THE FIFTH DI…

March 2017

Edited by J Alan Erwine

 

 

Artemis One

By Daniel C. Smith

 

"Houston… this is Artemis One… we've touched down-- we are back on the moon ladies and gentlemen! Houston this is Commander Stuart Ullman requesting permission to EVA… Houston do you copy? Houston… please respond…"

 

Sergeant Diane Johnson sat listening to the recording for what seemed the millionth time since leaving Earth-- the same transmission everyone else on the planet had heard almost six weeks ago. And nothing had been heard from Artemis One-- whatever it was-- since. Of course, the International Space Agency had never launched a ship for a lunar landing-- once the industrial and security platforms had been built during the thirties the moon and all of its dust seemed an unnecessary expense. Profit and security as enforced by the ISA under the aegis of the United Nations were the only reasons for the existence of a space program at all. Humans hadn't been to the moon since the early 1970's, and there had never been a ship registered as Artemis One. And so far, no one had found anyone named Stuart Ullman, or anyone who matched his voice print. After everyone started to consider the whole thing some sort of elaborate hoax the story faded from the headlines.

Unknown to the general public however, the ISA had indeed tracked a UFO landing in the southern portion of the Sea of Tranquility, very near the sight of the original Apollo 11 landing, just minutes before the world heard Commander Ullman's triumphant hail from the lunar surface.

The ISA opted not to make this information public (of course).

Once the powers that be decided that whatever or whoever Artemis One would prove to be, they were still hiding in the lunar shadows, they dispatched Johnson and her team on this mission.

This was not a rescue mission-- Johnson was not qualified to lead a rescue mission. This operation was strictly search and destroy-- her specialty. Another of her specialties was following orders without question, in this case orders that no one else on her team knew about. As for Artemis One, she couldn't care less what it was, unlike her crew, none of whom had stopped theorizing for the last three hundred thousand kilometers. Parallel and alternate universes, shifting timelines, time travel and dimensional rifts, she had heard it all in the last twelve hours.

And now she had heard enough.

Danny Torrence, the Alabama boy, was running his mouth, "We're gonna be the first people to walk on the moon since Apollo 17…we're gonna be famous..."

She cut him off, "We're not going for a walk, country boy-- and no one knows we're going to the moon, so don't you be dreaming about any book tours."

"Why are we going, Sergeant?"

That was Duval, the farm girl from Illinois with a philosophy degree from somewhere they never heard of in Johnson's neighborhood.

 

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Resigning

by Melanie Rees

 

“The chicken or the fish, sir?” the waiter asked over the background crackle of Christmas crackers and party poppers.

“Haven’t you already asked me this?” said Joe.

“You must be mistaken, sir. Chicken or the fish?” Beneath his thick black moustache, the waiter forced a contrived smile.

“Really?” Joe distinctly recalled having this conversation before, but as the waiter tapped his foot on the floor, Joe’s feelings of deja vu dwindled and his irritation at the world re-emerged. Joe tucked a napkin into his shirt collar and tried to mimic the waiter’s salesman’s smile. “Sorry, mate. I don’t like white meat.” That would teach his colleagues to have a set dinner menu. White meat? Why did the world insist on punishing him?

The waiter’s grin diminished into a thin line. “Perhaps you would prefer the vegetarian dish, sir.”

“Lettuce and lentils...tasty.” Joe rubbed his stomach. “How ‘bout you go ask the chef if he’s any steak hidden in that cold-room of his.”

The lines creased around the waiter’s face as he struggled to retain his perfectly pleated smile. “Certainly, sir.”

“That’s a good chap,” said Joe.

The waiter strode off, chin up, notebook in hand mumbling just loud enough for Joe to hear. “Perhaps sir would like a carrot instead... inserted—”

The headwaiter cut off the moustached waiter with a raised eyebrow and a firm hand on his shoulder.

Joe chuckled as the poor sod was reprimanded.

“That was a bit harsh,” Sam muttered from across the table.

 “Not as harsh as that tie, Sam.” Today’s was blue racing cars printed on a paisley yellow background. “It looks like a used car salesman threw up on you.”

Sam tied a red ribbon around his Kris Kringle, ignoring the insult. But it wasn’t the oversized bow that caught Joe’s attention. Wrapped in glistening paper with an intricate pattern of blue and green metallic lines, Sam’s present sparkled. 

Joe leaned over the bad jokes and unused paper party hats littering the table and tapped the box. Pulses of green light shimmered across its surface. “Shit, I just wrapped mine in tissue paper.”

Sam pushed up a party hat that drooped over his bushy eyebrows and clutched the box closer to his chest.

“You know you’re meant to put your pressie in the big sack, according to the fat man,” said Joe.

“Fat man? You mean Mr. Collins?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, he said you gotta give him all the presents.”

 

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The Mart

By Kate Runnels

 

They were going to the Mart. Not any mart or market or supermarket, but The Mart. With a capital T. Kyle had heard of it of course, had come from there himself, but he didn’t remember it very well. It was either too quiet or too loud depending on when and where you were. There were lots of other kids too. Some were his age and younger, but many had been older.

But today, today his parents were taking him to The Mart. He was so excited, he tucked his shirt into his fly and zipped them together. He worked to untangle himself, certain his parents still thought him in the dark about the trip.

He hadn’t meant to overhear, but over the past month or so, since his seventh birthday, he had been hearing snippets of conversation from them as he walked by in the hall, or when they thought him asleep at night.

He’d heard them talking about getting another son. Kyle then would have a baby brother. Looking around his room, he saw all toys and the castle he was building out of the programmable blocks was nearly finished. The bed-bot was making his bed. Over that was the window that looked out into the backyard and the trimmer-bot working its way back and forth stopping occasionally to pull a weed from the verge.

“Kyle!” his mom yelled from across the house. “Are you dressed yet?”

“Oops.” He rushed to get out of the clothes that were now hopelessly stuck together and find his other best clothes. For some reason, they wanted him to look nice at The Mart. He didn’t know why; he just wanted to go.

He remembered this feeling from a few weeks ago, and the horrible feeling afterword from a few weeks ago. He had overheard them on the two-way video call to grandma and gramps about another son. Feeling so happy to have a brother, Kyle had snuck upstairs into mom’s studio where she painted. He would show them how excited he was about this.

He dug out her paints, grabbed the biggest brush he could find, and the second biggest, popped open the cans and stared at the wall. What should he paint first?

The house, he decided. He dipped the brush into the blue that closely matched the trim and slathered it on. Then he dunked it into the green, to do the lawn. As he opened more colors for the flowers that mom loved so much, they kept coming out brown. He set that brush down and took up the second largest to draw first mom, then dad, then Kyle and then a smaller version of himself.

Kyle had just stepped forward to start on his baby brother, upper lip held in his teeth as he concentrated, when the door banged open. Startled, Kyle lost his hold on the brush. It dropped to the wooden floor splattering paint there and on the wall.

“What are you doing?!” his mom yelled.

“I just-”

“You pained on the wall?! With my brushes?! Eric, get in here!” She grabbed Kyle by the arm and hauled him out of the studio. “I don’t know what has gotten into you lately. I swear.”

 

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The Union Man

By Eamonn Murphy

 

“Your boss describes you as a very good man,” said the Detective Chief Inspector. “He says you have his full backing.”

Bertram Ward nodded acknowledgement of the compliment from his boss, Director Patel, head of MI5 but kept a wary eye on the fat man before him. Bertram was sat in a hard backed, hard bottomed chair at a plain pine table in the basement of police headquarters, a glass of water to hand. He felt disheveled, sweaty and mildly concussed. The fat policeman who questioned him was just disheveled and sweaty, his shirt half out of his baggy trousers and his bald head glistening with perspiration. Bertram didn’t mind basement interrogation rooms, he worked in one. Usually he was the man in control. This time the shoe was on the other foot. It promised to be an interesting experience not least because his questioner knew that the suspect was himself an interrogator, and at a much higher level, albeit in a different government department. They might have some interesting mind games to play. Of course, the psychological pressure was all on Bertram. He faced losing his job, and possibly his freedom too, if convicted of murder. He did not imagine that former interrogators for MI5 had an easy time in prison. There would be quite a few of his old clients there and some were bound to remember him.

Chief Inspector Thomas sat himself in the hard chair opposite Bertram and leaned forward. “Why would a good man like you let a valuable prisoner die? Or did you kill him?

“I didn’t kill him. I was knocked out.”

“By a man securely bound in one of your own torture chairs,” said Thomas, shaking his head slowly as if it were the saddest thing he had ever heard. “I don’t think so. Tell us what really happened.”

“Again?”

“Again. From the moment you walked into work this morning.”

Bertram knew the technique of course, keep the suspect repeating the story until you caught him out in a lie. He sighed and began his sorry tale once more.

*

For a good man, he was not feeling very righteous as he walked into work that Monday morning, a mood not helped by catcalls from junior colleagues.

“Up the workers, Bertram,” some joker sneered as he walked past the reception desk on his way down to the basement interrogation unit. He turned his head quickly to see who had spoken, almost tripping over a vacuum “bot that should have avoided him (damned thing needed reprogramming) but the group huddled round the coffee vendor all showed him their backs and feigned innocence. A shock of ginger hair identified one of the group as Harry Webb, a man not in the Interrogators Union and probably the culprit. Harry had often stated his view, usually in the bar on a Friday after work, that the Union was a waste of time because privatization was the business of the day and had been for over forty years. The security departments were the last bastion of public service still paid directly by the government and parts of them were about to go private. All of them, some said. Outsourcing interrogation was merely the thin end of the wedge. That measure was about to be put before parliament, with the usual smooth promises that taxpayers’ money would be saved and efficiency increased by privatization. The main bidder for the contract was Hughes Enterprises, the biggest name in prisons, airports and other government security work. It was also the biggest name in just about every other line of business worldwide, a gigantic corporation that seemed to own half the planet. It was controlled, if not entirely owned by Harold Hughes, an eccentric billionaire who had long since retired from view. No one had seen him in ten years. He was ninety-seven years old.

 

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