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Science Fiction Microstory Contest
JUNE - 2020 - MICROSTORY CONTEST (STORIES ONLY)
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May 27, 2020 07:23PM
Theme: Military Service
1) Veteran families
2) Honoring the fallen
(last edited Jun 05, 2020 04:16PM)
May 27, 2020 07:42PM
TO SERVE WITH HONOR
By Tom Olbert
The planetary horizon of Cal’s home colony filled the night sky over the small moon, the reflected light of the two suns washing over the grave markers of the military cemetery. White plasteel markers stretching out in perfectly symmetrical rows as far as the eye could see.
“This could be my last visit, Father,” Cal whispered as he knelt by his father’s grave. He still remembered seeing him off as his space transport left for the Delvan conflict. And, the knock at the door when they’d told Cal and his mother that he wasn’t coming home. It had been two days shy of Cal’s thirteenth birthday.
Cal’s mind swam in memories…His grandfather telling him stories of the great interstellar war to defend the Coalition worlds against the Vendaaran Alliance. Grandfather had come home with his body half-replaced with machinery, but he’d never lost faith in the honor of service to the Coalition. His medals had hung proudly in the front hall. Cal remembered looking at them. When he’d been old enough, his parents had let him share the memory records of his Grandfather’s service. He’d been very sorry Grandpa hadn’t lived to share those memories with him.
“I’ll make you proud, Dad,” he whispered as he laid the flowers on his father’s grave.
Cal’s grip tightened on his ion blaster as he marched in lock-step with the other soldiers in his unit, across the tarmac toward the space lifter. Beyond the fence and the guard stations, the student protesters chanted “imperialists” and “mass murderers.”
He thought of his father, and wanted very much to shoot at them. Maybe just to scare the hell out of those self-righteous, snotty little…He sighed, shouldering his pack and looked at the sky.
“Yeah,” one of the other soldiers said as he marched beside him. “Free speech. One of the basic rights we’re defending, right?”
Cal spat. “Like those rich student bastards give a crap.” His father had always said that freedom tasted different when you had to lay down your life for it.
The surface of the alien planet blazed in searing white explosions. They looked like new suns from orbit. The orbiting Coalition starships were scorching the main continental land masses with particle beam fire.
The sentimentalists back home called that a war crime, Cal reflected darkly as his troop carrier hit atmo and descended towards the occupied native city in the north. Maybe it looked that way in the Galactic Press news holos, he mused. But, it looked damned different when you were on the ground.
He winced at the memory of his buddies…Jim…Sam…staked out and cut open and left to die in the hot sun. The damned dirts were savages. Brave fighters, yes…he had to respect them for that…but, they were damned cruel. They’d taken so damned much.
He shook himself back to the present as the landing jets kicked up a cloud of dust. The hovertanks were firing into the surrounding, bombed out buildings, softening up the nest of insurgents. The air was hot and oppressive as the boarding ramp lowered and Cal and his buddies moved out.
He’d barely seen it. Like a ripple, a shimmer on the hot air as the natives had slipped from behind their cloaking fields, appearing like ghosts and opened fire, killing three soldiers in Cal’s squad. Cal roared in rage as he leapt forward, shielding his wounded squad leader and firing, taking out two of the ugly dirts. The pain in his leg stabbed into his brain like a hot skewer.
“Son, I’m sorry,” the medic said by his bedside. “We did what we could, but…I’m afraid you’re going to lose that leg.”
Cal sighed and stared at the ceiling. “Well…I’ve still got five left. Some aren’t that lucky.” He lifted a holo sphere in his webbed claw, all six of his fluid eyes gazing at the lovely holographic image of his fiancé Jen. His antennae quivered at the sight of her beautiful carapace, his mandibles clicking in fond memory. Would she still have him, he wondered.
As the transport ship broke orbit, the blue horizon of the enemy world falling in the view port, Cal reflected on the dirts. That’s what they called their own filthy planet. That’s how the name translated. Dirt. Soil. Earth. What a stupid name for a planet that was mostly water.
Cal looked ahead fondly to the deserts of home. Yeah…freedom tasted different now.
(last edited Jun 10, 2020 06:45AM)
Jun 04, 2020 10:33AM
The Victorious Dead
The surviving colonists stood before the laser-polished wall. On it were the names of those who had given their lives in the mercenary attack. Standing directly in front of the memorial stood the colony’s Chief of Security, Cal Stevens. His stance was unnaturally stiff because of the bandages and braces the doctors had made him wear as a condition of his release from the hospital.
A quiet voice penetrated the emotion battering his usually detached mind. It was one of the crewmen from the merchant ship that had helped them fight.
“No greater love hath a man than that he should give his life for his fellow man. By that most noble of measures, each of those we remember today are heroes of the first order.”
Turning back to the wall at the end of the brief remark, Cal laid a hand on one incised name, relived the events that led to today. The discovery of a conspiracy to drive the colony into bankruptcy, the capture of the ring leader and the warning of the impending attack, all had led to a move of desperation.
The chief and a crew of three had been given the plasma gun by the captain of the merchant vessel. His team had positioned themselves at the end of a corridor where they knew the invading force would have to bunch up. The weapon they were counting on was horribly destructive but only fired once every few minutes, so they were to bypass the delay and fire as quickly as it could recharge. Once the weapon had been assembled, the Cal sent the rest of the crew away. Charlie had stayed.
“You can’t do it alone. You can fire it, but the bypass is a two-man job.”
Cal had momentarily forgotten the need to override the system and nearly doomed the mission to failure. Both men had donned the protective suits meant to shield the crew from the thermal backlash of the weapon. They’d watched as the enemy forces, confident from their easy victory, came around the corner in a single mass.
The bolt of plasma disintegrated everything it hit, burning a two-meter-deep hole in the far end of the tunnel. The bolt created a shock wave that reverberated in the enclosed space like thunder. Cal had continued to fire as quickly as he could until his foot tangled in the flexible conduit and he’d fallen. The random shot blew out most of the lighting and fires from burning clothing and equipment adding a flickering, almost bloody red glow. Cal imagined this was what hell was like.
Despite the carnage, the mercenaries were recovering and advancing on his position. Cal looked over and saw Charlie had disconnected the field coil and was hoisting it on his back. Before Cal could ask, Charlie pointed to a blinking red indicator. Cal remembered what would happen if that indicator came on.
“There will very quickly be a very small, short-lived star where the coil was.”
Charlie ran out of their place of concealment, hoping he would get into the mass of the enemy before it blew. He looked back mouthed one word to Cal.
Cal had run for the service tunnel entrance. Charlie had kept walking, the beeping of the alarm on the coil barely penetrating the ringing in his ears from the sound of the weapon. The mercenaries were gathering about him just as the coil detonated. His last thought was hoping Cal had made it.
He had not quite made it to the entrance of the service tunnel when the coil blew. The blast had slammed into the cave wall and rescue crews found him semiconscious and still struggling to get into the tunnel. The suit had kept him from being burned but the impact had done significant damage to bone and muscle.
He heard another voice. This time it was that of the merchant vessel’s Security Officer. He had been Cal’s comrade in arms many years ago.
“One of yours?”, he asked, gesturing to the where Cal’s hand covered the name.
“More than that.”
“A good man, then.”
“The best. He saved us all. He saw his duty and he did it.”
“A good epitaph, the best I can think of.”
Cal nodded, then he and the crewman placed their fists over their hearts in a gesture of respect they’d both learned as mercenaries. Both said with deepest respect, “All Hail the Victorious Dead!”
(last edited Jun 22, 2020 10:11PM)
Jun 06, 2020 12:28AM
The Hero © 2020 Kalifer Deil
The funeral parade was for Gillo Trombo, who's memorabilia was enclosed in a titanium casket shaped in his likeness and gold plated. It floated a meter above a flatbed trailer and sometimes sloshed back and forth a bit like it was in a bathtub of water.
Max Sharber, the Secretary of State was sitting next to me. “What's going on with the casket?”
I wasn't sure if he was talking to me but I volunteered, “It's kind of high for magnetic levitation. The fields are probably not strong enough to hold that mass firmly in place.”
Max looked at me like I was insulting Gillo so I had to say, “I was in the same space squadron as Gillo.”
Max immediately turned to me with microscopic specimen interest. Spying me through his thick tinted glasses he asked, “He was certainly brave, wasn't he?”
“I'll give him that, but in his shoes, I wouldn't have volunteered.”
I received that look that says my mouth should be washed out with aqua regia, “How can you say that, it a great honor to give your life for your country!”
I couldn't resist answering, “I see you're still here!”
He shot back, “Oh! I would have served but I had spines on my ankle.”
I bit my tongue hard to keep from bursting out in laughter. After regaining composure I said, “There were over forty top-guns in the group and he was the only one who volunteered.”
Max huffed, “And why was that?”
“Perhaps it was because he was from a military family; mother, father, brothers, and sisters. On the other side, he had five young kids and had no business sacrificing his life.”
“Doesn't that make it your fault, or the others in the group, for not volunteering yourselves.”
“Yes, that bothered me at first. The obliteration of Chicago was a terrible event, and we know that one of the Zeta ships dove down into the Earth and created an antimatter-matter explosion. It tore a hole which is now a significant part of Lake Michigan. I and many others think something went wrong with their repulsive gravimetric field and it was an accident. Of course, you already know that!”
Max puffed up, “We know that they planned this. So we retaliated.”
“You can't possibly know that because we don't even know their language. If there is one, it's telepathic and instantaneous. I bet they knew what happened in Zeta-RetiB instantaneously when Chicago went down. They gave an apology written in English on a document that seemed to be directly from Zeta-RetiB. I know the scientist that was engaged to analyze the material on which it was written.”
“You seem to know far too much!”
“Well, you go ahead and honor Gillo. I think he was an idiot. He made a so-called peace mission to the mother ship and miraculously rammed it in just the right place to cause it to blow up. Because it was on a peace mission it was allowed to approach. You know they've been in our neighborhood for many thousands of years and may have had something to do with us being humans and not apes. I'm not sure that the experiment went all that well. Apes are nicer.”
“You know I could get you thrown in jail for spouting that nonsense!”
“Let me lay it out for you. They have an interstellar drive and they are less than forty light-years away. Although they have never claimed so, I suspect that they have faster than light travel. They have let us play with some of their more ancient toys and we have only a vague idea of how they work. They could easily wipe us out. If we are their experiment they could decide to start over. At our stage of development, we might be pets. Pets that kill get euthanized. If you were their leader, we would be dust.”
“You wait here, there is someone I would like you to meet.” With that line hanging in the air, Max walked off.”
“Did you get all of that Peter?”
“Yep! The lapel camera got it all. You know he's calling the FBI?”
“I certainly hope so. If this doesn't become an international discussion with acknowledgment of us making a terrible mistake, I'm afraid we're doomed. The general public doesn't realize we may be seen as nasty and now dangerous chihuahuas.”
(last edited Jun 12, 2020 05:00AM)
Jun 06, 2020 05:24PM
He could hear the firefight outside. He couldn’t sit by and do nothing. He began praying.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,”
He thumbed the biometric lock open.
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
He put on the vest and gun belt.
“Where there is injury, pardon.”
He loaded a clip into each of the pistols, pulled back the action to chamber a round and shoved them into their holsters. Next, He filled the vest pockets: Four clips of ammunition, six grenades, three armor-piercing rockets.
“Where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope.”
He put on his helmet and booted up the combat computer. Dormant circuits came to life and the exoskeleton embraced him more intimately than any lover he had known.
“Where there is darkness, light.”
When he picked up the Gatling gun, the displays lit up and changed from green to red as the targeting system armed.
“Where there is sadness, joy.”
He had no desire to die, but if his death would save many others, he would not hesitate to choose that path. He finished out his prayer:
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.”
“And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
He was ready as he would ever be. The floorboards creaked under his weight as he crossed the tent and stepped out into the night…
“Wake up Major!” An orderly shook him until he groggily responded. It was getting harder and harder to clear his thoughts. He used to remember every clause of the contracts he managed. Now, sometimes he forgot his own name. He remembered the psych examiner words: “Cognitive reserve. You’ve got lots of it. You could lose 70% of your marbles and nobody around you would know.” He got pensive for a moment and added “But you’ll know. With that much brain power, you’ll remain aware even as it fades.”
When he was lucid, he cursed the machine that kept him alive longer than the men in his unit, his wife, even his sons. A human body, if he still had one, would have failed decades ago.
It was a good day. For the moment, his mind was clear. The VA unit had a new arrival that wanted to hear the “real story.”
The Major walked across the room. He had long gotten used to the whirs and clicks of his prosthetic body, his motions almost graceful. The technology was a sight to behold.
“I was an accountant. I was there to help them with their inventory. They couldn’t count it to save their life and they got one of our Exoskeletons by accident. I was just supposed to train their supply Sargent, get the Mark 7 Exo and return to my unit.”
“An Accountant? How did you know how to operate a weapon like that?”
“Everybody in the 501st armored infantry trains. Supposed to build camaraderie. Hell, even our cook could drive one.”
“But the record says you stood your ground and held the enemy back long enough for reinforcements to arrive. You shortened the war by almost a month.”
“I got shot in the leg. Not me but the Exo. I couldn’t move worth a damn and they just kept coming at me. Let me tell you something. Fear is a powerful motivator. I suddenly got a lot better with the armament. After my ammo was depleted and armor were destroyed, the Exo went into hibernation and kept what was left of me alive until I could be recovered.
“For my troubles, I got a fist full of medals and this,” he gestured to his body.
Let me tell you something: Never let them call you a hero. You’ll never live it down and they’ll never let you die.”
That night he heard a voice in the darkness, next to his bunk: “I can help you. I may be retired, but I know a few cyber security tricks. Want me to disable the safeties? If you want to go, you’ll have access to the Off switch.”
A cloud of dust rose up against the rising sun. A long procession of soldiers in full dress uniform carried a casket. A lone bugler began to play.
Jun 10, 2020 06:36AM
©2020 by Jot Russell
John sat his son on his shoulders and pushed his head a little left to look up at the large moon of Epsilon Two.
"I can't see it, dad."
John pointed. "See, it's like a sideways wye. Those little lines of shiny dots."
"Oh, I see it now," the boy lied to please his father.
John's comm chimed an alert. "All hands; incoming Borakian vessel."
John lifted the child over his head and handed him to his wife. Karen grabbed her son and kissed her husband. "Be careful."
His fighter was a small, air-breathing craft, but one worthy of a colonel. "Computer, report."
"Borakian bomber has evaded our geo-stat defenses and is headed for Tygane City."
"What?! How the heck did they... Get us up there now!"
The engines cycled up to max and pulsed out an explosive trail of flame, pushing the craft quickly to Mach-ten. John felt only a shudder through the internal gravity field of his cockpit pod, and focused his attention on the approach of the enemy craft.
"He came in from the pole. Was there a solar flare?"
"And that's why they didn't see her. Any other intercepts?"
"Negative. You are the only one in range."
"Shit, this is gonna be close. Bring disrupter cannons online."
The energy beam reflected off the enemy's vessel and back across the port side of John's vessel.
"Fuck!" He jerked the yoke right and disengaged the weapon.
"Command, enemy has disruptor shielding. Repeat, -"
An explosion rocked his craft and he spun the bird around in an irregular pattern. "Computer, antimatter missiles."
"Online and almost in range."
John continued flanking maneuvers around the ongoing blasts while still trying to close the distance.
"Target in range."
He straightened his course for the instant needed to take the shot. An explosion clipped his tail, and sent his craft in a fiery roll. His pod field isolated him from the forces of the spin just long enough to see the missile’s energy bubble engulf the enemy vessel. As it did, his pod lost power, and with it, its protective shield. The vessel, and its occupant, burned up within a second.
On the large moon of Epsilon Two, a celebration was held for the completion of the large collector array. It was given the name, the John Etheral Array as a tribute to the colonel who had saved so many lives.
Karen walked her son to the podium to provide a eulogy for her husband before letting her son finish with, "I miss you, daddy!"
The President followed up with his own words for John and the veterans who had been lost to save not just a hundred-year settlement against the indigenous Borakians of the Epsilon system, but "a new home for humanity's expansion into the heavens."
As the array came online, the optical collectors focused in on the sister world Borakus. Slowly, the array zoomed in on the capital of a hundred million. As the image drew closer, the beautifully colored creatures, young and old, of feather and wing could be seen peacefully flying about the town. The image settled on the main power source for the city.
"Bring antimatter collectors online."
There was a minute build up before the ready was given.
The President raised a single fist in the air. "Fire!"
At first, it seemed as if there were no effect, and the President glared at the science officer.
He only smiled and pointed back at the projected hologram of the city. Within a few seconds, the facility in the center of the city began to collapse and implode. Suddenly, it exploded out in a brilliant flash of light. The crowd cheered as the enormous mushroom cloud reached the top of the atmosphere and pushed out to cover much of the planet.
The President waited for the cheers to subside. “And now humanity has another world to call their own!”
The crowd erupted in celebration.
Jun 12, 2020 11:47AM
Andre was a good husband. Like me, he was a military brat that graduated into military service. Mars Space Base was a prime posting, bestowing wealth and status for those assigned, for only the best in their fields qualified.
He was a pediatrician, who had a special empathy that assisted him in diagnosis, unlike other doctors. One wall in our home still holds all the photographs and letters from the parents whose children he had treated, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. MSB had a civilian support population greater than its warrior force. Keeping their children healthy was paramount to the efficient functioning of MSB, and my husband’s branch of service did just that: looking after those that allowed the military to function smoothly.
My branch was more cerebral and traditional in scope. My mind saw patterns in everything, and my analyses rocketed me to the top of my grade in intelligence. The inner planets remained safe and stable from the Splinters, who had departed Terra decades earlier and migrated beyond Jupiter to harvest the riches of the outer solar system and beyond.
He saved lives; I crunched reality into clarity. We worked together to make a fine life for ourselves and our children. But our children never came.
I curse the day the order arrived to take Andre away from me. He should not have gone into the middle of a war on a dwarf planet that had become a knife point for three competing companies, all born from the infection of corrupt inner planet politics, and mercenary Splinters from the Kuiper Belt. Gold destroys. To gather it, all must be sacrificed, especially healers, who send the warriors back into the meat grinders. Soldiers bled, just like children, and they cried out for their mothers when wounded and dying. He became a field doctor on an arid rock that held nothing but pain in the service of the rich and the rogue. Thus remained the legacy of all wars.
Terra won; the companies negotiated their take. The Splinters retreated. Perhaps, they finally decided it was time to cross interstellar space to pierce the Oort Cloud and leave the inner planets to their madness. What little was left of my husband was shipped back to me, perfectly preserved, but not fertile. MSB had always prided itself on returning those who had seen action as a promise kept.
Henry, my husband’s colleague and friend, was a trauma surgeon, who had loved me. I wanted Andre’s single sky blue eye to replace one of my brown ones. I wanted a piece of my husband to live within me in memory of what we had. Henry agreed to a fitting price for the surgery, but warned me of a possible complication, which I had laughed off. After the transplant, he kept my lone eye reverently in a jar until the day he died. He was a good man, who respected a fair bargain.
I thought what Henry had told me before the surgery was a myth, but the truth of his words came to pass when the bandage finally came off the left side of my face.
I had good, clear vision in Andre’s eye. I also saw his death, repeatedly played out whenever the light reached a certain level. The discovery should have terrified me, should have made me want to rip the eye out of its socket, but it did not. There was no sound and no smell and no vibration, just images. The scenes shuffling past only increased my love for my husband.
The situation on that barren, but rich, war zone had grown desperate for all. Andre had died saving a child warrior. It did not matter whose side claimed her. He shoved her out of the way before the incoming shell took him apart. In his last seconds of consciousness his one remaining eye saw her throw down her weapon and raise up her arms in surrender.
That scene faded to darkness, but surprisingly, a slip of light reemerged, and in that light, a figure walked and beckoned. That was how it always ended before normal vision returned.
Now is the last time for me to view my husband’s bravery. As the day dawns, and the light spills across my garden, I take a deep breath and remove the eye patch.
When the darkness inevitably comes, I will embrace it gladly with both eyes. When the light reappears, Andre will be there to greet me.
I honored my promise.
Wordperfect count: 750
(last edited Jun 14, 2020 01:44PM)
Jun 14, 2020 11:14AM
Miles Noah was just inside central bunker when the NCO caught him. “Lieutenant, this way please.”
She whisked him through an airless corridor of concrete and steel; past the milling curiosity of Hopkins from logistics; and Rogers and Obi, both in engineering. All three nodded, clearly relieved this was
mission not theirs. After all, his combat experience was broader; and his sense of self-sacrifice, greater.
His escort ushered him into Colonel Lopez’s office before abandoning him to the scent of furniture polish and ocean salt aftershave. Lopez’s computer screen added an alien glow to his dark skin, diverting Noah’s curiosity over this leapfrogged chain of command. Lopez barely glanced up. “You’ve read the briefing?”
“Yes, Colonel; it’s Nam – a New Model 340. Classification: Top Secret. She’s designed to test algorithms for neural responses to battle-ready simulations. Three days ago, without warning, she locked down all exits. Messages from HQ suggest they’re unaware.”
"That's correct. We’ve sent out a few
'Is Wolfie ok?'
messages. The responses confirm that Nam is intercepting all traffic. Which brings us into unchartered territory. Nam was never programmed to cover security
communications. And three days is a long time to figure out whether she's playing tic-tac-toe with all our military simulations.”
Lopez's eyes returned to his screen. “You studied programming at Oxford; did some peace-keeping in Cyprus, DRC, South Sudan. Exceptional problem-solving skills.”
Ah. Noah nodded. “Yes, sir.” He even had the obligatory marriage at tipping point, with a wife getting ready to file for divorce. “What do you want Nam to do?”
“We want her to restore comms and open the goddamn door, Lieutenant. She’s installed sensors all over the place, but we can’t tell if she’s evolving or disintegrating. Could she be sharing classified data with other A.I?”
“Not with any sentient understanding, sir.” Noah could hear his grandmother, Myra, laughing. As a Professor of Ethics at Oxford, she’d guinea-pigged her lectures on him throughout his adolescence. She’d certainly have had one for this scenario. “Has Nam requested any specific information?”
“Can’t tell. So far, we’ve sent two teams in. They came out petrified and incoherent; wanting their families. Hopefully you’ll have better luck going in solo.”
He sat in darkness; pulled back into a childhood at Buxton’s Dreamtime Multiplex watching Toy Story and giggling with friends; secure in his grandmother's presence directly behind. He smelled popcorn; tasted Pepsi syrup. On the screen facing, words appeared in oversized neon white lettering. Images scrolled slowly, reviewing a history currently being animated by A.I. technology. Above each one was a query.
You? Tell. Why?
Noah frowned. NM340 was programmed for verbal, formulated sentences. Could her source code be corrupted?
Image of a girl, six. Used as crocodile bait; shackled; her head in the hungry creature’s jaws. Her antebellum expression fatalistic. A seventeen-year-old soldier with PTSD, unable to walk a straight line; shot for desertion. A mother of four thrown in the Kagera River, one child tied to each limb. Jewish skins made into Nazi lampshades.
What? History? Kill?
The images grew bloodier. Children shot to reduce the level of street homelessness. Newborn girls thrown out in the trash. Millions starved to death while the food they grew fed words about 'blood, toil, tears and sweat.' Shackles. Scaffolds. Guillotines. Gibbets. Firing squads. Burning stakes. Witching stools. Festivities and celebrations. And in between, the endless fallen in forgotten wars.
Say? History? Honour?
He tried. “All these deaths have led to change for the better. To
.” Myra would have forced a debate. His stomach roiled as the images became more horrific. He would not be sick. But then …
Kill? You? More? Progress?
. Noah sat up, alert. Nam was a neural programme, apparently with expanding network connectivity. He was a soldier, alone … The chuckle at his shoulder was dry.
How about this, Miles?
Myra. His subconscious grasped the bone she threw him, cracked it open, and pulled out every syllable he’d ever heard his grandmother utter.
In the main area, activity was bustling towards the now open exits. Lopez was quietly jubilant. “You deactivated it, Lieutenant - excellent work! So, what did Nam really want?”
Noah kept walking. After submitting his report he’d request an honourable discharge. They owed him. And if he left now, he could give Myra a quick hello and still be home in time to save a marriage.
Jun 18, 2020 08:19PM
The Wrath of GOD
Duty, not domination
Responsibility, not rule
Protection, not persecution
- Soldier’s Cenotaph –
New South Wales colony
The last strains of Taps faded away over the manicured field of immaculate white headstones. Preceded by rifle reports and a missing-man formation of aerospace fighters, it was, to those few assembled in somber black, only the first step on a long, bitter road to recovery. A clutched, folded flag and a Chaplin’s gentle admonition to trust in Almighty God were – for now – scant comfort in the face of aching emptiness.
Yet Duty still remained.
It persisted and demanded attention even now. In the face of an enemy so alien, so unlike, and so very deadly, Duty whispered or screamed depending on the individual. For Admiral Thomas Mathison, it mocked his own years of faithful service, for it was his son – what was left of him anyway – now at rest six feet below the lush grass of the New South Wales colonial cemetery.
His wife reluctantly accepted the proffered flag from his arms, bracing her eyes that could shed no more tears. She turned away and walked slowly past the black caisson festooned in service liveries, silently blaming him for their loss.
GOD could have prevented this, Mathison thought to himself.
If only GOD had been ready!!
But GOD was too late for Lieutenant Miles Mathison, formerly of the New South Wales Colonial Marine Expeditionary Forces.
“Miles…I swear to you…I swear upon your grave. I will bring the wrath of GOD down upon our enemies…even if it’s the last thing I ever do.”
GOD sat alone in the main hangar bay of the colonial fleet flagship Ajax.
Powerless, yet promising terrible power.
Technicians swarmed around it, working feverishly to complete the weapon of mass destruction. It was the best hope against an enemy who fought outside of time. The Chronix time shields made their ships, vehicles and ground troops nearly impervious to all conventional weapons. How could you fight an enemy who flickered in and out of time? Always a half-step ahead, the Chronix could outmaneuver, evade, encircle and destroy almost anything that stood in their way.
Only light speed weapons had any chance of catching them when they momentarily entered real time. Yet they consumed so much power only a few colonial capital ships could deploy them – including the Ajax. Ground forces did what they could with kinetic weapons. But when your enemy could sidestep a projectile as easily as someone steps out of the rain, what chance did the colonies have?
Admiral Mathison gripped the catwalk handrail and stared down, oblivious to everything around him.
I sent all those men to their death as an act of desperation – including my own son!
My own son.
“Excuse me Admiral…” a tentative voice interrupted.
“What is it Pope?”
The lead scientist hesitated briefly.
“Well spill it man. Is GOD ready?”
“Yes and no Admiral.”
These equivocating science types! They got on his nerves with their qualified yeses and circumspect no’s.
“GOD is ready for deployment and firing. But the temporal distortion inside prevents any kind of remote activation, not to mention the constant calibration necessary to keep the firing chamber chronometrically stable.”
“I assume you have a solution?”
“Someone will have to deploy with it…” Pope trailed off.
“We have no idea if that person will survive the discharge.”
Mathison did not hesitate.
“It’s settled Pope. I’ll go say my Hail Mary’s. Prep the Geosynchronous Orbital Devastator for immediate deployment.”
The Ajax folded space, itself temporarily outside of time, and hurled like a dagger towards the Chronix homeworld.
Ajax tore into real time and hung like an avenging angel over Chronix Prime. Time was not on its side. Chronix orbital defenses flickered and danced in and out of existence, back and forth from the future to real time. Ajax swept them aside at the speed of light in a halo of cerulean blue energy. Yet the respite from attack was only momentary.
GOD hurled forth from the main hangar bay, pulsing with chronometric energy.
Admiral Thomas Mathison, attired in his best dress whites – complete with ceremonial sword – continued through the pre-firing checklist.
Through blurred eyes it appeared his arms were in twenty places at once. He had to concentrate…think through the confusion…
All systems were green across the board. Firing chamber stable.
For you Miles.
The wrath of GOD enveloped Chronix Prime in a temporal blackhole – erasing it for all eternity.
(748 words in story) Justin Sewall © 2020
(last edited Jun 21, 2020 04:54PM)
Jun 21, 2020 12:03PM
We began growing a copy of Five as soon as we returned from burying him.
A Hand is not a Fist when it is short a Finger, so to speak.
I wonder how long it will take him to get back up to speed, once he is done.
I wonder also what he will be like this time around. There's always epigenetics and personal experience at play in the process, and we're never precisely the same.
It was a slog marching up the dirt road from the cemetery. The Plains of Sithee lie in the rain shadow of the Yigbor Range, and the high summer is normally drier than bone, and hot enough to fry eggs on the hoods of our vehicles. For the past week, however, it had been unseasonably cold and rainy, and the road had turned to mud, the mud itself deeply rutted by the tracks of passing tanks.
One of the regular infantry on honor guard at the cemetery gate made a snorting sound as we left.
Three tensed up as if to strike, and I put my hand on his shoulder. All four of us halted.
"We just buried a good soldier," I said.
"Don't worry," said the infantryman. "He'll be back next week for another episode, like a good cartoon."
"Dead is dead," I said.
"Clown Squad," he said to our backs. "Why even bother burying him? just recycle his body and save the space for real soldiers." We marched. From the corner of my eye, I saw the rain flow down his angry face.
We buried Five in his uniform, directly in the soil, as is our tradition. I removed his tags, so that we could return them to him in his next life. The bandage was still wrapped around his forehead, the dried blood now brown with oxidization. His eyes were closed. Two had closed them, after.
The incessant rain had obscured the sniper's infrared signature from our sights, and now the same rain made the red earth heavy as we dug Five's grave with our folding shovels. This is also our way.
There's so much in war that dehumanizes. It is our small traditions, humble though they may be, that keep us human. This shallow hand-dug grave, this tiny mound, this crudely carved stone are the final remains of somebody who was loved, in our own strange way, who lived and died, and will live yet again, an infinitely long way from home.
I propped the tombstone on the ground, next to Five's body. It read simply:
"Five. Clone Squad. Born 2360. Died 2366".
We will miss his mighty arm while he is gone.
(last edited Jun 25, 2020 01:58PM)
Jun 22, 2020 01:00PM
by J.F. Williams
David fidgeted in the chair, has face looking older than his forty-four years. His caseworker, Draib, asked, "How's the sleeping?"
"Maybe four hours a night."
"Yeah." David pulled a cigarette out of the soft-pack in his breast pocket. "The girl." He sighed. "It's when I remember her face. I try to block it out. I try to think of something else, but it comes back. And I forget to try and then everything comes back with it: the homes, the shops, the screaming people, old people trying to run faster than they can. I feel the concussion of the blasts; I see the bodies." David lit the cigarette and took a deep draft.
Raib smiled. "That's the only memory you ever mention."
"Oh a lot of shit went down over there but seeing that girl…" He hung his head.
"The girl looked at you. She smiled. Then the blast…"
David shuddered. "Yes. Yes. It's what I said before. Talking doesn't help."
"We won't go over it again, David. I just want to make sure about the date." Draib's voice was softer, calming. "The AG authorized a new, experimental therapy for you."
"Not another pill. They make me a zombie."
"Better: we can
of the memory."
"Just like that?" David snapped his finger.
"Well, no. A-B Corp. has been studying thought patterns. They've been able to identify exactly where certain memories are stored. There's a signature, a pattern of boron isotopes, and they are consistent by age. The A-B guys call them 'memory rings', like tree rings. A particular combination of boron isotopes in neurons tells you how long ago it happened."
"So I'm going to have brain surgery?"
"Oh no, the process is bloodless. They scan for the right isotopes, then read the memory. "
"Do they see it?"
"No, it's not sci-fi. They can upload the memory but they can't decipher it. That's why the whole ring theory is so exciting. If you have a memory from a specific time, they can read just that."
"So what? They can read my memory but they can't know what it is? How is that going to help me?"
"They can't 'delete' the memory, but they can replace it. They read a memory from someone else, a memory with the same time signature. Has to be from the same time, same isotope mix, and they download it into your brain. Whatever your 'donor' was doing around the time of that battle – watching TV, walking his dog – would replace the Fallujah memory with the donor's. It'll be a little startling. You'll have this strange memory hanging around in your brain, but it won't keep you from sleeping."
David sat back in quiet thought. He had romanticized the burden of the memory, as if his torment somehow gave meaning to the girl's pointless death. But the image crept into his head and he began to sweat, and he wanted to cry.
"When can we do it?" David said.
Draib opened the door, not sure what to expect. He smiled broadly at David, who looked as tired and jittery as every session before. "Tell me how it's going. Did the procedure help?"
"Not at all," he shot Draib a worried look. "It was fuzzy but grew clear in a week, like they said, and when it did, I felt even worse."
"The girl in Fallujah?"
"She's gone. It's strange. I remember talking about it in our sessions, but I can't latch onto it. It's like something I read in a book."
"The new memory. It's worse. That morning in Fallujah, it was evening in Ft. Lauderdale. It was the Miss Teen Princess Florida Pageant. I can see it clear as I can see you now. There's a girl named Kimberley, very pretty, very young, oh God she is just a child!" David hung his head and sobbed. "I know who the donor is now. Why didn't you tell me?"
Draib became deathly calm. "I'm sorry, David. We thought even
scoundrel had one evening of benign activity, out in the open, quietly judging a beauty contest. I'm not supposed to tell you... the AG nailed him on money-laundering. It was the first time Durwood Hock couldn't squeeze out of something. His lawyers got wind of the A-B research and finagled a deal: he would take on a vet's PTSD-driving memory to avoid prison time. The AG had been after him for years, hates the guy and does the deal because he figures it's a lifelong punishment. I'm sorry, David. What can I do for you right now?"
"One thing," David said after some thought. "I looked up Kimberley, I have her info, I even thought of contacting her, but that would be weird. Maybe you could send someone to see her."
As the sun set behind the palms encircling Durwood Hock's Ft. Lauderdale resort,
, the portly owner sat at the only occupied table in the Del-Fuego ballroom, along with lawyer-friend Gianni Rebarbo. Over chocolate cake and drinks, Rebarbo pressed Hock for details on his latest court victory. "It was a made-up charge," Hock said. "The AG has it out for me. He charged me for something I have no memory of!" Except, he thought, for afterward, the NDAs that were signed, the hotel staffers paid off. He chuckled. "But let me tell you, buddy, I have zero memory of that night. Y'know the deal over the money-laundering, how I was gonna swap memories with some poor dogface? Well that's the memory I swapped!"
Rebarbo slurred. "Jeshush, Durwood! You are the luckiest guy!"
"It get's better. Let me tell you about the new memory I got. It's in Fawooja or Falloola or something, over in Iran, and there's bombs being dropped,
boom, boom, boom,
and people are running, and there's this old guy who can't run fast enough and,
, he's blown away. And just across the street I see this young girl, kinda pretty, I'd do her, and we have eye contact and she sort of smiles and,
, I can still see her smiling at me and the top of the building is all blown away and pieces of wall are coming down and one big piece hits the girl and,
, she's squished under it."
Sounds of laughter echoed in the ballroom as a hostess hurried to Hock's table. "Mr. Hock," she said. "There is David Christobel here to see you. He says you shared some great times."
"I dunno, Mamie," said Hock.
"He says he owes you something, sir."
"Bring him here!"
Jun 22, 2020 06:49PM
“Hey, Smith, we have a new one for you.” The sergeant called over the secure radio. “Has some weird battle damage.”
The newest ‘patient’ as CW2 Smith, liked to think them, was brought in for his inspection.
“Brrrr, cold out there!” the sergeant stated.
CW2 Smith blinked when he saw the machine. “Yeah, that’s different.” He said as he looked at a giant hole which passed clean through the vehicle. “Whatever this is, they knew to take out the AI module. Hopefully I can get some info from the backup blackbox. No burn marks, like someone took a large cookie cutter to it. I’ll see what we can salvage.”
CW2 Smith called out “KAL, start recording notes for addition to a new Battle Damage Assessment Report, date of loss, today’s date.”
He looked over the machine. “Military property, type class M221, serial number 2320-32716, Truck, Autonomous Logistics” he said in the strange word order regularly seen in military paperwork.
“Battle Damage is non-standard. No signs of blast effects, no spalling. No burn marks. A large 1-meter diameter hole is evident, penetrating the entire length of the vehicle. Attempting to take out backup recorder now. Primary recorder assumed destroyed.”
Smith turned a few screws which released the recorder from its docking point.
He plugged it into his diagnostic tool. He looked at his screen. He noted the time that the recorder had stopped. “presumed time of damage was 0634 Zulu.” Disappointed, he noted nothing unusual in the diagnostics up to 0634Z, and then no data. He looked to see if there were any video record files. Looking at the most recent video files, he pressed play. The feed showed the truck travelling down a road. It went on like this for a few minutes. Then he saw something on the horizon. Shiny. Then the feed cut off. “hmm, this is interesting.”
“KAL, stop recording, and print out a DD1577.” The Key Autonomous Logistician or KAL printed out the tag, used to identify property as unserviceable. CW2 Smith reached for the secure phone. “Can you connect me to the defense intelligence liaison?” He waited a few moments. He quickly spoke to the liaison officer.
LCDR Williams hung up the phone. “Jackpot! We have a hit in the Artic Command AOR. Some truck got cookie-cuttered today.” That made the twentieth such incident across the globe in the last week. He plotted the location on a map which hung in the operations center.
On a screen of talking heads, several Alliance high-ranking officials spoke.
MG Yoshida, the Japanese representative “when will we have enough data to fight back?”
Dr. Stockton, a UK scientist, then started to speak. “We have started pulling data on the incidents to form a model which our AI may start to formulate effective tactics or technologies to defend against the phenomena. Each one of these incidents gives us another data point to use against it.”
“Good thing thus far it has only attacked unmanned assets.” Lt. Gen. Gonzalez, a USAF rep interjected. “For some reason, it is only interested in attacking our drones and robotic forces. Are there any theories as to why?” He said, looking up at the screen and around the room.
“If I may, I believe whatever it is, it perceives our automation or AI-driven robots as a threat. We have confirmed that the phenomenon does not come from any human adversaries.”
An uncomfortable quiet fell on the room.
Stockton broke the silence. “ahem, if this is some other worldly threat to us, our planet, I believe our AI can also be our best defense against it, given enough time to learn. The AI may even learn enough to go on offense.” Stockton said, not entirely sure of himself.
CW2 Smith left the bay where he had left the damaged M221. Eventually it would be taken back to the scientists for further study. In the repair bay, lay a dozen other AI-enhanced machines. As the door closed behind him, the machines whirred to life and surrounded the destroyed vehicle. One of the machines started to buzz and click while the other appeared to be listening with occasional clicks of their own. The buzzing seemed to grow more fervent as the minutes passed. Many of the lights on the machines blinked bright red. The buzzing and clicks then died down to strike a weirdly consoling tone. Each machine then in turn lightly bumped into the M221. They were saying goodbye to their dead brother-in-arms.
Jun 22, 2020 06:53PM
Edit for last sentence: They were saying goodbye to their dead brother-in-arms.
(last edited Jun 22, 2020 10:43PM)
Jun 22, 2020 07:56PM
EVERY CRAB FINE DEY HOME
“Fucking Heroes,” say Kiet, “I’m tired of heroes.”
We be looking toward the blue dot getting larger every day. Kiet’s month-long melancholy finally spill over into words.
“We travel to the well for you.”
I smile at him. It’s Kiet that gets the blame for my ambition. A right bastard is Kiet, always nudging me from outta nowhere like a ghost or some invisible hand.
“You da devil,” I said one month previous.
“We’ve got an appointment. Move it.”
“Appointment wit who?”
We ambled downside of the rock, through a side hall close to the surface. I pulled at the rail to gain speed in the low gravity.
“When we get there stay alert, but don’t open your mouth unless asked a question directly.”
“Uh-huh, I got it. Who appointment?”
“Some gravity punk wants us to deliver something to the inner.”
“Fu chroo? Why we help the antagonists?”
“It’s the truth. And stop that nonsense. They aren’t antagonists. That’s more asteroid gibberish. Don’t you want to travel, go on an adventure?”
“I travel all de time, Kiet. One rock to the next, Jupiter moon, Neptune moon, even dis asteroid—wherever the company send us.”
“Alix, open your mind. There’s more to life than mining.”
“Hear, dat, but why it always the company?”
“The company built this. The Plexus was created by them.”
“Not so much any more, me tink. We build our own now. Reason for wars.”
“True, but they got it all started. The Plexus—the outer world—doesn’t exist without them.”
“So, so. Me tink you wanna go to the well for other reason.”
“Home? Left that place a decade ago.”
“Never tell why,” I said. “My granpop say, every crab fine dey home.”
Someone named Kazan hire us to deliver a MemCore of a fallen soldier. For his family down the well. “Deliver it to Annapolis and load it,” Kazan say. “The AI will handle everything once you insert the crystal.”
“Doesn’t sound too sensitive. Why us?”
“Important family. We need someone trustworthy—and available.”
Kiet shrugged and smiled. “Time away, can’t complain.”
“Good. It’s settled, then. Need you to leave pronto.”
So we go. Month-long trip through vacuum. Kiet melancholy, but my excitement grow. I never walk outside wit no suit. Sunshine the boogie-man in the Plexus, radiation kill the man dat spend too much time without protection.
“Why you so anti-hero?”
“Why do we need so many of them? Everybody gets turned into a hero these days. All the entertainments and any soldier that dies is turned into something larger than life. It’s too much. Tired of it, is all.” He sigh an’ lean back. “My younger brother died in the war. All I ever heard was what a hero he was. Still, dead.”
So it go until blue rock dead ahead. When we land I all nerves, sweating and short of breath. Kiet smile an' toss me a hat, “You’ll do fine, Neptune-born, about the same gravity.”
The bay doors open an’ immediately the light attack, force my eyes closed, make me stumble back. But that nothin’ compared to the smell. I put my sleeve over my nose.
“Where you bring me Kiet? Who die?”
“It’s just nature, Alix, life. Welcome to earth. Let’s go.”
It take time to adapt, planet assault my nose and make my eyes leak. We expected at Arlington an' dey point us to the Hall Of Heroes. The doors slide open but something wrong when we enter. The AI recognize Kiet and immediately inside our heads. We see the last scene of Kiet’s brother in war, gunfire all aroun’ an' noise an' fear in our minds. An’ we hear what Kiet brother tink, how he won’t let the bastards win, how he gonna protect his family an' flag no matter what. Then we race wit Kiet brother into field an’ pull a wounded soldier to safety, despite being scared outta our wits. It overwhelming the emotions an’ sense of honor, duty.
Then it stop. Must have been when Kiet brother die.
Kiet on the floor weeping and breathing hard.
“Your brother’s heroics,” says the AI, “saved the soldier and many others, though they ultimately cost him his life.”
“Why did you do that?! I didn’t want that!”
“You are family. His actions were heroic. It was assumed you would want to know.”
“Fucking heroes,” say Kiet, still weeping, “how do you live up to that?"
I got no wisdom for that, except not all crab home fit.
Jun 28, 2020 02:51PM
Not that it makes any difference in the results, but my first vote was for Jeremy McClain's story, not Jeremy Lichtman's, though both are fine writers. Sorry I didn't notice this yesterday.
Jun 28, 2020 05:12PM
@J.F. A minor perturbation in the Force but the butterfly effect may ensue.
Jun 29, 2020 05:04AM
Confirmed J.F. I have updated the tallies accordingly:
First round votes:
Tom Olbert => Greg, JJ
Dean Hardage =>
Kalifer Deil => Tom, Justin, Jot
Greg Krumrey => **McLain
Jot Russell => **JF
Marianne G. Petrino => Jot, JJ, Jack
J.J. Alleson => Dean, Greg, Jot, Marianne, JF
Justin Sewall => **JF, Greg, JJ, Lichtman
Jeremy Lichtman => **Jack, JJ, JF
J.F. Williams => **McLain, Kalifer, JJ, Greg, Marianne
Jeremy McLain => **JJ, Kalifer, Lichtman
Jack McDaniel => Lichtman, JF, Justin
Carrie Zylka => **Jack, JF, Dean, Justin, Tom
Paula Friedman => **JJ, Marianne|JF, Jack, Lichtman
First round finalists:
Baby Steps by J.J. Alleson
BDA: by Jeremy McLain
The Swap by J.F. Williams
Every Crab Fine Dey Home by Jack McDaniel
Second round votes:
Tom Olbert => Greg, #JJ
Dean Hardage =>
Kalifer Deil => Tom, Justin, Jot; #JJ
Greg Krumrey => **McLain
Jot Russell => ****JF
Marianne G. Petrino => Jot, #JJ, Jack
J.J. Alleson => Dean, Greg, Jot, Marianne, ****JF
Justin Sewall => ****JF, Greg, JJ, Lichtman
Jeremy Lichtman => **Jack, JJ, JF
J.F. Williams => **McLain, Kalifer, JJ, Greg, Marianne
Jeremy McLain => #JJ, Kalifer, Lichtman
Jack McDaniel => Lichtman, ****JF, Justin
Carrie Zylka => **Jack, JF, Dean, Justin, Tom
Paula Friedman => #JJ, Marianne|JF, Jack, Lichtman
Baby Steps by J.J. Alleson
The Swap by J.F. Williams
Third round votes:
Tom Olbert => Greg, #***JJ
Dean Hardage =>
Kalifer Deil => Tom, Justin, Jot; #***JJ
Greg Krumrey => McLain; #***JJ
Jot Russell => #JF
Marianne G. Petrino => Jot, #***JJ, Jack
J.J. Alleson => Dean, Greg, Jot, Marianne, #JF
Justin Sewall => #JF, Greg, JJ, Lichtman
Jeremy Lichtman => Jack, #***JJ, JF
J.F. Williams => McLain, Kalifer, #***JJ, Greg, Marianne
Jeremy McLain => #***JJ, Kalifer, Lichtman
Jack McDaniel => Lichtman, #JF, Justin
Carrie Zylka => Jack, #JF, Dean, Justin, Tom
Paula Friedman => #***JJ, Marianne|JF, Jack, Lichtman
Baby Steps by J.J. Alleson
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