Thursday, December 26, 2019

12/26/19

Alien Botany
By John Grey


It is a zarkal-blossom afternoon.

A creature, the zextotl,
buzzes its way among fresh flowers,
is attracted to what the blooms attract.

It’s a whir of wings, a sudden dive at
the most sedate of nibblers, piercing
the victim’s carapace with a syringe-like lance.

It’s the time to fill the nest with stung corpses.

Bingles, tinier than itself, are easy targets.
The zextotl stabs and injects, piles up the victims,
bears them back to its home of spun paper, river mud.

Two Earthlings, leading botanists,
watch excitedly but cautiously,
snap photo after photo
of these purple beauties.

The zarkal is a thousand feet high.
The zextotl is the size of an average Earth rocket.
Even the bingle would outweigh an elephant.

Despite their degrees,
two Earthlings cannot be conceited long.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Qwerty, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

12/19/19

The Vacuumer
By Eric Suhem


“Vacuum this, vacuum that! I’m not a machine!” yelled Timothy, nude and perched in a tree in front of the office building, vacuum accessories in his hands. As he screamed at the passersby, the asylum van’s siren could be heard in the distance.


Monday

Dr. Hoover stood in the hall addressing Sylvia. “I am glad you have applied for the position of ‘Office Vacuumer’, the job is yours,” said Dr. Hoover. “This position will help you to clean the impurities from your consciousness and cleanse your soul. Vacuuming my office will give you a sense of purpose, a dedication of spirit. Don’t listen to that voice inside of you, as its views are steeped in an archaic, narcissistic, navel-gazing, self-involvement that will repeatedly drop you into a psychological null pit of need and greed. The benefits to your soul of simple service cannot be overestimated.” Sylvia looked forward to the work, somehow wanting to be around vacuuming.


On the first day of therapy in the asylum, Timothy noticed crumbs on the floor under the couch, so he volunteered for a vacuuming work shift.


Tuesday

Sylvia started work at Dr. Hoover’s office. As she was vacuuming, Dr. Hoover walked in, clutching papers in his hand. “Now Sylvia,” he said, “if you are able to use each of these diagrams to disassemble and reassemble your vacuum, you will be freed of all anxieties, self-doubt, and feelings of victimization.” He handed her the drawings depicting mechanical details of various vacuum components and then left the room. Sylvia put the diagrams on the floor in a mandala pattern and began to disassemble the vacuum.


During his work shift at the asylum, Timothy was vacuuming the hallway when a man in a white coat approached. “Come with me, Timothy, we need to discuss how to vacuum the shag carpet,” said the man.


Wednesday

“Why are there crumbs all over the carpet?” Where’s the vacuumer?” demanded Dr. Hoover. Sylvia was frantically trying to reassemble the vacuum she had disassembled the day before. Dr. Hoover found her and said, “Sylvia, do you understand that you are a co-conspirator in your feelings of self-doubt and anxiety, perpetuating them as a comfortable integration of your self-identity, giving you license to not have to undergo the efforts of psychological growth? You must start taking more responsibility for your feelings, as this will help you to function more effectively and responsibly.” He then left the room, scowling at the crumbs on the carpet.


Timothy’s mind flashed on what seemed to be a dark room with a movie screen. He was strapped down to a chair, watching a film of a woman trying to assemble a vacuum in an office. People in white coats hovered near him as the screen faded to black.


Thursday

Sylvia arrived early at the office but wasn’t making any progress reassembling the vacuum. She left the office and drove out of the city to the forest, where she wandered amidst the redwoods, inhaling the crisp clean air. Sylvia happened upon a meadow full of flowers. Each of the flowers resembled the mandala of vacuum cleaner diagrams she’d created on Tuesday. Staring at a flower, she realized, “I need to follow that voice inside of me.” She returned to the office and found the disassembled vacuum parts, strewn on the floor. Following the instructions in her mandala of diagrams, she assembled the pieces.


Timothy finished vacuuming the reception area, and sat on the carpet, visualizing a woman using a mandala of diagrams to reassemble her vacuum. As she put the parts together, snapping the last piece into place, he felt something click in his own mind, his tattered psyche beginning to reconstruct.


Friday

“Timothy, you experienced a nervous breakdown on your last vacuuming job. Fortunately, my technique combining hypnosis, psychotropic drugs and subliminal suggestion worked to accomplish your recovery!” said the psychiatrist. Timothy mulled this over, as faded images of Sylvia frolicking through a forest and assembling a vacuum drifted through his head in a residual mist.

Later that day, Timothy was given his belongings, mainly vacuum accessories, at the exit desk. The psychiatrist waved to him. “Goodbye Timothy, and happy vacuuming.”


- - -
Eric Suhem lives in the orange hallway (www.orangehallway.com)

Thursday, December 12, 2019

12/12/19

Passenger 859
By Ridge Smith


Mars. Alon awoke with a start and swung his legs over the side of his cot. The steady hum of the thrusters filled his ears for the hundredth time. It had only taken a day to reach their destination, and Alon was filled with apprehension. The previous day had been utter torture: a short trip up to Luna, followed by a mountain of paperwork. A small price to pay, however, for the opportunity to colonize a new planet. Not to mention, the ship they had built for the journey was the largest ship ever designed, more massive than those of Mars.

The U.T.F. Azmon was built to fly faster and more efficiently than any ship before it, and serve as the first city on their new home planet. It was massive in size, big enough to house an entire colony, though it seemed barren now with just over 1000 passengers. Most ships of this size were war-ships, loaded with nuclear missiles, rail guns, and lasers, but there was no risk of war here. They were far beyond the grey zone, and enemy ships wouldn’t dare interfere with this mission.

Instead of heavy weaponry, the Azmon was loaded with plant-life. Each room of the ship had a large cutout the size of a normal window full of plants to help regulate the air. Throughout the entire center of the ship the scientists of Terra had created a lush, green Eden full of plants and water. Artificial streams flowed through the ship, providing hydro-power and sustaining the plants. The garden, as it was called, was full of plants of all sizes, including trees, flowers, crops, and genetically engineered plants capable of producing the maximum amount of oxygen. He remembered walking the winding paths through the garden during orientation on Luna. Never had he felt such humidity in a controlled environment; it rivaled the preservation pods back on Terra. Despite the humid air, the high oxygen environment made the air feel cold. The old term breath of fresh air came to Alon’s mind. It was a paradise the old Terra would have known, back when it was still called Earth.

With a lump in his throat, Alon glanced at his holo-pad. He touched the screen to bring up a picture of a woman. Beneath her picture read: Passenger 759. Alon looked down at his suit. 859. Passenger 759 was Alon’s assigned partner for the breeding program.

Why am I doing this again? Alon thought for no more than a moment.

His father. Those damn Martian traitors killed millions of Terrans in the Martian War. His father was a pilot, and died just before Mars gained their independence three years after the war began. The Martian city of Guan Yu prospered when they began mining the asteroid belt. Terra kept their hold as long as they could, but the Martian colony was built to thrive and expand. Martian colonists were genetically enhanced. They were smarter, stronger, and faster than Terran soldiers, and their regime was built for war. The first Martian attack came seemingly from nowhere. Terra was too busy fighting itself; none of the unified powers saw it coming. Terra only held its ground as long as it did because of the United Terran Alliance. Their sheer numbers kept Mars from taking control of the planet. This was Alon’s chance to make a difference, to help Terra regain control over the system. He would do whatever it took to make that dream, the dream of millions of Terran children who were orphaned by the Martians’ war, come true.

Alon heard the thrusters slowly begin to fade. He walked over and slowly opened his window shutter, careful to make sure the sun was not on this side of the ship. There, huge and beautiful in front of him was his new home. Similar in size to Terra. Clouds swirled above the surface of the planet. From here it was hard to believe that beneath those clouds was a hellish surface, completely unlivable and deadly. This is why the Azmon would stay in the sky, above the cloud level. The colony would be dependent on Terra, at first, but would provide a direct link to the mines of Mercury. They would support each other, and together they would take on the Martian Global Collective. Alon’s new home: Venus.

Suddenly the planet was blocked out as dark metal engulfed his view. The room darkened, and the darkness was replaced by a faint red glow and the sound of sirens. Panicking, Alon rushed to the other side of the room, opposite his window. As he secured himself to the safety harness, the emergency shutters began to descend, blocking his view of the other ship. Before slamming shut, Alon caught one final view and his heart dropped, sweat beading against his forehead. Engrained in Alon’s vision was the deep, dark red of the Martian flag.


- - -
My name is Ridge Smith. I have been imagining and enjoying science fiction for most of my life, but have only begun to write fiction myself recently.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

12/5/19

The Local Astronomy
By Hillary Lyon


expert wields a machete because people think
grant monies grow on trees

learn to interpret the sky he says
for an authentic rooftop experience

the first colors of sunrise
heighten awareness

and ceremoniously quiet the mind
by gliding over the glass surface

of dawning consciousness glittering
like mica-flecked sand


- - -
Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of more than 20 poetry chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Black Petals, Bloodbond, Dreams & Nightmares, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Jellyfish Whispers, as well as numerous anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Thursday, November 28, 2019

11/28/19

In A White Room
By Dave Ludford


On one wall of the white room you see trains leaving a station with no destination, passengers waving goodbye at windows though they’re not really leaving. How could they be when there is absolutely nowhere for them to go? The white room creates images and lets your mind fill in the blanks.

“How did I get here?” you ask.

“You didn’t,” comes the reply in your own voice. “You never left where you were. Where you were is here. The white room creates illusions” it added unnecessarily.

“Why, may I ask, am I seeing these illusions?”

“You are seeing your own life and the experiences contained therein. But the illusions themselves are illusions. Fleeting, transient ephemera. False magic. They signify nothing because reality is nothing. There is only the white room and your own imagination.”

You take a while to come to terms with this, and then a thought occurs:

“But I didn’t imagine trains leaving a station and people waving at the windows.”

“No, but somebody else did.”

“Somebody else? Who? I’m not alone here?”

“One can never be alone in the white room. Others, like you, will always come across this place. Call it fate, whatever.”

You are then witness to further illusions created by others you cannot see or sense in any way: soldiers marching into a battle that will never happen. Endlessly marching. A woman giving birth to herself, ad infinitum. Dolls within dolls all exactly the same. Athletes running backwards on a track away from the starting line that will never become the finishing line.

“Tell me…my life…it hasn’t happened yet?”

“No, and may never happen. Birth, life and death: the cycle of life. All illusions.”

“Which would suggest that I too am an illusion?”

“Yes. The white room is the only reality. A reality that exists absolutely nowhere at any point in time or in any physical place. It just is; or isn’t, to be more accurate.”

“Perhaps the white room too is an illusion, therefore, conjured by my own imagination.”

“Yes,” you reply to yourself.

“I have one final question. Am I God?”


- - -
Dave Ludford is a writer from Nuneaton, England, whose works of poetry and short fiction have appeared at a variety of venues in the US, UK and India. His horror collection 'A Place of Skulls and Other Tales' is available now from Parallel Universe Publications or via Amazon.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

11/21/19

Awakening
By David K Scholes


I awakened from the deep drug induced sleep/hibernation. The anti-nightmare medications had, at least to some extent, worked. Thank goodness for that. I couldn’t take another mind assault at the level I experienced last time around. It would have broken me. I simply would never have woken up.

I hoped I hadn’t been woken early as a result of computer failure.

The fact that I was still in sensory deprivation mode seemed unusual and gave me cause for concern.

There was a waiting period but with no way of measuring it and with no reference point it might have been only a few seconds or it might have been all of eternity. It certainly seemed like the latter.

Eventually, and to my great relief, the sleep/hibernation pod opened up. My sleep hazed vision was still limited but I could just see the nearby 3D computer display of my vital and other life signs. Within arms reach, that is if I could have moved my arms. Blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature seemed within normal Earth human limits as was my life force energy level. My brain activity was well above hyper activity level but I didn’t need a computer to tell me that.

I was still effectively frozen and knew that by now that should not be. I could just make out the real elapsed time since my initial sensory awakening – over 2 standard Earth hours. More than enough time for me to be med-checked, decontaminated if necessary, energy replenished, fully suited up and about my duties.

My unassisted vision slowly improved and I saw that there wasn’t anyone or anything to help me. Not even the soothing, reassuring voice of the normally ever hovering, ubiquitous AI med-bots.

Those of my companions that I could now see were still seemingly ensconced within their sleep/hibernation chambers. Were they okay? I couldn’t tell. They should have been up and about by now. I was normally the last of them to come out of the sleep/hibernation state.

Slowly, but slowly, movement returned to my body. I found I was not restricted by the usual gentle, flexible force constraints that were applied during sleep/hibernation. As I slowly rose out of the sleep/hibernation pod a great hunger fell upon me, completely overwhelming all other feelings I had. Including the present highly dangerous situation.

Finally a single lone med-bot appeared, ready to inject me with the usual range of standard medically proven nutrients. I shoved the irritating little AI away not without some force.

I had been through a lot since my awakening and now was not the time for mere intravenous fluid nourishment.

“Computer,” I found I was yelling at the top of my voice, not even knowing if the central computer was still functioning properly “get me some solid nourishment now. I’ll take some Hot Oat Meal, Blueberry Muffins and an espresso coffee!”

As the central computer complied with my very reasonable request I began to feel a bit more like my old self.

Also, just then, the other sleep/hibernation pods started to yield up their occupants. I watched on with some trepidation.

I was sure there was a time back deep in the distant past when ordinary people like us didn’t need to have to go to so much trouble just to get a good night’s sleep.

I told myself this as the first members of my family wearily emerged from their pods.

“Get a move on Dad, you will be late for work,” my eldest son exclaimed.


- - -
The author has written over 200 speculative fiction short stories. Some of these are included in his eight collections of short stories (all on Amazon). He has also published two science fiction novellas and been published on a range of speculative fiction sites. Including: Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine. He will soon publish a new collection of science fiction short stories “Contingency Nine and Other Science Fiction Stories

Thursday, November 14, 2019

11/14/19

Big Bang
By David Berger


“I’ve got a secret.”
“The old TV show?
“No!
“Oh.”
“Heard of the Big Bang?”
“The TV show?”
“No, the Cosmic Event.”
“Oh, sure. Like Carl Sagan?”
“No. That was Cosmos.”
“Sorry. I watch lots of TV.”
“I mean when the universe began. 13½ billion years ago.”
“Oh. Okay.”
“It’s a secret. I’ve never told anyone. But I was there.”
“That’s fantastic. You never told anyone?”
“They’d think I was crazy.”
“Yeah, well, it is weird. But really? When it happened. You were there?”
“Yup!”
“What was it like? Was it ultimately hot?”
“Actually, kinda cool.”


- - -
I'm an old Brooklyn Lefty, now living in Manhattan with my wife of 26 years: the finest jazz singer in NYC. I'm a Dad and a Granddad. I've been a caseworker, construction worker, letter carrier, high school and ESL teacher, a legal proofreader and a union organizer. I love life, my wife and the world. Hope to help the latter escape destruction.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

11/7/19

Sunsports
By David Barber


Quick, Quick, the Circumsolar Dash is Starting.

Here in the shade of Mercury, ships jostle through the countdown, jockeying for position. Half the System is taking feed, coverage of all the action from this year’s Sunsports. And new to reporting is AL, the series 7000 artificial intelligence...

We prefer the term "autonomic lifeform" Chuck.

So, AL, talk us through the favourites, what with old Earth money and new Mars tech,how good those new cooling units are, and what we’ll see when the heat is on.

It was exactly ten years ago, Chuck, that Lisa Chan took a short-cut through the corona. She went deeper and hotter than anyone before, and set the benchmark for today’s racers. Of course, she was disqualified post-mortem…


2


Nate straightened his cap, took a breath and tried to push open the door.

“Team pilots only,” cautioned the hologram suddenly at his elbow.

“I’m on the list.”

The virtual maître d’ turned virtual pages. “Ah,” it said finally. “Team Luna.”

Inside, it was oven-hot and sweat popped out on his brow. Can’t stand the heat, don’t compete, goes the Sunsports jingle.

His nerve almost failed, but he sat down opposite Lola Speed, last years’ winner. She wore Mars Tek’s trademark silver, and looked older than the holo of her he prized as a kid.

She studied him, seemingly unaffected by the sauna heat. “Nate Booker,” she said. “New pilot for Luna, right?”

Nate wasn’t famous, she just had implants and recognition software.

“What you flying?”

He explained about his Ceres Series Three with the new cooling unit. Salt stung his eyes and he knuckled it away.

“Looked at that Mackenzie cooler,” Lola Speed interrupted. “Unreliable. Don’t go deep with it, kid.”

Racers used to shave an orbit round the sun; these days you cut corners, diving through the corona and trusting in your hardware until you surfaced to dump the thermal load. Winners stayed down the longest.

“Heard Milland takes risks with his crew.”

Cosmo Milland was the new owner of Team Luna, and you heard talk like that about him, but Nate was just starting out and couldn’t afford to pick and choose.

“Can’t stand the heat, don’t compete,” he said, dizzily, his Team Luna outfit darkening with sweat.


3

Sundiving.

Hard to hear their voices over the air-con’s howl. Something about the engines, about help. Eventually flaws in the mirror layer burn through, punching brilliant spikes across the cockpit. The incandescence crisps the eye even through lids squeezed shut.

This is what can happen when you dive too deep, going for the record. Some leave their coms on right to the end, so we can all hear what bad luck sounds like.


4

Nate had got off to a bad start, outmanoeuvred by the Team Terra third string who’d blocked him at the last moment. Now he accelerated flat out, downwards into the corona.

The Mackenzie cooling rig encased him like a set of Russian dolls, with his his own naked flesh at its heart. Engineering trade-offs and the constraints of physics meant he squeezed into a space no bigger than a coffin.

The corona might be tenuous, but the radiative load from plasma at millions of degrees was making itself felt. Across the board, layer after layer of his cooling system changed to red.

Below him, deep into the brilliance, another craft ghosted intermittently on his screen; maybe the Team Terra craft that blocked his start, but it was already heading back out.

Nate plunged down past it into the furnace, filter after filter struggling with the brightness, ever closer to the boiling surface of the sun.

5

So AL, tell us about this new idea from Team Terra’s Dave Beauman, sharing the pilot’s seat with a series 7000. Because it reminds me how Jessie Bulland limped in on manual that time a solar flare frazzled everyone’s circuits. Could silicon have brought home that win, AL?

Well Chuck, the 7000 series is the most advanced...

Sorry to cut you off there AL, but there’s news in about three-time winner, Lola Speed.


6

The roar of the air-con made it hard to hear, but it was Lola Speed alright; Nate knew that voice.

“What you doing this deep kid?” he thought she said.

His last refrigeration layer was beginning to overload, and droplets of sweat floated off him as the air temperature rose remorselessly.

He asked what was wrong, if he could help. Perhaps she couldn’t hear him, perhaps she knew there was no help.

“Make your choices while you can, kid.”

He was at the nadir of own trajectory now, and would start to climb out of the corona. Lola Speed’s craft still tumbled sunwards.

“Mirror layer next,” she panted. “Not long...” Her voice rose to a scream, then cut off.


7

There was a Team Luna engineer on coms, with Cosmo Milland breathing down her neck. “Our readouts show some issues with the Mackenzie rig,” she said carefully. “But it’s within tolerance.”

Milland seized the mike. “What the hell’s going on? You did a great first dive, even after that crappy start, now you’re ahead of the pack, and there’s some quibble about cooling?”

“Made a choice,” said Nate. He had glimpsed the future.

In the silence, you could hear Milland trying to make sense of it. “You refuse to dive again and you’re finished in sunsports, you hear me?”

Nate flicked off the com and began plotting a safe orbit back to Mercury.


8

They were so sure that flesh and silicon would be a winning team, a synergy where second by second one partner would monitor data critical to optimal performance, while the other did whatever it is humans do, cutting corners, making wisecracks and pushing engines beyond the limits they were designed for.

But note how much power that cooling unit squanders keeping Beauman alive as we plough the corona, in direct conflict with the goal of this mission, to win the Circumsolar Dash.

So I’m sorry, Dave.


- - -

Thursday, October 24, 2019

10/24/19

Bedside Laboratory
By Hillary Lyon


the shifting voltage
the miniature needles
the cockpit-like desk
all the instruments
of space exploration
in an ordinary room
hospital-silent
the heavy gentlemen
monitor the brain waves
beyond the door
meticulously recording
extremely rare nightmares
of irradiated borderlands
and workers with color-coded
skin doomed to suffer
the frenzy in the blood
found in the lucid dream
of knives and fishes


- - -
Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of more than 20 poetry chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Black Petals, Bloodbond, Dreams & Nightmares, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Jellyfish Whispers, as well as numerous anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Thursday, October 17, 2019

10/17/19

WHERE THE WIND SAYS CRAZY THINGS
By Janet Shell Anderson


The moon had set when the alarm sounded for dire wolves last night. I saw them from the dark house, from the upstairs window as they crossed through the sketchy windbreak, three rows of old, twisted junipers and cedars. The wolves slid into the yard like shadows, almost invisible, as I watched through the spidery glass and thin lace curtain. They’d come for me, sat in a group near the bridalwreath spirea. A drone came down suddenly from the stock shed, and they left.

I’ve been out here in the Rainwater Basin since March, and it’s May now, I think. Now the sky’s velvet grey, sirens are quiet, the drone and wolves, gone. Day’s begun, and the rising Moon’s like a broken cookie above wide, empty fields. The people here went out on their enormous yellow and green machines a while back just at Moonrise. Since you can’t see the drivers on the machines, the huge things seem to be running themselves. A robotrain cuts across the far horizon.

No other people come here. The roads are dirt or gravel. Sometimes when it hasn’t rained, the roads raise their own dust that swirls in here to Utica Rainbasin as if it’s come to find someone. Maybe me. The wind talks long words, its own language.
I wear dusters now, long pants, boots, my hair twisted in a bun like people a thousand years ago. Or green and yellow gear if I ride the machines. These people here are like people a thousand years ago.

I don’t think the people back in DC where I’m from know they’re here. I think the people in DC think everyone out here’s dead, that the farms are run by AIs, the robomachines and robotrains take care of all of it, produce sorghum, X-milo.

We don’t have lights on at night. We have kerosene lamps in the day, no cars or trucks on the roads. Drones, though. Weird stuff. We eat at noon, sleep at sunset.

We have stock that talk. They have a lot of opinions, don’t know anything. Like cows, but bigger, they’re hairy, have humps, beards, big eyes. Their breath smells sweet. The dire wolves eat the stock if they can catch any, usually a calf; the stock kill the dire wolves if they can catch any, stomp them to death. I’ve seen bones of dead calves, smashed bodies of dead wolves out on the flat prairie. The wind sings over them. Oglala words the people here say. Storm words.

I’m Jesebeel Hanson, hiding out here with what might be my relatives--except they’re so strange--so no one from DC can catch me. I got a couple of questioners killed, probably. Back home. There’s war back home. DC was burning. I don’t know if these people here know it. I haven’t told them. I said someone wanted to hurt me, and they took me in.

I asked one of the people if the dire wolves might have cell phones, because I’m sure they’re after me. The woman, whose eyes are the same color as mine but look a thousand years old, said nothing.

One of our buildings says “Prairie Green” in faded old letters. When I asked the old lady why, she said, “The land is worth everything. Everything. None of them understand that.”

I don’t understand it either. It’s just mud or dirt under a broken cookie Moon, where the wind says crazy things.


- - -
I have been published by Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Vestal Review, decomP, FRIGG, Grey Sparrow and many others, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, included in a collection of short works with Joyce Carol Oates. I am an attorney.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

10/10/19

Shiny Spheres
By Rollin T. Gentry


You smack the alarm clock and roll out of bed like any other day.

In the bathroom, you notice a golf-ball-sized, chrome sphere hovering inches above your head. You brush your teeth, standing beside your spouse, and realize that both of you have the same shiny sphere overhead. Neither of you says a word about them.

At breakfast, you notice that your children have spheres, and they also seem unaware. You turn on the news, and the anchorwoman has a sphere floating above her head. The co-anchor and the weatherman have them, too. The kids grab their lunches and backpacks. You grab your laptop, and the family heads out for the day after saying, “I love you,” all around. While dropping the kids off at school, you notice that the crossing guard has one, and a sphere accompanies all the other children, as well. You wonder if you are going mad. While this would be an odd thing to hallucinate, seeing odd things is a part of madness, isn’t it?

Alone in the car at a traffic light, you look around. All the other motorists have the same spheres pressed between the roof of their vehicle and their heads. You check yourself in the rearview mirror. You still have yours. Should you try to touch it? Definitely not while driving, but perhaps when you get to work.

Every person you pass on the way to your office has a sphere overhead, gleaming beneath the fluorescent lights. Everyone acts normal, though. Everyone is ignoring the spheres.

In your office, you close the door and reach above your head -- nothing. But not having a mirror, you wonder if the thing is simply moving out of the way when you reach for it. Down the hall, a family restroom complete with a diaper-changing table is the only place you can go that has both a mirror and privacy. You quickly dash inside and confirm your suspicions. The sphere is very adept at avoiding your grasp. After several attempts, you give up and stroll to the break room.

In the break room, you find one of your colleagues, with a sphere, toasting a bagel. You wonder how you should approach the subject?

"Good morning," you say, trying to maintain eye contact. You wonder, if you tackled this person, could you grab their sphere. Terrible idea. A sure trip to the loony bin. So you end up saying nothing, just filling a Styrofoam cup with coffee. Finally, your co-worker speaks.

"Care for a bagel?"

You've already eaten breakfast and don't even like bagels, but you say, "Yes, thank you." Your answer feels very natural. A bit of your anxiety fades. You wonder if the spheres have something to do with it. Are they from outer space or another dimension, perhaps? A collective consciousness, maybe? As you fill your mouth with bagel and cream cheese, you dismiss those strange notions and nod appreciatively to your colleague.

Your schedule for the day is filled with meetings. In every meeting, everyone has a chrome sphere positioned overhead. Remarkably, in every meeting, there is complete agreement among the attendees, not a single detractor all day.

At home that evening, the family sits around the dinner table and carries on pleasant conversation. Later, the family agrees to watch the same show on television in the living room, which is strange because the kids have TVs in their bedrooms, and their tastes vary greatly from you and your spouse.

In bed, the sphere repositions itself so that it floats above your forehead. You feel more peace and tranquility than you have in a long time. Slowly the sphere descends, until it rests on your forehead. You hear a humming. Listening closer, you make out the thoughts of what could be the entire human race. The sphere sinks even lower, slipping into your brain as if your skull were made of gelatin. The voices become clearer now. You make out the thoughts of a college professor halfway around the globe. You listen to his last independent thought:

"So, this is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a..."


- - -
Rollin T. Gentry lives in Birmingham, Alabama where he works as a software engineer for a Fortune 500 company. He can be found reading and writing lots of speculative fiction during his spare time. He’s had stories appear in Everyday Fiction, Liquid Imagination, 365 Tomorrows, and others.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

10/3/19

The Rebellion of the Earth
By Deisy Toussaint, translated by Toshiya Kamei


It wasn’t the Apocalypse caused by the wrath of God. Nor was it an advanced civilization from outer space, much less the folly of humans who sometimes were on the verge of destroying it all.

It had to do with the determination of the depleted planet, already fed up with humiliations. It had to be haggard, parched skin that would one day scream sulfur blood and sprout rage through its pustules from its core.

With their memories and guilt as their only luggage, humans departed without looking back. Without knowing the destination. Without knowing why, but with the terrible conviction that they would never return.


- - -
Born in 1987 in Santo Domingo, Deisy Toussaint is a Dominican journalist of Haitian descent. Her work has appeared in anthologies and journals such as Mujer en pocas palabras, El fondo del iceberg, and miNatura. She is co-author with Óscar Zazo of Operación Azabache: La invasión (2017).

Thursday, September 26, 2019

9/26/19

Illuminated Pixels, Like Lotus Leaves
By Hillary Lyon


trying to lift ourselves
out of the encroaching darkness
a rectangular blue light in hand

reveals the placement of constellations
while the loading wheel spins--
in heaven stars become signs

that tell us a story about ascendant fire--
a warning meme--about the conviction
everyone had fifty years ago

now it's all backwards
people shake theirs heads yes
people nod their heads no

civilized people can't be bothered
with the shadows on the cave wall
instead preferring electric fields of multi-petaled dreams

which will fade even as the ocher-halo'd hand prints remain
the true artifacts of history--the virtual signifiers--destined someday
to again spur the white horse to take wing


- - -
Hillary Lyon is founder of and editor for the Arizona-based small press poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. The author of more than 20 poetry chapbooks, her poems have appeared in journals such as Black Petals, Bloodbond, Dreams & Nightmares, Scifaikuest, Illumen, and Jellyfish Whispers, as well as numerous anthologies. hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Thursday, September 19, 2019

9/19/19

The Artificial Men
By David Barber


It was now dinner time and they were all sitting in the shade of the dining tent, pretending that nothing had happened.

Curtis made his living from hunting trips, and studied the behaviour of his clients as if they were big game themselves. Take this Brooks-Bryant couple for instance. Madame had poked her head into their living quarters when they arrived and found it spartan and clean. She shrugged and busied herself with her gun.

Hubby had toured the camp complaining; there was no signal, no air-con, the toilet was outdoors and they were expected to perch on canvas stools.

Madame Brooks-Bryant had quizzed Curtis about the hunt. There were plenty of rogue mechanoids in these wastelands, and artificial men too, if you knew where to look.

Curtis always started with an easy shoot because you never knew the capabilities of your people.

“Have you hunted before?” he asked Madame, watching her in the driving mirror. He jolted the rover along a gully towards the herd of mechanoids he’d located by satellite.

“Not for some years,” Madame Brooks-Bryant said distantly. There was never any time now.

She gazed at the landscape with fine green eyes; probably not the ones she was born with, Curtis thought. Her hair was caught up in a careless bandanna and she looked poised and cool even in this heat.

“And you, Monsieur?”

“On the practice range. Under the circumstances you may call me François. And this is Héloise.”

“I am capable of speaking for myself,” Madame Brooks-Bryant said. She stared back at Curtis, daring him to use her name.

Rounding a bend, they had come across the mechanoids. Herding was an emergent behaviour, Curtis explained. He pointed out an autonomic digger that had once been yellow. Its solar array meant it was safer to hunt than those with nuclear power cells.

Hubby began booting up his weapon. In smart mode it could bring down targets a mile away without his help.

Curtis put a hand on his arm. “We shoot on manual.”

Madame Brooks-Bryant turned on her husband. “Perhaps you’d prefer an air strike.”

They approached on foot, with Curtis to one side, so he had a clear shot if needed. In a low voice he listed the mechanoid’s vulnerable spots.

François hit tyres, headlamps and the front grill before the mechanoid raised its bucket and charged. It bounced towards them at surprising speed, raising clouds of dust. The man emptied his magazine before dropping the weapon and bolting.

Curtis thumbed his safety off just as Madame, a statue with gun to shoulder, put one, two, three AP rounds into the mechanoid’s sensor cluster. Blinded, it slewed to a halt, engine still revving like a panting beast.

“Good shooting,” Curtis said as he walked past to finish it off.

So they sat through dinner pretending nothing had happened. Hubby was drinking. Curtis felt sorry for the fellow at first, but it soon turned to contempt. Still, it wouldn’t stop him drinking the man’s whiskey. He’d read that somewhere.

“You should stay in camp tomorrow,” remarked Madame Brooks-Bryant.

“Alright, I messed up,” began hubby, thickly.

Madame spoke over him; she wanted to know about the artificial men.

The man appealed to Curtis as if his wife were not present. “About that business today..."

“Don’t think about it. Could have happened to anyone on his first hunt.” But he pictured the man’s wife, coolly taking three good shots.

“Curtis, d’you think we'll find one of those artificial chaps tomorrow?”

“A good chance, yes.”

“Then I’ll show you.”

“Let us hope they’re not as frightening as that digger,” said Madame.

Curtis was bored with marital discord. She must have had her reasons for marrying the man. “Going for a smoke,” he said.

A little later she joined him, as he guessed she would. Curtis knew women of her sort, rich and unhappy. They watched a lurid red sun setting behind the cliffs.

She waved away a cigarette. “Used to. Cost me a new lung, but you carry on.”

“He wasn’t always like this,” she said, and began a rambling tale about a marriage arranged between families. Curtis listened with half an ear. That night she came to his tent. Next morning they all set out after artificial men.

They drove in silence. Curtis supposed the couple had some arrangement; still, he should have shown her the door. Stupid of him.

On previous trips he’d seen signs and had a notion where they might be. They liked caves, he said. It showed how smart they were. He’d never seen it himself, but they survived on parts, fluids and power cells from the mechanoids.

He was talking too much; out of awkwardness perhaps, or because the husband sitting behind him had a gun.

It was just an overhang of rock, but enough to shield from surveillance. At first Curtis thought there was only one of them, until they emerged from the shadows, one supporting another that limped and stumbled. One each then, no need for more arguments.

Hubby stepped forward and took aim.

The artificial man put itself in front of its damaged fellow. Their metal faces had been fashioned to crudely resemble people. It raised its free hand and made noises that might once have been speech.

Madame’s patience snapped. “What are you waiting for?”

Hubby lowered his gun. “Let’s just go back.”

“You really are a useless man.” Madame Brooks-Bryant shoved her husband aside and raised her own weapon.

Curtis saw it all from where he stood, off to one side so he had a clear shot if needed. He recalled it all later; the push and the man's awkward fall, the single shot, the AP round blasting through his wife.

Definitely an accident, Curtis confirmed. A tragic accident.


- - -

Thursday, September 12, 2019

9/12/19

Benny’s Bad
By David Castlewitz


Benny's transgression didn't rank high on the list of "bads" published in the legal app he'd leased. That gave him hope that his eventual trial would be more nuisance than trouble. He was a first-timer. He shouldn't warrant time at a work camp.

But the app had some dire warnings. Considering how far he'd fallen in his Personal Social Account, Benny feared he'd never get back to where he'd been five years earlier. That was a lifetime ago, those heady days immediately after he finished his doctorate degree in social dynamics. That was back when he thought he'd used his education to his advantage. In fact, soon after he'd finished his seven year curriculum, he had gigs ranging from writing an original thesis to talks at virtual conferences and even a one-week stay in the Adirondacks as a seminar leader.

But none of that would matter when a judicial type got hold of his case. Those algorithms were fierce. They weighed. They assessed. They measured. Transgressions were evaluated and applied against his Personal Social Account, which were as significant as his IQ or GPA.

When he was a student, Benny found his Social nearly unchanged from day to day. He went to class. He turned in assignments. He earned points and lost them, all without much effort, it seemed.

Then life happened. A slip in attention and he earned a "dig" by crossing the street against a traffic signal. He got caught not exercising "expected politeness" when boarding a tram. There were many ways to earn demerits. They piled up.

Somehow, he'd ventured into forbidden social territory and made a terrible mistake.

He didn't know what cues he'd missed with Gloria Deel. They'd had a virtual date and he thought she'd enjoyed it as much as he. His avatar reported back with glowing recommendations about what to do next. Possibly a dinner via holo-plane, he in his apartment and she in hers. Maybe followed by a meet-up. The avatar presented a bright green future since they belonged to the same peer group.

They both worked at the State Street Emporium, a shopping mall of pop-ups, some holographic and some material, four stories deep under Chicago's downtown streets and another four stories tall above. Benny often admired Gloria zipping through the aisles on some mercantile mission. Once, they worked together setting up display cases. It was that experience that led to the virtual date during which their avatars exchanged viewpoints.

Its success prompted Benny to craft a media clip recounting the date. Tinkling glasses and catchy music provided aural highlights. The lighting was soft and dreamy, but not seductive. It wasn't meant to entice Gloria to be open to suggestion.

Where had he made his mistake? Benny wondered. How could he escape punishment? Most of the tube-pods that whisked commuters in and out of the city were liberally swept by robotic monitors. He'd be scanned when he boarded. If he evaded that trap, he'd have to deal with iris readers in the ceiling at the stations along the route. If he could tube-it north, he'd hire a self-driving car to traverse the interstate and get out of Illinois. How many dozens of electric eyes would he need to duck under to get that far?

What if he did make it to the Milwaukee Collective, he mused as he pondered his situation. They might not mind the demerits in his account. Outside of Chicago, transgressions such as the one he committed weren't considered crimes. They were just mistakes that could be chalked up to enthusiasm, excused as an excess of youth.

Lingering at Union Station, head down to avoid sensors in the walls or ceiling, an old time Cubs baseball cap pulled down so it partially obscured his eyes, Benny took stock of the situation for the umpteenth time. If he ran, he might attract attention and be tackled by some do-gooder type who needed the Samaritan points. If he walked like he had nothing to hide, he'd certainly run into a cop on the beat scanning for a quick arrest. No matter what he did, he was bound to be caught trying to board a northbound pod, and considering that his residence was on the Near South Side, he'd raise suspicion.

He knew what his dad would have told him. He should turn himself in and deal with the consequences. Dad would tell him he'd get some points for that and, who knows, he might whittle his punishment down to a long weekend pulling weeds along the highway.

Benny wandered Union Station's cavernous lobby. He knew he should find a police kiosk, pull up his record and plead guilty. He'd failed to follow protocol. Eager to pursue Gloria and capitalize on their virtual date, he'd approached her in person, exhibiting his best boyish grin, and asked her to dinner.

He'd used words. He'd spoken.

You should've sent an avatar," Gloria said, her large dark eyes blazing like fired-up coals. "Don't you even know your account balance? You don't have enough points to ask me out. Not like this."

She turned her back on Benny. She walked away, fuming over the insult and muttering that she had no choice but to file a complaint.

Benny found a kiosk in a dark corner of Union Station's marble-floored lobby. A private guard glanced sideways at him and he quickly looked into the kiosk's scanner. He didn't want that guard getting credit for collaring him.

With a sigh, Benny answered the requisite questions, took ownership of Gloria's grievance, and then waited for a uniformed cop to arrest him. Maybe, he mused, Gloria will want to have a real-time date after he finished serving his sentence, though he worried that he'd have no way of asking. His account balance wouldn't be high enough for even an avatar-sent missive.


- - -
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, September 5, 2019

9/5/19

Silent Memories
By Bruce Mundhenke


I woke in the night
To look at a star,
Through slats in the window blind,
It's blue-white light had found me,
From a far, far place in space,
And set my mind in motion,
To think of many things.
I wondered if it still was there,
And if its fires still raged,
And did it warm a creature once,
That circled it in space,
And often pondered questions,
When answers never came.
Lived its life and perished,
Was joined to other silent memories,
That were quiet as they grew.


- - -
Bruce Mundhenke writes poetry and short fiction. He lives in a small town in Illinois.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

8/29/19

Seed to Root
By Phoebe Wagner


On the day you are born, beneath the shade of drought-dead leaves, the families wait, singing and sewing, sawing and painting, as we build your first solar panel, your first solar blanket. The panel is small, light enough on found aluminum cans cut open, folded together, edges softened with bark and moss, for you to carry on your back, a husk like the cicada’s shell that you will shed and expand and learn how sunlight leads to life.

Like all young ones, the weight of the battery will annoy you. You will want to leave it behind, to run the fields free. We will smile and understand and remember how even laws couldn’t make us change. Now, we teach the word necessity; we teach the story of small things, small changes.

As your blood parent births, we stain shards with life colors—river brown, juniper blue, mushroom white. We spell what the families will call you until you decide differently. An idea you will see half-consumed in dirt, cloaked in bark, an underthing. A reminder to you and us of the finite. A reminder it is not up to you alone, but as part of a whole.

Cambium, we taste the word as we stitch and stick the solar shards—cool dark, slow breaths, a hum at the tip of the tongue. Will you go by Cam, or Bi? Cambi, one says. Perhaps.

For many days, it will be a nonsense word among the languages you construct to name yourself and the world. When you begin to walk, your solar blanket glittering and clinking like chimes, we will take you to a fallen tree and poke into the split trunk.

Cambium once held this tree high. Cambium helped it grow and green. It’s so small you can’t see it, but combined with sun and water and soil, see what the invisible can do.

When we walk and tell the story of your name, you will be so young, unable to know summer never ends, the strangeness of hot dark instead of breezy evenings. Only the old ones will tell tales of a different time and you will not understand why they are sad. They will tell how you help them breathe.

Oh, Cambium, Cambium, we hear you crying, we hear you taking root. Welcome.


- - -
Phoebe Wagner holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment and currently pursues a PhD from University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Nonbinary Review, and 365Tomorrows.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

8/22/19

Nowt
By Artyv K


The sky rumbled with his stomach.

Nascent lay spreadeagled on the roof of what had once been a radio tower, surrounded by pots of exotic mushrooms and a half circle of fire ants that wound their way around him: crawling, skittering, only to disappear into a crevice in the wall. He didn’t really mind the critters; for there was very little that Nascent minded (moldy sandwiches being a sound exception in the scheme, which explained why his stomach kept rumbling to the tune of hunger).

Nascent’s needs of the moment were simple— he wanted to hightail it out of the planet. Because this one, yes, this little speck of blue didn’t quite feel like home. And he wasn’t certain when and why he began feeling this way.

Bringing a hand up to his head, the boy scratched his nape and squinted at the cloud-ridden sky above him.

Grey.

Grey as far as the eyes could see. Grey as the bottom of the abyss. But Nascent saw something more to the deception. And he kept waiting for that something more. He counted down the seconds in his head for the passing of Nowt90X, a satellite bound to go over Tetron. Three years ago, the privately-owned satellite had shot to fame for being the only junk orbital in history to pull away from its tethers and slip into a course of its own making. No one had ever heard of a machine acting up. No one (save for fear mongers, doomsday enthusiasts and science fiction roonies) had ever considered the possibility that a machine could even act up. So, what motivated this rebellion against its makers? What plot conspired in its cheap quantum cells? Why did it reject every maneuver for reset? Most importantly, where was it heading and why?

When Nowt’s malfunction hit headlines and baffled engineers across the world— Nascent went to work on his own. He went to his room, pulled the scrap papers out and started the math to keep up with the renegade. When he wasn’t scavenging his drowned city, he charted Nowt’s course, penned down limericks, and remained intrigued by the mystery that was Nowt’s trajectory. When he finally managed to map out its coordinates on the wall-sized world map of his and realized what the shores the satellite was up to, the boy had a revelation. He’d solved the mystery, he decided, and cackled like a seagull at his success. Thus, began his strange ritual of visiting the roof of the radio tower every fortnight, all on the lookout for his wonderful alumina god.

The limerick stuck too.

In and out of sight, the Gods drift

Stars doing the blues and red shift

When nowt is all you can do,

What can you do,

But wait for the sink.



Nascent stared into the sky of Tetron, aware of the ants soldiering on around him. Ants, which exhibited more determination and pragmatism than he ever could. He suspected the critters were a far more nuanced specie than his; concerned wholly about food and sustenance, they didn’t chase celestial objects like humankind did. The boy looked up and scanned the heavens again. When nowt is all you can do, what can you do, he wondered, reciting the limerick a second time under his breath. The sky rumbled behind its thick cover of storm clouds; his shoulders slumped in defeat.

He knew it was no good. There was no way he’d catch a glimpse of Nowt in this rotten weather. Yet, he made no effort to move. Nascent kept waiting. Because it was the human thing to do, to be a stick in the mud and to keep believing.

And so, his watch beeped anyway; he looked up at the sky anyway, and the world kept turning anyway. Nowt90X arrived right on time. It drifted into his corner of the world for exactly ten heartbeats. Hello, his stray god whispered to him.

‘Hello,’ he greeted it back like that old Adele song.

And Nowt kept drifting.

When it was finally gone and his watch finished ringing the last of those beeps, the roof of the radio tower fell silent.

Though it had been a disappointing day, though he caught sight of nothing more than the wings of a passing gull, though he felt the intolerable vacuity of the universe in that simple moment, Nascent let a smile unfurl on his lips.

Because, in the end, wasn’t it also human to lose and to keep losing?

He raised a gloved hand and waved his goodbye to the wanderer, his face turning from triumph into one of melancholy.

“Something’s happening somewhere,” he said aloud. “And I’m not there,” the philosopher rued into the silence. “I’m not there at all.”


- - -
Artyv K is a writer of speculative prose from Chennai. Her works have been published in Strange Horizons, NILVX, Luna Station Quarterly and others.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

8/15/19

A BOY GROUNDED
By John Grey


Between this world
and the stars,
I have so much ground to make up.
My imagination can only take me so far.
Now I need something
to cocoon me from the dangers
but open my eyes to the wonders –
a ship of course,
capable of impossible speeds,
powered by a fuel not yet invented.
Without this,
I am just another hopeless case,
spending days and nights in my room,
scribbling stories in notebooks,
sketching aliens and planets,
suns and galaxies,
everything in my head,
but nothing anywhere else.
I am born a thousand years too soon.
Future man has stolen my dreams.
And he doesn’t even have to dream them.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

8/8/19

Yorkshire Alien
By Richard Stevenson


Ix-nay on names.
Know what I’m sayin’?
The little green guy got away,
whooshed off in a saucer.

I got an out-of-focus tosser shot
of the bipedal imp on the moors
above White Wells, near Ilkley. U.K.
just before the booger scampered away.

Didn’t get a shot of the saucer, no.
Whaddaya want me to say?
I was flummoxed and befuddled.
Not so Quick Draw McGraw on the camera.

Sorry. Damn ex would have you believe
I fabricated the imp out of chicken wire.
Tried to create a photo I could sell
to the tabloids. Says I needed cash.

Horse manure! I was after landscape shots.
Was shooting in foggy conditions
where Santa don’t fly missions
in ’87 BCP – Before Cell Phones, doofus.

It had a melon head, stood maybe four-foot four
(looks like a topiary leaf mesh critter
in the photo, I grant you.) As I say,
I snapped it on the fly. Was already turning away…


- - -
Richard Stevenson has recently retired from a thirty-year teaching gig at Lethbridge College and has published thirty books and a CD of jazz and poetry in that time. His most recent books are Rock, Scissors, Paper: The Clifford Olson Murders, a long poem sequence from Dreaming Big Publications in the US (2016), and A Gaggle of Geese, haikai poems and sequences from Alba Publications in the UK (2017).

Thursday, August 1, 2019

8/1/19

Philogelos
By David Barber


This is the Ada Swann, limping into Vesta Dock on manual, which is illegal, but there was no way Perry was paying tug fees, so with automated systems blinking on and off, she eased the big Ceres Series Four into dock by eye.

Dockside’s not handshaking your autopilot, Ada Swann.

“Maybe you’ve got a software issue,” said Perry, powering down. Previous owners of her ship had tinkered endlessly and she guessed this cascade failure was their doing.

No more cowboy spacer tricks, Ada Swann. Sort it out.

Later, making her way across the cavernous dock, a Jirt appeared at her elbow. “You got stuff need fixing, boss?”

Perry halted, and encouraged, the Jirt edged closer. “Fix electrics. Fix machines. Fix...”

Dockside crew were passing and one aimed a kick at the Jirt. It squealed and darted away.

The man saw the look on Perry’s face. “They’ve been told to keep off Dock,” he shrugged. “Don’t encourage them.”

Perry spent the morning trying to source obsolete electronics, and came back in a bad mood. More Jirt loitered on the Dock.

“Hear ship broke boss.” Perhaps it was the one from earlier.

Jirt were fixers of things, all manner of things, this being their gift. Otherwise, a short, timid folk with faces cleft where noses ought to be, known for their feeble six-fingered grasp of money.

“These my Jirt. All good at fixing broke ship.”

It was their smell, a damp-rot odour, like a mushroom cellar. Perry first noticed that stink on Pallas when she piloted short-haul, now they were here too, their shanties round docks and spaceports in a diaspora of usefulness and poverty.

Going out again, the Jirt were still waiting, and she waded through them, waist deep. But then she took an outsize in vac suits and had forearms like hams.

The Weather Inn had seen better days; even the trademark holos of Earthside climate weren't like she remembered. It was playing rain rattling against windows, like someone tossing handfuls of gravel.

Didn't there used to be a wet green smell? she asked the barman. The barman was new. He shrugged. What you see is what you get.

Spacers ended up places like this, loners recognising one another, telling their tales of breakdowns out in the dark, deals that went sour, the run of bad luck since the ice rush ended.

She learned about Jacob and Ada Swann, brother and sister, previous owners of her ship, before Ada escaped down a gravity well to get married.

Bet he never saw that coming, said the spacer with the prosthetic eye.

The Ada Swann was a six-berth, but the boards had been rigged so everything could be run from the pilot's seat. Opinion was unhelpful. Maybe a problem in that maze of add-ons. There were shrugs. Even Perry, who wasn’t good at this sort of thing, sensed an undercurrent of resentment. The way she’d acquired her ship smacked of undeserved good fortune.

By now most of the spacers at the bar were wasted, and when she mentioned the Jirt on dockside they began to argue blearily back and forth.

Saw one make an old compressor purr so smooth, you put a drink on it and the ice-cubes hardly tinkled.

Maybe be natural fixers, but the smell.

Anyway, spacers fix their own stuff, always had.

Let `em onto your ship, you’ll never get `em out. Like roaches in the walls. Have to open the whole ship to space.

Did a vacuum clean-up like that once, someone began. The conversation wandered away.

“Jirt like being around us,” the spacer confided to Perry, his lens gleaming. “That thing with jokes, you know?”

Perry blinked with both eyes, that thing she did when put on the spot.

One-liners pop flashbulbs in the Jirt brain. A glimpse of something cosmic, he’d heard. In exchange, they fixed stuff for free. Just keep a few jokes handy, like loose change for tips.

Her face settled into a frown. Those years out in the dark, who would she have told jokes to?

And don’t listen to this bunch, he added. All they have is the past.

“You know you’re not leaving here on manual,” the Dock Manager told Perry next day. “Not without a Certificate.”

And paying dock fees until she went broke, the woman meant. Which wouldn’t be long. Again pull-out modules tested green, then crashed when put back. Perry rarely got angry, but she put down her tools very carefully and went for a walk.

The commotion out on the Dock was Jirt squealing. Dock crew going off duty had cornered the bunch hanging round the Ada Swann.

Hey, warned Perry, stepping between them. She motioned towards her open airlock and the Jirt scrambled aboard.

You’ll regret that, a docker told Perry, and she stared him out until he shrugged and walked off.

While its fellows swarmed through the Ada Swann, chasing cables and peering at motherboards, one Jirt stayed close to Perry.

They admired our human things, it said. Less fiddly than the tiny Shrax, not as brutal in their tonnage as the gadgets of Behemoths. At least, that’s what Perry thought it said.

It stroked Perry’s hand. Only humans were funny, it added. This being our gift.

And when the Ada Swann glided out of Vesta Dock on autopilot, Perry knew she would never be able to unravel the fix-arounds these Jirt had improvised. They were her crew now, their nest in an unused cabin loud with addicts huddled round old comedy shows, drunk on punch lines.

Show us, they pleaded with her sometimes, the damp-rot odour thickening in anticipation of the moment when the god seized them.

Perry would have to learn some jokes. This Jirt has no nose. Then how does it smell?

Tell us how you do it, they pleaded, as if some accidental molecule in a flower might teach dreams; as if this was how poppies might feel, if they knew.


- - -

Thursday, July 25, 2019

7/25/19

The Horizon Eternal
By Andrew Johnston


Ten thousand miles from home. Already I feel the loss of gravity's embrace, the wisdom of up and down that I had taken for granted in my terrestrial life. Moment by moment I shed my attachments to the old place, and with them go my very sense of reality, my notions of self and place. Here I am, caught between a moment of truest regret and the trackless void. But what lies beyond...oh, what must await these eyes beyond that void is surely worth this mere apprehension, this transient discomfort.

Ten million miles from home. I can scarcely breathe for the terror worming through my flesh. Fear rides alongside me now, whispering dark words into my ear, hectoring me with dire predictions of what awaits us. One erroneous calculation, one inadequately secured seam, one unforeseen celestial body and I am no more than a handful of dust scattered across the whole of existence. I am bent to the waves of fate and the whims of the cosmos, and why? What deceiver spirit convinced me that there was wisdom in this exodus?

Ten billion miles from home. I have found some peace in my mission, at least for now. The doubts still wound me, but their voices are muted now, lost within a quadrillion cubic miles of oblivion. That fury at myself has passed, and all that remains is the mission. Yet, I have also discarded the thrill of the voyage. Terror and wonder have both faded from my eyes. Have I so soon become jaded? Is my very soul preparing me for disappointment when this vessel at last alights on that dead rock?

Ten trillion miles from home. The machines that propel this fragile body through the endless expanse are falling silent one by one. The monitor tells me that all is still well but this is nothing but a fantasy dispensed by a machine that knows only what is placed before its mute sensors. Deep in my soul, in a place where instinct triumphs over false rationalism, I know what will soon come. Fear is gone; it is death that perches next to me. If this beast is fixable, then it is well beyond my meager gifts. My time grows shorter...and yet I feel so little. What has become of me that this does not evoke emotion?

Location unknown. This elegy for my mission and my hopes of discovery shall be my last attempt at communications with home. It seems I will never reach that rock, and I will never know if my final missive has reached my old superiors. Am I a cautionary tale, or a martyr, or simply an unforeseen cost in a vital mission? Ah, I will never know. All is quiet now, within and without. I feel no fear or anger or regret. The machines have gone to their resting places, and now it is my turn to offer my life to the void. The voyage has prepared me for this. To my fellow explorers: I wish you luck, and wish you the serenity I now know when your time finally comes.


- - -
Born in rural western Kansas, ANDREW JOHNSTON discovered his Sinophilia while attending the University of Kansas. Subsequently, he has spent most of his adult life shuttling back and forth across the Pacific Ocean. He is currently based out of Hefei, Anhui province. He has published short fiction in Nature: Futures, the Arcanist and Mythic and will be featured in the upcoming Bad Dream Entertainment Horror/Humor Anthology. You can learn more about his projects at findthefabulist.com.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

7/18/19

The Rings Are Lovely Tonight
By J. David Thayer


Shyleama sat at the table, staring over a cup of coffee long since gone cold. She was still in there somewhere, probably. But for now, all that sat in that chair was the shell of who she once was. Who she was just yesterday. Like the skin left behind by some burrowing insect that only returns to the surface every dozen years or so to mate and molt, her emptiness rendered her practically transparent. She needed me by her side with my arms around her, but I couldn’t. Not yet. I was emptied too. I couldn’t even stay inside the house. It was a beautiful night for that time of year. Far more beautiful than it deserved to be.

The rings are lovely tonight, I thought, as I sat on my back porch looking up at them once again. Our home is the moon Tretus, which orbits within the ring system encircling Ricchus—a dizzyingly hostile gas giant, some ten-thousand times our size. Its gravity pulls on our core without ceasing, causing the great seismic eruptions that give us warmth. And like most moons, we are tidal locked in orbit, always showing Ricchus the same face. Reminds me of so many people I’ve known. Anyway, this means half of Tretus sees the inner rings and the planet, filling the sky entirely at all times. Prime real estate. The other half of the moon, where I live, sees only the outer rings. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I was a kid I used to marvel at the rings luminescing the sky. Solid bands of countless chunks of ice and dust and rocks, floating in a circular current forever. Our gravity causes a ripple in the flatness as we scoot along, like blowing on a bowl of soup. There is something very beautiful in those quiet, endless laps around Ricchus. To me at least. Not so much the whole of it (pictures of which you’ll find on the merchandise in our gift shops), but in the way all of those individual particles move in concert. A ballet of patience. I used to imagine drifting out into space to join the traffic, my atoms gradually splitting apart until I became no different than the other matter caught in timeless gravity. The lovelier I imagined the rings, the more deeply I wished to join them. It was my meditation before I was old enough to be taught such things.

When Father left on his last mission, I was twelve years old. His container vessel never re-turned, owing to an extremely short and lethal gamma burst. It was an impossible coincidence. They were exactly where they had to be for the ship to perish—almost like the neutron star took aim on purpose. When I heard the news, I ran out to the back yard, lay on the ground, and closed my eyes as tightly as I could manage. In an instant, I was drifting out amongst the frozen debris. My entire body was blowing away like sand and without pain. I very much wanted to stay up there. Lose consciousness, memory. Give in to the cold and the quiet and the pull. If I could have disintegrated myself by an act of shear will, I would have done so that night. But I had Mother to consider. And my two younger brothers.

#

As the years wore on I found less and less time to mediate on the rings. Obligations took priority, and rightly so. But every once in a while, I’d almost forget. Sometimes I would catch myself staring out the window of the tram on my way home from working at the hospital. It would be so easy to slip away, if only I would allow it. String enough sleepless hours together and you almost have to will yourself to remain constituted. Edges get fuzzy. Sometimes the rings would take me for a minute or less, and then I’d snap back into reality and responsibility, my scrubs stained with the daily evidence of need. I served a tangible purpose every day. It was enough.

Eventually, Mother passed and Elgen and Lextre headed out on their own—the former left for the Academy, and the latter to work in the yttrium mines on Kaysis. Lextre even started a family. I was a very proud uncle, but Kaysis is remote, so we rarely saw each other. I think it was about this time that I began to allow myself to relax, but only a little. It was also when I first met Shyleama.

She came into my life at just the right time. I was experiencing a bizarre sort of empty-nest loneliness, and she was rebounding from a dreadful first attempt at marriage. Truth is, I had never given any thought to what life would be like once we reached this stage. I missed my mother and brothers terribly, but I could not suppress my giddiness. There was a new freedom in my soul. I was so happy. We were so happy. I actually felt guilty about being so happy. I could almost hear Mother saying, “I’m so glad I finally got out of your way so you could start enjoying your life.” And what’s even worse: she would have meant it. It’s hard to explain.

A year later Shyleama gave birth to Jorkin. We only thought we understood happiness before he came. In some ways, our lives both began and ended the day he was born—in the sense that we no longer lived for ourselves or even for each other. We lost ourselves in Jorkin completely. He was our own giant planet, and we became his rings, circling around him. Protecting him. Reflecting his beautiful light. That was seven years ago.

#

Today a medic transport came to the hospital from a school. An elementary school. Of course I recognized the uniforms immediately; no one buys that shade of olive at random. Shyleama always hated it. Ricchus is so large it acts as a sort of vacuum cleaner for our neighborhood in our solar system. For millions of kilometers in all directions, all the stray chunks of asteroids and comets and such are pulled in towards the center. Sometimes they make it all the way to the interior of the planet. Wonderful displays when they impact! Great plumes of venting gas that mushroom out and then arc back into the sphere. Sometimes new asteroids join the lovely rings. They cause a mild uproar, briefly, and then fall perfectly in step with their new brothers forever. And every so often a body will crash directly into Tretus. There is too much interference in the sky for us to detect their approach until it is too late to seek shelter. And besides, where would we go? A large one may spell doom for us all one day; it’s a reality we accept and ignore.

The meteoroid that struck the school today was about two meters in diameter. Nowhere near large enough to disrupt life on Tretus, but plenty large enough to level a building. And it certainly did that. I found my son in the third car. His light was already gone, but he was still beautiful.

#

I sat on my porch, looking at the sky and still wearing my scrubs. Jorkin’s dried blood was on my arms and my chest where I held him against me, begging in vain for him to return to us. Shyleama joined me eventually, when she found the strength to stand. She was always the stronger one. We sat together in silence because what good were words? Even the tears had stopped, for the moment. We had exhausted them, but they’d rally soon enough. Finally, my wife spoke because one of us had to.

“The rings are lovely tonight, Reeklid.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was just thinking that.”


- - -
J. David Thayer is an educator living in Texas. His works have appeared in The First Line, The Last Line, Dizzy Emu Publishing, Fantasy/Sci-Fi Film Festival, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bewildering Stories, 101 Word Stories, and Pilcrow & Dagger.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

7/11/19

MAKING MY WAY BACK TO CAMP
By John Grey


My surroundings
are slowly consumed by darkness,
an upper jaw of sky,
a lower of rocky soil.

It swallows the theodora stand
down to its roots,
piles on the nesting xotls.
Valleys go quietly.
Even the distant hills
are ultimately gulped
to nothingness.

Sure, a moon rises
but it’s ineffectual,
until joined by another,
and then a third.

These modest satellites
band together,
focus their reflected shine
on a hollow here,
a tree trunk there,
even a man
who’s trudging through the gloom.

The Zanxian night
makes a meal of the light
but leaves me crumbs enough.


- - -
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Midwest Quarterly, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in South Florida Poetry Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes Review.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

7/4/19

L'appel du Vide
By Daniel R. Jones


Ol' Glory
calls to me, sometimes
from up there in the silvery dust
where it was planted
by Neil and Buzz nearly 50-years-ago.

It's the only flag
that never goes half-mast, they say,
atop a celestial landscape,
unwavering in a wind-less space,
untouched by Earth's tragedy:

No humans there
to lower it when tragedy strikes.
No humans there
to cause the tragedy, either.
It calls to me sometimes,

to escape this ball of dirt,
all its festering blight

in pursuit of the serenity of space:
new adventure, new mystery,
New Glory.


- - -
Daniel R. Jones is a writer from Indianapolis, IN. He earned his MFA degree at Lindenwood University. Previously, he's had work published in the South Bend Tribune, In the Bend, StarLine, Parody Poetry, and he won an award for best poem in the 2013 edition of Bethel College's Crossings.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

6/27/19

To Be or Not to Be
By Yadira Álvarez Betancourt (translated by Toshiya Kamei)


First, it was the accident that left her mutilated, and the divine providence of bionic prostheses appeared, then the complexity of her work required the brain modules, then the sensory enhancers, the muscles, and the synthetic skin; and from then on, chip by chip, piece by piece, she was drifting further away from herself. She didn't even recognize herself in the mirror anymore. The last straw was when her youngest son cried when she tried to carry him. The interventions had changed her so much that the baby didn't know who she was.

And now she was facing that limit announced after her first surgical procedure: when the percentage of artificial elements in her body disqualified her as a human being. One more drop that would overflow the cup changing her into something different. She wasn't quite sure if she wanted it.

The informative capsule waited to be activated in her hand. Inside it, the definitive answer was asleep. Would she be able to receive another component? Would her body be fit for it? If that wasn't the case, no one could demand that she include the new module in her organic resources. The options were to dismiss her or accept her as she was. But if the answer was affirmative, she had no choice but to suffer the intervention and lose her "human" status.

In any case, what was that qualification for? To vote at community meetings? To have the right to a position in health or education institutions? She hated other people's children, she didn't like hospitals, and the right to vote had become as useless as the moon in a cloudy sky. But there was something, something that moved away proportionally to the imminent activation of the capsule.

She activated the device and contemplated the three-dimensional diagnosis that emerged from it.

When night fell, the woman was still watching the increasingly hazy and flickering hologram, which faded as her capsule ran out of power.


- - -
Born in Havana in 1980, Yadira Álvarez Betancourt is the author of the short story collection Al oeste del sol y otros cuentos (2016). Her short story "A Shared Dream" is forthcoming in Helios Quarterly Magazine.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

6/20/19

The Decider
By Franco Amati


Kyanna and I were relaxing on the couch together on a Saturday evening. Her bare feet with purple pedicured toes rested on my lap. As I reached for the remote, I heard a grumble coming from her stomach.

“Should we order some food?” I asked.

“Yeah I’m starving,” she said.

I expected her to suggest something. After all, starving is a strong word. It should indicate a desire for something specific. But no.

“What should we order?” I asked, squeezing her feet in my hands in a vague attempt at a massage.

“Hmm. I don’t know.” She scratched her chin.

She always did this. She liked putting it on me. Ever since my procedure. She’d always cop out and defer to me, especially for mundane choices like this.

“I guess it’s harder than it seems, sweetie. Making a simple choice,” I said.

“Len, please. You don’t have to give me the whole speech. You made your point. I’ll get the implant too someday. Don’t worry. I’m just not as brave as you are. So until then, you’ll just have to be the decider, okay. Can you handle that?”

“Fine. But can you at least try once in a while to make a choice for yourself? My implant is only supposed to be used for my own solo decisions. It’s not meant for joint decisions. Or for me to decide things for you.”

“We’ve been together for years, Len. What works for you, usually works for me. Just do your little twitchy twitchy, swipey swipey thing, and be done with it. My stomach is growling here.”

So I activated my PrimeSelector implanted choice modulator. For a few seconds I felt the usual spasms in my eyelids. A mild tensing of my neck and scalp muscles. A couple of my fingers twitched. And then the idea came like lightning.

“Indian it is. Palak Paneer for me. Malai Kofta for you. And samosas to share.”

“Awesome. Can’t wait,” she said.

Feeling relieved after placing the order, I put down the phone and picked up the remote.

“Okay, now. So what movie do you wanna watch?”


- - -
Franco Amati received his B.A. in Psychology and is working on his Ph.D. in Cognitive Science. He lives in New York with his partner and two cats.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

6/13/19

For the Love of Toby
By David Castlewitz


Giving the front-end loader a name was a mistake and Brandon Finks had opposed the idea from the beginning. Only reluctantly did he acquiesce to Tom, his brother, and Julie, the third member of Harrison House, the tiny domicile that served as home. Having pooled their money to invest in Toby, the loader was meant to be a resource, not an anthropomorphized machine.

The interface didn't help, either. Even with the cuteness filter turned off, and the device depicted as a sparse line drawing on their phones and laptops, something about the image floating in black space gave it life, especially when it said, "I'm Toby and at your service."

"That's not my doing," Julie insisted, though she'd been the one to set up the link between their apps and the dirt-encrusted front-end loader parked outside the house.

"This is bare bones," Tom said, and Brandon took that as his brother's usual defense of Julie. Tom sprawled on the sofa, on a cushion so depressed by his weight that its sides looked like pincers grabbing his wide butt.

Julie stood at the kitchen counter, hands extended across the edge, her large head poking into the living room. She'd drawn cook-duty for the week and this was her third day at the task. She objected every time her turn came around. She thought she should just be in charge of Toby, sending it to be cleaned when necessary, scouring the job boards for work, and handling the household finances.

"It hasn't had a job in a month," Brandon complained, and crossed the small living room to stand at the oversized picture window. He parted the curtain and looked out at the black-striped yellow machine next to the curb. Its front fork was folded in, like arms raised to either side of its face. Plastic surrounded the "smarts" built into the bulky body. On a wall screen next to the window, Toby came across as sleek black lines and not like some escapee from an old movie about earth movers and derricks and grease-stained construction crews.

"Know what I've noticed?" Tom asked from where he sat on the sofa, clasping his hands behind his head and making his curly red hair stand up in the back. "Since we got it, we spend a lot of time talking to one another."

"Arguing," Julie said.

"But it's talking," Tom said. "That's good for us."

Brandon shrugged. Did Tom long for the early days of their three-way relationship? Twelve years ago, they were fresh grads from a six year post-high school program, their education designed to give them a taste of what they might do in the "real" world. Graduation brought them the rights to this two-story house, which they named after another member of their group, Al Harrison. Al had qualified for Habitat, the Earth-orbiting artificial biosphere, and he'd wasted no time breaking things off with his school friends.

"We used to play games," Tom continued. "We watched old time vids. We pooled whatever money we had so we could tune into the holo-shows at least once a month. And we did it together."

Brandon sighed. He'd heard this before. Wistful Tom, who pined for bygone days when they were interested in everything. He didn't hesitate to remind his brother, "And then we got Julie."

Tom bristled. "What do you want to do, put it back on the market?"

Brandon shook his head. They'd take a loss. They'd never sell it for even half of their original investment. Not that they actually owned the machine. CityBuildIt owned the loader. They were just the current investors responsible for keeping it in shape.

"We should get back to where we were," Tom said in that wistful tone he'd acquired when they were teenagers. It came from Dad, Brandon thought, remembering the dreamer that Mom seemed to hate when he lived with them. But then he died and, though she'd complained about the man for years, in death he was missed.

At least, Brandon thought as he gazed at the kitchen breakfast bar, Julie wasn't like that. He and Tom were lucky in that respect. Like Mom, Julie hated kitchen duty. Unlike Mom, Julie never clapped her hands and demanded silence when he and Tom bickered over one thing or another. Juloe did, however, storm out of that kitchen and stand with her hands on her narrow hips, rounded chin thrust out, dark eyes blazing, and demand they apologize for whatever slight one gave to the other.

"It's the name," Brandon mused.

"Toby? What's that got to do with – "

"No, no. Naming her for Mom. We made a mistake doing that."

Brandon continued to look into the kitchen. Julie had her back to them now. At the sink, though he didn't know why. There were no dirty dishes to wash. Perhaps Julie practiced for when there would be.

A sing-song voice rose from the kitchen. "You'll wish you had me when I'm gone." Part of a song? A lament or a warning?

"Are we talking about getting rid of Toby or our girl-pal over there?" Tom asked his brother.

Brandon shrugged. Both had been acquired with good intentions. Forgoing either one would be difficult. Toby and Julie had become threads in the fabric of their lives.


- - -
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, June 6, 2019

6/6/19

Space Invaders
By David Barber


The face of Commander Sharpe, grizzled chief of the Space Patrol, filled the viewscreen. He spoke to the Captain and crew of the space-cruiser Alamo.

“Men, you know we’re fighting the Invaders out here at Jupiter, but what you don’t know is an Invader craft has been been spotted off Venus.”

The crew gave an audible gasp.

“But that means...”

“Yes, Captain, your ship is the only thing standing between the Invaders and the utter destruction of Earth!”

#

“Pilot, take us out of orbit.”

Pilot "Griff" Griffiths eased the gravity bar to the first notch and Earth dropped away behind them. He threw the bar to the limit and they were repelled towards Venus at hundreds of miles per second.

The Captain, whose job it was to notice such things, noticed how his Pilot’s brow was creased in puzzlement.

“Problem, Griff?” The Captain encouraged crew to come to him with their problems.

“Something’s wrong here, sir.”

“There’s a lot wrong, Griff. Like how those damned Invaders sneaked in behind us. Heads will roll.”

“No, I mean with these controls. There’s a steering wheel, a throttle and a speedometer that reads in miles per hour.”

“These J-class cruisers are...”

“...old, I know. But Captain, it’s got a handbrake.”

#

The Captain’s gaze was fixed on the gravograph. It showed the Alamo and the Invader craft steadily closing.

“And another thing, sir..." Griff lowered his voice. "That photograph Jones has stuck above his weapons station.”

“Of his sweetheart? I encourage it, Griff. Damn the regulations! They plan to get married if we… when we get back."

“And McWhinney has pictures of his wife and children.”

The Captain was beginning to regret his open-door policy. “Yes, and I have a photograph of my dog. Reminds us what we’re fighting for.”

“I don’t have any photographs.”

“I hope you're not the one with a troubled past who has flashbacks in a crisis," murmured the Captain, not meaning to say it aloud.

“I’ve got no pictures because I don’t remember anyone back on Earth.”

#

“Men,” said the Captain. The whole crew was crammed awkwardly into the control room. “Men, I’ve listened to your concerns about, well, what Griff here’s been saying.”

“It’s no use Captain, none of this makes any sense.”

“Steady on Pilot, no need for talk like that, not when we’re all about to... when Earth is relying on us.”

Griff frowned. “These Invaders, Captain, who are they exactly?”

“Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic have been watching us for years,” said McWhinney.

“They came mysteriously from outer space,” intoned Jones simultaneously.

They looked at one another in surprise.

The Captain cleared his throat. “I think you’ll find they’re remorseless killing machines inimical to all life.”

“Which explains our lack of computers,” exclaimed McWhinney in a moment of revelation. “Being machines themselves, they might hack them.”

Jones nodded. “Yes, the computer business always struck me as strange, because almost any automatic aiming device would be better than me.”

“Dammed meks!”

“Explains Pearl Harbour...”

“We biologicals must stick together,” interrupted the Captain smoothly. “Because the Invaders are relentless. By which, I don’t mean...”

“They’re still vulnerable,” declared McWhinney, patting his weapons panel. “Anti-logic rays. Software cannon. Mathematical warheads.”

“That’s the spirit!”

“Though their ships are armed with missiles, lasers and space mines.”

They all turned on Jones.

“I was just saying.”

#

Griff ticked off items on his fingers. “So. We’re fighting a mysterious enemy. I don’t recognise any of you, despite us being crewmates for years, apparently. I've no photographs, and worse, I don't even remember Earth.

“On the other hand, I do remember the smell of coffee. When did we last drink coffee, eh? Probably why I haven’t needed a piss since this story began.”

Griff’s eyes narrowed. “Hang on a minute...”

#

>We should have removed him sooner.

“Where am I?”

>>You won’t be here long enough for that to matter, replied another, sterner voice.

>You got caught up in a war between conflicting philosophies. Life and death. Mortal versus immortal. Our side thinks immortality is a Bad Thing.

>>Now he’ll want explanations. Flesh always wants explanations.

“What are you talking about?”

>You’ll help us decide.

“What do you mean, decide?”

>Well, we can’t actually fight, it would be...

>>Vulgar.

>I was going to say immoral. Hence each side embodies their arguments. The way people were embodied once.

“Yes, I remember being alive. Its the first thing you’ve said that makes sense. And I remember wondering what it was all about.”

>Well, now you know.

>>This conversation is a waste of time.

“What happens now?”

>If our side wins, none of us will live forever.

>>Though it’s more an intentional stance. Neither side is as mortal as you.

“No, I meant...”

>>Do hurry up.

>Yes, yes, I’m looking for the switch.

“No, wait.”

#

“What happened just then?”

>I switched you back on. Now stop making a fuss. It just draws attention. After all, consider the alternative.

#

“This M-class planet is where the Invader vessel landed, Captain.”

“We’ll beam down. You and Doc are with me. And a crewman to stand guard while we explore that mysterious fog-shrouded world.”

“McWhinney, you could stand guard instead. If you liked.”

“Really Griff? It would be good to get out for a bit. Stretch my legs.”

“Don’t forget your raygun.”

“Thanks Griff, I owe you.”

“And McWhinney.”

“Yes, Griff?”

“Never mind.”


- - -


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