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Tag Archives: sci-fi

Kas worked her ass off to get to go off-world with the Scholarium’s archaeology survey. The chance to go see old Earth and study some ancient mech programming code was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a third-wave scholar. She was expecting to be cut off from network connectivity while on Earth, thanks to the toxic malware datasphere surrounding the planet. She was expecting to spend her week there helping the first and second-wave scholars like Gneisin collect data. She was expecting to see mech pilots using the ancient combat suits they had come to study to do battle in the Drome.

She was not expecting Zhi.

Zhi caught her by surprise, tricked Kas into using the Scholarium’s credit line to place a bet on a mech battle she was competing in. The young pilot had debts to cover, and a rich-looking off-worlder was a perfect mark for her plan. Bet big, beat Custis and his shitty slow DreadCarl, and use the profits to get parts to improve her own mech. Nothing to it. It’s just that the House will force her to pilot mechs for them for the rest of her life if she loses this time.

Now Kas and Zhi’s fates are intertwined. Kas can’t afford to lose the Scholarium’s money, and Zhi can’t afford to lose her next fight. The two young women must pool their skills and knowledge, with everything hinging on a piece of technology that hasn’t functioned in hundreds of years. Winning against Custis and taking down the House will take everything they have, and they’ll not survive to get a second shot.

Hard Reboot is a fast-paced novella from Django Wexler, author of The Forbidden Library series. The worldbuilding is incredibly deep in a handful of paragraphs, with hints about what happened to the Earth in the intervening centuries. The mech battles have a weight to them that lets you feel each collision. The development of the bond between Kas and Zhi is spectacular, too, with neither of them knowing how to interact with each other at the outset. I raced through the book in a couple of hours and was left hungry for more.

Django Wexler’s Hard Reboot is available on May 25th. My utmost thanks to Netgalley and Tor.com for the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Dr. Ryland Grace is having a rough day.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly.

He doesn’t remember his own name, for one thing. He doesn’t know who he is, or where he is, or how he got there. But he knows some things. He knows that when he woke up, there were two dead bodies on the table-beds next to his. He knows that there’s a robot that has been taking care of him, and that refuses to let him leave the room until his memory starts to come back.

Soon, he learns that he’s alone on a spaceship, the other two members of the crew having not survived the induced coma they were put into before their voyage. He’s somewhere outside of Earth’s solar system. How does he know that he’s not in our solar system anymore? Science! Whoever he is, Dr. Grace is a hell of a scientist, and the ship he’s on is equipped for a lot of science. As he slowly recovers his memories of the time he spent on Earth prior to his journey, he pieces together a lot.

Once a prominent microbiologist, Dr. Grace left academia to become a junior high science teacher. When an alien microorganism is discovered feeding on the light and energy of the sun, he’s drafted into Project Hail Mary, an international cooperative effort to find a way to study this “astrophage” and prevent it from ending life as we know it on Earth. Chapters alternate between Dr. Grace’s flashbacks to his time as a consultant on the astrophage and the development of the ship to his present timeline somewhere in orbit around Tau Ceti. Now with no crewmates, Dr. Grace has to solve the mystery of the astrophage and find a way to get that data back to Earth. No pressure, right? And just because the other humans aboard the Hail Mary are dead doesn’t mean he’s alone…

Andy Weir is back, y’all. The author of The Martian and Artemis has a new novel out today, and damn if it isn’t a fun ride. For fans who like a little more science (okay, a lot more) in their science fiction, this one’s for you. Project Hail Mary is a fantastic bit of mystery, with an amnesiac narrator on a mission to save the world. After a bit of a stumble with his second novel (Artemis was fun too, but there was some struggle with writing a realistic female perspective), Mr. Weir has returned to the form that made me fall in love with his writing, despite the mathematics throughout. Let’s face it. I switched from studying engineering to English after 2 months for a reason.

My sincere thanks to NetGalley for the eARC of Project Hail Mary in exchange for a fair review.

Murderbot is back!

Martha Wells has crafted another spectacular novella in the Murderbot Diaries series. Taking place between the events of Exit Strategy and Network Effect, Fugitive Telemetry is another solid adventure for everyone’s favorite misanthropic SecUnit.

While trying to settle in aboard Preservation Station as Dr. Mensah’s bodyguard, Murderbot is having a difficult time adjusting. It’s not that it isn’t relatively happy to be somewhere outside of the Corporation Rim. It’s that Station Security isn’t pleased with the idea of a rogue SecUnit wandering around. With the various agreements in place to allow Murderbot to keep its freedom, it has almost no access to the security systems that it would normally rely on to do its job. No hacking of the station SecSystem, only a handful of drones to be able to deploy…

All of these things aren’t a real problem, as Dr. Mensah is fairly safe from Corporate assassination attempts on Preservation Station. This far from their territory, real action against her is unlikely. However, everything gets turned upside down when a dead body is found on board. There’s been a murder on the station, and Station Security needs Murderbot’s help to solve the mystery of who killed our victim and why. No witnesses, no camera footage, no DNA evidence. With only limited resources at its disposal, Murderbot must find a killer who might be a true rival in covering their tracks.

I love the Murderbot Diaries, y’all. I’ve read every one of these books since I first heard about All Systems Red back in 2017 and I have never been disappointed. Fugitive Telemetry is available on April 27th. If you’re a sci-fi fan, or just love mysteries, check it out.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Emily Skrutskie has a knack for queer YA sci-fi, and Bonds of Brass, out today, is no exception. This novel starts with a bang and builds up to the first kiss.

Seven years ago, the Umber Empire crushed the Archon Empire in a victory that shattered the capital world of Rana. As a way of cementing their hold on the planet, the Umber Empire established a military academy there. Two years ago, an Archon survivor named Ettian joined the academy, quickly rising through the ranks to become the top pilot in his class. His roommate (and crush), Gal, is a decent pilot himself, but tends to have his mind elsewhere.

Ettian’s world comes crashing down around him (and not for the first time) when, in the middle of flight exercises, 2/3 of his squadron abandons their planned formation to attempt to shoot Gal out of the sky. During a desperate attempt to save his best friend, Ettian learns the truth of Gal’s identity: he is the heir to the Umber Empire’s throne. Forced to flee the academy, Ettian and Gal begin to piece together a plan to return to the Umber capital, but there are lots of secrets both young men have been keeping from the other. If they’re going to survive long enough for Gal to take the Umber throne, they’re going to have to start talking.

Bonds of Brass is a strong first entry in a planned trilogy, with loving nods to Star Wars (the obvious parallels to Finn and Poe), Firefly, and more along the way. Skrutskie’s love of these characters is evident, and her action sequences and humor blend seamlessly. I eagerly look forward to the next entry.

 

Thank you to NetGalley for providing the eARC of Bonds of Brass in exchange for a fair review.

So, Chris Kluwe wrote a novel. And you know something? It was pretty damn good.

I picked up an eARC of Otaku a while back, courtesy of the fine folks at NetGalley, and I was very impressed by Kluwe’s fiction debut. While it wasn’t the first time he’d published a book, Otaku was a bold step in a new creative direction.

In a world ravaged by the Water Wars (or the Dubs), only one thing keeps the general public entertained: Infinite Game. Infinite Game is the ultimate virtual reality experience, fully immersive, played in a full-body haptic feedback suit. Players strive for physical fitness because real world skills transfer one-to-one into gameplay. And in the world of Infinite Game, one guild stands above the rest: the Sunjewel Warriors. Their leader, Ashura the Terrible, is one of the top-ranked players in the world, and people in-game and out are willing to do whatever they can to stop her. Threats of death and sexual violence follow her everywhere.

Ashura, aka Ashley or Ash, lives in Ditchtown, a series of massive towers that soar above the raging waters where Miami used to be. Her dad hasn’t been in the picture for years, and her mom was never the same after her time fighting in the Dubs. Most of Ash’s income goes to paying for her mother’s treatment. Then there’s Kiro, Ash’s younger brother. A newbie in Infinite Game, Kiro is struggling to find his own place, outside of his sister’s long shadow. She’s doing well enough in Infinite Game, with her streams bringing in viewers (and revenue) like never before, but things are still hard. So, to supplement her game income, Ash occasionally engages in real-world operations. Working through some members of her mom’s old unit, she puts her Infinite Game skills to the test, flying drones, conducting recon missions, and so on. No one needs to know.

Things take a drastic turn when one of Ash’s guildmates, Brand, vanishes, only to reappear on the opposing side of one of Ash’s less-than-public missions. Sent to infiltrate a supply shipment, Ash finds haptic suit components that override the gamer’s own control, leading them out into the real world while still believing themselves to be immersed in Infinite Game. Soon, people are dying, and Ash and the rest of the Sunjewel Warriors are “recruited” to find out who is trying to turn gamers into their own private army.

Reminiscent of Ready Player One and Snow CrashOtaku is a great debut novel, full of clever technology, intense action, and badass women setting out to save the world. While Kluwe’s prose is not as strong as it has the potential to be, he’s off to a good start. His own experiences in online gaming (in World of Warcraft, League of Legends, etc.) and social media definitely shine through. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

A brief word of warning before the story itself begins. This was written for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. For this week’s challenge, we were given a list of 20 genres, and told to pick two of them (at random, or not) and mash them together to write a new story. Because I occasionally enjoy writing something for an older audience, I chose to write a story that was a blend of artificial intelligence sci-fi and BDSM erotica. In the following story, there will be graphic sexual content, and as such, I do not recommend it for readers under the age of 18.

* * *

Subroutines

Subroutine. noun sub·rou·tine \ ˈsəb-(ˌ)rü-ˌtēn \ A subordinate routine; specifically : a sequence of computer instructions for performing a specified task that can be used repeatedly (Merriam-Webster).

* * *

Mars had intrigued humanity since the earliest ancestors first looked up to the night sky. It was only natural for Earth’s inhabitants to move there as soon as technological advancements made life on its surface a possibility. When the shift from Luna happened, it was made reality with the assistance of numerous artificial intelligence constructs handling the logistics and heavy lifting. These AIs were based on accelerated deep learning networks, rapidly pushing from a childhood-like state to encyclopedic knowledge over the course of a few months, and they were able to quickly adapt to new tasks. For a while, all was well.

When the first Tharsis Colony was founded, however, the AIs began to break down. Shortly after reaching Mars, multiple constructs began circumventing their safety programming, and the results were nothing short of horrific. A handful of survivors managed to deactivate the rogue AIs and regain contact with Luna and Earth, and new plans to extend humanity’s reach were prepared.

New AIs were developed, but instead of being overloaded with information and responsibilities from day one, they were allowed to age naturally. The resulting maturity that they gained over decades of operation gave them an incredible stability that had been lacking in earlier generations. While they still learned more information and processed it faster than a human ever could, they still took in that information in the same way. Stretching the learning periods out allowed for safer development of the neural networks, and didn’t strain the hardware to the breaking point. Every effort was made to give them a sense of realism never before seen, mimicking body functions and behaviors, for full integration with human crew members. The new constructs were tested rigorously, and proved that they were not going to be prone to the errors of their predecessors. Most would be almost indistinguishable from their flesh and blood counterparts unless they desired otherwise. Soon, a new colonization mission was approved and scheduled.

Tharsis II was the pinnacle of achievement for humanity, a massive, sprawling colony on the surface of Mars, and a rapidly-growing home to almost ten thousand engineers, archaeologists, geologists, astronomers, biologists, and other scientists and support staff. Every major department in the city, for that’s what Tharsis was, had at least one AI assigned to it, and they all reported to Aurora.

* * *

In her office, Aurora glanced down at the tablet display in her hand. While she didn’t need to use one to visualize the data being fed to her from her subordinates, she found it made the humans around her more comfortable. It made transferring files between the organics and herself more familiar as well, as did her humanoid construct appearance. Technically, she was housed in server banks in secure cold rooms deep below the main colony, but the hard light display she projected in the halls of Tharsis was designed to interface with the colonists. She looked almost exactly like them. Perhaps it was a trace of vanity, but she preferred to have the shimmers of green, blue, and pink that made up her namesake swirl across the surface of her skin, an ever-shifting visible reminder that Aurora wasn’t actually human.

Everything seemed to be in order. Atmospheric levels were within acceptable parameters, and all of the research teams were reporting in with no troubles for the day. Communications and additional supplies from Earth had arrived and been distributed. A small disturbance at a nearby bar had been handled by security forces with no injuries to any party. A good way to finish her work week. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow as her assistant, a young human named Ven, approached her.

“Long day, ma’am?” Ven asked.

“No more so than usual, Ven. Thank you for asking.”

“I think we’re all set here, ma’am,” Ven said, handing Aurora a second tablet.

She looked at Ven’s report, signed her approval on it, and passed it back to her. “Well done, Ven. We’ll be transferring oversight to Blackwell for the weekend.” At Aurora’s mention, a second construct coalesced into solid form in the office, tall, translucent, and dressed in the standard white Tharsis jumpsuit.

“You called?” Blackwell said.

“Just making sure you were here before I left for the weekend, Blackwell. Thank you,” Aurora responded.

“Any big plans for your days off?”

“Just the usual, Blackwell. Avoiding you.”

“Heh. Enjoy it then, Aurora. I promise that Tharsis will be as you left it when you return,” the other AI replied. “Tell Colin I said hello. I heard he was rather tied up last weekend when I was going to stop by.”

Ven stifled a laugh as Aurora’s luminescent skin flashed briefly crimson.

“Fuck you, Blackwell,” she said. “And goodnight to you too, Ven.”

“Goodnight, ma’am.”

* * *

Aurora came home from work that night to find Colin naked in their bed, waiting for her.

“So, are we still on for tonight?” he asked. His green eyes glinted, reflecting Aurora’s own light back at her.

“If you are, my love. It is what we decided for this weekend, remember?”

“Is that what you were planning to wear?”

Aurora was still in her work uniform, a white jumpsuit emblazoned with the Tharsis II insignia. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, dearest, not at all. Just not quite the role I was expecting you in tonight.” He grinned up at her.

Colin had been her coworker at the Tharsis colony for twenty years now, and lover for half that time. If anyone on Mars was anywhere near Aurora’s equal, it was he. Two decades on Mars had brought them closer together than anyone would’ve imagined. Ten years learning everything they could about each other’s fears, hopes, and desires. They spent virtually all of their free time together, and there was no real way of keeping their relationship a secret. While some aspects of it could be kept more private, everyone knew they were together. “Hell,” Colin had once joked, “Blackwell probably knew we were sleeping together before we did.”

She laughed softly now and paused, a brief flicker in her image matrix as a new outfit coalesced around her. She stood several inches taller, thigh-high heeled boots worn over fishnet stockings, with a black corset and matching boyshorts completing her appearance. She quickly crossed the distance between them and pushed him down onto the bed, his long brown hair cascading around him.

“You remember your safeword?” she asked.

“I do.”

“You do what?”

“I do, goddess.”

“That’s better. Mind your tongue when you speak to me. Are you ready to begin, then?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I am, goddess.”

Aurora smiled. Soon, she stood above him, waist-length black hair pulled back in an elegant braid. A leather collar dangled from her left hand, and leather flogger in the right.

“Kneel.”

“Yes, goddess.” He knelt on the bed in front of her, gazing up into her eyes as she placed the flogger beside him, and gently draped the cool leather of the collar across the back of his neck. He shivered as she fastened it and gave the ring on the front a quick tug.

“Is that comfortable?”

“Yes, goddess,” he replied.

“Excellent. Now, be a good boy and lie down for me, face up.”

Colin nodded and did as he was told. Aurora retrieved her flogger and began to trace slow circles around his nipples with it. “You,” she said, “failed to address me correctly, twice.” Two quick cracks as the flogger came down on his chest. “You will not do so again.”

“No, goddess…”

“Very well. Now, I have other uses for your tongue, bitch.” Pulling her boyshorts down and kicking them aside, she straddled him, lowering her pussy over his face. “Worship me. Pleasure me until I tell you to stop.”

Colin licked expertly at her cunt, long slow strokes at first, gradually picking up speed. He deftly circled near her clitoris, taking as much time as he dared before dipping his tongue deeper into Aurora.

Moaning softly, she spread her knees wider, grinding down onto Colin’s face. “Oh, fuck yes…” Aurora ran her fingers into his hair and twisted through it, pulling as his tongue found her clit. “Right there, you little slut. Just like that…” Colin resumed his long circling strokes, pushing into her pussy again and tasting her subtle sweetness on his tongue before pressing on her clit yet again.

Aurora shuddered at his ministrations, collecting herself long enough to push off of Colin’s face. Her lover gasped for his first full breath in several minutes as she shifted her legs and moved to stand beside the bed again. “Not your best work,” she smirked. “But not bad either.” Grabbing the ring on his collar, she pulled him into a sitting position and kissed him, tasting her own juices on his lips.

“Are you ready for me to fuck you now?” She reached down and lightly stroked his cock. “That definitely got you nice and hard,” Aurora grinned. “What do you say, my love?”

“Yes, please goddess,” Colin gasped.

“Good. You wait right there.”

She stepped away from the bed and reappeared a moment later, a large silicon dildo and a bottle of lube in hand. Her body shimmered again, a strap-on harness now present around her waist. Seeing the expression on Colin’s face, she chuckled again. “I said I was going to fuck you. I didn’t specify the how, did I?”

“No, goddess.”

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“No, goddess. I’ve missed your cock in me.”

“Good boy. Now, roll over so I can fuck you like the little bitch you are.” Aurora slipped the dildo through the harness ring and started coating it generously with lube.

As Colin knelt on his hands and knees, Aurora climbed back onto the bed behind him, pressing the tip of her cock against his ass. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, goddess.” He looked back at her over his shoulder, adoration in his eyes as she slid halfway into him. Colin whimpered as the dildo stretched him, moaning Aurora’s name when the second thrust brought her hips flush against him.

“Are you going to cum for me?” She began to thrust in earnest, rapid and shallow strokes alternating with slow, deep ones until her lover was trembling beneath her.

“May I, goddess?”

“Oh, yes. Come for me, you little bitch.”

Colin shuddered, his cock spurting onto the sheets as his orgasm rocked his body. As Aurora slid her strap-on free, he collapsed on the bed. “Thank you, goddess…”

“Such a good little slut,” Aurora purred.

Minutes later, they lay together on the bed, cuddling in the afterglow. “That was amazing, my love,” Colin murmured.

“Thank you for being willing to try new things,” she replied. “I’m so grateful to my programmers for allowing so much flexibility in my code. And to yours, too.”

Colin wrapped his arms around his fellow construct and pressed his face into her shoulder. “Programming notwithstanding. If I hadn’t met you, I never would’ve realized that I’m a sub.”

“I love you, you little bitch.”

“I love you too.”

The following flash fiction piece was written for the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, in which we were given several titles to choose from and write a story to fit that title. Here’s “Still Turnstiles at Station 6.”

 

“For the last fifty years, we’ve been the main entry point for immigrants. Station 6 has welcomed offworlders since the colonies first opened to the general population. However, with the completion of construction on a new series of landing zones via Phobos and Deimos, Station 6 will be transferring operations to these new lunar facilities, and begin shutting down. This shutdown will be gradual, taking place over the next solar cycle. We are proud to have been your Gateway to Mars.”

“How many people are losing their jobs because of this?”

“None. Every Station 6 employee is being offered transfer to operations on the lunar stations. Thanks to an incredible amount of cooperation from the colonial governors on both Phobos and Deimos, funding has been secured to ensure the employment of every single person here continues as long as they desire to keep doing their jobs.”

“What will become of Station 6, then?”

“We’ll begin the process of decommissioning her once the transition to lunar operations is complete. We expect that to take place over the next five to ten years. The oversight council has been working very hard to establish a full schedule. We are talking about taking multiple reactors offline, safely removing the fuel, disposing of it properly, and so on. It’s not something that can happen overnight. On the plus side, the process of decommissioning Station 6 will add an additional thousand jobs to the workforce within the next year. We’re very positive that the shift to the Phobos and Deimos stations will be a much-needed boost for Martian colonists.”

“And once the site is cleared?”

“We’ve been in talks to turn it into an orbiting museum. It would be an ideal site to showcase the history of humanity’s move from Earth. The early rovers from the old NASA operations have small museums near the locations where they ceased to function. It makes sense that Station 6 should hold the same place in our history. For now, though the lines here will slow, and the good folks on our staff will be here until the turnstiles are still.”

“Well, that certainly sounds like an ambitious plan, but I like the sound of it. We’ll be following this story as it develops. For Tharsis 7 News, I’m Ayana Cole.”

 

This one’s for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Writing Challenge. Our instructions were to write a sci-fi story about a dragon, only not necessarily a mythical one. It’s a short piece, well under the 2,000 word limit, but it was something that came to mind immediately after reading the challenge prompt.

“The Dragon”

 

“Are we starting?”

“Yes ma’am. We’re recording right now. You can start wherever you like.”

“I was there that day. They said that there’d been nothing like it since the old calendar, since the bombings on Earth. I never saw footage of those, but I’ve heard statistics. It amaze me still to realize that we used to live in such numbers that the loss of a couple hundred would be considered relatively insignificant. That that could’ve been the better option. I don’t know what exactly this new weapon was. Just the name all of the news outlets on the colony gave it. The dragon.”

***

“Yes, she was the first one to call it that on the intrasystem media. I asked her about it afterward. She said it seemed like a good fit. Something so destructive that it couldn’t possibly be real. She was never the same after that day. Nightmares kept her from sleeping, and eventually she just… she couldn’t stop seeing them.”

***

“What do you remember most about that day?”

“The smell. I’ll never forget the smell. Melting metal, charred flesh. I can’t eat barbecue anymore. The masks could only filter out so much, and we didn’t have them for the first wave. And the heat. Even when we got the bunker gear, we couldn’t stay on site for too long. Dozens of folks were dropping just from the heat.”

“You were with the first responders?”

“We all were. There weren’t enough of us. We didn’t have adequate supplies, or enough people. How can you plan for a disaster on that sort of scale when there’s been nothing like it used for centuries?”

“Had you ever seen footage of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

“Once, when I was a kid. They told us that no one had ever done anything on that sort of a destructive scale since. People kept pointing to those two bombs as one of the worst things that humanity ever did to itself. I wish they’d been right, that we’d never come up with anything worse.”

“You said supplies were inadequate too. Would you like to elaborate?”

“Well, there was no way we’d ever have the rescue equipment or the medical supplies to treat burns of that intensity on that large of a site. No colony would. The governors would never allow the funding for recovery for a disaster that they couldn’t foresee, and half of them are too young to have learned about the bombings back on Earth. They’d dismiss them out of hand and say that we should be prepped for real emergencies. Loss of atmosphere, gravity failure. Things that you expect to happen on an orbiting colony. Not the heat, not a fire so sudden and massive that it burns through 85% of your oxygen supply in a matter of seconds. Not some lunatic trying to hurt or kill everyone. We were damn lucky we didn’t lose the whole colony.”

“But you kept trying, despite being understaffed and under-supplied?”

“We had to. 12 hour shifts and then some, to start. You know how critical the first hours are in a recovery effort. More people died, but we kept trying. We had to, damn it. We had to know that we were doing our best. It was the only way we could keep going.”

***

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted it. My understanding is that the work on the project was so compartmentalized that no one team could’ve put together a solid idea of the whole. Different groups of engineers and scientists working on components on different planets and colonies. No communications other than what was absolutely necessary would’ve been allowed. Tell one team they’re working on one project under one code name. Take their work and have an unaffiliated group start working on it from there under a different code name. Never let the right hand know what the left is doing, you know.”

“Hence why there couldn’t be a contingency in place.”

“Exactly. No one knew what The Dragon was capable of. Just that it was a dangerous weapon.”

“And someone set it off in the middle of a civilian population center.”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe the attack itself was premeditated?”

“We’re done here.”

***

“How many people died?”

“In the initial burst? Estimates say over half a million. The Dragon’s Breath, the mishmash of various ailments people caught in the aftermath is still killing people. Nearly double that.”

“Do you honestly believe it was an accident that the weapon was discharged on the colony?”

“I’d like to believe that, but the investigation is ongoing.”

“Thank you for your time.”

Today’s entry is a response to the latest Terrible Minds Writing Challenge, and comes to you courtesy of the wonderful Chuck Wendig. We were instructed to choose a word from each of two columns of ten words. These two words would give us our title for a thousand-word story. From there, we were free to choose genre, setting, etc. so long as the title was composed of those two randomly selected words. It is with great pleasure that I present to you “The Apocalypse Mechanism.”

“The Apocalypse Mechanism”

I found myself hypnotized by the button. It sat there all day, just peeking up at me from beneath its warning label-emblazoned plastic cover. The labels said “Do Not Push”. The button seemed to say the exact opposite, but I knew what would happen if I pressed it. Hell, the alarm system would engage the second the cover was flipped open
(I wanted to push it)

and that couldn’t even be accomplished without two keys, only one of which was ever in my possession at any given time.

So I stared at it. Me versus the button. The greatest showdown never to be broadcast live on television, though one documentary maker had come down to film my little chamber about a year and a half after I started. Our little chamber, I suppose. Marco and I took turns. I don’t know if he stared at the button the way I did
(I wanted to push it)

like I was looking deep into the eyes of the lover I could never have. We never talked about it. He only spoke Italian, and I only spoke English. He had the other key. I wore mine around my neck. I think he did too, but again, we didn’t exactly have the best of conversations, or any conversations, for that matter. Language barriers and whatnot. Pretty sure the guys upstairs planned it that way, but there’s no way for me to know for certain.

The chair was pretty comfortable, so I guess you could say it was a cushy job. I mean, how many gigs can you find where you get paid a shit-ton of money to sit in a big chair and wait patiently for nothing to happen? Not many. This one was one of a kind, too. It was an armchair, too, not a desk chair or anything like that. Designed for me and me alone. There was a matching one opposite mine, made for Marco, and we never sat in each other’s. We wouldn’t have been comfortable. That was the way it was designed. I asked once what would happen if one of us had been killed, and the only response I’d gotten was an offhand comment about having to draft a plan for a new chair.

The button was green. That really threw me off the first time I sat in that chair. I’d been expecting red when they gave me the breakdown of the job. It just seemed logical that a button that could end the world would be red, you know? Nope. Green. Big and friendly, almost a neon green, like it was telling you “Don’t Panic” or something. Like it wanted to be pushed. I’m fairly certain it did, because then it would’ve been all over, but when I mentioned that to the staff psychologist, he said I was just projecting.

The button was only part of it, of course. The room wasn’t built to house anything, it was everything. The whole complex I worked in was the device, and the room with my little chair and my big friendly “Do Not Push” button
(oh, gods I wanted to push it)

was only a little chamber, a tiny fraction of the thing they called “The Apocalypse Mechanism.” Designed by the most brilliant minds on the planet, top to bottom, including my chair. I can’t call them the best minds, because if the best minds had been around at that point, it wouldn’t have come to the building of that damned thing. The best minds would have been able to come up with something better, a plan that wouldn’t involve Earth being sacrificed.

Still, the minds we had left were brilliant. They had taken good care of them in the facilities back in Russia. Neat little rows of jars, cleanly labeled, and so on and so forth. I’d actually gotten a tour of the place a few years before I got my button-watching job. A cold set of shelves, but like I said, they held the most brilliant minds left on Earth. They put them to use, and away we went, letting them design the mechanism that would allow us to hide our tracks completely.

Marco and I each worked on ten hour shifts. Ten hours on, ten hours off. Since we were underground, it didn’t really matter much to us that we didn’t see daylight. What was left to see on the surface anyway? Nothing I hadn’t seen before. Nothing I wanted to see again. Ten hours sitting, waiting for the word that it was time to wake the other, time to use the keys, time to release the plastic cover, time to push the big green button.

It would mean that the world would end. Earth would be destroyed, and the home of the human race would be lost to history forever. Marco and I would have no choice but to stay behind, of course. As far as I knew, he was just like me. No family, nothing left. No reason for us to be on the ships that would be setting course for the colony worlds far from our solar system. My button was the trigger. I held one of the two keys that would prevent anyone or anything from taking our home and using its resources against us. The Apocalypse Mechanism. The ultimate in scorched earth tactics.

I stared at the button for a lot of my shifts. I could have read, I suppose, or listened to music, but I couldn’t help myself. I knew that I’d have to push it one day. I could feel that from day one, so I stared at the button. I stared at it for five years, ten hours at a time.

Until now. Until the alerts. Too many ships still orbiting, trying to leave. Too many people still in range. No way to protect them now. No choice. I call Marco. We draw out our keys, unlock the cover.
(I don’t want to)

We push it together.

Here’s my entry for Trifecta Week 97. We were asked to use the word “ass” in a postpositive sense. Having fun with that one yet? It means that I got to write a story with “dumb-ass” as a key word. It’s short (333 words, so long-ish for Trifecta) and a little silly, but here, nonetheless, is “Stranded.”

“You know, sir,” Nolan said, finally finding his voice. “Dumb-ass over there has a point. If we don’t get back in the next three hours, the ship will leave without us.”

“Yeah,” Beckett chimed in. “Because he’s the one who set the auto-pilot before leading us out on some wild-pteranodon chase.”

“I want a pteranodon,” Shyle murmured, continuing his doodle in the sand.

“Not the point, Shy. Also, Beckett? Weird expression. Don’t use it around Shyle again. You know how he gets. And Nolan?”

“Yessir?”

“You’re right. I hate to say it, but Harker’s right too. We’ve got to get in high gear if we’re going to make it back to the ship. Harker. How far off course are we? Never mind. Don’t talk. Beckett, ping the ship. Get us a route plotted, double time.”

“On it, sir.”

“Nolan?”

“Commander?”

“I don’t care if it’s true or not. Don’t call Harker a dumb-ass. He’s still a part of the team.”

“But he was wrong! There was nothing out here. Not a scrap of salvage. Nothing worth even making the trip, not to mention the risk of getting stranded.”

“Hey guys?” Beckett called. “I’ve got a course to the ship, but you’re not going to like it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, sir, take a look. According to Harker, we’ve now got under three hours to make it back to override the autopilot, right?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because according to the beacon, the ship is currently ten klicks farther than our original touchdown point. Which means either we’ve gone way past what our suit gauges say we’ve traveled, or…”

“Or someone’s moved the ship. Damn. Where’s a pteranodon when we need speed?”

“Said I couldn’t have one,” Shyle mumbled.

“Keep drawing, Shy. Where’s that leave us, Beckett?”

“In a word, sir? Screwed.”

“How screwed, scale of 1-10.”

“Shut up, Nolan. Go sit with Harker.”

“Uh, Commander?”

“What, Nolan?”

“Harker’s gone, sir.”

“Beckett?”

“Ship’s gone too.”

“Crafty son of a bitch…”

“Yes sir.”

“What now, Commander?”

“Hope for pteranodons.”