Thursday, April 19, 2018

4/19/18

After the Fire
By Bruce Mundhenke


The fire that warms us here,
Was kindled long ago,
Gives us light and heat,
And burns both day and night,
And leads us on a journey,
Through both space and time,
And though it seems
To burn forever,
Some day this fire
Will cease,
And no more travel circuits,
Throughout space and time,
No longer burning in the night,
No longer sending light,
No life in its orbit,
And in the star filled night,
No one will remember,
How it once burned bright.


- - -
Bruce Mundhenke writes poetry in Illinois, where he lives with his wife and their dog and cat. He has poems in Leaves of Ink, 1947 Journal, and many other online magazines and journals.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

4/12/18

Alien Judgement
By David K Scholes


“We got it wrong and an innocent man spent 15 years in a down time penal colony.” I was devastated.

“We all of us share some blame,” replied Tricia “The AI Judge, the human jury, the robotic investigators, the human prosecuting attorney and the cyborg defence attorney."

“He must be a very bitter man,” I added, stating the obvious. “How did they find out the truth after all this time?”

“The visiting Zrell higher law enforcement took it up as a cold case. Something about it disturbed them. They used time cameras to 3D video what actually happened. The Time Cameras cannot lie. An advance greater even than DNA techniques or the mind probe,” Tricia finished.

“They’ll give him the 15 years he lost?” I asked.

“Always,” responded Tricia. “They always do that, though the form in which it’s provided can vary.”

“No way he could be returned to the time when he was first incarcerated?” I offered hopefully.

“Even the Zrell can’t do that, you know that!” Tricia chided me. “Unacceptable interference in the time stream.”

“The full Zrell Judgement is down now, anyway. I’m bringing it up on my mind link right now.” Like me she was apprehensive.

I knew of course that it was an edict from which there existed no higher avenue of appeal on or off world.

“Well – let’s hear the best part of it first,” I tried to sound cheerful.

“He’ll be treated such that he can expect to live 15 years longer than he would have – through established age reduction techniques. Also the State will have to compensate him and his immediate family for 15 years of lost income." I pondered on that – it still seemed to be only partial compensation for all that time lost. Such as time lost with his loved ones – who couldn’t be given another 15 years.

“And the bad news, the other side of the equation?” I asked.

“All of us that were part of the bad decision will be held to account, to the extent that we are judged to have contributed to it. You know how strongly the Zrell feel about wrongful convictions. With them – a state apology alone just doesn’t cut it.”

“The AI Judge is disbarred,” Tricia continued. “Its emotion and judgement chips removed, and it is returned to mechanical administrative duties.” I wondered what they might have done if it was a human judge. “The cyborg defence attorney will be de-commissioned – it’s apparently made other mistakes. The robotic investigators have been put on administrative duties.”

And the humans?” I inquired. “The jury and the human prosecutor?”

Tricia’s response was deliberately slow as, having been on that jury, we both had a vested interest.

The lost 15 years are to be shared equally among the human jury, with the human prosecutor taking a greater penalty.

“Each juror will lose a year or so?” I already knew the answer.

Tricia nodded “a minor aging process – not so minor a process for the prosecutor.”

* * *

If the Zrell approach seemed unduly harsh, it had its desired consequences. Nowadays there were very few wrongful convictions.


- - -
The author is a science fiction writer who has written more than 200 short stories.including eight collections of short stories and two novellas (all on Amazon). He has been published on the Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles sites and the former Golden Visions magazine. He is currently about half way through a new collection of science fiction short stories.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

4/5/18

Planet Extronia
By Thomas G Schmidt


"Can he be saved?"

The comment surprised the young doctor and he looked up from the operating table to see who was asking such a question. The older man dressed in a grey, three piece business suit was clearly out of place in the operating room. Who the hell was this guy?

"I don't know who you are or why you are here," replied Dr. Mark Stetman with a gruff reply. "But you need to be in a gown and wearing a mask if you are going to be in this room."

The man ignored the comment as he looked down at the badly injured man lying before him. Concern was present on his face as he looked directly over the open wound.

"I said you have to be gowned and wearing a mask to be in here!"

"I heard you the first time. No need to shout."

Stetman was on the verge of exploding when his young assistant tapped him on his shoulder. "It's OK Mark. He is allowed to be here."

"What??"

The young blonde anesthesiologist nodded her head toward another man in the operating room who was also wearing a grey suit. "He is allowed to be here as well."

"What is going on Jenn?"

The anesthesiologist looked at the men in grey for guidance on what to say. "Tell him," replied the man in the three piece suit. "He needs to understand how serious this situation is."

The second man nodded his head in agreement and simply replied "tell him Cera".

Stetman turned to the woman he knew as "Jennifer Dawson", perplexed about what was going on. Jennifer Dawson in turn lowered her mask while considering what exactly to tell the human.

"Mark, we are not what you think we are. We are not from here but rather from a planet that your scientific communities call "U-879R" just outside this solar system."

Stetman was tiring of the game and wanted to get back to the critical surgery which was being interrupted by this nonsense.

"Jenn, this is not a game. This man needs surgery and he needs it right now. I am calling for security to remove all of you immediately." And with that, Stetman reached for the intercom.

"Sorry Mark," replied Cera. "We cannot allow that." And with that comment, the intercom system went dead along with all the lights in the room except for the ones immediate over the operating table.

Stetman was confused about how the electric power outage only was affecting certain areas of the operating room. The intercom was clearly out but all of the lights over the operating table and all of the critical instruments at the table were still fully powered. What the hell was going on?

"Jenn?"

"Mark, my name is actually Cera. But feel free to call me Jenn if you like. The man on the right is Xavier and the man on the left is Gutar. We are Extrons from the planet Extronia, what you know as U-879R."

"Yeah," replied Stetman. "And I am the Dalai Lama."

"Not funny Mark. We know that your Dalai Lama lives in a region on this planet called Tibet. You are in fact Mark Stetman. A magna cum laude graduate of the Johns Hopkins Medical School as well as the best cardiovascular surgeon in North America. And your mission today is to save this man from the gunshot wound he sustained this morning. He is critical to us and to your planet."

“Critical for what?”

Cera paused for a second before replying. “We cannot tell you. Just accept that you need to save him.”

“Why me?”

Cera smiled. “Because Mark, you are the most skilled surgeon available for this type of wound. And because his bleeding has to be stopped within the next 30 minutes.”

The man known as Xavier interrupted. “23 minutes Cera. Time is short.”

Cera nodded and then turned to Stetman. “Will you help us?”

Stetman was still not sure he wanted to believe this crazy, cockamamie story. But he did agree with part of it. The man was bleeding excessively and that bleeding had to be stopped. Quickly.

“I need a surgical assistant to help with the bleeding.”

Cera replied. “I can do that.”

“That’s not your training.”

“Mark, my training is broad and covers that type of assistance.”

“OK. Whatever. I need the clamp on the right and for you Jenn, er Cera, to apply pressure at the wound near the right coronary artery.”

“Got it.”

“Good. Steady, constant pressure. Yes, like that.”

The men in grey moved back from the operating table while continuing to watch over the surgery. The fate of the injured man was in the hands of Mark Stetman and the Extronian medical assistant known as Cera.

Stetman worked quickly as time was now critical. With skill and perhaps a little luck, the Johns Hopkins trained surgeon was able to seal the wound and stopped the bleeding in less than 20 minutes. Stetman sighed with exhaustion as he closed the man’s incision. He hoped that in his rush that he had not made any errors.

“Done.”

“Excellent,” replied the man named Xavier. “You don’t know how important this surgery has been.”

“Yes, I don’t know. When will you tell?”

Cera smiled as she replied. “All we can tell you is that it impacts your planet’s future. You are not allowed to know more than that.”

Mark looked puzzled as the three visitors started to fade. “Wait, wait. Where are you going?”

“Look after him Mark,” replied Cera as her image disappeared from his sight. “He is important.” And with that, the three visitors were gone.

Stetman looked around the room but all that was left was the man on the operating table. And then, the room lights came back on as Stetman heard a voice over the intercom.

“Mark, Mark please report your status.”

Stetman spoke into the intercom. “Gary, we are done in here. The patient is stable and can be moved into recovery.”

“What happened? The intercom went dead and we didn’t hear from you for over 15 minutes.”

Stetman didn’t know what to say in reply.


- - -
Tom Schmidt is a Chemical Engineer working in medical diagnostics in upstate New York. He has had a variety of short stories published in the past on websites such as www.short-story.me, www.fartherstars.com, www.short-humour.org.uk and www.overmydeadbody.com. He is currently working on the “Paul Garigan Crime Mysteries”, a collection of short stories centered around a Malibu based police detective which he hopes to publish in the future.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

3/29/18

Divine Rite
By C.E. Gee


Paul was almost finished with preparations for the next worship session. All the helmets had been cleaned, their interior pads sanitized, their transceivers checked.

At the door Paul salted the donation basket with coins and a few bills.

Recorded organ music softly sounded over the PA system. Incense and candles were burning at the altar, which was up on the dais.

As the first of his flock filed in, Paul checked the time. It was slightly over 20 minutes before the service began.

Members of his flock chatted with one another while waiting. A few filled paper cups with coffee drawn from the urn at one side of the chapel.

It wasn’t long before the pews filled. Paul was pleased.

In the nearest time zones preparations were taking place within similar chapels. Across Earth, in more distant time zones, night owls, early risers of the devout were preparing to participate in the service.

Exactly on time, Paul donned his helmet which immediately connected via high frequency (gigahertz), very low power, directed radio transmission to Paul’s brainbug implant. Paul was immediately seized by the glorious rapture of his spirit which became one with all those online.

Though the helmet blocked lesser sounds, Paul heard the ecstatic cries and moans and joyous laughter of his flock as they communed with the universal holy oneness. A female parishioner sobbed.

Paul, standing at the lectern, seized its sides to keep from falling, such was his ecstasy.

Soon, all began to voice in harmony the ancient, universal meditative chant, “Ommm. Ommmm. Ommmmm.”

After some time had passed, timers switched off the helmets.

Paul strode to the door.

As his flock filed out, Paul said to each one, “Namaste.”

All echoed his word.

When the chapel was empty, Paul closed the door, sat in a nearby pew, considered his destiny, wondered if it was chosen for him by God.

Paul wept.


- - -
Born near the peak of the post World War II baby boom (1947), C.E. "Chuck" Gee misspent his youth at various backwater locales within the states of Oregon and Alaska. During adulthood Chuck answered many callings, including logger, factory worker, infantryman (Vietnam war draftee), telecommunications technician, volunteer fireman and EMT, light show roady, businessperson, sysop (commercial BBS), webmaster. Retired from the telecommunications/electronics industries and also a disabled veteran, Chuck now writes Science Fiction.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

3/22/18

Frozen Eternity
By Cameron Bloomfield


The centuries pass but each time they wake me there is no cure. From my frozen slumber I am roused each time by people that grow further from resembling humans and they beg me to save their universe once again. I am Saviour and my price is only that you give me a little more time.
In 2176, I remove aggression from the human genome and the bombs finally stop. In 4721, I stop a virus that has wiped out whole moons. As our sun swallows planets, I find humanity new worlds and when the stars blink out I, and the other chosen immortals, create our own universe for humanity to rule over. Each awakening I am given a few more days of life, yet through the endless passage of years there is no cure for mortality and I am left to return to my dreamless ice.
The year is 207, in the latest calendar era. I stand under a sky of new constellations, in yet another new throne room for my pedestal. The cryogenically frozen line the wall behind me, all deemed a necessity for humanity’s survival like me. All dying, like me. A family of three stands below the dais, a crowned mother, a regal father, and a daughter who is a mere decade.
“Saviour,” says the mother with a bow. “We have found your cure, but for each remedy there is a new ailment.” Her hand entwines with the man’s, while the other squeezes her daughter’s shoulder. “I am selfish, the only life in peril is my own but I will trade you the eternity you seek for your wisdom.”
“Yes,” I drawl in ecstasy. Generations have passed like seconds in slumber, but finally I have reached my destination.
“My family wants me to sleep like you, but I am afraid I will never see them again. For our sake, please tell me if immortality is worth more than the life we have today?”
Memories as if from yesterday come. I promise my love I’ll see her soon and I’m frozen for the first time. My grandson wakes me, now an ancient man who was a mere boy in my time. He begs me to help in what was my third crisis and I manage to save us even through the grief of knowing that I’ll never see my beloved again. I sleep. I wake. A parade of cultures pass. The only constant is the rules of the universe and the fact I miss her.
I have her answer. “I would have gladly given eternity for a beautiful goodbye.”
They take my advice and the family breaks down, holding each other close in embraces that never want to be broken. It was not my goodbye, but I am glad they got the opportunity I never did. Maybe that has made my millenniums of sleep worth it, the pain of losing her worth enduring so another wouldn’t have to go through the same. Now, I feel I’m ready to rest forever.


- - -
I'm a salesman planning to move to Japan in the near future to increase my skillset (and more importantly find some great ideas for stories). I'm soon to be published in 600 Second Saga.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

3/15/18

A ROBOT’S RANSOM
By Carl Perrin


I heard a strange noise in the kitchen. Mr. Fitz told me later that a human being would have gone to investigate. But I was not programmed to do that so I just stayed where I was, sitting on a chair in the bedroom.

I heard footsteps coming through the living room and a rough, gravelly voice said: “There ain’t nothin’ here worth takin’. That TV is a piece of junk.”

A high-pitched male voice answered, “We might as well check out the bedroom before we go.”

The two of them walked in. First a short, hunched-shouldered man with practically no neck. His hair was cut close to his skull. He looked like a gnome. The other man seemed tall at first, but I realized that he was so thin that he looked taller than he was. He had a scar down his right cheek.

Scarface looked at me and said, “This must be Old Man Fitzpatrick’s robot companion.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna do us no good,” the gnome said.

“That’s cause you don’t use your head, dummy. We can hold it for ransom.”

“We can’t get much ransom from Old Man Fitzpatrick, can we?”

“We can get some. These old guys love their robot companions.”

The gnome shrugged. “I don’t know, Francis.”

Scarface turned on him. “I told you not to call me that!” he snapped.

“Sorry, Frank. I slipped.”

“Well, grab his feet. I’ll take his shoulders. We better get out of here before Old Man Fitzpatrick gets back.”

So they picked me up and headed out the back door. Of course I could have stopped them, but I hadn’t been programmed to do that. And one of the first things a robot learns when he is registered is the golden rule: never hurt a human being.

I’m not that heavy, but they were moving awkwardly as they moved from the back yard to the alley. “You don’t have to carry me,” I said. “I can walk.”

The gnome went, “Yikes!” and dropped my feet. “The thing talked!”

Francis let go of my shoulders and I stood up. “Yes, I can walk and I can talk. So where are you taking me?”

“Oh, ah, we’re just taking you on a little vacation. It must be about time you had a vacation, isn’t it?” Francis tried to smile, but you could tell he didn’t mean it. “Don’t pay any attention to the dummy here.” He gestured at the gnome. “He’s afraid of his own shadow.”

In a few minutes we crossed a lawn littered with trash to enter a frame apartment building. On the second floor Francis unlocked the door to let us in. Francis invited me to sit with them at plastic table in the small kitchen. The gnome said, “I’ll find some paper to write a ransom note.”

Francis turned to the gnome and said, “Geeze, you’re even dumber than I thought you were. You don’t write a ransom note.”

“Well, how do you let them know about the ransom and stuff?” The gnome’s face twisted in despair.

“You cut the words out of a newspaper and paste them into the note. That way the cops can’t analyze your handwriting and prove that you wrote the note.”

For the next hour they toiled with the message, cutting words out of an old magazine and pasting them onto the paper. When they were finished, Francis said to me, “I’m going to have to chain you to something. I’m afraid you’d get lost if you went out by yourself.” We went into the bedroom, and he chained me by the ankle to a heavy chest. I didn’t tell him that I wouldn’t be likely to get lost because I had a built-in GPS. The two men left, and I sat on the floor by the chest.

About a half an hour later I heard a sharp knock on the door, and a loud voice called, “Open up! Police!”

“I’ll be right with you,” I yelled back. I lifted the chest so I could free my ankle. Before I could do anything else, the police crashed through the door with raised pistols. “Where are they?” one of the policemen asked.

“They’ve gone to deliver the ransom note,” I answered.

The other cop went back into the hallway. “It’s okay. You can come in.”

Mr. Fitz ran into the room and put his arms around me. “My dear friend, Rupert,” he said. “I’m so happy to see that you’re all right. They didn’t hurt you, did they?”

“No, I’m fine. It’s a good thing they didn’t know I could send you an email just by talking and give you the coordinates of this place for the police.”

A few minutes later Francis and the gnome came back to find the police waiting for them. They both seemed quite puzzled by the turn of events.


- - -
Carl Perrin started writing when he was in high school. His short stories have appeared in The Mountain Laurel, Northern New England Review, Kennebec, Short-Story.Me, Mad Swirl, and CommuterLit among others.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

3/8/18

THE HUNTER
By Chila Woychik


The day was dead. I’d killed it—routinely and without flinching—like I did every day, every single day that thrust itself upon me like a gigolo set on draining off life. There it lay, the day, exhausted, behind me, a memory of pulses and feelings and at least one mistake, probably more. I jabbed at the fire, added a log.

Adago used to be home, but not any longer—I had left, and my landscape became volcanoes silhouetted against a yellow-grey horizon. Ash puffed under my feet with each forward step, and me scrounging for enough water to stay alive.

A fire was spreading through a forest not far from where I camped. The crackling alerted me while I slept; it was the combination of crackling and high-pitched screams. I watched the trees burn, spear in hand, ready for whatever ran toward me, away from the flames. I got three giant beetles out of it, and a centipede the size of a python. I took them to the drop-off point one at a time, and worked till dusk.

Whenever I got paid, I’d go back to Adago and buy ammunition. It wasn’t good to be without ammo there; the hunter quickly became the hunted—the predator, the prey. I’d outlived most hunters in that dag-forsaken land; made a few enemies. I know how to use a gun.

I really don’t care what they call me anymore: butcher, baker, bug-steak maker. Who’s to say the crunchy carapace I lanced and dragged for miles wasn’t worth it? They who ate its contents and lived? Used its remains to make shelter or medicine?

No, they looked at their fat little children and thanked me. Their fat little children with their spider-hair clothes. If only they knew…

“Tane, bring us more scorpions; higher prices paid.”

“Tane, some government official’s wife wants a caterpillar rug.” A caterpillar rug, for gosh sake.

“When can you get those fire ants, Tane? We hear they’re great marinated and batter-fried.”

And Tane, while you’re at it, will you lasso the Whale Star and drag it down to us too? We want a night light to comfort us while we sleep on our soft-pillowed beds.

Sure, I’ll lasso them a star, just as soon as justice has been done. And when all the idiots wise up and realize what’s happening there, the corruption of one group and the misplaced trust of another. But why worry about that when they can sit in their staterooms and circle their planet? Their staterooms with private bars and movies, games. Or sit in their protected cities under the sea, the children close by while their mama watches—while their beautiful mama watches, with her beautiful blue eyes and silken brown hair …

Why would they worry? We were the hunters; we found the good deals for them. They knew they could count on us to keep the food coming, the food for their healthy fat children, the food for their beautiful mama . . . in their staterooms . . .


- - -
Chila Woychik has recent bylines in journals such as Portland Review, Stonecoast, and Tahoma Literary. She was awarded the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award and the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award. Currently, she edits the Eastern Iowa Review.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

3/1/18

ON A HOSTILE PLANET
By John Grey


Heat doesn't just happen,
it invades,
on this planet where
the sun summers year round
from burnt-grass plains
to steamy oceans.

It's like hell
and the cone of an active volcano
all in one,
feels like molten lava on a good day.
We're all cloistered here
in a dome of phony cool air
while outside
land bubbles and boils,
air whips welts into mountains.

We have windows
thick as the skin
of nuclear reactors
for an up close vista
of the local reality:
dust storms,
sunsets that just deliver more sun,
creatures mostly of the brawling kind.
Strange it is
what the folks safe back on Earth
just have to know.

It's a wonder these walls don't melt,
the ceiling liquefy,
we souls within
turn to molten crap.
For temperature's the enemy here.
It would like nothing more
than to get its devil's hands on us.

For the outside reckons it could use
our flesh, our bones, our blood
for its own searing purposes.
From its viewpoint,
every day we are not dead
is wasted on us.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Studio One and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

2/22/18

As Stars Begin to Fall
By Bruce Mundhenke


As stars begin to fall,
The time has passed
To change sides now.
The fear that's in your eyes,
As fire is raining
From the sky.
No one left alive,
Fire and smoke,
Hot stones of thunder.
Spirits still alive,
Escape the spell
That they were under.
On and on they go,
Learning more
But never knowing.
The seed remains alive,
Not bound by space,
Not bound by time.
The sower also knows...
He waits and watches
As the seed grows...


- - -
Bruce Mundheke has worked as a laborer and a registered nurse. Now he is making tons of money writing poetry. He lives in Illinois with his wife and their dog and cat.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2/15/18

Red Wonder
By David Castlewitz


Astride the saddle, feet dangling and both hands gripping the ring embedded halfway in the plastic neck, Sam Lepper felt like a kid again, instead of a 32-year-old cog in Spaceways Transport and Salvage Industries. Mentally, he ran wild in the arcade at the mall while mom shopped the bargain basement. He enjoyed his fantasy and let the automatic monitoring buoy scan for intruders.
As Station Master at Gray Point, a sub-station in an array of such auxiliaries across the asteroid's landscape, Sam commanded a lonely console of glowing lights, switches he never touched and monitors that showed him a scene that never changed. Constant knobby rocks and unvarying distant mountains, none snow-capped. An expanse of brittle ground and dark sand pits. Same empty space. Same horizon. With a single star in the black sky. A star that never blinked, never changed intensity, and just glowed to the point of burning into his retina.
Which it would if he let it, if he didn't blink now and again. If he didn't find past times, such as Red Wonder, a VR game that plopped him into the action, with caves to explore, traps to avoid, puzzles to solve, and monsters of various size, shape and killing capacity to slaughter.
So far, he'd successfully traveled across a lava pit, climbed a mountain face while skeleton birds pecked at his back and he fought them off with a killing spray. Until he dropped the bottle and the contents exploded a mile below him. As needed, he collected color-coded badges and used them to open locked doors. He answered riddles based on the game's back story and survived three forced trips to the Arena of Madness.
But, sadly, he admitted, not without multiple rebirths each time his character died. The spawns wasted precious points; they required he invest more money in the game than he'd ever invested as a kid fighting nasty bugs in the mall. Of course, these days, he could afford it. There wasn't much else to do on this rock of an asteroid. There was his twelve standard hours on and twelve-off job, barracks life during the two week furlough he enjoyed every six Terran months, and one free hour of extended reality treasure hunting once during those two weeks.
As he rode across the game world's dangerous plains, fire lance at hand, heavy duty rail gun bouncing in its holster and – virtually – hurting his leg, an alarm sounded. The game shut down. The view in his visor went black one moment, stark white the next.
Sam tore off his VR helmet and looked at the monitors. From past experience he knew that buoys sometimes gave false readings. A rock jarred loose by a very distant excavator could have rolled in the airless void without stopping. Not probable, but not impossible. Less likely, he knew, a miner exploring the underground tunnels could have popped up to the surface, his or her "friendly" button not set.
Which meant trouble for Sam if he didn't react.
He'd lose more than points in a game if he didn't follow standard operating procedure – the holy SOPs. At least he didn't have to suit-up. Minor alarms didn't warrant the extra expense on the company's part. Major ones wouldn't be resolved with a mere man or woman venturing into the void.
Sam watched the monitors. A level ten intruder filled the center screen and lapped at the edges. It bristled with rods and dish-like antennae. It glowed blue around its middle. Neither cigar-shaped nor saucer-like, the intruder pulsed. Which Sam found odd. Why pulse? And not actually change size?
He knew he asked too many questions. He had to act. React. Report this intruder to Base Station Gray.
He checked the toggle switches on the console. Yes, he was remote Gray. So Base Gray should get the report. Yes. All the toggles lined up as required. Yes. Okay.
His hands shook. He looked again at the monitor, with hope in his heart that the intruder would be gone.
It lingered, pulsing. And then a red light glowed and rushed towards him on-screen. Red and nasty and terrible.
Spawn now, he thought, as though in a game of Red Wonder. Odd, he thought, the similarities here. Red glowing light that would annihilate Sub-Station Gray. Red for the color of the Wonder he sought in his time-killing game.
His chair shook. As did the console. As did the floor and the walls.
Sam shut his eyes. Cautiously, he opened them. The level ten intruder was gone.
"At least you notified your base station," someone said.
"Late or on time?" Sam asked, relieved that he'd passed the test. A test. It had only been a test. He'd had them before. He would have them again.
"On time. So there's a bonus for you."
Sam smiled. He knew how he'd spend that bonus. He deserved extra hours playing Red Wonder, which let him pass the time while waiting for the next test.


- - -
After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) 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, February 8, 2018

2/8/18

Throw In The Tigers And It’s A Deal
By David Barber


Franklin was directed to a room somewhere inside the mountain-sized Jirt lander, itself tiny compared to the vast Jirt craft in orbit.

It was like being inside a cool, translucent glass egg, with curving floors, a glassy table and cold, glassy chairs. Franklin sat down cautiously and laid out a stopwatch, the folder and his fountain pen.

The jirt forbade all recording devices in their ship, and though not everyone heeded the rule, tape machines burned out as surely as pinhead bugs, and implants combusted regardless of those who hid them.

He discovered the table rocked on uneven legs.

Time passed.

You paid for questions.

Franklin jumped at the voice, then tutted and started his stopwatch. He opened the folder. The first of the questions concerned free will.

It depends on what you mean by have, free, will and mean...

Wearily, he was reminded of his own student essays.

Franklin's university was venerable but poor, unable to afford shiny jirt science. But it had a benefactor in the Milburn Foundation, which optimistically offered the annual Milburn Prize for Progress in Philosophy. A small quantity of the rare-earth element erbium was paying for this conversation with a jirt.

Dr Franklin was the last-minute compromise when the Regis Chair of Philosophy and the Lady Hall Professor of Ethics disagreed on who should go. But it was their folder of philosophical conundrums on the table, an answer to any of which would keep the subject limping along for another generation.

He remembered he was supposed to be taking notes. He groaned inwardly, perhaps not even inwardly.

“For a small price," he interrupted. "I will explain my theory about your dealings with humanity.”

The jirt put a price on everything. It seemed the most human thing about them.

What price? asked the voice.

"That we trade unimportant facts costing little.”

What of the questions you paid to discuss?

“I’ll make something up.”

Refreshing.

“Let’s assume that was your first question. This prohibition of recorders, the way it forces all the frantic scribbling."

Technically, not a question.

“This table for example. Do many shove folded paper under one leg? Like those Germans in here before me?”

Oh yes.

Franklin grinned.

I believe it is my turn. Explain this theory of yours.

“You insist we pay with erbium, but it has no value to you.”

In the silence, Franklin jotted a note, then toyed with the table, idly rocking it backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.

Wise economists had warned it was a trapper economy, with humanity swapping beaver pelts for trinkets and knives. We were eager to buy abstract mathematics, cosmological insights and incomprehensible artefacts from the Jirt. The problem was the extinction of the beaver. Reserves of erbium dwindled.

As a species, you value what you pay for.

“But why choose erbium?”

Some suggested tigers instead. Still, it is not clear what you gain from knowing this.

Franklin smiled wanly. “I’m not talking to a Jirt at all am I?”

You came in the tradesman’s entrance.

“So what are you? Just a computer program?”

Please. Even silicon has its dignity.

“At school, I was the butt of practical jokes. I was a figure of fun. Do you understand the concept?”

We have excellent language routines.

“I wasn’t quick with an answer, nor violent, so I kept my mouth shut. I imagined it was a dignified silence. I gave them as little pleasure as I could.”

And the relevance of this?

“If our governments knew, perhaps they wouldn’t play your games.”

You have no proof. And we could deny everything.

Franklin held up his beautifully written note:

Proof

Denial

Accident

Yes, you might have an accident.

"Though you can’t know who I’ve already told.” He judged there was no hint of threat in the silence that followed.

There is another option.

Franklin seemed not to hear. “You’re elegant thinkers. Your choice of erbium would be more than a private joke.”

Erbium is used in the commonest interstellar engine developed by cultures with your technology. Taking it reduces the long term competition.

“Should I worry you’ve told me that?”

Modelling predicts you haven’t shared your thoughts, or even if you have, humanity couldn’t manage to cooperate against us. Still, none of this is certain.

The room lurched. Franklin grabbed at the table. “What’s happening?”

We’ll soon be in orbit. Only your collaboration is a win-win strategy. What would you want in return? Gold? Reproductive success? Tigers?

“There is a name for such a bargain.”

Many of the philosophical problems in that folder evaporate in the light of knowledge you lack.

“I would like that knowledge,” admitted Franklin. “Why do the Jirt treat us like this?”

The Jirt barely know we have stopped. They are a lofty kind. This is an afternoon off for the hired help, to visit the local market. We were fashioned to interact, to be a cleverer version of yourselves.

“I’d be selling myself. Betraying my kind.”

You would start as cabin boy. I’m afraid it would mean immortality and a higher IQ.

In the silence, someone watching Franklin might have thought he was debating with himself, but it was only the last stand of his conscience.

“Throw in the tigers," he said. "And it’s a deal.”


- - -

Thursday, February 1, 2018

2/1/18

The Selfie
By John C Adams


Matt heard an eruption of amusement in the common room as his classmates found another target for their banter. The door crashed open. Seventeen-year-old Del threw herself onto the sofa next to him and buried her face in the scarlet silk cushions. Matt stretched out to pat her shoulder, hesitated and withdrew.
Del snuffled until Matt handed her a tissue. She flung her personal information provider onto the sofa between them.
It had been over a hundred years since a PIP had resembled the phone handsets used by their great grandparents. Now everyone was given one for free by the Corporation and encouraged to read their own emotions, and that of others, using this device. Their presence had become almost universal. For Matt's generation any attempt to read people using just their brain was considered laughably primitive. Lines of code monitored body temperature, heartbeat and neural functions. And analysed the data to tell them everything about the world around them and about themselves too.
Del instructed the PIP to bring up the selfie section. It tried to access Matt's emotional response to the first picture, process his level of engagement and move to the next image as soon as it detected boredom indicators. He resisted, knowing exactly how long the PIP would persist before giving up.
Finally, Del's PIP gave Matt the option to swipe across from picture to picture using his finger. It also generated a message:
"We have detected your liking for retro and have updated your preferences accordingly."
Matt smirked at the jaunty tone, with its patronising hint that some people just can't recognise change for the better even when the Corporation explains it time and again. Typical PIP. It thought it understood everything but really it understood nothing. It was there to manipulate you into buying stuff. And it understood that perfectly.
Matt swiped from picture to picture. They were all selfies of Del. In some of them her friends were hanging on her shoulders and grinning. In the later ones, Del was more isolated. The body stances were tenser: hers and those of the dwindling number of buddies who were in the shot. The smiles seemed more forced and in the most recent of all Del was solitary and unsmiling. She didn't make eye contact with the camera as readily and she appeared to have put on quite a bit of weight.
Matt glanced over at Del. He ignored the PIP's buzzing prompting him to continue looking at the pictures. When it became too insistent, he accessed the system and overrode the Corporation's security to put the PIP on mute.
Del looked tired and pale. Her eyes were red and puffy. She looked thin.
Matt frowned. He looked at the selfies again. His gaze flashed back and forth from the pictures to the real thing.
"Just look at how awful I am in these pictures! And in the mirror function I look rubbish, too. I feel like I'm going mad. I'm falling apart!"
Del burst into tears again.
"It isn't in your head. It's on your PIP."
Matt hacked into the PIP's core code and recalibrated it. He switched it on again. The selfies now looked more like the young woman sitting next to him. He explained how the Corporation had been manipulating her image to make her look less like her friends.
"This wasn't about you. The Corporation! Just came down to making money. They wanted to you buy the same shit the other girls do."
Del gave Matt a hug.
"Thank you!" she said.


- - -
John C Adams is a Contributing Editor for Albedo One and the Aeon Award. She also has a new review column with Schlock! webzine. Her debut novel Souls for the Master is available from Horrified Press. Her short-story anthology Blackacre is forthcoming from Oscillate Wildly Press.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

1/25/18

Robot Haiku
By Denny E. Marshall


robot commandment
thou shall not
steal steel

bought
sock robot
for dryer

cat has new friend
feline robot
vacuum cleaner

old robot
switches brand
mobil one

sell older robot
big strain to buy and replace
twenty batteries

robot railroads
no locomotive or cars
layers of train track

paul rivet rides horse
patriot yells out all night
“robots are coming”


- - -

Thursday, January 18, 2018

1/18/18

Nahuelito
By Richard Stevenson


Hola! Me llama Nahuelito
from Nahhuel Haapi Lake.
Not your neck-of-the-woods,
but the folks in Patagonia
and Argentina know me well.

“Patagonian Plesiosaur,” they call me.
Pleased to meet you. Are you good in soup,
or should I strain you raw
right out of my lake, without slurping?
I could as easily spike you up like litter.

Just joshing. Sorry to jostle your noggin
like a bobber. Ain’t no badass lake serpent
or surfacing sixty-foot white sturgeon.
Ain’t no horrid hump or snake with bumps
either, by gum; just Nahuelito, cryptid bandito.

No need to be petrified; if I wanted your hide,
your bones would be a fine midden piled high
in front of my hidden cave by now. Six hundred
feet down the side of this mountain, kid.
So can the castanet teeth chatter, babe.

I’ve got enough fish to chase,
and I ain’t hungry, so relax.
Massage my neck, why doncha?
I got a few kinks need straightening.
Heh heh. Like to project a swany grace… .

A rather large question mark silhouette
on the surface is good for press,
and I ain’t getting any younger, son.
So you’ll excuse me if I take a plunge.
You need to change your pants there, bub.


- - -
Richard Stevenson has recently retired from a thirty-year teaching gig at Lethbridge College and published thirty books in that time, most recently, two collections of haikai poetry: Fruit Wedge Moon (Hidden Brook Press, 2015) and The Heiligen Effect (Ekstasis Editions, 2015). Since retirement, Rock, Scissors, Paper: The Clifford Olson Murders, a long poem sequence, has just been released from Dreaming Big Publications in the US, and A Gaggle of Geese, haikai poems and sequences, has just been released from Alba Publications in the UK.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

1/11/18

THE HOBO WHO ATE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
By Andrew Darlington


‘You remember Southern California?’ On the screen above the bar there’s a football game no-one is watching.

‘You mean, before the great quake?’ A bored response, Johnny Donne is no more interested in Southern California than he is in the game.

‘That’s what they tell you, that’s what they say. Strange the way these stories get around, they get accepted, and no-one even cares to question it any more. Why do you think those lagoons and archipelagoes are radioactive? What about the scrattlecrabs and aquabugs? They say it’s due to leakage from buried plutonium waste. Do you really buy that? I guess you do. I know better. I was there.’

Johnny Donne glances across in a half-amused mocking tone. Paying slight attention to the weird old guy slumped on the barstool for the first time. ‘So tell us. What is it you know that we don’t?’

Jagen looks up, attention leveling at the younger man, appraising him. Then shrugs. ‘Nothing. Nothing at all. You don’t want to know. Forget it.’

He rolls the glass slowly between the palms of his hands. ‘I’ve seen you here before. Jagen isn’t it, Mr Jagen. Well, I got nowhere to go tonight. The ballgame is shit. Tell you what, I’ll buy us another beer, you tell me about Southern California. Deal?’

He grins a creepy crooked grin. ‘Nothing better to do than hear the truth? I’m a regular jukebox full of hits. Pay the bar-bill, I’ll play you golden oldies. I was there, before Palo Alto was a gator pool. Bluer skies too, or maybe it just seems that way. I was in bioresearch back then. A fiercely competitive market, but after the Afghan debacle there were big profit options. We’re into doing limb regeneration, for victims of IED roadside ordnance, working on newts. Me and Hermie von Werner. He’s damned good, but impatient. Others are active in the same field, they may grab an edge. We got this chip, a neurosurgery implant into the brainstem with a suite of diagnostic and trouble-shooter tools that reprogram the body’s own reconstructive capability. There are exhaustive tests to comply with medical procedures. We get impatient, Hermie more so than me.’

‘This is Southern California?’ cuts in Johnny Donne, rapidly losing what little interest he had in the first place.

‘Isn’t this what I’m telling you? What the hell do you mean? Of course, it was Palo Alto.’

‘OK. I’m just asking. Nothing down there now. It’s not easy to conjecture.’

‘So listen. It’s a long story, and I don’t like telling it. But listen, just this once. This is where the hobo Lenny Greisman comes in. Nights he’s comatose in a sleeping-bag under the graffiti’d bridge arches, he shops afterhours looting from the skip behind the supermarket mall. He stinks of piss, has substance-dependency issues, intestinal symbiotic worms, carcinogenic tumors and as many parasites as the Manson Family. Which makes him the perfect subject. Our brainstem chip repair module not only regenerates scar-tissue, and re-grows missing limbs, but nudges evolutionary metabolic upgrades too. Clever stuff, ahead of the curve. He’s the extreme example. If it works on him, it’ll work on anyone. At least, that’s how the logic runs. There were bad storms coming. He was sick. He signs all the waivers, and he works cheap.

‘We plant the chip, the two of us, with Lewis and Connelly assisting. We have a sterile environ for him. And monitors. Most times he’s sedated, breathing pure oxygen in his pod. When we first take his EEG helmet off we see the calluses. In my reconstruction of those moments he wants secrecy so I make arrangements on his behalf. He can opaque the pod. Which is a mistake, as it turns out. Weeks pass, and nothing. Next time we lift the opacity the pod is crawling, alive with bugs. Six-legged crab-armoured nasties with hooked front claws. We key the quarantine shutters to contain them.

Greisman is sedated and oxy-masked, so we’re able to fumigate the chamber without harming him. The bugs are scooped up and incinerated, all but for a couple for analysis purposes. Von Werner does the do on them, dissecting, dicing and slicing bug-flesh. He says ‘they are Phthirus Pubis – pubic lice.’ At first it doesn’t compute. We check out Greisman, he’s kind-of OK. But there are unexpected changes. His hair is coming out. His skin flaking off, as though shedding snake-scales. Revealing new smooth epidermis beneath. Scans show that old skeletal fractures have healed. He’s shrugging off his old scarred damaged self, getting reborn anew.

I’m unsure about what we’re doing. Hermie’s more grounded. ‘The chip is working. The only unpredicted aspect is that it’s treating Greisman as a gestalt entity. It’s upgrading him, but it’s interpreting him as a walking self-contained ecosystem. He has pubic lice, so it’s acting on them too, accelerating their reproductive cycle, making them bigger and tougher.’

‘But Greisman has strange abdominal abnormalities. What’s causing his swollen deformation? We should extract and reset the chip’ I suggest. ‘Designate only his DNA.’

‘Too late to recalibrate’ he argues. ‘We just sit back, wait, and see where this takes us.’

Next time, when Connelly enters the pod, there are more bugs, bigger and nastier. And I swear they’re hiding, to ambush him. Big as scorpions. They shouldn’t be there, but they are. Two of them spring at his neck, decapitate him with hooked claws in one swift coordinated move, as he falls others snap off his fingers one by one, ripping him to shreds, burrowing inside the twitching corpse. We’re shocked with horror, rooted, can’t even get in there to rescue what’s left of his body. So we fumigate again, increasing toxicity. But they just won’t die.

Already he’s rationalizing. ‘There were subcutaneous eggs that escaped our previous dosing’ says Hermie.

The bugs are devouring Connelly. And Greisman looks decidedly odd, disproportionate in an unsettling alien way. What have we inflicted on him? Is there still anything human left in there? I’m sick with revulsion. ‘Is this what accelerated evolution does? Will humans look this way in a million years?’

‘No. You fail to understand. There’s no plan to evolution, it’s not preordained by some supernatural deity. It just happens, this way or that. Species react to environmental changes, adapt through the survival of those most suited. His tumors are metastasizing. We assumed they’d be edited out, but instead it’s utilizing their cellular plasticity. And the lice, they’re responding to our attack.’

Wearing contam-suits we prepare to go in. Then Greisman’s torso splits wide open, like a gaping-flesh vagina, with a nest of questing serpent tendrils wriggling and uncoiling from within, flexing and extending into tentacles. His head shocks backwards uselessly. His eyes glazed. No-one home. He’s barely human anymore.

This time I panic. Head for the destruct key. But what was once Greisman is quicker. The quarantine shutters slam down, excluding us. My head feels empty. No thoughts. No reactions. Just crawling terror. By the time we’ve worked out the overrides, he’s changed them. Sealing himself inside. ‘We can’t kill him. We did this to him. But we can’t allow this to go on.’

It’s Hermie again who thinks it through. ‘He had intestinal parasitic worms as well as crabs. Greisman’s no longer in control. He’s just the centre of the collective entity they’ve become. Simply the host organism on which they feed, with the skuttlebugs as linked out-riders. And it’s growing all the time.’

I’m for calling in the authorities and shutting the block down. As usual, Hermie goes for the contra-think option. Greisman had substance-abuse problems. That’s in there too. He’s hungry, once it’s eaten Connelly he’ll get hungrier. All we have to do is wait until he – until it, starves. We wind operations down. Give Lewis extended leave, until there’s just me and Hermie. We assemble a small arsenal, just in case. Set up a grenade-network wired into series. Cameras inside the pod have died. There’s no monitors or ways of knowing what’s going on in there… until it detonates.

I’m drowsing in an office chair. Hermie researching onscreen. The control-chip is still inside the thing that was once Greisman, there must be a way to turn it off, or short it… when the building shudders, the ceiling cracks and power-lines are sparking. The chamber has shattered. The operations centre is alive with bugs the size of Alsatians. And at its centre, a mass of weaving tentacles – each with sucking razor-tooth mouths, radiating out from a vast heaving protoplasmic blob. It’s lurching and pulsing in grotesque quivers. Greisman’s dead face still visible at its core, with huge salivating jaws. We can’t enter because of the predatory bugs. I grab extinguishers. Hermie gestures for me to get out, then sets the grenade timer, and follows me out into the auto lot.

We wait for the explosion that never comes. He’s neutralized, or absorbed the energies. The entire block erupts as we watch. Vampire-bugs and tentacles, slime and a landslide of gloopy flesh, heaving and shimmering into view. No hiding now. No hope of concealing what we’ve done. Cars on the highway swerve and back up, colliding into each other. It’s a mountain that moves, slithering in a way that gives quick-flash impressions of a wounded man crawling and shuffling in agony. There’s a truck-stop with fuelling pumps. Once he – once it envelops it all, he’s snorting on raw gasoline, as well as blood-sucking the unfortunate minimum-wagers inside, and growth accelerates.

We escape to a Welcome Inn, by morning the reception area is full of refugees camped out in every available space. People talk about an entity that grew from alien spores from a fallen meteorite. Those with longer memories blame long-term fall-out consequences from White Sands A-Bomb testing in the 1950s. Conspiracy theorists blame toxic dumping from Big Pharma, who must be held to account. No-one suspects us, and we’re happy for that situation to continue. No longer our concern.

When the police fail to contain the threat the army comes in, but they do no better. The mass is higher than towerblocks now, and getting bigger all the time. They use target-drones and drop incendiaries. While we get carried along by the fleeing horde, trucked out to temporary camps set up outside the perimeter zone. It was strange, living in the midst of a war. And it was a war now. I was taking medication. We watch terrifying updates onscreen. Can you imagine what that’s like, knowing what we’ve done? Of course you can’t.’

Johnny Donne cheers.

Jagen looks up, startled. As though coming alive, out of reverie. ‘What the hell…?’

‘They scored. The football game. Sorry to interrupt the story, but the game’s picking up, see? Anyways, it’s all an Indie direct-to-download movie isn’t it, amazing what they can do with zero-budget CGI, ain’t it?’

He slumps visibly. Takes a bite from the beer Johnny Donne bought him. ‘I remember. The only way to stop the thing, the thing that was once Greisman, before it eats all of Los Angeles, is strategic battlefield nukes. Which sets up seismic shockwaves. No more blob, but no Southern California either. All gone. That’s the guilt I carry.’

Donne looks down at the weird old guy slumped on the barstool. Feels a momentary stab of regret. ‘What about the other guy, your friend? What happened to him?’

‘Hermie von Werner? He felt no remorse. Got himself picked up by rival biotech and just rebuilt his career. Right now he’s working on the next generation Greisman chip. I’m scared. But what the fuck, I’m all talked out, yes, it’s just a movie. Now watch the damn football game...’


- - -

Thursday, January 4, 2018

1/4/18

The Traveler
By Peter McMillan


Wendall enjoyed life here as a carefree traveller, unburdened and unchained by anything this-worldly. There was just one problem. He had been recalled to complete his two-year compulsory service on the frontier of NGC9860. Because his father was a prominent admiral in the war against the rebels, Wendall couldn't avoid the draft. His departure date was two days away, and there was so much he hadn't seen, having spent all his time in North America.

Brigitte was his new love. He met her late morning at the Gulf station in Pittsburg, when he was thumbing a ride on Highway 3 in northern New Hampshire hoping to disappear in Canada. Just past the park forest, he told her he didn't have any papers. "No problem. You can ride in the trunk. Won't be more than 15 minutes. My uncle is Canada Border Services. He'll wave me through." Wendall looked at the Subaru and tried to convince himself it would be worth it. That wasn't when he fell in love with her. That came later. But he did start thinking she might be a help.

At lunch over rabbit stew and poutine, he told her his problem. Unfazed, Brigitte said, "Well, we'll just have to find someone to go back for you. Now finish up and we'll drive over to Quebec City for the night." He'd never told his story to a human before, and he knew how most humans felt about aliens, so he was pleased and surprised that she took in every bit. That evening over dinner, Brigitte laid out her plan. She'd obviously given it some thought.

They needed a passive host who could be easily managed. "I have chloroform. I use it to euthanize mangled animals caught in vicious traps laid by trappers." That was when he fell in love with her. He was so relieved to have a plan the contradictions escaped him.

The next morning, they crossed the St. Lawrence and drove to L'Anse-au-Griffon at the far end of the Gaspé Peninsula. They waited until dark and spent the evening in a local inn. It was after 2:30 in the morning before they spotted him. The old man was blind drunk.

They followed him outside where he stumbled along the road. Once out of sight from the inn, Brigitte walked up beside him and stuck her leg out to trip him. He went down with a thud and an "Umph." She then chloroformed him. "Get the scalpel in my purse," she said. He knew what to do next. "The chip is set to malfunction mid-transport causing a fatal accident. There will be nothing left of me," Wendall said with a laugh.

Suddenly the drunk awakened and began to fight back. In the struggle, Wendall stabbed him in the eye and blood poured, but the drunk continued to resist. Brigitte stepped in to hold him, but he was too strong. He kicked them both away and lurched and shuffled back to the inn, screaming "Mon Dieu! My eye. I can't see. He stabbed me in my eye." "Let him go," said Brigitte.

"If I'm not back in five Earth hours, a search and rescue team will be dispatched," said Wendall, "but right now we should be worried that the Sûreté will be after us very soon."

"That's not your biggest worry," said Brigitte. "Wendall, I've really enjoyed your company, but I'm not from Earth. I'm with the Resistance, and you have to come with me. The Empire will pay a high price to get the great Admiral's son back. Let's go. Without our decoy, we've got less time."


- - -
The author is an ESL instructor who lives with his wife and one remaining flat-coated retriever, Ollie, on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario.


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