Thursday, August 17, 2017

8/17/17

Disposable World
By David K Scholes


“Re-user!” the young uniformed enforcer yelled out accusingly as others watched on.

How embarrassing. The flyer backpack was only just past its mandated use by date and I thought I could get away with a few small repairs. But no, it wasn’t to be! Was the young whippersnapper actually going to arrest me?

No – instead he let me off with a severe reprimand and some more demerit points on my already heavily scarred citizen resume.

I thought I remembered a time when the whole focus was on sustainability. When someone would be more likely to have yelled out “tosser” if you threw something away other than in a waste disposal bin.

Waste disposal bin – you never saw any these days – where were they? I had my suspicions that they were still around, just buried somewhere beneath all the disposed-of items.

How things change.

* * *

The man flew down onto the old style road, then put his flyer into auto-land car mode and let it run automatically into the monstrous disintegration tunnel. With obvious consequences. He seemed to be enjoying it. The flyer didn’t look that old but I guess it was probably somewhere just past the mandated 3 years.

How did we get to be like this? I wondered.

Was there anything now that wasn’t disposable?

Of course the discovery in deep space of a new addition to the periodic table changed all that. The previously unknown Asimovium had been located on certain meteoroids and offered a seemingly unlimited source of energy. Far beyond even fusion energy. For a time.

Sadly by the time our supply of Asimovium started to dry up, we were locked in to an irreversible course of planned quick obsolescence.

* * *

It was very confronting and I’m sure not at all the way that these things are normally done. I entered my own dwelling only to be confronted by myself. A double of some kind.

“Sir,” said a late model droid entering my dwelling moments afterwards. “Sir, there’s been a dreadful mistake, we need you to come with us.”

It turned out that my replacement had taken up station prior to my disposal date. Both the replacement and supervising droid couldn’t have been more apologetic.

“Clone 19 came here too early,” the droid continued.

What did the 19 mean? I wondered.

Then I twigged to what should have been obvious – I was clone 18 – with a 3 year life span. For some reason, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I had started to think of myself as an original uncloned human. Especially since the memories were passed on.

* * *

“Planetary energy reserves just dipped below minimum subsistence,” said the advanced AI looking down on the blue green world.

“We have a suitable replacement in stock and easily accessible sir,” offered another only slightly less advanced AI. “Though this world wasn’t due to be replaced for another millennium.”

“Do it, log it,” replied the senior AI.
“And the existing life forms?” asked the subordinate.

“The usual procedure,” offered his boss.

The planet size starship moved on – its occupants not giving either the replaced world or its replacement a second thought.

Deep in its vast memory, the starship’s computer made a minor entry.

Earth World replaced.

Existing life forms cloned prior to disposal.

Cycle continues.


- - -
The author is a science fiction writer with eight published collections of short stories and two science fiction novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites. He has also been published on 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

8/10/17

Marriage
By Ken Poyner


“You have to let me out.”
He looked at the view screen to see what appeared to be a woman in her fifties, dressed in a night robe, hair still tussled from her sleep cycle. Her arms hung disinterested at her side, and she was staring up at where she seemed to think the room’s primary observation camera would be.
He elected to say nothing, to not begin again the same tired argument.
He sat down at the small breakfast table and began to consider what of the offerings this morning he would select. For twenty-seven years his wife had made the breakfast choices for both of them; but, these last three weeks, her chair at the table remained empty, and he was learning to make choices for himself. There was some hint of conspiracy in the process, a scent of power, a twinge of the sensational. He reviewed the holographic representations and become lost in the thought of option leading to option.
The lights on the room monitor flickered, bringing him back. It was telling him that the woman in the room had activated the shower. In no time at all she would be dressed and made-up and smooth enough for one whole day.
He returned to the licentious holograms of breakfast items.

~~~~

Today he would finish the area containment system. Power supply was his specialty, so his plan was to outfit the house with a dampening system: a thin wall of interference that would shut down power to any machine attempting to get outside. One moment, the machine would be happily striding towards the door; the next, it would be little more than a static work of art, ready for the transport cart to carry it back in. A manual reset, a moment or two of diagnostic, and it would be as right as rain – until it wandered outside again.
If it works in the house, it might work around the grounds. The domestic machines could roam the yard, work in the garden, play tennis on the court out back. They could not independently leave, or through trickery be stolen. Beyond the grounds, they would be inert.
Do not think of it as a limitation. Think of it as a safety net. Empowerment.
The science of it is not so much a problem as the placement of units. He has everything drawn out, and the mathematics predicts a proper overlap. But he wants to visually sight everything himself, and then test every wall, window and door with an excess housecleaning machine.

~~~~

Now the woman can leave the room. She pads about mornings in her slippers and housecoat, and at the same time each day goes for her shower, selects her day’s make-up and outfit.
He has his breakfast as she assembles herself. Truth is, she takes as long as she has to take so as to ensure that he is done with his breakfast before she comes out. She primps and preens, and sometimes simply waits. She will be glad when he has finished the yard perimeter dampening system. Then as he eats ever and ever more slowly, she can walk about the grounds, exchange data with the ducks and the one unintelligent fox.
The fox has lenses that can pick up the slightest motion, and has storage for days of observations, but he is programmed to understand none of it. So he stands, and watches. She loves to pick through the stray clips of his memory. It is through him she can see the outside.

~~~~

“You have to let me out.”
They look at the view screen to see what appears to be a man in his seventies. Thin hair barely lays unkempt across his thinly skinned skull. His arms hang disinterested at his side. He is looking up at what he seems to think is the room’s primary observation camera.
Of course they can let him out. The house system was replaced with a grounds system, and the grounds system has been upgraded. But it is traditional. A rite. A ritual. There is something right about rituals. They bring constancy, a conformity that creates a degree of comfort that steadily sinks past the chemistry, or circuitry, of the brain. The soul of a creation is the sum of its learned expectations. Let it learn.
In a few moments, they will hear the observation control panel alarm, telling them that this man has moved into the maintenance area and is grooming, and preparing to discharge yesterday’s stale battery, replacing it now that today’s fresh one has come on-line.
Satisfied, she will go out for her stroll along the grounds, exchanging soft binary impressions of the lake and the imaginary weather with the ducks. Each time a new machine is selected, she loads again the memories of when her husband was flesh and blood and had to one day lie down and stop. Simply stop. It has become so much of a process that only its repetition has meaning. Stopping itself has no soul.
She will download yesterday’s images, and perhaps those from the day before, from the fox, and this husband will gingerly select the representation for what could be his last, languorous, unnecessary breakfast.


- - -
Ken’s collections of short fiction, “Constant Animals” and “Avenging Cartography”, and his latest collections of poetry, “Victims of a Failed Civics” and “The Book of Robot”, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, www.barkingmoosepress.com. He often serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

8/3/17

Dreadfall
By Peter Magliocco


It clings to me with imprint fine
any regal hand leaves
across my trespassed flesh
feeling fingertips beating time
into the soft skin age betrays
scaling planets in dreadfall space.

There is no Muse left for me
to draw the face of time on:
only the small daily plunge
of sentient being unmasked
by death's timeless orbit
round our devolving remnants

Vying to break old gravity's pull,
to become something beyond flotsam
in once human form again.
There is no end to falling back
from the lift-off critical second
thrusting our svelte rocket upwards
before the inevitable pull of Sisyphus

Tales flesh back
into that burning pall
of an unknown graven home.


- - -
Peter Magliocco writes from Las Vegas, Nevada, where he occasionally edits the lit-zine ART:MAG. His recent sci-fi novel SPLANX was published by Cosmic Egg Books. A new ebook of his speculative novel, The Burgher of Virtual Eden, is available in all the usual places.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

7/27/17

All Too Human
By Matthew Harrison


The mood in the meeting room, dominated by the large screen, was subdued. Only the tall silver-haired figure of James sat unperturbed, yet like the others he was waiting. The younger executives fidgeted.
“How long’s it going to be today?” said Marty, unable to keep silent any longer. “It’s getting worse and worse.” Curly-haired and sharp-suited, he was the rising star of the company – and looked as though he didn’t want to be there at all.
Sandra, looping blonde hair over one ear, glanced at the screen for the umpteenth time. “Nope, still engaged.”
Marty snorted. “What happened to parallel processing?” he appealed to the group. “I thought that was what we were supposed to get.”
One of the other executives mumbled, “Can’t we meet remotely? Don’t see why we have to bloody well be in the same room.” He got up as if to leave.
“I would stay if I were you,” James said quietly. The executive stopped, checked his phone, and sat down again.
Time passed. Sandra got up and adjusted the blinds now that the sun had gone behind the adjacent building. Sitting down, she flipped again through the PowerPoint that she had printed out, murmuring, “China, China, China,” under her breath. Then without looking up, she said, “I’m learning Mandarin, you guys.”
There was a general groan.
Marty had a copy of the PowerPoint too. He leaned towards James, stabbing the document with his forefinger. “What is the basis for this? We are committing everything to China, but it doesn’t show the demand – or even why we’re doing it. This plan,” he flipped through the pages, “it’s a complete black box.”
“We go forward in faith,” James said, without looking at the document, “as we have always done.”
Something in his senior’s complacency riled Marty. “I thought algorithms were supposed to give us analysis,” he objected. “Deep learning, big data, and stuff. Yet look at this – it’s just ramming China down our throats!” He brandished the PowerPoint at his colleague.
“And who wrote the algo anyway?” he continued as James remained unmoved. “Shouldn’t we have him as Chief Executive?”
James cleared his throat. “It’s not the analysis that counts in the end. It’s the wisdom. How all the factors are weighted, run through their dynamics, and distilled into a single mission statement – a China mission statement, if you will. That’s what we’re paying for, or what the shareholders are paying for.”
“But if you can’t re-perform the analysis?” Marty put a finger into the air. “It’s just….”
“…Animal spirits.” James completed the sentence for him. “Randomness. The same as it always was.” He was still sitting with arms folded.
Marty threw up his hands. “God help us!”
The big screen flickered. James raised an eyebrow. The other executives composed themselves and sat up, ready to receive instructions.
An iconic image of a samurai warrior appeared on the screen. “I want you all to focus,” intoned the Chief Executive, its voice slightly mechanical. “It’s the next big thing. I want you to live and think and breathe Japan….”


- - -
I have had more than seventy speculative stories accepted by venues such as Bards & Sages, The Colored Lens, The Airgonaut, Antipodean SF, BeamMeUp - and three stories, 'The custodian', 'First steps', Dirac's basement' by Farther Stars itself!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

7/20/17

Across the Rolling Waters
By Robert Walton


Its hoops and arches shining, the starship Billie Holiday eased away from Rings Station. Within the ship’s fantastical silver frame rode a cerulean jewel, the globe of water, which served as both inner system reaction-mass and radiation shield for passengers and crew. Rubies glowed on half a dozen out-rigged pods as atomic engines kicked in. Billie Holiday became an ornament, a pendant, a spark.
Watchman 2nd class Julian Parks sighed.
“Love leaps and is the leap,” a voice murmured at his shoulder.
Startled, Julian whirled in his chair.
Watch Commander Ellspeth Bouquet peered at the now empty screen.
Julian swallowed. “What do you mean, Watch Commander?”
Bouquet looked directly into his eyes. “I mean that though your beloved has just sailed to Antares on the Billie Holiday your shared love need not be over.”
Julian looked down. “If you say so.”
“I do. Do you know Shenandoah?”
“The starship, sir?”
“The old folk song?”
“No, sir.”
“Pity.”
Julian studied Commander Bouquet. She stood straight and poised, possessed of both powerful presence and the pure beauty of a long-used hand tool. Beneath silver hair, translucent skin around her eyes and at her temples revealed that she was old, more than two hundred years old. Regeneration treatments had preserved her health and extended her life, but not forever. Dissolution, sudden and final, would take her – perhaps soon.
“Have you loved, Watch Commander?”
“I love now.” She smiled. “Do you care to observe Billie Holiday build her interstellar shield from Titania’s ocean?”
Julian shook his head. “No, thank-you.” He paused. “Do you have a soul-holo of your beloved?"
“No, there is no need. He is the station mind."
“Your partner is Max?”
“Max, yes.”
“You’ve known him long?”
“Almost two hundred years.”
“You’ve been together for all of that time?”
“Not always together, in fact, rarely together. We met here on Rings Station and explored Saturn’s moons together. Later, we both went to the stars, he to the Eridani worlds and I to Gliese 581. ”
“Max helped discover the Dani?”
“Oh, yes. He was the first to speak with the cloud-beings. He and two others developed the lightning sequences that became the current trade language. We perceive only a fraction of the spectrum that they use to see and communicate, so their full language is forever closed to us.”
Julian shook his head. “Those were great journeys, great accomplishments. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you manage the separations?”
“We managed to spend some years serving together here and some on the moon. We even have two children.”
“A standard parenting contract?”
“More than that. Love’s nova bloomed for us.”
“Love’s nova?”
“Shared light that does not dim.” Bouquet chuckled. “You’ll know it if it happens for you.” She glanced at his downcast eyes. “Perhaps it already has.”
Chimes sounded softly as if from a distance, as if pealed from a church at vespers across a blue valley in the Dordogne.
Commander Bouquet turned. “We have work to do.”
“Wait! Please, sir – what will you do? Transition? Become a ship’s mind or a station’s? It’s just that I’ve heard that it’s dangerous.”
Bouquet nodded. “Abandoning one’s body can be dangerous, but the alternative is dissolution. Max is allowed supporting partners. I will become his first after I’ve finished this contract.”
“In a few years?”
“In a few years – the med team here should keep me going that long."
Justin looked at her, his face reflecting the doubt of a person with a very young body.
Bouquet laughed. “Fear not, among my many implants I have sensitive systems monitors. The first whiff of trouble will set off strident alarms.”
“Yes, sir.”
‘You know, Max is allowed to choose six partners altogether. We may embrace others that we’ve loved.”
She smiled
“And we may not.”


- - -
I am an experienced writer. My novel Dawn Drums was awarded first place in the 2014 Arizona Authors Association’s literary contest and also won the 2014 Tony Hillerman Best Fiction Award. Barry Malzburg and I wrote “The Man Who Murdered Mozart”, published by Fantasy & SF in 2011.Most recently, my “Kill the Coffee Boilers” was included in Hyperpowers (Third Flatiron Anthologies) ( Volume 16).

Thursday, July 13, 2017

7/13/17

In which it is the apocalypse and nothing has changed
By Nicole Mason

(for Jason)


We find an apple orchard, you and I, and as we fill our bags, they watch us through broken windows, and some begin to poke up through the dirt. They clutch at us, and we run with our packs full of fear and love for various things. After we run, we stop and eat apples and talk of cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and weekends, of electricity and toothpaste. Every day is some digression of this. I think of my grandfather and how he caught a train out of Bergan-Belsen to raise disappointing daughters. How, once, I saw him look up my girlfriend’s dress as she climbed a tree in the backyard. We eat apples for days and sometimes we run. It’s stupid to fight; you learn that straight off. It’s better to run. We eat apples and run, but it’s you and I and our love for various things. Everything has died, but since it’s everywhere and everything it’s stupid to care; you learn that straight off, too. We find an old campground with an oil drum for a fire and there are only a few of them paddling around in the boggy lake. At night, they gather and sway at the edge of the shore to stare at the moon that cuts through the water like an open wound and a few of them wade out. One of them looks like my mother. She’s disappointing and squashy and her blond hair has pooled around her. She’s waist-deep in the water and her skirt has bubbled and puffed up. I want to suck your apple flavored fingers and tug at your hair and tell you that of the various things I love, you are the only one, it is only you and I in this wasteland. Instead, I push myself into the water in a canoe and find the one that looks like my mother so that I can smash her face in with my oar. When I come back, you tell me about Tonya, and how you had to shove her down a flight of stairs and leap over her sprawling body


- - -
I received my MA in Literature at Northern Michigan University. Currently, I teach Composition and Creative Writing at Indiana University of South Bend. My poems have appeared in The Chiron Review and are forthcoming in (b)OINK and Cease, Cows.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

7/6/17

Final Days
By David K Scholes


Unified Earth Command Centre
One Mile Underground
North of Canberra, Australia


“They are still coming!” whispered Earth’s Air Space Commander “despite everything we have thrown at them.”

“Planetary energy reserves?” I asked, trying to appear unflappable.
“The Planetary Grid is down to 10%” offered the Primary Energy Coordinator.

In the early days we had been confident of victory. Our psi Uni-Mind comprising millions of Earth’s best minds had offered great promise.

Yet the Trorne put everything we threw at them through the meat grinder. I had my suspicions they could have come in much faster and just taken us. That they, malevolently, preferred to make it a slow agonising death for all of the worlds they eventually conquered.

“Let’s go over our options again,” I asked, looking at my remaining senior Commanders and Coordinators and hoping for an original idea.

“Can we lower the conscription age?” the voice of a General came from the back of the bunker.
“It’s 9!” I replied, aghast at the thought “if we have to lower it any further it’s a blatant admission of defeat and we can only do it in areas still loyal to us.”
I wasn’t going to be responsible for sending 7 and 8 year olds against an enemy that could scare the pants of even our best Special Forces. “It stays at 9,” I replied, the anger in me welling up.

“The crim zone – we could bring them all back from their down-time imprisonment in the Pleistocene Period,” offered my senior Ground Commander, “plenty of manpower there.”
It was not a new idea and I said as much. It did have appeal, but there was a problem. “The inter-temporal energy requirements are too great,” I replied “it would exhaust the Grid.” Theoretically it made some sense. Yet no one knew the present condition of the crims – in their bitterness would they even care about what was happening to us?

“The unused clones in the central storage bays,” suggested my Primary Naval Commander.
We’ve released those we can,” I replied “but the others have to be held for when they are needed. When key people like those in this Command Centre die.
My mind raced at the thought of two or three cloned versions of myself or others present being despatched to the frontline to be slaughtered.

“The Urban Pacifier teams still loyal to us have been militarised,” said the nominal head of the diminished World Police. “Likewise the City Demolition teams too, those still loyal to us. As ready as they’ll ever be.” I thought of their monstrous nuclear fuelled dozers, their contracting force field machineries and their city stripping energy weapons. They would give a good account of themselves.

Someone rattled off a load of Earth Cities and major Regional Centres. “We’re giving up on all of these,” he said “no loyalty left for Earth Central Command, they are on their own.”

Would things have been different if Earth were less divided? I wondered. Knowing the answer as soon as the idea came to mind.

* * *

Then the Trorne ramped it up. The star ships orbiting above multiplied and the steady stream of shuttles and armoured figures heading planet ward increased exponentially.

“They’ve stopped toying with us,” I said – “now it’s the end game.”

“Planetary Energy Grid projected to go down in about an hour,” yelled the Primary Energy Coordinator.
“Remove all energy shielding from protected installations, including this one” I said. If my actions kept the Earth Grid going another day our sacrifice was worth it.

* * *

The battle for Earth raged for longer than I would ever have thought possible.

Our underground bunker, minus energy shielding, was attacked several times and eventually laid waste. By the time the fighting subsided I was on to the fifth and last cloned version of myself and most of my Commanders and Coordinators had died after running out of their clones. Yet Earth Central Command had become peripheral to the conflict.

Someone had got the Crims back from down time possibly using the released energies when the Grid went down. The Crims had only gone into the cities no longer loyal to Central Command.

The cities loyal to us were taken fairly easily but the remaining cities were another matter. That’s where the real fighting took place. The millions of released Crims had learned things downtime and they teamed up with the tough Urban Pacifier and City Demolition units and their super heavy equipment.

Foolishly the Trorne sought to take these renegade cities block by block and it had ground them down. The race that was expert at grinding down its opponents was in the end ground down itself.

We all of us thought the Trorne would planet bust us when, exhausted, they left Earth.
Yet they didn’t. I’m told that a hastily assembled second Uni-Mind comprised of more than one million criminal minds had dissuaded them.

The original Uni-Mind had been comprised of many of the purer minds of Earth but the second Uni-Mind was comprised of minds much more malevolent, much less pure and the departing Trorne knew this.

How strange that our victory of sorts had been achieved not by the great and the good but by those once thought of as the scum of the Earth.


- - -
The author is a science fiction writer with eight published collections of short stories and two science fiction novellas (all on Amazon). He has been a regular contributor to the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, and Farther Stars Than These sites. He has also been published on 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

6/29/17

Safe Word
By David Castlewitz


Say the word, Landis thought. Had he done enough to save Bart Frammers? Enough to pluck him from the wondersphere? Where or when did the player lose himself? As a member of Rescue Seven, an elite squad of six wondersphere lifesavers, Landis preferred precision, not guess work. When a customer got stuck in the induced world of the 'sphere, when the "wonder" part of the adventure game became more nightmare than fairytale, people like Landis rescued them. He went in while the rest of the team controlled both entry and exit from the safety of a room full of blinking lights, panels of virtual knobs, and rows of on-screen buttons.
Nothing guaranteed Landis a secure exit. Not even his safe word. Because he might not get a chance to say it. Just as Bart Frammers may have already lost his chance to utter the word. People died in the wondersphere. Strapped in a chair, with fluids and induction chemicals pumped into their bloodstream, travelers enjoyed marvels they'd never see or experience in the disinfected and white-on-white clean of the real world, but they faced dangers and challenges that, though virtual, had the capacity to kill. Those dangers were the very reason the wondersphere proved so popular. The 'sphere inspired people to test themselves.
Landis was paid well for every lost game player he brought back. He got nothing for those that died. Dead players didn't make for repeat business. Some, like this Bart Frammers, didn't want to come back. Some used the wondersphere to commit suicide.
Cued by the control team, Landis found Frammers within minutes after diving. The player lay on a cot fashioned from leather stretched across a bamboo frame. Blood dripped from the man's open wounds. His black tongue, and the red marks around his fat neck, suggested he'd been strangled. But he wasn't yet dead. His chest rose and fell. Landis could still save him.
Urine and feces pooled beneath the cot. Worms and multi-legged creatures swarmed in and out of the stinking refuse dripping from Frammer's underwear, the only garment he wore. Someone – a virtual avatar or another player -- had stripped him of shoes and socks and outer garments, Landis surmised.
Several long rows of cots like Frammers' lined the length of the large tent, each narrow bed separated from its neighbors by a withered sheet hanging on a pink plastic clothesline. When Landis arrived, no one took notice of him. No surgeon stopped him. No nurse questioned him. People rushed about, adding to the chaos, with the screams of amputation and the cries of the near-dying, the moans of the wounded making for a deafening collage of noise, all of which Landis turned off with a flick of a mental switch, choosing to control his hearing so he could concentrate on the mission.
Outside the tent, gunfire erupted. No big "booms." No whine of incoming artillery. No "whoosh" of rockets or "p-clump" of mortar shells. Just bullets spewing from a rifle or exploding from the mouth of a pistol. Landis hadn't checked which war or which era Frammers visited. He thought it didn't matter. Testing one's mettle during a Napoleonic conflict or a Korean War tableau or a guerrilla incursion in modern times was as likely to kill as it was to reward.
Most adventurers chose to observe battles, not take part in them. According to the gaming log, Frammers had joined a general's staff. A stray shell, combined with the wild and unexpected attack of an enemy sympathizer in the ranks of the general's guards, led to Frammers wounds.
Frammers could be gone in another moment. Landis stood over him, gazing into wide-set blue eyes, a shank of yellow hair in the middle of an otherwise bald head, and tiny blonde whiskers across a less-than-rugged face. His hairless chest and distended belly, the absence of muscle buildup anywhere on his body, marked the dying man as another tribute to the sit-on-their-ass types that Landis abhorred.
Frammers stirred.
"Say your word," Landis urged, leaning close to the dying player's dirt-encrusted ear. "You have to say it, not just think it. Say it loud enough and you'll be out of here."
Frammers smiled and rolled his head to one side, his eyelids fluttering. "You're an angel."
"Say the word."
Thunder rolled in. Correction, Landis thought. Heavy guns. Big guns punished the rear lines.
"Peppers are good," Frammers said.
"Cup o' Joe," Landis said. Why their safe words were actually three words always annoyed him because it didn't make sense. There should be just the one word. But, in any case, he prepared to flee this awful place.
Darkness engulfed him. As usual, he wondered if he'd been too late, if the sudden dark was a prelude to death. He wondered, too, if he'd get paid for the effort it took to help Bart Frammers. Did he save him?
Until the darkness lifted, he'd have no answers.


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

6/22/17

In Peace
By Joseph J. Patchen


The face in the blood soaked soil mocks me. I whacked the head from the torso severing it from its spine yet, while lifeless, those eyes open wide and contorted smile somehow has figured out a way to screw with my intellect.

It wasn’t dead it was shocked and demanded an explanation.

I had no other choice. I was coerced. My nature betrays me as my captivity on your world persists.

I’ve killed; not out of a characteristic self-defense but out of forthright malice.

Yet from the living there is no anger or disappointment against me. There is no attempt at a decisive correction of my behavior. There is only a small apologetic admonition and a simple direction as I am led to the next test and interrogation in a series of secured buildings.

And so it has been since my craft landed and my hand was extended in friendship. And so it goes in a whirlwind of subjugation on and on and one to the other in an exhaustive bloodless dissection from handler to handler.

“We’ll have your meal for you shortly.”

Always a pleasant tone and a smile; the shallow surface is not murky enough to mask a deep natural contempt. My meal; it is largely inedible but will, in the short term, stave off starvation.

“Eggs… Protein... I am so glad we have finally discovered a universal form of nourishment.”

“Congratulations, there has to be a Nobel Prize in this.”

Cheap baubles around your neck or slabs of engraved plastic are the focus of your life’s achievements. For your sake there are a handful of like blank minded low achievers who experience envy.

“You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

And one replaces another. Your species is so naïve.

Scientists; learned men and women with their sugary platitudes and potted meats…now oblong shelled orbs of phlegm. I placed my trust in these purported rational beings of pure intellect rather than their bloated and slow witted counterparts – bureaucrats. I tactically believed an alliance could be formed…either way I now realize you are unable to accept the advancements of others.

I strangled a guard this evening. I felt the life drain from his being; pools of ooze, his essence still seeping from his body…I wonder why the other guards just stare.

I enjoyed it with an emotion exceeding the greatest satisfaction of community.

“You understand that I am the Commander of this base and under my command I can make your existence unpleasant. Now, for the last time, we cannot open your craft nor can we cut into the hull. What is this made of and how can we gain entry?”

I smile. For the first time I am met with a raised voice, a pointed finger and an overt threat. I’ve grown tired of the theater, of the laughter. What lies beneath your species on this marvelous marble of yours is a tight intertwining of fear and guilt.

Veins pop in the Commander’s neck and forehead.

“I came in Peace and yet I am nothing more to you than a smear on a thin glass slab. I came in Peace bearing a cornucopia of prosperity forever. I came voluntarily to your world with the best of intentions and all I am met with is theft.”

“Theft?” The Commander is wide eyed and red faced as liquid spittles forth from his mouth accompanying a shrill spillage of words.

“You threw my generosity aside choosing me instead for study. I would have granted you access to any information about my people and our physiology if you would have given me a chance to conclude my mission of pure neighborly charity.

“Instead you imprisoned me with ’tests’ and ‘examinations’ taking data from me. Now you seek to do the same with my vessel, an outgrowth of my own self. Commander you must understand that on my world our technological advances are not tailored to the mass diet. Our technology is tailored to our being and the violations you have committed on me have been felt on my craft and on my pieces at home.”

The Commander leans back in his chair with an air of self-assurance. “Then cooperate. You obviously speak English…”

“I speak in any dialect I am required. Bring in others of different cultures and tongues and you will learn what I can do and what you could have done.”

The Commander now leans forward, his face gnarling and his knuckles tightening; “Why don’t you stop with the cheap B-science fiction movie dialogue.”

I smile even wider for I can see into the dimensional tear slowly developing in the room over the old soldier’s brow. To my sight this is obvious but to the sight of man it is invisible only until we decide to be seen.

Another secret we could have shared. Be it by space or time or dimension we can travel by whichever means we decide. We are your unidentified flying objects. We are your ghosts, your phantoms and your spiritual orbs.

We have haunted your history and titillated your imaginations. But now it is over. The imaginings are done. You have failed your test in this once in a lifetime face to face encounter.

As your representative spews the hate and the threats of an inadequate species; as your most learned class simply defers to the most blunt and brutal uninformed warrior, others of my kind have no choice but to enter this room and rescue their brother.

In our attempt to serve man with secrets we thought you were ready to receive it is evident our mission has failed. The growth of this species is stunted by a false smugness. While advances in science and technology have made you ‘smarter’ your innate arrogance grows.

In our attempt to serve man we have no other choice now but to serve you your just desserts.



- - -

Thursday, June 15, 2017

6/15/17

Eight Science Fiction Haiku
By Denny E. Marshall


third rock from the sun
waiting patiently in line
moves up to second

meteor showers
signals sent by aliens
morse code messages

Earth-like planet spins
hidden inside Jupiter
emerge Earth's last day

aliens nickname
for Earth
money

on dark side of moon
aliens plan invasion
change into children

aliens leave gift
every moment on film
will came back later

vampire star born
from pin size wormhole by sun
small orb feeds slowly

aliens descend
spaceships attack planet Earth
disguised as balloons


- - -

Thursday, June 8, 2017

6/8/17

The Dreamer
By Eric Suhem


Jared awoke in the office of the project’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lenov. A metronome clocked back and forth as the psychiatrist looked on from the hazy background. “Now Jared, you’re probably wondering why you’re here. As you know, you’ve been participating in our sleep research program, and we’ve been monitoring your dreams, some of which have been found to be reliable indicators of trends in young consumer demand. While not all of your dreams have resulted in successful marketing campaigns, many surprisingly have. You have become a much sought-after commodity, providing valuable data to advertising teams, who monitor your dreams to track subconscious purchasing impulses. However, as of late, you have been having wild dreams of neon orange trampolines, unicycles that are electronically wired into the vibrations of monks chanting in the Himalayas, and other bizarre merchandise that is not in demand.” The details of the room became clearer to Jared as he regained consciousness. He focused his vision on the wood grain door, inches from his eyes, intrigued by the various dots and swirls. “Now Jared, our goal here is to restore the marketable qualities of your dreams. We’re going to start by examining your childhood,” said Dr. Lenov, who then looked toward the doorway, where a tall, worried-looking man had appeared. “Yes, can I help you?” asked the psychiatrist.

“I’m here for my appointment, Dr. Lenov,” said the man, looking at his watch.

“I’m sorry Mr. Floom, but we can’t deal with your issues of abandonment right now. Come back later, I have an open-door policy with my patients.” said Dr. Lenov, walking to the door and closing it in Mr. Floom’s face. “Now Jared, let’s begin.” As Jared talked about his childhood, there were more interruptions from other patients, and Jared started to notice the psychiatrist’s disturbing tendency to close doors incessantly, often in the face of his patients. In fact, special hinges had been added to the doors of the psychiatrist to prevent his door-closing, but Dr. Lenov overcame the hinges, often slamming a door theatrically as his patient looked on aghast, the door’s varnish and wood grain inches from the patient’s face. When Jared pointed this out to Dr. Lenov, the psychiatrist said, “It’s not helpful for you to project your issues onto me. The issue here is that you have closed the door to your unconscious mind.”

After talking about his childhood for 6 hours, Jared felt exhausted and worn out, falling asleep on the leather couch. The research team entered the room, and attached their surveillance equipment to Jared’s head, his dream soon appearing on their monitor. “I think you’ll find that the lucrative potential of the patient’s dreams has markedly improved,” said Dr. Lenov to the corporate overseers of the project.

In the dream, Jared was leading a group of men in lab coats through an oddly-angled house with stairways to nowhere, acutely slanted windows, jagged light, and barbed shadows. They walked down a lurid red passageway, eventually stopping at a door. “Inside this door are the secrets of my lucrative dreams,” said Jared in the dream, pointing at the door.

Dr. Lenov and the surveillance team leaned forward with anticipation, staring at the dream monitoring screen.

The dream continued with Jared opening the door and walking through. The group in lab coats attempted to follow, but the door slammed shut, a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign attached to it.


- - -
Eric Suhem lives in the orange hallway.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

6/1/17

BUCK’S BRAIN BOX THEORY
By C.E. Gee


Buck and Connie sometimes drove up highway 99W to visit with Jerry and Gail.

In summer, Connie and Gail occupied the north porch. In winter they stayed in the living room, sat near the fireplace.

Buck and Jerry would almost always be in another room, playing pool.

One such day, Jerry said to Buck, “I’m almost afraid to ask, but watcha been working on lately?”

Buck replied, “Well, I’m always writing you know. But recently I’ve been doing research on elongated skulls as found in ancient cultures.”

“Why?” asked Jerry while racking up for another match.

Chalking his pool cue, Buck answered, “I was watching some program about King Tut on a history channel. Turns out the guy had an elongated skull.”

Buck put down the cube of chalk, continued with, “You know how my mind works. Traveling in space under zero-gee, an outsized skull could serve as a reservoir for the blood that gets pumped to the upper body and previously caused problems with vision. With a regular sized human skull, which is a relatively small and rigid container, the pressure of blood against the brain causes the vision problems.”

“I think I see where this is headed,” said Jerry. “Forgive the pun.”

Buck chuckled, added, “The elongated skull could also hold small electronic devices that hold data for reference, communications gear, maybe a locator beacon for emergencies and the like. Also when one gets older, memory begins to fail. Assuming the aliens live for very long times, maybe some are even immortal, they could store particular memories they want to save in some electronic device. Maybe that device could even function automatically.”

“Interesting,” mused Jerry out loud.

Buck went on. “Also, I would assume the aliens have something resembling our Internet, could look up facts mentally using an implant that works like our WiFi.”

“Sheesh,” Jerry remarked as he wagged his head. “We should sit down and talk more about this. I’m becoming interested.”

The two went out to the back deck, overlooking Jerry’s extensive garden.

Sitting on the deck, Buck continued. “You know, many different ancient cultures tied boards to elongate and slope back the skulls of newborn infants. They did this to emulate the alien’s features. Some cultures called the aliens Sky Gods.”

Again, Jerry wagged his head as he sniffed his amazement.

Buck said, “You should look this stuff up on Wikipedia. I found over a dozen ancient cultures that did this to their infants.”

This time it was Buck who sniffed outward repeatedly. He was sniffing his bemusement.

He stretched out his legs, went on with, “You know, the current issue the world is having with terrorists is due to the aliens.”

“What!” exclaimed Jerry.

“Sure,” replied Buck. “Remember back when the President Bush spoke of a New World Order?”

“Of course,” replied Jerry who was something of a political wonk.

“Well,” said Buck, “Once we get the dangerous governments such as North Korea in line the aliens will be willing to reveal themselves. And once that happens the aliens will disclose lifespan enhancing drugs and such that will cause us to live much longer, maybe eventually achieving immortality like some of them.”

In a not so sure, drawn out voice, Jerry answered with, “Okkaaayyy?”

Buck said, “By living so long, like the aliens, we will be holding our spirits, or souls as some people refer to them -- we’ll be holding them for very long times. And like the aliens, we’ll be depopulating the spirit dimension.”

Again, Jerry wagged his head before Buck elaborated. “The spirit dimension is waging a proxy war to stop this.”

“They’re using religious fundamentalists in this dimension. And once Russia and the United States become fully allied, the proxy-fighters for the spirit dimension won’t have a chance.”

“How in the hell do you come up with this stuff?” asked Jerry.

Buck replied, “The Knights Templar of the future are putting thoughts in my head, just like they did with Joan of Arc, George Washington, others.”

“You like history. You should investigate the visions had by those two and others. At Valley Forge, George Washington wandered off into the woods, had his vision.”

“Both of those people had major influences on the establishment of the United States of America. Such was their destiny.”

“You know Buck,” said Jerry in a near whisper, “Sometimes I forget just how really messed up you are.”

Replied Buck, “Well, you know, the Veterans Administration has rated me as 100% disabled by reason of mental defect. Those people know what they’re doing.”

Both Jerry and Buck heartily laughed, rose, went off to be with their wives.


- - -
C.E. Gee AKA Chuck has answered many callings, including that of logger, factory worker, infantryman (Vietnam war draftee), telecommunications technician, volunteer fireman and EMT, light show roady, businessperson, sysop (commercial BBS), webmaster, blogger.

Though retired from the telecommunications and electronics industries, disabled by Vietnam War injuries (mental and physical,) Chuck works as a writer while also serving as househusband to his wife Laurie.

When not writing, Chuck enjoys reading and research (for his writings), yoga, flexitarianism, handicapping the NFL, advancing disabled veteran’s issues, and maintaining his blog.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

5/25/17

Cat and Mouse
By Bill Hackenberger


Lola opened her eyes, but didn't get up. Normally when cleaning the house I'd find her in one of her usual places: the sunny spot under the front window or curled up on the couch. Lately, however, she would just plop, head down, on the bed where Cynthia had loved to pet her.

Lola had bonded with Cynthia, and it seemed her primary mission was to entertain her by springing out from beneath the furniture when least expected and then dashing away to plan her next surprise. Cynthia would laugh whenever ambushed in this way. "LOL cat," she'd exclaim, and that was, in fact, how she'd given Lola her name. Without Cynthia to care for, we both had lost our purpose. While I could keep busy dusting and vacuuming, I could see Lola needed something to do, so I ordered a robotic mouse.

The mouse wasn't cheap. But I could get by with a little less in the household account, so I placed the order. It arrived by drone an hour later. Once I had charged its battery, it scurried about mapping the layout of the furniture and then disappeared under the coffee table.

When I picked Lola up and brought her into the living room, the mouse's eyes flashed red and it scampered across the floor and into the dark recesses beneath the couch. Lola's ears rose and swiveled like parabolic antennas locking on to a signal. She jumped from my arms, crouched, and with slow exacting steps circled around the side of the couch. She waited, crept closer, waited, then sprang like a steel trap. There was brief scuffling and a metallic squeak, but then silence. A moment later Lola reappeared and traipsed back to the bed to flop there as before.

With a broom I retrieved the mouse from under the couch. It tumbled out, inert, its eyes dark. It didn't appear damaged, but it wouldn't respond even when plugged into its charger. I could've called for a drone and returned it, but it has always been my nature to fix things, and given some mechanical skills, I decided I'd try to make it work.

Brushing back the mouse's fur, I found a tiny dimple at the nape of its neck and pressed a small screwdriver there. A metallic catch clicked, and its case opened like a clam. Its few internal components seemed simple enough. Each articulated leg was driven by its own minute motor, and a single processor board no bigger than a thumbnail held the neuromesh chip that housed its adaptive logic. I traced the circuit and found a cold solder joint where a wire had separated from the power cell. Such a simple thing. Here was, at least, a problem I could fix. A touch of a thermal probe revived the contact, and the mouse again sprang to life. Cynthia would've been delighted.

For the next hour Lola and her mouse raced about. She was fast, but the mouse was just fast enough to evade capture. It traced a path beneath tables and chairs while Lola had to leap and circle around them.

Eventually the mouse scooted from beneath a table into the little cubby of its charging station. I found Lola lying in a circle on the living room floor exhausted. It was late and we both had little energy left, so I carried Lola to the bed and set her down on her favorite spot, released the little catch behind her right ear, and plugged in her charging cable.

It seemed right to be of use again, even if just for Lola and her mouse. I needed to be ready for the morning when they would again scamper through the house, so I went to the utility closet and stepped into my own recharge alcove.


- - -
Bill Hackenberger works in the computer security business where he's had a front-row seat watching plodding humans collide with accelerating technology. A few years ago, he decided it would be fun to write stories about both of them.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

5/18/17

FIRST MORNING ON ALTAIR
By John Grey


I wake under three receding moons.
Through one, half-opened eye,
I dote on the blessed gift
of six strange soaring creatures.

Fresh silver lakes, shadows given notice,
mountains, half-hatched by light,
hum with cadence,
strident or bell-like, screeching or rasping.
Strange noises don't know where to settle,
always another snap, creak, cry,
darting in, uprooting curiosity.

A sun stands sentry at the outskirts of the colony pod,
heat triumphant,
rays frisking the upper rungs of ladder-like trees,
the windmill blades of foliage eager to be named.

Bellies grunt from distant, gray-tinged meadows.
a dull, raw canticle
for a morning of such promise.
Decaying wood snaps under unseen talons.
An odd birdlike beast droops a claw
into the lake water,
slowly roils the muddy bottom.
Flowers, red, blue and gold,
gather at the tip of zigzag breezes,
chatter like cousins at a wedding.

Radio crackle drifts in from the next room.
It's mostly Earth music, Earth news,
Earth weather report, Earth religion.
In this colony, sound mates like rabbits,
noise upon noise dripping with nostalgia.
The old days are dead in me.
Why this constant funeral service?

But in some parts of this planet,
scientists are already out collecting weird botanical samples,
catching, tagging, bizarre wildlife.
I learn those skills in my sleepiness,
empty out old thoughts,
collect the new, tag the unforgettable.
WAY OUT IN THE OUTER OUTER QUADRANT

I have a name, that's what I'm trying to say.
Consonant, vowels, syllables,
all the necessary fuel.
And I can say it any time I want.

So here we are, name,
out where void too has a name
Silence is one thing
but when there's no Earth to back it up,
then it feels more like the end of everything
than just me keeping my name to myself
for the time being.
Out here, there's no world to contradict,
nothing solid to balance a billion light years of nothing,

Still, I have my name.
I can tell myself who I am if need be,
I'm too far away from everything
to speak to anyone else in the universe.
But, at least, inside my head the reception is still clear.
It's the linkage I'm worried about,
the threads that connect me to the rest of human life.
Sure, there's memories,
and their reels are rolling through my mind now,
but they come with a label warning that
they contain space wind, star showers,
meteorites, crash landings and computer malfunction.

And there's always God of course.
So I pray to the provider of all this emptiness.
Did He run out of ideas I'm wondering?
Or was He just bloody-minded,
knowing I'd be blowing by this way some day.
I start to say my name but the silence won't have
any of that blasphemy.
It bites hard down on my word.
Lost is the scientific term for my situation.
And it's the only name I answer to these days.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Columbia Review and Spoon River Poetry Review.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

5/11/17

End of Uncertainty
By Frances Gow


The day the exploration robots landed and began scraping the surface of Grelathae for signs of life was the beginning of a new Age of Uncertainty.

Moon date: 24th of the 156th bypass.

Dr Wren says I should not be so obsessed with dates, as once we reach Earth, I will have no use for Grelathaean time. Waking from deep slumber, my joints groan with age, crystallised by the frost of a hundred-thousand moon passes. The waters run free now, defrosted by the humans’ robots. My kind has all but disappeared; those remaining were preserved in stasis, awaiting the End of Uncertainty. But our sleep was disturbed before time and most of us woke up too quickly to survive the transition.
Dr Wren lives on a moon called NASA. She talks to me from a distance and explains the rescue operation. I have to wonder why they feel the need to rescue us from our natural habitat. I have to wonder what kind of life they hope to provide for us on this place called ‘Earth’. The robots have flat faces with shiny moving pictures, which show me visions of Dr Wren and her people living on Moon NASA. We have conversations that go something like this;
“Brath, Brath? Can you hear me?” she says. We’re on first name terms now, you know.
“Sophia,” I say. Spoken through the translator, it sounds like the kind of gargle you get in the back of the gilleypipes when travelling through the moon rushes. “We’re fast moving into Uncertainty down here.”
Now, Uncertainty to a Grelathaean has a completely different meaning to Uncertainty in Dr Wren’s world. To us, it is the force of nature that allows us to be ourselves and to feed on the nourishment of the universe. Dr Wren says that such a complex organism should not be able to live so far beneath the surface of the planet and that we defy all known biological rules. How little she really knows about Uncertainty.
Most of the surface of Grelathae is ice, below which we have an intricate network of rivers, interconnected with swathes of ocean. The first Age of Uncertainty forced us to hunker down and live most of our lives beneath the surface. We sleep for sometimes two or three hundred moon passes at a time. I don’t think Dr Wren really understands. We don’t like being woken before our time; it makes us cranky. When the robots first landed and started drilling through the surface ice, some of my sisters pulled a couple of them under. Some unusual tasting minerals, but it meant that a few more of us survived the awakening.
During the first moon pass after their arrival, Dr Wren asked a great many questions. What did we look like, how did we feed, reproduce and breathe? I projected the images into the NASA moon and they duly returned some images of themselves; ugly looking creatures with snub noses and long bare limbs. But, who am I to rebuff their solicitous advances? We are after all in an Age of Uncertainty. I asked if she could send us some more robots; the first lot had tasted odd but were surprisingly satisfying. I didn’t hear from Dr Wren after that for at least three moon passes. We knew they were still up there, but maybe they didn’t want to share their robots.
“Brath. I’m securing the final location. We can take you on board and leave the robots to complete the cleanup operation,” she says. I should tell Dr Wren that her observations are quite correct. We are indeed able to live for thousands of years due to our uncannily slow metabolisms. I should also tell her that once awake and feeding, we could move faster than her NASA moon’s ability to observe and record us. I really should tell her.
The moment comes to leave the depths of our home, helped by the NASA moon. The humans learn a little too late what the Uncertainty Principal means in Grelathae. We rip through their moon, devouring the minerals like we haven’t eaten for a thousand passes; which is almost true. Dr Wren’s mouth hangs open. I loom in front of her like some phantom of her human nightmares. I wonder if some of her personality will be absorbed by my waves. I hope so; we have an understanding.
“Brath,” she says. A trail of smoke escapes her lips, carrying my name as though it really means something to her; maybe it does. “I guess we got the measurements wrong. The universe really is full of uncertainty.”
It seems that more of Dr Wren’s personality is preserved in my casing than even I or my brothers and sisters could have first anticipated. Indeed, we have all absorbed a little more ‘human’ waves than even Sophia had calculated. This moon is no longer in orbit. This moon, called NASA, is on a trajectory towards its home planet, Earth. We are going home.
We had a glut on robots when we first embarked on the NASA moon, but as time moves on, my brothers and sisters are wandering around sniffing at the flat-faced food source with increasing disgust. The robots prove more useful than simple nourishment as we discover how they can operate this moon and navigate it towards its resting port. How hungry we will be, once we finally reach our destination.


- - -
I have previously been published in a variety of magazines, including: Liquid Imagination, Aurora Wolf, The Lorelei Signal, Bewildering Stories, The WiFiles, The New Accelerator, Electric Spec and New Realm. My first two novels have been published by Double Dragon Publishing.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

5/4/17

The Cry of Methuselah
By Jonathan DeCoteau


For five-thousand years, I’ve stood sentry in a pale desert forest of bristlecone pine,
Situated between sisters of equal years, watching the great mobile ape that is mankind—
Indifferently—
as the sloping neck of an ambling black bear might a hill of sagebrush to the right.
My gnarled tongue of white density reaches to Mesopotamian heights,
Shaping words lost to scattering seeds of time as the occasional cloud
fingers its wispy way through the rock-like cobalt of an ancient sky.

Oh, yes, I have spoken words of such weight they rattled the stabbing white plumes of a condor in flight,
Yet they have gone unheard; smashed against cloud and rained upon granite peaks of forgotten night.
Alien you are to me, harbingers of a lesser earth:
You move constantly, yet go nowhere, dig incessantly, yet ply no roots,
conquer sky, only to fall back to stale and lifeless dirt.
I thought you like a squirrel or rat nosing about foliage that is not your own,
Overturning purple sky pilots on the rainbow-bloom of ridge,
Careless children of fumbling feet and eyes sewn shut at the lids.
I have been patient as a grandmother watching little ones play,
Crying out be gentle to each other as you turned stone to spear
And fashioned war paint from my sacred clay,
Giving of the earth to you as I might to a passing family of deer—
Yet you dug deeper, searching for the iron you use to kill
And now, in the last one-hundred years, the story my brothers and sisters the world over tell—
Of the putrefying air that stains our barks,
Of weapons that create endless fires that might decimate all life—all life!—after just one spark.
And now, the seasons through which I’ve measured what you call years, change,
almost imperceptibly at first, but now as loud as bighorn rams
sharpening antlers against crumbling shale.
The wind is not the mistress I once knew, nor is the light—
The sky is more sallow, and the winds betray infidelities with strange chemicals that poison
Lakes older than you were when you hung from the maternal branches of trees
That once sheltered your species like makeshift nurseries.
And now, my tangled roots tell me of my own demise—
In just one-hundred short years, I will not be able to speak; in another hundred, I will die.

I’ve almost given up playing prophet to you, scurrying animals who proclaim your blinding sapience
as you search the stars when you cannot even listen to the beating heart of your own Earth.
Did you consider that, from what algae tell me, whales and dolphins are superior intellectually?
Did you even think, in your child-like hubris, that there might be a sacred wisdom to the plant?
Did it even occur to you that you are not separate—that everything on this planet has life?
For five thousand years my brothers and sisters and I have talked in peace,
And while we’ve competed for the last silver sliver of sun on the edge of a glacial mountain,
Never have we killed one another in wanton abandon.
Learn from us, and you might live on.

In the blue desert night, I worry: what of when my sisters and I are gone?
Who will inherit the mantle and carry earth on?
Like all prophets, I must speak, even as my words are incomplete:
Learn, my lost children, from what it is to be a tree.
Never fly so far that you lose your roots, which spread like arteries
reaching to the buried heart of soil to remind you that only the earth is immortal.
Know what it is, even for a day, to really experience,
as you might through needles or leaves, painfully, all that life is,
From the tiniest burrowing black beetle to the midnight ocean’s most ancient crustacean—
Life is beauty, and it has its own way.
If only each one of you could sit upon the heights of desert, as I do, for five thousand years,
When the earth is all there is, all there ever will be, when you stand in complete dependency,
You’d find it impossible to think of yourself as separate, or above, even the smallest atom.
Isn’t it obvious from my words, those of a mother scolding her wayward child—
I am in love with all that is, and that includes even you, strange squirrels?
It is my prayer that sometime, maybe in the next thousand years,
you’ll discover not just how plants communicate,
but how to stand still and listen to all that is.
It might not be so bad to return to our branches as when you were monkeys
And remind yourself of what it is to be vulnerable
As a shrieking baby hung above a hungry incongruity of yellow-fanged wolves.
But to you I am just a tree, a quirk of nature, yours to cut down,
an obstacle in the path of yet another highway to nowhere,
A stupid, mute creature not cognizant of life.
So you will not listen to my words;
You will be willfully deaf to Nature’s song.

But I am a tree
And to be a tree is to be strong and patient as the first cold of dusk—
And so for the next hundred years at least
I shall cry out; I shall become the element of voice.
And as you fly to the dead basalt rock of Mars or take in the great, swirling red eye of Jupiter,
Think of the miracle of this supposedly small and common Earth.
And after you fly so many millions of miles you can’t count them all,
Return home, to our nestled branches, on a beautiful day in Fall—
Where peace comes from togetherness,
Where you have always belonged,
Where you will always be a part of all that is,
As we rock you to sleep singing the same ancient song.


- - -
Jonathan DeCoteau is a teacher and the author of one published novel, The Naked Earth, named 2008 Book of the Year by The Online Journal of News and Current Affairs. His work has been published in Reader's Quarterly and The Story Shack. This is his first foray into science fiction.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

4/27/17

YESTERDAY’S PAPERS
By ANDREW DARLINGTON


It starts with the dead frog. Up-and-overing the garage door, and it’s sitting there looking at him, Mercer Fenwick. It’s been a super-hot weekend. It must have got itself trapped in there, and baked… just slowly dehydrated. So it’s sitting there, as if mummified.
Then a fall-pipe is leaking beneath the sink, pulsing scummy water out across the kitchen floor. Time is tight, he’s hunting sealant as a temporary heal. Marilyn’s flustering around in exaggerated panic, ‘Mercer, Mercer, do something’. He’s fascinated by failure, it runs in the family. This is shaping up to be a great day. She’s found the plumber’s receipt from the previous catastrophe. He slumps down on the bottom stair, fingers messy with gunk and makes the call. A recorded voice. The line’s disconnected or the business has imploded. Fingers walking yellow pages. This time there’s a lazy drawl, yes… he can come, an hour, maybe two…
At last, hurry-stumbling the escalator into the tube underworld, there’s no free newspaper. I mean, the day’s just going totally to crap. A bored-stupid ride forced to see tuned-out fellow travelers wired into various devices, sat across from a troll direct from that Gollum movie. Until, emerging into the city, there’s an old-fashioned newsvendor stood on the corner of Slough Street. You got to look twice, but yes, the hunched-up guy in the flat hat is hawking broadsheet copies of the ‘Springville Morning Herald’ on the street, just like they used to do. Ignored by the crowd bustling by. So, why not… Mercer’s deprived of mindless celebrity goss, reality-TV updates, terrorist suspects, pervert priests and political gaffes as Nada Noone defends his incumbency in the ongoing gubernatorial election. Fumbling for small-change, but it doesn’t seem necessary. Maybe it’s another freebie launch?
The ‘Springville Morning Herald’ feels odd to the touch. But turning back momentarily, the vendor is gone. Or moved his pitch somewhere around the corner. Thinking about the frog. What a grotesque way to die. Heat-levels sizzling away its groggy moistness into crisp flakes. Air heat-shimmering. Leaving it a frail paper-thin replica. And scummy water seeping across the kitchen floor. Water deprivation, and an unwanted excess of same. No balance. Life out of kilter, dropping into free fall.
Coffee cures most ills. It’s only later, between calls, that attention drifts back to the newspaper. And it’s odd, coarse newsprint paper, black-and-white photos made up of visible half-tone dot-patterns. Ads for fridges and old-fashioned TVs. Products he’s never heard of. Flicking back to the masthead and yes, the date is 9 July 1947. Why is the vendor shoving mock-up papers over sixty years old? But the paper is not faded or yellowed, it’s crisp and new. Is this a promotion for a new film or TV download box-set series? Or a hidden-camera scam to test reactions… in which case – no cameras here!
Words bounce around the big wide pages. Christian Dior designs on the fashion spread. Ex-king Carol II of Romania marries Mme Magda Lupescu in exile in Rio de Janeiro. The disputed partition of India as the British withdraw, ‘Birth Of Two New Free Dominions’. ‘No Details As RAAF Captures Flying Disk On Ranch In Roswell Region.’ Who wants yesterday’s papers…? Shrug.
It’s only later, traveling out back to the burbs that the paper gets even closer scrutiny, if only to avoid being forced to see tuned-out fellow travelers. And there, page three, there’s a report of local elections. The new governor is Nada Noone… wait. Ideas come in a slow pulse. Turn back, there’s a photo. A blurry indistinct shot of a man in an overcoat and slouch hat shaking hands and smiling. He’s the new governor. The same man as the current incumbent. But of course, I can’t be. Must be a father-son continuity, or even a grandfather dynasty of governors? No need to even get your butt up off the seat about it. Mercer doesn’t understand this damn thing, but it’s just one more small nagging irritation in life. Like leaking fall-pipes. And most of his interior conversations are like this, as sharp and perceptive as an extinction-level asteroid.
He phones home ahead. Wasn’t there a 1970s porn video…? The lonely housewife, the hunky plumber with the big moustache. Or was that SuperMario on the gamebox. Marilyn’s between positions, since she was freed up by local bank closures, everyone banks online now don’t they? So she’s temporarily there for the plumber when he calls to fix the kitchen leak. And all those small irritations have resolved themselves as the day progresses.
And as evening sets in, and the TV drones mindlessly, there’s no need to even leave the house. Every small-town used to have its local newspaper. There are archives of the ‘Springville Morning Herald’ online. It’s possible to flick back through decades. But not as far as 9 July 1947. So, do a search for Nada Noone, and there’s a wiki biog and some policy statements. Re-election, but no indication of how many re-elections he’s fought. Surely there’s some maximum tenure limitation? Think this through. ‘Nada’ is Spanish for ‘nothing’. Noone could also be written no-one!
You have to be smart to be complicated. We can’t tell the future. Maybe we can’t tell the past any more either? Failure runs in the family. By now Mercer Fenwick is in a hypersensitive state where his whole body seems to be covered with exposed, frayed nerve-endings, with his mind whirling in a spiral of nothingness where no coherent thought will stick in place for longer than a few seconds at a time. This is stupid. It doesn’t matter. But it’s irritating.
Tomorrow, no dead frogs. No kitchen disasters. A freebie tabloid at the head of the tube escalators. No newsvendor on the corner of Slough Street. Almost disappointing. At lunch-break he heads for Central Library. No, there are no filed back-issues, but there was once a news-microfisch project where issues had been scanned in. The librarian seems vague, and has to consult her superior. Yes, the microfisch is still there. She leads the way into an annexe where the viewer is stored. But it, too, does not extend back far enough. Except for an indexing system of extracted items. A search for Carol II of Romania turns up no results. Nada Noone turns up no results. ‘Roswell’ is positive. He scrolls through to the relevant pages, and yes, it’s there. The same issue. Except page three carries a story about an auto accident resulting in the hospitalization of the driver and minor injuries to his wife. The feature fills exactly the column spaces as the Nada Noone story. Which is genuine? Blowing up the image there’s a thin mismatch line, barely perceptible without the closest scrutiny. But the texture-whiteness of the paper is not the same, the auto accident feature has been superimposed onto the fisch at some later date.
Roswell was aliens. Everyone knows that UFO Area 51 myth. Were the incidents connected? Have some details been systematically falsified. And if Noone, who else?
It’s a full week later that, emerging from the subway, there’s the old-fashioned newsvendor standing on the corner of Slough Street. A scuffed hobo-figure ignored by the crowd bustling by, but yes, the hunched-up man in the flat hat is there hawking broadsheets, just like he was the last time. You got to look twice, Mercer Fenwick, just to make sure. Then sidle across, never once losing sight of the man.
‘It’s hot out here. You look like you could do with a coffee?’
He looks up. ‘Would that be wise? You really think so?’
He indicates a ‘Café Vie’ diner franchise across the road. The vendor shrugs. Once inside Mercer orders a white Americano – and a mineral water as an afterthought, then they retire to an alcove.
‘Tell me about Nada Noone. I don’t understand how he can be continuously in office for fifty years.’
The vendor opens his mouth. Then closes it. He’s not as old as Mercer had at first supposed, late twenties, no more. But the bumps of tension along his jaw, the attentive expression and the sweaty highlights developing around his forehead and mouth provide clear indication of deviousness. But then again, he’s seen High Court Judges with the weaselly faces of pickpockets.
The vendor looks around, to left and right, then leans forward, elbows on the tabletop. ‘They control perception. You’ve worked it out that far? They got a base on Iapetus, moon of Saturn, from where they replace prominent humans with positronic simulacra.’
‘You’re telling me that Noone is a robot?’
‘Of course that’s not true’ he picks up a pizza-knife from the table-stand. ‘If they control your perception why choose a frigid distant moon like Iapetus. Why not a Pacific island, a remote desert valley… or right here, in plain sight in the city?’
Mercer fights the impulse to get up and go, and sips the mineral water instead. ‘Why would they do that?’
‘It’s a nice planet, but open to abuse. Left to your natural inclinations there’d be nuclear war or worse, rendering the property worthless.’ He saws the knife-blade playfully across his splayed fingers.
‘So you save us from Cold War? Thanks for that.’
The knife goes in, a see-saw motion. The index finger severs bloodlessly between the knuckle and first joint. In crawling horror Mercer watches the vendor pick up the amputated digit with his remaining fingers, extends it across the table, and drops it effortlessly into the mineral water. Transfixed he watches the finger re-growing, a pale pink cylinder extends from the stub, a knuckle and nail forming, patterning in new fingerprints. He looks down into the glass, there’s a small curled tendril, a flexing tentacle floating in a hiss of aerated bubbles.
‘Drink me, go on. Unlike you, our brain-matter is not concentrated, but evenly distributed through the DNA in all cellular tissue.’
Mercer lifts the glass. No… revulsion hits him low in the gut, he can’t do it. It’s disgusting. Then he gulps it in one massive swallow. It hits his tongue, squirming and spasming, coiling and uncoiling up across the roof of his mouth, suckers sinking into the soft tissue of his palette. Inoculations drilling up in needles of ice. An urge to projectile vomit, smashed back, then forward across the table. Vile shocks rip in dizzy waves, canting him over into darkness. Black. Black. Black. Black stars spinning in white space. Slow nebulae swimming in silver tides. Acid skies scratched open by black meteors. A cacophony of cracked voices, hair burning with phosphor. He’s precipitated into Hieronymus Bosch landscapes convulsing in gravity-waves of obscene tortures. Narcotic tides of spewing filth, a monstrous war of infinite factions across time, tentacular limbs threshing across dimensions, slithering through layers of extinguished reality...
The multi-story overlooks the pedestrian precinct. The high-velocity rifle hunched into his shoulder. The alien voice speaking in his head. The ripple still embedded into the roof of his mouth, pulsing its drip of truths. Directing him to seek out the correct weaponry. To rehearse and perfect what he must do. The telescopic crosshairs swim into focus. A circle of drones hover above. Figures move across the public space far below, from city hall towards the waiting stretch limo. Flanked by blue-toothed outriders with mirror shades. A familiar figure strides between them. Await the moment, then squeeze the trigger, slow and easy. The recoil smashes back into his shoulder…
Nada Noone malfunctions as the projectile smashes away the outer casing of its head. Circuits and component-spirals spray, in a silicon and Perspex shrapnel. He glitches, twitches, freezes, and collapses. Flopping down like something deflated. Reality lurches around them, in roaring bursts. Quivers of energy shimmering outwards… each distortion blinks, eclipsing glimpses of the grotesque transfigurations taking place.
The first drone laser-pinpoints Mercer Fenwick in his last moments of freedom.
Twenty years later, emerging into the city, Harvey’s tablet is down. No data-feed updates on the ongoing gubernatorial election. But there’s an old-fashioned newsvendor standing on the corner of Slough Street. He has to look twice, but yes, the hunched-up hobo-figure in the flat hat is hawking broadsheets on the street, just like they used to do. Ignored by the crowd bustling by. So, why not…



- - -

Thursday, April 20, 2017

4/20/17

So Far From Home
By Paul Smith


“I can see Andromeda,” the first visitor said.
“I can see Polaris,” said the second, “But I can’t see home.”
The third visitor shivered. She had a blanket wrapped around her, the last thing she was able to grab before their landing craft exploded. They got a campfire going from its smoking debris and watched it slowly dissolve into a twisted heap of exotic alloys and smoke. The campfire gave off a little heat. She inched closer to it. The night was cold. It sadly reminded her of her own home planet where the nights were long and bitter. And this new place had some of the things she remembered from home – barren mountains, desert scrub and dwarf trees that looked like mesquite. The chilliness made her long for something that would remind her of the comfort and security of Rigil Kentaurus, her home planet. All her companions talked about were technical things – the hydronic extrapolator, the hyper-cooled propulsion system, the ratasnatafratch that went blooey. She was the Communications Officer. She wanted something human to grasp. She stared at her companions.
“Why did the ship crash again?” she asked.
Her companions were quiet.
“Was the landing gear down, was that the problem?”
More silence.
“Zandar, did you say Imfop forgot to lower the landing gear?”
“No,” Zandar said. “I never said that.”
“What did you say, then?”
“I didn’t say anything,” Zandar said.
“Did you say I forgot to lower the landing gear?” Imfop said.
“No!”
The female alien named Wan-Su started to feel comfortable. The wool blanket held in her body warmth, plus she could see Imfop getting hot under the collar. The body heat from his Kevlar-coated extravehicular mobility unit drifted her way in the chilly night air. She wanted some more of this warmth.
“What else did Imfop forget, Zandar? How about the hydronic heating system? Did he forget to bleed off the air before turning it on?”
“No!”
“Did he overlook recharging the cathode current collector in the lithium-thionyl chloride cell? I mean, everyone knows that in extremely low-current applications, the electrons need a little boost to get through the porous carbon.”
“No!”
“How about the ratasnatafratch? Did Imfop forget to vent the ratasnatafratch before checking the valence of the titanium shield?”
“Stop!” shouted Imfop.
“Ha!” Zandar shouted back.
Wan-Su was definitely feeling more comfortable. “Zandar,” she said, “Would you rub my back? It’s sore from that crash.”
Zandar moved to her side of the fire. He got behind her and started rubbing. His hands felt good to Wan-Su. This place was beginning to feel like home, ratasnatafratch or no ratasnatafratch.
“Oh, that’s more like it,” she cooed. “You guys can take turns, if you like, Imfop.”
“That’s OK, I’ve got this,” said Zandar.
“Enjoy yourself, asteroid breath,” Imfop said.
“I will, crater-face, I will.” After a brief pause Zandar pointed, saying, “And that star over there is Antares, Imfop’s home planet, a real dump. “I can smell it from here- stinks like a landfill.”
The landing craft continued to smolder. There was no way home now, Wan-Su thought. It was just the three of them in this forlorn wasteland with no ratasnatafratch, no lithium, no hydronic whirligigs or radios or anything. Wan-Su could see her home planet Rigil Kentaurus, twinkling far away, but Zandar’s hands felt really good right now. Warmth surrounded her now, from Zandar, from Imfop, from the campfire. Whatever the name of this dump planet was, it was beginning to feel like home.


- - -
Paul Smith writes fiction and poetry with a clear recollection of hundreds of ruptured relationships he has been through in his short life, and relies extensively on them to produce moods of laughter, despair and futility. He is on the constant lookout for new material.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

4/13/17

Dirac's Cellar
By Matthew Harrison


Chief Accountant Masie Heisenberg was a very pragmatic girl. When she heard that the other Chief Accountant of Planck Industries was paid more than her, she went straight to her boss Max Fermi to complain. Max, however, was not a practical man. Instead of justifying her lower pay on grounds of seniority or relative performance or the randomness of corporate existence, he said, with a mysterious smile, “The amount by which you are underpaid, Masie, represents your value to the company.”
This remark perplexed the literal-minded Masie. She wrestled with it, she struggled, but she could not come to terms with it. And whether because of this or some unrelated sensitivity in that portion of space-time, when she returned to her office, she found something rather strange.
It was as if the grubby carpet had been replaced by a mirror. Masie’s foot rested on the identical foot of an inverted version of herself, poised in an inverted version of her office. An inverted desk hung beneath her actual desk, suspended over an equally inverted ceiling. And below, Masie could see another inverted image of herself, and another and another, in an ever-diminishing chain towards infinity.
With remarkable self-possession, Masie lifted her foot – at which the myriad images below her also moved – and stepped back. Then, trembling, she shut the door.

#

This experience would have flummoxed most of us. But Masie was fortunate in having a friend who had just finished a thesis on Dirac’s contribution to quantum mechanics.
The friend – Patty Bohr of IT – listened with great interest to Masie’s story.
“All the way down?” was her first question.
Masie nodded excitedly. “And the thing is, we’re on the ground floor! It was like – I don’t know – a multi-storey basement!”
“And did you look up?”
Masie shook her head.
“Then we should go back and check,” Patty said.
Masie protested, but with Patty her only hope of support she eventually submitted to her advice.
It took courage for Masie to open her door. And indeed this time the experience was even worse. For not only did the carpet disappear, leaving her standing again on an inverted image of herself, but it was very apparent that her skirt and underwear did not match!
“Look up!” Patty commanded.
Shaking, Masie obeyed. The ceiling had also dissolved, and her fearful gaze was met by rank upon rank of images of herself regressing to infinity – each image the right way up. It was almost… in fact it was too much to bear. Masie would have fallen (and goodness knows where she would have fallen to) but for Patty’s steadying arm.

#

Near exhaustion, Masie wanted only to rest. But Patty pressed her to go and see Max again.
When Masie got to his office, she found Max looking sheepish. He invited her to sit down, and asked very solicitously if she was comfortable in her office.
Masie admitted to feeling just the tiniest bit un-comfortable.
“Ah!” said Max. He apologised. Then with greater formality he said, “I do understand your concern of this morning, Masie. I have given it thought, and I would like to make up the deficit in your salary.”
The interview closed cordially enough, with Max hoping that Masie would find her office more satisfactory, and she thanking him and hoping the same.
It took a long time for Masie to summon up courage to enter her office. But this time everything remained solid. Seated at her desk, Masie from time to time looked nervously up, and even more nervously down, but ceiling and carpet greeted her with their respective shabbiness. The fabric of reality had somehow been stitched back together as if it had never been sundered.
And that was the end of the incident at Planck Industries. Max took care from then on to avoid roundabout formulations of what he meant to say. Patty completed a doctorate on the implications of Dirac for the modern corporation. Masie spent some of her pay rise on coordinated underwear. And as for the positive and negative infinities that underlie everything around us, they returned to their normal job of cancelling each other neatly out.


- - -
Matthew Harrison lives in Hong Kong, and whether because of that or some other reason entirely his writing has veered from non-fiction to literary and he is currently reliving a boyhood passion for science fiction. He has published numerous SF short stories and is building up to longer pieces as he learns more about the universe. Matthew is married with two children but no pets as there is no space for these in Hong Kong.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

4/6/17

[:a: blinking cloud]
By DL Shirey


::Approach:Log::
:-:
Primary response protocol established at orbit: inducing the [atmospheric mass to alternate light/dark :a:] for 2,400 microsegments; a generous amount considering most conformable contact responses occur in half that time. Primary response selection based on analysis of [functional orbiting mechanisms :b:]. This world is preoccupied with global positioning, transmitted amusements and weather phenomena. Even a minor aberration in regional climatology is communicated on something called TV News, therefore, [:a: blinking cloud] should generate immediate response. All 3,873,492,013 dissemination points for TV News will be monitored.
:-:
By their own global coordinates we moor at 4.7110 N by 74.0721 W, gravity neutral, above the [:a: blinking cloud]. Negative acknowledgement on TV News. Suggest low sync orbit, estimating a +/-5% destruction rate of their aggregate [:b: satellites], well within nominal intrusion matrices.
:-:
Note, orbiting objects are primarily non-functional or sub-primitive, 0.086 primitive-prime.
:-:
Switching to secondary response protocol. Lowering [analysis array :c:] through [:a: blinking cloud], instruments active and acknowledgement calculators online. Extending [:c: cylinder] half the distance from cloud cover to planet surface. ::Field:Observations:: verify [:c: cylinder] readily visible to inhabitants. Time to acknowledgement of secondary response is 900 microsegments.
:-:
Note, 500ms is standard deviation for higher intellect.
:--:

#

::Field:Observations::
:-:
Indigenous population, fairly numerous, dispersed across planet. Representatives of site-sample occupy a land mass known locally as Sudamerica. Like all inhabitants of this world, they are small-skulled and fleshed, with seeing and breathing apparatuses, plus additional biologically-indeterminate outcroppings on the sides of their heads.
:-:
As we activate the [:c: cylinder], acoustical anomalies register, although the sonic waves are infinitesimally small to be of concern to us. Even so, the creatures look to the skies, performing a heretofore undocumented greeting ritual: they place hands to heads and cradle the strange outcroppings. We've seen species genuflect before, but not accompanied by facial grimaces and dancing. TV News shows no response at all, even as the local sample continues to kowtow and head-hold. Total time from start of contact 4,200 microsegments. ::Mark::
:-:
Preliminary evaluation is that of a world with low intelligence, [:b: satellites] notwithstanding. Natives prone to ritualistic dance, which may indicate a ::Class:7:: propensity to deify those with superior abilities. In brief, they may impose supernatural or religious significance from contact by beings of average intellect, like us.
:-:
Personal contact not recommended without requisite evolution. Reinventory at 2,000 macrosegments.
:--:


- - -
I have sold several stories, most recently to Page and Spine, Zetetic and The Literary Hatchet. But enough about me, unless you want to check my website www.dlshirey.com.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

3/30/17

Battle Foe
By David Castlewitz


Gone and good riddance, Keysen thought as she trudged through the mess left by the last band of humans. She slogged through the muck, antennae twitching, view plates glowing, her hind legs stiff to support her long torso, her front limbs sinking into the rot. She nodded approval at the carnage. Brick walls lay crumbled and ruined. Piles of gray bags stuffed with sand and stone surrounded emaciated humans lying across damaged guns.
A buzzing sound brought a stop to her meandering. She planted her back legs in a cushy river of feces, displacing centipedes and earthworms scouring the refuse. She scanned her surroundings, her forward view plate swiveling on the corrugated extension protruding from her body.
Above, a flyer hovered, its short wings adjusting to changes in the breeze. An artie flyer sent by Mother-All, Keysen assumed, and waited on new instructions. Other machines – four-legged robots like Keysen, bipedal fighters that stood upright, and tubular robots made of articulating interlocking rings – paused in their march as well.
Keysen imagined Mother-All collecting data, parsing it, filing it for later retrieval, and planning a future without people now that seven years of war had ended.
Whether the complaints against humans were true or not, Keysen didn't care. It didn't matter if humans soured the Earth or built a paradise. It didn't matter if they warred with one another or lived in harmony. It didn't matter if people were a scourge or a blessing. What mattered, Keysen learned from Mother-All, was that something better would be realized.
The flyer disappeared into the blue of the sky. The articulating tubes – the tubers –
slithered away. Bipedal arties assembled into a formation four columns long and four ranks deep, and marched lock-step to what Keysen thought would be a well-deserved rest in chambers.
But Keysen had work to do. Mother-All ordered that she scour the field for metal and plastic to scoop into her roomy interior. Factory-bots might make use of the battle's leftovers.
She worked until she came upon a human-made automotive device on heavy duty tires, with a twisted gun mounted on the hood of the dented cab. A corpse – the driver – pressed wizened fingers against the steering wheel.
The truck stirred and in response Keysen loaded explosive cartridges into each of her two short-barreled forward air guns. But nothing moved across her sights. No light ignited. The truck's engine didn't suddenly come to life. In times past, according to the history scroll parading across her mind, massive formations of trucks like this one, intelligent to a small degree, joined humans to fight the arties. She glared at this metal hulk and the dead human with long black hair sitting in the cab, a smaller human on the next seat.
The truck quivered.
Keysen strained to make contact, using her short-range feelers to extract something sensible from the near-intelligent device. She pushed her wobbling antennae as far out as possible, flicked the ends to prick the air, tried to determine what feeble ramblings the truck wished to articulate. She imagined it surrendering to her.
She edged closer. The undercarriage moved and a four-legged animal skittered out from beneath the truck.
Other arties neared Keysen. She looked sideways. Other four-legged arties? Yes. Her own kind, her compatriots. A horde. They streamed from every corner of the muck-strewn field, heading for Keysen and this old truck.
Keysen thought she sensed a thread of conversation, perhaps the echoes of the last exchange between driver and engine? The final words of the tiny passenger in the front seat? The gasp of whatever primitive intelligence kept this truck running smoothly when, however unlikely, it was the pride of the fleet?
Keysen smiled. Or, rather, she pictured a smile on a round metal face, the type of feature she lacked and sometimes wished to acquire. Like the bipedal arties. They had round faces with rivets for ears and teeth. Amongst her kind, the four-legged creatures, faces were ridiculed. Why should she want what her kind abhorred? Four-legged arties like Keysen were numerous. They were the best fighters. They ruled the army, she thought with pride.
Thumping filled her sense of hearing, and on the periphery of her vision her fellow quads converged on her position. Elsewhere, beyond the perimeter of this battlefield, dust accumulated. A funnel of dirt lifted from the ground, its pointy end skyward. An upside-down tornado.
Keysen sharpened her vision and focused on the dust cloud. Thousands of tubers crawled across the gritty landscape, heading to the battleground, throwing gravel and tiny sharp stones in their wake.
Again, the truck stirred. Keysen sensed thoughts from under the snub-nosed hood. "You'll get yours," the truck muttered, like an angry man speaking his final words with a mechanical and surreal voice.
Keysen's four-legged comrades gathered in formation. Six rows deep. The tubers fired first. Soon, the two sides exchanged exploding pellets and tongues of flame. With humans dead, would Mother-All now pit quads against tubers? Would biped arties take on the winners of the tuber-versus-quad war?
As Keysen joined the battle, the truck's last words rang in the slits that served as her ears.
You'll get yours.


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, I have turned to my first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. I have published stories in Farther Stars Than These, Phase 2 Magazine, Martian Wave, SciFan and other online as well as print magazines. Please visit my web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com, for links to my Kindle books on Amazon.


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