Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Transit of Venus by James C Clar

James C Clar's Hawaiian detectives question a woman who has been pushed beyond her limits, but their consciences aren't entirely clear.

Cassandra Robertson looked up and met HPD Detective Jake Higa's eyes from across the table in the kitchenette where they sat. Higa's longtime partner, Ray Kanahele, stood a few feet away. The latter's considerable bulk was propped against the apartment's small but expensive looking refrigerator.

Higa noticed a faded bruise on the left side of the young woman's face, just below her elegant cheekbone. A right-cross, he thought to himself. The mark had been carefully, tastefully, concealed with make-up. Only the ordeal of the last few hours and the tears that she had, at times uncontrollably, shed revealed what must once have been a livid contusion.

Despite her currently disheveled condition, it was clear that Cassie Robertson was a young lady who was likely to get noticed. She was tall, leggy and twenty-eight. While maybe not classically beautiful, her sandy blonde hair and bedroom blue eyes made her far more than merely attractive.

"Did you know that if Captain Cook hadn't come to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus in 1769," Robertson offered without preamble, "he might never have discovered Hawaii? When he finally got here in 1778, he brought with him all kinds of sophisticated astronomical equipment. That's when modern astronomy began in the islands."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This is Hollywood by B N Burton

A film actor gets his big break, but finds himself plagued by odd dreams until he's no longer sure who is for real and who is acting; by B N Burton, originally published in The Dunesteef.

Mick marched down the white hall with fluorescent lights. At the end in an open doorway, a figure stood like a shadow. Against the brightness, the silhouette suggested a man whose hair stuck out everywhere. Mick moved forward, but got no closer to whoever it was.

Must be a dream, Mick thought. His hands felt sticky, and he focused on the blood splattered across them. Was it his blood? He didn't know, and worried that someone, somewhere was very hurt. Voices echoed, and the farther he walked, the louder the chatter. Windows in the hall appeared. People who didn't look like they belonged together talked behind the glass. He saw four in a circle: a young girl in a pretty pink dress who held hands with a boy wearing suspenders, an older woman in an apron wearing a chef's hat, and a black man in a military uniform.

Mick faced the silhouette, wanting to know why the man was there. But even as he walked on, he got no closer to him. His chest burned and he touched his heart, felt the beating organ in his hand. Fear and horror catapulted each pump until it sounded like someone dribbling a basketball. It's a dream, he told himself. Or was he dead? It bled onto his fingers, poured down his wrists and arms. He opened his mouth to scream.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Sinclairs by Whit Walker

Beatrice Sinclair must cope with the death of her husband in spite of her crazy family - a sex addict son, a daughter intent on destroying her marriage, and another daughter a decade too young; by Whit Walker.

1

The sound of the telephone ringing was muffled due to the insides of her thighs being pressed against each of his ears. She had heard the ringing, but didn't call attention to it because she didn't want him to stop. She didn't know his name, and he didn't know hers. She did know he had soft puffy lips and five o'clock shadow. He knew she tasted like honey. The phone rang three more times before the machine picked up the call. She heard his voice say he wasn't in, and to leave a message after the beep.

"Baltimore, it's your mother. Call me as soon as you get this. Something's happened."

Click.



The black and white checkered pattern of the marble tile was beginning to annoy her. It was time to redecorate. That woman had absolutely no taste. This entire apartment needed redone with her touch instead of his ex-wife's. They had been married for a few years although she had been with him for four years before. Standing in the middle of the foyer staring at the tiled floor, the dark oak walls with their decorative carvings, and the elegant ceiling with its chandelier she could hear the sound of rock music and gun shots a few rooms away. His sons, seventeen year old twins, entertaining themselves. A new sound. Her cell phone vibrating off the marble counter of the table in the middle of the room. It was her mother.

"Hello," she answered dully.

"Violet, it's mom."

"I know. I can read."

"Something's happened to dad."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Difficult Subject by Devon Tavern

Cam is abducted by an alien species with a penchant for being much too honest in Devon Tavern's funny sci-fi short.

Cam snapped harshly to consciousness. He was naked on a cold metal table, his hands and feet bound to the table. A harsh bright light shone in his face.

"Where am I? What is going on here?" he shouted into darkness all around him.

"And we're back at the start," a disembodied voice in the distance said. "Sir, we need to do some tests. I have a few people in line in front of you. I'm going as fast as I can. You'll just have to be patient."

"I don't want to be patient and I don't want to be your patient. If you can't get to me now, I'll just go away and come back." Cam rattled at his bonds.

A shadowed figure stood over him. "I know this sucks but there is nothing I can do. You don't respond to the anesthetic like the general population. You're supposed to be unconscious and immobile."

"So, I'm trapped here like an animal waiting for you to run tests against my will?"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Last Pub Til Earth by John Sims

An enterprising pair of spacers open a pub in the orbit of Jupiter; by John Sims.

Jerry Mandarin sat at the interface of The Two Tuns, groaning, the pub's low ceiling making him look even bigger and taller than he was. His business partner Walt was reminded of one of those fishing gnomes you used to see in gardens - back in the 21st century when people still had gardens.

Above the door was a beautifully painted sign, with a picture of Earth, stating: The To Tons. Last Pub Before Earth. Proprietors: Jerry Mandarin and Walter Bixby Wiley. The sign-writer was cheap. He was also dyslexic. Walt liked it all the same; he was like that, he could accept imperfection, whereas Jerry was a real perfectionist and the sign irritated him. That made Walt like it even more.

Jerry groaned again.

"Are you looking at Trilaxian porn again?" said Walt while he polished the bar with real beeswax-based polish, a remnant of the days before the great bee disappearance. Walt didn't subscribe to the theory that the bees were aliens and had simply gone home.

He found the smooth natural wood comforting. He wasn't keen on simulated wood. Nothing simulated for Walt Wiley, he was an old-fashioned sort of guy and proud of it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Hitman and the Tea Lady by Rob Boffard

Rob Boffard tells the story of a hitman transporting grisly evidence of his latest job; all is going well until he dares to cross the tea lady.

Nobody had noticed the eyeball at the bottom of the coffee cup. Certainly not the man sitting opposite Halloram on the train. The man was reading the Financial Times over the top of his glasses, and when he'd sat down at Doncaster he hadn't even glanced at the empty cup on the table in front of him. He was sipping his own coffee, limpid-brown stains already showing through the flimsy cardboard, taking small, measured sips through the tiny hole on the lid. Halloram wondered if he should ask if he could borrow the man's cup lid when he was done.

It was, Halloram reflected, a bit unusual that he'd be carrying around an eyeball in a coffee cup. Even for him. But he'd needed to get the damn thing back to London and it had been quite slimy in his fingers and he'd just finished drinking his cup of equally slimy Starbucks, so... Anyway, he'd thought as he'd boarded the quiet carriage in Edinburgh, probably nobody'll notice. He'd only been a little bit surprised when they hadn't.

The eyeball wobbled from side to side as the train rumbled over the tracks, tethered to the bottom of the cup by its shiny nerve and a meniscus of unfinished coffee. Its original owner was now lying in a field outside Edinburgh, quite dead. That was what a point-blank headshot did to a person, and at least, Halloram pondered, the man wasn't alive with the knowledge that his eye was flying away from him at about a hundred miles an hour. That'd really do your head in.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Downsizing Graham by Bruce Harris

The Chief Executive calls in his Head of Security with some bad news, but things don't go as planned in Bruce Harris's satire of management speak.

Howard Belton, Chief Executive, stood looking over the pleasantly landscaped grounds surrounding the Company HQ. While he regarded the buildings themselves as somewhat uninspired, the thoughtful arrangements of trees and shrubs, with cleverly concealed pathways, water features and tasteful flower beds between his own offices and the main administrative buildings, had always struck him as constituting a fundamentally valid and stimulating workplace environment, with the added symbolism of being able to oversee, in fact as well as function, the whole operation, as it were, whenever inspiration was required. Mrs. Phipps, his current secretary, an attractive if limited woman, habitually called it 'rather nice.'

The man he was about to interview was approaching the building at that moment, appearing and disappearing behind here a tree, there a water feature, and the CE watched him with distaste. He did try to avoid personal dislike of departmental chiefs if at all possible, feeling that colleague tension did so inhibit harmonisation of performance, but the man in question was not easy to like. His height, Belton conceded to himself even if he would never do so publicly, was something of an issue to begin with; Belton was a small, dark, aggravated looking man with fussy black spectacles and quick, slightly camp movements, while the approaching Head of Security, Graham Foster, was a tall, powerful, militaristic creature with a severe hair cut almost to his scalp and an authoritative, challenging manner of address which the CE often found prejudicial to successful collegiate discourse. Fortunately, the many courses and seminars he had been able to attend over the years had provided him with a rich and easily accessed source of helpful guidelines, 'parameters for negotiating successful bondings between the sometimes antagonistic dimensions of maximised institutional performance and staff job satisfaction quotients.'

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pedicab by Gary Ives

Gary Ives' characterful pedicab driver gets a dream fare.

I won't tell you which city the events in this story occurred. It was Christmas time, someplace far away, okay? You'll understand. Call me Andy. I'm a 23 year old healthy dude and a licensed pedicab operator which means I haul fat-assed tourists around in a fucking basket. The dozen pedicabs which are the company I once worked for are owned by an oriental sleaze bag who also owns a payday loan and pawn shop next to a fleabag hotel in the bad part of downtown. Pedicab central is the alley behind this shop. The way it works for him is that he rents his pedicabs to us operators. He never misses an opportunity to scam drivers, sometimes charging us extra claiming imaginary damage to the bike or that we were late in returns. He constantly hits on the girl drivers who consequently never last long. When business is good with lots of tourists in town during good weather, he'll ratchet up the rental prices. Sometimes he fines us.

"I saw you eating in pedicab. You can no eat in my pedicab. Fine ten dollah!"

Whether we had a good shift or bad he got his lucre. I hated the fat sonofabitch. And I'd already decided that after the Christmas season I was movin' to Hawaii and I'd saved almost enough for the tickets. Pedicab business in Honolulu is phat.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mmmna by Michael C Keith

Amy tries to find the source of an inexplicable sound in Michael C Keith's quick sci-fi.

For many days, my brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being.
- William Wordsworth

The first time Amy heard the odd sound she ignored it. The second time, however, it aroused her curiosity, and she looked out the window. Yet nothing in the yard appeared different or out of place. But how would it look if the source of the sound had been there? she wondered. It was an unidentifiable noise, nothing she could associate with anything she knew - a sort of half-human, half-mechanical interjection into the early evening stillness.

Amy attempted to reproduce the peculiar sound. "Urrra... no, ennna, nope... Vrrra." She pursed her lips and tried again. "Mmma. Almost. Mmmna. Yeah, that's it... Mmmna."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fat Men and Flying Saucers by Arthur Davis

Stubborn and lonely Texas rancher Claude Longly disbelieves his friend's claims of seeing a flying saucer; by Arthur Davis

Claude Longly sat hovering over his second cup of coffee of the evening in one hand and the second cigarette of his third pack of the day between the thick, stained brown fingers of the other. He had long ago rationed himself to three cups in the evening and it was only eight o'clock. There were four or five hours of life left to go in the day and he had no idea how he was going to make it through with these self-imposed restrictions as he unfolded the summer 1967 edition of Briggs' Western European Bride's Registry.

He patted down the dog-eared magazine as though it were a piece of precious art. A tingle sparked in his fifty-four year-old cobweb crisscrossed crotch. The international guide to what some might refer to as a catalogue for the social deviant was Claude's, all two hundred sixty-eight pounds of him, link to the fantasy fabric of his very private world.

Jimmy-Dean Stiles sang on in that distinct, homespun twang over the portable radio sitting on the kitchen table. Stiles had been a sensation when he first appeared on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry back in 1963. Bouts with drugs and alcohol plagued him until his death at the age of 26, after which his two albums had become prized collectibles. Claude listened for a second to the end of his favorite tune. It was about a range-hand who was contemplating his last lost love, the one he might someday have and the possibility of losing that woman too because of his cowboy ways. Claude understood human flaws were as natural as dirty fingernails and trail dust. And in his world, you couldn't avoid either.

"Hey, you fat ugly bastard," the voice echoed in from the front yard of his house, "Get out here and let's get going."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Barong and Rangda Do Battle In Missouri by Mark Rigney

An art museum curator's daughter is intrigued by a shipment of powerful ancient Balinese masks; by Mark Rigney.


Precious few immortals dwelt on the planet, but even Mother Sea and Father Sky agreed that there had always been Barong. This pleased Barong enormously, for she enjoyed her exalted status and mighty reputation. Unfortunately, as seemed to be the case so often in modern times, she was currently trussed up in a box, bound with packing tape and string and surrounded by little white pebbly objects which she'd heard some fool baggage handler refer to as "peanuts." Worse, there was a human woman, a very pallid, white-skinned specimen, peering down with the sort of detached, academic hmmm that Barong hated even more than she hated Rangda the Witch, her sworn enemy for as long as the stars should dance in their places. Was this woman, perchance, a trick of Rangda's, a spirit sent to drown Barong's will and sap her strength? The woman certainly wore peculiar clothes, very sheer and tight-fitting. And that color! With a complexion like hers, did she really believe she looked good in such a weak and watery green?

"Mommy, what's inside?" cried a voice, a voice which came from beyond and just below the circumference of the lid. "What is it? Can I take it out?"

Ah, thought Barong, a child!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Border by C Wait

James and Angela trek through the jungle to reach the border, but a dangerous animal roams this land; by C Wait.

They pushed for the border, two days straight, and the heat was stifling. James felt it resting on his skin, sinking and twisting inside him. Back in El Salvador the locals told him this was the most dangerous kind of heat. It followed a man with purpose. With intent.

He and Angela both shouldered heavy canvas packs. They trekked through tall ferns and roots, rocks and mud. The soil was moist. Heat lingered above it, like the air above a fire pit and it felt just as hot.

There was an animal stalking their tracks. Angela noticed it, too. Her eyes flicked over her shoulder every time a branch would snap and the jungle fell silent in response. They could hear the animal's movements with the wind. Its loud, throaty growl carried along on the breeze and the smell of heated fur, stinking jowls, was a pungent marker of its pace.

James's head pounded. His breaths magnified in his ears as they stumbled through dense overgrowth, straining forward but not yet ready to run.

"It's closing in on us."

"The river's not much further. Up there..."

His voice fell away when he saw them: bodies. Two, a man and a woman it seemed, but it was hard to tell because of how they'd been ripped apart. Bright red blood, arterial blood, lay like a sheen of paint on their muddled carcasses. A tuft of auburn hair lay in the grass nearby. So much like Angela's...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Daily Life in Ancient America (From a Report to the Intergalactic Exploration Society) by Fred Russell

Fred Russell transcribes an anthropological report from an alien culture far in the future, analysing American society at the turn of what we call the 21st century.

The planet Earth, as we all know, is the third body in the so-called solar system of the galaxy referred to by its former inhabitants as the Milky Way. That there are similar systems throughout this galaxy is common knowledge. The current Report sums up the fifth season of excavations on this dead planet, confining itself to the region known in local parlance as "America," or, in other sources, "the United States of America." And while the primitive beings who populated this region are no different in essential features from those who inhabited other regions of the planet, our finds have made it possible to speculate more boldly about a number of questions that have occupied researchers for eons. These concern, first and foremost: 1) the age-old question of a possible evolutionary link between these beings and ourselves, as farfetched as such a link has always seemed, given the enormous distance and span of time that separate us; 2) the relationship between the two species of intelligent life uncovered on the planet; 3) the relationship between these species and the drones who served them in the peculiar society that prevailed there.

The chief inhabitants, and certainly the rulers, of the planet Earth can best be described, in physical terms, as rather squat in appearance and possessing a single large eye which was apparently the seat of their intelligence. It was through this all-seeing eye that the activities of the servile drones were monitored and controlled, the latter being instructed minutely and continuously in everything that pertained to their lives. Fortunately we are in possession of both written and recorded materials relating to both masters and slaves and can now decipher their primitive language, or at least the language by which masters and slaves communicated with one another if not among themselves. This is largely a result of the work done on the thousands of so-called Coca-Cola cans now housed in the Museum of Galactic History which displays a variety of scripts that have been definitively collated to furnish our first insight into the structure of the American language. Having ascertained that the cans contained an acidic liquid that the drones were instructed to imbibe, conceivably as a means of pacifying them, researchers were able to decipher two words - "drink" and "refreshes" - that in effect made it possible to arrive at a full understanding of the system of meanings attached to the various combinations of symbols in this language.