it. The visitors left the sky.
Speculations buzzed everywhere, from radio and TV, the pulpits of the world's holy men, the gathering scientists at the UN, and the huddled generals and admirals of every country's military.
They'd come, whoever they were. They'd looked at the world and then left, like tourists too disinterested to get off the boat when passing some decrepit seaside community.
They'd come, but they didn't stay.
Most everyone spoke with certainty that they'd be back, whoever or whatever "they" were. Perhaps they'd wanted to be invited to land. Perhaps the bellowing military frightened them off. Perhaps, Sam thought as he continued to look for a job, Earth just wasn't good enough to warrant their time.
He pounded the streets during the winter months, galoshes on his feet, his body wrapped in a cloth coat, his collar turned up to shelter his face, his dark hair a bit longer than it should be if he wanted to impress a future employer.


- - -
I've enjoyed an exciting career as a software developer, but my true love is SF and Fantasy. I live in a suburb north of Chicago, listen to Country music as well as Classical, ride a bicycle, and can sometimes be a TV junkie. I've published several short stories over the years. Visit my website to learn more: www.davidsjournal.com

Thursday, March 17, 2016

3/17/16

JAWBONING
By C.E. Gee


Margaret, a professor of Archeology, strolled through the Quad, very much enjoying the warm, spring day. It was two hours until her next class.

“Hey Margaret!” shouted Ellis, trotting up to Margaret from behind. “Wait up!”

Margaret stopped, rolled her eyes, turned about, faced Ellis.

“We need to talk,” declared Ellis.

Ellis was an Associate Professor in the University’s College of Forestry.

Around a frosty smile, Margaret replied, “About what?”

Margaret was leery of Ellis. He had a much deserved reputation as a lady’s man.

Though physically attractive, Ellis projected a number of affectations Margaret found off-putting.

Capped with a Stetson, clothed western-style, with a string tie and alligator skin cowboy boots embellished with silver toe-caps, Ellis definitely stood out.

“Let’s sit,” said Ellis, nodding toward a nearby bench.

They sat. Margaret kept her distance.

“Look,” said Ellis, “I was at the pharmacy the other day, your sister was on duty. She wasn’t very busy, so we got to talking. I told her about an article I was writing.
Linda told me that I should speak to you because your husband is into Science Fiction and he’s got this friend who actually writes the stuff.”

Margaret said, “I assume this has something to do with your article?”

Ellis replied, “This article I’m writing, it’s almost finished. It’s a first-person account of something that once happened to me, but it reads as sort of a combination of Science Fiction and religion.

“I’m hoping your husband will con your friend into proof-reading my article before I send it in.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” replied Margaret.

“Thanks.”

“So what happened to you?” asked Margaret.

Ellis took in a deep breath, exhaled, said, “You know, when I was a kid, I lived in the little town of Fossil, way over in Wheeler County. Ever hear of the town of Fossil?”

“Yeah,” replied Margaret. “It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere.”

“You got it. Anyway, when I was a kid, I used to go hunting with my Dad, my Granpa, and my cousin Lee.”

“One day we were up on the rimrocks, hunting mule deer. My Dad and Lee dropped Granpa and me off at a spot overlooking a saddleback formation on a nearby ridge so we could set up an ambush. Then Dad and Lee drove around to the other side of the ridge in order to scare any deer over there into running through the saddle.”

“The spot Granpa and me occupied was a campsite for Basque sheepherders. I was wandering around the campsite, walked up to the fire pit, found the skeleton of what I thought was a horse.

“Animals scavenging the body had pulled apart the jawbone into two pieces. I picked up one of the pieces. It looked like a cross between a Mauser C96 pistol used by the Germans in World War I and a flintlock pistol.

“A few teeth left on the jawbone were bunched together, made the jawbone look like it had a box magazine just like those old Mausers; the hinged end of the jawbone had a knob that made it look like the butt-end of a flintlock pistol.

“So I held the jawbone like a pistol, started going, POW! POW! POW!

“My Grandpa said, ‘You know what that is, don’t you boy? It’s the jawbone of an ass. You know, Samson killed the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.”

“Interesting,” commented Margaret.

Ellis went on. “I was reading lots of Science Fiction at the time. My Granpa’s observation hit me like a bolt of lightning. I suddenly realized that Samson had used a pistol to slay the Philistines –- maybe even some kind of science-fictiony type blaster or something. What appeared to be a box magazine could have actually been a battery compartment.

“I was never quite the same after that –- developed a lifelong skepticism of how people perceive history and religious writings and mythology and the like.”

Margaret smiled. “I can see that. Let me talk to my husband. He’ll talk to his friend. Okay?”

“Thanks, Margaret. I really appreciate it.”

***

Margaret had time before her class. She rushed home, sat at the desk in her home office, picked up her phone.

Margaret punched in some numbers.

“Pappy’s Pizza,” answered the called party..

Margaret pulled an index card from beneath the desk’s blotter, carefully read off of it, “I’d like a large -- thin crust, sausage, mushroom, and olive. No wait! Make that a medium.”

“Will that be black olive?”

Margaret replied, “It’s Margaret three.”

“One moment.”

Margaret held the receiver away from her ear as a series of multi-frequency tones squealed. The bi-directional scrambler system was then enabled.

A robotic sounding female voice asked “What is your access code?”

“Baltimore. Purple.”

There came a faint click.

“Agent Reily here. Whatcha got Margaret?”

“I’ve got a code three.”

Agent Riley said, “Okay Margaret, gimme the name and location of the perp.”

***

The next morning, Margaret went to the Memorial Union building for a quick breakfast before her first class.

She was sitting at a table when Linda rushed up, took a chair. Linda looked like she’d been crying.

“You hear what happened to Ellis?” Linda began sobbing.

Margaret wagged her head, took a sip of decaf coffee.

Linda wiped one eye with a tissue, blew her nose. “You know that BMW Ellis has?”

“Sure.”

“Somebody carjacked it, shot Ellis. They said he died instantly.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Margaret.

Margaret stood, went over to the chair next to her sister, sat. Margaret embraced her sister, comforted her as best she could.


- - -

Thursday, March 10, 2016

3/10/16

Forever into the Unknown
By Drew Avera


“Forever into the unknown,” that was our battle cry.

I suppose I cannot say “our” anymore considering the fact I am the only member of our team still alive, but those four little words keep fluttering through my mind like some kind of winged thing, finding its way into my splintering thoughts. I typed in a few more commands into the ship’s control console before sitting back in the pilot’s chair. I guess it was actually just my chair now, this one and those four behind me. I turned to survey the bridge of the spacecraft, once alive and teeming with the chattering of my friends, but those days were no more.

Destination, Earth. Arrival time, approximately twenty-five years, nine months, three days, and seventeen hours,” the computer said, her voice none-too-comforting.

The time would be spent mostly in hyper-sleep, but knowing that did little to take the edge off my feeling of loneliness, or my sense of feeling like a traitor for leaving my friends behind. I stared at the computer monitor, the slow ticking down of time as the spacecraft drifted towards the planet I used to call home. But that was a long time ago and I knew I had nothing to go back to.

“Computer?” I summoned the artificial intelligence, needing to speak my thoughts out loud.

Yes, Commander?”

I craned my neck to the sides, shrugging out the stiffness of stress coursing through my body. “I no longer wish to return to Earth. Is there a suitable planet within range where I can go to die?” my question was simple, finite.

I do not understand your desire to expire on a planet that is not your home, Commander, but there are approximately seven planets capable of hosting human life for a considerable period of time.”

Seven new destinations to find my end, I thought to myself. “Which are inhabited by similar forms of life to my own?”

There is one, not charted or previously named, it only came into view before our landing on VX-937, before the loss of the crew,” she finished, her recount of the previous mission digging deeper into my shame, my guilt.

I brushed my hair back with my hand and closed my eyes, trying to hide the images of my friends dying all around me, but I could not hide from the things I had seen. “Take me there,” I ordered.

As you desire, Commander. Do you wish to name this planet for charting purposes?” the computer asked.

I gave it some thought, really just wishing I would expire while in hyper-sleep, not knowing that death was coming, not fearing it, just experiencing it and fading into nothingness. “Call it Oblivion,” I whispered, but the computer had no problem understanding what I had said.

Destination, Oblivion. Arrival time, approximately forty-two years, three months, nine days, and six hours based on Earth time.”

“Thank you, Computer,” I said as I stood up from the chair and moved slowly to my chamber to go into hyper-sleep. It was cold, but my body would not experience it once I was asleep, dead to the universe as the spacecraft hurdled through space towards Oblivion. I did not care if my body survived the journey, I just did not want to go home, to face the descendants of the people I had lost. I made my decision, to continue the mission, to carry on forever into the unknown. My life was forfeit now, for science, for discovery. Nothing else mattered, at least for now.

Perhaps I would find a new purpose on Oblivion; or maybe not. That was the problem with the unknown.


- - -
Drew Avera, author of The Dead Planet Series, is an active duty Navy veteran and self-published science fiction writer. Originally from Mississippi, he now lives in Virginia with his wife and two children. You can find more about Drew Avera at his website and even get a free copy of his book Exodus.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

3/3/16

Universe Jumper
By David K Scholes


“What did he used to be?” Dan enquired, pointing to a tall angular alien floating our way.
“A high level telepath with intra system capability,” I replied. “He still is if only you could disable his inhibitor.”

What about him,” Dan pointed to a short human looking entity.
“A jumper,” I told him, “intra system level.”
Not quite in your league then, eh,” Dan chuckled.
I didn’t reply.
“I didn’t think so,” said Dan taking my silence as affirmation.

Dan changed the subject. “So this compound is full of the most dangerous 'talents' regarded as enemies of the Conglomerate. All of us with surgically implanted inhibitors.”
I nodded "but there are other such compounds on this world.”

Dan took off, leaving me to my thoughts.

As a Universe Jumper they looked to me to lead any escape. Though most inmates didn’t know that I had two inhibitors surgically implanted in me. Just one other in the compound also had this dubious honour. The weird, former Celestian monk, Nibald. A heavy lift telekinesis titan.

Escape? I never stop thinking about it. As the most powerful level of jumper I should be able to set myself to jump to space time coordinates in the next galaxy and at least get out of the compound. From there a second jump should theoretically at least get me off world. Inhibitor notwithstanding. Would that it were so. One of my inhibitors is just that – a heavy damper that vastly diminishes my capability. The other inhibitor is something else – if I use my teleportation/jump capability then it triggers and I die. Very inhibiting. Though I think I can hitch a lift with another jumper without that happening.

Also our penal compound is heavily shielded. Not so from attack from without but attempted escape from within.

Still I watch and wait. I’ve been here longer than most and my mind contains a sharp inventory of everyone here. Their time of arrival, their particular talent and as much as I know about their precise capability. I have churned over endless scenarios. Escape attempts combining the capabilities of combinations of inmates in different circumstances. If conditions XYZ are obtained then we can use inmates ABC in such-and-such a way. I mean I have nothing else to do. Most inmates are on board with me.

There is a lot of talent here. The inhibitors dampen us all but don’t totally suppress us. The jumpers can do tiny little jumps of a few feet, the telepaths try and pick up snippets from the heavily mind shielded guards. The levitators/transvectors experiment with small items, such as tables and chairs.

* * *

Just when things were at their most boring we had a rare event. Some new blood in the ranks. Six new arrivals. More jumpers, a pre-cog and something definitely different. A Maladrakian. I had no idea why they would send a Maladrakian predictor here. Perhaps the Conglomerate had underestimated his capabilities. Perhaps they arrogantly regarded this place as totally escape proof. .

The Maladrakian didn’t make an obvious bee line for me but sidled up after a few planetary axis rotations. We just sat there together for a while. We didn’t talk but he read my mind and I read his. The guards were monitoring us but if they were worried they didn’t show it.

The Maladrakian, Thelt was his name, went over all my escape scenarios. Made just a few corrections and then came up with quite a few more of his own. The most powerful analyser/predictor I ever met. I had total confidence in his scenario predictions. More so than in my own.

* * *

When the opportunity came it was from out of nowhere.

One of the telepaths picked up a faint thought from the compound guards. An unthinkable power reduction in the totally reliable compound defence shield. A few seconds also where the totally reliable back up power didn’t cut in. Our inhibitors powered from the same source were also reduced in effectiveness. We were ready. Non jumpers gathered in small numbers around each jumper as pre-planned. Everybody’s first jump was just to clear the compound. .

It must have been a nightmare for the compound guards though they moved with ruthless efficiency. Backed up by guards from nearby compounds and a highly mobile alien trooper and robotic reserve. Even so they weren’t fast enough.

Once outside the compound each jumper and those with them jumped again. Aiming at getting off planet which most did.

There was a rallying point in this star system. An uninhabited world from which a group jump was planned with the stronger jumpers supporting the weaker and carrying every one with them. To a friendly destination far from this inhospitable star system.

I stayed with Thelt and Nibald. None of us were ready to leave yet. Three of the jumpers and those travelling with them didn’t make it off planet. So we teamed up with them.

We set about attacking the other compounds from the outside. The whole thing snowballed. Some escapees from each attack joined us in the next attack while some just took off with their jumpers.

When it was all over I hitched a ride with a fellow jumper. Later, in friendly surrounds, I had my death trigger inhibitor surgically removed.

Though it turned out it had long since ceased to function.


- - -
The author has written over 140 speculative fiction short stories, many of which appear in his seven published collections of short stories. He has also published two science fiction novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF and Beam Me Up Pod cast sci-fi sites and more recently Farther Stars Than These site. He has also been published on 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine. He is currently working on a new science fiction novella.


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