Thursday, September 27, 2018


Red Planet
By Bruce Mundhenke

Mars hangs low in the southern sky,
Big and red and bright.
It shines among the stars
That are colored blue and white.
In times past
Known as the god of war,
Now mostly known as Mars;
The angry red planet,
Shines its steady light,
And glows crimson
Among other lights
That fill the sky at night.
Prayers sent there so long ago,
Are now no longer heard,
But still it draws attention,
Reflecting red light to the earth.

- - -
Bruce Mundhenke writes in Illinois, where he lives with his wife and their dog and cat.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


Food & Water
By Chris Coleman

Ninety days passed since the attack. Sixty days passed since they successfully overthrew the government. Forty days passed since Khalil’s wife was one of the thousands who were killed.
Ten days passed since he or his little Zoe had a meal that didn’t consist of scraps from a trash can. Four days passed since they tasted even a drop of water.
Zoe was only 7 years old and witnessing the mass chaos plus the brutal murder of her mother was enough for a child her age to bear. Khalil missed his dear Layla. He missed her voice, her smell, her touch, her kiss… Khalil was a wreck, but he didn’t have time to come to terms with his emotions, let alone console his daughter; right now, all that mattered was getting food and water. Unfortunately, that task involved getting past three-armed soldiers and sneaking into their compound. A knife and two bullets were his only line of defense.
As Khalil and Zoe hid behind a car that had been turned into a burnt marshmallow, he began to construct his strategy. The only way he was going to be able to get food and water for Zoe was to use her as bait. It was either that or die of thirst and starvation.
“Okay Zoe, see those men? I want you to go to those men and tell them you need help,” Khalil instructed.
“Bu…..but…they look like the scary men who killed mommy” Zoe uttered. Khalil looked at his baby girl with desperation, he reassured her that everything would be okay.
Reluctantly, Zoe approached the soldiers in ski masks. “Help please! I am scared, please help”
she cried as tears ran down her face. The masked soldier said nothing and ominously charged towards Zoe at full speed when Khalil suddenly jumped from behind the car and tackled him down. With all his strength, Khalil thrust his hunting knife into the soldier’s flesh right under his neck. As the blood spewed out of the soldier’s neck like a geyser, Zoe drew into the corner in the front of the building; wide eyed, taking it all in. Khalil quickly drew his gun and dumped his first bullet into the soldier’s forehead, causing his brains to decorate wall behind him like an Andy Warhol painting. The remaining soldier rushed Khalil to the ground, attempting to stab him with his knife. While the struggle ensued, Khalil’s gun fell out of his pocket. Suddenly, the loud clap of his Glock pierced his ears as the soldier collapsed on top of him. Stunned, Khalil rose to see his innocent little Zoe, still pointing the smoking gun after she ended the soldier’s life.
“Give daddy the gun, baby girl” Khalil instructed. As Zoe still stood numb, he reassured her “You did good baby, daddy loves you.” He grabbed his little Zoe by the hand. As they walked in, with his arm bleeding, Khalil was just glad to have survived another day.

- - -

Thursday, September 13, 2018


Alpha Aerin Oborn 7c
By E.S. Wynn (on Zero Dusk)

When you drop out of between-space, you find yourself in void again, in the darkness where the only stars are those that glow from a distance, brilliant and small. At first, the scans facilitated by your ship's integrated intelligence turn up nothing but the usual– dirt, ice, gas, the static and hiss of stellar background noise, but it doesn't take long before something else shows up, something unusual.

Stone is how it reads at first– a rock three kilometers in diameter, pitted and worn, spinning end over end through the void. Closer scans reveal metallic signatures, the presence of alloys that don't generally form in nature. Curious, you home in on it, send a mote-probe to chase it, and as your scans work progressively deeper, reveal more and more information about the composition of the rock, you realize that it isn't a rock at all. It's more, so much more.

A handful of flybys with the mote-probe turns up a pair of airlocks and a dozen other entry points, all small and sealed. The technology is primitive, simple, makes it easy to get the probe inside without opening the interior of the rock to hard vacuum. The process is quick– like a tiny insect, the mote-probe burrows through the skin of the asteroid, then creates a cocoon of molten steel around itself that opens everything ahead, seals everything behind. Once inside, you take a sample of the atmosphere, scan for power signatures. Argon-oxygen with a heavy dose of chlorine. Non-human, then. Minimal power, but it's everywhere, runs through a massive network of wires and cables to–

Freezers, you realize. Crew freezers. Stasis units. Thousands of them, each carrying a sleeping soul, a body waiting for dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of years to be awakened.

The mote-probe drifts through dust as you push it into the darkness, scan the interior of the rock. It's a ship, an alien star ark built inside a hollowed out asteroid, and judging from the few markings you're able to pick up, study, it belongs to a species humanity has never encountered before.

First contact situations make things delicate. Careful not to set off any alarms that might be waiting to wake the crew, you locate the closest analog the star ark has to a computer core, spend a few minutes working out a way to interface the mote-probe with it. Your ship's integrated intelligence runs translation programs, finally comes up with an on-the-fly protocol that allows you to access the star ark's databanks, and then you're downloading the sum total of their species's knowledge through the connection, uploading it into the network.

Art, music, poetry– it all goes into the network. A wealth of information pours through your connection with the mote-probe, but you only skim it, give your focus instead to the ship's crew manifest. Ten thousand individuals, all frozen roughly five hundred years ago, all trusting their fate to the cosmos, to the star ark built to carry them, to carry their civilization to a star system still another one hundred and sixty lightyears further away. An entire ecosystem of plant and animal genomes are stored in the database too, you realize, and as you transfer copies of all of that data to the network, you find yourself in awe of these people, their purpose, their dedication to their cause.

When the last of the copied data streams back through the connection, you park the mote-probe in an out-of-the-way corner amidst the dust, leave it on auto. For the next several hundred years, there won't be much to see, much to record, but the probe will make it easy for exoculturalists to track the star ark as it hurtles through the cosmos. When it arrives at its distant destination, there will be more to see, more to record, and a single dust-speck-sized probe floating amidst all of that could prove to be incredibly valuable, you reason.

The rebirth of a civilization. Just thinking about it makes you smile, brings a sense of excitement to your heart.

You watch the rock only for a few minutes more, then turn, let your ship's integrated intelligence pick out your next destination. The phasedrive spins up in the core of your vessel, and you smile again, softly, watch as the stars and void give way suddenly to between-space.

- - -
E.S. Wynn is the author of over fifty books in print. Explore more alien worlds on Zero Dusk.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


Earth Tours: UAE
By J. H. Malone

I work for Earth Tours travel agency, but I am not a travel agent. I'm a host, guide, and fixer for visitors to our planet. Potential tourists contact the agency via our deep-web .onion site. We email them highest-quality counterfeit visas and wormhole directions to any of our suites around the world, together with local arrival and departure dates and general sightseeing information. They pay with bitcoin.
In they come from their homes scattered throughout the universe, for a quick pep talk. Then out they go into our world, whereupon I wait for my phone to beep.

"We've got a problem," my supervisor tells me. "It's the client we call John Smith."

I groan.

"Him again?" I say. "Why do we let him keep coming back?"

"His money is good."

"What's he done this time?"

"He arrived at our Mideast office looking exactly like Tom Cruise. All 5' 7" of him."

"Totally, awesomely against the rules," I say. "Where do I find him?"

"In Dubai. Halfway up the Burj Khalifa. Using suction cups, just like Tom did."

"Good Lord. Has he been spotted?"

"I don't know. He got started in the dead of night. The sun's up now and he's a hundred stories high. The window cleaners are bound to spot him, if no one else."

"The window cleaners?"

"The building has 24,000 windows, but never mind the window cleaners. Get over there and remove him before he falls off."

"I'm on the other side of the world," I say.

"I'm authorizing a dimensional jump for you."

I stepped through the shimmering curtain that appeared in our Van Nuys suite, emerging in our Dubai office. My ride awaited me on the rooftop helipad, rotor blades churning the air in preparation for takeoff.

The day was clear, as it usually is in the UAE. The Burj Khalifa stood above all other structures, queen of the sky. I hadn’t seen it up close before and it left me slack-jawed. We circled twice before I spotted Smith. He was already up to tier 17, at the foot of the spire, 163 floors and change above the ground. His suction cups were obviously not of this world.

My pilot brought me back to the pad and our office driver whisked me over to the hotel via D86 and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road. I took a moment before entering, using binoculars to spot Smith again, now on the spire. He was halfway up it on tier 23.

Inside, I used a corporate pass from the Dubai office to take elevator BS1 from the Concourse to level 138 and BS3 from there to 159 in tier 17. That's the last corporate level. After that, it's all support mechanicals.

I used my AI lockpick to access the stairs (steep) up to 18B, then a ladder to 19, and stairs (steeper) to 21.

From there, a ladder in the pinnacle pipe led to the top platform 443 feet above me. I was winded and in no shape to handle that climb. Instead, I stepped out onto the level 21 maintenance deck, where a stiff wind was blowing. Metal vibrated beneath my feet.

The tower is made up of tiers to confuse the wind and minimize vortex suck, but without a safety belt, I was liable to be blown off the deck by a random gust. I clung to the railing in front of me for dear life.

The view was worthy of a small plane. I looked out over Dubai and the Persian Gulf, deep blue in the morning light. Iranian gunboats were running maneuvers in the Straight of Hormuz. Above me, Smith continued his ascent, suction cups popping rhythmically.

"Smith!" I called.

He peered down at me.

"Come down!" I called.

"I go up, see message Tom scratched on spire to Kate and children!"


"When making movie. Tom sat on top. Also hung down and scratched message. I go see and also sit on top."

"You must change your face! You cannot look like Tom!"

"Ok. After I see message and sit on top, I change."

"And immediately transport yourself off the building, yes?"

"Yes. I transport to East Compton Boulevard."

"East Compton Boulevard? What's on East Compton Boulevard?"

"I change my face and body to Vin Diesel. Street race, baby!"

- - -
J. H. Malone recently returned from 3 years in Dar es Salaam, writing copy for a refugee-aid NGO.

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