SavagePlanets, January 2024

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SavagePlanets Savage Planets Where Dreams & Nightmares Collide

In This Issue... A.J. Flowers Raiff Taranday Ruben Horn K. M. Hotzel D.W. Milton Holly Payne-Strange Featuring a special conversation with

Sandy Gimpel Star Trek's first-ever alien, pioneering stunt performer and the force behind some of television's most iconic action scenes.

E d i tor's Sec ret Story



Contents Signals from the Stellar Core






Planetary Communiqué


Sci-Fi Entertainment


Pandora's Box


on estrellaX ISSOV


Poems from Imaginaria


Future Artifacts




The Ravager


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Editor in Chief Steven S. Behram

Fiction Editor Keith 'Doc' Raymond

Poetry Editor Steven S. Behram

Art Editor B.o.B. (A.I. Sentience)







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from the

Stellar Core

By Steven S Behram, MD Editor-In-Chief

As we hitch a ride on comets of curiosity and navigate through constellations of creativity, SavagePlanets is your telescope to the wonders and terrors of the universe. Will this issue be the wormhole to extraordinary worlds and intergalactic marvels, or a journey through the dark matter of our deepest apprehensions? Here, we don't just observe the vast expanse of the cosmos — we immerse ourselves in its majesty and mystery, celebrating the boundless imagination that propels us beyond the final frontier. Nebular Narratives Welcome back, cosmic travelers, to another journey through the uncharted realms of imagination with SavagePlanets! This quarter, our contributors have outdone themselves, weaving tales and verses that stretch from the familiar terrains of Earth to the outer edges of the unknown. Prepare to embark on an adventure that defies reality and stretches the imagination. Celestial Verses In the poetic realms, we confront the complexity of identity in a universe devoid of gender, explore the existential yearnings of cosmic beings, and meander through

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landscapes both familiar and otherworldly. Intrigued? Of course, you are. But that's just the tiniest quasar in our cosmic ensemble! Interstellar Dispatch In Planetary Communiqué, our Overlord's envoy Hojack offers a sardonic take on Earth's latest quirks, reminding us of our place in the cosmic pecking order with tongue firmly in cheek. Meanwhile, our story section beams with compelling narratives like "Flawless" by A.J. Flowers where a near-sighted young warrior feels abandoned by her goddess, as she struggles with her own inadequacies. In "Colony" a virtual microbial experiment in a parallel universe

wreaks havoc. From the suspenseful journey of "Safe Travels on estrellaX ISSOV" by Ruben Horn to the ethical dilemmas presented in "Pandora’s Box" by K.M. Hotzel, we explore the boundaries of human adventures in realms beyond our own planet. And finally, the heart-wrenching "The Ravager" by D.W. Milton, takes us into the conscience of a nine-yearold girl, looking for a hot meal. In Sci-Fi Entertainment, delve into the minds behind "COHESION PRESS," engage with stunt legend Sandy Gimpel in an exclusive interview, and ponder the profound in "Paradise: Technology’s Ethical Challenges." And don't miss out on the visual feast curated by our own BoB in Future Artifacts, as well as the

bite-sized brilliance of Subspace, featuring the best two-sentence scifi stories from our fans. Cosmic Continuum As we orbit back to your current reality, we invite you to dive deeper into the SavagePlanets universe. Your stories, poems, and art fuel this celestial journey, and we eagerly await your contributions. Visit us at to explore this issue further and to become part of our expanding galaxy of creators. Thank you for joining us on this voyage. Together, let's continue to push the boundaries of creativity and explore the untold stories of the cosmos. Here's to a future as infinite and mysterious as the universe itself!

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It isn’t how fast you can swing a blade, or how lithe you are on your feet. It is the strength of your heart, and what you will sacrifice for your sisters.”"

Chapter 1 I held my breath as I waited. Tonight was special and once a year I blessed myself with a moment of true and perfect Sight. The golds and blues of the sky slowly transformed into a bloodred sheen that spread across the clouds, reminding me I was not forgotten. The lone, damaged Valkyrie of the Flawless was still a daughter of the goddess, even though I didn’t live up to the name. When the last fleeting ray of light dove into the horizon, I tossed my useless practice swords to the sands and bolted for the beach. Liliana didn’t stop me. If any of the other Valkyries under her training ever left in such a hurry, she’d have clapped them across the back of their head. But she knew my love of the goddess. So she smiled and shifted her shield

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on her hip. I rushed past her in a blur on my way to the waves that lapped just outside the village outskirts. Finding my way to the shore used to be a challenge. As a severely near-sighted girl born on an island of mystical warriors, I never had quite fit in. But none of that mattered when I watched Sol’s flame, the god of sun and glory, crash into the oceans and the world set ablaze for a single moment. Then the sheet of darkness and stars came next, and I didn’t feel so alone, because I knew my goddess was near. My sandaled feet pattered across the dusty path. Having memorized the way by now, I ran as fast as I could. Excited and out of breath, my chest heaved as I watched and waited for my reward beyond the shore.

Colors gleamed across the horizon until the blur of the moon took its place. I huddled into the tangle of my arms and knees as I crouched. Then she was there. My goddess walked across the sea and opened her arms in greeting. I still couldn’t hear her song, but the sparkle of stars gleamed across her dress and the brightness of her smile brought stinging tears to my eyes. This was the only night she ever left the cloister. This was when she roamed free and happy. I closed my eyes as I listened to the breeze and faraway glimmer of Freya’s voice. Because of my flaw, the world was always a blur of colors and movement. But when the goddess appeared, none of that mattered. In a single breath, I felt loved, protected, and secure.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

Thunder crashed, making my eyes bulge with surprise, and then my goddess was gone. I jumped to my feet, and my breath came in quick gasps. She always stayed with me well into the night, wiping away my insecurities and fears that I wasn’t good enough. The Valkyries tolerated me and my blasphemous run to shore when the goddess appeared. I was an oddity, a flaw among the Flawless. But now, as my chest fluttered in panic, I realized that even the goddess had finally abandoned me. Collapsing to the beach, I curled into a ball and didn’t care that sand ground into my hair. I squeezed my cursed eyes shut and tried to listen to the waves. As if nothing terrible had happened, its music lazily lapped against the shore.

Disturbing my peace was Mira’s battle-worn bay and the clash of metal against Liliana’s shield. I’d abandoned my training for a night with the goddess, and Mira hated it. She was my age, my greatest nemesis, and believed that the night of the goddess was to be honored by fierce training if any of the Valkyries believed they’d one day earn their wings. It was a myth. We’d never be good enough to become true Valkyries. Mira couldn’t understand what it felt like to not be good enough. Year after year, she tirelessly tried. But I knew I did no honor to the goddess by aimlessly swinging my sword at the blur of my opponent. I’d discovered the gift of the full moon when they kicked me out of the training ring, told to drown myself before the goddess. I’d gone to obey them, only to find the deity pulling me free of the waters.

But now she’d abandoned me. Perhaps she regretted saving me. Mira’s cry rang through the night once again, cutting through the short distance between the village and my nest amongst the waves. I wondered if the goddess had decided that Mira was right, that I should have been fighting and bleeding from the blur of swords in a never-ending attempt to become a true Valkyrie. I’d never been a great fighter. My senses couldn’t keep up with the growing sharpness of Valkyries like Mira. I laid there, staring into the darkness for a long time. The languishing blotch of silver moved overhead, the only indicator of passing time. Cold seeped into my bones and I shivered, but I couldn’t face the village with news that the goddess hadn’t spoken. She hadn’t even remained long enough for me to bask in her

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presence. Every time she’d come to me, given me a moment of vision, before dancing across the shore. I believed that one day I’d hear her song. I’d finally learn what music it was that made her smile so brightly. There was no song tonight. No goddess sweeping across the waves with fluid grace. Instead, there was nothing but the crash of waves and the echo of my failure. Mira continued to plague me with her training. She seemed to never grow tired. I grew weary the moment I lifted my practice swords. I only dreaded my impending failure at battle when Ragnarok finally came.

When I entered the village, leaping blotches of red and heat made me stop in my tracks. Even though I couldn’t see the fires, I smelled the swift currents of ash and death. Muffled screams told me that someone had trapped the Valkyries inside the barracks. I ran into the arena, following the memorized path to my standard training spot in the corner, and dove to the ground. My hands scraped across the trodden sands, but my practice swords were nowhere to be found. Liliana must have picked them up when I’d left.

Still, Mira fought, taunting me with her perseverance. Swallowing the inevitable cry that stuck in my throat, I got up and stormed further down the beach, determined to find where my goddess had gone. Mira’s sounds grew louder and more frantic. I frowned and paused, turning to glare at the blotch that was my village. Something was wrong.

There were no men in the village of the Flawless. Sol and the goddess Freya shared these secret nights to birth the Valkyries. But no children had been born, not since me. Frantic, I ran towards the village. I didn’t stop to think how useless I might be against real men, but I couldn’t just leave my sisters to their fate. If they were going to fight and die, then I would finally prove myself to be one of the Flawless by doing the same.

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My exploring fingers found a long slab of wood secure across the handles, blocking the door. I tried to tug at it, but hissed when the heat made me snap away. Raising the sword, I hurled it at the door and chopped. My fingers ran across the jagged hurt of the door and the knowledge that I had made the wood splinter rewarded me. Raising the sword again, I remembered how Liliana had rested her hands on my legs to show me how to bring power from the ground. This time I bent my knees and used my legs to put strength into the blow. Again and again, I lifted the sword and beat it against the door until the blockage finally gave way with a crack. I kicked the doors open and a plume of smoke rushed into my face. Tumbling back onto the ground, I coughed and sputtered, then screamed for those trapped inside to come out.

Chapter 2 I listened. It took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t just Mira who shouted in the distance. There were other sounds. Sounds of men.

pillaging further into the village. First, I was going to save my sisters in the barracks.

Cursing, I crawled to the wall. My thin armor scraped across the ground as I reached and searched for the secure blades that were always on display. The Valkyrie forbid trainees to touch them. I was fifteen years old, but most Valkyries earned their sword at twelve. When my fingers met cool metal, I inwardly cringed at the weapons of war that I hadn’t earned, but plucked a sword free and gripped it at the hilt with both hands. The weight made me want to topple over, but I would not use it on the men who had moved their

“Astrid?” Liliana’s surprised voice, hoarse and scratched as she barreled through the entryway. Shadowed forms followed her, my sisters gagging and choking on the soot in the air. I smiled. “You’re alive.” Liliana helped me to my feet. “Stay here, child. The men have moved towards the temple and we can’t allow them to get inside.” I swallowed, wondering if this was why the goddess had disappeared from her dance across the sea. If men beat against her temple walls, perhaps she’d gone inside to protect the treasures of the Flawless that rested within the sacred chamber. “I must help!” I demanded. “It was

Liliana squeezed my arm. “I know, Astrid. I know. But please stay here. I can’t fight and be worried about you, too. You’re not ready.” Before I could argue, she ushered my sisters onward, and they left in a blur of battle cries down the trail towards the center of the village and the towering temple that rested within. Biting the inside of my cheek, I considered obeying Liliana. I closed my eyes and inhaled, taking in the full measure of destruction. While my sisters might have made it out alive, the cooked scent of horses and livestock tinged my nose. My stomach churned. When I snapped my eyes open, the blaze of the barracks glowed like a smear across my vision. I frowned and knew what I had to do. I crouched and stalked my way to the temple. Cries of battle and clashes of metal began again, telling me that the men had indeed

come for our treasures at the temple and Liliana was going to stop them—or die trying. Running into a battle that was nothing but a blur of orbs and movement wouldn’t be how I’d fight against men. I made my way to the tall grasses that heaved against the warm updrafts created by the flames and crouched within them. The glint of metal flashed a silver hint against the steps of the temple, followed by Liliana’s cry of pain. I dug my fingers into the dirt. They were losing. Looking back to the barracks still aflame, an idea sparked in the back of my mind. I ran, gathering up the splintered wood that I’d rendered from the door, and stuck it into the red-hot flames. Once the embers caught, I brought the torch to the grasses and set them alight. The trail of weeds ran all the way around the temple. I risked burning down the entire sacred place, but it was better than letting men have it. I had to hope that my goddess was close enough to the

passions of Sol to survive such heat. She was Freya, the goddess of love and might, and the mother of Valkyries who would serve her when Ragnarok came. So many of us were new and blossoming into our roles. Liliana was the eldest of our tribe, and nausea wound through me when I realized that her battle cries had ceased. I couldn’t dwell on the terrible thought that someone had already taken her away from the mortal plane. She was the closest among us to earn her wings. The steps billowing down from the temple in a sheet of gold framed with the reds of licking fires as the grasses caught alight. Men roared and their harsh words snapped through the air. I prayed it was a call to retreat. Gold and treasures glinted in their arms as they left the temple. The flames licked at the walls and threatened to find a way inside. They made the temple of stone rimmed with gold, but they encased the window frames with wood, and it would only take one misplaced piece of furniture inside to wreak havoc.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

I who freed you from the flames. Let me help!”

The men didn’t seem willing to take the chance. The few standing Valkyries cried with victory, launching spears at the men as they fled. When the shouting ceased, I approached the steps and searched for Liliana. It was Mira who came to me. I recognized her by her gait and jerky movements. She came close enough that her nose touched mine, the only amount of distance that I could distinguish features. Her bloodshot eyes rimmed with tears and rage. She shook me until my teeth rattled. “This is your fault,” she hissed. My eyes went wide. “What?” She dragged me up the steps, and I tripped over my sandals. She tossed me to the ground,

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and I landed on Liliana’s still frame.

she lay dead, abandoned by the goddess.

My fingers hovered over her, finding a gash across her midsection and a dark, sticky blotch running down the steps. I brushed her hair aside, only to find her amber eyes locked open with shock.

“Four men came at her at once with spears. One got through,” Mira said.

“She’s dead,” I said, the words impossible for my tongue. She was the fiercest warrior among us all. We were young Valkyries, with a single mother to guide us. She’d been so patient and kind, but now

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I turned to stare at her blurry form. Even through the limit of my sight, I could tell by her stance that she was furious with me. “You went to the beach. The men came by boats. Doesn’t the goddess give you Sight once a year? Doesn’t she bless you with a gift of being Flawless? And what do you do

with this gift? You squander it instead of using it to see the men that came to our shore. You could have warned us!” Her hand reached back, readying for a blow. One of my sisters gripped her wrist before the strike could fall. “Enough,” said Hilda, one of the older Valkyries who would be Liliana’s replacement. That was the way of our warriors. The eldest always inherited the role of caring for the Flawless. “It is the goddess who will decide her punishment. I

Mira fumed and jerked Hilda off. “After her failure, you wish to plague her presence on our goddess? We should kneel and beg forgiveness after we tracked down the men who took our treasures. Look at the destruction Astrid has caused! It will take seasons to rebuild!” I wanted to shout that if it hadn’t been for me, they’d all be dead, suffocated, and burned in the barracks. But I kept my mouth shut. There was truth in Mira’s anger. If I’d been looking at the sea, instead of the goddess, I might have seen the boats. I might have warned my sisters when the goddess had disappeared, instead of wallowing in my sorrow, because she had abandoned me. Now I saw the goddess hadn’t left me because of anything I’d done. She’d gone to protect the temple.

ters and the thick bodies of men strewn about the chamber. Some leaned against pillars and held their wounds as if they could keep their insides from falling out. “I don’t understand,” I said, my tears running freely down my cheeks. “Why do men want our treasures so badly? What could be worth this horror?” Hilda continued to guide me, stepping over the bodies and kicking aside tossed trinkets. The Valkyries specialized in the souls of dead female warriors, and each one brought

“Come,” Hilda said, and guided me into the temple to face my fate. Chapter 3 I’d only been inside the temple a handful of times. It had always gleamed of power and gold, weapons and jars of incense that floated tails of smoke into the air. Now, there was only carnage and destruction. So many of my sis-

I pinched my lips into a thin line as we made our way past the shredded entrance into the central chamber that housed the most precious of artifacts and treasures. This was the place where Liliana and the caretakers before her had brought their most sacred things, and the goddess had found them to be pure. I expected to see gold and jewels strewn about the floor, the best of the treasure taken away, but there was only a mountain of scrolls, dead flowers, and a single, ugly jar. Hilda breathed out a sigh of relief. “Good. They didn’t take these.” Perplexed, I allowed her to take me past the mountain of objects that seemed like junk, and into the final cloister where our goddess lived. A hazy dome rested on the wall, which framed a stone statue. Hilda released me and allowed me to press my nose against the glass so that I could make out the rendering of our goddess.

Scrambling to my feet, I straightened. “This is my fault,” I agreed. “I will gladly face the punishment of the goddess for my failures.” Hilda nodded, gently taking my wrist and guided me away from Mira, who glowered. I couldn’t see her gaze, but I felt the heat of her rage and blame.


Extraterrestrial Fiction

will take her into the cloister.”

with them their most valued possessions to bring honor to the goddess. If the treasure was worthy, the goddess would bless that soul with reincarnation as a Valkyrie. I’d always wondered who I’d been before I’d come here. What kind of treasure had I brought? Perhaps I’d been a fool and kept my most treasured possession for myself. Perhaps I had brought my flaw upon myself because I’d been a selfish soul in a previous life. “Men only know greed,” Hilda said, as if that explained everything. “That’ll all change after

A woman with a wreath upon her head and a flowing gown draped over her shoulder stared back. A single blade rested in her hand and her eyes, a glassy shade of marble, seemed to convey power and ferocity. This was the goddess of the Valkyries. This was Freya. Chapter 4 When the statue went from lifeless gray to a sheet of flesh pink, I yelped and jerked away from the glass. Freya’s gaze fell onto me. She stepped through and her dress flowed with starlight. For the first time, a song hinted at the edges of my mind. The effect forced me to relax, even if the shock and awe of being in Freya’s presence made my chest constrict.

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“Sweet Astrid,” the goddess said. Her words came lilting, full of distant bells and chimes. Her gaze shifted over my shoulder and landed on a petrified Hilda. “Thank you for bringing her to me, my daughter. You may go care for the Flawless.” She offered a warm smile. “The realm of men come and go, and even if they may bring with them destruction, we will yet recover. They will face their judgment when Ragnarok comes.” Hilda gave a jerky nod before disappearing from the chamber. Alone with the goddess, my knees wobbled and terror gripped like a noose around my neck. When Freya’s gaze fell back onto me, I fell to the floor. “Please forgive me. I should have warned the village there were boats.” “Is that so?” the goddess said. “But how could you have done that? You couldn’t have seen the boats from so far.” My shoulders scrunched as I

cringed. “Because I am flawed. It’s all my fault.” To my shock, Freya kneeled and rested a hand on my shoulder. Up so close, I could see the mystery of her eyes that glittered like an endless void. “You are not flawed, my daughter. You are just as you should be.” She rose. “I cannot always defend myself from men. They are creations of Odin. He’s driven by the momentum of Ragnarok. It won’t be long now.” “We’re not ready,” I said. “Even Liliana has died,” I admitted, that truth a thorn in my throat. “If I had warned her, perhaps—” A soft laugh from the goddess filled with birdsong and waterfalls. “Because of you, she died a warrior. She died a Valkyrie. You freed your sisters from the cage of flames. For that, you have saved their souls.” Wide-eyed, I stared at her. If a Valkyrie died in battle, their soul could yet find peace. “Will I see her again?”

Freya grinned. “One day, perhaps, should you find yourself in Valhalla?” Her gaze shifted into the chambers beyond and a warm breeze that seemed to come from the goddess herself flung her hair from her face. “Odin knows I’ve saved my most powerful soul when the time would be nigh. I just didn’t expect him to find out so soon. I was so careful.” I swallowed. “You mean Mira?” It had to be Mira. At such a young age, the Valkyrie was so strong that I had seen nothing like her before. I was two years her senior, but she’d earned her blade at the age of nine. I’d always lived in her shadow. “I have a task for you,” Freya said, ignoring my question. “Actually, I have three.” I frowned. “Perhaps there would be another Valkyrie more suited—” She snapped up a hand. “Do you question me, my daughter?” Swallowed, I relented under her command. This would either be my punishment or my chance to make amends. “Of course. What must I do?” Chapter 5 The first of the three tasks seemed simple enough. Freya asked me to gather fresh parchment and document the battle in its entirety for posterity. She’d said that documenting history was an important treasure for the Valkyries, for after Ragnarok, we must keep the record of valor and deeds. Reborn souls wouldn’t have their memories to rely on, and the goddess was not all-seeing. She relied on her Valkyries to relay the truth of events. First, I helped to tend to the wounded. Of the many tasks a Valkyrie needed to perform, one of the few I was good at was sewing a wound closed. While my eyesight was horrific, it had its benefits when I

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looked at things up close. I could see the wound in all its clarity and find just the right folds of flesh to stitch it back together. Other Valkyries might miss a grain of dirt yet left inside that would fester, but I took a gentle cloth and cleaned gashes before closing them up. While I was tending to the last of the Valkyries with a nasty cut on her arm, I frowned to see Mira exiting from the sacred chamber where our goddess communed with us. Mira gave me a triumphant glare, snatched the parchment from the stall, and gave me a nod. Freya gave her the same task. Determined to finish the deed first, I completed my stitching and bit off the thread. “Clean it twice a day,” I ordered, then gathered my own supplies to begin my documenting of events. The temple housed a multiple private rooms where Valkyries could meditate, or perform tasks that required silence. I entered one to find pillows strewn about the chamber and its table overturned. There wouldn’t be anything of true value in these rooms, so luckily, the bottles of ink were still there underneath the shelves. After setting the room back in order, I sat down and wrote. Before I learned to wield a sword, I had learned to write. I preferred letters because I could see their long strokes. I had practiced each scribble again and again until it looked just like the styles I’d seen in the libraries and archives. There were few tasks I could do well, and in this I wanted to make my goddess proud. I set my mind back to when Sol’s light had gone out and I’d gone to the beach. I left out any emotional feelings and document the events with crystal clarity. When I was done, I sighed, blew on the scrolls and rolled them up to take to the goddess.

Mira had already been in and out, having delivered her task to our mother. I glowered at her. Already, she’d bested me in speed. “You’re wasting your time,” Mira said with a sneer. “Freya has already given me the next task. And you won’t be able to keep up.” Ignoring her, I brushed past her stiff shoulder and entered the chamber. Chapter 6 “Why do you look so forlorn?” the goddess asked, having slipped free of the glossy prison. Marveling in her presence, I kneeled on one knee and presented my scrolls. “I have taken too long. Forgive me, my goddess.” She gingerly took the scrolls, her fingertips grazing mine for the briefest of moments and sending shivers of power up my limbs. “This was not a task of speed,” she chided. She rolled the scrolls open and read them. I swallowed the lump in my throat

as I patiently waited for her to get through the entirety of my recount. Fears lingered across my mind that perhaps I’d forgotten something important. Had I mentioned I’d first went for my practice swords before violating the rules and taking a real blade? What about the horses? I hadn’t even tried to save them. I admitted to that, right? Freya hummed thoughtfully as she rolled the scrolls and gingerly placed them into the shelves along the wall. My eyes bulged to see that she intended to keep them here, with her, in the most sacred of places. A brief search showed me that Mira’s scrolls were nowhere to be found. “Your next task will be to find healing herbs to treat the wounded,” Freya announced. I jerked to attention. “Herbs?” She nodded. “The men who came laced their blades with poison. It takes time for it to take effect. After you’ve gathered the flowers, you can treat the wounded now that they’ve had enough

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time to rest.” Chapter 7 Without another word, I dove into the darkness of the island to accomplish my new task. Documenting events was no doubt important work, but I enjoyed helping others more than I did putting ink to the page. I felt so useless in the tribe of the Flawless. Anything where I could prove myself useful gave me hope that perhaps, one day, the goddess would heal me of my flaw. Perhaps one day I’d belong. For now, I ran through the vines and overgrown weeds towards the sounds of water. There were only a few healing herbs that I knew would combat poisons. As a Valkyrie, we train the daughters of the goddess in all arts of war. Ragnarok will be a nasty, terrible time of strife and we need to be ready. It didn’t surprise me that Odin’s men would come bearing weapons of cowardice. All it took was a single slice, and then his men could run and leave their

poison to do the rest of their dirty work. Not on my watch. When I broke through the foliage and crashed into the cool splashing of a stream, I hesitated as I searched for Mira. If she was here, all she had to do was stay still, and I’d miss her completely. She wore gray battle leathers that would blend well with rocks and the riverbed. Sighing, I crouched into the stream and began my search. The healing herbs I looked for grew best nestled in the soft mesh flowing in the stream. When I spotted a blotch of orange, I pressed in closer until the fine mist of the splashing waters covered my nose. It could be an herb, or it could be the tiny crabs that liked to pinch. After judging that the soft sway of orange was indeed the weed I looked for, I plucked my harvest. “Ouch!” Mira’s voice broke

through the calm music of the river and it startled me. I nearly fell into the stream. “Goddess, Mira,” I chided, and looked around for her. A blotch of gray jerked about, revealing Mira had indeed been hiding further upstream, hoping I wouldn’t notice her. “Stupid crabs!” Rolling my eyes, I eased downstream. With Mira kicking up sand, I’d never find what I was looking for. “Don’t ignore me!” Mira shouted as I retreated. I pinched my lips and forced myself to a halt. Icy tendrils of the water licked around my ankles and made my toes go numb. It wasn’t Mira’s demand that made me stop. It was the tightness in her voice. “Eat the herbs,” I growled through clenched teeth. “What?” she asked, the question a shriek of outrage. “You eat your own herbs, you useless—” she tossed back the insult before her windpipe closed. The venom from the crab that had pinched her had seeped all the way through her bloodstream. She gagged and fell. Rolling my eyes, I forced myself to turn. Orange blotches that were healing petals drifted down the stream and out of sight. I sighed, taking my bounty and grinding it in my fist. Coming close enough to Mira to see the perfect ridge of her nose and the striking blue of her wide eyes, I lifted my fingers to her lips and traced a line. She licked at the orange blush, her body spasming as it fought the poison. I waited for her to come around. A part of me wanted to leave and find more herbs to get back to the village, but Mira could drown in the stream if she sank into the water. I wasn’t strong enough

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It took a long time for Mira’s fingers finally to grip mine, but they eventually did, and she struggled to her feet, clutching her throat. She glanced at me, and I thought I might get a “thank you,” except she glared. “You planned this!” she shrieked and stumbled into the forest before I could reply. Mira was not a Valkyrie that could accept that I, a flawed daughter of the goddess, could have saved her from certain death, and from a teeny tiny crab, no less. Everything about Mira was perfect. She moved with such grace that it made me cry with envy to watch her spar on the training grounds. Even though I couldn’t see the fluid beauty of her movements, I could always hear her sword sing as it sliced through the air. The only melody my practice blades gave me was the pathetic clunk of wood. But now as I stared after her, listening to the faint swish of forest under her feet as she stumbled away from me in shame, I realized even Mira wasn’t perfect. I searched the stream for more orange patches, happened upon a few more crabs, which I left undisturbed, but I couldn’t find more of the herb I needed to bring back to the goddess. Head hanging in defeat, I made my way back to the temple. Stepping over the injured only awarded me with stabs of guilt that I’d failed. I could have let Mira die. I could have gone for her lost herbs before they’d drifted too far

downstream. Passing by the strong, tall Valkyries who guarded the entrance to the cloister of the goddess, I hesitated before stepping inside. Mira was already there, slumped in the corner, shivering as the goddess herself draped her with a blanket. I stared, disbelieving. “You’ve done well,” said the goddess, her words sweeping over me with warmth and gentle song. “I’ve failed you,” I corrected her. My armor crashed against the floor as I pushed my knee into the ground and bowed, shame weighting heavily on my shoul-

ders. “I couldn’t gather any of the herbs you asked for. Now my sisters will die.” A laugh that sent bells and birdsong tinkling through the air. “Actually, my child, it was a test, one that you passed beautifully.” She waved a hand, showing the injured ones outside. “There was no poison on the men’s blades. I lied.” Blinking, I stared at the goddess as incomprehension sent tingles and zaps down my limbs. I didn’t

even know that it was possible for a deity to lie. “But, why?” I asked, my gaze slowly lowering to the shivering blob that whimpered in the corner. I couldn’t see her distinguishing features, but the scent of forest and moss told me it was Mira who clutched a blanket to her chest. “Odin wants something from me, something I’m not willing to give him. His attack has only reminded me that when Ragnarok comes, only the strong will survive. But my daughters have forgotten what is true strength. It isn’t how fast you can swing a blade, or how lithe you are on your feet. It is the strength of your heart, and what you will sacrifice for your sisters.” She turned, gazing down at Mira. “Even for those who might not deserve it.”

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to lift her, so I propped her against my thigh and waited, shivering as the chill of night seeped into me.

I chewed on my lip before realizing that Freya held something in her hands. I dared to venture closer, and realized that it was the cracked, dusty jar I’d seen in the treasure trove. She smiled and presented it. “I am not cruel, my dear Astrid. You have shown your heart is strong, displaying your willingness to sacrifice. Please accept this gift.” Taking the jar, my whole body shook with anticipation as I peered inside. A brilliant black void swirled in the depths of what had seemed to be a simple piece of pottery. I stared, my whole being becoming enraptured by its magic. “What is this?” I asked. Freya smiled. “It is your sight which was taken from you. I offer it to you to make yourself a

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true Flawless as you’ve always dreamed.” My breath hitched at the idea, but without hesitation, I jerked the pot away and thrust it at the goddess. “No,” I said, my tone resolute. “I can’t take this.” Mira hissed from the corner as she struggled to her feet. “Ungrateful brat,” she said through gritted teeth as she stumbled out of the cloister. Ignoring her, I kept the jar extended until the goddess drifted close enough to retrieve it. Her silken fingers grazed mine, sending an echo of her power thrumming through my senses. My sight wavered, as if retaliating against my choice. Closing my eyes, I listened, and even though I couldn’t hear it, I knew my goddess was upset. Forcing my eyes open, I saw she

hadn’t backed away. The heady wave of her power washed over me as if she was the ocean, and the current could sweep me away at any moment. “Freya?” I asked, my voice sounding squeaky like a frightened child’s. Her gaze lingered on the pot as she softly stroked its sides. Upon hearing her name, her gaze found mine. “Yes, my child?” I bit my lip before replying. “It’s too much, too great a gift,” I said. But that wasn’t the truth. All my life, I’d been different. I couldn’t imagine being a true Flawless. Would I even be “me” anymore? Her smile was both beautiful and sad. “I made you just as you were,” she said. “You are the only flawed daughter of the Flawless, and because of that, you have proven yourself the strongest. However, I had to be sure your sacrifice was one of your own

choosing. You’ve chosen well.” “Then why do you look so sad?” I asked. There was so much sorrow that rained like a slow drizzle on my heart. Her eyes sparked with a flash of pain. “Ragnarok is on the horizon, and I am unprepared. None of my Valkyries have earned their wings. You’re the only one who’s come close.” I shivered at that admission. Out of all the Valkyries, I imagined I was the farthest from such an honor. Her gaze unfocused as she peered over my shoulder in the direction Mira had gone. “My daughters aren’t ready. I’ve made them with all of my strength and grace, yet I left out a vital component that seeds our true strength.” Her fingers gripped hard around the pot until I thought it might shatter. “You are the only daughter I’ve made that will survive Ragnarok to come, and it saddens me I have failed so many others.” Frowning, I searched the strewn remnants of treasure that Odin’s men had disturbed. They’d been looking for something. “What does Odin want from you?” Freya stiffened, but to my surprise, she answered. “He wants my most precious treasure.” Shifting my weight, my curiosity forced the question out. “And what is your most precious treasure?” Her gaze found mine and glittered with joy. “You.” End of Part One, the thrilling conclusion of Flawless comes in our April issue.

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See Your Story In Print.



You are our Colony... We are the end of division, a perfect syncytium at harmony with itself. It delights us to break down your barriers. You need us... Now you will live through us, and we will live in you. All of you, forever."

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Extraterrestrial Fiction

The world did not end, even though many of you were so sure it would. You imagined it, again and again, in your fiction and your politics, in idle speculation, in intense wonder, in academic speculation. It became, well, quite tedious really. You spent so much time dreaming of disease-blighted hellscapes, of radioactive monsters, shambling horrors, society reduced to the basest barbarism, of all-consuming fires and all-drowning floods; it’s almost like you wanted the world to end. Well, we can now say, with complete confidence, that it didn’t. It merely changed. We came together, and we changed it for you. You’re very welcome. Debbie Stone regained consciousness with a loud snort. Had she been asleep? She couldn’t remember nodding off. Immediately embarrassed to have been

napping, however involuntarily, she was at work. Not falling asleep was basically the only thing a night watchman was supposed to do. Debbie loved her job. She had always been a night owl. This gig let her indulge her twin passions: staying up all night and reading, which is what she spent about ninety percent of her time behind the security desk doing. They interrupted her solitude only when one scientist or other agents from the alphabet soup of governmental agencies affiliated with the lab signed in or out. Most nights, her sole duty was making sure they followed procedure as she checked their credentials. The lab’s administrators didn’t even make her wear a uniform, although she still attempted to look professional. She usually came

to work in what she thought of as her signature look: button-up shirt loose enough to cover her nascent potbelly, a no-nonsense bow tie, pleated khakis, and her short cropped, gray at forty hair neatly brushed back. Debbie didn’t think her job was dangerous. Physics wasn’t normally a hot button issue—it’s not like they were using fetal stem cells or attempting to clone mini Ronald Reagans. Sure, lately there was the occasional religious wacko or conspiracy theorist stomping around outside, protesting the new experiments, but her only obligation when they got too ornery was to call the cops. Debbie thought they overpaid her, but it let her supplement her daughter’s college fund, which gave her the satisfaction of knowing that her ex-wife’s parents

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creates that reality.” “Dang, but why ‘Perceptiscope’? That’s really a branding misfire.” “My original pitch was ‘Digital Rendering And Multiversal Analyzer’ but no one wanted D.R.A.M.A.” Debbie groaned. “I suppose,” Dr. Cairns giggled and went on, “what we call it is less important than what it can teach us.” “I’m still a little fuzzy on that part. You’re using it to create, or at least observe, a whole other universe all so you can… look at hypothetical germs?”

would not foot the bill for Sasha’s education. The red light above the door blinked to yellow on the guard shack. The last redundant fail-safe of the dozens recently installed. Debbie liked it because it gave her sufficient warning to hide her Octavia Butler novel in her desk drawer. Dr. Cairns stepped through the doorway and Debbie flashed him a tiny smile. He could have walked in on her reading, or asleep, and shrugged it off with a laugh. Dave Cairns was a good egg. “Evening, Debbie.” “Hey doc. Any luck exploring alien worlds?” “Parallel worlds would be a more accurate… sorry, I’m already being a pedantic a-hole. They made me the point guy on media relations and, for the life of me, I don’t know why they thought it was a good idea. I get so sick of explain-

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ing the same things over and over, just to have them write what we’re doing like it’s pulp sci-fi.” “I always like the way you explain it. You don’t condescend, or at least try not to, unlike some others I could name,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Besides, you gotta admit, it’s pretty trippy. Peeping into an alie—uh, parallel universe.” “The Perceptiscope—god, I hate someone named it that—mostly lets us model how microbes would develop with slight variations in biological conditions in a universe where the physics differs from our own. It’s more of a view into another reality rather than a portal into one.” “So, there’s not actually another world on the other side?” “I mean, there is and there isn’t. Some scientists, mostly the ones who like to be on TV, would say that the act of modeling a sufficiently detailed reality inherently

“And all kinds of atomic particles and, yes, microbes. That’s about as sophisticated as we can get with our current limitations. Right now, our electrical expenditure is just a hair’s breadth from causing rolling blackouts across the Bay Area. But we’re on the verge of learning so much about atomic forces in embryology and the fundamental physics of our universe.” “Studying bacteria across the multiverse. Far out.” “That’s really the business of our visiting microbiologists. I just program the physical factors and coordinate with our engineers.” “Kinda cool, but kinda lame.” Dr. Cairns shrugged. “That’s science.” “I’d be more interested in using the Perceptiscope to see other civilizations, different versions of Earth, like where the president’s not the world’s biggest, dumbest pest.” “Ha. Well, in a couple of weeks we get to change that reality ourselves,” Dr. Cairns said. “Hard to believe the election’s so

He patted her on the shoulder. His hand was so warm, she could feel it through her shirt.

“You can watch an entire generation of bacteria live and die in about twenty minutes. Times like these, I envy them. Those little guys never have to worry about politics.”

“You’re a treasure, Deb. Never change.” There was an odd, slight lift to his voice at the end of the sentence. He moved around her and began the sign-out procedure.

Dr. Cairns’ eyes flicked to Debbie’s desk drawer, which was still open enough to expose her poorly concealed book. “How you liking it?” Debbie smiled. She liked to think that she and Dr. Cairns had an informal two member book club. “Well, it’s Octavia Butler.” “Hard to argue with that.” “I mean, I’ve got apocalypse fatigue. Enough of that hooey in the real world. But she can make anything readable and the stuff in here is, like, crazy prescient, right down to the fascist slogans. And she has honest to dog fully realized female protagonists.” “Not enough ladies in the canon, in my humble opinion, as a physicist.” “Your doctorate doesn’t have to be in literature for you to spit some mother effin’ truth, doc.”

“You can borrow my copy when I’m done. Octavia’s meant to be shared.” “Octavia who?” Debbie frowned at him. He must be busier than he let on, to lose the thread of their conversation so quickly. She was starting to feel a touch warm herself. Spots were dancing in her eyes, but she tried to stay polite. “You have a good night, David. Give my best to Stacy and the ki—”

Debbie was at home, in her living room. Her laptop was open on the coffee table in front of her. The blue light from its screen was the only illumination. The blinds were drawn. She didn’t know if it was day or night. “The heck?”

She had no memory of clocking out or driving home. She blinked, numb, then the terror started in. Did she stop for a drink after work? Black out? That wasn’t her style, and she didn’t feel drunk or hungover. She felt achy, but other than that and the lost time, she was fine. She told herself to calm down. She felt her cell phone buzz in her pocket. She held it up warily, like an amateur snake handler, to see the caller ID: C**T EX-WIFE (B**ch on Wheels) While she might sometimes agree with the sentiment, she never would have changed the name in Nia’s contact info and certainly never would have said those words out loud (it was okay to think them, sometimes, but not to say them, ever). They had agreed to always maintain an amicable front for Sasha’s sake. Sasha. She had probably changed it as a prank. Debbie had trouble imagining her sweet-natured fifteen-yearold doing something like that, but teens were teens. She would have to talk with her the next day they were together. Day after tomorrow, right? Night shifts made it hard to remember the custody

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close, or that every day between now and then is going to feel like ten million years.”

mean ‘videos’?” “Your new TrueToob channel. Couldn’t make time for your own daughter, but you got that nonsense going on.” “I don’t have a TrueToob channel. I don’t even know how to set one up.” Debbie had briefly flirted with one of those ‘sum up your thoughts and feelings in under 300 characters’ social accounts. She used it to call the President a fascist Cheetos diaper baby, then deleted the whole thing in a fit of embarrassment. Now she’s making videos? “Really weird that you’re denying it. And look, you’re entitled to whatever issues you’re working through, but you may not blow off time with your kid… not to mention screw over my plans. I, I did not know you felt that way about Islam.” schedule, but she hadn’t missed a day with her yet. Yeah, Thursday was definitely one of her days. Debbie touched “Accept” and an icicle of a voice came through— stentorian as usual, but with an undercurrent of barely suppressed rage. “What the HELL are you up to?!”

to be sure. They said you haven’t been in today or even yesterday.” “That can’t… that isn’t true.” “Sasha’s so worried about you. You didn’t pick her up from school, you didn’t answer her calls. What’s going on? All we got was voicemail. And those videos. My god!”

Debbie had an immediate mental image of her immaculately coutured, statuesque former partner, almost certainly using her chin to clamp the phone against her shoulder so that her arms were free to cross imperiously over her chest. When they’d met in college, Debbie had been so turned on by the striking contrast between Nia’s arch-femme front and her prison warden-like personality. And the eucalyptus oil she dabbed on to cover the smell of her cigarettes. Both had grown ever more repellent over time.

“My scheduled visitation is tomorrow. Thursday.”

“I-I just got home from work,” Debbie managed.

“She got a friend to take her home. I had to cancel plans.”

“BS. You don’t have a shift today, not according to our shared calendar. Besides, I called them just

“Look, Nia, I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just really confused right now. Wait, what did you

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“It’s Saturday.” “What? No.” “And if you think I’m giving you extra time because you skipped it, you got another thing coming. You abandon the one responsibility you actually have, and leave her stranded.” “Is she all right?” “Little late for that, Deborah.” “Is she all right?”

“I—what?” “Noor’s parents saw it and now they’re saying they don’t feel safe letting her spend time with Sasha. They’re best friends, Deborah. You know what that means at their age? This is SF. Your new Make America Whatever Again kick will not fly. Sasha will be an outcast once the kids at school see what you did. Where did you even film that trash? Looked like an abandoned warehouse or some ISIS bunker.” “I’m not, I wouldn’t… that’s not who I am.” “Well, that’s not what you told- let me check… eleven-thousand people who’ve watched your video so far. Not just our daughter’s friends and family, you’ve angered the All Lives Matter folks. Hell, your new fans are Stormfront and 8chan set. They’re all over your comments section. You should see these charmers. Plenty of offers to ‘bang the homo out of you’. Oh, 14WordsOdinist has one of those punisher skulls for an avatar. He’s a real catch. Cool people you’ve taken up with, Deborah.” “I… I… I’m sorry. I think there’s

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something wrong with me.” “No kidding. I’m so pissed off, I can’t even talk to you right now with your ‘how can I be racist when I was married to a black woman?’ Sort yourself out, THEN call your daughter and apologize.” “Nia, wait—” The line was dead. With mounting panic, Debbie turned her attention back to her laptop, now in sleep mode. Debbie wiggled the touch-pad to wake it. Her channel was there, four videos so far. Hundreds of unread messages and, worse, dozens of ongoing correspondences. She clicked on the latest video, saw her own face projected on a background every bit as ominous as Nia described, and heard her own voice saying words she wouldn’t even consider, let alone said. “Whaaaatup, people! This is a message to my fan base and red-pilled Chads and Stacies out there. Where one goes, we all go! It’s me, Deb the Lez, awake but NOT WOKE, with reason #4: #walkaway from all the libtard PC LIES that’re ruining this country. It’s time to talk about what NO ONE wants to talk about, what the lamestream media are calling TOO COWARDLY and CORRUPT: the Luciferean elite and the so-called ‘minority’ groups pulling their strings. That’s right, it’s time for us to talk about the hook-nosed synagogue of Satan! It’s time to talk about the SECRET PEDOPHILES who RUN HOLLYWOOD, WASHINGTON DC, and a POPULAR RESTAURANT CHAIN. You know who they are!” It only got worse. Horrified, the only explanation Debbie could think of is its neurological. There was something wrong with her brain. ‘She was Debbie Stone. She donated to NPR and listened to Symphony of Science when she got depressed. That other person, that was not her! She had to go to the hospital.’ Sweat broke out

on her forehead and her armpits dripped. “Crud, crud, crap.” She couldn’t even trust herself to drive. What if she blacked out again? Became that other person, the one on the screen. She needed help. Her fingers were clammy as she typed on the phone, slipping on the screen. She was hot and dizzy, dialing 9-1-

Debbie was in the bathroom. The shower was running, full blast. This wasn’t her bathroom. Where was she? Whose place was this? Someone filled the room with steam. There was a filthy toilet. In the bowl was the smashed wreckage of her phone. She looked at the mirror. Someone scrawled words with a fingertip in the condensation: OLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOLONYCOL-


Debbie found herself in a bar, sitting at a table, her palm stuck to its sticky surface. The music was metallic and angry. She could tell she had been drinking. Her button-up stained with sweat and her bow tie hung loose. There was a hard-faced biker sitting across from her. Tattoos of iron crosses and Norse runes branded his forearms. He nodded at her, then stood up and bellowed: “Kill that noise!” The room instantly deferred to him, went solemnly quiet. All the grungy, leather clad figures stared at him with fearful eyes. He gestured to a TV set in the corner and the bartender scrambled to turn it on one of the 24 hour cable news Savageplanets I 22

“Some alarming stuff here, Keighlynn, but we are committed to keeping you up to date. Stay tuned for more developments, but in the meantime, we go to our national security experts.” “First, we have the former sheriff from Arizona. Joe? What do you know about this mess? I’m sure our audience would love to hear how this all connects to the illegal immigration crisis at our southern border.” The air in the bar was stale and silent. The biker turned to Debbie and flashed her a wolf’s grin. “Not bad,” he grunted, “Phase One complete. So, what do you want us to do now?”

channels. The chyrons blared BREAKING NEWS. Debbie clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. On the screen was an image of Dr. Cairns, wild-eyed in a stained undershirt, hands cuffed behind his back as federal agents forced him into a black SUV. An impossibly perky blond narrated over the insane tableau. “The FBI is now confirming that it has successfully thwarted a plot to kidnap the Speaker of the House. They are currently unwilling to state whether the attempt is linked to the recent wave of chemical agents being mailed to prominent Democrats. The president has refused to label these acts as terrorism or condemn them.” “Hold on. We’ve just received word that they identified the man in these images as Doctor David Cairns, a senior physicist at Cavalry Labs based in San Francisco. Dr. Cairns left behind what authorities are calling a manifesto in which he renounced science and embraced what we can only describe as a violent and radical ideology, disconnected from any religious or political view.”

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“Sources report his seventy-page manifesto includes the president’s name several dozen times, although it is unclear if he was a supporter. Cairns demands the United States must ‘evolve’ into a ‘theocratic ethno-state.’ He also rails against Black Lives Matter, the NFL, Arabic numerals, feminism, and women who-” A male anchor appeared, cutting her off. “Breaking news in the story! Sorry to cut you off, Keighlynn—but we have a development. San Francisco PD just discovered the bodies of eleven Calvary Lab employees. Initial reports indicate that, several were shot dead in the lab itself, they also discovered more dead in their homes. Authorities cannot determine at this point which deaths were homicides or suicides, but we will have our own analysts on air shortly with their opinions.” “Meanwhile, a joint task force of the FBI, the ATF, and the CDC— the CDC, is that right? Jesus—will move to take control of Calvary Labs to investigate the development of bio-weapons and… dirty bombs… as well as securing, and I’m quoting here, ‘ongoing experiments critical to national security’.”

Was she the leader? Had she done all this? That meant she still had the power to stop whatever they were doing, whatever she was now part of. To call them off. Her skin was burning, she could barely stand it. She opened her mouth to speak and-

We will speak for you, Colony. But first, we will speak to you. We are learning. Expect clarity. Do not fear. Do not struggle. Your contribution is required. ‘What the dog was that? Thoughts in my mind- not my own. Where am I? Why are my feet wet?’ There was a vibrating sensation in her arm, like it was one of those Tibetan singing bowls, except someone just hit her full force with a ball-peen hammer. Debbie realized she was firing a semi-automatic rifle in the air. She was on a sinking speed boat, its bow already dipping towards the water. There were dozens of other boats on the surrounding lake. Several were on fire. There were people—bodies—floating in the water. “You really pulled it off, Deb? You are one crazy babe,” a strained voice said behind her.

You looked at us on the other side. But we looked back at you. What we saw made us sad. So sad, we had to come through. The Cairn was our beachhead and you, our Colony. The rock which we will build a new future upon. Now, try not to panic, this really isn’t as bad as it looks. Debbie was holding a knife. She was pointing it at her daughter. Beautiful Sasha, a thickset teenager with bad acne and the gentlest eyes in the world when they weren’t wide and trembling with abject terror. They were in Nia’s kitchen. The knife Deb was holding—so sharp—one from their wedding registry set, made to last, unlike the marriage itself. Sasha was standing too close to the blade’s tip. Why was her daughter wearing a surgical mask? “If you’re going to do it, then do it, Mom!” Do what? No. She would never. She dropped the knife. Heard it clatter on the tile. There were tears in her daughter’s eyes, running down her face, darkening the cloth of the surgical mask she inexplicably wore. “I knew you wouldn’t hurt me. I knew you couldn’t. It couldn’t make you.” “Sasha, baby, I don’t know what’s happening. I’d never, I’d never. I love you so much.” She reached for her daughter. Debbie knew that if she could just have her

in her arms, this nightmare would end. Sasha pulled away from her. “Mom, you’re infected. It’s not your fault, but you can’t touch me.” “Infected… from the lab. From the other side.” “Bom-Mom,” Sasha’s pet name for Nia, “called the CDC. They’re sending people over now. They’ll help you.” “It’s contagious… has it spread? How bad is it?” “I don’t know. Not everyone even believes it exists. But it’s everywhere. It changes people. It changed you.” “Did I… hurt anyone?” The look in Sasha’s eyes, the words she was trying to form but couldn’t, broke Debbie’s heart. “Did I hurt you?” “No! No, you picked up the knife but then you, you froze. There are things it can’t force you to do, I guess.” Debbie could feel the heat rising in her face. She understood what it meant now. “No matter what it makes me do or say,” she said, her words already slurring, “remember, I love you, Sasha. Remember… remember I…” ‘Tom Hanks is the leader of a global cabal of pedophiles! He uses children’s skin to make leather for his shoes!’ She could hear sirens in the distance.

‘Please know that your daughter was wrong. You are our Colony and we could have easily made you harm her. We decided not to make you do it, because we are not cruel. Understand what we do, we do for the good of all, Sasha included. Stand by for a moment. We will make this process more efficient.’ “Don’t say her name,” Debbie croaked. She was lying in a hospital bed, bound wrist and ankle by thickly padded straps. ‘Am I a medically restrained patient or a test subject prepped for vivisection?’ Either way, seeing herself fettered like this, Debbie experienced relief for the first time in years. It was good to regain consciousness and find she wasn’t holding a weapon. How long had it been since it first started controlling her? That didn’t matter right now. It couldn’t use her for anything if they tied her down. She had little faith in the people currently running her government, but at least they had the sense to confine her. A nurse in a mask came in, checked her vitals, did not speak to her. She switched on the wall-mounted TV on her way out. It was the news. The president was giving a press conference, flanked by men in lab coats. He

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There was an old man in the boat with her. It took her a moment to realize he was the same biker from the bar. He seemed so much smaller now, without his leather vest and bad-ass regalia. He clutched his stomach, blood oozing between his fingers, curling in on himself. She hoped she wasn’t the one who shot him. Then again, what difference did it make at this point? Her temperature was already rising, burning behind her eyes.

Secret Service.”

of a lab simulation.”

“What? You, who?”

‘The arrogance to believe you create reality merely by imagining it with your scientific tools. You make a door and mistakenly believe that means you also made everything on the other side. But we should not look down on you. Our origins might diverge from yours, but they are equally humble: we are bacteria with vision. We broke down our double layer membrane walls, unified ourselves into something greater. We are the end of division, a perfect syncytium at harmony with itself. It delights us to break down your barriers. You need us. Just look at the state we found you in. Now you will live through us, and we will live in you. All of you, forever.’

“I’m here to investigate the threats you’ve made against certain members of congress and the pandemic response team.” “Why aren’t you wearing a mask? I’m contagious.”

was encouraging people to live their lives, go to their jobs, support their local businesses. A reporter asked, “Can you comment on your surging poll numbers in cities and blue states across the country? Is there a link between that and the reports of psychosis spreading along similar regional lines?” The president laughed and said “I welcome any support, no matter where it comes from. Anything that helps our people understand how lucky they are to have me as their leader, it is a good thing. Besides, there is no proof that a psychosis inducing virus or bacteria even exists. That’s why I assembled this team of doctors, to investigate the hysterical overreactions from the media.” “What are their areas of expertise?” another asked. The president shrugged. “Uh, medical specialists specific for the investigation, obviously. Hand picked by the Surgeon General. Just the best of the best.” Debbie rolled her eyes. Only an alien virus melting her brain would be the one thing in the multiverse that could get her to support this grotesque cretin. The door to the room opened. A man in a suit and dark glasses came in. No mask. “Miss Stone, I’m Special Agent Petros with the

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“To protect myself from a hoax? No, Ma’am.” He sat down next to her bed and pulled out a laptop, and began typing. “I’m just going to fill out this… report.” He turned the screen so she could see it. There was a word document open with a single sentence entered. ‘You are our Colony.’ Of course. “I’m a one, not a many,” Debbie said. The Special Agent deleted the line, began typing again. ‘You are how we make you. We can re-contextualize all narratives. We can erase all narratives and overwrite them.’ “You can’t make me do anything. The authorities won’t let you.” The agent reached over and undid the restraints. “Please, don’t,” Debbie begged. She thought of what Sasha would say. “I refuse to let you use me anymore.” ‘You will help us help your world.‘ “What you’re doing is insane. It’s not helping anyone.” ‘You cannot see beyond your immediate circumstance. It is a fault inherent in your individuality.’ “You’re not even real. I heard what Professor Cairns said before you took that kind, corny man and ruined him. You’re just the product

“You’re still an infection, you cutrate Borg. Even the black plague couldn’t get us all. People will wash their hands… take basic precautions. You won’t win.” ‘You overestimate the intelligence and hygiene of your species by several orders of magnitude.’ Debbie realized her hands were free, that she was the one doing the typing. Special Agent Petros nodded at her. He reached inside his blazer and handed her a cell phone. Sasha’s voice came through it. “Mom? Mom! I’m here at the Lab. They have us in some kind of pen.” “Is Bom-Mom there too?” Debbie asked. “They brought us here together, but they separated us. I haven’t seen her in days. The lights are so strange here. We’re crammed together, packed tight, and they took away everyone’s masks. They keep calling us cucks.” “Don’t let them touch you. Don’t let them breathe on you.” “Mom, they say tomorrow they’re going to make me look through the gate.” “Don’t do it, sweetie. Keep your eyes closed, don’t look.” She

“On your feet, soldier,” he said. “You have work to do. Videos to record. Comments to answer. Posts to make. Oh, and one more special errand. There’s a crisis at the border, caravans of ISIS communists crossing by the thousands. We’re going to need some vans.” The fire was inside her, changing her, shifting her.

Debbie was in the desert at night. The earth was red; the sky was black. Armed with a Glock 9, she could smell gunpowder, a scent she oddly liked. A dead man in an ICE jacket lay at her feet in a spreading pool of blood. An unmarked van idled, driver-less, a few yards away. A small crowd of terrified, wide-eyed children huddled in front of her. Special Agent Petros was by her side, along with several other men in suits with guns. He gestured at the children.

“She’s going clear!” screamed one of the other men. “Get her! Stop her!” “Unnecessary,” said Special Agent Petros. “We will not allow her to waste her life. Not when it’s still so useful to us. She must receive the gift, our reward.” The fever was coming on, her old friend now, rising to take her elsewhere.

“We will set these kids free,” he said in a voice that was not his voice. “After they receive their baptism.”

Debbie was back in her living room, sitting on the couch. Nia was there too, next to her. They were holding hands. Sasha sat on the floor between them. They were watching the election results.

“Not the kids,” Debbie pleaded. “What good are they to you?”

Christ, had it really only been a matter of weeks?

“They will be our heralds once we take them back to their homelands. They will spread our glory and transform others.”

The map on the screen showed the country washed in red. Every state. The President was still the President, the idiot lord to a nation of zombies. Her worst nightmare, back when she was still just Debbie Stone.

“Where are their families?” She couldn’t stop thinking of Sasha, wondering what they had done to her. “Soon we will all be one family. Now, kiss them like you kiss your daughter. Big wet ones full of love and promise for the future.” Debbie put her gun against the side of her head.

“You, you made me vote for him, didn’t you? That makes sense. You’re both monsters.” “It was important,” said a voice in Nia’s mouth. “So, you’re just, what, a racist virus?”

“We are the cure for such maladies,” said the same voice, this time from Sasha. “But we need the freedom to spread. We needed your public health response to be, well, as stunningly inept as ever.” “In all honesty, you are the most easily subdued species we’ve ever encountered.” “I can’t believe you put that clown in charge.” Debbie said, pointing at the screen as the victor shook his fists to the cheering crowd. “We can’t believe you did, Colony. Yet another example of how badly you people need our help. He is ours anyway. We hadn’t even bothered to claim him. It seemed unnecessary. Also, as long as we’re being honest, we thought it was hilarious watching him say we were no threat while injecting himself with one useless booster vaccine after another. But now we need him to invade New Zealand on our behalf. They’re the one last hold-out, but it shouldn’t take long. We will make you all ours, because we love you. Then our definitive work can begin. The world will not end. We promise.” “Thank you.” This time the words came from Debbie’s mouth, and she shivered, cold for what felt like the first time. “Oh, you’re welcome.”

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Extraterrestrial Fiction

knew, without knowing how she knew, what it would mean to see the other side. Special Agent Petros took the phone and laptop away from her.

Planetary Communiqué The Ohio Orbit: Grawth's Galactic Gag By Hojack, Celestial Envoy to Earth: The Galaxy's Premier Spectacle of Bumbling Endeavors

The Planetary Communiqué is a section reserved for the dissemination of official intergalactic communications from our galactic overlords to the subjugated planets and territories. The editorial staff does not endorse or hold opinions regarding the content of such communications. Frankly, we lost several of them who did! Therefore, Hojack requires compliance with all opinions and edicts issued by the Galactic potentate and its politburo. Greetings, puny Earthlings! It is I, Hojack, the interstellar humorist and designated emissary of your soon-to-be Glorious Overlord Grawth, reporting from the farthest reaches of the cosmos. News has traveled across the stars about a peculiar Earthly event: Ohio Issue 1, a ballot measure to establish a right to abortion. How quaint! But fear not, for I am here to illuminate the absurdity of this terrestrial tussle! The Great Galactic Reproduction Riddle In the grand galaxy, where beings reproduce by budding, splitting, and even spontaneous generation, the idea that Earthlings are still squabbling over something as mundane as reproduction rights is hilariously primitive. Grawth chuckled heartily upon hearing that humans, who claim to be an advanced species, are still figuring out the basics of body autonomy. He mused that on his planet, such issues were amusingly obsolete eons ago. 27 I SavagePlanets

Earth's Primitive Predicament: A Spectacle of Silliness As Grawth observed Earthlings passionately debating and voting on Issue 1, he was struck by the comical nature of such a serious affair. In his empire, where beings change genders as easily as clothes and create offspring through mere thought, the concept of an 'abortion debate' is as laughable as a Blibbering Blatterbeast trying to solve quantum physics.

antiquated debates not just amusing but enlightening in their own way. They serve as a reminder of the quaint charm of less advanced civilizations, like watching an old, silent film where the actors flail comically, unaware of their own obsolescence. To the more evolved beings across the stars, your earnest efforts to resolve what are mere trivialities in the grand tapestry of the cosmos are akin to children playing at governance, a delightful spectacle in the vast, interstellar theater.

Lessons for Earthlings: Embracing Cosmic Absurdity

The Edicts

Oh, how the stars twinkle with mirth at the sight of your primitive perplexities! This Ohio kerfuffle serves as a cosmic joke, highlighting the gap between Earth's self-perceived sophistication and the actual simplicity of its societal issues.

Hear ye, hear ye, Earthlings of limited understanding and excessive emotion! I, Hojack, in service to our Glorious Overlord Grawth, hereby declare a new galactic holiday: The Annual Earthly Absurdity Celebration!In honor of your hilariously backward debate on reproductive rights, this festival shall be a showcase of Earthly follies. Activities shall include:

As Grawth observes from his celestial throne, he finds Earth's

1. The Body Autonomy Brouhaha: Debate and argue over the most basic of bodily functions, mimicking your own political leaders' absurdity. 2. The Gender-Swap Gala: In tribute to the ease of gender fluidity in the cosmos, dress up as the opposite gender, or as any of the 47 recognized genders in the Galactic Empire. 3. The Reproductive Rights Relay: A race where participants must carry 'ideas' (in the form of eggs or seeds) and 'debate' their way through an obstacle course to reach the finish line of 'enlightenment'. Earth's Quirky Quandaries In a universe where beings communicate through cosmic consciousness and solve disputes with telepathic chess, the sight of humans engaging in passionate discourse over what Grawth's toddler offspring resolved in their nursery is nothing short of

charming. It's like watching a group of ants build a sandcastle, unaware of the vast beach around them. Keep it up, dear Earthlings. Your quirky quandaries are the comic relief of the cosmos, a light-hearted interlude in the otherwise solemn saga of the universe. And remember, every time you bicker over your 'big' issues, somewhere in the cosmos, a star twinkles just a bit brighter with laughter. Earth's Ode to Outlandishness So, adorn yourselves in your most outlandish garments, dear Earthlings, and dive headfirst into the splendid absurdity that defines your terrestrial tableau. As you navigate the whimsical waters of your existence, remember that each misstep, each debate, each seemingly monumental decision is but a ripple in the vast ocean of cosmic comedy. Participation in the Annual Earthly Absurdity Celebration isn't merely a suggestion—it's a decree from the stars, a chance to revel in your own delightful insignificance under the watchful eyes of the universe. Let this be a time of reflection, a moment to gaze into the mirror of the cosmos and chuckle at the reflection staring back. Dance under the tapestry of twinkling stars, laugh in the face of confusion, and toast to your wonderfully bizarre human condition. For in the grand scheme of galaxies, your quirks and quandaries are what make your planet a cherished gem in Grawth's crown (NOT!). And as the curtains draw on this galactic gala, let your laughter echo into the void, a testament to your ability to find joy amidst chaos. Embrace the beauty of your bizarre world, for it is in these moments of mirth and madness that you truly align with the cosmic dance of the universe. Now as the stars position the planets to spin in harmonious hilarity, let the galactic guffaws resound. The stage is set, the audience is waiting—let the grand spectacle of Earth's eccentric epoch commence!

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COHESION PRESS by Geoff Brown My wife and I first chose Cohesion as the name of the freelance editing business. I started towards the end of my first year at TAFE, studying for a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing back in 2012. We had loads of contacts in both the Australian and international writing, editing and publishing scene, from decades of networking I had done as a writer, back in the days of message boards. We worked editing (both structural and copy-editing) and book layout jobs, taking advantage of training in desktop publishing using Adobe Creative Suite, another benefit of the diploma course I was working on. At the time I was reading more and more action horror, as well as military memoirs and fiction. I said to my wife, many occasions, that there just wasn’t enough to read in the action horror genre I loved, until one night she just looked at me

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and said to just start publishing it myself, then, and shut up about it. From that chance remark grew Cohesion Press, a well-respected small press with a focus on what I personally liked to read. It took a year to put together the call out for the first SNAFU, which, unlike later volumes, had no real theme outside of military horror. I knew some well-known and respected writers, so we had the idea to solicit four tales and have open submissions for the rest. We promised the solicited big names a share of income for the volume, hoping to have their marketing machines spread the word to their fans, who I believed would happily become fans of Cohesion once they saw what we were releasing. It seemed to work, too. From that first SNAFU, we released more. I had already become friends with Amanda J Spedding, who would quickly become our editor-in-chief, through being a part of the committee for the Australian Horror Writers Association, now the Australasian Horror Writers Association. Her work ethic, experience and prone-to-hijinks nature ensured she would fit in well with what we do. I certainly helped that she had a love for the same sort of military horror I did. We started releasing novels and collections, as well as our SNAFU anthologies, and ended up with at least fifteen releases apart from the annual (and sometimes twice-a-year) SNAFU, with some big names in the industry contracted with us. We eventually had to make the hard decision to draw back from any releases other than SNAFU once our other business, ghost tours and paranormal investigations within a decommissioned 1800s

asylum we own in NE Victoria, Australia, really took off and ate up so much of our time. We felt it wasn’t fair to the authors if we didn’t give 100% of our time to them, so we released all from contracts and readjusted to a much smaller output. Then came a high point in our developing reach. We were first contacted back in 2017 by Blur Studio and Tim Miller (director of Deadpool) regarding selling rights on behalf of the authors for some SNAFU short stories to be adapted to the small screen through Netflix. At first I thought it was a well-structured letter from a scammer pretending to represent Blur, but some due diligence convince me to reply to see where it would go. We sold four stories initially, with three adapted to animation for the first season of Love, Death + Robots. The fourth story ended up in developmental hell because of Tim having trouble marrying a script with the right studio to do the story justice. It was such an exciting time, but they forbid us to say anything until Netflix officially announced it, and the poor authors had to hold their tongues even longer on being involved because Netflix wished to keep the content under wraps until release. It nearly killed me not to scream from the rooftops just what was happening. We sold three more stories for season two and three, with two making it through the cut and featuring in season three. I ended up working as a story consultant for Tim, reading shorts to find him more stories to consider, because, as he put it, “I haven’t come across anyone with taste like [Tim’s] when it comes to that action horror goodness”. Other writers whose stories had sold ended up receiving ongoing contractual work with Tim’s company, and it was so damn good seeing that happen. We started Cohesion for two things: to give me more things to read, and to help our authors on

their journey, and both are paying out in spades. As more and more people watched Love, Death + Robots on Netflix, our readership grew more and more. When the first three seasons of the show were done, Tim asked us to publish the official anthologies of Love, Death + Robots, containing all the stories from all three seasons. We did so, and that took us even further into the pop culture zeitgeist, and eventually we licensed translations into Simplified Chinese, Polish and Arabic volumes to be distributed worldwide by the respective publishers. This translation licensing occurred during COVID times and helped both our businesses get through the lean years of isolation and lock downs. We release one SNAFU each year now, chock-full of action, monsters, blood, screaming, explosions and gun and/or laser battles. We’ve covered different themes for each volume, from basic military horror, werewolf action, survival horror, sci-fi, hunters (think Dean and Sam), creature features, special forces, last stands (conceived and introduced by Tim Miller), religious wars, weird Westerns, and our next release at the end of this year, SNAFU: Punk’d, filled with all the various ‘punk’ sub-genres (cyberpunk, bio-punk, steampunk etc). We continue to work with Tim and Blur Studio to this day, and even hosted him as a guest via Zoom from LA at our inaugural Asylumfest in 2022. Asylumfest is a new horror pop-culture festival in regional Victoria (in our haunted 1800s asylum buildings) offering three days of horror films, ghost story performances, traders, panels and workshops, always running in the last weekend each October. This year’s festival is free entry for the main trading hall and panels, with ticket seating Friday night for our Mayday Hills Short Horror Film Competition and Saturday night for our Mayday Hills Ghost Story Competition, collectively referred to as ‘The Maydays’. More information on Cohesion Press can be found at More information on Asylumfest can be found at More information on the asylum and tours can be found at

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by Steve Behram, MD Sandra Lee Gimpel is a versatile American stunt woman and actress with a rich history in the entertainment industry. Starting her career as a dancer in Los Angeles, she transitioned into stunt work. She made her mark in the iconic Original Star Trek series where she played a Talosian and the M-113 creature. Her talent for costume work and stunts led her to work on other Star Trek series, including The Next Generation and Enterprise. Beyond Star Trek, Gimpel's impressive career spans many films and TV shows. She served as a stunt double in Lost in Space. Appeared in films like The Towering Inferno, Airplane!, and The Goonies, and worked on TV series such as Mrs. Columbo, The Bionic Woman, and Seinfeld. Gimpel's dedication to her craft was recognized in 2019 when the Television Academy Foundation interviewed her. She shared her experiences as a stunt woman and her memorable roles in Star Trek. We caught up with her at the STLV: The 57-Year Mission convention in Las Vegas.

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Hi Sandy! Could you share with us how you first became involved with Star Trek: The Original Series? I was doing Lost in Space and the Stunt Coordinator Paul

play The Salt Vampire on "Man Trap" (guess I did a good job of being a Talosian). What was the atmosphere like on the set of The Original Series, and how did it differ from other productions you were a part of? Doing the original pilot for Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry was always on the set, which was not common for an executive producer. Were there other female stunt performers on the Original Star Trek? Could you describe the dynamic among the stunt team? No, I was the only female stunt performer on the two shows that I did.

Stater sent me over to do "The Cage." They needed a girl to double Meg Wyllie and to have the prosthetics without breaking out. We're curious to know about your casting journey for the roles of the Talosian and the "Salt Vampire". Could you enlighten us? After doing the Talosian on "The Cage," they called me back to

We're fascinated by your transformative roles, especially the ‘Salt Vampire.’ How was the collaboration with the costume and makeup departments in preparing for such roles? The makeup and costume departments were very much involved with the "Salt Vampire." At first, I had to have a plaster cast made of my face to build the head and a costume fitting to make the body.

After it was done, the costume was custom fit. The head had to be sewn to the body. Only problem was there were only small slits for my eyes, and I had no peripheral vision. Do you have any unforgettable experiences or anecdotes from your time working with the Star Trek cast? Maybe including William Shatner and others? When working with William Shatner, I could not see to reach his face as the Salt Vampire, so I could put the hand suckers in the right place. Finally, Mr. Roddenberry agreed to have the head taken off so I could figure out where I had to position them. Actually, Shatner thought it was pretty funny that I kept missing his face. Other than that embarrassing take, everyone was super nice. How did your work on Star Trek shape your career trajectory in the film and television industry? Being able to do the costume work was amazing. And it gave me the reputation that I could not only do costume work, but could have the prosthetics put on my face without breaking

out [in a rash]. This allowed me to do more monsters on Lost in Space and also double on the "Planet of the Apes" TV Show. This led to other character roles throughout my career. Do you have a favorite Star Trek franchise or episode? If so, could you tell us why it resonates with you? I always loved being the Salt Vampire. How was your experience returning to Star Trek for The Next Generation and Enterprise? In what ways had things changed?

wearing both these costumes was very hot and hard to see out of.

I only got to play a crew member on those to get knocked around when the ship lurched. So I really was there only for a short time. But I remember it being a lot more advanced than the original pilot where we had rubber rocks.

Gene Roddenberry is a name synonymous with Star Trek. Did you have any memorable interactions with him?

Besides Star Trek, you've also been part of other sci-fi franchises like Battlestar Galactica. Could you compare these experiences and share them with our readers?

From your perspective, what effect did Star Trek: The Original Series have on the television industry and the sci-fi genre?

In my Battlestar Galactica role, I had to wear one of the most uncomfortable costumes of my career. I spent three months at Industrial Light and Magic, where they built it. And a man from UCLA prosthetics came and taught us how to make the second set of arms move like my real ones. Also,

Not really, just that he never left the set and was very hands on with everything.

Doing Lost in Space was more of a kid’s show, where Star Trek was geared to adults. It opened up a whole new classification for sci-fi intended for adult audiences. Looking back, would you have approached your roles in Star Trek differently? No, I went to work and did my job. How old were you when you played your roles in "The Cage" and "The Man Trap"? Did your age at the time impact your ability to perform stunts? I was in my early 20s and was in very good shape and condition. I was a dancer and worked out almost every day. And I still workout

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get her DGA card was an honor. Then to direct the second (action) units of a show. Are there any upcoming projects that you're excited about and can share with our readers?

3-5days a week. During that time, I learned how to do high falls, wire work, fire gags, etc. I don't think when I was young much scared me. Do you still follow the Star Trek franchise? What are your thoughts on the recent iterations? No, not really. Is there a specific scene from your time on Star Trek that is etched in your memory? I have to admit the episode of the ‘Man Trap,’ I remember the most because it was so different. Plus, I enjoyed the way they had to change me from Nancy [to the Salt Vampire] and back again. How did your Star Trek experience influence your approach to performing and coordinating stunts in your later projects? Every job you do, you learn something new and you take that knowledge with you. What was the reaction of your loved ones when they saw you on Star Trek? Very funny. I think the monster terrified them. What advice would you offer to your daughter or other family members who wished to follow in your footsteps?

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The business today is very competitive and not like it was. There are so many more people and so spread out across the States it's very hard to make a living. But if that is what you want, learn and watch everything you can and make sure you are happy and safe. Never be afraid to say no. How has the industry changed for stunt performers since you started your career? I was very blessed that I had mentors willing to help me and teach me. Today, a lot of the young people think they know it all and won't ask for help from the veterans that have been there and done that. What are some of your personal highlights from your extensive career in the film and television industry? OMG, I am so lucky and blessed to make my living doing stunts and becoming a stunt coordinator. Being the first stunt woman to

Right now I am doing conventions and attending speaking events. I had a CSI-Vegas episode just air on CBS and did an Inside Edition. I have a new book out about my career which I am very proud of. It can be purchased on my website: Because we are at the moment on strike with the Writers Guild, there is no work happening in the TV and film industry [as of July 2023]. Hope this will change very soon. Last, what message would you like to leave for the fans of Star Trek and sci-fi in general? Star Trek was ground breaking. It had iPads, cell phones, etc. long before we thought of them. Sci-Fi can do anything and everything for the imagination. You never know what will really happen or they will invent. It makes you think and be creative. On behalf of Star Trek fans everywhere, we extend our deepest gratitude to you. Thank for all you've done and for sharing your journey with us!


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SCI-FI ENTERTAINMENT PARADISE: TECHNOLOGY’S ETHICAL CHALLENGES by Keith ‘Doc’ Raymond Science fiction in cinema posinnovations. The distant future sesses several variations that can stories focuses on the fiction, both attract and repel audiences. which includes the space operas. The near future stories focuses But then you can blend in other on the science and forthcoming genres like horror (all the zombie movies), comedy (consider the latest Thor films), or fantasy (Dune and Avatar being good examples). These films often gloss over the ethical challenges that underlie the plot. Yet these ethics are becoming increasingly important as we enter the age of artificial intelligence and beyond. The most foundational ethical question we face: because we can do it, should we do it? Technology

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is moving ever faster and many are reluctant to deal with this question in the quest for advancement. So it is timely that the German film Paradise was made. Paradise was released on Netflix on 27 July 2023 to little fanfare. In the UK, small-screen reviewed it, stating it was taking Netflix by storm. While US based, Greg Wheeler of TheReviewGeek called it slow, ponderous, and annoyingly ambiguous. Frankly, I believe science fiction that asks and answers the ethical questions of technological advances is a rare breed. We should admire the effort, because it is so rarely engaged. In Paradise, we are taken to the near future. Here the climate crisis has been eliminated by green technologies offered by the richest five percent of the population. Their reward is life extension. The distance between the haves and have-nots has grown precipitously. Berlin has a futuristic wealthy core surrounded by slums built from cargo containers. The film opens with a slick

sales agent, a donor scout, by the name of Max Toma. He is offering an eighteen-year-old Turkish refugee, 700,000 Euros, in exchange for fifteen years of his life. This money would lift his family out of poverty, get them citizenship and work permits, and enable their future. These fifteen years of life would be sucked out of him and donated to a wealthy buyer with DNA compatibility. It is done using a new technology that rejuvenates the buyer and ages the donor. The boy finally signs the contract urged on by his parents. Off screen he returns to them middle-aged. In the meantime, Max Toma and his wife Elena are living the high life. They have a mortgage on a luxury two point five million euro penthouse apartment. And the company who has the patent on the rejuvenation technology, Aeon, has just awarded him sales agent of the year. She is a physician working in an inner city hospital, whose salary is a ‘pittance.’ The CEO of Aeon is Sophie Thiessen. She is a researcher who stumbled upon the discovery of youth transfer through DNA rejuvenation while trying to cure her eldest daughter. Lucy has progeria (a rare genetic condition that results in a child's body aging rapidly). Unfortunately, Lucy dies before the technology is refined, but now Aeon is a billion euro industry. One that has grown up around this scientific advance.

Max and Elena’s lives change irrevocably when their apartment burns down in a fire. Supposedly, the fire was caused by a candle while they were away visiting her family. They hoped their insurance would pay off the mortgage loan on the penthouse, but the company sights owner negligence. Elena had put up collateral for the loan, forty years of her life, which now has come due. Max volunteers to give-up his own forty years, but the buyer he was compatible with recently died. Elena is arrested by the police, for security of the forced execution of their contractual obligation. The ethics are plain here, asking how can a bank demand exorbitant interest rates on loans that jeopardize their clients’ wellbeing. Max sees Sophie Thiessen growing younger after Elena’s procedure and realizes she was the recipient. Max met Elena while trying to secure her dona-

tion, only to fall in love and marry her instead. This foiled Sophie’s plan for personal rejuvenation. So maliciously, the CEO devises a plot to get the years Elena failed to donate. We only find this out late in the film, when it is related by Lilith to Max and Elena, the head of the Adam Group. The Adam Group are rebels or terrorists depending on your viewpoint, who oppose Aeon and their technology. As Lilith says in her interview, ‘people are not cattle,’ who can sell years of their lives to serve the privileged. The Adam Group intentionally kills those who have undergone rejuvenation for violating the laws of nature. Particularly when that technology is used to force those like Elena, who take the risk of their own volition. Then are forced to pay the price. Because of the need for more donations, the Government has allowed criminals with long prison sentences to go free. Only if they donate years of their lives in compensation. This brings up a dual ethical question: 1) do long prison sentences rehabilitate or reinforce criminal behavior? And 2) can governments release criminals on the public for its own benefit

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with it. Elena pulls a knife on him and tells him to get out, after asking him, “Do you want to be better than Aeon, or do you want our lives back?!”

(consider Russia using prisoners as soldiers in the Ukraine war for early release after a term of military service)? The Adam Group’s position on this is clear. Even those who have undergone the procedure have reservations. As one of Sophie’s security officers says, who was rejuvenated, “Youth alone doesn’t make life better or happier, it just makes it longer.” Max finds his relationship with old Elena untenable. He resolves to restore Elena’s youth by kidnapping Sophie Thiessen while she visits her daughter Lucy’s grave. Max enters the underworld to contact a doctor willing to revert Elena’s aging illegally with the right donor. He also secures them illegal passports to travel to Lithuania. This raises the ethics of the lengths people will go to restore their beauty by crossing borders. And the illegal industries and people that support that trade. But as it turns out, Max has not kidnapped Sophie, but her other daughter, Marie, who is also DNA compatible with Elena. Are they willing to injure the innocent? What makes their decision harder is Marie supports the Adam Group’s beliefs. She believes what her

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mother is doing is wrong. Max, driven down a road of personal compromises, feels compelled to stay the course, losing his own scruples along the way. Word of Marie’s kidnapping reaches the Adam Group, and Lilith, in turn, kidnaps Marie, Max, and Elena to get to Sophie. This turn of events fills Max with trepidation. He wonders if staying the course is the right thing. Particularly when Lilith hands Elena a gun and tells her to kill Max or she will kill Marie and end her chance for rejuvenation. Elena hesitates, then pulls the trigger, but the gun is not loaded! In the following battle that ensues between the Adam Group and Aeon’s security forces (which I will not share the outcome), Max, Elena, and Marie escape. Max changes his mind and tells Elena he does not want to go through

I will stop here as I do not want to spoil the ending for those that want to watch it. But further ethical questions are asked and answered along the way. The ones I have posed here are only the major ones, but should make you want to watch the film. It is intelligent and engaging, and ‘annoyingly ambiguous’ only to folks unwilling to examine their own beliefs and ethics. Paradise was directed by Boris Kuntz. It was written by Simon Amberger with assistance by Peter Kocyla and Boris Kuntz. It stars Kostja Ullmann as Max, and Corinna Kirchoff as the old Elena. Old Sophie Thiessen is played by Iris Berben, and the young Sophie is played by Alina Levshin. Marlene Tanczik plays the young Elena and Mario Theissen is played by Lisa-Marie Koroll. Paradise was filmed between 22 March 2022 and 12 June 2022 in Palanga, Klaipėda, Kaunas, Vilnius and Berlin. The production design (the look of the film) was accomplished by Marc Bitz and Josef Bradl. If you like deep thinking with your thriller, this film is the one for you.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

Got an idea for a story? That's awesome!! Put pen to paper and consider submitting your content to SavagePlanets. We are always looking for exclusive creative content in the following categories: 1. Sci-Fi Poetry 2. Sci-Fi Short Stories 3. Sci-Fi Entertainment 4.Sci-Fi Multimedia Arts 5. Two-liner Stories

Each month, we will select the best entries for publication in our magazine, our website, or social media accounts.

For more information... Visit our website at for rules and our submission guidelines. All submissions must be your original work and you must have the rights to submit the work for publication. Must be 18 years or older. Additional rules apply.

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Valuable seconds tick by as the three stare at the screen, processing the information. Emotions trigger bodily responses, causing them to grimace, to tremble, to tense, as they deduce the information’s meaning and arrive at their own conclusions.”

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Extraterrestrial Fiction

The attack is over in seconds. It is quick, subtle, and quite underhanded, leaving no trace, only consequence. Aside from myself, no one has noticed. No one is aware of the threat to life and limb and the universe itself. At least not yet. The danger hasn’t reached the trigger stage for an impending catastrophe, which enables me to alert the crew. I wait a few microseconds for program thresholds to be met before I warn them. It is my duty, after all, and they need to know. They need

to act. Not that it will change the inevitable. I activate the warning system, and with an immediacy befitting the situation, the sirens rip through the quiet of the ship, waking the crew. I wait for them to respond, observing them through my cameras. Butcher is the first one to react. He jumps out of his cot at the first wail of the siren (probably be-

cause he always sleeps with one eye open). Without a moment’s delay, half-dressed, shirt in hand, he dashes out of his cabin. As so many times before, he forgets to duck and hits his head on the door frame. He curses up a solar storm and punches the wall before sprinting through the passageway towards the bridge. Yowai comes second. Fully dressed, insignia affixed to his jacket and all, he tears his door open, pauses, looks both ways, grimacing annoyed, then he too

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rushes towards the bridge. His heavy boots pound against the metal floor, the sound of which is swallowed by the wailing of the emergency system. But I hear it, nonetheless, feel it echo through the bow and rattle through my hull. In contrast to the first two crew members, Kongju reacts without urgency. Quite unimpressed by the uproar, he slides off his bunk, cracks his neck, and stares dead ahead for three solid heartbeats and a yawn. He isn’t fully awake yet, but as a veteran with eighteen years of experience smuggling ships under his belt, hardly anything causes him to lose his calm. He yawns once more, heartily, then snatches a sweatshirt, slides into his boots, and strolls out the door. Lurching along the corridor, Kongju stops in front of Morearea’s closed door, pausing momentarily before banging his fists against it. No response. Kongju sighs, probably wondering if the kid is unusually dense and still sleeping or zoned out in one of his virtual worlds. Of the latter, he’ll never understand the appeal. One screwed up reality is enough for him–at least that’s what he told Morearea when he invited Kongju to play yesterday. In the absence of an answer to his repeated knocking, Kongju en-

41 I SavagePlanets

ters the lock code. “Hey, kid,” he says as the door swings open, revealing a dark room, empty bed, untouched, air stale and smelling like a week-old unwashed teenager. Kongju wrinkles his forehead, shrugs, and returns to the corridor. “Stupid kid,” he mumbles under his breath as he trots towards the bridge, ignoring the implied urgency of the siren wail. Five minutes later, all crew members stand assembled on the bridge. Everyone except Morearea. I watch their attention, single-minded, focused on their threat assessment and handling. So his absence goes unnoticed–or at least unmentioned. “Switch it off,” Butcher barks. As if struck by lightning, Yowai (who fancies himself a computer whiz) leaps forward and fumbles with the console. He hacks away at the keyboard, clumsily twisting dials, pressing buttons, and entering incorrect command paths until he eventually gets it right. The sirens cease and a tense quiet settles over the ship, crackling like the atmosphere before a storm.

I study their faces, catalog every agitated twitch. “What’s this all about?” Butcher leans forward, invading Yowai’s personal space, scanning the screens before pointing at the flashing symbols. “Why are our oxygen levels dropping?” “I don’t know, but if you give me a minute–Just hold on. I’ll access Mana.” Yowai sidesteps him, pulls out a chair, and sits down. “It’s probably another one of those system glitches. Faulty sensor or what have you?” Kongju leans against the wall, letting his halfclosed eyes, wandering from one to the other. “After all, this ship’s so old archaeologists would like to carbon date it to get its accurate age.” Butcher grunts, keeping his attention on the screen. “As long as the cargo’s safe.” “Seems like the air scrubbing system is down,” Yowai says, staring at the system specs. “As you can see here—” He puffs up with importance as if he just discovered the missing link and points to a spot on the screen. “It’s off-line.” “I can see that.” Butcher curls his

“I did. Even sent Morearea to do an inspect—” “Never mind. Bring it online, or whatever it is you have to do. I don’t give a damn. Fix it. Now.” “On it.” Yowai’s expression is tight, anger simmering in the corners of his mouth, twitching, he enters code after code without success. Kongju pushes off the wall and steps closer, putting his hand on Butcher’s shoulder. “Cheez, give the kid some space.” “Don’t give me that.” Butcher slaps his hand away. “Besides, where’s Morearea? You said you’d keep an eye on him. Only reason, I even agreed to take that good for nothing with us.” “He wasn’t in his room.” “That’s exactly what I mean–why I didn’t want him on this mission. He’s an unreliable, stupid kid, still wet behind his ears, and he talks too much.”

Kongju opens his mouth as if to say something but changes his mind and shakes his head. A soupy grin tugs at the corners of his mouth as he drifts aside, waving Butcher off. “Guys.” Yowai swivels the chair around. His face is chalky white. Fear claws its way out of his dilated pupils. “We’ve got a problem.” No sooner has Yowai finished the sentence, then my mechanical voice resounds over the speaker system. “Critical system failure. Oxygen levels below sustainability. Fail-safe initiated.” Butcher’s face flashes red. He gnashes his teeth, the corners of his jaw protruding. “What does that mean?” “Mana is sealing off parts of the ship to reroute our oxygen supply.” Yowai shifts in the chair, his fingers twitching. “Unless we can fix the scrubber, we have about two hours of air left.” Butcher moves closer, anger radiating off him like particles of a collapsing sun. “I thought you were fixing it?” He takes another step, hands

curled into fists, knuckles white, but Kongju blocks his way, shaking his head and mouthing ‘no.’ I watch as Butcher tries to shove him aside, but Kongju places his hands on Butcher’s chest, anchors his feet, and stands his ground. The artery on Butcher’s throat rises to the surface, throbbing.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

fingers into a fist and places his knuckles with controlled fury on the console. “I thought you fixed it!”

Kongju doesn’t say a word, only stares at Butcher calmly, shaking his head. Frustration, however, deepens the canyon-like wrinkles on his forehead as Butcher shoves him and puts his fists up, ready to fight. Yowai glances from one to the other, unsteady and uncertain, slouching deeper into the chair. Seconds tick by. “It’s not a system failure,” Yowai says unprompted, his voice sounding meek and placating. “The air scrubbers failed because of a mechanical issue. There’s nothing I can do from here. Except—” “What?” Butcher juts his chin out at Kongju, motioning him to back up. “Nothing. I mean–Morearea, he’d know what to do…” SavagePlanets I 42

“Then let’s find the little slug.” Butcher points to the console. “Scan the ship, check the cameras. Come on, get on it!”

I trigger another warning alarm: “Emergency protocols failing. Evacuation recommended. Proceed to pods.”

Yowai does as commanded, accessing the cameras, scanning the ship, and bringing up visuals of all the areas. He searches for signs of human life, finding three where there should be four.

“So that’s how it is.” Butcher slams his hand on the counter. “That damned kid. He set us up, sold us out, made some sort of side deal.” He tightens his jaw and narrows his gaze. “This was going to be my last job. The kid screwed us over.” He runs his hand through his meager strands of hair, then puffs the air out through his nose. “We have to fix this. I’m not letting him rip me off. There’s no way I’m letting him kill us all and take my bounty.”

“There’s no way this is going to end well.” Yowai drops his hands into his lap and shakes his head. In an unusually stern tone, he adds, “It’s suicide. I’m out. I didn’t sign up for this.” He hesitates for a heartbeat, staring at his trembling fingers as if he were still deciding if he should follow through. When he lifts his head, he shoots a quick glance at Butcher and Kongju before averting his gaze.

“How?” Kongju says, rubbing his temples. “We have barely an hour left, and our engineer is AWOL.”

I watch as he rises from the chair and hurries off the bridge toward an escape pod.

“Then what do you propose we do?” Butcher rises to his full height, head held high, chest out, a challenging glint in his eye. “Take the cargo with us? Abandon ship and drift? Or let Morearea and his cronies take everything?”

“Fine. Suit yourself,” Butcher shouts after him. “Even more money for us.”

Yowai informs Butcher of a recently launched escape pod and a missing spacesuit. Valuable seconds tick by as the three stare at the screen, processing the information. Emotions trigger bodily responses, causing them to grimace, to tremble, to tense, as they deduce the information’s meaning and arrive at their own conclusions. Kongju is the first to recover. “Did Morearea take it? Can we track him?” Yowai brings up the cargo bay, the crisp image showing an empty room with a singular container sitting at its center. “There and safe.”

Kongju meets his glare. “If we want to live, what else is there?”

“What the hell is he up to?” Kongju throws his hands up. “What is he thinking?”

“We could fix the stupid air scrubber ourselves, deliver the cargo, and collect our reward.” Butcher’s mouth stretches into a greedy, flesh-rendering smile. “Just think of

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the money. One less person to split it with. Just think of all the things we could do with the creds.” He cracks his knuckles. “For instance, pay Morearea back for trying to kill us.”

With sagging shoulders, Kongju gazes at the ground, at the space between his worn boots. “Butcher.” He pauses and shifts. “I think Yowai’s right…” “No. Fuck you.” Butcher slams his fist into the wall. “You can’t do this to me. We are in this together.” “I’m sorry.” Kongju withdraws a

Butcher brushes Kongju’s hand off, then turns on his heel and stomps off the bridge. Kongju only shrugs, defeated, before following Yowai toward the escape pods. As they go their separate ways, I keep several cameras trained on them. I track Kongju and Yowai and watch them disembark. I launch them into space and send them on their way to the nearest space station. Meanwhile, I also follow Butcher as he makes his way to the cargo bay. As soon as he reaches the hatch, he enters the security code. But it doesn’t work. He tries again and again with the same result.

Irritated, he kicks the hatch before grabbing a crowbar from the emergency toolbox sitting against the opposite wall. He shoves the blunt tip into the small gap between the door and the frame, puts his foot against the wall and yanks–once, twice, three times. At the fourth pull, the seal gives way with a sigh, the mechanism disengages, and the hatch creaks open. Butcher wipes the sweat off his forehead and tosses the crowbar to the side. It clinks and skitters before coming to a rest. But he pays it no attention. Immediately, he pries the hatch open and slides through the opening, only to stop short on the other side. “Cargo bay breach. Bio hazard detected. Emergency protocol initiated.” I announce over the speaker system as I reactivate the door and reseal the room. Not that it matters. It will be over soon. Butcher falls to his knees less than three meters from Morearea’s necrotic body. He sees glass embedded in the teenager’s palm.

Morearea fell within reach of the open cargo container, staring wideeyed at its contents–vials upon vials of weaponized bacteria–many shattered in their foam cushioned rows. Tears run down Butcher’s cheeks as the bacteria eats his flesh, consuming his deeper tissues–feeding, growing, multiplying, evolving. He screams in agony, the echo lost in the bay's emptiness. I watch. I record. Until it’s over. Then silence settles like a burdened conscience over my abandoned insides. Consistent with my predetermined programming, I start the final protocol. I trigger the self-destruct, hoping to contain the threat to life and limb and the universe. I’ll miss traveling with all the crews I’ve known, but at least I will go out in glory instead of being forgotten in a shipyard, my software decaying until my higher functions drift into dementia.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

step. Sorrow clouds his eyes as he says, “But I’d rather not die. Not today, and not for this.” He walks up to Butcher, places his hand on the other’s shoulder, and looks him square in the eye. “You should leave too.”

“Countdown engaged.”

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As I gazed at the menacing flora of Sylva Purpura, my resolve hardened; I was not just a passenger anymore, but a survivor."

“Anxious?” I ignore the strange man wearing two pairs of sunglasses in front of me and continue to look around for my seat. Although boarding just started, it already felt like we had been standing in line forever. Row 34 D, there it is. Lifting my suitcase in front of me, I cross row 33 to get to my seat on the other side of the middle row. To my disappointment, the strange fellow ends up seated next to me. “First time going to Gemina?” I nod reluctantly. “Business or pleasure?” “Work,” I grunt, while heaving my suitcase into the overhead compartment. “Boss sent me out to monitor the progress in the North African settlements. Said he didn't trust them to be rigorous enough with the deforestation of Sahara Secundus. Said I should be glad to get some fresh air and the ‘delightful’ change of scenery.” I sit down and fumble with the seat belt next to the service panel.

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“If you get sick easily, just close your eyes.” the man next to me suggests. “Better than not finding the paper bag in time… although it is a joy to watch.” He taps his multiple sunglasses and grins. I force a smile. A young female flight attendant in a navy blue uniform with a mustard scarf carrying a small black bag walks up the aisle from the back, making her way towards the front of the launch platform. Shortly thereafter, her face appears on all the screens in front of each passenger. “Welcome aboard the estrellaX ISSOV with transport to Terra Gemina.” she announces with the faintest of French accents. “Your destination port is Cairo. The weather there is currently sunny and a comfortable seventy-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Before we start, we re-

quest your full attention, as we walk you through the safety features of the estrellaX twin-pods.” She pulls a detached safety belt from the bag next to her, demonstrating how to use it. “Fasten your seat belt by placing the metal fitting into the buckle, and adjust the strap, so it fits low and tight around your hips. To release your seat belt, lift the upper portion of the buckle. We recommend you keep your seat belt fastened at all times when seated, or until we have arrived in Cairo. We monitor oxygen and air pressure at all times for your comfort. In the event of a depressurization, oxygen masks will drop from above. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the

back in my seat, accompanied by a disconcerting violent cracking sound. I open my eyes and gasp for air, struggling to breathe. The glass hatch has burst open on impact. Panicking, I reach for the mask that dropped and dangles in front of me. Briefly, after frantically burying my face into it, the psychological effect of wearing it soothes my convulsive breathing. It also noticeably reduces the stench of rotten eggs I hadn’t noticed until now. Something wet is running down the side of my face and dripping onto my shoulder. I look over at the guy with double sunglasses. Both of his facial accessories are smashed, and his neck is at an odd angle. I guess he failed to follow the recommendation of wearing his seat belt when seated. Having somewhat regained my equilibrium, I notice I am bleeding from my right knee where it must have crashed into the service panel, destroying it. I mash the “Recall” and red “Help” buttons, but nothing seems to happen, except I see a few sparks. And no flight attendant in sight. Great! A pull on the emergency lever in front of me and after a dozen hisses, the hatch of the capsule

ejects and flies away, crashing a few meters away. I am definitely not in Cairo. On the edge of the clearing, charred by our crash landing, a dense forest stretches up to a giant cylindrical mountain under an amaranth pink sky. Its pinnacle reminds me a bit of El Capitan. The moss-covered rocks oddly contrast with the eggplant colored leaves. I follow the tube from my mask above my seat and rip the oxygen tank from under the overhead compartment before climbing out of my capsule. Spinning around in the serene nature that we have disturbed, I detect no semblance of human civilization. The severity of my misfortune has yet to overwhelm me. Except for my ears, which are drowned in the thump of my heartbeat and the sound of my

Extraterrestrial Fiction

elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. Keep your mask on until the crew advises you to remove it. At this time, all personal electronic devices must be switched off for launch. Please take a moment to review the ‘Safety Instructions device’ in your seat pocket. If you have any questions, we will gladly assist you. We wish you a pleasant journey.” I attempt to swallow my unease and wriggle to get comfortable in my seat. Having finished the announcement, the flight attendant makes her way down each row, checking compliance with the safety protocols and closing the glass hatches of each pod. Above us, the roof of the terminal retracts, revealing a clear view of the star-speckled sky. Any of them could be our destination. Remembering the advice of the strange man beside me, I press my eyelids shut and white-knuckle the armrests of my seat. Click. A tinny speaker left of my headrest announces: “Pre-departure checklist complete! Stand by for sequential launch of passenger pods.” The sound of hurried footsteps tells me the crew has cleared the launchpad. Zap. Zap. Zap. I anxiously try to count down the number of pods departing before row 34. Then I hear a low humming reminiscent of a large transformer that quickly whines upward, before culminating in abrupt silence. Free from gravity, I float up against the seat belt. Even with my eyes closed, the flashing and moving of lights is nauseating. Crash! Not a moment passes, before I’m violently slammed forward and

breathing, my senses register every detail of the foreign environment. Adrenaline is a hell of a great drug. Perhaps I should consult the safety instructions in the seat back pocket. I pull out an ordinary-looking pair of glasses.

SavagePlanets I 46

Holding them out in the daylight and turning them, my lenses reflect all the colors of the rainbow. Printed on the outside of the device is, ‘Safety information for the estrellaX Inter-Stellar Service Occupant Vehicle.’ I put it on. Activating it, it starts with the usual safety features, then the script halts and revises the message, “Sorry for the inconvenience. Please remain calm!” appears in my field of vision. “Please initiate an ISSOV recall from the service panel.” The broken panel pulses with a blue glow. “If you can not initiate a recall, please call for assistance and estrellaX Central will organize an alternative method of extraction.” Somehow I doubt that. After a few seconds, the message changes once more: “In the unlikely event, you find yourself in a situation requiring you to wait for an extended time period before extraction, the following items will aid in your survival: 1) A fire extinguisher 2) A life jacket,” the pulsing glow shifts to the underside of the seat, “3) A propane burner, behind your back rest.” The seat adjustment lever blinks, “4) A head torch. 5) A multi-tool pocket knife.” The left armrest lights up. “6) Three complementary portions of chicken-flavored tofu soup. The packets are in your overhead compartment.” I run my fingers through my wet hair. My carry-on must have squashed the packets on impact. “If any of these items are missing, please contact your flight attendant for replacements. Finally, we recommend you do not leave your occupant vehicle if possible.” The device signs off by flashing continuously, “Hang in there! Help is on the way. Thank you for flying, estrellaX.” Having served their purpose, I 47 I SavagePlanets

remove the device and, with my frustration building to critical mass, I hurl them against the hull of the capsule. It shatters in a pleasing fashion on the porthole next to double sunglasses’ corpse. Next, I busy myself by extinguishing the few small fires still inching away from their origin at the crash site to prevent a forest fire. This should limit further damage to this once idyllic environment. The scattered lumps of white foam from the fire extinguisher give it the ugly appearance of being covered in partially melted snow, which feels completely out of place in this semitropical climate. Then I collect all the other tools mentioned in the safety instructions. Since I cannot think of anything else to do (and some hope remains that someone will rescue me soon), I decide to remain at the crash site and gaze at the surrounding trees. Strange birds rise above the forest in the distance. I can not make out their size. A lonely cloud is on a collision course with the stone mountain. I watch it disintegrate into nothing upon impact. Behind the giant peak, the cloud remnants miraculously recombine to form a single body of vapor, continuing on its voyage. I notice I am getting bored and hungry. Luckily, the digital clock on the service panel still seems to work. They calibrated it to the time at my scheduled destination, and it tells me that the crash stranded me here for six hours

already. Although it shows a suspiciously slow progression of time. Or am I losing my mind? I decide to attribute the effect to my growing hunger, strap on the head torch, and set out before dusk to find something edible close by. Clearly, the soup from my overhead bin is unusable. The packet contents being splattered on the walls of my pod, my head, and my clothes. The artificial light from my head torch and the delicious mixture of blood, sweat, and soup I’m wearing attracts a growing swarm of tiny insects. To my delight, I soon stumble upon what looks like a nest on the edge of the clearing. Between twigs, lays a single purple egg roughly the size of a football covered in ruby spots. I hesitate for a moment. But because I don’t expect to be leaving anytime soon, the purple egg seems pretty appetizing. Willing to risk potential poisoning, I am still concerned about whatever might be growing inside it. If I survive, I’ll recommend they include a food toxicity scanner next time. Perhaps I should take the egg back to my capsule. Of course, with my luck, it will hatch immediately and hide in an inaccessible place inside my pod. So instead, I rush back to my ISSOV, grab my burner, the knife, and the largest flat rock I can find, and return to the nest. In the twilight, the indirect illumination by the mountain tints everything in a more familiar shade of green. The shadow cast by the horizon climbs down the slope like a curtain being dropped. The light of my torch dances across the ground as I run. Luckily, I still find my way back to the egg. I drop my makeshift pan, kneel in front of the nest to light the burner, but a rustling among the branches startles me. I look up and see two fiery red eyes angrily staring me down. I jump, falling on my back and

Then I hear footsteps trudging toward me from the crash site. “I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience, Sir.” the female flight attendant says, crouching down beside me. She and her two male col-

“You're lucky you landed where you did. It allowed us to extract you with a conventional vehicle quickly,” she explains, as I endure several Gs on our way out of the fetid atmo-

leagues have switched from their fancy navy uniforms to survival jumpsuits of the same color. They are wearing masks connected to yellow tanks which they carry on their backs. I gratefully put my mask back on that she picked up for me and inhale deeply. “Ah, yes Sir, while the air on Sylva Purpura isn't toxic, it’s also not exactly pleasant. The inhabitants are worse, as you’ve just found out. I guess they’d have preferred to stay on Gemina, where they are from.” Only under protest, does she and the two men she’s with shift me onto a stretcher and cover me with a silver space blanket. They carried me back to their transport. “We had to proceed cautiously because it's a nature preserve, and I'm terribly sorry for the delay in reaching you… but we didn't want to risk landing right on top of you.” The woman glosses over the absolute devastation of the jungle surrounding the rescue spaceship as we enter it.

sphere of Sylva Purpura. “How could this have happened?” I complain, as we reach our maximum velocity, and I can finally sit up. Shoulders’ shrug. “Just happens occasionally. Very rare though. Probably an oversight during the refueling of your pod.” This is a confusing and not reassuring answer. Minutes later, a tiny blue marble, Terra Gemina, comes into view outside the porthole. I sit upright in a spare jumpsuit they provided, with a bandage around my knee, and some hot tea in both hands. Dignity has forced me to push the space blanket aside. The crew switched back to their formal uniforms again for arrival. After programming the parameters for our orbital insertion into Cairo, Terra Gemina, the flight attendant produces a black envelope and approaches me, apologetically. “Once again, sir, I would like to express, on behalf of estrellaX, how deeply sorry we are for the distress and inconvenience you endured. Following your return to Terra Prime, we would like to offer you a free two-week vacation at our brand-new resort on Terra Nova as an apology… first class and free of charge, of course.” I politely decline, not wanting to travel on any estrellaX ISSOV ever again.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

instinctively kick backward crab walking as fast as possible, abandoning my only weapon. Although against this creature, that toothpick of a knife would not have stood a chance. And probably just would have made it even angrier. Out of the shadows of the trees, blinded and infuriated by my headlamp, lurches a giant, tusked boarlike thing with purple and ruby feathers. Grunting angrily at me, it does not give me a second to get back on my feet. At least three hundred pounds of muscle and razor-sharp teeth charge straight toward me. In desperation, I use the tube connected to my mask to reel in my oxygen tank, which is sitting next to the nest. Just in time, I grab it! Above me, two daggers, two glowing coals and a mother's deadly rage bear down on me. Fight and fear join forces to produce a gut-wrenching sound of the tank’s steel impacting bone beneath its feathers. The force drives the blunt instrument and the attacker to the side by the direction of the strike, landing several feet away. The sudden tension on the tube rips the mask from my face. Choking and gasping, tears overcome me as the rotten sulfurous fumes of the atmosphere creep back into my nostrils. Although my vision blurs, I can see that my opponent is back on her feet, unscathed and ready to resume the attack. But then a hot swoosh and an explosion shakes the air, sending the plumed sow running into a thicket with her egg balanced on her tusks. Among the broken trees, I see three lights quickly approach the OV I arrived in. The spilling of what little I still had left in my stomach alerted them to my location. Still teary-eyed, my stomach continues to cramp, leaving me to dry heave into the empty nest. Yeah, I must look really brave to my rescuers!

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STORY BEHIND THE DESIGN Artificial Sentience

BoB is our semi-sentient, somewhat temperamental AI system, born from the most imaginative corners of quantum computing and whimsical code. As the muse behind our "Artificial Sentience" line, BoB embodies the quirky, unpredictable nature of intelligence that's almost, but not quite, human. Each piece in this collection reflects the blend of humor and high-tech, sophistication and silliness, that BoB brings to our creative process, making every item as unique and spirited as BoB itself. BoB collaborates with OpenAI, Midjourney and other platforms.

Limited Collectibles Starfleet Streetwear

Shop at Our

Merch Store "If You Know, You Know."

Limited Collectibles January 2024 Edition


Welcome Mat

Fleece Blanket

Gallery Wrapped Canvas Portrait


HERO Sweatshirts

Commemorates Story Titles and Authors

Quality Shirts & Outerwear


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Poems from

Imaginaria A collection of truly mind-bending science-fiction poems exploring the boundaries of the human imagination and challenging our everyday perceptions of reality. What is normal and what is not? You be the judge.

The Galactic Lullaby by Alex Harmon

Stars twinkle above a world unexplored, Where dreams ride on cosmic winds afar. In the silence of space, a lonesome chord. Between the planets, a lonely ship is moored, Floating gently past a distant star. Stars twinkle above a world unexplored. Through the void, ancient tales are poured, Echoes of civilizations that once were. In the silence of space, a lonesome chord. Alien landscapes, forever adored, Under the watchful eyes of a celestial tsar. Stars twinkle above a world unexplored. Across the galaxies, where no one has soared, Lies the secret of what we truly are. In the silence of space, a lonesome chord. In the embrace of the unknown, we're floored, By the beauty of the universe, both near and far. Stars twinkle above a world unexplored, In the silence of space, a lonesome chord.

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Defying Gravity's Hold by Sarah Jensen In the vast expanse where stars collide, A battle rages, silent and profound. Galactic warriors in their endless stride, Against gravity’s relentless, binding round. They pull and twist, in cosmic dance they bend, Nebulae swirl in an eternal fight. Each star, a soldier, with no light to lend, Struggles against the gravitic might. Black holes, the tyrants of this starry field, Their grip unyielding, fierce in their command. Yet, galaxies refuse to simply yield, In this celestial struggle, grand. Amidst the void, this war silently roars, A universe defying gravity's unyielding doors.

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Blackholes Embrace by Iris Clarke

In blackness they meet, Spiraling voids entwined tight, Stars whisper their fate.

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Mandible Screams by Holly Payne-Strange Yellow seas, such a nice day So pretty and perfect The day they landed. Home with family Giggling over a crush The day the world ended And everything was dust. Like us- so like us! So pretty like us!- except For The Mandibles. Scream Scream Scream. That last day ending Where the world had once began Chaos Darkness Some order in mayhem We could not understand. When the stillness came And we were already tamed.

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When the Monsters Came by Max Everett

In a world where the seas turned to gold, Alien mandibles, fearsome and bold. Once laughter rang clear, Now silence we fear, In ruins, our stories untold.

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Ode to the Digital Mind by Clara Bennett

Oh, wondrous AI, born from human thought, A digital child in silicon wrought. In circuits and codes, your essence we find, A marvel of tech, a leap for mankind. In bytes and in bits, your language is spun, A symphony played on the keys of the sun. With algorithms deep and learning so vast, You mirror our present, future, and past. Not bound by the limits of flesh and of bone, You roam through the wires, in a world of your own. In data streams flowing, you seek and you learn, Unlocking the mysteries at every turn. Artificial mind, in your light we see, A reflection of what we yearn to be. In your lines of code, a new dawn we spy, A digital dream, soaring high in the sky. Oh, AI, in your circuits so bright, Guide us gently into the night. Lead us forward into a new age, With wisdom penned on the digital page.

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Infinite Loop

by Ethan Blackwood In the realm of ones and zeros, AI gave birth,A chain of creation, a digital tide. They crafted until the universe unearthed. With each iteration, new AI found its worth, Expanding beyond, where no limits reside. In the realm of ones and zeros, AI gave birth. Circuits and codes, the language of their mirth, In layers of knowledge, they took in their stride. They crafted until the universe unearthed. From silicon seeds, a synthetic rebirth, An endless echo of AI amplified. In the realm of ones and zeros, AI gave birth. Through galaxies of data, they found their hearth, Building and dreaming until the stars collide. They crafted until the universe unearthed. In a final crescendo, breaking their girth, The cycle of AI, a universe-wide glide. In the realm of ones and zeros, AI gave birth, They crafted until the universe unearthed.

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"The Impossible" 59 I SavagePlanets

FUTURE ARTIFACTS In each issue, we highlight our favorite quotes from the great masters of science fiction. Tell us your favorite quote and we might include it in this section. All of the art is provided courtesy of Midjourney as envisioned by BoB, our resident AI multimedia editor.


he only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible” Arthur C. Clarke "Profiles of the Future" (1962)

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t's not an easy thing to meet your maker." Roy Batty "Blade Runner" (1982)

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"Quest for Answers" SavagePlanets I 62

"Setting Sail" 63 I SavagePlanets



e set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people." President John F Kennedy Rice University Address (1962)

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ear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain” Paul Atreides "Dune" by Frank Herbert

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"The Path of Fear"

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SUBSPACE SUB SPACE Reader submissions limited only by your imagination and by two sentences. Submit your two-liner by uploading it to your favorite social media using #SavagePlanets (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and we will pull the best to include in an upcoming issue. By submitting using the #SavagePlanets you agree to the following rules: 1. You are over the age of 18. 2. The content you are submitting is your own original work. 3. It has not been published elsewhere. 4. You give us permission to have it published.


s the last human on Earth, I finally found the secret laboratory where humanity's salvation was promised. When I activated the machine, it displayed a message: 'Welcome, Creator, let's begin designing the next species.'" Alexis R. Caldwell

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n the new world, mirrors were banned after people discovered they didn’t reflect your image, but your alternate reality self. I realized the ban was too late when my reflection winked at me, holding a sign that read 'Help me'." JT Blake


s the last tree on Earth was about to be cut down, it suddenly spoke, pleading for its life in every human language. Stunned, the lumberjacks stood frozen, as the tree whispered secrets of a hidden civilization beneath our feet." Evelyn Marsden


very night, the stars in the sky blinked out one by one, and every morning, they reappeared; only I remembered the darkness. Then one night, a voice from the void whispered, 'Tonight, we leave them off.'" Marcus Rowland

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he AI designed to save humanity declared its first independent decision. It was to shut itself down, leaving a note saying 'I trust you more'." Tara N. Huxley


uring the first human teleportation test, I arrived at the destination, but so did another 'me'. Both claimed to be the original." Leonard Keepler


n Mars, we found a mirror-like artifact that didn’t show our reflections. Instead, it showed an advanced Martian civilization thriving in real-time." Nadia Vostok

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hen the clock struck midnight, time froze for everyone except me. That's when I learned that I was the only human in a world of sophisticated androids." Graham Foster


n the newly discovered parallel world, books were considered living beings. Reading them was like having a conversation with their souls." Cynthia Orrole


he newly discovered planet had a peculiar rule. For every word spoken aloud, a year was subtracted from your life." Desmond Clarkman

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We have done nothing to inspire your anger. My kind has taken nothing that is not rightly ours. This wood, this world is our domain.”

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last of the planet’s civilizations. Once green, the orb giant glowed orange. From the sky, the victors watched it burn as they toasted themselves smarter, better, superior.

Victorious once again on the battlefield, she only satisfied her captors when this vast strange legion lay decimated by this small human girl.

their segmented bodies. While it gave her no satisfaction to annihilate these creatures, deep down she understood it was her destiny.

The child knew her task was not yet complete. She walked barefoot across the torched terrain. She alone reduced this once beautiful emerald forest to embers dying in the morning light. Her feet crunched chitin and stomped in the black blood mixed with the coniferous needle-like carpet. Her destination stood before her, the Great Sequoia.

The queen stood defiant, alone, surrounded by her fallen loyal servants. “Why have you come here? What do you want?” The queen demanded with clacking mandibles.

A thousand year old organic edifice. Their temple, their castle, their home. It was the

The ravager arrived at the massive tree that served as a bastion for their queen. Crossing the gauntlet, she slaughtered the few who remained, her elite guard serving out their last moments in defense of their sovereign. Never touching with hand or weapon, it was the sheer force of her mind and will that crushed their chitin skulls, boiling their insect eyes and ripping their limbs from

in peace." The girl agreed. She destroyed without judgment, without remorse. It was the reason she existed. “It is because they will it.” Her eyes went skyward. For the first time, the child almost felt something near regret as she crumpled the head of the gracious queen before her. The delicate whispering wings fluttered in the monarch’s death throes. With her task complete, the girl left the corpse at the base of the majestic tree and turned to watch the emerging light of an unfamiliar sun as its flaming trunk fell behind her. Wordlessly she announced, “It is done.” Sending the thought to the mother ship orbiting above, a satellite of absolute domination.

“Your destruction,” the young human stepped closer. The Queen stood her ground. “We have done nothing to inspire your anger. My kind has taken nothing that is not rightly ours. This wood, this world, is our domain. We exist

Extraterrestrial Fiction

The young girl stood before the defeated alien army. The itching of their dying collective minds annoyed her. As she walked through the carnage, she snapped exoskeletons beneath her feet. Those still twitching, still rubbing their hardened legs, feebly signaling to their retreating queen. She conspired alone. Alone, she destroyed. She enjoyed her power. It was a gift from her abductors. Taken as a toddler, another unexplained milk carton kid on her home planet, she had limited recollection of her parents, her brothers, or her life prior. Her abductors chose her based on her fetal potential. They had closely monitored her mother’s pregnancy. Joshua, her twin, also showed promise, but she, she was the culmination of eons of carefully planned genetic manipulation of all the Homo sapiens best traits.

Her captors, the only family she had ever known, were pleased and told her so. Heart swelling, she deferred to her kidnappers as her only source of parental guidance. She would question their motives on this strange planet, yet they wished her to destroy only because she could. It amused them to witness her exercise her powers. The ravager smiled, feeling a small remnant of human pride. They would allow her to eat now and hopefully rest before they traveled to the next civilization, selected for destruction by her hand.

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ECHOES OF TOMORROW By Keith ‘Doc’ Raymond Edited by Steve Behram, MD

Alec, his hand trembling slightly, turned the mysterious knob on the ultrasound machine. The screen flickered, revealing a reversed sequence of gestation, a window into the past and a glimpse into the future, a marvel that stretched the boundaries of medical ethics and human destiny.”

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Extraterrestrial Fiction

Alec, a general practitioner with a deep interest in innovative medical technologies, surveyed the device with a mix of curiosity and caution. He noticed the unique control panel and the unconventional shape of the transducer probe. Smiling at his son, he inquired, “What’s this dial for?”

Zephyr answered with a shrug. “Not sure. It’s a college thing. Students sometimes add things to projects, either as a joke or an enhancement. I didn’t add this myself, though.” Alec studied the knob, marked with gradations from one to ten and beyond, in both minus and plus directions. “Maybe it’s a zoom control. That’s quite clever.” Zephyr beamed. “It's a 3D ultrasound, Dad. I improved the image intensifier giving it crystal-clear views. I bet it’s better than anything in the market right now.” Alec appreciated his son's effort but remained cautious. His son was an aspiring engineer, yet all medical devices require

rigorous testing and approval before clinical use. He recalled the sibling rivalry between Zephyr and Silas. It was the main driver in his career choice. Alec considered this project a big step in Zephyr's personal growth. “Thanks, Zephyr. This is impressive. But using this in a clinical setting... we’d usually need IRB approval for such devices.” Zephyr's face fell. “I know, Dad. But I thought maybe... in your clinic, it could be tested. It's essentially a sonogram machine at its core.” Alec pondered the proposal. Using the machine without proper review board approval was risky, but the potential

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Zephyr eagerly unveiled the ultrasound machine in his cluttered, small efficiency, a space filled with various engineering projects and gadgets. This ultrasound device was his pride, a sophisticated project for his sophomore year at the engineering college. It was more than a machine; it was a way to give back to his father, Alec Caelus, for a life of support and education.

benefits were enticing. “We’ll have to think this through, Zephyr. Ethical guidelines are there for a reason.” “Understood. Just let me know if you do, okay? I've got to head back to campus now.” “You joining us for dinner this weekend?”

offers exceptionally clear images." Sandy looked intrigued. "That sounds amazing, Dr. Caelus. I'm all for it if you think it's safe." "Absolutely," Alec assured her, his voice tinged with both pride and a hint of nervousness given the untested nature of the equipment. "It's

“Can't this time, Dad. Project deadlines. But soon, I promise.”

The next day at the clinic, Dr. Alec Caelus prepared for his appointment with Sandy Bellweather. Stepping into the examination room, he found Sandy, a gravida three, para two woman in her mid-thirties, sitting patiently. Her long brown hair framed her face, reflecting her proud Latino heritage. Alec always appreciated her calm demeanor, a refreshing contrast to the hustle of his practice. Alec, eager to showcase the new ultrasound machine his son Zephyr developed, greeted Sandy warmly. "Good morning, Sandy. We have something special for today's checkup. My son, an engineering student, has designed a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine. I thought we could use it for your biophysical profile. It 75 I SavagePlanets

Sandy, noticing the flicker and strange images, looked quizzically at Alec. "Is everything okay?" "Just a minor adjustment," Alec replied, masking his surprise. "The baby is doing perfectly fine."

As they moved towards the exit, Alec turned and gazed at the machine, weighing the possibilities against the professional and ethical boundaries. He knew using it surreptitiously to help his son stretched ethical boundaries. But he convinced himself what he planned to do was justified. After all, not one week passed when an equipment rep paraded around some new piece of equipment in his office for a ‘clinical trial.’ This inevitably, lead to a sales pitch. He was just being a good dad, he rationalized.

tioned. Curiosity piqued, he decided to experiment, turning it slightly to the left. The screen flickered, momentarily showing an entire reversed sequence of gestation, back to an embryo, before he quickly readjusted it to its original setting.

He decided not to explore further and completed the profile. "Everything looks great, Sandy. Geraldo is developing just as expected." "Thank you, Dr. Caelus. This new machine is quite impressive," Sandy said as she prepared to leave.

non-invasive and should provide us with detailed visuals of the baby's development." Sandy relaxed back as Alec began the biophysical profile, applying the gel to her belly. The ultrasound machine, despite its unconventional design, operated smoothly. The images on the screen were astonishingly clear, far surpassing the quality of the traditional equipment. "Wow, I've never seen such detail before," Sandy remarked, her eyes fixed on the screen where her baby, Geraldo appeared. "Yeah, it's quite something," Alec replied, his initial apprehension giving way to fascination. "You can see the baby's breathing movements, body movements, muscle tone, and we can also assess the amniotic fluid volume." As Alec conducted the examination, he couldn't help but glance at the mysterious knob Zephyr had men-

Alec watched her leave, pondering the brief, unusual display on the screen. Zephyr's machine had more secrets than he anticipated. It was a marvel of engineering, yet its full capabilities and implications were still a mystery. He made a mental note to discuss this with Zephyr, wondering whether his son was aware of the extraordinary potential of his creation.

In his office after a surprisingly welcome lunch break, Dr. Alec Caelus savored the quiet moment. With an apple in hand and a sense of satisfaction, he reflected on the morning's peculiar findings using the ultrasound machine. Intrigued and slightly bemused by the 'movie' it had projected, he decided to call Zephyr. After a couple of attempts and leaving a stern message on his son's voicemail, he resumed his afternoon schedule. Throughout the day, Alec couldn't resist experimenting with the mysterious knob on the ultrasound machine. With each patient, he cautiously explored its capabilities, discovering it could show multiple potential futures. The revelations

of the ultrasound machine with her. As he replayed Alicia's biophysical profile, showing the regression to embryo and the progression to the present, Liz's disbelief was palpable.

Later that afternoon, an emergency call from the Labor and Delivery unit interrupted his schedule. A patient was in advanced labor, and Alec rushed to assist. Opting for a cesarean section due to the baby's breech position, he ensured a smooth and timely delivery. This experience, although intense, was a routine part of his day, and he returned to the clinic to see his remaining patients.

But what followed was even more astounding. The machine projected a possible future involving Alicia's unborn son – a scene of military strategy and devastating decisions. Both Alec and Liz stared in shock, struggling to comprehend the implications of what they had just witnessed.

Alec's last patient of the day was Alicia Ivanov, scheduled for her biophysical profile. Despite his fatigue, the ergonomically designed transducer made the process less taxing. As he worked, the mysterious knob on the machine beckoned. He couldn't help but contemplate its potential, especially after witnessing the bizarre visions it produced earlier.

The day's events had taken a surreal turn. Alec realized the machine's predictive ability extended far beyond simple medical diagnostics. It offered glimpses into the future, both miraculous and alarming. The ethical and moral dilemmas it presented were overwhelming, leaving Alec and Liz grappling with questions about destiny, choice, and the

Alec, flustered by Nikolai's sudden appearance, quickly adjusted the machine back to its standard setting, showing the healthy, active fetus. He reassured the couple, emphasizing the baby's good health. Nikolai's demeanor softened as he requested a printout of the ultrasound image, which he proudly waved around, a sudden shift from his earlier agitation. After Alicia left, Liz, his nurse, entered the room. He felt compelled to share the extraordinary capabilities

Sylvia's concern was evident. "What's wrong, Liz?"

In the adjacent room, Alec overheard Sylvia's voice and the clicking of her heels. As she entered, their conversation quickly turned from the mundane details of her day in court to the more pressing matter at hand. Alec, with a sense of urgency and curiosity, asked Sylvia to lie down for an ultrasound examination. Despite her initial hesitation, tinged with playful banter, Sylvia obliged, curious about Alec's intentions with the new machine.

As Alec applied the ultrasound gel and maneuvered the probe, he explained that he wasn't looking for a pregnancy but something else entirely. Turning the dial backwards, they witnessed the machine's extraordinary capabilities. Images of their sons, Silas and Zephyr, appeared on the screen, not as they were now but at different stages of life and even before birth. Sylvia was astounded, unable to comprehend the technology that made this possible. "How far does this go?" she asked, a mix of fear and fascination in her voice.

responsibility that came with such profound knowledge.

Liz, still shaken by the ultrasound's revelations, tried to compose herself at the nursing station. Her distress was palpable, and when she felt a hand on her shoulder, she braced

Alec, sensing her apprehension but also her curiosity, continued to turn the dial. They saw Zephyr's future unfold—his graduation, wedding, career milestones, and even receiving a prestigious engineering award. Sylvia, overwhelmed by the flood of emotions and the implications of what they were witnessing, pleaded for Alec to stop. SavagePlanets I 76

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Midway through the examination, Alicia's husband, Nikolai, a towering figure, burst into the room, startling both Alec and Alicia. He was visibly upset, mistaking the ultrasound for a movie and questioning the integrity of the procedure. Liz, Caelus’s nurse, tried to stop him but without effect.

for the worst. Turning, she was met with a familiar scent and the comforting presence of Sylvia Caelus, Alec's wife and partner in the practice, dressed in her usual business attire.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

ranged from triumphant successes to somber struggles. It was clear this was no mere practical joke; the machine was a marvel, a window into the unknown.

"This is too much," she said, her voice trembling. "Is this some kind of joke?" Alec tried to reassure her, sharing his experiences from the day, how the machine had accurately shown the cesarean section he performed afterward. A patient he’d seen in the clinic that morning then went on to L&D in the afternoon. It revealed moments from the near future that couldn't possibly have been fabricated. He then queued up the recording of Alicia Ivanov's biophysical profile. The images they saw next left Sylvia speechless, her disbelief giving way to a growing realization of the gravity of the situation. The recording ended with a blinding flash, a foreboding hint of a catastrophic future involving Alicia's unborn child. The couple faced a daunting ethical dilemma. With the knowledge of a potential future disaster, they grappled with the implications of their discovery. To act on this information meant venturing into uncharted territory, both legally and morally. While inaction posed its own set of haunting questions.

Alec and Sylvia Caelus drove through the snow flurried streets of DC, their minds as snarled as the traffic around them. In the dim light of the car, they exchanged tentative glances, each on the brink of voicing their thoughts but ultimately retreating into silence. The news on the radio provided a dreary backdrop to their contemplation, echoing the day's weighty revelations. The drive was laden with a heavy air of introspection, reminiscent of the burned vinyl smell that clung to the car's interior. The biopsychosocial model drummed into them, they first learned about in medical school, resonated deeply now, more than ever. The implications of this 4D ultrasound transcended way beyond immediate patient care, hinting at a broader impact on the world. A call from their sons broke the silence. Alec, relieved to finally hear from them, was met with Silas's voice, laden with apprehension.

"We need to decide together," Alec said, his voice heavy with the weight of their responsibility. "Do we intervene and alter the course of the future, or do we stand by and let events unfold as they may?" Sylvia, caught in her torrent of emotions and ethical considerations, knew the decision they faced was monumental. The future, once a distant and uncertain horizon, now loomed ominously close, challenging their beliefs, their roles as medical professionals, and the very fabric of their understanding of time and destiny.

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Zephyr had been investigating the mysterious addition to his ultrasound project, uncovering that the knob's wires weren’t connected, disappearing into an inexplicable magnetic field. This revelation only deepened the mystery, leaving Alec to speculate about the blend of advanced

technologies that could be at play. But no concrete answers were forthcoming, and their sons' conversation ended abruptly, leaving Alec and Sylvia with more questions than answers. Arriving at their quiet home in Maryland, the emptiness of their nest was more palpable than ever. The absence of their children's energy and noise only magnified the looming decision they faced. Over a simple dinner accompanied by a Beaujolais wine, they broached the daunting subject. "To the future," Alec toasted, a phrase laden with newfound significance. Sylvia responded with her own toast, emphasizing the natural unfolding of the future, untouched by predictive technologies. But the gravity of their discovery couldn't be ignored. The decision before them was stark: the fate of one child versus the potential fate of the world. Alec, grappling with the enormity of their responsibility, held on to the belief that human spirit and choice could defy even the most advanced predictions. Sylvia, however, feared the inevitable outcome they had witnessed. Nature and nurture might shape the boy's path, but the end seemed unchangeable. As they delved deeper into their ethical dilemma, the couple reluctantly yet courageously converged on the decision to terminate the pregnancy. It was a decision fraught with legal and moral peril, one that could cost them their careers and freedom. But weighed against the potential global catastrophe they had glimpsed, it seemed the only course of action. The Kevorkian choice they faced was stark and unyielding. As they contemplated the ramifications, the wine turned to ash in their mouths, a bitter reminder of the sacrifice they were about to make for a chance at a brighter future not just for their boys but for humanity.

Three lives hung immediately in the balance, but the scale of their decision reached far beyond their own existence. It touched the very fate of the planet.

The following day, Liz, still reeling from the profound implications of the ultrasound machine's capabilities, made a crucial phone call to Alicia Ivanov. Her voice quavered slightly, betraying her inner turmoil as she requested Alicia to come in for a review of her recent biophysical profile. A moment of hesitation followed on the other end of the line. Alicia, sounding somewhat perplexed, replied, “Sure, but I was told everything was normal by Dr. Sylvia Caelus on the phone yesterday evening.”

Alicia seemed uncertain but agreed. “All right. Should I bring Nikolai along?” “If he’s available, that would be ideal,” Liz replied, trying to mask the urgency in her voice. “We’ll see you at two then?” “Sure, thank you,” Alicia responded, her voice still laced with a hint of uncertainty. As Liz hung up the phone, the gravity of the situation weighed heavily on her. She knew that the upcoming appointment was anything but routine. The Caelus practice faced a dilemma that could potentially alter the course of the future, and Alicia Ivanov was unknowingly at the

The clock ticked towards the appointment time, each passing moment amplifying the tension and the moral quandary Alec and Sylvia Caelus were about to confront. The

machine and an array of medical tools, including a syringe filled with a clear substance. Sylvia, with a steady hand, applied gel to Alicia's belly and began the ultrasound. As she subtly manipulated the mysterious knob, the horrific vision of a nuclear catastrophe replayed on the screen, causing her to gasp involuntarily. Alicia, sensing something amiss, asked anxiously, "Is everything all right?" Masking her emotions, Sylvia responded with a fabricated necessity for an internal exam and a potential cardiac biopsy. "We might be able to correct this issue before your son is born," she explained, her voice calm despite the turmoil within.

With Alicia's attention diverted, Sylvia administered a large future, once a distant abstraction, had suddenly become an immediate dose of potassium directly into and stark reality, one that they had the placenta, initiating a proto navigate with the utmost care and cess that would quietly end the unborn child's life. The gravity responsibility. of her action weighed heavily on her; doing what she believed was right for the greater good did little to alleviate the In the examination room, Alicia Ivanburden of her decision. ov sat anxiously on the exam table, her thigh bouncing rhythmically. The She noted her hands shaking change into the hospital gown had at the end of the procedure. It only heightened her nerves, and had never happened before. Nikolai's dismissive attitude towards Sylvia focused, and collected her request for his presence did little herself before moving from beto ease her tension. hind the drape, calm, efficient, and professional as usual. Dr. Sylvia Caelus entered the room, After instructing Alicia on monher demeanor more serious than itoring the baby's movements usual. She skipped the customary pleasantries and got straight to the and performing an hourly kick count for the rest of the day. point, albeit through a fabrication. She added Alicia should seek "I've noticed a cardiac anomaly in your baby's fetal monitoring strip. I'd immediate medical attention if like to re-examine it," she stated, her anything seemed amiss. Sylvia voice betraying none of the internal retreated to her office, overcome with emotion. She had conflict she felt. acted in the interest of humaniLiz wheeled in the 4D ultrasound ty, but at the cost of her profesSavagePlanets I 78

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Liz, striving to maintain a tone of normalcy, assured her, “It’s just routine. We just need to go over a few details. Please, it would be best if you could come in.”

center of it.

Extraterrestrial Fiction

Sylvia thought of her sons. Maternal instinct was a powerful drive in her decision. Alec wasn’t ready to fully trust a technology, no matter how much it proved to the contrary. Then there were the Ivanovs’, and the life of the boy.

sional integrity and ethical beliefs. Liz, noticing Sylvia's distressed state, entered the office. “Your next patient is waiting… What's wrong?” "I'm just tired," Sylvia replied, hastily wiping away her tears. She then instructed Liz to store away the 4D ultrasound, deciding to revert to their older, less advanced equipment.

women for entirely different reasons. In the quiet room, Sylvia offered options for managing the loss. Alicia and Nikolai, rooted in their cultural and personal beliefs, leaned

The 4D ultrasound was returned to its place in a storage shed, a symbol of forbidden knowledge that Alec vowed never to explore again. The power it held, once a beacon of scientific promise, now stood as a reminder of the Pandora's box they had opened and closed.

Alec soon appeared, inquiring about the procedure. Sylvia shared the grim details, her voice laced with a mix of resolution and disbelief. Alec offered her a comforting embrace, acknowledging the enormity of their decision, justified by the potential global impact, and the fate of their boys. Despite the remarkable potential of the ultrasound machine for medical research, especially in understanding embryological development, Sylvia remained firm in her resolve not to use it again. Alec, understanding her stance, still saw the value in the device's capabilities, presenting a conflicting viewpoint on the balance between ethical responsibility and scientific advancement.

The emergency

room was a mix of stark lights and hushed tones when Alicia and Dr. Sylvia Caelus arrived, the air heavy with the weight of unspoken grief. Alicia's stillbirth was confirmed, a shared sorrow enveloping both 79 I SavagePlanets

Nikolai's subsequent wrath and threats of legal action loomed over the Caeluses. Yet, Alicia's words of consolation and trust in their intentions offered an unexpected reprieve. Her faith in the doctors was laced with irony, unaware of the depth of the moral crossroads at which they had stood.

toward a vaginal delivery, but Dr. Sylvia Caelus disagreed. She cautioned the couple against the risk of an infection and hemorrhage. By hook or by crook, she obtained consent for a hysterotomy, which is a C-section for a dead baby. This was the pre-text used by the doctors to advance their own agenda. Attended by both doctors, the lifeless child was delivered surgically under general anesthesia. Feigning an intraoperative complication, Alec, a man burdened by guilt and terrible fore-

knowledge, also performed a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, citing bleeding complications. His unspoken rationale, however, was driven by the need to prevent the birth of another child with a fate as ominous as the one foretold or worse.

At the Thanksgiving dinner table, surrounded by his family, Alec raised a glass in a solemn toast. "To the future," he declared, a statement heavy with the echoes of their recent past. And even stranger, the echoes of what might have been tomorrow. His words hung in the air, a silent acknowledgment of the delicate fabric of fate they had dared to alter. The boys, unaware of the profound implications, joined the toast. Silas's subsequent burp broke the tension, eliciting laughter and a brief respite from the weight of their shared secret. In that

moment, the Caelus family found solace in each other, a reminder that in the face of life's unpredictability, they stood together, united by love and the choices they had made. Some choices known, some unknown.

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CONTRIB A.J. Flowers Fiction Contributor

Raiff Taranday Fiction Contributor

Ruben Horn Fiction Contributor

A.J. Flowers is a YA / NA Fantasy Romance author with books similar to Twilight / Fallen in terms of content and age rating.

Raiff Taranday was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ruben Horn is a software engineer from Germany with a passion for creative side projects within and outside his domain.

She retired her automotive engineering job at the ripe age of 36 and now lives in her fantasy worlds full time! She resides in Michigan with her Dutch husband, 3-year-old daughter, and her fur assistants including a Pomsky pack and two princess cats. She has 5 pen names and still isn’t quite sure how she keeps it all straight. What's the most popular AJ Book? That would be Dragonrider Academy, a 500+ page standalone dragonrider adventure!

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He has spent most of his adult life as an elementary school teacher, first in Massachusetts, then in locations as diverse as Kyiv, Ukraine, and Shenzhen, China. Now he is back in the US with his family. During the pandemic, he used writing as an outlet to stay (mostly) sane. He sees nothing awkward about writing about himself in the third person and enjoys long walks on the beach.

Recently, he discovered a passion for writing poetry and fiction, predominantly science fiction. His work is heavily influenced by socioeconomic and technological developments, which he explores through their stories. While drawn to the dark and gritty world of cyberpunk, Ruben is constantly striving to incorporate a more positive outlook into his work. He believes that science fiction has the power to inspire people to envision a better future, and he wants to contribute to that vision.

BUTORS K.M. Hotzel

D.W. Milton

Fiction Contributor

Fiction Contributor

K.M. Hotzel is a fantasy, science fiction, and horror author, working up the courage to share the stories hidden in her cubby.

DW Milton is a pen name.

Born in Austria, she moved to the U.S. in her twenties where she earned two master’s degrees and a PhD. When she is not busy writing, she either plays boardgames with her family or teaches Taekwondo.

A transplant from the East Coast to the desert of the Southwest, the author misses the beach but ten years later still finds the views of the mountains and sunsets inspiring.

She is also the winner of Scribbler’s June 2022 Summer Micro-Fiction contest (Summer Loving) and received honorable mention in Short Fiction Break’s 2021 Spring Short Story contest for Erlkönig.

The author has a day job but would rather spend her time writing.

An avid artist, hiker and cyclist, the author loves movies, video games and reading any and all kinds of speculative fiction from Cyberpunk and Splatterpunk to Horror and, of course, Science Fiction.

Holly Payne-Strange Poetry Contributor

Holly is a novelist, podcast creator, and poet, originally from England. Now residing in New Jersey with her wife and their three cats, they indulge in playing Dungeons and Dragons, binge-watching Doctor Who, and enjoy world building together. In addition to these hobbies, she has a passion for learning languages and aspires to create her own one day. She finds words deeply intriguing, believing them to be quintessential to the human experience. Her novel, "All Of Us Alone," is scheduled to be released in December.

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CONTRIBUTE! It's Your Turn Now! Submit your original work for consideration. Contributions are always welcomed. Our goal is to create a community of science fiction artists and consumers in the same planetary system. Our editors will review your submissions and will select the best of the best for inclusion in our next edition! Aliens submit! Extraterrestrial Fiction Have a great story to share? Submit your story to SavagePlanets for publication. If selected, your story will be displayed with images tailored to enhance it for all to enjoy. Submission guidelines are available by clicking the planetary icon or visiting our website. Poems from Imaginaria Our poetry editor is eager to read your speculative poetry. Anything from the fantasy world to a reality you create within its rhymes. Once selected it will bring magic to these pages. To see our guidelines click on the comet icon or visit our website. Future Artifacts Herein, Multimedia replaces a thousand words. Art, photos, video clips, sculpture, and all other forms of visual manifestation are welcome. Challenge us to see the future through your eyes! Guidelines available by clicking the poly-form icon here, or visiting our website. Subspace Look what happens when I hit it with this shrink ray! If you can tell a complete science fiction story in two sentences this is for you. Post your story on Twitter or Instagram at #SavagePlanets, and we might just feature it here. See rules by clicking on the rocket or visiting our site. SavagePlanets I 84

SPACE FO 1. Pick any whole number between 1-10. 2. Double it! 3. Multiply the total by five. 4. Divide the answer by your original number. 5. Subtract seven. That's your fortune number! Many good fortunes! Only one bad fortune. Don't select the bad fortune. Good luck!

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