Posted tagged ‘Science Fiction’

‘Brain Break’ by Kris Knapp

September 20, 2009
Corrodel stepped through the telepod, fumbling with his mug and briefcase. He tripped, and hot coffee splashed on his white shirt.
Jobe swiveled in his hover chair and chortled. “Bravo.”
Corrodel sighed and set down his mug and briefcase.
Jobe hovered back around. “Thirty seconds late. Old man Lipston’ll have your head.” He sipped a fizzy drink.
Corrodel wrung out his tie. “Don’t care.”
Jobe shrugged and gnawed at the end of a choco-stick.
Corrodel sighed and tossed his tie aside. “I miss anything?”
“Petunias are in the Garden.” Jobe pointed with his choco-stick. “Your turn to clean out the fertilizer.”
They stared at each other.
Corrodel sighed and pulled on a rubber suit. He went to the cells and the laser bars disappeared.
“Why do we bother with these?” he muttered.
“What’s that?”
“Nothing.”
The human-blob inmates were arranged in uniform rows. Wires and cords ensnared their boneless limbs from the ceiling like strands of a spider web. Fluids pumped into their brains and into their gelatinous arms. He changed out their waste collectors, grumbling.
“Wouldn’t it just be cheaper to execute them?”
Jobe cackled. “Think so? What costs more? Fluids and our wages? Or lawyers, courts, appeals, more appeals…”
Corrodel rolled his eyes. He finished cleaning the collectors, walked through the disinfector and plopped down in a chair in the control room.
Jobe passed him a choco-stick. “See what they’re up to.”
Corrodel kicked his feet back and flipped on the vidscreens.
* * *
Wallach stared at the slice of pizza. Melted cheese bubbled around red saucers of pepperoni. He took a bite.
And spit it out. He shoved the plate away.
“What’s the matter?” Earl sucked on a giant rib. “You love pizza.”
“Tastes grey,” he said.
Earl barked, laughing. “How’s that?”
Wallach looked at the other inmates. They sat around in luxury chairs, eating filet mignon and lobster, drinking champagne and fancy booze. A diamond chandelier hung from the ceiling. Bombshell women and men muscled like Greek gods walked around, serving everything.
“You’ve just eaten it too much,” said Earl. A serving girl walked past. He grabbed her by her apron and wiped sauce from his face and spanked her. “Every day you eat the stuff.”
“Pizza used to be my favorite.” He shrugged. “Nothing tastes right to me.”
Earl shrugged. “Get drunk.”
Wallach stood and walked down the hall to Cell 18. He opened the door.
Scott was lying on a white sand beach. Muscled cabana boys served her drinks and fanned her with huge palms. Her heavy breasts bulged against a scandalously small black bikini. Her black hair was a salty tangle. Her head lolled and she looked at him. “You look pissed, Wally.”
“Want to sex?”
She rolled her eyes. “No. For God’s sake, go have Marilyn Monroe or Cleopatra or whoever.”
“It wouldn’t be real.”
She stretched like a cat. “Like I’m real.” She sat up. “I’m a blob on a chair somewhere. So are you.”
“We’re alive,” he murmured.
“No bones. No real brain. No eyes or teeth. We’re a sack of organs.” She stood and snapped her fingers. The cabana boys moved off.
“I’d rather live like that.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” she said, walking to the water’s edge. “You’re just a little stir crazy. Happens to everyone. Want to build a sand castle?”
He shook his head.
She shrugged and walked into the crystal water. “Some people would kill to have this,” she said.
“So you won’t sex.”
She threw her hands up. Hundreds of naked women appeared on the beach and surrounded him. “Knock yourself out,” she said, and dove beneath a wave.
Wallach pushed through the throngs of women and followed her into the water. She surfaced and he floated beside her. “I’m going to try it,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be stupid.”
“Lee did it.”
“Lee died.”
“We don’t know that.”
“You don’t know it. The rest of us do.”
“I mean it, Scott.”
She kissed his cheek. “Best of luck.” The water surged all around her. A huge black fin cut through the water. She grabbed it and sped off on the back of a huge whale.
He swam back to shore and climbed back through the orgy of naked women. He went to his room: four grey walls. He snapped his fingers. A leather jacket appeared on his shoulders. A wide-brimmed hat appeared on his head. A pistol appeared in a holster on his belt. He took a deep breath and left his cell.
* * *
“A runner!”
Techs filed into the control room, waving money. They interfaced into the prison computers.
“Two hundred says he doesn’t make it past stage one!”
“Double or nothing says he makes it past stage four!”
“Five hundred on stage three!”
Corrodel put fifty creds in the pot that the runner wouldn’t make it past stage one. Any more and his wife would kill him.
“So what happens if they get past stage five?” said Sendak. He was a new tech with squirrelly cheeks and a big forehead.
“They don’t,” said Jobe, collecting the bets.
“But in theory. What if they do?”
Jobe rolled his eyes and belched. “The prison computers are all wired to the government processors. The ones that run everything on Earth and work at below 1% total capacity. It runs traffic, warrants, strategic defense, interplanetary travel, the economy, shopping lists and business accounts, and Christmas lists. It controls the interface chip installed in babies at birth, for God’s sake. Even though it’s literally impossible to get past stage five, if someone did I’m sure the computer has a stage six.” He looked at Corrodel. “Stage two. Loser cleans out collectors for a month.”
“You’re on.”
* * *
“Don’t do it,” said Earl. He carried a bottle of booze in one hand and his other was draped over an Amazonian woman’s shoulder.
Wallach stood at the brink of the long, black cavern. A sign above read:
POINT OF NO RETURN
He glanced back. Only Earl had come to say goodbye.
“Goodbye, Earl.”
He stepped into the cave.
The wall transformed behind him. The entry closed and become a wall. He touched it and muttered. He turned and took a step forward.
The stones collapsed underfoot. He slipped down into the chasm.
His hands caught the edge and he held on by his fingers. A black chasm loomed below like a waiting maw.
He scrambled for a grip. The stones gave way.
Two hands grabbed him by the wrists and helped drag him up.
Scott grabbed him by the belt and pulled him back up.
“You came,” he said, wheezing for breath.
“Jesus, Wally. What are you dressed up to be?”
He smiled up at her. “You came.”
“Yeah. Now let’s go.” She dragged him back to the wall. “How do we get out?”
“What’d you think the sign was for?” he said.
She touched the rocks. “You mean…”
He dusted himself off. “It’s okay. I’ve got it figured out.”
She grabbed him. “You mean we can’t go back?”
He walked over. He tapped a rock with his foot and it gave under his weight. “We’ve got to run across, Scott.”
“No. No. We’ll just stay here and they’ll let us back in.”
“They won’t.”
“I’m staying here.”
“Then you’ll starve to death.”
“Starve…”
He took her hand. “Come on. Run as fast as you can. Don’t stop! Here we go. One. Two. Three!”
He broke into a run and dragged her by the hand. Rocks plummeted down under their feet, falling into the chasm below.
“Jump!”
They hurled themselves forward, landing on a solid edge. They lay panting on the ground.
“I’ll kill you,” she said. “Let me go back.”
“How?” He stood and helped her up. The path was gone; now only a gaping pit stood between the cliffs. A long cave stretched before them.
The walls rumbled. Iron spikes emerged and began to close off the tunnel ahead.
“Come on,” said Wallach. They took each other’s hand. “Come on, run!” They bolted down the cave as the walls began to close in. Closer, closer.
Scott broke free. A spike pierced Wallach’s leather jacket and stopped him in his tracks. Scott turned and yanked him out of his jacket and they leapt free. The walls slammed shut. Boom.
* * *
“Damn it.” Corrodel wiped his face. “What am I going to tell Lori?”
Jobe ate a swizzle cake. “You’re only out fifty.”
“She’ll know. She checks.”
Jobe stifled a yawn.
Corrodel looked at the screen. The two runners were spelunking down into the third stage. “What’s the point, anyway? Why even have the stages?”
Jobe swallowed noisily. “Inmates rejected the program without a possibility of escape and woke early from stasis.”
“We should keep them in a hellhole then. Why treat them like royalty?”
“Costs us the same either way. And no activist groups are banging down doors for prisoner treatment this way.”
“What’s this guy in for anyway?” said Sendak.
Jobe pressed a button. “AWOL on Titan. Triple homicide. Stole three police skiffs. Jesus.”
The techs all stared.
“One thousand he makes it!” Sendak shouted.
* * *
Wallach slid down a gravelly slope.
Scott followed, cursing. “If I’d known I was going to die in the temple of doom, I would’ve changed.”
He looked at her bikini and grinned.
She pulled a switchblade from her bikini. “Back off.”
He raised his hands and backed up a step.
“So what now, Flash?”
He unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it to her. “We keep going.”
She looked at the sweaty shirt and slid her arms through. “What happens then?”
He pulled a lighter from his pocket and lit it. “I don’t know.” He pushed through some cobwebs.
They stood at the verge of a large, open chamber. Stone tiles lined the floor and torches lined the walls.
He waved Scott back and took a burning torch from the wall. He tossed it forward. It clattered against the floor.
He shrugged and walked forward. Scott followed. “No explosives? No tricks?”
Wallach felt something drip on his hand. He sniffed and looked up. Nozzles carved into the stone ceiling sprayed down fumes. He coughed.
Scott began coughing. “Oh God. I can’t breathe.”
“Cover your mouth!” he said. They ran.
Blades and guillotines rained down from above. They danced through torrents of razor-sharp daggers and swords. They rolled beneath two giant pendulum blades and into a hall just as a giant stone door slammed shut.
Wallach coughed and shook his head. His eyes cleared.
Scott climbed up. “I could be anywhere. Doing anything.” She sobbed.
He offered her his hand. She slapped it away. He shrugged and looked around. Strange hieroglyphics and paintings covered the walls. He ran his fingers over them.
“Where are we, anyway?” said Scott.
“Inside the computer-generated maze.”
“What happens if we get out?”
“These prisons are all built with a five-tier system. They’re connected to the government databases and supercomputers.” He flipped open his lighter and cast light through the tunnel. “See, the human brain rejects the program without possibility of escape. Keeps us in line.”
“How do you know so much?”
He smirked. “I used to work for the government. A long time ago.”
“But you didn’t tell me what happens if we get out.”
He shrugged. “We might not. Stage five is supposed to be impossible. No one’s ever gotten past it.”
Footsteps padded behind. Wallach turned. His hand went to his holster.
Scott snorted a laugh. “I think you can put the gun away, Tex.”
Shapes moved through the darkness. Strange voices.
Wallach cocked the hammer on his pistol.
“Wally. What is it?”
Wild shouts through the cave. A human shape ran at them with a spear. Wallach shot him and he fell dead.
“Go!” he shouted.
They ran.
Arrows and darts skittered across the floor, nipping their heels.
“Don’t look back!” He shouted. He shot backwards as he ran. Smoke and the smell of cordite filled the tunnel.
Hundreds, a thousand voices screamed for blood behind them. Drums sounded in the deep. A thrown javelin whistled through the air and took off Wallach’s hat and stuck in the ground, quivering.
A grey-skinned creature dropped down from the ceiling and screeched. Spittle sprayed from its fanged mouth. Wallach put a bullet between the creature’s black eyes and they ran.
A lighted chamber waited ahead. Scott began to slow and stumbled as she ran. Wallach shoved her forward. They dove through the portal. A stone door slammed shut behind them.
Wallach laughed and stood. “We made it! Scott, we made it!”
Scott sat on the ground, staring at the wall. A dart protruded from her neck. She ripped it out and threw it. He picked it up and sniffed the end.
“Wally,” she said, falling limp.
He cradled her in his arms. “You’re going to be okay. We’ve only got one more stage. We’ll get out and get you some help.”
“We should’ve stayed.”
“Scott. You’re poisoned. Hang on, okay?”
“Look. It’s Lee.” She said pointing.
He followed her finger. A shriveled corpse lay in the corner. Its face was dry and its limbs were emaciated. “He made it all this way,” said Wallach. “What happened?” He laid Scott carefully down and searched the room. The walls were blank. He walked around. “That can’t be it. There’s something else here.” He paced.
A stone tile sank under his weight. A wall slid open. Pure white light flooded the room from the door.
“Look! There it is!” he said. He ran toward it.
The wall slammed shut and the tile surfaced.
He looked back and forward. “It’s weight activated? That’s so simple! No wonder no one’s ever made it past this. Someone has to stay behind and hold the door open. . .” He ran over to Lee’s corpse and tried to pick it up but it crumbled into dust.
Scott dragged herself onto the tile and sat. Blood dribbled from her lips and she moaned.
He went to her. “No. [[Let me use Lee’s body, and we can both go.”
“Forget it. He weighs nothing now,” Scott said.
“Then I’ll hold it down, Scott.]] You go. Get help.”
“I never.” She gasped for breath. “Did. Much like you.”
“We’ll stay together. We’ll get a huge pepperoni pie. How about that? You and me. First thing.”
She smiled and went limp.
The wall slid open as the tablet sunk into the floor. Light flooded the room.
Wallach wiped his eyes and stepped into the light.
Weightless. He floated into the white void. Colors wheeled about him. His body dissolved. Yet he remained. Corporeal, formless.
* * *
The vidscreens exploded. The shockwave threw the techs back and they sprawled across the control room. Smoke sizzled from monitors.
The techs all pulled themselves to their feet. Corrodel helped Jobe up. They stared at one another.
“Jesus,” said Corrodel. “What happened?”
Jobe hopped back into his hover chair and leaned over a sizzling monitor. He tapped it a few times. “One of them is dead. The woman.”
“What about the other?” said Sendak. “I had money riding on that bastard!”
“Uh…” Jobe flipped through a few screens. “It’s weird. His vitals are there. But brain activity’s dropped off.”
“So he made it?” said Sendak.
“Shut your hole, man; you know the guy didn’t do it. No one’s ever done it,” said another tech.
Jobe scratched his head. “Well. Something shorted the computers. His vitals are there. But he’s not in prison. So I guess he made it.”
The techs all moaned. Sendak leapt up and down and squealed. Corrodel rubbed his temples. Techs doled out money. Sendak ended up with a few thousand.
“Pizza for everybody!” he shouted.
Jobe tossed away his choco-sticks. “Pizza sounds good.”
“Yeah, it does,” someone said.
“Pepperoni,” another droned.
Corrodel scratched his head. “Pizza.” He looked at the sizzling screens and shrugged.
an author living in Jacksonville Florida. I’ve been published at DemonMinds, Allegory ezine, Moon Drenched Fables, Aphelion, and other publications

(c) 2009 Romeo Esparrago

(c) 2009 Romeo Esparrago

Corrodel stepped through the telepod, fumbling with his mug and briefcase. He tripped, and hot coffee splashed on his white shirt.

Jobe swiveled in his hover chair and chortled. “Bravo.”

Corrodel sighed and set down his mug and briefcase.

Jobe hovered back around. “Thirty seconds late. Old man Lipston’ll have your head.” He sipped a fizzy drink.

Corrodel wrung out his tie. “Don’t care.”

Jobe shrugged and gnawed at the end of a choco-stick.

Corrodel sighed and tossed his tie aside. “I miss anything?”

“Petunias are in the Garden.” Jobe pointed with his choco-stick. “Your turn to clean out the fertilizer.”

They stared at each other.

Corrodel sighed and pulled on a rubber suit. He went to the cells and the laser bars disappeared.

“Why do we bother with these?” he muttered.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.”

The human-blob inmates were arranged in uniform rows. Wires and cords ensnared their boneless limbs from the ceiling like strands of a spider web. Fluids pumped into their brains and into their gelatinous arms. He changed out their waste collectors, grumbling.

“Wouldn’t it just be cheaper to execute them?”

Jobe cackled. “Think so? What costs more? Fluids and our wages? Or lawyers, courts, appeals, more appeals…”

Corrodel rolled his eyes. He finished cleaning the collectors, walked through the disinfector and plopped down in a chair in the control room.

Jobe passed him a choco-stick. “See what they’re up to.”

Corrodel kicked his feet back and flipped on the vidscreens.

* * *

Wallach stared at the slice of pizza. Melted cheese bubbled around red saucers of pepperoni. He took a bite.

And spit it out. He shoved the plate away.

“What’s the matter?” Earl sucked on a giant rib. “You love pizza.”

“Tastes grey,” he said.

Earl barked, laughing. “How’s that?”

Wallach looked at the other inmates. They sat around in luxury chairs, eating filet mignon and lobster, drinking champagne and fancy booze. A diamond chandelier hung from the ceiling. Bombshell women and men muscled like Greek gods walked around, serving everything.

“You’ve just eaten it too much,” said Earl. A serving girl walked past. He grabbed her by her apron and wiped sauce from his face and spanked her. “Every day you eat the stuff.”

“Pizza used to be my favorite.” He shrugged. “Nothing tastes right to me.”

Earl shrugged. “Get drunk.”

Wallach stood and walked down the hall to Cell 18. He opened the door.

(more…)

‘More Blood’ by David Such

July 12, 2009

Illustration (c) 2009 Romeo Esparrago

Illustration (c) 2009 Romeo Esparrago

The girl sitting next to him was hot, but damn she could talk. Jes was Sam Blood’s latest potential new girlfriend. She hadn’t quite separated from her current man, but Blood had a feeling that this was imminent. The uComm beeped in Blood’s ear. He activated it on silent while pretending to continue to listen to what Jes was saying.

“Blood, we have another tasking order,” his partner spoke in his ear, “it’s a worker’s comp case, a back-injury claim. The insurance agency hasn’t been able to prove it, but their AI has indicated that this perp is a faker. I’m uploading the file now, have a squiz and I will pick you up in 10.”

Blood considered this and took a swig of his He-Man 9000 Super Strong Ultra Beer. It tasted like crap but what the hell, he had an image to uphold. He focused back on what Jes was saying: “… I can’t believe it, he was such an arsehole. Don’t you agree?”

Blood thought that he was pretty safe in going along with this, “Yeah — a total tool. Who is this again?”

“I just told you, my ex-fiasco! Were you even listening?”

“Of course, Babe, I’m just a little distracted at the moment. My partner and I have this big case that we are working on. We need to catch a cheater.”

“A cheater! I’m an expert on that.”

“Is that right? Tell me everything. I’m here for you Jes, I want you to know that.”

(more…)

‘The Package’ by Ilan Herman

July 2, 2009
blueguy

Illustration by Andrew G. McCann

Jeff was watching the news in his living room when a knock sounded on his apartment door. He opened the door and smiled at the rotund mailman, who’d been serving the apartments for ten years. “How ya doin’, John?”

Holding a mid-sized cardboard box, the mailman smiled through his thick and graying mustache and asked, “What ya order?” He inquired only because he knew Jeff wouldn’t consider the question intrusive.

“I didn’t order anything,” said Jeff as he eyed the box.

“But it has your name and address on it,” the mailman said. “Why would someone bother to send you something you didn’t order?” He rapped his knuckles lightly on the box. “Good packaging job.”

Jeff shrugged. “I’m not sure I want it. Maybe you should take it back.”

The mailman, who wished to avoid carrying the package back to his van and back to the warehouse, chuckled. “Now that doesn’t make sense. It’s not like they’re chargin’ you or somethin’. Take it. It’s yours.” He leaned toward Jeff and held out the box. Convinced by the mailman’s hard sell but also curious about what the package held, Jeff accepted the box — about two square feet and five pounds.

The postal employee saluted. “US Mail delivers once again.” He turned and rumbled down the stairs with one more glance and a smile at the middle-aged man standing at the door to apartment 106.

* * *

Jeff walked into his apartment and shut the door. He laid the box on the coffee table and heard the postal van chug away. He then fetched a knife from the kitchenette and cut through the tape sealing the box. The label didn’t have a return address. He liked the fact that his last name, Simmoneyous, was spelled correctly. Many times when he’d requested an order, his surname was jumbled by the sender, though never to the point of a botched delivery.

The box contained a fireman’s red helmet and black jacket, both of excellent quality and authentic-looking. His first name was etched on the front of the helmet and above the breast pocket of the jacket that fit snugly around his shoulders, yet left plenty of room to raise his arms. The helmet also hugged his scalp well, as if the designer knew the exact circumference of Jeff’s head.

A warm vibration soothed his skull as soon as the helmet was resting on his head. Then a stocky, sky-blue creature formed from thin air and floated a foot off the ground. The creature had no limbs. One watery-brown eye centered its round face that had no mouth or nose. Two short tentacles rose from the top of its head.

(more…)

‘The Man in the Cowboy Hat’ by Jude Coulter-Pultz

June 15, 2009

Illustration by Romeo Esparrago

Illustration by Romeo Esparrago

It’s the same every night. The same nightmare every night for weeks. It never changes, and that makes it all the worse.

In the nightmare, I’m only six years old. Even though I know I’m really sixteen, it doesn’t matter. You can only run so fast when you’ve got the legs of a kindergartner. In the end, I’m going to get chopped up by the man in the cowboy hat, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

It starts in the old Halloway house — the perfect setting for a game of hide and seek. It must have been built at least two hundred years ago, back when nooks and crannies were all the rage. I’ve been Nick Halloway’s friend for years, so I know all the best places. No one apart from Nick himself ever found my hiding spot behind the laundry machine in the basement. You have to crawl on all fours through the spiders and their spiderwebs, and lord knows what else just to reach it. Then you have to sit there in that dark, square hole, with your arms, legs, head, and butt all scrunched up against the damp pipes and the dusty floor.

I hear footsteps. Even the first time I had this dream, I knew what the footsteps meant. One by one, down the stairs. Each footfall seems to be carefully filled with the greatest possible amount of malice. I consider running over to the door to lock it, but it’s too late. It’s always too late. The rusty hinges let out a low creak as the man in the cowboy hat steps into the room. I can’t see him, but I know he’s there. I can hear the jingle-jangle of his spurs now, coming closer and closer. Ching. Ching. Ching. My only hope is that I can hold my breath until the man in the cowboy hat decides to walk away. The footsteps pause. He must be almost on top of the laundry machine by now. Time passes reluctantly, as if being squeezed from the air. Gradually, an itch grows at the back of my throat. It feels like one of the spiders has somehow crept into my mouth and has started spinning a web down inside my trachea. The waiting is unbearable.

At last the man in the cowboy hat turns and leaves, jingling and jangling and full of menace. Still I wait, fighting the maddening urge to clear my throat, until the footsteps disappear completely up the stairs. I emerge from behind the laundry machine like a drowning sailor, a coughing, gasping, sputtering mess. As I try to muffle the coughs with my hand, I spot a spider scurrying away over my fingers. It’s the same thing every night. I flick it away and wipe the strands of silk from my lip. Every night for weeks.

But this time, something happens to make me freeze. Standing in the middle of the darkened room is Nick Halloway, as if he had been waiting for me all along. This isn’t right. He’s not supposed to be here. Not now. My stomach suddenly turns heavy and cold. I thought knowing what was going to happen was what made this dream so awful. Now that it seems to be changing, I’m filled all the more with dread.

“Derek? Derek Young?” The voice that comes out of his mouth is not his. It’s older and it doesn’t belong at all.

My head starts to spin, and I feel like I’m going to throw up. I call out his name. Maybe if he hears his name, he’ll snap out of it and turn back into my best friend.

“Nick? Who–?” He looks down at himself and then smiles ruefully. “Oh, right– sorry. I forgot about that. Hold on.”

Nick takes a slow breath, closing his eyes and his lips tightly. Then, before my eyes, his body begins to inflate like a long balloon. Features come anew to his face and his body, defining a tall, pale man in a trenchcoat. His hair is an untamed mess that looks like it’s been slept on in all the wrong ways. As a finishing touch, a pair of fashionable shades appear atop his slender nose, although he immediately removes them. Underneath, he has the red-rimmed eyes of a profound insomniac.

“Gato, Nightmare Hunter, at your disposal,” he announces, with a slight bow.

(more…)

‘Three Gold Pieces’ by Brock L. Noel

June 11, 2009
Illustration by Romeo Esparrago

Illustration by Romeo Esparrago

Sir Lochlan Mayes’s breaths were coming hard as he bent over in the stifling heat scorching the city streets of Goldenshore. It had been especially hot this summer on the coast of the Southern Sea, and today was no different. Lochlan put his hands on his knees, watching the sweat drip off of the tip of his nose onto the cobblestone below. He grimaced and looked up just in time to see the princess turn the corner onto another street.

“Sorcha!” he called out as he started after her again.

As Lochlan rounded the corner he could see the young princess many paces ahead, dodging between the carts and wagons filtering through the street. Cursing under his breath, he continued after her. He could see the city folk out of the corner of his eyes, laughing and pointing with amused smiles. It was an utter embarrassment. Lochlan was a revered knight who had commanded armies in the Great War. And here he was chasing a small girl, who at twelve summers was just fast enough to elude his aging strides.

“Sorcha, stop this instant!” he yelled again. “Your father will hear of this!”

He knew that was a lie. If there was one person in the whole kingdom of Andara that Lochlan didn’t want to anger, it was King Marcas Goldenshore. He would have Lochlan’s head for this if anything ill should befall his only daughter. The daughter I was sworn to protect, Lochlan thought as he barreled out into a street crossing.

The scream of a horse drew Lochlan’s attention away from the princess. He turned his head just in time to see a rearing mare kick its front hoof into his shoulder. He fell hard onto the street and rolled over just as the wagon that the horse was pulling rolled over his ankle. Lochlan let out a scream of his own as he heard his ankle crunch under the weight of the wagon. Without a word of worry the man leading the wagon quickly snapped the reigns and was off again, leaving Lochlan in the street, grasping at his already swelling ankle.

“Solton curse you,” Lochlan said between gritted teeth, evoking the wrath of the king of gods. He pushed himself to his feet, remembering the princess. But one step later he fell again. Wincing, he dragged himself to the other side of the street and set himself against the Copper Mug, a tavern frequented by the nobles of Goldenshore.

“You there,” Lochlan called out to a youth walking the street. The boy gave Lochlan a dismissive look and kept on his way.

“Stop this instant, boy!” Lochlan called. “In the name of Marcas Goldenshore, your king, you will come here this instant.”

The boy stopped and turned to regard Lochlan, but did not come closer. The lad couldn’t have been more than fourteen summers, if Lochlan had to guess. The light brown hair coming out of his worn leather cap hung just past the shoulders of his tattered tunic. He looked like a beggar, which was odd to Lochlan. Most beggars didn’t come to this part of the city.

“What do you want?” the boy asked impatiently.

“I need your help,” Lochlan replied.

“Can’t say I’m really in the helpin’ mood, mister.”

“Your king needs your help, boy.”

His light-blue eyes narrowed. “Can’t really say that changes my mind much.”

“Don’t make me call the city watch after you,” Lochlan threatened, wincing again at the pulsing pain in his ankle.

“I’ve escaped the city watch plenty of times. Go ahead and call them. Besides, what’s in it for me if I help you?”

Lochlan looked down the street, knowing the princess was getting further away. He wiped the sweat from his brow.

“One gold piece,” Lochlan said after a moment.

“Five gold pieces,” the boy replied instantly.

“Five golds!” Lochlan stammered. “You must be mad! Two golds. No more.”

“Four golds.”

“Two,” Lochlan reaffirmed sternly.

“Three.”

“For Solton’s sake, boy, I’ll give you two golds to help me and that is all.”

The boy looked Lochlan over for a few moments.

“How do I know you’re good for it?” he asked.

Lochlan sighed. “I’m a knight in the Princess’s Guard. My word is my honor.”

“I’ve seen knights do bad things before. Most I’ve seen don’t have any honor.”

“Very well, boy. Three golds. Three golds if you help me.”

“Swear on your father’s grave,” the boy said.

“My father still lives, but I’ll swear on my mother’s.”

“Say it.”

“I swear on my mother’s grave that I will give you three golds if you help me.”

“Help you with what?” the boy asked.

“I’m chasing a girl through the city. She is very important to me, and if anything ill should happen to her, I’d be in a very uncompromising position.”

“Uncompromising?”

“Very bad things would happen to me.”

“And it’s worth three golds to you?”

“Yes. Now will you help me?”

“Where is this girl?” the boy asked.

“The last I saw she was running down that street,” Lochlan replied pointing. “She has long, blonde hair. It comes down to the middle of her back. She’s wearing a light-green dress that matches her eyes. I need you to find her and bring her back to the castle somehow. If you have to ask the city watch to pick her up and drag her back to the castle, then so be it. Tell them that Sir Lochlan Mayes has given his permission to do so. They will help you.”

“I will find this girl for you,” the boy answered confidently. “Where can I claim my reward?”

“Come back here to the Copper Mug when you have safely returned her to the castle, and I will give you your three golds. Now be off! She is running for the city gates, I have no doubt.”

The boy started up the street. Lochlan watched him go for a moment before he reached down to his ankle. It was broken. There was no doubt about that. He grimaced as he touched it through his boot. Somehow he was going to have to get back to the castle. From there he could tell the other men in Sorcha’s guard she had escaped again and set them out to find her. He knew the young boy wouldn’t be able to bring Sorcha back, but at least he might be able to divert her long enough for his men to find her. Lochlan called out to the next wagon that passed. He would need a ride back to the castle.

(more…)

‘The God Project’ by James A. Ford

June 7, 2009

Illustration by Gary Campbell

Illustration by Gary Campbell

3rd quarter 2135 CE

Northern Hemisphere President’s address

“We stand on the precipice of time.

Preparing to undertake a great adventure of discovery.

One which we can only complete with cooperation and brotherhood.

To finally and for all time answer that eternal question: Does God exist?

To set aside the now-quaint beliefs proven to be in error by the Scientific Age.

“And to continue the work of our forefathers. The warm regard still held for the great, written traditions of the ancient holy books illustrates Man’s need for knowledge on this subject. Great moral guides these books have proven to be — they are now universally recognized as some of Man’s first attempts to explain the universe and the place of Mankind within it. All were written without the benefit of even rudimentary scientific knowledge and discovery. Information that, we in our Age take for granted, was missing back then. The writers of those books tried to explain the universe in the only ways they could, using the myths and legends and general beliefs of those times, beliefs now proven false.

“We, with our vastly superior understanding of the cosmos, will now embark on a great voyage of discovery. It has been said that Science has destroyed God, that Science has rendered such a quaint belief obsolete and irrelevant. But why can not Science be employed to answer the question, Yes or No?, with finality. That is the course we set ourselves upon. A scientific search for God. A scientific search for Truth.”

It had taken decades to build the special sensor device.

That of course was the key. No other projects were even started until that was completed.

Once perfected, several months were then spent in the pinpointing of probable locations. The sensor device acted as an enormous energy analyser, capable of gleaning intricate and complex information from the cosmic rays that constantly washed over the planet. The science of the device was understood by only a select few, the men who built it. At first, almost everyone in the general and scientific communities dismissed both the device and the project. After the first mission, that all changed. Overnight, the planet’s mood went from outright disbelief to outright optimism. The device had worked, and brilliantly. Unfortunately, the civilization it found had died out, but the clear remnants of its recent existence had provided elegant proof of the worth of the device and vindication for the project. The device was the discoverer of worlds — what else was it capable of? If nothing else we were rapidly discovering just how un-alone in the universe we were.

With the device, finding intelligent life forms was very easy; the next steps however were not. Evaluation was still a man-made decision. The primary, most important, factor was whether the culture believed in some form of supreme being. Further, did the culture have some proof or basis for that belief. After just a few months of searching, hundreds of such alien cultures were discovered. There was need for a new, improved ship capable of reaching them and studying them face to face. During the ship’s construction, a crew was selected and trained.

* * *

These stellar voyagers travelled farther from home than anyone had before. The technology they used was more advanced than anything dreamt of by past scientists. The four-man crew was the proverbial cream of the crop, picked from millions of qualified applicants. These four men had the right combination of intelligence, technical expertise, and common sense, and, perhaps more important, were a fair representation of the world population in 2163. These men reflected a large segment of the racial makeup of the planet, as well as the beliefs and ideals of those inhabitants. That of course didn’t mean they all liked one another.

“How much longer?” asked Simms, known also as No. 4. There was no answer at first, and then Richards, No. 2, looked up from his engineering station and stared at Simms. Richards knew he was the only one to whom the question could have been directed; there was no one else in the room.

“What, Simms? What now?” Richards demanded, continuing to stare at No. 4 as if Simms had several heads.

“How – Much – Longer?” Simms intoned, ” Before – We – Land?” As he spoke the words he made a point of staring fixedly back at Richards. It was common knowledge that pilot 2 and pilot 4 hated each other. They were here, despite the friction, because they were the best at what they did. Most members of Mission Control had placed bets as to which man would snap first and physically attack the other — most of the serious money was on Simms.

“I don’t know Simms… check your flight scanner, I’m working over here!” With that, Richards turned away and tried to forget about Simms, whom he couldn’t stand in the least, and wanted to spend as little time with as possible. The man irritated him not just because he was an atheist but because he was so sure of himself. Simms always had an opinion on any topic, and he always wanted everyone to hear it. Richards also felt certain that Simms went out of his way to goad him every chance he got.

“You know we won’t find anything,” Simms stated, staring up at the ship’s low ceiling. He stole a quick glance at Richards, who was studiously ignoring him.

“Our sensors have detected nothing,” he continued. “That rock is as dead as a billiard ball. Whatever was there is long dead — no culture, no god. Nothing.”

“We won’t know for certain until we actually land and search,” Richards countered, not looking up from his calculations console. He hung his head for a second, then looked at Simms and continued. “Many of our religious traditions quote instances of God walking amongst His people…maybe someday we will get lucky.”

“Ha! Don’t hold your breath,”Simms said, rolling his eyes. He stared at the ceiling for a moment then added: “God, I’m bored.” He sighed, casting a quick glance at Richards.

“Simms, I thought you didn’t believe in God?” Richards asked, a slight smile of disdain on his face.

Simms stood up. “Don’t worry, No. 2, you haven’t converted me, it was only an expression, not a profession.” His work done, Simms walked away.

(more…)

‘Mission Fail’ by Michael Meyerhofer

May 24, 2009

Lizard by Walter Simon

Illustration by Walter Simon

“So, Doc, how many do you think died today?” Fram asked. “A million? Ten million?”

We were sitting in the mess mall of the Scaled Angel, the only two in a room built for ten astronauts of various shapes and sizes. Fram was picking his teeth with a sliver of charred mammal bone. It made his gums bleed horribly, but he did it anyway. Usually, this was just a nervous tick of his, but I had the distinct feeling that this time, he was doing it just to spite me.

“That’s not funny,” I replied.

Fram grinned with all the warmth of the comet we’d been chasing. “Wasn’t meant to be.” He shoved his plate away. “Not much of a last meal, if you don’t mind my saying.”

I stirred my leaf-broth with a spoon. As much as I hated to, I felt guilty. “I told you, I don’t know how to prepare animal flesh. You’re the one who made me try!”

“Yeah, and you burnt it to a crisp! Tyco liked his meat cooked — not me. I like mine thin-sliced and raw. Just like the captain did. What about that did you not understand?”

I sighed and kept my eyes on my broth. The mention of Tyco and the captain drained all the fight out of me — and there hadn’t been much to begin with. My kind don’t fight. Big and slow, they used to call us. But we’re smarter than the rest. If anything, we just care too much. That’s what makes us good doctors, I suppose.

Fram, though — he’s a different story. Built for violence from the top down. It’s a wonder his kind ever became even marginally civilized, even with gene therapy.

“You know, Doc,” he said from across the table, “you’re just as much to blame as Tyco! How does it feel to be responsible for the death of your entire race?” The drugs made him slur, but I understood him anyway.

I stirred my leaf-broth again. I know he didn’t mean what he said. Sure, it was my psych report that said Tyco wouldn’t crack under pressure. But the truth is, for all Fram’s bluster, I know Fram actually blamed himself. It wasn’t his fault, and even the captain told him so, but Fram didn’t listen. He always was too hot-blooded for his own good.

Then again, there was plenty of blame to go around. For starters, one could blame Ground Control for not detecting that asteroid storm. None of the asteroids were bigger than a raindrop, but they took out our telemetry and our communications tower. We couldn’t finish repairs in time. Fram’s a good gunner — one of the best that came out of the war, they say — but even he’s not much good firing blind at those speeds. Still, to his credit, he managed to take a big chip out of the comet before it passed by. Then he shouted for Tyco to bring us around for another shot.

(more…)