Little Blue Planet

by Shaun Duke

Captain Raj Markle’s red skin glowed orange around his palpitating cheek membranes.  He flipped his dual arm up to scratch each membrane to calm himself.  There in the screen on the deck of the Jealous Lover II, shining blue with hues of gold as an orange, G-class star dipped behind, hovered Oliarchus Three.  A holodisplay nearby showed the eight planets and a dwarf.  Now his face turned azure with disappointment:  Oliarchus Three was mostly covered in water.

Raj seated himself in the nearest chair and tickled his membranes with the longest of his four fingers.

“Sir?” an operator said, swiveling to face Raj.

“Percentage of contamination?” Raj groaned.

“Roughly seventy-percent.  Mostly salt water.”

Twenty-five galactic years for this, he thought, what a waste of time.  “Inhabitants?”

“Bipedal. Stage four intelligence.  Feeds show a high probability of self-destruction.  Heavy focus on weaponry.  I’d estimate a requirement of one million ground troops or a forty-eight hour aerial bombardment.  Sixty-percent chance of failure for clean sweep.  Bombardment would decimate fifty-percent of available resources.”

“So, given the best case scenario, we lose five-hundred thousand troops with a yield of a two percent gain in resources?”

“One point four percent.  Or a negative return of six percent loss of resources.  There’s significant mining in the outer planets and debris fields, too.  The inhabitants have exhausted most of their non-renewable resources.”

Raj took a deep breathe, his membranes twitching with irritation and his elongated lung pushing through the confines of his chest.  “Who had the intelligence on this system?”

“Commander Ujine.”

He rolled his eyes and quivered, letting a stream of air hiss through his teeth.  “Contact central command.  Mission a failure.  Jealous Lover II returning to Proctus.  Mission not worth risk.”

The operator nodded and sent the transmission.

“Next time they could send a damned robot to do this job.”  He flicked several commands on the console before him.  “Twenty-five galactic years and twenty-five contagious planets.”  A holoscreen filled over the blue planet, followed by the orange glow of Ujine’s membranes and a long, scratching double arm.

“This better be good,” Ujine said.

“No, sir.  Mission is a failure.  Bad intelligence.  Planet is hostile to Linian soldiers and personnel,” Raj said, lowering his gaze.

“Your orders are to land upon arrival.  I have personally selected this system.”

He nodded.  “I understand that, sir, but I cannot issue that order.  I won’t risk that many soldiers.”

Ujine leaned closer, membranes turning purple.  “I didn’t ask for your opinion.  Do it.  Now!”  His voice was laced with venom—figuratively and literally; droplets of black poison flew from his mouth.

“By Linian law I cannot obey that order.”

“Do it!”

He sighed.  “Commander Ujine, I am hereby relieving you of command.”

“What?”

“Operator, please note that Mar Ujine has been relieved of command due to willful negligence, which is a violation punishable by death.”

“You have no right,” Ujine roared.  The boom of his voice caused the screen to crackle.

The operator looked up, peering at Raj with narrow suspicion.  Then the look fell away, as if the muddy waters of the operator’s mind had been consumed by clarity.  A narrow, conspiratorial smile formed on the operator’s lips.  “Note taken and supported.”

Raj smiled back.  His hand wandered over the console, found the appropriate command, and activated it.  A moment later and the holoscreen view began to fill with a white fog.  Ujine struggled, banging and screaming; his eyes bulged and filled with red streams of blood while crimson bubbles oozed from his membranes.

Raj watched as his former commander fell out of view.  When the room began to cycle out the toxic gas he knew that Ujine had been properly executed.

“Orders, commander?” the operator said, looking back with a glint of hope.

Raj knew that look; it was the look of longing for home.  Twenty-five galactic years searching the Spur Arm and finding nothing but contagious blue specks would do that to an individual.

“Return to Proctus.  Let’s get home.  We’ve been gone long enough.”

Night Terrors

by Samuel Mae

Never have I plumbed depths so vulgar as I did that night on the dark streets of Istanbul, a young man in search of meaning but lacking wit. I found myself in an alley that smelled of dung and spice and ochre, at the behest of a woman with no face but every expression, buying poppy from a blind beggar who flashed the universe on his tongue.

Locked away in a dark room with curtains that fluttered, I let the seed run its course, the woman mumbling incoherencies, her head attached to my breast as if by mortar, and then I saw the world in all its gory pastel shades of wrought-dry wonderings and fear, so much fear it hurt to breathe.

I did escape, but not before I sold my heart for a copper and a kiss to this faceless woman who licked my wounds with salt–a kiss I don’t recall apart from the burning taste it left in my belly. Stumbling about, trying to end this nightmare, I became a migrating bird, unable to rest in a city or a place until, bone-weary from tripping into cobbled gutters, I found my body in a room with walls of light cherry and coarse bed-blankets of grey.

Olga, a Belarusian nurse of magnificent stature, would sit by my bedside while I struggled to breathe, singing to me in an angel’s voice–the music of healing, the melody of hope. Then she’d brush matted strands back from my brow and bid me the pleasant sleep of a martyr.

I loved her then, I love her now, all wide hips and brawny arms, but my heart was sold to a faceless woman who writhed about in my dreams and spat on my feet and barked at my screams, and showed me the world, burnt and dying on an axle of rust.