Symbiosis can be a very intricate and subtle process. It can be a community of organisms living and working together for the betterment of them all. Adam Kotlarczyk takes this idea and works it in delightfully into this post-apocalyptic snapshot.
We’re all having dinner when my friend Kris collapses. Tony had just broken some bad news to us:
“Saw some Hendersons yesterday,” he says, working on an apple. “A whole mess of them.” Tony has these beautiful, sincere brown eyes, and he wields them like a superpower. We’re all about 90% sure he was a used car salesman before. He knows just how to use them to get an effect. Now the effect on the group is anxiety. All eyes turn to Phil.
“Hendersons?” says Phil, digging his fingers into his gray beard. “Why would they be all the way out here?”
“Water, I think,” says Tony, looking around the room. “Any rate, the pond is where I saw them.”
Virralat and Ira are the only mission members that made it to Venus. As they work together to continue the mission, in the absence of any communication from home, their relationship seems fraught. But together they must continue to exist.
A.L. Lorentz has worked many layers of commensal relationships into this science fiction short. See if you can spot them all! SY
My emerald hands glittered with every twitch in the pale indoor light of the cleaning chamber. The diagonal facets tessellating my body echoed the heavy metal grating I stood on and the reinforced lights below. I remember the days, literally worlds away, when I wondered if anyone would ever give me just one diamond. Now I have millions.
They said Venus was the best chance to start a much needed human colonization effort, but they gave me so many changes I barely felt human by the time we arrived. NASA’s microbes turned my skin verdant and my lungs ochre. The sparkles were a fortunate side effect of using my skin to separate carbon and oxygen from the otherwise deadly troposphere. Fortunate not for aesthetic reasons, but protection against acid rain.
NASA gave me a suitor too: Ira.
Tom Dullemond brings us all the dangers of a mission of salvage with the additional dangers of a ship cannibalising itself and its crew. Helping another organism to achieve its ends is symbiosis; but sometimes this seemingly commensal relationship can be coopted. SY
Mission log: Today’s salvage target, The Great Bluefin, is a registered Mitsuyama Corp long-range supply transport. It was unofficially flagged as a conversion-risk vessel after impact with a dormant node in proscribed space. Please note: I will commence this salvage operation by entering through the primary outer loading hatch. This was also the entry point of the failed recovery mission launched by Mitsuyama Corporate Security three hours ago.
Supplementary: This recording is supplementary to the mandatory safety and operational mission log, reference number Q-B7054. It’s the only safe way to record these operations. I don’t know when you’re reviewing this so please indulge me.
Watch Andy’s fingers skip deftly across the keyboard. Notice the speed, their steady rhythm, how each fingertip uses a little more force than is needed, implying anger or frustration of a sort. Now draw back and look at him, all of him, hunched and heavy over the laptop with his eyes fixated on the screen, a focus that would put Buddhists to shame. He’ll stay like that, in that very position, coding and calculating until he passes out, when the need to dream finally surpasses the coke and ephedrine. That smell is of Andy’s making. That’s weeks of sweat coating his body, from the mismanagement of the thermostat and an aversion to showering. The urine stagnating in the nearby toilet isn’t helping. Last week’s milk, in those unfinished bowls of cereal, might be long-life but it’s not immortal.
Normally he makes it to his bed, though sometimes he’ll go down right there at the desk to a restless sleep. He works for the logic, the kindest distraction that the world will offer him. When he wakes, he remembers her; then he returns to his computer. He sits and scripts new features for his creations and years have passed like this.
Moatvey knows Kayrill has done it this time, though what it is, he can’t quite figure out. But that won’t stop him. He has a plan to sort out Kayrill and his schemes before it’s too late. Tied third in the 2015 Story Quest contest, Jason’s unlikely partnership turned a mirror on the deviousness of these monsters. SY
Darkness was complete, but there was heat, and it moved in ways it shouldn’t, in silent rushes first this way and then that, like the chugging of some great beast breathing out over the surface of this far-flung planetoid.
Heat was how Moatvey always found Kayrill. Kayrill should have figured that out by now, but, as luck would have it, he hadn’t, and that was fine by Moatvey. He was his people’s rightful hero, after all.
He saw Kayrill’s cloaked harvester fine through his specs, even on a world as black as this. It sat there, as it pleased, collecting ore as fast as it could, as if Kayrill didn’t realize it was poaching on a planet surrounded by monstrous aliens that would pick it apart if they ever found it.
After a quick perimeter check, he jumped to the harvester’s port and scurried inside. He made sure to check for traps as he went. Kayrill had left snares and the like inside the last few ore collectors he had stolen.
Dao has the dubious honour of being chosen by a rider, an alien keen to have a human experience. She is not the only one, but is subject to the whim of her rider, a relationship she did not consent to. Jamie Killen’s story won the 2015 Story Quest Competition of Unlikely Partnerships, with her delightful science fiction partnering of an alien and street kid; an usual choice of host. SY
Dao awoke to rain hammering on the tiled roof. She lay in bed watching it fall past her window and into the garden below.
Go out now? Puddle asked. Go out feel rain?
Dao sighed. “Fine. But you’ll have to wait until I eat something.”
Dao’s mother was just laying out a plate of cut fruit when she came out of her room. “Good morning, Mother.”
Puddle made a little chittering sound of excitement at the sight of papaya on the plate.
“Good morning, Dao,” she replied. Then, as always, she pressed her hands together in a wai and lowered her eyes. “Good morning, Lord Puddle.”
Dao tucked the metal braids of her harness behind her ears as she ate. The first few days she hadn’t been able to stop scratching, the weight of the coiling metal ropes and fiber-optic cables within pulling along the edges of her scalp. Now she only noticed if one of them dangled into her food.
On the surface, life is crowded, chaotic and dangerous. Dallas is caught unluckily at the end of his shift with a delivery to the undesirable Ghost District. One unfortunate misstep and Dallas lands in real trouble, in the land of mechanical nightmares. Brennan Gilpatrick leads us into the horror of an overpopulated world and how the unethical choose to fix it. SY
Though he couldn’t hear her over the roaring crowd, Dallas knew the old woman was pissed. Her beet-red face and violent hand gestures made that very clear. He could only guess what obscenities passed through her grinding dentures as he ignored her. She was furious. Hell, she had every right to be. She’d probably been standing around for half an hour, waiting on an eggroll that took less than a minute to prepare. Hers were among several fists beating on the cashier counter, demanding their orders from Great City Wok. Dallas gazed across the restaurant; his coworkers scrambled like ants to appease the starving masses. He resigned to fiddling with the broken cash register, as the futile task would easily consume the remaining ten minutes of his shift.
“Can you even hear me?” the old woman screeched, leaning over the counter.
“I’m fixing the register, ma’am,” sighed Dallas. “Please take your order to another—”
“I just want my fortune cookie, asshole!”
He knew the kitchen’s cookie supply dried up an hour ago, but the task of searching gave him a place to hide.
“Of course.” He beamed. “I’ll go grab you one.”
Mimi shouldn’t be walking; androids on their own, without a distinct purpose, frighten humanity. From one misadventure to another, Mimi brings out the best and worst in people. A poignant look at humanity and its fears in a time of technology. SY
Mimi is walking along the path that separates the park from the river, enjoying the whispering spray of rain on her face and the smell of wet grass. The concrete is wet beneath her feet, the occasional wind-blown leaf damp and clinging where normally they crunch underfoot. She is lost in the sensation of cold, of slickness against her skin. Her fault, in a way: lost, and daydreaming, drowning herself in her surroundings instead of maintaining constant awareness. Pleasure is the enemy of survival, at least for those like Mimi. Vigilance. Caution. Wariness. These are the safe words, the keys to survival. Mimi knows the lessons, knows the cant and recital. And still, caught between rain and river and park, she forgets.
They corner her where the path skirts an ancient tree, hair-pinning around its thick, gnarled trunk so that it is easy for them to step out—some to either side— and pinch the path closed like a kinked tube. Mimi retreats before them, until the iron railings pressing into her back are the only thing that keep her from pitching into the water behind her.
Shania Lenton has always had no compunctions about going for what she needed to advance. This time, it means investigating what is holding her back. The past catches up with everyone, but in this science fiction world, Shania brings it on herself. SY
Shania Lenton looked into the ReflectME window on her digital wall. She had her office door locked and to herself. The woman gazing back at her was the very picture of the cool, no-nonsense businesswoman, an image she had cultivated over the last twenty years. Twenty years of victories big and small. Some, she reflected, at heavy costs, looking at her naked ring finger. But success, especially of the scope she had achieved, demanded sacrifice.
Like a trip to the Undercity. But what she had acquired there was worth the breach in civic protocol. Shania opened an inconspicuous-looking micro-refrigerator bottle and shook a thin, metallic capsule into the palm of her hand. She scowled at the way her hand trembled.
The innocuous greeting chime of her personal Intra-Health advisor application reminded her why she was holding a Neuro-Fountain.
The old man barely has time to get off before the young man takes the bike. Adrift in his own time stream, making his own mistakes, the man only ever seeks to return home. A wonderful take on losing what we don’t appreciate and the perils of science we don’t understand. SY
His parents being away, the youth was lounging in his father’s den, flicking through the dirty magazines hidden in the desk, when there came a crash from the basement, like a drawer full of cutlery upended onto tiles.
Gleaming under the harsh strip-lights, in the middle of the concrete floor was a machine sleek as a space-cycle from Captain Video, something built for heroes.
The old man, who looked like the youth’s grandfather of memory, was struggling to dismount. He pressed a trembling hand to his chest.
Who could he trust with the time-engine now but himself?