Thursday, May 30, 2019

5/30/19

And Quietly it Ends
By CB Droege


THERE ISN’T MUCH LEFT DOWN THERE, the message came through on her screen after the typical delay to account for the bounce it took through several make-shift communications relays in orbit. These systems weren’t really meant for this kind of communication, and even plain text strings were almost too much for the failing equipment to handle. They’d gone too long without maintenance. Too long without communication from the ground.

I KNOW, she typed, but then stared at the message for a moment before backspacing it and typing out, WE DON’T KNOW WHAT’S LEFT DOWN THERE. She pressed ‘Send’ and waited again. It would be at least a full minute before she would get a response.
She had known when she told him her plan that he would try to talk her out of it, but she was doing what she had to do. It had been six months without any communication from the surface. They needed to know… She needed to know what had happened, who was left, why there were no radio signals from the earth at all for so long.

THERE IS NO WAY TO VACCINATE YOURSELF! popped onto her screen. Of course; his disease hypothesis again. She found it very unlikely. For everyone on the planet, and three of the five orbitals to fall silent all at once, that would have to be an impossibly fast-moving disease. Of course, neither of them was a microbiologist, so it might be something neither of them understood.

She was a botanist and he was a psychologist. Not much overlap in their fields, but they’d still managed to have some pretty stimulating conversations when the delay was shorter and the messages were longer. I’M RUNNING OUT OF FOOD, she sent.

Her own hypothesis was a massive solar flare. That would explain the lack of radio broadcasts from the surface and the other orbitals and the rapid decline of the rest of the equipment in orbit. Also, it left the chance that some people were still alive.

I’LL BE ABLE TO DOCK WITH YOU IN JUST A FEW DAYS AT MOST. She sighed. They’d been trying to find a way to get their orbitals docked since just a few weeks after whatever happened. She no longer believed that there was a chance. He had enough supplies to keep them both for another two years, but there was simply no way to share them.

I'M GOING, she sent. She wasn’t going to convince him. She was going to have to start the separation and reentry process without his blessing. She dragged her console with her as she moved to the debarkation lock and began to get into her vacuum gear. She opened the airlock and glanced at her console.

She was expecting another argument. I LOVE YOU, was all it said. She frowned. It wasn't the first time he'd told her that, but she knew it wasn't true. They knew that they might well be the only two humans left, and that was a powerful emotional force, but it wasn't love. It was an intense desperation for contact. She was a scientist, and she had to see things objectively. She felt the same pull to him, but she knew what it was. They barely knew each other, really. He was either deluded or trying to manipulate her.

Annoyed, she pulled one glove back off and typed, TOO BAD YOU DON'T HAVE A VACCINE FOR THAT!

"Sorry," she said aloud, then deleted the message and instead typed, I LOVE YOU, and sent it. In a way, she even meant it.

She didn't wait for another reply. She flicked the console and watched it float away in the microgravity of the passage as she reattached her glove. Then she swung herself into the lock, and started it cycling. In a moment, she would be in her reentry capsule hurtling home.


- - -
CB Droege is an author and voice actor from the Queen City living in the Millionendorf. Recent publications include work in Nature Futures and Science Fiction Daily.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

5/23/19

Queen of the Flies
By David Barber


There were markets like these around every mountainous Jirt craft, bidonvilles of greed and filth where the natives sold anything, even each other. This must be the opinion of the Jirt, because sometimes they cleansed a shantytown, reducing it to heaps of sterile white ash. Surely no one would risk living in the volcano's shadow? But time passed, and always the humans came creeping back.

This Jirt ignored shouted bargains. Its six-legged gait was purposeful and its chitinous bulk sometimes splintered the crooked passageways of the human quarter. Hopeful items had been posed on tables and for the discerning buyer there was pre-contact artwork: broken radios, light bulbs, a set of X-ray plates; even esoteric native art based solely on sound waves.

This solitary Jirt was a drone, and therefore idle, curious, and with wealth to squander, its glittering isolation fields protecting it from all this seething pollution.

Come on, big boy, human females shouted as the drone passed, you dirty… and the translator-bug clinging to its thorax fell decently silent.

The Jirt halted in front of a shop, as if studying the word clinic above the door, though it had no need to puzzle over human script, since that was the job of translator-bugs. No one had yet decided what function humans might serve.

To a Jirt, the shop seemed dark and cramped. Human eyes were wounded by ultraviolet, so they frequented the shadows. Behind the counter stood a human medic clothed in the traditional white coat and pens.

"Welcome, watery sperm," it greeted in the fashion of a rival Jirt male, clicking its tongue in an imitation of juvenile speech. Another drone had visited here before and taught the unwitting human this drollery.

Close up, humans were as pulpy and soft as prejudice claimed, though they also reminded some of grubs. This must be the reason they were not all swept away, their world cleansed like a diseased hive.

Reluctantly, the drone began to explain. An itch between the maxillary palps, also some soreness and discharge from the proboscis. Of course the trouble was easily fixed by Jirt technologies, but wings would waggle, the Court would buzz, and the Queen would be sure to hear.

The human was making noises of regret. It could not help, it was saying, not while the honoured one remained armoured.

The drone had prepared itself for this difficult moment. A few adjustments and the isolation field collapsed, leaving it naked and vulnerable. The sudden smells were overwhelming – a powerful mix of burnt meat, bodily fluids and soap. And now the drone sensed vibrations that had been muffled before: the throb and gurgle of this human’s bodily workings, subsonic leakage from the ship's physics, the feeble lighting's fifty cycle hum.

The human obtained samples and busied itself peering through glass lenses mounted in a tube, all the while giving a tiresome lecture on germs. Human medicine was obsessed with these invisible entities and the drone buzzed its tiny wings with impatience. How much simpler, it thought, to be sterile inside and out.

"I see you have dropped your guard before." The human shook its head, one of the few human gestures blunt enough for Jirt to recognise. "What was it? A rubbish tip? A cess pit? Road kill?"

A million years ago, the ancestors of the Jirt had indeed looked for food and mates in such places, but civilisation changes everything. The human tried to explain about penicillin, but the drone cut it short. There was no need for the spells it used to encourage belief in its potions.

Hurrying to open the door for its customer, the human offered uncalled-for advice. The honoured one should be more careful in the future, faecal matter was not the sterile food paste the Jirt were used to.

The pheromones the drone squirted would have sent workers scuttling away, but the human only sneezed.

"You are far from home," it continued. “And perhaps the primitive has awoken ancient instincts."

The drone had heard human faces revealed what they thought. They regarded one another but learned nothing.

Outside was the human quarter, where the discerning could find bargains in pre-contact artwork and amusing gifts for the Queen. It was only later that the drone realised it had not rebooted its isolation field. For a moment it froze, then with a thrill of disgust, headed deeper into the shantytown, abloom with colours and overripe smells, buzzing with raucous noises and disorder, the source of all that was vile, polluted and rank.

The next day in Court, the drone remarked carelessly how it had visited the human market and found the whole place disgusting. Surely others had noticed? The soldiery were slackers. Had to practically insist on the cleansing procedure. A chore long overdue.

That morning the human quarter had been reduced to an expanse of fine white ash. Privately, the consensus of the Court was that hoping to impress the Queen with housework was a tactic unlikely to succeed.

It was while secretly applying the human potion that the drone discovered the joints of its antennae were oozing an offensive fluid. It hurriedly concealed this with cosmetics and pheromone spray, but attending the Queen after, was embarrassed to catch the very faintest whiff of corruption.

The Court was surprised to hear the drone had been summoned to mate with the Queen. But while the drone should have been concentrating on the mechanics of this honour, instead, it found itself recalling the tantalising odours of filth borne on the foetid air of the human quarter.

Few copulations in this day and age finish with the roused Queen biting off and consuming the drone's head, and perhaps it was for this reason that afterwards the Queen declared it to have been one of the most satisfactory matings for many cycles.


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Thursday, May 16, 2019

5/16/19

GAZE
By Joseph J. Patchen


Nature is talented with her pallets and paints. Guided by God’s vision and blessing she is dynamic in both style and execution. No matter the canvas she is able to translate a design that is fitting for the world below.

Through the expanding universe she busies herself with decoration and utility while God allows an occasional intertwining.

Gashes of moonlight cut broad and bright patterns on the dark green wet grass below. Blocks, blotches and slivers, some stoic and still; others are thin and they flicker and dance when passed by the long cool breeze.

Extremely bright is the light, almost blinding due to the source’s dangerously close position to the world below it now besieged in sight. The craters and caverns appear as large as one’s hands and almost as easy to grasp.

The moon itself seems almost the same size as its dark counterpart and about to swallow it.

This is a novelty for a world normally cloaked in the dark. Light is not needed here; the life forms that have evolved so to accommodate and thrive in the black.

She is about seven or eight years old; the petite young girl with three long thick braids cascading off the mop of blonde hair capping her head. And her three doe like brown eyes are now viewing this spectacle on her world and the world above with wonder.

Skipping and hopping she comes into our view to stop and be bathed in one of the greater slices nature has given her so she can find a better view of the otherworldly yellow and blood red sphere.

She is mesmerized by its magnificence. She is stunned at its beauty. She is still and silent, almost in a trance as she looks over the craters and mounds that are precisely sketched by nature’s bare hands.

“Patty! Patty!” The voice is playful and male without force but yet full of love.

“Yes Daddy.” She replies as she shakes off her view to look in the direction of the voice some seventy five feet away.

“Come in to the observatory I want to show you something and we are getting ready to go home.”

One last pause and the look of awe finds itself replaced by a bright broad smile as the child turns away to run as children do to the huge building that crowns one of the largest mountains in this region.

Once inside her eyes have to adjust for a moment to the darkness of a hollow laboratory and the hive of scientists accomplishing their work. Her father, a rather tall man even for this world, some eleven or twelve feet tall, opens his arms and scoops up his child who giggles as if she were tickled.

Eyes to eyes, smile to smile, father and daughter share that basic and simple gaze recognizable universes over.

“Patty my darling would you like to look through the telescope?”

“Oh my Daddy would I!” Squirming in her father’s arms the child is placed on her feet and in one motion scampers toward the giant lens awaiting her. Squinting two eyes she focuses with her left and gazes through with an expression of her amazement in silence.

“Honey, those are the towers we placed on the dark side. They have been there for as long as anyone here can remember.”

“Did you build them Daddy?” She never breaks her gaze.

“No honey but Daddy uses them in his work. You see they have been monitoring and recording all the activity on the rock on which they have been placed as well as on its companion world below.”

“Is that the one where they have two eyes?”

“Yes my dear, that little inferior marble in the galaxy next to us.”

“Daddy…” Lifting her gaze from the telescope Patty has the look and sound of disappointment with her father.

“I know dear, but you have seen the transmissions and after all they only possess two eyes. They require light. They are, by and large, afraid of the dark. They are mercurial and ill mannered. They are quick tempered and prone to violence. They eat their own. Every time they make an advance in art or technology they take two to three steps back because of their politics.

“It’s the ‘new moon phase’ on their planet and that’s when we do our maintenance by simply removing our apparatus and the rock it’s attached to. They are none the wiser so please forgive me dear daughter but they are not very bright.”

“And they are soon to be not very alive.” Joining them is a new voice, an elderly voice of a man some seven plus feet himself; grey and wrinkled, but whose voice is still strong as if he was ninety years younger.

He is the project manager. There is no sadness in his voice; it is cold and calculated with well reasoned logic. “I know they have become pets to some of the staff but the committee has pulled the plug. They are not very interesting. They are mostly argumentative and yes, I agree with the statement: dumb.”

“So what happens?” Patty is distressed. This is too much for a child to comprehend.

The grandfatherly man lowers himself to one knee and takes the child’s hand. With a smile his words are soft as he gazes into her eyes, eyes that are starting to tear.

“Dear Patty we shouldn’t form attachments to inferior beings. It always leads to sorrow and pain, both wasted emotions. We are going to keep their moon. We will crash it in one of our deserts converting it to a mountain range. As for the people of earth they will be plunged into darkness where they will not work together but will panic and turn on one another. In a year or so there may be survivors, but honey all is okay, don’t cry it’s just business.”


- - -

Thursday, May 9, 2019

5/9/19

Compost
By Joe Jablonski


John sat on the cold, sterile floor of his makeshift testing chamber trying to ignore the three tiny carrots sprouting from the flesh of his forearm. The room smelled of decay, an overpowering stench coming from the remains of his former roommate.

He looked over to the now shapeless mound of flesh just feet away. It's skin was leprous with the decaying pods of what was once the beginning of hundreds of thriving potatoes. That mounds name was Blake in another life. He died screaming and covered in ruptures. The pool of dried liquid now surrounding him was more compost than blood.

That was what counted as three days ago on this ship. They hadn’t even bothered to collect his remains.

It’d been two weeks since John had been brought into this room. His memory faded more with each injection he received. There were only small recollections left of his former life: his spot as a navigator on the generation ship, the announcement that the soil from the ships grow rooms had become barren, the famine and panic that followed. The memories ended with a glimpse of a bloody knife in his hand partially obscuring the vague outline of a body.

The door to his room opened with a familiar swoosh. Two figures entered. Their faces were hidden behind medical masks and they wore loose hanging white scrubs. A team of hazmat workers followed closely behind.

One of the scrubbed figures spoke as what was left of the mound formerly known as Blake was sucked up into a tube. The voice was muffled. It spoke of Blake’s rejection to the gene splicing.

The other masked figure grabbed John’s arm and quickly slid in a small syringe just above his wrist. Razors filled his bloodstream as she squeezed the plunger. She then turned and spoke to the other. The words were incoherent to John, but the satisfaction they conveyed was unmistakable.

***

Only the mission matters...

John awoke thinking of the phrase that had been drilled into his brain since birth. He was strangely numb and slow to notice he was impaled in a large green room topping the generation ship. Light burned his eyes. He closed them in defiance of blue giant visible past the clear static force field shielding him from space. It felt hot on his head. What was left of his skin tingled with the joys of photosynthesis.

He forced one eye open at barely a squint and took in his surroundings. Hundreds of his brethren surrounded him in endless rows of scarecrows ready to be harvested and shitting fresh nutrients onto a renewed soil. He knew the numbers lost in these trials would be bred back in only a few generations if the experiments worked.

As his vision faded, he looked down to see a vine of what looked like green beans hanging from his belly button. That was new, as was the baby corn sprouting from his feet. What was once arms were now pineapples. His hair was a luscious mane of basil.

John was in full bloom.

***

Hours passed, maybe days. John was immobile and desperate. All he had left was the recounting of his crime and following conviction playing and replaying in his head. It was the same flash of actions echoed within the minds of all the of test subjects. All-consuming memories as implanted as the oversized cabbage dangling from an open wound in his chest.

The realization hit like a curb stomp. He was completely expendable, as were the rest. The remaining masses would live on guilt free never knowing of the innocence or sacrifice of those sentenced to his fate.

They wanted him to believe he deserved this.

Anger overwhelmed him. He wanted to hate the ones who decided his uselessness. He wanted lash out at the unfairness of it all. He wanted to burn the entire ship to the ground. But a steady hum as dull as a flatline played in the back of his mind, keeping him sedated and accepting of his new place in life. Behind the hum were the whispers of indoctrination.

Only the mission mattered.


- - -
I have stories in around 50 markets including K-Zine and Liquid Imagination.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

5/2/19

Harvest
By C.E. Gee


A large space ship emerged from the Sun.

Mid-21st century Solarians knew aliens utilized hyperspace channels connecting black holes to suns for interstellar travel. However, the Solarians did not yet have the capability to construct a ship that could withstand the heat of the sun.

“Attention beings of Earth,” broadcast the ship over numerous RF channels. “By analyzing your radio frequency transmissions we are able to communicate with you.”

A Solarian communications technician responded with, “O-o-o-kay?”

The reply was, “We need your planet. Standby for our actions.”

Solarian Space Force seized control of the ship.

Copying the ship’s design, Solarians began to travel the galaxy.


- - -
Born in 1947, C.E. "Chuck or Pappy" Gee misspent his youth at various backwater locales within the states of Oregon and Alaska.
He later answered many callings, including that of logger, factory worker, infantryman (Vietnam war draftee, 1968), telecommunications technician, volunteer fireman and EMT, light show roady, businessperson, webmaster.


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