Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gametime by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

“Good morning, this is Excon Mining Corporation’s automated Human Resources Department. Please insert your resume disc at this time.”

Casey hated job interviews. The mental energy needed to sustain an aura of calm self-confidence, projecting what was hoped was the perfect potential employee, suppressing the latent dread of the inevitable surprise question. The viscreen before her lit up with the Excon company logo and a blue surveillance eye above it winked on. She was already feeling claustrophobic sitting inside the tiny cubicle.

“Resume downloading,” a clipped, synthetic voice intoned from somewhere. “Visual match for applicant correlates. Casey Greer: five foot, one inch tall, slender build, green eyes, brown hair usually worn in a ponytail. Technical license GS501A. Now accessing employment reference files.”

Casey cringed inwardly. She wondered if they had tracked down a few omissions on her resume. The shop steward she had punched out on Ganymede came to mind. Not to mention the jetwing repair facility where she had organized a walkout for higher wages. And a few other little digressions best forgotten.

“Well, on the plus side, Ms. Greer, you certainly are well qualified in environmental systems repair and pulsephase motor calibration.”

A long pause followed. The surveillance eye above the viscreen seemed to be probing her mind.

Casey smiled blandly upwards, glad she had taken the eyedrops to control involuntary retinal contraction. A trick question from left field had been her undoing at one interview.

“But then on the negative side….”

Here it comes. A trickle of sweat ran down her back.

“Most informative,” said the voice. “A distillation of the

remarks from past employers include opinionated, short-tempered,

lacking people skills and something of a loner.”

Casey swallowed hard, scrambling mentally for a convincing rebuttal.

“That could also indicate I’m a perfectionist at my work.” She grinned tightly. “Besides, opinions are like you-know-what, everybody has one.”

“In fact, it would seem you are just the type we are looking for.”

“Excuse me?”

“Automine Station IVL, Planet DBXIV, on the outer rim has an opening for an experienced service technician.”

The viscreen displayed two dome shaped buildings barely visible behind a driving snowstorm. Drifts packed up against the walls while huge icicles festooned rooftop antennae.

“Um…I don’t know…” She chewed her upper lip, taking in the scene. One of the icicles broke loose in the storm, shattering in glasslike fragments over the frozen ground.

“Standard remittance is forty-nine point five thousand credunits for a twelve month contract. At that time we will offer you employment at Excon’s new venture, the Eden Resort on Paradise Vacation Planet.”

An exotic tropical scene appeared. A surf washed beach running up to a lush jungle, white resort towers rising to a

sky of turquoise blue.

Casey gazed at the image and felt like drooling. “Planet DBXIV? When would you like me to report?”

“I am now inputting a reservation departing this afternoon for you at the Buzz Aldrin Memorial Spaceport, tube nine. Please place your palm on the lower half of the screen to finalize contract.”


“Have a nice trip.”

The viscreen went blank.

*  *  *

“-and here we have an exciting hologram of Excon’s automine on planet DBXIV. Situated on the outer rim of the Crabbe System, DBXIV was discovered by the famed company geologist Fulvus Barnsmellow who subsequently froze in a blizzard-“

Why did I sign that contract?

Casey slid her portascan shut, brooding in a neglected corner of the spaceport lounge. The answer was more than obvious. Being unemployed for five months after her sandcrawler service job was shut down by the Aghaid uprising on Satellite. Payments on her three year old jetstar convertible (since repossessed). Her mooching brother who “needed help getting his feet on the ground” after six months in rehab. She sighed despondently.

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing the Excon logo on your

coveralls.” A tall blonde wearing an executive jumpsuit stood looking down at her, smiling tentatively. “You one of the new hires?”

“As of today,” she nodded, taking in the broad shoulders and dark eyes. She really liked the eyes.

“Steve Coronado, New Earth.” He offered her his hand.

“Oh yeah? Casey Greer, same place,” she replied shaking his hand. “Well, just don’t stand there, take a pew. Misery loves company.”

He sat down beside her. “Somehow I take it you’re not too happy with your new assignment.”

“You could say that. How about you?”

“I’m the geologist for the new Excon research station team on Asteroid XXVI,” he replied with a trace of smugness. “At least it will be a team when they find me the service tech I’ve requested which meets my specifications.” He eyed the tool bag by her stacked luggage. “Looks like you’re a service tech yourself, huh?”

“That’s me. On my way to the automine on DBXIV.”

His smile faded. “Oh, there.”

Casey stared at him. “Whadya mean, ‘oh, there’.”

“You haven’t heard about the tech you’re replacing?”

“No. What about him?” she demanded.

“He went spacehappy nine months into his contract. They had

to invalid him off to the sanatorium on Dropoff,” he replied uneasily. “Bob Rackers. Pretty good guy, I hear. Used to play football for the Homeworld Astros. Took them all the way to the Superbowl on Omega Twelve.”

“Well, I suppose that could happen to anybody,” she found herself replying defensively. She could feel him studying her as a potential roommate for the unfortunate ex-tech Rackers on Dropoff. “Long way out on the rim, just yourself for company.”

“Yeah. I would guess that assignment would work for a sort of loner, someone who likes solitude. I mean, the kind of person who doesn’t play well with others-“He paused, finding himself under a basilisk gaze.

“Have anybody in mind?” she grated out.

“Gosh darn, I think I just heard them announce my liftoff number.” He hefted his luggage. “Good luck on your assignment, Ms. Greer. Gotta run!”

Casey watched him disappear in the crowd gathering about the departure tube.

“Doesn’t play well with others, huh?” she fumed.


The forktrack lowered the last crate of parts and supplies to the concrete floor and backed off, dropping checkered piles of melting snow from its treads. The warehouse reached upwards, a vast cavern lit by rows of podlights high overhead.

“Now here’s the shaft leading down into the mine.” Gabby leaned on the railing, pointing to a steel platform suspended by a collage of motors and pulleys. Drop cage’ll hold about a ton, but don’t be puttin’ much more on her. Long way down to the mine face.”

Casey shivered and pulled the parka tighter around her neck. The coming and goings of the forktrack through the warehouse slidegate had let in blasts of frozen air from the blizzard raging outside.

“Yep, its danged cold, all right,” said Gabby, noting her discomfort. “Luckily, no need to be outside, ‘less the telebeam goes on the fritz. And never go out after sundown. Temps can drop to eighty-five degrees below zero.”

She looked around, absorbing her new surroundings. Her gaze came to rest on four seated figures lined up on a steel bench. She walked over.

“Hey, a bunch of class D mechmen. Haven’t seen them in years.” They had the crudely stick human shape with cylindrical metal bodies and arms and legs of steel coil. Red eye sensors stared from blank faceplates above tiny speaker grills.

“Them’s your happy crew for the next twelve months.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully. “At least poor old Bob Rackers

remembered to put them on the chargers before he went… uh,


The forktrack backed through the slidegate past a swirl of wind-driven snow.

“Anyway,” he continued, “through that airlock is the lifedome. Living cubicle next to the operations center, autochef in the kitchen cubby, rec room with telescreen access to Homworld programs.”

Casey watched ice begin to skim over puddles on the warehouse floor. “Is it still too late to turn down this fabulous career opportunity?”

Gabby chuckled into his beard. “Well, that there’s the problem. Two ways off this ice cube. In the Houston, what drops by once a year. Or in what we call the coffin.”

“The what?”

“Over here, I’ll show you.”

It was, Casey saw, a standard hibernation capsule used for extended deep space trips standing in a vertical shaft extending to the roof of the warehouse.

“This here’s your emergency exit off DBXIV. Climb in, set the controls and an unmanned drone orbiting overhead picks you up on a magnetic beam and scoots you off to corporate headquarters.”

There was something more she could tell he was mulling over how to tell her. On a deep freeze like DBXIV the temptation just to say adios and blast off in the capsule as the long months went by.

“So what’s the weenie?” she asked.

“If you don’t have a valid reason- life threatening illness, bad injury, stuff like that- when your capsule reaches corporate they just scoot it off someplace worse. Or…” He looked sideways at her and made a face.

“Or what?”

“They sorta forget to take you outta hibernation. I hear they got a whole warehouse of hibernation units waitin’ to be ‘remembered’.” He pulled a package from a side pocket of his atmosphere suit and handed it to her.

“What’s this?” She turned it over and something inside gurgled pleasantly.

“A bottle of Emperion ’22, keep it to celebrate your last night on DBXIV,” he smiled. “Don’t tell nobody I gave it to you.”

Casey was touched by the gesture but the look in his eyes sent her a clear message.

“You poor bastard.”


The blizzard rattled ice crystals against the viewport and howled past the lifedome to worry the basalt cliffs surrounding it. Beyond the port in the warmth of the operations room a table was set for two, a candle guttering romantically. Casey watched the wineglasses being filled with an expert twist of the wrist at each pour.

“I do not recall zee label but I zinc le bouquet ees tres magnifique.”

“Glad you like it, Andre. I’ve been saving that bottle of Emperion ’22 for a special occasion.”

“A toast, then.” Their glasses clinked. “To zee wine, to us, and zee night ahead.”

Casey took a sip, studying the dark eyes and slightly mocking smile of the man in the tuxedo across the table. “Wild but beautiful night outside, wouldn’t you say?”

“But not as beautiful as you, mon cheri.” His hand covered hers. “As for zee wild, I zinc zat is for Andre to find out.”

The next sip of wine was more of a gulp. She felt the pilot light in her loins kick in the main burners. Then the room tilted sideways, grew dark.

“-and Eddie Snordnoff comes out for the kickoff. It’s a big crowd tonight at the Homewords Memorial Stadium-“

Casey opened her eyes to the darkened sleeping cubicle. Cheers and exited voices seemed to be floating in from the operations center. She rolled over on her bunk and groped for the light sensor.

“And it’s another touchdown for the Venusian Packers! Let’s

see if they can rack up the extra point-“

“Must have left the telescreen on in the rec room before I hit the sack last night,” she mumbled, groping for her boots and coveralls. “Time to get the show on the road, anyway.”

Yawning, she trudged through operations and peered into the rec room. A second yawn was stillborn.

The four mechmen were sitting in lounge chairs about the telescreen, watching a football game on the Homeworld network.

Casey gaped in disbelief. “What in hell is going on here?” she demanded.

The four clattered to their feet and confronted her with expressionless metal faces.

“Hi Coach,” they replied, almost in unison. One with the numeral 95 stenciled on his chest pointed a steel claw at the telescreen. “We watch football game. Coach Bob show us. Football am fun.”

“Fun, huh?” She went to the viewer and slammed it off, turning to them with hands on hips. “Okay, guys. Playtime is over.” She walked into operations and returned with a clipreader.

“Let’s see….daily work schedule.” She followed the electronic readouts running down the screen. “Unit 95, you run the drill tractor, Unit 62 on the roto crusher and I want the rest of you working on the sample removal carts.” She looked up. “Everybody got that?”

There was a long silence.

“What am drill tractor, Coach?” 95 finally asked.

“What am roto crusher, Coach?” 62 inquired.

“All right, let’s start with the basics,” Casey intoned bleakly. “This is an automine. You are the mechmen who work in the automine. Everybody with me so far?”

“What am automine, Coach?”

“They’ve been deprogrammed,” she muttered. “That space cadet Bob Rackers dumped their automine programming. So what did he reprogram them for?”

“Can we play football, Coach?” Unit 62 held up a football in a steel claw. “Coach Bob taught us how to play. Football am fun!”

Casey tossed the clipreader into a corner.

“And the hits just keep on rolling.”


The blizzard outside must have weakened the signal to the Homeworld receiver, Casey pondered, hunched over the viscreen in operations. How long did blizzards last on DBXIV? Probably forever, she thought gloomily.

The screen abruptly came to life, displaying the Excon Corporation logo.

“This is Excon Mining Corporation,” a voice announced. “Our technical service department has been outsourced to the Planet Gorg. Transferring you there now.”

A froglike alien face appeared. A leering smile spread over suppurating warts, like a toad getting ready to pass gas.

“This be Goph, you tech service rep for Excon,” it said. “How be I help you?”

“Yeah, thanks. This is Casey Greer on DBXIV.” She tried to avoid looking at the warts. “I have a crew of mining mechmen who seem to have lost their factory programming.”

“Flactory ploomatory? No have record that name.”

“FACTORY PROGRAMMING!” Casey carefully pronounced each syllable.

“Ah, Fracta Progna!” The toad grin widened. “Me took brood there on vaclation. Glood food in restlaunts.”

Caset felt her neck redden under her coveralls. “Listen, buddy, you got anybody there on Gorg with basic Terran language skills? Or why don’t you look under your lily pad for a universal translator?”

“Prease be calm. Goph be happy to help Terran poophead with ploblem-“

The viscreen went blank.

“Attention automine personnel,” a voice crackled from an overhead speaker. “The telecast antenna module has just malfunctioned.”

“Fabulous, what next?” Casey slumped in her seat, then frowned. “Did he just call me a poophead?”

She got up and went to the nearest viewport. The endless blizzard flew past, whipping spirals of ice crystals from rows of dunes stretching off into a white nothingness. She glanced at her timeband. Twenty minutes until nightfall. Enough time.

The roof hatch hummed open on the upper level of the lifedome. Snow slammed into Casey as she fought her way onto the roof, the hatch closing behind her. She fell to her knees and dragged the toolbag over crusted ice packed against every pipe and crevice. Groping to the base of the telecast antenna she popped off the module cover with a spindriver.

It was slow work using the gloved hands of the atmosphere suit. She slid a new chip into place and was rewarded by seeing the red diagnostics light change to green. Closing the module she dragged the toolbag to the roof hatch and pressed the access button.

Nothing happened.

She pushed the button again and again. Nothing. Casey looked around her at the darkening sky and felt the first tendrils of panic. A sudden furious blast knocked her sideways, sending the toolbag skittering along the roof and into oblivion.

Now indeed was the time for panic but somehow she felt

strangely determined. She crawled to the parapet and looked down at the brightly-lit warehouse viewport below. Breaking loose a chunk of ice she tossed it with desperate force at the plexglass.

A mechman appeared behind the viewport, then three others. They looked up and spotted the madly waving figure on the lifedome. They waved cheerfully back. Casey made a come to me gesture and pointed in the direction of the hatch. One of the mechmen waved again and held up a football.

Casey lay flat on the snow. “As soon as I get back I’m gonna grab some tools,” she grated through clenched teeth.” And I’m gonna dismantle each and every one of those tinplated sonofa-“

“Attention!” a voice sounded inside her helmet. “The automatic warning system in this suit indicates there is four point one minutes of battery power left for suit heating.”

“Thank you very much for the good news!” She crawled back to the roof hatch and began pounding on the access button.

“The outside temperature now reads sixty-five degrees below zero and falling.”

“Thank you! Thank you again!” She pounded harder on the button.

There was a low hum and the hatch opened. A minute later she lay on the catwalk and watched a final flurry of snow dance around the descending hatch.

The light and warmth of the operations center seemed like a glimpse of paradise while Casey divested herself of the ice-caked atmosphere suit. Puddles of melting snow collected around her feet as she rubbed circulation back into numbed hands.

“-and Skuzzy Hines from the Trokan Wartpigs gets a slanting pass off to the twentieth for a first down!”

Casey glanced into the rec room. The four mechmen were clustered about the telescreen, watching a football game. She decided there was only one sensible thing to do at this time.

She trudged into her sleeping cubicle and went to bed.


Excon Automine IVL

Planet DBXIV

Audio log: Day five through day thirty-eight

“This be Slrxp, you outsourced tech service rep for Excon. How me help you?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a crew of mining mechmen that have dumped their factory programming. Can you talk me through the

reinstallation procedure?”

“Yup. Easy fix. But now is my maggot snack break. I put you on hold.”

“Wait! I need-“

“Okay, 95, this is an ore cart. This pedal makes you go forward and this pedal makes the cart stop. Got all that?”

“Yes, Coach.”

“And you can stop calling me Coach.”

“Yes, Coach.”

“Right. Think you can drive the cart from here to the end of the warehouse?”

“Yes, Coach. I ready.”

“Good….not so fast.”

“This fun, Coach.”

“Not so fast! Stop!”

(Sounds of breaking glass, collapsing metal, assorted objects crashing onto concrete. Loud and obscene commentary from technician Greer.)


“Renon tll de Excon tech service on Flakk. Sonn ant fn problem, outworlder?”

“I need to program a crew of mechmen to work the automine here on DBXIV. That something you can help me without putting me on hold or transferring me to twenty other departments?”

“You damble nt sonne hundred twelve on service fantable tn list of eight hundred fifteen. Babtn sann ovlert recording.”

“What you are now holding is a model twelve portable rock drill, Unit 29. Any questions?”

“No, Coach.”

“You place it like so against the mine face……Aagh! Goddammit!”

“Sorry, Coach, I drop it. You foot okay?”

The food synthesizer in the lunch cubicle chugged lethargically and excreted a brown mass onto the plate with a flatulent belch. A series of burps and a pile of brown trigs appeared alongside it.

“Steak with a side order of fries. I think I should have ordered the gravy on a shingle special,” Casey mused, carrying the tray to the tiny table by the viewport. Her hands-on training of the mechmen- no thanks to the Excon technical service department- was at the point where she was thinking of sending them down the shaft to start up the mine equipment. She pushed a forkful of synthetic steak into her mouth and grimaced. What she wouldn’t give to be sitting down to a real meal with a member of her species having outdoor plumbing. That had been a long time, also.

“Attention automine personnel, DBXIV,” bleared from a speaker in operations. “A priority message from Excon is now incoming.”

Casey paused with a mug of synthetic moco half way to her lips. A message from Excon? That was a new one. She sat down at the communications module.

“Good morning, Ms. Greer.” A round face in an executive jumpsuit smiled blandly at her. “I’m Mr. Calomini from personnel. How are things with you way out there on DBXIV?”

“Actually, it’s late afternoon.” The synthetic fries were giving her heartburn and she wasn’t in the mood for the expected progress report on the fiasco at the automine. “What’s on your mind, Mr. Calomini?”

“I have good news and bad news for you.”

“I know about the bad news. I’m an equipment service tech, not an antique mechman reprogrammer.”

“Oh no, nothing like that, Ms. Greer.” He held up a pink hand. “We’ve decided to terminate the operation on DBXIV.”

“To do what?”

“Corporate is doing some cost-cutting on unprofitable enterprises involving the outer rim.” He squinted at a screen to one side. “I see your contract states your next assignment will be to our resort on Paradise Vacation Planet. Is this acceptable to you?”

Casey swallowed hard. She felt a glow creeping up from her frostbitten toes to the ends of her frostbitten ears.

“Yes, definitely,” she managed to croak.

“When would you be able to transfer?”

“How about the next five seconds?”

“Ha ha, very good, Ms. Greer,” he chuckled appreciatively, then back to business: “Once you shut down the operation and tie up some loose ends you have company permission to use the hibernation shuttle to reach your new assignment.”

“Thank you very much, Mr. Calomini.” She felt like kissing his face on the viscreen.

“I’m certain you’ll be an excellent asset on our new resort. Good day to you.” The image shrank to a fading dot.


Casey glanced at the monitor displaying the warehouse. The four mechmen were running plays, tossing a football back and forth. The brooms and mops she had handed them earlier were stacked up in a corner.

“Loose ends.” She drummed her fingers on the console. “Yep, time to take care of some loose ends.”

The mechmen froze when they spotted her walking across the warehouse floor. Dropping the football they scampered back to their brooms and mops, energetically returning to work.

“Hey guys!” Casey picked up the dropped ball and held it up. “How about a game?”

Beyond the blank faceplates no doubt gears were feverishly turning at this new and startling development. Brooms and mops fell to the floor.

“Yeah, Coach!”

“Put me in, Coach!”

“I’m the running back!”

They clustered about her, hopping from one metal foot to the next in eager expectation.

“Okay, settle down, team. I’m gonna be the quarterback.” She smiled seraphically, hoisting the ball. “lemme show you how good I can throw.”

The football arched across the warehouse, bounced off a railing and vanished down the mine shaft.

“Gosh darn, I missed.”

“I get it, Coach,” 29 declared.

Casey raised a hand. “Wait! Since you’re a team, I think you all should go get it.”

“Yeah Coach! Let’s all go get ball.”

The mechmen scrambled into the elevator cage. Casey stepped

to the control panel and started the motor.

“Hey Coach, what we call our team?” 29 asked while they descended into darkness.

“How about the DBXIV Smashups?” She leaned over the lift cradle and jerked out the lynchpin. There was a scream of cable ripping through pulleys and the lift cage dropped from sight. What seemed like minutes later a tiny puff of flame appeared down the shaft. A muted impact jolted her boots.

“So much for loose ends.” She flipped the lynchpin away and walked back to the lifedome where she began emptying drawers and storage bins.

“Let’s see….swimsuit, tanning oil, sunglasses, cocktail dress. Yep, this looks like the works.” She zipped up the last bag with a satisfied smirk. Pulling the bottle of Emperion ’22 from under her bunk she headed for the warehouse and the hibernation shuttle.


The cylinder was a womb in eternity, a frozen pause where time held no currency. Casey floated in dreaming darkness, half sensing the motion of travel and voices melding from a far distance. Then there came a sensation of falling, a softened impact, gravity pushing her into the foam padding.

Light. The cylinder lid slid open and oxygen began to jet

from a vent near her face. Her eyes opened, squinted and slowly focused. Groggily she staggered out to find herself before a large viewport framing an expanse of windblown desert. A dust devil pirouetted beside scattered bones half buried in the sand.

“I don’t believe it. They actually did it.” Casey jammed her knuckles onto her hips. “Those morons on Excon outsourced me to the wrong destination. Those worthless-“

“I don’t believe it, this isn’t happening,” said a voice behind her. She turned to see a lean, athletic-looking man wearing only a bath towel scowling at her. “I’m expecting a tall blonde so they send me a petite brunette. Excon human resources at its most efficient.”

Casey blinked. The hibernation hangover was giving her a terrific headache. “So what’s wrong with petite brunettes?” she demanded.

“Nothing at all, if that what I was expecting. I wasn’t.” He crossed his arms, giving her an unflattering once over. “I suppose it’s too much to ask if you play chess?”

Casey returned his stare. “Life is full of little disappointments, buddy. Anyway, chess is for sissies.”

“Wow, a serious attitude problem here.” His eyebrows shot up. “This is going to look bad on your next employee evaluation.”

“Yeah? I’ll give you an evaluation right now.” She balled a fist and searched for the right place in the handsome face to plant it. Then it came to her. “Wait a minute, you’re Steve Coronado! And this is the research station on Asteroid XXVI. Right?”

He looked blankly at her. “Yeah, that’s me. Say….you’re Greer. Are you the service tech I requested over a month ago?”

“Do I look like I wanna run around out there with a spade and bucket making sand castles, dummy?” She turned to fume at the scene outside the viewport. “Where’s my five star resort, my surf washed beach, my margarita by the pool?” A drop of sweat trickled down her forehead to hang dangling at the end of her nose. She wiped it off, frowning. “Why is it so hot in here?”

Steve shrugged and pointed at the main control console. “The climate control is acting up, “he explained. “I called Operations on Volaris and they’re going to beam a tech down next week. They said it looked like a minor glitch.”

“Minor glitch, huh?” Casey stalked to the console and began punching up data. She pursed her lips as readouts flowed over the screen. “Not good. Your air purification filters are clogged and getting ready to self-eject. Which means the little nest of yours will start filling with hexavalent chromium from this rock’s atmosphere. Didn’t you get any alarms?”

“As a matter of fact, I did.” He looked uncomfortable. “They were so noisy I turned them off so I could get some sleep.”

“You did what?”

“Volaris Operations said it was a minor glitch.”

Casey stared at him with pity. “Got any tools around here,



“Yeah, those shiny silver things. Some of them have plastic handles.” She leaned on the console and allowed herself a grin. “And while you’re finding them you can lose the towel and put some pants on. Your little pink butt is showing.”


“Done deal.” Casey wiped her hands with a shop towel and tossed it under the environmental control module. “Air filters changed out, safeties reset and station temps returning to normal.”

Steve passed her a fresh towel. “I can’t thank you enough for this, um….”

“The name’s Casey and don’t bother trying.” She looked about her. “What I’d really like is something to eat. Where’s your food synthesizers?”

He smiled, brightening up. “Actually I don’t have any. Volaris beams down a weekly supply drop. They have an experimental farm on the mothership, finding new ways to grow fruits and veggies in zero gravity.”

“Fruits and veggies?” She dropped the towel.

“They’re also into breeding beef cattle.”

“Beef cattle?”

“How would you like your steak?”


The sandstorm had died down by nightfall and the moonless night was faintly relived by a scattering of bright stars. The viewport glass reflected two people seated at a table lit by a single candle.

“Emperion ’22, a great year for wine on Satellite,” Steve observed, refilling their glasses. “I’m glad you brought it with you.”

“That makes two of us. And you cook a mean steak for a geologist weenie.” Casey adjusted the strap of her cocktail dress and rested her chin on a palm, studying her companion. Perhaps it was the wine but he was starting to look a lot different to her. Like hot different.

“Well, I’m sorry about Excon sending you to the wrong assignment, Casey. Maybe I can wrangle a special transfer beam authorization for you tomorrow,” he ventured.

“Actually, I’m kind of getting to like this dump, Steve,” she replied, taking another sip of wine. “In fact, I was thinking maybe you could teach me how to play chess.”

The End

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


SOPA/PIPA are poorly worded bills that will damage the internet.  Learn more and contact your representatives.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Complete Civil War submarine unveiled for first time - Yahoo! News

Complete Civil War submarine unveiled for first time - Yahoo! News:

As we are named after a famous fictional submarine, we thought there might be some interest in this article about the world's first successful combat submarine, from the freakin' CIVIL WAR!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

6 Realities of Teleportation Star Trek Didn't Warn Us About |

6 Realities of Teleportation Star Trek Didn't Warn Us About |

So just be careful, ya hear?

Dig Ten Graves by Lowrance on sale for a short time

Dig Ten Graves only 99 cents (but only for three more days)!

I just got mine and re-reading "It Will All Be Carried Away" took me to a dark, melancholy place that I never want to be in real life, but hits you hard in fiction.  I've already read most, or all, of these stories, and at least one first saw the light of day here in the Naut, but I'm excited to re-read them all.  Lowrance's writing has the one thing every really great writer manages to convey in the work, and that is a sense of the genuine. Lowrance either lived it or has a super-power level of empathy/sympathy when donning his characters to speak from inside their hearts and souls and often their dark subconscious.

This is a lot of catharsis for less than a buck.  Get yours here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cosmic Log - Plans set for 'Tricorder' contest

Cosmic Log - Plans set for 'Tricorder' contest:

'via Blog this'

All the gadget dreams of the past are coming true, aren't they? (Well, except for that flying car one). Portable phones/radios, internet/tv in your pocket, gps, hell my phone has a chromatic tuner, camera, camcorder, calculator, internet, clock, weather, e-book reader, maps, music, games, and I can even make a phone call. Why not a tricorder, eh?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Through the Patio Door by Philip Roberts

Through the Patio Door     by Philip Roberts

     Bradley Wolanski stepped out into the early afternoon and took in a mouthful of fresh air. Nine hours of work loomed ahead. Two years hadn’t allowed him to get fully acquainted with working evenings, and standing in the middle of a largely empty apartment complex accentuated his sense of isolation the hours produced. The lack of rush hour traffic was his only consolation.
     Before walking towards his car he paused, feeling something off, and realized the patio blinds to his right were open. He’d lived above the much older Randolph Dease for years, but rarely saw the retired recluse. Now he stepped closer to the open blinds, a bit apprehensive about peering in the apartment yet unable to help himself all the same. He had to squint against the glare of the sunlight on the glass to see the old man lying back in a recliner, his eyes closed, mouth agape.
     An early afternoon nap, Bradley thought, but the man’s skin looked too pale, and the longer he stared, the more he noticed the flies buzzing around the body. The man isn’t asleep, Bradley thought, and stepped back.
     He primarily turned from the window and started across the parking lot towards the office in order to see if Randolph were truly dead or merely sick, but had to admit as well the determination already taking hold to call out of work for the night. He figured discovering the dead body of a neighbor to be a worthy enough excuse.
     He hadn’t spoken to the complex’s owner at any great length since moving in. Other than a hello when dropping off the rent, they were strangers. Beatrice turned from her computer as soon as Bradley entered the office.
     “There’s a problem,” he told her, and explained what he had seen.
     The portly woman nodded and hefted herself from the seat. “Never really did speak with the man much,” she said as they walked back towards Bradley’s building with a ring of keys in Beatrice’s hand.
     “I didn’t either,” Bradley said if only to contribute something.
     They both paused in front of the patio for Beatrice to see Randolph reclined back before continuing on into the building.
     He felt sorry for the older man. To be found by two strangers felt like a terrible way to end a life.
     Even though Bradley had no legitimate reason to be there anymore, Beatrice made no complaints about him following her into the apartment. He nearly bumped into her when she stopped abruptly.
     They both walked slowly inside, their own footsteps echoing lightly in the empty apartment, no carpet, wallpaper, furniture, or dead body to be seen. The place looked like no one had lived there for years, except no dust or dirt had piled up.
     Beatrice marched in silence up to the closed patio door and reached for the handle, but it wouldn’t budge. Bradley ignored her, studying the apartment, catching sight of a symbol carved into the wood on the inside of the door. He ran his fingers over the circular shape with lines and dots jutting out from it.
     “It’s welded,” Beatrice said in astonishment, drawing Bradley up to the door and the melted metal permanently attaching it to the frame. She pulled herself up and turned to Bradley. “He welded the damn thing shut.”
     But Bradley looked at the glass door itself, and staring hard enough, he could see the same symbol from the door scratched into the glass.
     He broke away and started back for the front door with Beatrice behind him. “I’m looking outside again,” he said.
     They left the apartment door open on their way out. They both stood before the glass door and the furnished apartment. More insects buzzed around the body, crawling in and out of the gaping mouth, over the closed eyelids. They looked beyond the body to the back of the apartment and the wall that had apparently been splashed in black paint. It didn’t even look like there was a back wall to the room; just empty space where the room ended.
     “We should do something,” Bradley said, stunned.
     “Do what?”
     They walked back into the building and stopped within the empty apartment. Bradley stood in the middle of the room and closed his eyes while Beatrice went through the other rooms. He tried to expand his senses, to hear or smell something wrong, but the room felt like any other, or he had no way of detecting whatever was different about it.
     “The cops?” Beatrice said, standing in the door to the bedroom.
     Bradley opened his eyes and glanced over at her. “Ok. What are you going to tell them?”
     “An old man died. Seems good enough to me.”
     “They won’t get here very fast though, will they? I mean, if you just tell them he died of old age.”
     “Do we need them here fast?”
     Bradley stared at the welded patio door, then back at the far wall where he’d seen nothing but darkness devouring the room. “I don’t know.”
     She pulled out her cell phone but didn’t dial, holding it and biting her lower lip. Beatrice started for the front door and Bradley followed for no reason other than he didn’t know what else to do. They stood before the patio door, the afternoon sunlight on the back of their necks, birds calling out to each other in the trees, and the faint roar of city traffic just beyond the parking lot. In front of them they watched the mass of insects swarming around Randolph’s decaying body and the abyss stretching closer. If he stared long enough Bradley could see the bulges in Randolph’s flesh, like something moving beneath the surface, trying to find a way to get out.
     “I don’t think we have time,” Bradley said.
     “What do you think happens when the darkness reaches the window?” Beatrice asked.
     He didn’t need to answer. He wanted to tell her to call the police now, to tell them a madman was there, to get over as fast as possible, but something else in him thought it wouldn’t do any good. He just wanted the responsibility to be on someone else’s shoulders. Let them try to figure out what felt like something far beyond him, but he suspected calling the police would only waste time they didn’t have.
     You’re a manager, he thought, so figure out what you need to do. Beatrice did before he had a chance to.
     “I have an axe in the tool shed,” she said to him. “I think we need to break the glass.”
     “Okay, you get it and I’ll break this thing open,” he said, a tinge of envy that she had come up with a course of action before him, while feeling foolish that he even cared.
     She left him alone to lean in closer to the glass. The insects came from the darkness, thousands of them now, the walls crawling with them, the air a mist of moving specs. Randolph was covered, only a few patches of raw flesh visible, but none of the insects touched the glass itself.
     He jumped as the axe was shoved towards him, Beatrice’s gaze locked on the growing chaos inside the apartment. “Are you going to or am I?” she asked when Bradley hesitated to take the weapon.
     His left eye twitched as he grabbed it from her. He rather liked the pettiness of the anger, something concrete and sane for him to latch onto, dispelling most self-doubt and allowing him to pull the heavy blade back and slam it into the glass.
     Cracks crawled outward from the point of impact, and he swore he saw a rush of movement from Randolph’s corpse, as if whatever was trapped within it understood the assault.
     The next swing sent more cracks spider webbing outward, made the glass tremble, and the third swing shattered a giant hole inward.
     The oppressive sound of buzzing insects filled the air as all of them flew towards the hole, towards Bradley, and made him bring up his hands to protect his face, but as soon as they passed through the hole they evaporated in a haze of smoke. A swift inhale doubled Bradley over with a fit of coughs, his eyes wet and stinging from the acrid remains of the bugs.
     From within the apartment he heard the thick sound of the darkness crawling forward, swarming across the corpse, as if trying to pull it away before Bradley could reach it. He let go of any concept of reality and stepped through into the apartment, hands up to protect him from the smoke. Once inside he felt the insects crawling across his flesh, felt pinpricks of pain everywhere, and the first hint of true fear and madness clawed at his mind.
     Rather than flee from it he delved forward and brought up the axe. The blade struck Randolph’s body with a wet thud, and he felt more than heard what seemed like a roar of disappointment, of anger.
     The darkness pulled back to the far wall and took all of the insects with it, until it pulled into a dark circle, and then vanished completely. All that remained was a familiar symbol painted in black along the wall.
     In front of him Bradley stared down at Randolph’s remains, the skin all but eaten off the body, revealing glistening muscle and patches of bone. Starting at just below the neck the chest had split partially open, allowing Bradley to see the hollow cavity inside where organs should’ve been. The blade of the axe was still embedded in the mid-section.
     To his right the apartment door cracked opened and Beatrice stepped inside, the keys clenched tightly in her hand. Bradley glanced behind him at the shattered patio door and saw the welded metal frame along the edge.
     “It’s over?” Beatrice asked.
     “I guess.”
     Bradley looked at his exposed arms and the sores swelling up, but they weren’t as bad as he’d feared, though something in him grasped that he couldn’t even fathom how bad they might get. He took up a seat along the wall and stared at Randolph’s remains.
     “There’s books over here,” Beatrice said, knelt down along the far wall beneath the painted symbol. “I wonder what he was doing.”
     “I have no idea.”
     She stood up and walked over to him, eyeing Randolph’s remains. “Guess we stopped him.”
     “Looks like it.”
     “Call the cops?”
     Bradley shrugged. “Why not?”
     While Beatrice stepped back out into the day and called the police Bradley brought up his own phone and told his boss he wasn’t going to be into work that night.


Monday, January 2, 2012

TNE Editor's Picks for 2011

Editor’s Picks 2011

Your humble Nautilus Engine editor here. I’ve decided to look back upon all the terrific stories that we published in 2011 and make a list of my top eleven from ’11, or the top ten plus a bonus special mention. All these tales are still alive and kicking at the links provided (either via our facebook entity or the newer blog manifestation), as are all the stories from 2011.

In no particular order, we were graced with these "best of the best" stories in the past year:

Edmund and His Soul by Philip Roberts

Altered Perceptions by Ana Pencak

Eulogy by Jaime Dunlap

Job Hunt by Nicholas J. Carter

A Long Way Up by David Siegel Bernstein

In Darkness Dwell the Warriors by Michael Merriam

Jimi Hendrix Lives by Charles Parramore

Glow Stones by Robert Spalding

The End by Michael Priv

Hollow by Chris Castle

Unwound by Matthew Cherry

I hope you will revisit your favorites, read new any of these that you missed, and consider sending us an original tale of your own.  Here's to an amazing 2011 and an even better 2012.  Who's with me?!?!

~Ron Warren, Editor