Special Ops

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

The morning sun cast a dim ruddy light through Frank’s single window. He missed the cheerful yellow light of Sol, though in this incarnation he had never been to Earth. Though his heart was attuned to his home planet’s local star, his eyes weren’t. He pulled himself from the Jesus tank and towelled himself dry.

“Curtis, blinds,” he ordered the room, squinting in the Betelguesian glare; he stumbled to the wall and unfolded the kitchen. “Koff, breakfast.” Without further instruction Curtis produced a mug of synthetic coffee and a plate of egg material grown in a vat from imported tissue.

“Curtis, sitrep,” through his ‘plant, Frank heard the usually sarcastic, mostly sardonic, frequently cynical and for some reason, Russian accented voice of his AI.

“White team mission successful. Target adequately nullified. The strike leader’s remains were returned to his quarters for resurrection.”

“How bad was it?”

“They found your toe, Sir.”

“Damn.”

“Indeed, Sir.”

Frank folded the kitchen away, unfolding the bathroom in the process.

“Um… Curtis?”

“Sir?”

“Where’s my dick?”

“Gender reassignment was necessary for the current mission specs.” Frank could have sworn the AI snickered.

Frank turned to the mirror and gasped in horror discovering that he was now a young, attractive, red headed female with, he had to grudgingly admit, nice tits. “Curtis,” Frank asked a quaver in his voice, “what are the current mission parameters?”

This time there was no mistaking Curtis’ outright guffaw. “You are to infiltrate Kim Sung Mung’s compound as a,” here the AI broke off in uncontrolled laughter.

“Curtis!”

“Sorry, Sir. You are to infiltrate the Asiatic commander’s compound as a pleasure companion.”

“OH GAWD, NO!”

“Shall I pack your mouthwash, Sir?”

The AI’s derisive guffaws could be heard in the corridor outside and beyond.

 

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Love Lucy

Author : Curtis C. Chen

Lucy’s hand shook as she traced the stylus over the text of the contract. Her agent had assured her that this was a good deal, but she had to make sure there were no surprises.

The house paid very well, much better than temping, and even offered an advance. After a year of not getting work as an actress, Lucy needed the money.

She finished reading and signed at the bottom of the tablet. The paralegal came back into the room. His smile was not reassuring.

The first room was the hardest.

Lucy sat on the exam table, alone, for a long time after she had changed into the gown. She didn’t want to put her feet in the stirrups. She couldn’t refuse; she knew that. The contract with her signature was binding.

And it was so much money.

Lucy was glad to see that the gynecologist was a woman. The exam didn’t take long. The sensor ring around Lucy’s waist hummed while the doctor picked up the speculum and aimed it between Lucy’s legs.

“Try to relax,” the doctor said in a tired voice.

Lucy bit her tongue. The metal instrument sliding into her had been warmed, but it still felt cold.

Next came the imaging chamber, where Lucy removed her gown and put her bare feet inside the outlines on the floor. Her knees felt weak, but she willed herself to stay standing while the blue scanning beams crawled over every inch of her naked body.

In the last room, Lucy sat, fully dressed, in front of a brightly lit mirror. Glowing words appeared on the mirror, one after the other, and she made a face to match each word while cameras recorded her expressions.

It was like an audition. The first faces came easily: SCARED. TIRED. ANGRY.

The later ones were more work: BIRTHDAY. GRATEFUL. ORGASM.

Two hours after she’d walked in, she was done.

Lucy went to the bank to deposit her advance check. She felt numb as she stared at the receipt.

It was a lot of money. And there would be more, after the house built the androids: royalties based on how often they were used by the house’s clients.

This was good, Lucy told herself. She wouldn’t have to worry about paying bills anymore. She could really focus on acting.

And she wouldn’t have to know what those clients were doing with the androids that looked like her, thousands of miles away–the contract stipulated that her likeness would only be used overseas. Those men wouldn’t be touching Lucy. Each android would have her face and body, but it was only a machine. Not Lucy.

Just a picture of her. That’s all. Just a stupid doll. Nothing more.

Lucy went home and took a shower. She scrubbed herself for over an hour, until her skin was raw and the hot water had run out, but she still didn’t feel clean.

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Ghosts of Earth

Author : Curtis C. Chen

The first crystal fell on Los Angeles in the middle of rush hour, killing thirty-two people. Caltrans spent an hour trying to move the enormous mass before it drilled itself into the ground and disappeared.

Two hours later, another crystal splashed into the Pacific Ocean. The Navy sent a submarine to track it, but they couldn’t go deep enough. Three hours after that, another one hit the Pacific. Then a fourth crystal struck the ocean south of Japan, flooding the coast.

Someone noticed that all four impacts had occurred on the same line of latitude, proceeding west. Governments evacuated cities while the bombardment continued, every three hours, like clockwork: China, Iraq, Algeria, the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina. Then the tenth crystal impacted off the coast of Mexico. They were moving south.

NASA triangulated the origin of the crystals to a point outside the Moon’s orbit. Observatories all over the planet turned their lenses that way, but saw nothing. The ship was too small to be visible at that range.

We had no vessels that could reach that far. All we could do was evacuate, and attempt to study the crystals, which we were so far unable to halt or slow as they burrowed underground.

Five days later, the last of the crystals fell into the Pacific, west of central Peru. There were now one hundred and eight crystals embedded deep in the Earth, arranged in a precise grid circling the equatorial region of our planet. The aliens had parked their ship in space and let Earth rotate each target into position for them.

Eight different research teams had crawled down the crystal tunnels. Two teams were broadcasting live video when the crystals began burning. Again, we could only watch, helpless.

The world burned for nearly a year. Most of the plant and animal life died within the first day. The crystals weren’t just raising the temperature– they were also causing chemical changes, using the planet as raw material to terraform itself.

The aliens waited a decade before landing, to let their new vegetation and prey animals grow. The few humans who had managed to survive, in Antarctica and other frozen places, were slowly suffocated by the toxic atmosphere. We mourned them, but only briefly. We still have work to do.

The crystal fire had killed our bodies, but freed our minds– some say souls, or spirits. We don’t entirely understand it, but we know that we’re still here. We can see everything. And we can do things.

We watched the aliens land, and sent scouts to verify that they couldn’t sense us. Creating six billion angry ghosts had not been part of their invasion plan.

They use electronics, just as we did, and we’ve found that our incorporeal forms can directly affect electrical systems. A million physicists, no longer restrained by language barriers, are devising a plan to sabotage whatever the aliens do next.

We’re betting that they won’t want to live on a haunted planet.

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Birthdays

Author : Curtis C. Chen

When Stacy was twelve, she celebrated her father’s thirty-third birthday.

It wasn’t actually his birthday. It was two weeks before his birthday, but he was leaving on a mission in five days.

Stacy thought the party was boring. There were a lot of grown-ups there, drinking smelly drinks that looked like soda but tasted bitter when she stole a sip from her father’s plastic cup. He was talking to another grown-up at the time and didn’t notice.

“It’s only sixteen light-years,” he was saying. “We’re not sure how hard we can push the stardrive, but we also need to balance the relativistic effects.”

Stacy wandered into the kitchen to find her mother. She was standing over the sink, alone.

“Mommy?” Stacy said, tugging at her skirt.

Stacy’s mother turned to look at her. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were wet.

“Time for bed,” she said.

When Stacy was sixty-five, she celebrated her father’s fortieth birthday.

She barely recognized the man who embraced her as the waitress maneuvered her wheelchair into the restaurant.

“My little girl,” he said, his eyes glistening.

They brought a plate of food that she wasn’t allergic to. She toasted him with apple juice. She felt tired halfway through dinner, but pinched her arm under the table to keep herself awake.

She stayed until all the other guests had left. There weren’t many of them. The waitress brought Stacy a glass of warm milk, and a cup of coffee for her father. The coffee smelled good.

They talked for nearly an hour. He asked about Stacy’s mother, about what had happened to his family over the last half century, how they’d lived without him. Stacy’s mother had remarried when they thought her father’s ship had been lost, destroyed during their initial acceleration out of the solar system.

“She never stopped loving you,” Stacy told her father. She showed him the family photo that her mother had kept until she died, and which Stacy still carried in her purse. He cried quietly.

When the restaurant closed, Stacy’s father helped her into a waiting taxicab. He noticed her coughing and asked about her health.

“I’m old,” she said, forcing a smile. She didn’t want to tell him about the cancer.

Four days later, Stacy got a call from the agency. They had found her father dead in his apartment. He had overdosed on ibuprofen, washed down with a bottle of whiskey. They said he hadn’t felt any pain.

The note read: “No parent should outlive his child.”

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Antique

Author : Curtis C. Chen

I brushed away more leaves. There was a hard surface beneath. Ceramic armor. I ran my hand along it until I found the edge, then pointed my flashlight. I stared into a dark mass of machinery– joints, gears, struts, wires. There was a serial number engraved on the interior surface of the casing.

“I don’t believe it,” I muttered.

“What the hell is it?” Embeck called from below. He had insisted on staying at ground level, scanning the landscape, his finger on the trigger of our only blaster.

“It’s a mech,” I called back.

“A what?”

I rolled my eyes. “A giant robot.”

“You’re kidding.”

I lifted one leg and kicked the hidden mass beside me. My boot clanged against the armor, and leaves fell like rain. I pulled away the remaining vines so my co-pilot could see the huge metal arm.

“I don’t believe it,” he said.

“Get up here and help me clear this stuff away.”

“What if we’re attacked?”

“Then you’ll have the high ground. Hurry up.”

He secured the blaster in his hip holster and climbed slowly. Very slowly. He was the cautious one now. Funny.

I was sitting on the mech’s shoulder by the time he got halfway up the torso. The main antenna array had been crushed a long time ago. Rust, bird droppings, and other stains streaked down to the middle of the mech’s back.

“I don’t suppose you’ve ever driven one of these things,” I said.

Embeck shook his head. “Never even seen one in person. When were these last used in combat? Fifty, sixty years ago?”

I grimaced. “Christ, Embeck, I’m not THAT old.”

“You were a mech driver?”

“I got the training. I was a Starbird candidate, you know.”

He smirked. “How the mighty have fallen.”

I saved my breath. “Let’s get this canopy open. Maybe we won’t have to walk back to the crash site after all.”

We found the emergency release latches around the opaqued chest cavity of the mech, following the seam just above the window slit. I remembered being sealed into one of these things, being overwhelmed by a dizzying array of displays, nearly losing my lunch as the mech lurched around the training field. The narrow band of sunlight coming in through that window was the only thing that had helped steady me.

When we opened the seal, a cloud of dust puffed away from the mech, with a sound like a sigh. Mech cabins are airtight, to protect the driver from biochemical attack. It smelled stale. We lifted the creaking canopy and locked it into place, then leaned over and looked inside the cabin.

This mech’s driver was still strapped into his seat. Something must have made it through the ventilation filters. He just had time to park the mech in this grove to hide it from the enemy. His fingers were still touching the throttle.

Embeck vomited into the cabin.

“You’re cleaning that up,” I said.

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:)