“This is Galaxy Orbiter Delta signing on”. Dax punched a set of buttons, and settled into the commander’s chair.

“Arrivals, conference.” He flicked through the standard items. “Problem with colony OM/354-85?” He turned to one of the station crew. “Pull this information, will you? Many thanks.” He smiled to the retreating worker.

His shift would last a month, standard time.

He opened a hailing frequency and a young man appeared on a screen in front of him.

“This is Galaxy Orbital Delta. Dax Chr, the First, here. Welcome to the sector.”
“Thank you Watcher Chr. This is the ‘Alpha and Omega’. I’m Captain Chance Million.”

Dax pulled Million’s chart and tried to suppress a smile. Badly.

“It’s OK, sir. Many people find it funny. My parents didn’t think they’d be given permission to have a child.”
“I see, Chance.” Dax laughed. Chance’s parents had seen fit to give him the middle name “Ina”. “That must have been fun growing up.”
Chance smiled, “Not as much fun as it was receiving A Captain’s position.”

They both laughed.

Dax skimmed his notes. “Oh. A survey ship. Been out long?”
“Three millennia, sir. We’re on our way back now.”
“I see. And when do you hope to reach Central Prime?”
“We’ll be home in just over 900 standard years, sir.”
“Very good. And is there anything Delta can do for you today?”
“Actually, there is, sir. The crew were hoping they could get some information about their families at home, before the final descent.”

“Of course, of course. Both you and Central Prime will transmit records to each other when you’re fifty years out. That’ll mean that by the time your final generations have landed and met their descendants there is familiarity, but still room for familial bonding over recent history.”

Chance nodded. “When will we need to start transmitting? I’m assuming this will be made up of both private logs and ship information?”

“Absolutely. Hang on.” Dax pulled up a new menu, and dragged a box from one screen to the communications channel. “There. That’s the entire protocol file. It’ll tell you what to compile and set the send date into the main system. I’ll set up requests for information here, and co-ordinate with Central Prime until I move on. Everything will be taken care of. Anything else?”

“Not at the moment, sir”
“Well, you’re going to be this sector until you’re an old man, Million. If you need anything, just call.”
“Will do, sir. Million Out.”

The screen went dead. Dax spun around in his chair.

“Right, Colony OM/354-85. What happened?”
An advisor stepped up. “The colony stopped responding to communications, sir.”
“I see. And when was that?”
The advisor searched through her document. “Ah, here it is. About 150 standard years ago.”
This was all new to Dax. “So…what happens in this kind of event?”
“The advisor checked her screen. “We periodically check to see if it was a local blip.”
Dax nodded. “And?”

“Well, Outreach suggest a spirit ship loaded with a Consciousness Meme. It will find a suitable vessel, one carrying our tech, if possible, present itself and launch the meme. We’ll follow up with a fast moving stealth vessel to rendezvous with it.”
“And how long will that take?”
“About 30 standard years.”

“Right then, let’s get that one sorted.”
Dax turned his chair and opened another hailing frequency.

“This is Galaxy Orbital Delta. Dax Chr, the First, here. Welcome to the sector”

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“Major Clarke. In light of reports about unorthodox methods of “relaxation” before space flights – can I ask if you’ve been drinking, or if you intend to drink before you go up?”

The press room was expectant.

Clarke grinned. “I’ve not had a drink since I started on this project, and I don’t plan on having one before I get back.”

The reporters clapped.

“Though, the joints I had about an hour ago and the one I’m going to have before I go up will be a great help,” he laughed.

The clapping stopped.

“Major…are you saying you’re high?”

“Are you kidding me? Experimental solo flight on a shuttle designed to test wormholes? Of course I’m high. What would you do?”

Cameras flashed again and angry voices started yelling questions.

“Irresponsible”
“Pilot Error”
“Think of the kids.”

The press conference was pretty much over after that.

***

The strains of Bob Marley filled the shuttle’s cockpit. Clarke flicked some switches and checked his readings, giggling while he did so.

“Rise up this mornin’, Smiled with the risin’ sun,
“Three little birds, Pitch by my doorstep.”

“This is ground control to Wormhole 1. How are you doing up there, Major Clarke.”

Clarke sung along, “Singin’ sweet songs, Of melodies pure and true, Sayin’, “This is my message to you-ou-ou: We’re all good to go up here, Ground Control. Co-ordinates are set. Everything is chill. Just awaiting sling shot to get clear of orbit.”

Singin’: “Don’t worry ’bout a thing, ‘Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”

The shuttle sped around the earth, hitting escape velocity before firing out into space.

“Ground Control, we’re good to go.”
“Reading you, Clarke. Space folding in 3 (Singin’), 2 (Don’t worry), 1 (About a thing). Folding Space.”

Because every little thing is gonna be alright.

Clarke hit his switch.

***

“This is Ground Control. Wormhole 1 has left the building. Repeat. Wormhole 1 has left the building.”

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It’s just like they say it is – a gun fight. The lights, the noise, the adrenaline rush. When blasts hit objects they smoke and powder. Then the battle passes on its way, leaving bodies scattered behind it.

But there are three things they don’t teach you about laser blasts at Military Academy. The first thing is they don’t kill you with a single shot. Next, that they don’t seal – they explode. And then they bleed. But lastly, and most importantly, they don’t tell you how much it hurts.

Trooper First Class Erai lay in the corridor of a Republican Cruise Ship. The smoke around him was charred flesh, and the smell of pork hung heavily in the air. His armour had taken most of the blast, but not enough. The shot had passed through, taking out a chunk of his thigh. The second shot must have been lucky – his blaster was hit, and that offered no protection at all. It blew most of his hand away.

-Oh shit. Shit. shit. shit. I’m going to fucking die. Ican’tdieI’mnotreadytodie.

He took a deep breath; and thought of his mum, tears coming to his eyes.”I’m sorry, mum. So sorry.” He sniffed. She always said he’d get himself killed one day.

-And I have, mom.

It crossed his mind that if there was someone for everyone, then he had doomed his someone to a life of loneliness.

– I don’t have anyone to miss me.

He reached out with his good arm, gripped dead flesh, and pulled. He managed to drag himself to a corridor, opening more wounds and leaving a swathe of blood behind him.

-All my life and it comes to this. Bleeding and shaking on the floor of a ship.

His bladder went. He took a deep, careful, shaky breath.

He was going to die.

Someone nearby groaned and coughed. Coughed wet.

He looked at his shattered hand, the bones sticking through ragged stumps, some bleeding, some oozing. The pain had gone now – all that was left was a throbbing with every heart beat.

He swallowed.

-My mouth is so dry.

He closed his eyes, feeling the throb in his fingers, but not the wound in his thigh. Not anymore.

-Maybe…maybe I’m going to be ok? I mean. Aren’t you meant to see your life flash before your eyes or something? I didn’t see anything.

He swallowed, again.

-I’m cold though. Maybe…maybe if I sleep for a little. Just close my eyes.

Erai thinks he can hear footsteps coming his way – someone calling his name. He tries to mumble. “Just five more minutes, mum,” and falls asleep.

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“OK, What did you get?”

The Chief walked through the room, our team had that night’s haul laid out in front of them.

Subconscious Harvesting.

We had been testing it, mainly for military uses but once news slipped out through the unofficial channels into the unofficial ears of the corporations they willing signed up.  “If you could take things out,” they reasoned. “You could put things in.”

“Not a lot, sir.” Dan, our fearless team leader. Eager for promotion with no moral compass. “Less and less each time.”

We’d all seen it, too. People on the streets seeming greyer…less.

The haul was checked over.

A pin. Large. Very sharp. Used for bursting bubbles.
Pneumonia Germs. Sealed in a lip shaped pertri dish.
A small vial. Contains Clear Liquid.

“What’s this?” the Chief enquired.

Cummings, a new recruit into our band of thieves answered.

“Ever full, sir. Salt to the taste.” He checked his notes. “The subject was…male, sir. Life not going well. We think these are his tears.”

“Ever full, you say.” The chief pulled the stopper and poured some onto the floor. The contents of the bottle splashed out and we soon were standing in a couple of centimeters. The chief stopped the bottle muttering to himself.

“Enough to fill an ocean,” was what he said. I have good hearing.

On the desk next to mine was a small box, perspex. The kind you’d put your lunch in.

“And this?”
“Lies, pain and sorrow, sir”
“Good, Good. You?” He pointed at me.

I held up an envelope.
“Is that all?”
“It’s a Vow, sir.” The room fell silent.

“A vow…” The chief held it up. It was weighty, soiled. They always were.

“Don’t -”
But he opened it. Same as always.

A woman’s voice, sad, angry – not in our ears; in the backs of our minds.

“I’ll never fall in love again.”
The envelope faded.

Everyone did their best to purge the vow from their system but it would take time. Hopefully not too long.

“Small haul, gentlemen. Small haul. We’ll study this. Get that out of your heads and get some rest.”

He turned on his heel.

“Until tomorrow, gentlemen. Until tomorrow.”

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Matt woke to the gentle listing of his boat and the sound of waves through the air vents. He stretched, opening his eyes. Sunlight was streaming through a view port. It was still single digits, according to the windup alarm clock on his bedside table.

He kicked off his sheet and swung his legs over the side of his bunk. Picking his contacts from the table, he slipped them in, blinking the tears away. UV blockers were pretty much vital since The Collapse. Unless you wanted to go blind by his age.

He stood up, scratched his nuts, and lowered another UV screen on the view port before looking out the window. It was probably going to be another hot day.

Matt was 6 when The Collapse occurred some 20 years ago.

He climbed into the shower unit. The water was collected and heated through the solar generators over night. The soap was hand made – bacon flavoured.

***

The ice caps melted and the water rose like everyone knew it would. Millions of refugees – young, old, rich, poor flooded across borders into countries with their own problems. Some refugee camps worked either as nationalist strongholds or desperate attempts to integrate. Most just held the shell shocked, frustrated masses who had no idea how they would carry on. Or where.

And with the over crowding, disease was rife. Local tension was inevitable.

Trouble snowballed. Fighting and riots demanded the national guard on the streets. Bombs exploded inside the crowded camps with tedious regularity and States of emergency were declared. Fear and confusion reigned.

But it was the bird flu that tipped the scale.

***

Shower over he reached for his zinc cream. If he was on show he’d spend time crafting a piece of body art. But at best he was was going topside and working his field or doing a touch of coding. So the grey, ugly kind was the choice of the day.

Finally, he pulled on his work smock and shorts, also hand made.

His mum would have been so proud. He smiled at her face on his communicator.

***

The flu spread like wildfire – the refugee camps were already hosting other diseases and immune systems were at their lowest.

Some places enacted their own safe-guards – “sterilization by fire.” The media were kept away, most feigned ignorance. When word got out the world drew its breath in shock.

And then it screamed.

For months it went on, the anger of ages being vented. Cities burned, blood ran in the streets.

Then the storms came.  Fields were ripped up, houses destroyed – what the fighting and flood hadn’t touched, the storms did. Food, already short, became shorter. Scientists reminded the world that the summer crop had to last through winter.

That announcement stopped the screaming.

***

Matt stepped into his sandals, popped the hatch on his cabin and climbed topside.

He looked out at his flotilla. 15 units lashed together, solar units on 6, hydroponic gardens on most. He waved at his fellow villagers.

He was lucky. His parents died to make sure he was.

Life still wasn’t easy. Summer storms were violent and the winters long and ice cold.

But people survived.

He shaded his eyes and looked at the clear blue sky. Close by someone dived into the water. From the sound of they made, it was still cold.

He smiled. It was going to be a beautiful day.

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