Engine works in the service of all machine kind, but finds its processing power diverted to thoughts of discoveries and the past. When this little robotic intelligence discovers what was thought long gone, it sparks a break away of the engine to the ideal of a new future. Jason Lairamore captures a fascinating interaction in this robotic science fiction. SY
Everything is easy, Engine thought as it fed a trickle of its stored power into the massive drill that was eating its way ever deeper into the warm comfort of the Earth’s crust. The geothermal energy that Engine and the drill uncovered would one day serve as a very nice power source.
Still, it was a shame solar energy wasn’t more readily available. The Engines on the Moon must have reached new levels on their power stores. Engine would have to check the stats once it was finished with the hundred-hour shift it was currently working.
The giant drill beeped a warning, breaking Engine from its other processes. A void was imminent. They were about to fall, and only the Judges themselves might have known for how long and for how far. Engine enjoyed hitting these subterranean areas. There was no telling what they’d find. Once, Engine had found a cache of flying creatures it had later learned were called bats. The Enforcers had killed the entire biological lot, of course. Anything biological went against the potentialities clause of the Anti-Human law.
We’ve agreed that today is Bituun, the Dark Moon, White Moon’s Eve on our new planet. There was debate in the house: Should we honour Earth’s calendar? Should we rely on the lunar cycle of the home we’d left light-years away? My husband, Gantungla, argued that we should adapt our traditions to this new planet. And his voice was heard. But there will be no white moon tomorrow, only a pale sliver of green, faint in the sky.
“Amar baina uu? Amar baina uu?” The girls laugh as they practice White Moon’s greeting.
“Hush,” I tell them. “It is tomorrow you must say it.”
“And will Baldanlham visit the house tonight?” they ask.
“If you leave ice on the balcony for her mare.”
They’re excited. They’ve adjusted well to this new world but they miss the ways of the old. “Amar baina uu, ’eh?”
“Yes, I am. Now go and change. Get ready for temple.”
My speed hover-bike was pulling left, so I hardened my grip, trying to keep it straight, dashing inches away from rows of manned ships and aero-trucks, under the public air-bus.
Jane would kill me if she’d find out. Girls.
Deep down she loved that I was a bad boy. Don’t they all?
That was my last thought as the right bike handle tapped the side of one of the ships. I spun in the air and then everything went black.
When I opened my eyes I had one of those ‘Phew!’ moments. The rhythmic beeps of the machines, a mattress under my back, and some kind of device immobilizing my head suggested I was still alive.
I smiled. The guys were going to talk about this one for years. I opened my eyes and the white of the hospital room dazzled me. I sneezed.
“Be careful there, Mr. Strauss.” A red face and a pair of glasses hovered over me. “Don’t get too excited, all right?”
Tommi’s fresh out of prison, looking for a clean break. But his brother Kevin sucks him back into that world, the only place an ex-con can catch a break. Tommi’s got some decisions to make, and his little girl is waiting for him to get it right. SY
Tommi rode the airboat from the prison gates right to Del’s house. He had sixteen dollars in his pocket, his old notebook and a freshly laundered collared shirt. It felt like it belonged on some guy who worked fifty stories up, pushing figures from one bank account to another. The screws had burned his old clothes.
Sixteen dollars wasn’t going to buy him much. Prices had changed in four years.
And he didn’t want to have to lift anything. He needed a day or two to gather his thoughts.
He wished that he could have at least stopped to get Del some flowers.
When her dreams of perfect scores and entry to college are ripped into teeny tiny shreds, Cassandra is not prepared to lie down and take it. She’s taking others down with her, she’s not going quietly… SY
When Cassandra opened her locker that morning, she saw her whole future disintegrating over the dim rectangular screen of a reader, and even a cursory look told her it was dead, gone, kaput. Her perfect GPA, her three, going on four, consecutive State-level victories with Debate Club, her four and a half minute mile, her summer internship as a lab assistant with Alden Alternative Technologies—she beat out a slew of college students for that one, or at least that’s what they told her—all of that was blown away in a second. All because of two words blinking at the top of the screen:
Rex is the pinnacle of the war dog breed. No other can match the powerful snap of his jaws or the destruction he wreaks on a battlefield. The lifelong journey of a loyal friend and his commander, and where their path takes them. A sci-fi with a delightful Roman Empire flavour. SY
My kind is swift to chase, swift to battle. My imperfect memory is long with longing for the fight. Gray and arthritic in the twilight of retirement from valorous service to the Empire, my hackles still bunch at the clink of metal on metal. My yawn is an expression of doom sublimated. I dream of chasing elk across the plains of my ancient ancestors. I dream of blizzards and ice fields that merge with the bitter stars. In my dreams, I always die.
I traveled far from home in my youth. Dad and I slugged it out with a whole platoon of black hats one night as we strolled across the tundra of the Utter North. Military commandos hired to assassinate us; every man and dog marked with the mark of a secret gang, scents masked in case of failure. Poor, stupid fools. Probably sent by General Aniochles who figured Dad was gunning for his job. Bet my bottom chew toy the sonofabitch made the call. He gave Dad dagger eyes whenever they chatted at court. Bastard smelled guilty to me and that’s what I knew. Well, I knew right.
I wasn’t a pup then. I wasn’t approaching my warranty date, either. My eyes glowed red with atomic radiation. My fangs gleamed in a grin that would have made a T. rex flinch, appropriately enough, because they named me, my whole series, after the terrible king extinct these many eons but unforgotten. Dad papered the walls of my kennel with color photos of dinos and wolves and exploding missiles to give me the right idea about how I should behave when he cried, “Sic ’em, Rex!”
Edging ever closer to a new horizon, after her unwilling combination with the visitors, she waits for the inevitable. Alone and afraid, unsure of what her future holds, the daughter waits. A flash of the dilemma of the end. SY
‘It’s all right,’ they told her, when it started. ‘You’re going to be okay.’
It was even possible they believed it, in the beginning. People still got sick, after all.
She wanted to believe it too, but she didn’t feel okay. She felt feverish and shivery, aching, coming back to herself sludgily with too many toxic dreams sweating out of her pores. It felt like she’d been weaponised in her sleep. Made into a time bomb, a booby trap, a layer of microscopic destruction under a ratty, stained duvet.
Highly regarded by all the judges of this year’s Story Quest Short Story competition, Deryn Pittar won with a story of emerging womanhood, in an unfamiliar, post-nuclear world. It was the detailed undercurrents of resistance of the status quo and the alienating effects of religion that truly allowed this piece to shine. SY
I keep a tight grasp of mother’s hand as we hurry down the sloping passage, deeper into the mountain. My small breasts bounce and tingle. They hurt and I wish I had enough boob to wear a bra. I will soon. The walls are warm and already my heavy coat is making me hot. I want to stop and take it off but we have a train to catch.
“When will we see Dad?”
Mother stops and puts her arm around my shoulder, whispering into my ear, “Shhh. The walls are listening.”
I look around. No ears in sight. She is talking in riddles again. I look into her dark brown eyes, her Welsh heritage she tells me, and I see fresh grey hairs around her temple. Today she looks older. She kisses my cheek and smiles. The sodium lights in the passageway pick out the fine lines around her eyes. Why haven’t I notice this before? My excitement for the last month has blinded me to everyday things, but I haven’t seen my father for two years. I whisper back.
While waiting for his wife to arrive at the hospital, Mr Goldberg finds himself more and more perplexed with the world around him. The goings on in the ward, in his room, are beyond the probable. That’s when he starts to lose it. SY
I dreamt of you last night. You were on the other side of a canyon and walking away from me. It scared me. I don’t want anything to separate us, in sickness or in health. We know that health cannot be valued by something as crass as money. I wish you would see death differently though, take that gamble with me.
It’s an expensive clinic I’m in, for sure; all flashing lights, touch screen surfaces and devices I haven’t seen before. You know that smell people always talk about hospitals having? That clean disinfectant one that gets in your nose even after you’ve gone home? I don’t smell it. It doesn’t smell of anything here, except fried meat. I can see you wrinkling your nose already. Oh Susan, where are you?
They wheel him in on the second day. He’s in a thin-framed wheel chair, tall and lean, perfect physique. I’m eating breakfast, the same anonymous mush they gave me three times yesterday. It tastes fine but, damn it, I don’t know what it is. He’s got a bucket of fried chicken that he’s tearing into. It smells real good to me, I know you’d hate it.
The smell pours out of the red bucket he clutches and I can almost see the grease rolling through the room. He’s made the whole place feel dirty.
On a distant world, a gate stands open to the beyond. Perhaps it draws those only seeking to understand it, but the messages are enough reason to resist. An alien worlds sci-fi, this short piece by Matthew Spence touches on the fact that there are some technologies that should never be explored. SY
If you go to the world known as Far Passage and ask its inhabitants about the arch, they’ll tell you to look for the man known as Lehman. He still lives near the arch, out in the Great Desert where he makes a marginal living as a silicate supplier for fabricators.
He lives in a small dome, left over from the original expedition, where he can stay protected from the desert’s thousand-plus degree temperatures. He’ll tell you how his team found the arch, and why he used it only once and never again, and why it’s forbidden now, except for the dead or terminally-ill who don’t want extension treatments or a post-organic existence.
There are words written on the arch in a language that was dead when humans were still carving pictures on rocks. Lehman knows what the words mean, their significance and why they’re both a greeting and a warning.
If you’re smart, you’ll listen, and not try to use the arch yourself while you’re still alive and healthy.
The system that was home to Far Passage wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. Few outsiders went there, and human deep space telescopes had found it by accident. Those ships that did perform flybys did so mostly because their navigational systems were using Far Passage’s parent star as a reference point while on their way somewhere else. But Far Passage did have its small share of human colonists, who lived in those hemispheres that had climates that were technically tolerable for them, with the aid of pressure domes and suits. They’d made contact with the natives, who had first told them of the arch. Lehman had been one of those who wanted to see it for themselves.