Thursday, October 19, 2017

10/19/17

Mars for Everyone
By Joseph J. Patchen


The air is clear.

The sun is shining, burning away the colorless clouds and the heavy grey aftermath of the night. The sun is shining, high, alone in the sky, as it glints off the oversized sunglasses of two elderly women, smartly dressed, sitting side by side, engaged in the mundane, on their front porch.

They are sisters, separated only by a handful of years but united in a multitude of memories.

The air is clear; but evidently not today, March 23, 2063.Today’s news leads with an incident presented seemingly as a directed pronouncement and the sisters’ conversation ensues with neither looking upon the other. They begin by highlighting the tragedy that is truly most enlightening.

“Oh Binny, what an age we find ourselves living in. What a time to be alive.”

“Oh Biffy, yes, yes I must agree. Man is more connected than ever before to his universe above and his temporal realm below; man finds himself gliding from dimension to dimension known and unknown as if it were a relaxed stroll down a lane.”

“Oh Binny, I am reading a terribly good yarn on the news screen concerning the opposition party’s attempt to regain goodwill, and no doubt votes, following that whole eating humans mess in the past, by promising the downtrodden and the curious free trips to mars.”

“Biffy, did you say free trips to Mars? What an educational opportunity. I am both excited and intrigued.”

“Yes Binny, it is quite an opportunity however I am fearful before reading on.”

“My dear older sister, you have a sense of fear?”

“Yes with all the nausea that eats away at one’s stomach lining whenever politics is introduced.”

“Well read on…”

“Well according to the article some three thousand eager citizens crammed in that fenced and debris strewn lot on East 64th Street and Elm where a seventy five foot space rocket has been parked.”

“Seventy five foot…oh my, that’s a big one Biffy….cylindrical too…”

“Yes Binny. Anyway…”

“Oh wait Biffy, is that address near the new Dairy Stall?”

“Yes dear Binny; and you know how much I love my Strawberry Banana soft serve.”

“Me too, it is so delicious in both a cup and in a cone!”

“So, seven hundred people were chosen for the flight by someone who claimed authority by virtue of having the largest name tag and an even larger bow tie. Fifty were given space helmets and space suits with the rest receiving Hefty bags and the bottoms of plastic shoe boxes and were told to make do.”

“Sure shows how politicians plan Biffy. My God seven hundred human beings; think about it, must have been a big ship or a little cramped.”

“Or both; up and away the craft made a marvelous lift off for the seven month trip. A perfect lift off – so smooth and fast…”

“Oh Biffy, remember those days when we were ‘smooth and fast’?”

“Yes, well, um…everything appears to have gone well what with the peanuts --- five assorted varieties, and the tang and a whole host of internationally award winning in-flight films… All went well that is until they reached Demos. Seems two Venusian interceptors decloaked and simply vaporized the vessel. It is known to be Venusians because of their social media posts, including selfies, following the incident.”

“Oh my Biffy, that will ruin a vacation.”

“I am afraid it ruined a lot more my dear sister.”

“Oh yes the education…the children…”

“A government official states that they cannot admit or deny to any involvement and likewise cannot admit or deny the Venusians themselves were actually involved. The government simply calls it a tragedy and/or ill planning by a political party full of hacks and with no message other than to give things away for free.”

There is silence for a moment or two that seems intrinsically longer than the passage of the actual time itself. Two drones have dropped from the sky and hover above the women’s front yard, some fifteen feet where they sit.

The machines are scanning the yard as well as the home; seemingly to record all in their view. When they finish their task, their cameras fix and point to the women who stare and smile.

Moments of silence continue to pass until Binny utters the brave words that will save her and her sister’s lives for the present:

“What do you say Biffy, how about some soft serve?”


- - -

Thursday, October 12, 2017

10/12/17

All The Little Worlds
By Paul Alex Gray


“One last round, Kelly,” says Josh over the blare of a gate announcement.
She nods, pouring out what will be our last real drink together. I can feel the buzz but I’m more tired than anything else. I haven’t been this hungover in years. I don’t know how he talked me into those shots. We'd been in some bizarre nightclub where you wore AR goggles and pretend to visit bars around the world. I haven’t slept at all and the entire day has been a blur.
“Man, not again,” says Josh gazing at the TV.
There’s been another attack. I don’t have my glasses on so I can’t read where. A city. Sunshine. European maybe. I tap on my wrist device and my assistant’s digital voice plays in my ear, telling me pre-boarding has begun for my flight. I’ve had no messages about that new project, so I guess I won’t be working tomorrow.
“I don’t think people are going to stick around long,” says Josh. “SR is paradise.”
We’re back to the same conversation. He’s spent practically the whole weekend telling me I should join him. The Simulated Realm company must have offered him one hell of a referral fee.
“I think you’ll be surprised,” I reply, wiggling my toes. I’ve got sand in my socks. I wonder if that’s coded in to his new world. When he goes to amazing beaches will he end up with sand all over his mansion?
“Here there’s war, terror, unemployment like crazy,” he says. “Society falling apart… only going to get worse.”
“What makes you so sure it won’t be like that in SR?” I ask. “Isn’t it the same people as here?”
“Shards, man. You pick your world and who gets to be there. If there’s someone you don’t like, they can stay in their own world,” then he laughs and starts yelling. “You get a world and you get a world and YOU get a world!”
Kelly returns with the beers and Josh taps his watch to pay the bill.
“So. What do you say? Ditch the flight. Come with me,” he says, raising his glass.
I say nothing and look over to the gate. People are milling around, all rugged up in big winter coats. While I soar back to my windswept home, Josh will be on the short hop up to San Jose. He’s booked into a nice hotel, got his folks coming in for the farewell ceremony. Asked me to come. I said I had to get back, although I didn’t have that much work to do. The contracts hadn’t picked up yet after the holiday break.
“Do you think you’ll miss it?” I ask. “Any of it?”
He stares out the windows where the sun has fallen away behind the silhouettes of the mountains.
“How can I miss anything here when I can have everything I want there?”
The whole thing still boggles my mind. In three days, he’ll get in a Simulated Realms neural pod and have a set of wires inserted into the back of his skull. Nanobots will wrap around his nerves and brain.
He sold his house to pay for it, and his body becomes their property. Josh says the physical form is like a computer and his brain is nothing more than a hard drive gradually filling up. Once they work out how to get every bit of his soul into the machine they’ll shut down his biological parts and sell the organs off.
Last call for Allegiant 454 to Chicago.
“Hey,” he says, standing up.
We hug awkwardly. I know I should say something but I just nod, my eyes stinging. He slaps me on the back and whispers.
“Love ya man, I’ll see you again. Promise.”
I grab my gear and get in line. I’ll have to reach out to old gigs when I get back, try to line up some new work. This trip probably wasn’t a good idea, financially. As I move inside I take a last look to wave at Josh but he’s staring out at the mountains.
The flight is only half full and I get a whole row to myself. I sit up against the window and fall into a fitful sleep. Memories of lazing at the hotel pool blur with the nightclub and thread back further to our childhoods.
A summer camp somewhere. We were on a jetty, a lake filled with kids swimming and canoeing and jumping. One of the counselors led some of us up along the shore, stepping over gnarled roots clutching sandstone and rock. Between two leaning-over pines we stared down to the water glittering far below.
One-by-one the kids began to jump but when it was my turn I shook my head and stepped back. It was too high for me so I wandered back down, listening to the thumping splashes timed out behind me. I watched as Josh took a breath, then leapt out. He fell beneath the water and I waited, watching to see where he’d come up for air.
A bump on the flight shakes me and the memory sinks beneath the surface.
In the darkness of the cabin I open the window shade and gaze outside. Sky and earth are one and the same. Below, I see the orange glow of small cities and towns spread out with nothing in between.
They look to me like little worlds.


- - -
Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney's, 365 Tomorrows and others. Growing up in Australia, Paul traveled the world and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

10/5/17

GROWING GILLS
By Andrew Darlington


‘Whatever they’re doing, I suggest they do it faster.’

‘New energy-pods. Won’t take long.’ His fingers drum on the idle copter controls.

‘Damn time for a power-out. We’re already an hour late for this fool mission...’

--- 0 ---

The rain of millennia falls. As it fell the night before. The month before. For as long as memory can hold. It falls steadily, saturates hours, steeps days into weeks. There’s nothing but rain. The warren. The man, Crane. He passes a wrinkled hand over a wrinkled forehead, through what remains of hair. Surely, his fingers are webbed? It’s too damp to see. Rain has soaked the bunker for decades, sliming it with mildew, walls solid with green-black moss, fungus, weeds. A stink of badness and decay. Now there’s nowhere to escape to.

Growing gills, someone once said. We’re devolving into amphibian forms. He moves forward to grasp the first handrail rung that ascends to outside. Atrophied muscles register strain, same as every time he makes the journey. But failure’s not an option. This is emergency lift-off time. He pulls himself up the first level. Gangling legs hanging to the mud that smears every part of the stairwell. His arms are permanently diseased into patterns by the continual close proximity to water. He hauls his way up a further flight to where security-lock hatches seal him from the exterior. The continual beat of the rain makes concentration impossible. So pervasive it’s like a long silence. Listen, isn’t that silence?

There are lost figures in time. Drowned in the torrent. He tries to concentrate. Weeks already. The corroded barriers hadn’t held, exploding in pent-up tsunami, floodtide ripping through concrete, through mud, through bodies. Inundating lower levels, the com-suite submerged in black tide. And only he survives. Growing gills. Devolving. Weeks? Has it really been that long? Does it matter? Recollection diminishes. The edges of thought erodes. Fouling up mental processes, slowing the ability to think. He abandons such futile attempts.

Dumb electronics forever dormant. He shoves at the exit hatch, it grates in protest. It had once been automatic. The word echoes around his skull. It rings unfamiliar, and he repeats it out loud. It seems alien. Out of place. Slugs leave slime-trails. Spiders make webs. A plague of flies. And the snails, its their bunker now, feeding on mould. Lizards too, feeding on the slugs and snails. A new eco-system. The door lurches open, and he’s deluged. Water from outside sweeps past his lagged boots and down the steps behind him. Cascading liquid ice. Once he’d cycled through the lock to find the slope eerily populated by a million frogs. No frogs now. Perhaps the valley had once been green, before the rain, who can tell? Until every grass blade was hung with tears, causing puddles, pools, rivulets ricocheting between bushes. Converging into greedy fingered streams, squirming in shimmers, multiplying, enlarging. Decades pass, the continual erosion of a million tides, carrying topsoil far into the ocean. Now there’s no vegetation. Only a lapping lulling aquatic world of water.

He grinds his teeth, extends his arm. Wind wrenches the hatch shut behind him and he’s trapped outside. Lost in a sea of mud. His drenched hair falling over his face, sending freezing liquid stinging his eyes. There’s water when he breathes, like drowning, lungs wheeze in protest. The taste of thick fecal slime in his mouth. He reaches out, digs stub webbed fingers into the rain to haul himself slowly up the hillside. For a moment he rests, halfway up the slope, suspended in eternity. He turns, striving to pierce the deluge. Looking in the direction of the ocean. Crane. Who was Crane? Crane knows it’s there, but where he’d got this knowledge, rapidly decaying memory-cells refuse to recall. The rain is cleansing, washing away memory, leaving nothing. But there’s a mental picture. An expanse of ocean stretching away beyond a horizon he can never see. Warmed by continual submarine volcanic activity, superheating water into dense mist-spirals of steam. A continual cloud-vortex billowing upwards. He can imagine it, he’s never seen it.

He squirms around, turning inland, eyes stinging even with lids clammed shut. He curls up inside his body. Partly from fear, partly exhaustion. Then drags himself further up the slope. Now he can visualize the inland icecap. Alien, but integral. Ice covers the continent, poking glacial peninsulas towards the shore. Meeting the steam… forming the deluge. A pattern repeating forever, destroying everything but for this climate-change research and monitoring outpost, which had finally been overwhelmed. And a survivor, caught in the undertow.

He skids in the slime, arms thrashing wildly, slip-slithering downwards. His nails bite deep, securing him. Checking the slide on hands and knees. Then continues up the incline. Perilously slow. Driven only by will. Already he can envisage the hillcrest, peering into the sky, seeking the light. Glimpse it as it appeared to the lost garrison once every three months of their exile. See the light so bright it can even pierce the rain, the light that tells of others surviving somewhere south. There’d been resource-wars, targeted-strikes and counter-strikes, political internecine, they’d been abandoned here, all these forgotten years. See the light glow and die. See it pulse like adrenaline. So regularly he knows each pulse. So regularly that he can envisage its sequence as it blinks its message. The meaning lost, only the symbolism remains. Emergency lift-off.

His arms ache. Nails worn to the quick, cut and bleeding, hurting each time he gouges them into the sludge to haul himself forward. Rain stings. Splashes mud up into his face. Until he’s there. Onto the crest. For a long moment he relaxes back, then thrusts his body defiantly up, pointing his face into the rain, waiting.

He ticks off the seconds. Rain beats his face in syllables of disjointed conversation. Cold freezes his muddy lips blue. One second, and the time is here. The rain falls with a vigor that’s not abated for decades. Gathering in pock-marked pools filling his footprints with patterns of pain, cascading down the gradient back towards the ocean to renew the cycle, taking with it the last reluctant clay and grains of topsoil. He can see the beach. His friends are waiting for him there, the rest of the station complement. Their sleek amphibian bodies basking on the shingle. The urge to slither down and join their play is overwhelming. Gills. Flippers. Inhaling fluid, drawing a realm of water deep into his lungs.

And he waits.

The rain of millennia cascades over his inert body…

--- 0 ---

The ground-crew curse fluently in several languages as they slam the faulty energy-pods away. The copter glistens silver on the pad, throbbing impatiently, flanks gleaming, streaming water. The slowly revolving rotors catch the steadily falling rain, hurling it outwards viciously. Inside the sealed bubble cockpit two men wait irritably, fingers drumming on idle controls as rain drums on the perspex hood.

‘Damn time for the power to quit. We’re already an hour late.’

‘Take it easy’ muses the copilot. ‘Could be the last time we’ll fly this fool mission. Once the enquiry finds the expense of maintaining frontier posts out-balances their usefulness they’ll pull us back, below the Mediterranean perimeter.’

‘Come the day. We serve no purpose here. Might as well surrender the continent to the ice. No-one can survive down there for one week, never mind a year.’

‘Yet we must try.’

The ground-crew seal the energy-pods in place. The light begins to synchronize in gaudy flashes across the rain-drenched pad, penetrating the sheet of rain that blankets all else. The rotors whirl faster as techs scatter back towards the warmth of the bunker sunk half-a-mile into basalt.

Like a firefly the rescue craft lifts off into the steady deluge.

One hour late…


- - -

Thursday, September 28, 2017

9/28/17

Earth Breathing
By A. J. Howells


Rex woke with a start, gasping for air. It only took him a few seconds to realize he didn’t need to breathe anymore, so he stopped and waited for death to whisk him away but soon realized it already had. He hoped there was more to death than what he could currently see, which was nothing. Looking down, he couldn’t even see his own body through the black blanket that had enveloped him. He could, however, hear a shuffling sound, so he turned in its direction. Rather, he thought he turned it its direction; he couldn’t tell if he had actually moved.
A lamp clicked on. This lamp rested on a stand several feet away, and the person who had just turned it on sat next to it in a recliner, which sat in the upright position. The lamp’s light illuminated only the lamp itself, the stand, the chair and the person. This person was Rex, but not the Rex of now, which was a jaundiced and skeletal shell. This was the Rex of last year, plump and lively. This was as Rex appeared prior to his death sentence diagnosis.
Rex looked down at his own body, still clothed in hospital linen. His stomach was larger. He examined his hands, and they were a younger man’s again, not the brittle claws of a chemotherapy patient.
Welcome, the armchair Rex intoned. He spoke without opening his mouth.
“Who are you?” Rex asked, taken aback by his old voice’s reappearance. “Are you me?”
No, the doppelganger replied. He offered no further explanation, choosing instead to stare at Rex.
“Then who are you?” Rex was afraid of the answer, so he added, “Where am I?”
You are everywhere. Look around. Rex’s mirror image lifted a hand from the recliner and made a sweeping motion in a circle over his head. The darkness lit up with stars. Rex looked down and found he was floating in space, above more stars. The mirror Rex floated as well, though he remained in the armchair. The table and lamp had disappeared, no longer needed because of the flood of light the cosmos provided.
Turn around, the mirror Rex said. Rex did. In the distance was the sun, a shimmering pinprick, but growing. Stars were now shooting past him, leaping over his shoulders. Some of them grew much larger, transforming into hulking gray planets that flew by without a sound. The effect was disorienting, yet Rex felt securely fastened to the ground. Familiar planets flew past, but Rex didn’t care to inspect them. His home was getting closer.
Soon the earth loomed over him, clouds crawling slowly over her surface, revealing the oceans and continents hidden underneath. Somewhere down there was his family, huddled around a hospital bed, crying over something but not somebody. The somebody was standing right here, staring at his home, his gut dropping as he realized he was barred from returning.
Would you like me to turn it off? the other him asked. Rex turned around to face himself and slowly nodded. The other him reached over and flipped an invisible switch. With a clicking sound, the lamp and stand returned. The surrounding stars and planets flickered out.
“What now?” he asked. The mirror Rex rose to his feet and stepped to the side of the recliner.
Now you sit.
“That’s it?”
That’s it. The mirror Rex motioned to the seat. It’s quite comfortable.
“This doesn’t sound like heaven,” Rex said.
Who said it was?
“So I’m in hell?”
No. The mirror Rex motioned to the seat again. Please. Sit. You’ll understand.
Rex walked to the recliner and turned to face the blackness. He lowered himself onto the cushion, then looked over to the lamp. He didn’t look at the mirror Rex as he spoke to him, and he found that he no longer needed to open his mouth in order to speak. Can I turn the stars on? Can I watch my home?
You can. Anytime you choose.
Rex reached out to the lamp and placed his hand on it, the switch resting beneath his thumb.
You can watch your home, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Rex turned to the other Rex, but he had disappeared. He flipped off the switch, and the black blanket returned. He sat in the recliner and began to force breaths he no longer needed to move in and out of absent lungs. He counted them until he focused his concentration enough that he became his breaths, and his body dropped away.
He was no longer sick. He no longer missed his family. This made him neither sad nor happy. Rex just was and wasn’t there, and he now realized that this was all he’d ever wanted.


- - -
A. J. Howells is a high school English teacher living in the woods with his wife, son, and soon-to-be-born daughter. His work has previously been featured in ABSENCE.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

9/21/17

The Truth of It All
By David Castlewitz


Hunkered down behind a pile of rotting vegetables, Boris extended his claws and prepared to fight his way free. He thought he could evade the three black-striped gray felines patrolling the dark alley, scamper up a nearby wooden fence and make a break for freedom. After that? He didn't know. The surrounding cat colonies wouldn't welcome him. Just as his own, King Raymond's Troupe, never allowed interlopers into their midst.
Maybe the cats he watched from his hiding place weren't hunting him. Well-fed and well-groomed, the three were prime examples of the Enforcers King Raymond liked to keep around. Their whiskers twitched. They sniffed the air. They arched their backs. And they were silent.
Boris hoped they sought intruders, felines native to the planet who'd stumbled into the area, abandoned pets that humans dropped off at the mouth of the alley in the hope that the other feline denizens of the city would take them in.
King Raymond's Troupe, a mix of home world clans according to Old-T, controlled a small amount of territory. They had half the length of a back alley and the entire basement room of an abandoned factory building. Enforcers kept trespassers out. They also kept the peace. Which meant, no one could tell a counter-story about their origins. What Boris said earlier that night caused chaos, with every cat in the troupe screaming for his blood. Their spitting and hissing had sent him fleeing, sent him into hiding in the darkest, deepest parts of the king's domain.
"Old-T doesn't know everything," Boris often said to anyone who'd listen.
Mably, a sleek gray-haired cat with blue eyes promised Boris her love in spite of what he said about the troupe. Peers, they'd met as kittens and mated three times in the past two years.
"I don't like sending them for schooling," Boris complained after their first litter of three black-and-gray striped kittens. "Old-T fills their heads with lies."
Maybly countered with, "We don't really have a choice."
All kittens attended the school headed by Old-T, who claimed to be a survivor of the crash that brought their kind to this world.
"What were you?" Boris once asked the old cat. "First mate of the ship?"
Nearby kittens, all of them close to graduation, mewed with laughter, which earned them a slap on the head by Old-T's proctors.
"Just a mate, Boris. A young mate in the galley. I never claimed to be important aboard ship."
For a long time Boris never voiced what he really believed. But then he told Maybly; and she shuddered with fear afterwards, warning him that he preached a blasphemy too terrible to be said out loud.
Boris bided his time, and waited for the right moment to tell the counter-story that had churned and gurgled at the back of his mind for many years. He dreamt about it. He told it to himself with his mental voice, as though he needed to practice before making the big announcement.
Which he'd do. And soon. Perhaps at the monthly gathering when King Raymond held court and awarded graduation ribbons to the most recent batch of adolescents, near-adult cats ready to take their place in Raymond's growing troupe.
"Don't," Maybly warned. "They'll run you off."
Months passed; but he knew he couldn't keep quiet forever. Even without proof, his version of their genesis was compelling. It held as much truth as Old-T's tale.
"Keep it to yourself," Maybly cautioned, sidling up to Boris and rubbing her sleek body against his.
"I can't," he said. "I have to tell the troupe. Do you want every litter we have to grow up believing a lie?"
"Maybe your version is the lie."
Boris shook his head. Something had been planted in his brain, perhaps at birth, and that "something" had matured.
At the monthly gathering, with the graduating kittens lined up to receive their ribbons, bright blue woven threads like the tattered one Old-T wore around his neck, with the proctors standing by, preening, and King Raymond poised on an overturned bucket so he was higher than anyone else, his harem of females gathered behind him, Boris approached.
"I have to speak," he said. "King. Teacher." He glanced warily at Raymond, a large orange feline, a big-boned male with hard yellow eyes. The king often let his subjects speak at these gatherings. If they obeyed the rules of decorum, tails up, claws held in. If they first brushed his paws with their tongue, Raymond let them have their say.
Some speakers complained about the inequity of the food distribution. Or they claimed, the Enforcers didn't do enough to keep outsiders at bay. Once or twice a female leveled charges against Old-T, accusing him of disregarding the special needs of some of his pupils.
Boris licked Raymond's paws in customary salute, and then paced back and forth, summoning courage, stifling a tremor in his voice.
"It isn't true," Boris announced. "What Old-T has taught us."
His audience hissed.
Boris continued. "We are not the remnants of space-faring felines that enslaved bipeds similar to the humans we find here. We didn't command other species to build the ships in which we explored the cosmos. We never ruled our home world. Nothing of what we've been taught is true."
Out of the corner of his eye, Boris saw King Raymond glaring. Old-T shut his eyes. To shut out the truth, perhaps?
Boris' thoughts flashed on the grown cats he'd seen pushed from cars near the alley's mouth, some wearing ribbons like the one encircling Old-T's neck. He pictured kittens mewing in fright and mother cats in cardboard boxes with newborns about to die.
"We were not the ones who ruled the ship that brought us to this planet," Boris said. "We are the descendants of pets. Pets! Pets that our masters abandoned and left behind."


- - -
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, September 14, 2017

9/14/17

Adventure Tourism
By Hillary Lyon


amid the swirl of wind
the blonde stem stands alone
as its brothers bow down

the arcane design
the expanding fractal blooms
embroider the farmer's field

from a distance
the message is deemed
a hoax an art installation

from an even greater distance
the message is deemed
an asterisk on a signpost signaling

this is the way
this is the place so cool
your jets and stay a while


- - -
Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of 21 chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Disturbed Digest, as well as numerous anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Thursday, September 7, 2017

9/7/17

The ABC's
By Kelly Kusumoto


The patient was old and tired and lied on an examining table while a bright green light scanned his head from chin to scalp. His breathing slowed with each passing minute. In his mind, thoughts of a finish line began to appear. Emotions of every kind fought for space inside his brain.

“Did you see it?” asked one of the scientists.

“Yes,” said another. “Is that it?”

“I believe so,” the doctor said. “Quick. Before it’s too late.”

Both scientists shuffled from the computer screen and grabbed their instruments before joining the patient at the table. One stood near his arm, the other perpendicular to the top of his head.

“Did you find it?” said the old man. “Please tell me I didn’t waste all my money.”

“I think we did, sir,” the scientist above him said.

“But there’s only one way to find out,” the one near his arm said.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

They looked at each other and nodded. The one near his arm injected a serum into his IV and waited a few seconds. The old man’s breathing almost came to a halt. “Go.”

The one at the old man’s head took a long syringe and stuck it deep into the back of the old man’s neck and looked up at the doctor who was staring at the screen. He motioned with his hands to move to the right a little. The scientist mirrored the doctor’s hand signals until he gave a thumbs up. Then, the scientist drew back the plunger and extracted a translucent, light blue substance that looked liquid but acted like a gas. The scientist at the old man’s arm had moved next to the scientist at the head and was holding a vial. Quickly, the scientist with the syringe injected the substance into the vial and the two of them retreated back to the control room where the doctor stood wide-eyed.

Next to the computer, there was a device with all kinds of wires protruding to and from it. It was hooked up to a few other machines as well as the computer. There was a lonely slot empty and waiting for this moment. The scientist inserted the vial into the slot until it clicked home. The three of them looked at the screen. The doctor had opened up a word processing document and the cursor was blinking. After a few moments, the doctor made his way to the keyboard.

“Dr. Albenar, sir?” he typed.

Nothing.

“Sir, if you are there, please answer,” he asked the computer.

The cursor kept blinking.

There was a feeling of disappointment in the room. The two scientists dropped their shoulders and sighed. The one with the syringe bit her lip and frowned at the one who had the vial. They both looked at the doctor who was still eyeing the screen, almost in disbelief. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “What else could that be? It’s matter, but it’s weightless and almost invisible. It only showed itself when the doctor was at death’s door. It has to be his Life Energy.”

“Maybe it was,” said the male scientist.

“And now maybe it isn’t anymore,” said the female scientist.

The cursor continued to blink away aimlessly.

“Just because we believe in the afterlife, doesn’t make it true,” she said.

“It was a nice thought, a hope, albeit, a very calculated hope,” the male scientist said. “No one can say we didn’t try.”

The doctor shook his head. “No!” He pounded the desk. “Fifteen years, I’ve spent. A hundred patients. Each one, closer and closer. The data is all there. And for what? Nothing? I can’t accept this! Everyone will think I am a fool!”

Just then a beep came from the computer. They all looked and gasped. There was a line of text on the otherwise blank document. It read:

“You are a fool, Dr. Celsine. And everyone already knows it.”

They stared at the screen, dumbfounded and uncertain what to do.

“Are you going to say something, or just stand there like the idiot you are?”

Dr. Celsine shook his head scrambled to the keyboard. “You can see us?”

“I can,” the text appeared. “It’s like I am floating around, but I can only communicate through the device. I guess it’ll be known as the Celsine device from now on, eh?”

The three of them were giddy with joy and could hardly contain themselves. The male scientist started to tear up, which made the female scientist tear up as well.

“Stop crying​,​ you babies!”

They all laughed. “Can you hear us if we talk aloud?” asked the male scientist.

“Of course I can, Serbeins. I just can’t talk back.”

“Good thing for that!”

“And you, Biemel, you quit that sassy tongue.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, with a suppressed smile.

“I’m so happy, I think I want to call it the CBS Device,” said Dr. Celsine, “or maybe the ABCs Device.”

“Albenar, Biemel, Celsine, Serbeins Device,” said Biemel.

“Oh, I’d be so honored,” Serbeins said.

“I bet you would be,” typed Albenar.

A few awkward moments passed where they all looked to each other for what to do next. They had planned this outcome for fifteen years and now that it had come to fruition, no one had planned for what was next. Feeling the anxiety of the moment, Biemel asked, “So, Dr. Albenar. How is the afterlife?”

“It’s strange,” appeared on the screen. “Other than not having a physical body, I don’t feel at all different. It leads me to wonder, had you not extracted my life energy, where would it have gone? Is there some other place it goes to and if so, did I miss my chance to go there?”

“I never thought of it that way,” said Dr. Celsine.

“Well, there’s not much I can do now,” said Dr. Albenar. “How are the Sauxeit coming along?”

“Let’s get you into one and you can tell us,” said Serbeins.

“Let’s!”


- - -
Kelly is a writer of all genres. He is the Lead Game Writer for Saltie Games, the Sports & Travel writer for Explore-Philly.com, and a fictional writer with short stories published in literary magazines and websites around the world.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

8/31/17

Science Fiction Haiku
By Denny E. Marshall


on Olympus Mons
sixteen-mile high mars mountain
below room to hide

unknown planet found
molten lava rock giant
blocks earth-like planet

only one graveyard
because of overcrowding
headstones cover moon

alien dodge ball
don’t play with them anymore
they use large boulders

transporter painful
as beamed aboard a spaceship
size of a Frisbee

spaceship lands on field
occupants look just like cows
herd to slaughterhouse

pilot drives slowly
many warning signs posted
asteroid crossing


- - -

Thursday, August 24, 2017

8/24/17

4 Scifaiku
By Kelly Sauvage Angel


hydrocataclysm
our concept of shelter
swallowed by the sea

~

tesseract house
my little life folding
in upon itself

~

endlessly looping
each death but further rents
the fabric of my virtue

~

bleakest horizon
the sea breeze reeks
of death and decay


- - -
Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… and Scarlet Apples & Cream. She’s not necessarily as frightening as her name might suggest.

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.


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