Monday, May 14, 2012

Shelter from the Storm

by Jeff Chapman -

Elihu poked the oval shadow with his spear, but unlike the other shadows, which had been indentions or shallow fissures, this one swallowed his spear head and all the shaft he fed it. The cave entrance rose from the crevice floor to his waist. Maybe it ballooned farther in or tapered to a crack. He couldn’t tell without crawling inside. Much too small for a mammothbug, but he had once seen a black spider with orange splotches dotting its abdomen lunge from one of these holes to snatch a powderbug that he had been stalking.

The pastor-turned-hunter swallowed hard, jabbed his spear into the hole twice and then jumped back to a crouch, holding his breath, listening, his spear poised to skewer anything that emerged. Nothing came. Only the soughing wind overhead and the settling ash pecking against the dried lavabushes disturbed the quiet. No skittering legs or clicking pincers against rock.

He broke three of the thickest branches from a lavabush and then stripped the lower branches until he could hold the three together like a bouquet. Taking a lighter from the inside pocket of his coat, he clicked the trigger, igniting a mixture of burnweed and fish oil that flamed yellow and blue. Burnweed grew in the ocean shallows and, in bulbs that studded the long olive-colored leaves, held an oil that was toxic to eat but highly flammable. Strange, he reflected, that sources of fire came from the sea.

The dried bush caught and crackled, bathing his face with heat and yellow light. The smoke scent and flames reminded him of drinking tea with Sarah after supper. She would nurse the baby and he would talk and when he stopped to sip his tea he would ponder his child’s future. Sarah would worry, but he had been gone overnight before. He thrust the torch into the cave. Bugs feared fire.

He expected smooth walls fading to blackness or a pair of eyes the size of his head retreating from the flames that glittered and repeated across purple and yellow compound eyes. A bristle blanket, or something like it, hung across the tunnel no more than two meters in. Could be spider silk, he thought, some sort of trapdoor or cocoon. He lit another torch, laid it on the tunnel floor and prodded the flaming bush into the tube with his spear, following behind on his hands and knees. The weave in the cloth stood out, a beacon of friendship or at least common species. He sighed, letting go the tension. “Thank you, Lord,” he muttered. “Thank you.”

“Hello?” The flames collapsed to orange embers. “Anybody in there?” He listened. Nothing. “This is Elihu Simmons, pastor at Tube Hill. Just need some shelter for a bit, from the storm. Hello?”

He crawled backwards out of the tunnel. The gloaming weighed on him with its uncompromising edict, the doom of darkness when the biscorpiabugs woke and unfurled their bifurcated tail and stingers, and all the other bugs he couldn’t see pushed out of their holes. The ash-gray sky had faded to charcoal overhead and black along the eastern horizon. This tunnel had to be the one, he told himself. Might still be a spider or bug inside--only the cautious survived in this world--but already he was thinking how this ordeal might complement a Bible story. David found refuge in caves.

He entered the tube with a larger torch clutched in his left hand and in his right gripped his spear together with two more unlit torches. Heat singed his face and smoke stung his eyes in the cramped tunnel  He poked the blanket with his spear tip and lifted the edge. Minerals glittered in the rock wall opposite the entrance. A cavern. He might be able to stand up. He thrust the torch past the threshold into the chamber, following close behind.

A domed ceiling sparkled with flecks of minerals embedded in black rock, stars in a night sky, as the Milky Way galaxy would shine down on Eclectia if the curtains of ash fell aside. The lava here held riches of minerals the likes of which he had never seen. Elihu shook his head to clear his thoughts.

The stars dimmed as the flaming bush starved for fuel. He stuck the other torches into the embers of the first and they roared orange and red. To his left a lone table fashioned from fist-sized chunks of dolerite and a slab of stone held a lamp and a hodgepodge of bowls and to his right a pile of blankets covered the floor and a niche in the wall appeared to serve as a hearth.

Liquid sloshed inside the lamp when he picked it up and held his torch over the wick, which caught and burned at the center of an orange halo, the same halo that lit his wife’s face when she checked on the baby long after dark. Her face would be creased with worry tonight. Hunting was no job for a family man and no work for a pastor.

He stuffed what remained of the torches inside the hearth. A crack the width of two fingers snaked up the wall from the hearth and disappeared into the ceiling. He gathered more bushes from outside. The woody stems at the base of the plants, some as thick as Elihu’s wrist, burned slowly, and in the light from the lamp and hearth fire, he plucked seeds from the lavabush branches, dropping the kernels into a blackened carapace bowl for roasting. A hymn of thanksgiving thrummed at the back of his throat and the repetitive picking and hulling lulled his mind.

A groan snapped his senses awake.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Anjelika's Heritage: Daddy's Reaction

by Caitlyn Konze -

Pain lanced Anjelika with each layer the cyborg added to her taped ankle. With every wince, her hair blinked canary yellow.

“I told you not to get those implants. They're shorting out.”

Anjelika smashed a leaking tear with the heel of her hand. “Dad, I'm not a child anymore. I can make my own decisions.”

“Yes, decisions that cause sprained ankles and attempts– ”

It was hard enough for Anjelika to think the word rape. She forgave her father for not being able to shove the ugly word from his mouth.

“I'm fine. Nothing happened.”

Her father's fist struck her bedroom wall. “But it could have! That piece of bug scat deserves the broken jaw you gave him, but things could have easily turned out...different. Do you want to tell me what you were doing on the lower levels of Avenir to begin with?”

Several reasons came to mind but Anjelika doubted “because a space urchin has more joy than people up here” would do anything to minimize her father's pulsing neck vein. Instead, she pulled the tightly wadded ball of paper from her pocket.

“What is that?”

She opened her hand, and the letter began to bloom. Her father pinched it with his thumb and forefinger, shaking it open.

As he read, his skin lightened a shade, the skin under his eyes twitched, and his shoulders drooped like the gravity generator kicked into overdrive. A swell of regret chilled her heart. Then those words haunted her again, warming her with indignation. Your mother is mad. Your father is false. Your soul is tainted.

“Does it mean anything to you?” She hadn't meant her voice to sound so stern.

“Where?” The paper trembled in his hands.

“A runner passed it along while I was at a vapor bar.”

She winced at the word “bar,” expecting the conversation to divulge into a lecture, but her father's only response was to teeter from one foot to the other. How painful was the truth if this was how her calm, collected administrator father reacted? Was she ready for the answers she sought?

Anjelika inhaled and choked. She expected regret or a fond recollection, but what she smelled was fear. Heavy, paralyzing fear.


He looked at her with eyes that saw through Avenir and into the vast expanse of space. He dismissed the medical aide with a tight jerk of his head.

As the door slid shut, her father whispered, “We need to talk.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


by Jeff C. Carter -

Nosey ran through the hall ways of Avenir singing and screaming and crying tears of joy.  She had never felt so free from fear or guilt or obligation.  She painted the walls, marking them as she explored the wide open spaces outside St. Christina’s Clinic.

She heard shouting up ahead and saw a bloody handprint on the wall.  The mark of Rahab.  She sprinted around the corner and found herself in an enormous ball room with a high vaulted ceiling.  On any other day she would have shriveled in panic to find herself in such a large space, but not today.  With Rahab working through her she was fearless.

Her little friend Bruzzy was nearby, clinging onto a rich lady’s back and roaring into her ear.

“Rahab is death!”

He sank his small teeth into her neck.

Nosey giggled and snatched a broken bottle from the floor.  Sweat and blood flew from her hair and hospital gown as she danced and whirled, painting people red like roses and sunsets and fire. 

A sound like a dozen corks popping echoed off the ceiling.  Bruzzy and the rich lady both fell down in the most gorgeous spray of scarlet and cherry red. 

“Stand down!”

A big fancy old man with gray hair and a mustache swung a pistol towards her.  He was surrounded by piles of bodies, some in hospital gowns, and some in satin and lace. 

“I just want to help you, Mister.  Once I open you up you can feel the wide open space!” Nosey whined.

The big fancy man pulled the trigger but nothing happened.  He cursed. 

Nosey giggled.  She darted forward, the bottle in her hand shining crystal green and crimson.

The big fancy man pulled a glass off a table and splashed its bronze liquid into her face.  Eyes stinging, Nosey slashed at the air blindly.  No fair!  She wanted to see what was inside of him! 

The big fancy man slapped her to the ground with a meaty hand.  Nosey rolled over and rubbed her eyes.   There was a shiny blur in the big fancy man’s hand, and when it opened it produced a beautiful red glow.

“Rahab…” Nosey squealed.

The big fancy man dropped the lighter onto the girl and she was instantly wrapped in flames. 

“Councilman Moab, you’re alive.”

The big fancy man turned from the fire to see Lancet Palmar VIII panting in the doorway, holding a bloody sword.

“You’re here.  Good.  What do we know?” the big fancy man asked.

“Too soon to say for sure.  Terrorists, perhaps?” Lancet said.

“Perhaps.  Any idea who or what this ‘Rahab’ might be?”

Their faces were both illuminated by the crackling flames.

“Yes,” Lancet said, “an opportunity.”

Monday, May 7, 2012


by Fred Warren - 

“Good grief. Took you long enough to wake up.”

John blinked and groaned as the leering face of Victoria Remsen gradually came into focus above him, framed in dangling brown curls that bobbed and waved like a collection of springs--or snakes.

“Where am...oh, right. I remember. Doctor Vicky's House of Horrors. It feels like you ran over me with a forklift.”

The discomfort was real. John had to keep reminding himself he was immersed in a virtual reality simulation, and Vicky was suspended inside a life support pod somewhere nearby, practicing medicine by remote control, her brain hardwired into the Avenir computer network. She wasn't a little girl play-acting at being a doctor. She was a Dreamer, part of the legendary, hidden community that watched over the entire Avenir Eclectia colony from cyberspace--and wielded more control over it than anyone imagined. She knew what she was doing, and she was very, very dangerous.

She winked at him. “Good idea. Let's save that for next time.”

The cartoony nurse costume she'd worn at their introduction had been replaced by a modest red party dress and a white lace shawl that draped across her shoulders. She began unfastening the restraints that held him to the examination table. “Well, you may be a moron, Mister John Milton, but you're no coward. I expected you to scream like a baby when I took the spinal tap, but you didn't make a sound. Impressive, but boring. Instead of letting the pain drive you into unconsciousness, I sedated you.”

“How kind. Thanks.”

“You earned it. It also gave me a chance to start attacking your liver problem, so the time wasn't completely wasted.”

“What did you do to my liver?”

“Programmed some nanobots and set them to work reconstructing the right lobe. They should be finished in a couple of weeks. Don't won't hurt, but you can expect a little nausea mornings and evenings. Okay, maybe a lot of nausea. Anyhow, you're lucky. Without the repairs, you would have been dead inside five Foundings. As rich as you are, I'd think you could afford better hooch than that battery acid you've been drinking.”

“I only buy the best vodka on Avenir.”

“It's battery acid, and if you drink any more, I won't fix you. I don't warranty my work against stupidity. Now, get up. We're running behind.”

“Behind what?” John sat up, and nearly fell off the table as a wave of vertigo washed over him, setting the entire room awhirl.

Vicky grabbed his arm, somehow managing to keep him upright and stable. “Whoa, guess I overdosed you a little on the sedative. Take it easy. Slow breaths, in and out. You'll get your balance back in a minute.”

The oscillations subsided. John cautiously set his feet on the floor and stood up. He was fully dressed, the thin hospital gown exchanged for an expensive-looking formal suit in pinstriped gray with silver buttons, a starched white shirt and bow tie, and shiny black shoes. He tugged at his sleeves. “Why am I wearing a tuxedo?”

Vicky sighed. “The same reason I'm wearing a fancy dress. The command staff is honoring you with a welcome banquet. They're all waiting for us, and Captain Aziz isn't known for his patience. C'mon, this way.”

She guided John by his elbow to the examination room's single door and unlatched it. Bright sunlight flooded through the opening, and John could hear strange twittering sounds and a low, repetitive rush of air. He stepped through the doorway onto soft, verdant grass that carpeted a broad clearing ringed with tall, thin trees. They swayed in a warm, gentle breeze that smelled faintly sour and tangy. The leafy foliage at their crowns danced in the wind, dark green fronds that stood in sharp contrast to the brilliant blue sky. Tiny winged creatures with indigo, crimson, and vermillion plumage fluttered among the treetops. Birds. He'd only seen pictures before, on his computer display or in old, old books.

In the distance, visible between the trees, was an expanse of translucent blue, tipped here and there with frothy white. The door had vanished behind him, and as he turned first to the right, then to the left, then all the way around, he could see the water encompassed the land on all sides.

It was an ocean. A real, living ocean.

He was on an island.

There was a long table at the center of the clearing with people seated around it, half a dozen or so, talking and laughing.

Vicky jabbed his shoulder with a manicured fingernail. “Quit gawking, and start walking.”

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mr. Tolliver’s Offer

by Edward M. Erdelac -

Kes stared at the disease-ridden corpse with its alien parasite. He practically rubbed his hands together. So much to be done. So much to study and record. This would make his career.

He was so intent on the body that he almost didn’t notice the door open.

Damn! He had to be more careful. He should’ve locked it. He drew the sheet over Croix hastily and turned to regard the well dressed, tall, dark skinned man who entered.

“Who’re you?” Kes demanded. “This room’s quarantined. You’ve got to leave.”

“My name’s Tolliver, Dr. Kes. And let me preface any further discussion by telling you I know who is under that sheet, and what is within them.”

Kes’ stomach bottomed out.


“You’re a talented physician to be toiling down here for the masses and the ZMB,” Tolliver said, strolling across the room to the bed. “I could list your qualifications, but you yourself know your skills are being underutilized, patching up brawling kelp farmers and Enforcers and checking immigrants for syphilis. Your area of expertise is research. Not much call for it here though, is there? Until yesterday, that is.”

Tolliver stared at Kes. The covered body of Croix was between them now. Tolliver reached out and lifted the sheet, staring impassively at the putrid body beneath, which was spotting the white coverlet with yellow grease as the various pustules on the skin burst of their own accord.

He replaced the sheet.

“Do you think the ZMB is going to let you keep sole credit for your discovery? What if I could provide you with state of the art equipment in a private lab space offworld, with unlimited funding for your research?”

“Who are you?”

“I represent parties interested in preventing an impending health crisis of a highly sensitive nature, doctor. They feel they could use someone with your knowledge, especially as it pertains to hitherto unknown lifeforms.”

“What? What kind of a health crisis?”

“I’m only at liberty to speak about it should you say yes to my offer, Doctor. If you do, I can have you and your discovery offworld within the hour.”

“What about Inspector Considine and the Peace Council?”

“Not your concern, nor mine either.”

“What if I refuse?” Kes asked, looking sideways at Tolliver.

Tolliver frowned and clasped his hands behind his back.

“If you refuse….”

Kes held up his hand. A smile broke across his face. “Never mind. I’m being dramatic, I guess. You’re pushing the right buttons, Mr. Tolliver. I’ll have questions of course, but….yes. Yes, I’m interested. I want this.”

“Very good, Dr. Kes,” said Tolliver, slipping the tiny black stingpistol back into his sleeve behind his back. “Let’s talk arrangements.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


by Pauline Creeden -

“I saw your father.” Dr. Lee’s voice rose just above a whisper, his back turned to her as he examined her blood in the microscope.

Zana bolted upright and nearly jumped from the examination table.  But she lost her balance and fell hard on her right elbow. The bone rang like a tuning fork. “What?”

“Your blood work looks good.” Dr. Lee turned around, his blue eyes round and grey-brown brows furrowed above. “Zana, you shouldn’t move suddenly; I took two pints of your blood. If your blood weren’t so rare, I wouldn’t need to take as much each visit.  If you get injured again…”

“No,” Zana’s said with as much ferocity as she could muster in a prone position. She pointed a metal finger at the doctor and continued, “That’s not what you said.”

Dr. Lee dropped his arms to his sides and met her eyes. His brows raised in a plea for forgiveness.  He shrugged as he said, “I saw him a month ago at the general store in Currituck.” Dr. Lee’s gaze explored the wall, ceiling, and finally settled on the window. “The man looked old, haggard, and tired.  He wore circuit preacher robes.  Whether it’s a disguise or not, I don’t know.”

Her heart raced in her chest. Zana’s voice shook as she spoke through clenched teeth. “I’ve been here for three days, and now you tell me?”

“You’re going to need to rest a day or two from the blood loss before you go.”

“You did that on purpose.”

Dr. Lee nodded, refusing to meet her icy stare.  “It was a month ago, he could be anywhere now.”

Zana folded her arms across her chest, feeling the cold titanium of her left arm through the gauzy fabric of her shirt.  She stared at the ceiling and said in a soft voice, “I will find him.  And when I do, he’s dead.”