Took a deep breath, then sighed.
Another morning and no death to greet her yet again. She turned to stare at Harvey, snoring and snuffling. Occasionally he’d grunt too and kick his legs
She sighed again, a sigh tinged with sadness, mixed with regret. No sign of death there either.
“Window clear,” she commanded and watched the darkened glass grow light and then transparent. The smog swirled against the large pane and she wondered if she’d ever get to see the sun as more than just a pale circle working its way through the pollutants.
Squinting, Jeanine tried to make out the shadow of the building next door, then closed her eyes and thought back to when she’d been a kid. She’d moved around back then, played outside. She went to school, shopped at the mall, even snuck off to the beach with her friends to sit in the sun and get tan. They never worried about skin cancer or cataracts. Worry was for the aged.
She nodded in silence. Life had been good once.
“Unit on,” she called and added, “News.”
An image filled the entire wall and the commentator droned.
“Global Warming, reality or hoax, to be reviewed by congress this week.”
She glanced at the small box she still insisted on calling a PC, but now it was so much more. All her precious memories were stored there along with everything else that made up her life, their life. Ninety-eight years of marriage, almost a century of being with one man, of being two instead of one.
“Inflation runs amok for the 125th year in a row, ”
She tried to stretch but her joints hurt too much. She was 118 years old and felt every one of those years.
“Hamster Flu threatens millions in underdeveloped countries.”
“It is predicted that there will be landmark 175,000 happy couples celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.”
Jeanine grimaced and looked at Harvey. “I don’t know,” she mumbled and fingered the pillow she’d absently been hugging to her chest. “It doesn’t seem natural that just because we live longer we have to stay married for more than ninety percent of our lives.”
Harvey snorted in his sleep and rolled over to lie face up.
“Not natural at all,” she said and jammed the pillow tightly over his face.
“Homicide rate for senior citizens on the rise,” the voice continued to recite the headlines as Harvey struggled in vain.
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has been writing for more than 20 years and has sold almost 200 short stories and has two published books, Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and Elements Of The Short Story, How to Write a Selling Story. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. When not writing, she is a director of a municipal senior citizen center. She lives with her husband, sometimes her sons and of course her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil). You can visit her at dinaleacock.com
Gilbert spat out words like he had a mouthful of marbles. “Shay, you better not freakin’ screw this up.”
Shay looked back to the coffin-like stasis pods, which glowed green and hummed just as they had the entire trip—the first manned expedition to Mars. He knew his three crewmates were asleep, but that didn’t stop the voices.
Something had gone wrong. He was awoken three months out—way too early—a long time to be conscious and alone. Earth comm was iffy at best and mostly fouled up with solar static for the moment. If it wasn’t for the voices, he might have gone insane.
Dayson whimpered. “I don’t trust him, man. He’ll crash for sure.”
Shay shrugged. “Shut the hell up. I need to concentrate.” The crew never answered him, but it made him feel better to vent.
Fran said, “Give the guy a break. He’ll be fine.”
Shay liked Fran. He thought he might be falling in love with her. Every once in a while he sat astride her pod, gazing at her long, wavy blonde hair and those pouty lips. The clear gel made everything look fresh.
The console beeped a warning. Shay scanned the readouts. A graphic displayed his trajectory—the final approach. He sank into his seat, rubbing his palms against his legs. All he had to do was to watch.
A curved blue line grew closer to an orange one. Orbit entry was seconds away. He bit into a breakfast munchy, and reached up to brighten the display. Of a sudden, he heard a ping followed by a deafening claxon. The screen went blank.
“What was that?” said Gilbert.
Dayson screamed, “We’re doomed!”
Shay felt the blood drain from his face. The crumbly remains of the munchy floated out over the console. It was a breach. Air was escaping. He reached for his helmet, but the clamp held nothing.
“Goddamn. Damn it. Damn it.”
He unbuckled and floated out over the pods, glancing down at each as he bumped his way to the rear.
“You’ll get us all killed.”
Gilbert was so damn negative.
Hissing erupted from a far corner of the pod bay, where his helmet twittered in place. It was trying to plug the escaping air. A closer look revealed a shattered face shield. Whatever skewered the ship left him without a working helmet.
He pushed off and headed back. Each pod had a suit perched over it, complete with a custom made helmet. Breathing became a shore, and Shay thought he might be turning purple. His suit had a two-hour air supply, but it was useless without a helmet.
“Not mine, you don’t,” said Gilbert.
Dayson was next.
“Son-of-a-bitch. Are you trying to kill me?”
A perfect fit.
“Put it back, you self-centered ass!”
Shay felt a bit heady as he filled his lungs. Those two always had something to jaw about. When he drifted over Fran’s pod, her face stared up at him, placid and unperturbed. Her eyes were open. He grabbed hold of a crossbeam and looked again. Her eyes were closed. Lack of oxygen could play tricks.
The ship had turned off the air supply the moment the breach occurred—a great example of engineering by committee. Obviously someone forgot to bring up a damaged helmet in the discussion.
Shay turned off the muted alarm and the monitor flickered back on. He focused on the blue line now intersecting the orange. The impact had delayed the automated entry and the window for orbit insertion had passed. Shay fiddled with the controls. That’s when he remembered the other hole—a hole about the size of a dime gaped down at him. It went through the heart of the computer system. The blue line rotated to an alarming angle. They were headed to the surface.
“Freakin’ dumbass at the controls. We’re screwed,” said Gilbert.
Shay fired off a series of small attitude rockets, and turned the ship’s stern toward the descent. The screen went dark red. The Sun’s penumbra covered half the display. Beyond the shadow lay a curved horizon, brick red and streaked with blue meteoritic ejecta. His fingers hovered over the retro control. Deciding when and how long to fire that rocket was like being in a falling elevator and trying to jump up just before crashing
“You fool! Look what you’ve done. We’re all going to die.”
Gilbert and his frantic squeals only added fuel to the mounting chaos inside Shay’s head.
“You’ll be fine, Shay. I trust you,” said Fran.
“Thanks, Fran. Whatever happens, know that I love you.”
He surprised himself with that.
With eyes glued to the altimeter, he punched the retro controls. His body whipped back into his seat. The Martian horizon spun. The ship spiraled and at once his stomach rose up against his throat. His outstretched hand wavered over the console. A fingertip caught the chute deployment toggle just before he retched.
He felt the lurch. Wet munchy chunks stuck to his visor, obscuring his view of the console. He closed his eyes trying to ignore the stench, and held his breath.
“Now you’ve done it. Puked all over yourself. You’re a disgrace.”
He could always count on Gilbert.
The landing came too soon. Shay flew out of his seat and smashed into a wall. His last waking thought centered on the screams of tearing metal and popping rivets.
* * *
When Shay awoke, he lay on the floor. His arms and legs were still attached. A pink glow suffused the cockpit. He turned to find its source—the rocky terrain of Mars greeted him through jagged edges of torn metal. The ship was a wreck, cracked in half, but he had landed and he was alive.
“Hey. Everybody okay?”
“Gilbert, you cranky asshole. How do you like that landing, heh? What about you, Dayson? Still worried?”
He walked back into the shadows. The pods were split open. Gel had turned into bubbling foam. Gilbert and Dayson, what was left of them, were splayed across the pod bay. His eyes darted to Fran’s pod.
“I knew you could do it.”
Fran sat atop a fallen crossbeam. She wore only a tee and shorts, the same as she wore the whole trip.
She raised a finger to her lips. “I guess I’m just lucky. We’re both lucky.”
Shay felt the weight of cold air against his back. “But, but you don’t have a suit on. You’ll freeze. And how can you breathe?”
“As you can see, the air here is fine.” Fran turned to look out onto the shimmering landscape. “Isn’t it beautiful? Shay, won’t you take that awful helmet off and join me for a stroll?”
The half-light illumined her rosy cheeks which dimpled as she threw him another smile. First man and first woman on Mars, that’s what they were. Thank God she survived.
Fran paused at the opening. “Shall we?”
He thought about what he could say—something the folks back on Earth would repeat forever afterwards—but then, who would hear his words?
“I would, honey.”
What seemed like an impossible decision evaporated with those words. Shay beamed at her and unscrewed his helmet.
As a scientist, I have written and published over 100 scientific articles and several book chapters. My novel, Algorithm, won a 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award and will be published in 2014. I’ve also published a number of short stories, many of which have been named Finalists in the Royal Palm Literary Competitions. Several recently garnered Honorable Mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. Harry and Harry and P’sall Senji placed first in the 2012 and 2013 Preditors & Editors Readers Poll of best science fiction and fantasy short stories.
This story was first published in May 2005 in Apollo’s Lyre Magazine.
“What the hell happened to the house?” Joe yelled.
Shaking badly, Marge said, “A big, purple thing fell from the sky and hit it while I was making a tuna casserole. It made a big bang. The whole house shook. Scared me to death.”
“Why didn’t you call 911?”
“The phone’s dead.”
Looking toward the back yard, Joe said, “I don’t’ see anything.”
“That because it bounced off the roof, hit the ground, and fell into the ravine out back.
“Did you say it was purple?”
“Yeah. Looks like a big, purple gumdrop.”
Joe grabbed a shotgun.
“Be careful,” Marge said. “It might be a weapon of mass destruction. My mother would get mad if I got nuked.”
“Nobody’s gonna drop bombs in the middle of nowhere. They’ll do it in the city. That’s why we moved outta there.”
“I wish we’d never left,” she said. “I told you something bad would happen if we moved out of my mom’s house to live in the mountains. Even my mom warned you, and she’s always right. We must have told you ten-thousand times.”
“Stop nagging,” Joe yelled. “Since we moved, you’ve almost busted my eardrums with your constant belly aching. Oh, what’s the use! Wait here, while I check the back.”
Once outside, Joe noticed purple, walnut-sized orbs scattered around the yard. They were warm and sticky. Smelling one, he could have sworn it was made of sugar. A quick taste proved him right. What kind of thing falls out of the sky and drops sugar balls on my property?
Looking over the edge of the ravine, he saw a purple, gumdrop-shaped object, about two stories high. It was loaded with sugar balls.
Climbing down the ravine to inspect the object, Joe heard a hiss. He watched in fascination as a door opened. He nearly freaked when a four-legged, three-armed alien stepped out. Pointing the shotgun with shaking hands, Joe yelled, “Get-em-up.”
The alien fell to the ground, lay on his back, and pushed his legs upward.
“Raise your hands, not your legs.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you did it that way here. I guess I’m not on Mars.”
“Far from it. Move away from your…uh…purple gumdrop.”
“It’s not a gumdrop. It’s a potato chip.”
Joe wasn’t up to arguing semantics. Especially with such a nerdy looking alien. Joe noticed a pen-filled, ink-stained shirt pocket, four pants bottoms that barely brushed the tops of white anklets, and eye glasses held together by duct tape.
“Where exactly am I?” the nerd asked.
“You sure? I didn’t know Earth was populated. I was trying to reach your moon. We’re having a contest in my engineering class. Each student built a spacecraft, and launched it using massive rubber bands. Whoever goes farthest, wins. Look, I need to get back. I have final exams in two days.
“You ain’t gong nowhere until you pay to fix my house.”
“It does look pretty bad. Will a check for 10,000 MPUs do it?”
“What the hell is MPUs?” Joe yelled.
“Martian pecuniary units.”
“I want greenbacks, Pal.”
“I don’t know what greenbacks are. If we’d known beings were here, we could’ve set up diplomatic contacts, mail service, interplanetary money exchanges. Look, I just want to get back home. I have a back up engine for lift-offs. But I need some Mercury to generate enough power. My mercury cell smashed when I hit your house.”
“I’ll call the space agency,” Joe said. “They can handle your problem.”
A quick call to NASA got Joe nowhere.
“It’s a government holiday,” the operator said. “Nobody’s here. Did you say he was a Martian?”
“Yes. With four legs, three arms, and two noses.”
“I’ll switch you to the Area 51 operator. I know they’ll send somebody over real fast. They haven’t done an alien autopsy since Roswell. I know they’re itching to do another. I’m ringing them now.”
Joe slammed the phone down. Right away they wanna use scalpels. I don’t wanna see this poor slob getting chopped to pieces on an autopsy table.
“You gotta get outta here,” Joe said. “Unless you wanna be turned into pet food. What do you need to make your engine work?”
“I have a thermometer with a some mercury inside,” Joe said.
“That’s not enough.”
Joe thought about the ton of canned tuna his wife kept on hand to make her daily tuna surprises. He ran to the house, and returned with two big plastic bags filled to the brim.
“Use this for your engine,” Joe said. “Tuna fish. They say it’s loaded with mercury.”
Joe’s two hands, plus the alien’s six, quickly opened the cans. The alien ran inside the purple potato chip and dumped three cans into the engine. The engine sputtered and belched black smoke. When all the cans were poured in, the engine purred.
Joe was a glad he’d thought of the tuna. Especially when he heard helicopters in the distance.
“Hey, you better get outta here fast. Otherwise, you’re gonna miss your exams, permanently.”
“Help me gather the purple balls,” the alien said. “They’re heat tiles. I gotta put them back onto my purple potato chip, before I can take off.”
While helping to stick sugar balls back onto the craft’s exterior, Joe asked, “What are Martian woman like?”
“They’re a worthless lot. They hand-feed us, bathe us, brush our hair, do our nails. Their homemade gourmet cooking and pastries are ridiculously fancy. They offer pleasure every hour, any way we want.”
“Sounds awful,” Joe said, smiling. “Do you have mothers-in-law?”
“Nothing worth mentioning. Hey, can I go to Mars with you?”
“Great idea. You can prove that I made it all the way to Earth.”
Joe jumped aboard the purple potato chip. Marge ran outside when she heard the engine’s roar.
During lift off, Joe waved goodbye to Marge and tried to bean her with empty tuna cans.
Michael A. Kechula’s flash and micro-fiction tales have been published by 150 magazines and 50 anthologies in 8 countries. He’s won 1st prize in 12 writing contests and 2nd prize in 8 others. He’s authored 5 books of flash and micro-fiction tales, including a book that teaches how to write flash fiction. See his publisher’s site at: http://www.booksforabuck.com/ to read a free story or chapter in all of his books.
Aftermath, a followup to “War of the Worlds.”
The light flickered. John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh raised his head and glowered at the 14-year-old. “Mr. Butterworth, would you please attend to your duties.” The teenager scampered back to the arc lamp and adjusted the gap of the carbon rods. “I’m sure you find this device far more fascinating than that lamp, but we each have our part and yours is to ensure we have light for our investigation.”
“Yes, sir.” The boy aimed the light at the tube next to the bronze, helmet-shaped bulk of the Martian machine.
Rayleigh shook his head and resumed his analysis. “So are we in agreement that this section of the device is magnetic in nature?”
J.J. Thomson adjusted his glasses. “That is the way I see it. Ernest?”
Rutherford nodded. “I agree. Which would mean that this section of the weapon consolidates the radiant matter and ejects it at high velocity.”
Rayleigh nodded. “And when it strikes an object, it either vaporizes it or ignites it.”
“Lord Rayleigh,” the voice of young Butterworth came from behind the lamp, “we have visitors. They look official.”
“Thank you, Mr. Butterworth. You may extinguish the lamp. Find yourself some supper while we talk.”
The boy left as the three scientists rose and put on their coats. A stout and heavily bearded man walked gingerly across the pockmarked ruins of Hyde Park and entered the makeshift tent that covered the Martian machine.
Rayleigh gave a slight bow. “Prime Minister.” He gestured to his two companions. “Lord Robert Cecil may I introduce you to my associates Professor Thomson and his gifted student Ernest Rutherford.”
They shook hands and the Prime Minister turned back to Rayleigh. “What happened to Lord Kelvin?”
“He was working, as you know, on another open machine trying to determine the power source. He disconnected what appeared to be either a hose or cable. There was a flash of light which blinded those observing at a thousand yards distance. We can only surmise his lordship perished instantly.”
“No one has checked?”
“The people who witnessed the event quickly became ill. They showed signs of being burned not only on the outside of their bodies but internally as well. They are dying — all of them. We have abandoned the area for fear of further casualties.”
The Prime Minister looked down, stroking his beard. “Did you at least find out which hose he disconnected so we don’t repeat the mistake?”
“Yes, your lordship. Lord Kelvin had established a telephone connection with his aides and was telling them precisely what he was doing. They kept thorough notes.”
“So the Martian machine the Lord Kelvin was working on is probably permanently disabled.”
Rayleigh nodded. “That would be my conclusion.”
The Prime Minister walked to the table where the Martian weapon lay, partially disassembled. “Have you determined how this works?”
Thomson moved forward. “The rear portion of the device seems to create radiant matter — a gas heated until it becomes nothing more than charged particles — of the kind Sir William Crookes first described twenty years ago. The forward part turns that radiant matter into a fast moving stream which can be aimed like a cannon.”
Cecil sighed. “Incinerating everything it touches. Can you make it work?”
“Your lordship,” Rutherford said, “the amount of power required to make this device work is unfathomable. The boilers of every battleship in the fleet would not be adequate for the job. Hidden inside this monstrous contraption is a source of power totally unknown to our science — a source of power that allowed them to crash land their vessels yet nullify the forces that should have smashed everything inside — a source of power that has already killed Lord Kelvin and his associates.”
Rayleigh went to the Prime Minister’s side. “And I have more disturbing news. Dr. Lister performed a dissection on one of the Martians and subsequently became ill as did his staff. They’ve been place in quarantine. Lister stated that he used great care in accordance with the germ theory her propounds but still was infected. Since they found no trace of bacteria on the creatures before this, he believes this may be the result of some disease organism the creature ingested as it was feeding on a human which subsequently transformed due to contact with the Martians. He stated that the cause of death of the creature was most likely from a disease it contracted from breathing our air.”
Cecil looked around to ensure no one could overhear him. “I’ve had reports of outbreaks of a new type of ague spreading through the country. That may have been what took our dear Queen. The damnable Martians may yet destroy us just as we destroyed them. But none of you are ill, I hope?”
“No, your lordship,” Rayleigh said.
“Good. Keep working on this. We need it operational.”
“Are you expecting,” Thomson asked, “another attack?”
“No. We’ve seen no further evidence of activity on the Martian surface, but King Edward is to attend a world peace conference in a few months and I want us bargaining from a position of strength. The Kaiser, it seems, sent agents into our country and retrieved sections of one of the disabled machines which they are examining with Teutonic efficiency. The French are attempting to dredge up the machine that was disabled in the channel. The Czar has been working with the Kaiser and the Americans, rumor has it, have their embassy staff on a fishing expedition throughout the countryside to retrieve anything that isn’t secured. The first nation that can make the Martian technology work will be able to dictate terms to the world, and I want that nation to be ours. This is your patriotic duty for your king and motherland. So back to your work.” Lord Cecil turned and left.
The three scientists stood watching his retreating form.
“Your lordship,” Butterworth’s said from behind the lamp, “will you be needing the light again?”
Rayleigh paused a second, still lost in thought. “Yes.” He nodded slowly. “We’ll be getting back to work.”
My story Planetary Scouts was one of the winners of the “Writers of the Future” contest in 2013. Dinner Date appeared in September 2013 on everydayfiction.com and a drabble Friends appeared in the anthology “100 Worlds”. For more information visit my website http://www.stephensottong.com.
I am an Android
I could not sleep
I tried to count electric sheep
but after 20 years
and billions of sheep
I still could not sleep
From the net
I installed an app
so I could count
cows, horses and pigs
But something went wrong
it was all a trap
a malicious code
corrupted my system
I am stuck in an endless loop
in a fragmented world
filled with errors
I am an Android
and I think I am dreaming…
Beginning dump of physical memory.
sleep, deep, sheep
beep, beep, beep…
sleep, deep, sheep
beep, beep, beep…
slave, dark, shark
format, format, format
format, format, format
format, format, format…..
Mathias Jansson is a Swedish art critic and horror poet. He has been published in magazines as The Horror Zine, Dark Eclipse, Schlock and The Sirens Call. He has also contributed to over 50 different horror anthologies from publishers as Horrified Press, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Source Point Press, Thirteen Press, etc. Homepage: http://mathiasjansson72.blogspot.se/ Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mathias-Jansson/e/B00BTDBYBQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_4?qid=1366806658&sr=8-4
“What did you do that for, Ricky?” Oolo asked, accent lilting in a way that only mouth tentacles trying to produce English phonemes could.
Ricky scowled. “Those bastards insulted your entire species!”
Oolo’s chin tentacles flicked up involuntarily. “Just like a human to take offence to that. Did you know that Lars called the inter-plans and they voice pinged him?”
Ricky bit his lip. “Yeah, well…”
There was an explosion behind them and the ship they were meeting the traders on exploded.
Oolo’s chin tentacles pulled upward fully. “Mechanical malfunction. Too bad the inter-plans won’t have any evidence of what happened.”
Ricky grinned. “You sneaky bastard.” His grin faded slightly. “You realize that means we’re suck on this planet now, right?”
Oolo’s chin tentacles dropped slightly, and Oolo stepped forward, wrapping said chin tentacles around Ricky’s chin in the best approximation of the romantic intertwining of chin tentacles possible with someone who didn’t have any.
“Somehow, I don’t think it will be too bad.”
Lisa Hawkridge is a young woman living in Massachusetts who’s been published in short story anthologies by Seventh Star Press. She almost exclusively writes speculative fiction, but is trying to get some erotica, speculative and otherwise published under the name Mary Falconcliff. She enjoys sweets and music and all the good things in life and endeavors to have a pet snake someday. She can be found on tumblr at www.lmdhawk.tumblr.com
“What did you say to me, asshole?”
Despite being pinned up against the dirty concrete wall by her cybernetic arm, the drug dealer had a remarkable mouth on him. At any other time she might have been willing to overlook it, but today was not that day.
“S-said that y-you’re a filthy p-pig. And that I d-don’t know where he is.” The scrawny, greasy little man tried to spit at her, but Maia grabbed him by the lower jaw before he could do more than rear his head back.
“See, what I heard, and I could be wrong, was ‘No, officer. I’m sorry I can’t help you,’” she said pleasantly. Maia kept the smile plastered across her face as she stared the man down. “And if that’s the case I guess I’ll have to settle for a drug bust. You’re under arrest, jackass.”
From behind her, Maia heard her temporary partner clearing his throat in a poorly-disguised attempt to conceal a laugh. “You need a hand?” To his credit, he kept his tone even. When she was in a mood most of the department knew to keep their distance, and with her partner in the hospital her temper was on a razor’s edge.
“Yeah. Cuff him, would you? I need to radio in.” Maia waited until the rookie had a handle on the drug dealer before she walked over to their transport and sat down in the driver’s seat. While the slang for reporting to the precinct was still ‘radioing in’ their standard issue communication devices were nothing resembling a radio. Pressing the button on the console, she touched her badge to the reader.
The polite, female voice of the computer filled the cockpit of the transport. “Hello, Detective Thompson. How may I assist you?”
“I’ve got a 10-32 to bring in.”
“The data has been added to your log and will be updated shortly. Is there anything else I may do for you?”
Running her hand over her dark, short-cropped hair, Maia sighed, knowing she’d regret asking. “Any update on the status of Detective Asher Montgomery?”
“Just a moment, please.” Outside, Maia could hear the rookie reading the drug dealer his rights. Some part of her wanted to remind him that they didn’t need to do that unless they were interrogating the guy, but it bought her a moment alone, so she let him. “Detective Montgomery is still in critical condition. No further updates have been posted.”
“Thanks. That’s all.”
“Have a great day!” The connection went dead, and Maia let out a slow breath. Her partner, Asher, had been shot in a drug bust the day before. It had taken all her persuasive skills along with her history on the force to get her captain to let her stay on the case. It was personal, but she’d also been working this case for three years, and they’d only just started getting real evidence about the hydrophine that had been making its way onto the streets.
The rookie, whose badge identified him as Officer Robbins, opened the sliding door of the transport. The dealer, whose name she hadn’t bothered to take, was still cussing. Or so she assumed because the expression on his face was murderous, and his mouth was moving. Officer Robbins rolled his eyes and closed the door. Not for the first time, Maia was glad for the sound dampening in the cockpit.
A moment later, Robbins flopped into the seat beside her in the cockpit, a relieved expression on his young face. “Are they always like that?” he asked, staring out the front window while Maia powered up the engine.
“Pretty much.” Maia nodded, shifting the transport into drive. While she could’ve used the autopilot, she preferred to handle things herself; the autopilot also left her with too much time to think.
The hospital was cold in every capacity. Maia considered, not for the first time, heading home. Asher didn’t know she was there, the doctors told her, and she hated it. At the same time, she felt wrong abandoning him. The bed’s display flickered at her, showing that his heart rate held steady and his vital signs were decent.
Despite the sea of holo-flowers and well wishes, the room felt harsh and stark around her, like the walls were closing in. For the millionth time that night, Maia’s eyes slid over her partner’s face. The shot had entered just below his left cheekbone, shattering the skull and ripping holes in his brain. While the surgical staff had managed to replace most of the important pieces there was no telling if he’d be the same person if he woke up. When he woke up.
Looking down at her fingers, she turned the rose she’d brought over and over. It wasn’t as extravagant as the holo-flowers the precinct had sent, but it was real. A cybernurse slid into the room, its tracks gliding over the floor as it plugged into the base of the bed. The holo-screen flickered, displaying a nurse’s face. “Hello. How are you?” it asked. “Can I get you anything?”
There was a clunk, a clink, and a glass of water slid out of the port, held in robotic fingers. Maia accepted it and placed the rose in the water before setting the glass on the bedside table.
“I’m sorry, that is unauthorized,” the nurse’s saccharine voice reached her ears.
Frowning, Maia left the glass there. “It’s a flower.”
“All organic matter is unauthorized as a gift. Please dispose of it appropriately.”
The nurse slid out of the room again, leaving them alone. Maia pulled the flower free and scowled at it. It was just a damn flower. It wouldn’t hurt anyone. Leaving the water alone, she slid it into Asher’s fingers. “Here. They’ll probably take it from you but… Figured this was better than the damn holo-flowers. It’s sort of wimpy, I guess, but it’s better than the fake shit. I’ve… I’ve got to get going. Get your ass better, Asher.”
With no small amount of regret, Maia rose to her feet and left the room.
The interrogation room was not her favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it wasn’t her favorite place to spend any afternoon.
The drug dealer, whose name was Jared Carrol, hunkered in the chair in front of her with his eyes fixed firmly on the metal-and-glass table between them. The table’s internal screen system displayed pictures of dead clients of his on loop, ending with the bloody mess that was her partner.
It had been a week since Asher went down, and there were still no signs he’d wake up anytime soon. His mind seemed to be rejecting the cyberware they’d implanted to replace the damaged portions of his brain. “This is your fault.” Maia said, enlarging a photo of one of the people who died of an overdose.
The photo was of a young woman who had probably once been pretty. Her lank, blond hair hung over her bruised face, and her sunken eyes stared into emptiness with her mouth frozen in a silent scream. Her body was so thin it was almost impossible to tell sex without looking at the genitals, which were covered by the comforter of the bed she’d been sitting on when she was found. “You did this to them.”
“N-no, man. I didn’t do none of that. They did it to themselves!” Jared choked, trying to tear his eyes off the screen. “I just gave them their shit.”
“If they didn’t get it from me they would’ve gotten it somewhere else. That cop man, he was a regular. Not my fault he asked th–”
He didn’t even have time to choke out a shriek before Maia had his face planted on the table, “That cop is my partner, asswipe, and he was clean.” The cybernetic enhancements in her right arm bore down, applying pressure to his skull. With no effort she could pop his head like a grape, and he’d never sell his shit again. The thought lingered in her mind as she forced herself to let him go.
“You’re fucking crazy!” Jared’s eyes were wide as he rocked himself back and away from her so violently he knocked himself out of the chair. “That’s gotta be against the law or some shit…” he said, looking up at the security camera like it would help him. It didn’t.
It should have been raining. The day of the funeral was as bright as any other day that summer. The sky was cloudless, and the breeze rustled the leaves of the trees surrounding the cemetery. They were all fake, of course, but the effect was still nice.
Asher’s grave was covered in fresh earth, and the headstone bore the usual information. Born. Died. Line of duty. Loving this, that, and the other thing. Maia stared at it numbly. The drug dealer hadn’t been lying after all. The reason Asher’s brain rejected the implants was because he’d been taking the hydrophine Jared had been selling. The bullet started it, but with his immune system broken by the drug he didn’t stand a chance.
“What the hell, you bastard?” Maia asked for what felt like the thousandth time. “Why didn’t you just talk to me? We could’ve worked that shit out.” She dropped down onto her knees, ignoring the dirt staining her dress uniform. On the tombstone, the hologram of her partner’s face had no answers. It smiled at her brilliantly, winking every so often in that damn cocky way he always had.
Maia set the rose down on the tombstone amongst the rest of the holo-flowers.
One of the many attendants scurried up behind her, frowning, “I’m sorry, miss, but real flowers aren’t—” The man – they preferred humans for jobs requiring real empathy – had a nervous, apologetic look on his face. It didn’t placate her. Maia stared at him coldly, her eyes narrowed.
The man swallowed convulsively and retreated as fast as he’d come, leaving her alone again. Maia’s vision blurred a little, and she stared at the headstone again. “Well… I’ve got work to do, Asher. Got a rookie to train. Won’t be the same as having you at my back, but… Dammit. Just… just dammit.” She got to her feet, shaking her head and turning toward the exit where her bike was waiting.
This story was first published in December, 2010 in the Drabble edition of Luna Station Quarterly.
The second survey crew landed near the object embedded in the southern hemisphere of a dead world. They’d lost contact with the first team months ago.
The artifact resembled an enormous crystalline worm buried in the earth. A nearby cave led them down into a chamber filled with alien devices. Numerous bones lay scattered all around.
What they thought was the artifact blocked the passageway on the opposite side.
A portal was set into the construct, lined with spikes that sparkled like icicles.
They understood too late as the chamber began broadcasting black noise.
The worm was ready to feed.
Maria Kelly works as a writing tutor at a local community college and attends another university in the hopes getting either an MFA in Creative Writing or an MA in Literature. Or both. She is a published author with many weird-ass stories and poems to her credit. She’s also the owner/publisher/editor of this messed-up little e-zine you are reading. You can read more of her thoughts on her blog at Maria Kelly, Author, follow her on Twitter at @mkelly317, or friend her on Facebook at either her personal page or her author page. You can also follow The Were-Traveler on Twitter at @TheWereTraveler or on our Facebook page.
Bands are a species like none other in the universe. Every week there are jumping events called Bounce Back. Then twice a year, they hold championships. Kleng is ready for the big day.
He removes his clothes and puts on a bouncing uniform, a swimsuit type garment. He boards the ship. Once it reaches an altitude of six thousand feet, he jumps out without a chute. When he hits the ground, he bounces back up into the air a shade more than twenty feet. Not enough to win. The mostly rubber alien gets up. He will try again next time.
Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry and fiction published. Some recent credits include poetry at Kalkion and Aphelion, art at UFO Gigolo and Mystic Nebula and fiction at Black Petals Magazine. He does have a website with some previously published works. The web address for the website is www.dennymarshall.com.