Good News

I’ve written a short story called “Good News” that’s been published over on the Substack of the Soaring Twenties Social Club, the cult, I mean club, that I belong to. You can read it here:

Do also check out the main page of the Soaring Twenties Substack ( which has lots of great essays, short stories, and poems by other members. Thomas J. Bevan, our dear leader, takes submissions from other club members and posts a few each week. I especially enjoyed “Crossed Wires” by Terry Freedman (

A Meeting with Death

David Walters was just sitting down to breakfast, espresso and a croissant, one cool morning in early May. As he perused the paper, The Daily Beacon Chronicle Gazetteer, which featured an article on a string of home invasions in the area, across the table from him appeared a man. The man was nondescript, like someone who works at a gas station or the Department of Motor Vehicles; not tall, not short, not fat, not thin. He had a blank expression on a blank face. 

David looked around. “Where did you come from? Who are you?”   

“Me? I’m Death,” said Death.

“Like the Death?”

“The very same.”

“Why are you here?”

“Everyone asks me that as if the answer isn’t obvious. It’s your time to go.”

David stared blankly. “Go where?”

Death tipped his head up and back, the reverse of a nod, to indicate a spot somewhere over his right shoulder. “Go, pass away, depart, kick the bucket, buy the farm, give up the ghost, meet your maker, shuffle off this mortal coil, become like poor Yorick (I knew him, Horatio, a man of infinite jest). Die.”

A puzzled expression settled on David’s face. “Is this some kind of joke? Are you really Death? You don’t look like Death.”

“No, but you do! Ha ha,” said Death. “God, I love that one. Gets me every time.”

David smiled weakly, then grew serious. “Well how is it supposed to happen?”

Death looked meaningfully at the croissant in front of David.

“I choke on a croissant? Seriously?”

Death shrugged. “Sorry. You don’t get to decide.”

“No, clearly. Look, I don’t mean to be rude but this really isn’t a great time.”

“No?” Death was taken aback. “I’m just doing my job, you know.”

“I know, I know, but I really can’t do this right now. I’m busy at work and I’ve got my kids and my wife to think about. I was planning on living for another thirty or forty years. I mean, I’m only forty-five”

“Hmm, thirty or forty years,” said Death. He leaned back and drummed his fingers on his chin. “I generally run on a pretty tight schedule. I am not sure I can allot another thirty or forty years for you.”

“Really. This is a bit hard. I mean, here I am in the prime of life, or close enough,” said David self-consciously, “and along you come to bring the whole thing crashing down. It’s terribly inconvenient; a real nuisance.”

“I am sorry. But it is our policy.”


“Ah, yes. Me and the other Deaths.”

“There are other Deaths?”

“Of course. There are other people than you dying right now. I can’t be everywhere at once; well, actually I can but not in that sense.” Death stared off in a thoughtful, puzzled manner like he had confused himself.

“Then in what sense do you mean? Are there other copies of you?”

Disgust showed clearly on Death’s face. “Copies? Absolutely not. I am unique. There is only one Death.”

“You said there are other Deaths? How can there be others if you’re unique?”

“You are familiar with quantum mechanics?”

“No,” David said flatly.

“Ugh. Well, in quantum mechanics, particles can be in one place and not be in that place, but rather be in another place altogether, all at the same time. It’s kind of like that.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Jeez. Okay. Take electrons, for example, one of the basic building blocks of atoms with protons and neutrons. They’re particles, right?”


“Wrong. Electrons, like quarks and gluons, are really fields, continuous fluid-like substances that act like particles only when we take into account the effects of quantum mechanics. Every electron in your body is a field that is a particle only when treated as an excited state of the underlying field.”

David’s head swam and his eyes began to droop. “Science never was my strong suit.”

Death continued, undeterred. “This is of course fundamentally because of particle-wave duality. Like photons, an electron can act as a particle and also as a wave. This wave-like property of a particle can be described mathematically as a wave function and squaring the absolute value of the wave function gives the probability that a particle will be observed near any given location.”

“So you’re a particle and a wave. Here but not here? Elsewhere, with all those other dying people, but not there?”

“Exactly. Now you get it.”

“Do you know everything? I would have thought that Death’s knowledge would be a bit more, Stone Age, if you will.”

“Well, not quite everything, but I’ve picked up a few tidbits over the years.” Death cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. “So, about this pickle.” He trailed off.

“Look, isn’t there anything I can do to put this off? It’s really inconvenient, what with the golf weekend coming up and all.”

Death brightened visibly. “Golf? You play golf? I had literally no idea.”

“Oh yeah; a few pals of mine are coming into town and we’re going to play all weekend; weather should be beautiful. Do you play?”

“Oh, I love the game. I don’t know iron from wood, or a hybrid from a hole in the ground but I love it. Fresh air, clubs, knocking balls, aiming for birds as often as the hole. And I can get a tee time any time I like. Just do that,” Death snapped his fingers, “and oh look, a spot opened up for me. It’s always someone’s time after all.”

The smile faded from David’s face. “I usually just call in advance. I don’t generally have to kill anyone to get a tee time.”

Death shrugged. “To each his own.” He rubbed his hands together. “Well, keeping you from your golf outing is the last thing I’d want to do, especially considering the wife and kids,” Death said with a wink. “I’ve reconsidered. Have your thirty to forty years. Just one condition. I get to play through with you once in a while.”

“Of course; sure, sure. Anything you want. Just join in, no need to ‘free up a spot’ and all that. My friends wouldn’t appreciate that.”

“Ha ha, no, no, of course. Well, I’m off.”

A few moments later David’s wife Rebecca entered the kitchen. She wore a puzzled expression. “David, do you know that man?”

“Oh, you saw him did you?”

“Yes, it’d be hard to miss him. We passed on the front walk.”

David shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “It’s a bit odd, but, well—he said he was Death.”

“Death?” she said incredulously. Her fingers massaged the bridge of her nose. “David, what are you talking about?”

“He said he was Death and it was my time to die. What else can I say? But he let me off, gave me another thirty or forty years like I asked. We found that we have a mutual love of golf.”

“Oh, so golf finally did something for us?”

“Now, Rebecca, don’t be like that.”

“Is that today’s paper?”

“No, yesterday’s. Why?”

Rebecca dropped a newspaper on the table, opened it and pointed. “Look familiar?”

There, staring back at him on page 2A was a nondescript face with a blank expression, like someone who works at a gas station or the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“I don’t understand.”

“He was trying to rob us, David. This is the guy that’s been breaking into houses around here. They identified him yesterday. His name is Thomas Harville. It says he suffered some kind of psychotic break and also became a kleptomaniac.”

“But—but, he said he was Death. He knew all this stuff about electrons and waves; said that’s how he got around. I mean, there’s got to be a scientific explanation somewhere. It can’t just be magic.”

“David, you are so gullible. He’s an out-of-work quantum physicist, and you are a moron.”

David stood up and sniffed, head held high. “I may be a moron but at least I know the difference between an iron and a wood.”

“What does that have to do with—?”

David held up his hand. “If you need me, I’ll be on the links.”

“He stole your golf clubs.”

“I said I’ll be on the links.”

A Poem for You, Part 2

“Hello dear, I wrote you a poem.”
“Is this one actually for me or is it another passive-aggressive revenge composition?”
“No, Mabel, it’s actually for you.”
“Go ahead then, Gerald.”

Along the alabaster arc of joy,
Stretching beyond the mind’s membranous skeins,
The heart cavils at dull, dull persiflage.
Time’s bright shadow lengthens now.
A moment, grant just one. That is enough.

(aside) “That is enough.”
“What, dear?”
“Nothing, nothing.”
“Do you like it? It’s iambic pentameter, like Shakespeare.”
“Is it? I couldn’t tell. Don’t let Shakespeare know you’re comparing yourself to him.”
“That hurts, Mabel. I am trying.”
“What does it mean?”
“What does it mean? Ah, well, that’s for the reader to determine.”
“I see. So it doesn’t mean anything.”
“No, it does. Would it help to hear it again?”
“No! No, no; wouldn’t want to spoil my first impression. Just give it to me.”
“Do you like it though?”
“Oh yes, I love it. I thank God every day for your poetry. In fact it’s exactly what I was hoping you’d bring me. I need some kindling for the fire.”


Cassie, head rested against the seat in front of her, cursed her stupidity, her lack of focus, desire for perfection. The others on the bus chattered like so many fatuous birds in spring whirling on a current of air, happy to be alive and too dumb to know they must die unknown and unremembered. They were fools who were too stupid to know that their work was trash and were utterly uncaring anyway. In this moment she hated them, even her friends who tried to comfort her.

“It’s just a five-minute presentation, Cassie,” said Jake sitting next to her. “No one cares. You’ve got time. Just make something up at lunch.”

Cassie rolled her head side to side against the seat. “Just make something up?” she said. Her voice was shrill, almost hysterical. 

Jake shrugged. “Nelson  likes you. He won’t even notice. Isn’t that what creative writing is anyway, just making things up?”

Cassie groaned and slammed her forehead back down. The heat from the early morning sun coming through the window made her feel ill. Mr. Nelson’s words gnawed at her mind: “You’re good, but not good enough. To create something true. That’s the challenge. You have talent but you haven’t cultivated it. You haven’t put the work in. And if you don’t, if you don’t give it somewhere to go, it will drive you crazy.”

Cassie didn’t think she was crazy, yet. There were times she felt pressurized, like there was a hatch cover somewhere waiting to blow open and vent her mind into the vacuum of space in a violent, uncontrolled burst of creative power. In the past she had been able to write to release the pressure, to buy herself some time and avert calamity. This time, nothing had come, or at any rate, she hadn’t been able to write. The swirl of incandescent matter in her mind, the fodder of a thousand stories, had failed to coalesce.

She jumped when the bus doors clanged open and she almost retched at the hot smell of exhaust from the line of buses idling in front of Thomas Jefferson High School. The wave of nausea passed, though it was not helped by the heat radiating from the asphalt.

The morning passed in a blur, a malaise of shame and dread. During lunch period she couldn’t eat. Jake sat across from her eating his lunch then helping himself to hers.

“How about I throw out some ideas and you just pick one and we’ll do it together,” Jake said.

“You think I don’t have ideas?” Cassie said, derision clear in her voice. “I’ve got a thousand ideas, they just won’t come out.”

Jake grinned. “You’re constipated.”

“Fuck off. I’m serious.”

Jake slid a few papers across the table. “Here. Read mine.”

Cassie scanned the pages. “A story about your dog dying? I’m sorry, but it’s shit.”

Jake recoiled. “What the fuck is your problem today?”

Cassie took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I loved Lily and I’m sorry she’s gone. But this,” she held up the papers, “this is sentimental crap. It’s easy.”

“Then why don’t you grow a pair and write something if it’s so easy?”

“Because. I don’t want to write something. I want to create the right thing; something true.”

“What’s the point of creating the right thing if you never actually do it?” Jake said, snatching his story out of Cassie’s hands. He waved it in her face. “Maybe it’s not great, maybe it’s shit, but it’s mine.”

“It certainly is.”

Jake stood up. “I would like to still be your friend so I’m going to forget this conversation ever happened. See you in English.” 

Mr. Nelson’s eyes met Cassie’s. She looked away.
Everyone else had already presented. Jake had read his story about his dog and was now attempting to give Cassie a reassuring look on his way back to his seat.
Cassie walked to the front of the class, eyes darting around looking for something. What that thing was, Cassie didn’t even know.
She faced the class. Her leg trembled. She shifted her weight. 

“Memorized it, did you Cassie?” Mr. Nelson said.
“Um. No, not quite.” She answered without looking at him.

“Let’s have it then. Whatever it is.”

Cassie winced. Jake had a pained look on his face. She found the ceiling suddenly interesting. A wave of vertigo overcame her.

Something true. Something true. There is nothing, nothing. What’s the point of creating the right thing if you never actually do it? she thought. 

Somewhere inside her she felt the hatch explode open, but instead of her mind spreading out into the infinite of space, the vast pressure of the ocean crashed in on her.

Cassie opened her mouth and sang. She sang in a rhythmic chant. She started low, quiet, barely above a whisper. She sang the beginning and the first, chaos and creation. Her pitch rose as did her volume, her voice growing stronger and she, without needing to think, turned a page and found a new wellspring, a font within that glowed without light. She sang transformation and adaptation, the coalescence of the cosmic swirl into a single atom. She sang growth and life and love. Louder still, she sang rivalry, jealousy, war, fate. 

One part of her watched tears stream down her face. Another part felt them.
She sang now at the top of her voice and beyond in registers unregistered by her audience. She sang death and with death, the barest hope. But hope nonetheless. Hope triumphant. 

The song stopped. Cassie opened her eyes. 

Her classmates were dazed. Some were weeping. Others were swaying to music that she couldn’t hear. Jake’s face showed long claw marks down his cheeks. One student was crumpled on the floor, blood trickling from a cut on his head. Two others were kissing.

Mr. Nelson had a faint smile beneath a vague, rapturous expression.

Afterward, she asked her classmates and Mr. Nelson, but no one could tell her even a single word she had sung. Soon, they forgot the incident altogether. 

Cassie tried to remember the song to write it down, but found it hard to recall even the feelings it had evoked. She tried to find the place within her that had opened. It was locked or gone. All that was left was a vague sense of sublimity, a tremendous feeling of loss, but the certainty that she had created something true. 

It was her last creation.

This story was written as part of the monthly Symposium at the Soaring Twenties Social Club ( You can find the August 2022 issue on Procrastination here:

A Poem for You

“Hello dear. I wrote you a poem.”

“Gerald, that’s so sweet of you. Let me read it.”

Who cast the stone, who first the deadly blade
Did forge and sank it deep into my soul?
Who made these chains I wear, bound hand and foot?
Who caused this torture terrible, the heat
Of countless suns burning my charred eyes blind?
You, you have left my sundered body torn
to pieces—

“Jesus, Gerald. I just asked you to clean the garage.”

Alpha Centauri

Jessica set the navigation computer’s matrix to a point approximately 50,000,000km away from Alpha Centauri and engaged the enfoldment drive. The ship Folded space, winking out. It reappeared instantaneously several million kilometers away from her starting point. It had taken days of hopping this way to get to Alpha Centauri from Earth.

Suddenly there was a flash of light from the nearby star.

“What the—? A solar flare?” Jessica said.

An alarm sounded. A red light blinked on the control board.

“Manual reset? Dammit. New tech on an old ship. What a great idea.”

The control board blinked back at her. She caught her reflection in the cockpit window. Short brown hair, oval face, high cheekbones, rounded nose.

She pushed away from the ship’s controls and swung her chair around to check the navigational computer. It clicked and beeped. The display showed the ship’s position relative to its starting point. Jessica stomped down the cockpit ramp, her boots clomping on the steel decking.

It was typical for one of these ancient LZ-42s to fall apart at the seams but she’d hoped that it wouldn’t be so soon after leaving port. This was not a good sign for the rest of the cargo run.

Jessica descended four levels to E deck, the engine room, taking each ladder slowly. There was no real hurry. Besides, breaking a leg going down a ladder was not the best idea when she was the only crewmember awake. She keyed in the code for the engine room and went down the last ladder.

The ship’s drive, flanked by two banks of computers, thrummed in the middle of the room. The computers gave off a faint glow. This was the only indication of the activity happening inside the metal cube to which they were attached by massive cables snaking across the floor.

Jessica checked the computer readout. It gave no indication of the malfunction. All systems were normal.

“Well, something’s got to be wrong,” Jessica said.

As if prompted, the hatch above her clanged shut. Jessica whirled around. The hatch acted as a safety bulkhead, separating the levels of the ship in case of a fire or plasma leak. But it shouldn’t be able to close on its own.

She pressed the hatch release next to the ladder. Nothing happened. She tried the manual release lever. Luckily, the company mechanics had done a good job overhauling the whole ship after they installed the new drive and the lever was jammed—rusted in place.

“Great,” Jessica said. “Well, one thing at a time.”

She turned back to the drive computers. She pulled up the drive operation manual on the computer. It was the only file available to display. She opened the file. It read:




“Thanks. I’ll try to keep it in mind,” Jessica said. She scrolled to the next page of the manual. It read:





“What the—?” Jessica pressed the button to scroll further down the screen. It didn’t move. “That’s it? You’ve gotta be kidding me. And how are we supposed to get back to spacedock if this doesn’t work?”

There was a single switch above the computer display. Jessica searched around the computer banks for any other switches or controls.  Except for the display, its control buttons, and the switch, there was nothing she could push or switch on the monolithic computers.

“Alright, so just turn it off, wait an hour, and turn it back on again.”

Jessica stood for a moment, hand on the switch. She couldn’t help but wince as she flipped the switch. The drive’s thrumming stopped. She pressed the computer’s power button. Its lights and display dimmed and went out.

She let out her breath. It was as anticlimactic as she’d hoped. She looked at her watch: 0721 hours.

Jessica turned back to the ladder and tried the hatch again. It stayed closed. She pounded the bare metal. Taking a deep breath, she surveyed the hatch control panel. She pulled an omnitool from her belt and popped off the panel cover. She’d cursed the ship for being old. Now she was grateful. The control panel was full of wires, not the newer nanochips. Not that it would have made sense to completely overhaul an old junker just to upgrade the door tech.

She started tugging at the wires, figuring out which ones led up to the hatch at the top of the ladder. She pulled out the wires from the back of the panel cover. Blue electricity arced out of the open panel and connected with her bare hand.

Jessica hit the floor with a thud and blacked out.

Pain; confusion. Fuzzy blackness gave way to a semblance of consciousness. Groaning broke the silence. Jessica rolled to one side and onto her knees. She lost her balance and her shoulder slammed into the floor. She lay there for a moment breathing. She managed to sit up and open her eyes. The control panel was still open, staring, mocking her.

“Gloves, Jessica. Gloves,” she said, shaking her head and wondering how long she’d be out for. She checked her watch. “Well, that’s ten minutes I won’t have to wait for the drive,” she said, grunting as she got to her feet.

But the power discharge shouldn’t have happened. They were very low power connections from the ship’s reactor to the control panel and the hatch. There shouldn’t be a charge in there capable of knocking her out. And the safeties would have to be off or malfunctioning.

“What a piece of junk. This thing’s going to get me killed,” Jessica said, pulling on her work gloves. “Okay, let’s try this again.” She rearranged the wires—bypassing the main power conduit and taking power from the auxiliary lines—closed the panel, and pressed the button. Nothing happened. “That should have done it.” She switched the wires back and tried again.

The hatch opened.

Jessica sighed and shrugged. “I’ll take it.” She hurried one level up to D deck: reactor core. While the drive in the engine room let the ship Fold space, the drive did not power the ship itself. The fusion reactor provided electricity to the ship and powered the maneuvering thrusters. She checked the power levels and various indicators on the control panel for. Everything showed normal. She read the log reports on the computer, scrolling through several times to make sure she hadn’t missed it.

“No power spike? I know what I saw and I sure as hell felt it. I thought they gave these things a complete inspection before sending them on jobs.”

Suddenly, metal clanged behind Jessica. She whirled around. The upper hatch leading up to C deck was closed. A sinking feeling settled into Jessica’s stomach. This is not good.

She tried the same trick as before, switching the wires for the hatch control and then switching them back. Nothing both times. The manual release lever wasn’t stuck this time but it didn’t do anything either, which shouldn’t have been possible.

The hatch down to the engine room was still open, but that wouldn’t do her any good. It was the only way in and out of the engine room. She needed to get back up to the cockpit. Luckily, there was another door out of the reactor core that led to the cargo hold.

Jessica cranked the wheel lock, ignoring the warning sign. The door hissed and swung open. Jessica stepped out onto the balcony. She might as well have walked out an airlock. The cargo hold was a chasm of blackness punctuated by pinprick lights. A catwalk extended out before her, disappearing into the dark. The lights in the massive expanse gave the impression of a star field, but even these grew so dim they disappeared into the distance.

A wave of vertigo overcame Jessica and she grabbed onto the railing. The field of lights became a blur. Breathing hard, she turned back to the doorway. A solitary light revealed nothing above the door. There was no way to get to the living quarters or cockpit directly from the cargo hold. But there was a dim shape off to one side of the door. Jessica grinned. A maintenance locker. There was a plasma torch inside.

“Guess I’ll have to do some work of my own. Screw their licensed mechanics,” Jessica said.

She lit the torch and immediately turned her head away, squinting from the light. She pulled the goggles she’d found in the locker down over her eyes and set the tip of the torch to the sealed hatch. The blue plasma reacted with the metal to give off a white hot light. Molten metal spread from the contact point. Hopefully it wouldn’t fall down onto her unprotected head. She didn’t like the idea of burning her face off under any circumstances—much less when she was trapped in the lower decks of a broken-down cargo ship somewhere near Alpha Centauri.

Sweat ran down Jessica’s neck. Her arm cramped from holding onto the ladder awkwardly. The steel hissed a final time and Jessica leaped out of the way, extinguishing the plasma torch. The deck plating rang like a bell as the hatch doors fell.

Jessica hauled herself up onto C deck: storage and maintenance. It was a jumble of food containers, replacement parts, tools, O2 tanks, space suits.

Jessica hesitated, looking up at the next hatch leading to B deck. The lethal hatch doors were hidden in the bulkhead between decks. Any trust she had in the ship and its most basic systems was gone. The malfunctions had to be random, but they sure didn’t seem random—at least the ones happening to her. There could be other things going wrong on the ship that she didn’t even know about. And the moment she was between decks would be a great time for the hatch to close and put an end to her doubts—permanently.

There was no point in disconnecting the power to the hatch doors. There was another connection at the control panel on the other side of the doors so that the hatch could be opened from above.

Jessica hauled herself up the ladder, plasma torch in one hand. She paused just below the hatch, eyeing the two halves of the hatch retracted into the bulkhead. She stretched her leg to rest her right foot a few rungs from the top and catapulted herself through the open hatch, yanking her foot through behind her. She rolled, sat up, and stared at the hatch. It didn’t move.

Jessica laughed at how ridiculous she was must look.

She stood up. Even in the living quarters, everything was steel and hard angles. A few seats, a kitchen, bunks for sleeping, bathroom, and a passage leading to the iceboxes where the three other crew members were in stasis. There was no ice nor were they cryogenic chambers; rather they called them iceboxes because everyone came out of stasis freezing and shaking.

Jessica had been lucky so far. A minor issue with the drive requiring a simple, if lengthy, reset and two malfunctioning bulkhead hatches. It could have been far worse. It could still be. She needed to wake up her crewmates. They’d be annoyed. Going down for stasis was somehow worse than waking up from it, but she was going to need help if things got any worse.

Four pods, each with vitals displays, filled the small room. Jessica’s stood open and empty. One other was empty. The displays on the two middle pods showed life signs.

Jessica approached the pod on the left. She tapped the display then pressed two buttons simultaneously. A damp smell filled the air. Jessica wrinkled her nose. The lid of the pod lifted revealing the mostly naked body of man about forty-five years old with prematurely gray hair, a square face, and a flat nose.

Groans. His body convulsed violently.

“Easy, Hawk, easy,” Jessica said, laying a towel over his shivering body.

Hawk sat up. “Jess, wha—? Why are you waking me up?” Hawk said through chattering teeth.

“We haven’t gone very far. We folded space just fine for a while. Then the drive needs a manual reset. Then the bulkhead hatches start going haywire and I get zapped and I have to cut my way out of the reactor core.”

Hawk exhaled. “Shit. Okay.” He tried to stand and fell back against the pod. “I think I need a sec.”

“Take it easy. I’ll wake up O’Brian.”

Jessica repeated the procedure for O’Brian’s pod. Nothing happened. She tried again. Nothing. “Hawk—” Jessica said, not even trying to keep the panic from her voice. “It’s not working.” She jammed the buttons.

“Just relax. Let me try.”

The control panel went dark.

“Oh, God, Hawk.”

“She’s fine. She’s fine. She doesn’t even need air in stasis. She’ll be fine until we get back to port.”

Jessica wasn’t very reassured. “We need to send out a distress call and check the ship’s systems to see if the computer can tell us anything.”

Jessica grabbed the plasma torch and Hawk, having quickly dressed, followed her up the ladder to the cockpit. Jessica hesitated for a second before scrambling through the hatch. She stood up and immediately grabbed for the wall, lightheaded.

“You alright?” Hawk said.

“Yeah, I think so,” Jessica said, blinking and shaking her head, trying to clear it.

Hawk sat in the pilot’s chair. The red light on the control panel no longer blinked red. Hawk glanced at the navigational computer. “Alpha Centauri. Well, we’re not too far. A ship or two should come by at some point.” Hawk sat in the pilot’s chair and ran his fingers through is hair. “I’ll have to send out a general distress call. All channels. Hopefully someone will hear us.”

“What’s the status of the ship’s systems?” Jessica said.

Hawk navigated the computer display. “All normal. That’s impossible.”

Anxiety knotted in the pit of Jessica’s stomach. “It should be. The reactor computer didn’t show a spike either, but I certainly felt it.”

“So there are malfunctions with the drive, iceboxes, and door controls. Two completely separate systems—great. And there’s something wrong with the main computer too.”

“We need to just shut everything down.”

“You can’t shut down the reactor.”

“I know. I mean the main computer and everything the reactor powers—cut it off from the rest of the ship.”

“Yeah, but what if we can’t get it back on?” Hawk said. “Why don’t we just wait and see if anyone answers the distress call?”

“What if there’s a malfunction with life support or the reactor? There might be nothing and no one to rescue if we just wait. And if the main computer’s malfunctioning we might not even be able to talk to anyone that answers. If only we could get O’Brian out we could take the skiff and leave. We need to get the ship moving. Now.”

“You’re right.” Hawk smiled. “Hey. We’ll be fine, Jess.”

“Sure.” Jessica tried to smile.

Hawk exhaled slowly. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

Jessica sat in the co-pilot’s chair and almost pulled her knees to her chin but stopped herself. She didn’t need Hawk knowing she was panicking; didn’t want to admit to herself that she was panicking. It wasn’t even time to panic. The ship was still in once piece. There wasn’t anything seriously wrong. It was just some screwy hatches and poor O’Brian stuck in the icebox.

Hawk turned around to the computer and started pressing buttons. The cockpit lights dimmed and went out. So did the control panel and the navigational computer and their displays. The cockpit went dark. A single emergency light pulsed overhead.

The main lights came back on. The computer whirred and its displays lit up along with the piloting control panel.

Suddenly an alarm blared.

Jessica glanced at the computer display. “Life support!” 

“That’s not possible,” Hawk said.

“Yeah. I’ve been hearing that a lot. But it’s happening.”

“But the computer’s back on. And there’s the redundant system down on D deck.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”  Jessica tapped the display. “I’m locked out. I can’t do anything about life support from here.”

“I’ll go to D deck and restart the life support system from there. Still, we should have hours unless we lose air somehow.”

“Yeah, no we haven’t—.” Jessica looked at Hawk, her eyes wide. “I had no way out of D deck. I went into the hold. It’s a minimal atmosphere in there. Which means we lost most of our air out of here into the hold. I’m so stupid! No wonder I felt lightheaded after climbing the ladder.”

“It’s alright. So, how long do we have?”

“I don’t know. We need to hurry.”

Hawk leaped to his feet and swooned. “Shit.”

“Easy. Hurry, but not too fast.”

Jessica turned back around to the computer display. Life support was still not responding to her commands. She checked the distress signal. It was broadcasting on all channels. She tried to boost the signal.

Minutes passed. Jessica pressed the intercom. “How’s it coming down there Hawk?” There was no response. “Hawk?” Static.

Jessica’s breathing came fast. Her chest was a leaden knot as she got to her feet. “Okay, okay, okay.”

Jessica left the cockpit, dread filling her boots. She came to the hatch.

And the lights went out. All of them. No emergency lights came on this time.

Jessica stumbled back from the hatch to avoid falling in. She got down on her hands and knees and felt her way over to where she had left the plasma torch. A faint blue light illuminated the area around her but she could only see a few feet down the ladder. The hatch between B and C decks looked like it might be closed but she couldn’t tell for sure. Holding the plasma torch as far away from her face as possible and hurrying through the hatch, Jessica descended the ladder.

Her boots squelched on the deck plating. She looked down. Hawk’s dead eyes met hers. Jessica recoiled, slipping in Hawk’s blood and falling to the floor. The plasma torch started burning a hole through the plating. It filled the room with a brilliant white light. Hawk’s head lay on top of the closed hatch, along with one of his hands.

Jessica sobbed. Her whole body shook like she’d just come out of the icebox. She pulled on her gloves and set Hawk’s head and hand to the side, covering them with a bit of cloth. I can’t do this alone, she thought. Wait—O’Brian!

She ran to the third icebox, her mind racing. She would have never tried to cut her out if their lives didn’t depend on it. Jessica might be unable to revive O’Brian or she might already be dead. Or cutting into the pod might kill her.

Smoke billowed out of the open pod. O’Brian’s charred body was twisted and black.

Jessica turned and vomited onto the floor. She stumbled over to the hatch and started cutting. She tried to ignore the acrid smoke coming from Hawk’s vaporizing blood. She vomited again. The hatch doors crashed to the floor below. Jessica prepared herself for what she knew was down there.

Hawk’s body was heavy. Jessica could only bring herself to pull what used to be her friend out of the way of the hatch. She hurried down the ladder, trying not to move too fast so she wouldn’t pass out.

The reactor was normal. The redundant life support system was off, the display blank and unresponsive. There was no oxygen being produced. She would soon be unconscious and as good as dead unless she could move the ship or get off it.

The enfoldment drive computer stood lifeless in front of Jessica. It was 0825: over an hour had passed. Jessica could feel the pulse in her head. Blackness crested the edges of her vision. She pressed the power button and flipped the switch.

The computer whirred, lights flashing.

The drive came to life.

The thick power cables glowed. Had they done that before?

The edges of the massive cube began to warp. Jessica closed her eyes and shook her head. It was no illusion. The thing seemed to be folding space in on itself.

Jessica scrambled up the ladder as fast as she could. Alarms blared and lights flashed all over the reactor control station. She ignored them, screwing up her eyes in an attempt to stave off unconsciousness. She ignored Hawk’s headless body and the blood on her hands. She forgot about everything except the skiff on A deck—the only escape.

She also forgot about the hatch leading to A deck. As she pulled herself up, the hatch snapped closed, catching her boot heel in its jaws and twisted her ankle. Jessica cried out in pain. She tugged frantically at the zipper and managed to pull her foot free. Limping to the escape door, Jessica smashed the panel. It didn’t respond. Screaming in frustration, she ripped open the panel and burned out the controls with the plasma torch then yanked on the manual release. The door slid open and she threw herself inside, leaving the torch behind.

The skiff rocketed into space. Jessica just breathed, making a desperate, guttural sound in the back of her throat.

Yellow light seared the window. Jessica stopped the thrusters and repositioned the skiff so she could see the ship.

There was no ship. Where the ship had been was a newborn star, pulsing and expanding.

“My god. The fusion reactor.”

Wave after wave of radiation cascaded over the skiff—solar flares buffeting it like a cork tossed in the surf. The star was being stretched, like an unseen force had grabbed the right side of it and pulled, distorting its perfect sphere. Suddenly it exploded. A leaf in a storm, the skiff rolled over and over. Jessica managed to stop screaming and steady the small ship.

But someone was screaming. It was in her head. It was coming from outside the ship. It was everywhere and nowhere.

The star’s heat and energy and light were disappearing. And where they went was nothing. Or rather a sphere of inky black nothingness, pulling in everything around it. Everything including the skiff.

Jessica vainly jammed the thruster controls. She couldn’t even tell whether or not they were on. The black sphere became larger and larger. As the last bit of the star’s exploded energy went out, Jessica crested the event horizon.





The Intersolar Corporation LZ-42 freighter Drake en-route to mining colony SK91 disappeared near Alpha Centauri shortly after leaving Earth orbit. A distress call sent from the Drake was received by a nearby freighter, the Sophie, at 1550 hours on May 23rd. In the distress call, the crew of the Drake reported malfunctions with their enfoldment drive, stasis chambers, electrical systems, and door controls. Only one distress call was sent. The Sophie detected a massive amount of residual energy from the distress call’s point of origin. Upon further investigation by Intersolar, a newly emerged black hole was discovered in the area where the Drake disappeared.

Our theory is that a series of malfunctions led to the catastrophic failure of possibly both the fusion reactor and the enfoldment drive. The cause of the malfunctions is unknown.

There were no survivors out of the three person crew.

The Drake’s mission was to transport raw materials back from the SK91 mining colony. Thus the only major losses were the ship’s reactor core and drive. The ship and crew are easily replaced.


For Immediate Release

The Intersolar Corporation Freighter Drake was lost in a tragic accident near Alpha Centauri on May 23rd, 2107. Intersolar is working hard with the relevant authorities to determine the cause of the accident. Our hearts go out to the families of the three crew members lost in this tragedy. Intersolar takes workplace safety very seriously and endeavors to do everything possible to safeguard the lives of our team members.

The Battle

    Marcus danced away as the others faced him, the sun glinting feebly off their bloodstained blades. The wind whispered through his short-cropped hair, barely cooling the sweat pouring down his neck. He glanced around him, looking for a way out. The bodies of his brothers lay a short distance away, blood showing red and stark on their tunics. Telltale signs of what were most likely fatal wounds. There was no time for grief now. His three opponents stood between him and the forest, the way home. He fought to quell the panic in his gut. Three against one, he thought. There’s no way. I can’t.

    He and his two brothers, Decius and Kaeso, had marched proudly from Castelmare leaving behind the cheering crowds.  Their white tunics seemed to glow in the sunlight which bounced off their bronze breastplates. A spear and shield were in each hand and a short sword hung from each belt. Marcus, the youngest, had walked behind while his older brothers each carried the standards of their city and their family; a black ram on a field of white and a red oak on a field of green. They had marched mostly in silence that day, the tension mounting as they walked to the arranged meeting place. They slept under the stars, feeling and hoping that their enemies would hold up their end of the bargain and not kill them in the night. The Aemilians were their enemies, but they were generally honorable. Marcus slept fitfully, his dreams varying from scenes of victory to tableaux of blood and screams. The next day had found them face to face with their three opponents under the morning sun. The three Aemilians were similarly equipped and carried standards showing the blue Aemilian bull, set off by a background of yellow and four white stars on a purple field so dark it was almost black. A brief ritual had followed. They started by staking their standards in the ground. Then each combatant cast a stone beyond the line demarcated by their enemies’ standards and spoke the accustomed words to initiate the contest. They squared off against the Aemilian champions in pairs. Marcus focused all his attention on his opponent who was a head taller with eyes darkened by paint and a breastplate gleaming over a thick leather shirt that hung to his knees. He dodged the Aemilian’s spear and looked over in time to see Decius go down with a sword embedded in his abdomen. Kaeso was already lying on the ground, a spear emerging from his chest.

   There was no escape for Marcus, but he would not run. Despite the fear gripping his chest, making it difficult to move his legs, it was his duty to stand and fight. Anything less would dishonor him and his brothers’ memories. But his legs felt leaden and weak at the same time.

    Move! Marcus stepped back once, then took another step. Relief washed over him in an instant. At least I’ll die fighting. The thought was little comfort.

    He would have to deal with his man first. Marcus notice that his opponent was separating him from the other two Aemilians; one was limping, the other bleeding from his belly. The big man narrowed his painted eyes and lunged. Marcus skipped to the right, the sword barely missing him. The big man motioned to the other two who started to circle around Marcus. As Marcus hoped, his opponent’s overconfidence got the better of him. When the big Aemilian lunged again, Marcus ducked and rolled under his defense, like he had done so many times training with his brothers. He buried the sword in his enemy’s groin, jumping away as the other two soldiers swarmed behind him. He escaped but tripped and fell. His sword went flying in the dust; his shield lay by the body of the dead Aemilian, discarded when he had gone in for the kill. He rolled over to see the Aemilian with the belly wound advancing on him, the limping soldier following behind. Marcus panicked. Scrambling backwards his hands and feet flailed at the ground, kicking up dust but not moving him very far. Something behind him stopped his advance. He twisted his neck and found himself staring into the lifeless eyes of his brother Decius. Blood had soaked his tunic turning the brilliant white to a deep red. He turned back and the Aemilian was bearing down on him, slowly, savoring the kill. His sword dripped with Decius’ blood. Marcus saw the smug satisfaction in his eyes turn to surprise as a spear seemed to appear in his chest. He collapsed next to Marcus, still staring in surprise. Marcus leapt to his feet and whirled around.

    Kaeso lowered his arm and grabbed at his upper chest with a grimace plain on his face. “What are you waiting for? Finish it.”

    Marcus turned, stooped, and pulled the spear from the Aemilian’s chest in one fluid movement. The hamstrung Aemilian limped backwards, a shocked look in his eyes. The look of a man who knows he is going to die. Marcus advanced on him, hefting the spear and preparing to drive it home. The Aemilian dropped his sword and fell to his knees, reaching for the hem of Marcus’ tunic.

    “Please,” said the Aemilian. “Don’t. Spare me. My name is Regulus. I have a wife. A little boy. You win. I can just go.”

    Marcus stopped short, unsure of himself. The spear fell to his side. Behind him he could hear Kaeso howling, shouting to finish him. Marcus saw his own pain in Regulus’ eyes. His head swam. Blood pounded in his ears, throbbing in his temples. He shifted, about to step back when Decius’ eyes appeared, lifeless, staring, filling his vision.

    Marcus growled. “Coward.” “We both knew what we were getting ourselves into,” he heard himself lie. “And you killed my brother.”

    Regulus screamed as Marcus rammed the spear home. The screams became gurgles that rose along with blood from his throat. Marcus pulled out the spear and Regulus’ face slammed into the dirt.

    Marcus turned around and ran to Kaeso. “I thought you were dead.”

    “I’m alright,” said Kaeso. “I hit my head when I fell. Good thing I came around when I did.”

    “Decius—,” Marcus started to say.

    “I know. We’ll take him home.”

    They quickly lashed together the Aemilian standards and whatever bits of rope and cloth they could find to fashion a rudimentary bier. Marcus and Kaeso walked through the night, not bothering to stop to sleep, focusing only on the goal of getting home.

    It was early morning. The sun, obscured by low clouds, was casting a feeble light. Marcus, exhausted, shifted the weight of the bier behind him from one hand to the other. He knew the necessity of what they had set out to do, felt the weight of responsibility and expectation lifted from him. But any feeling of victory was tinged, tainted by bitter grief for his brother and perhaps even for himself, for his lost innocence.

    “I’ll remember you Decius, the way you were,” Marcus said, more to himself than to his brother’s body. The road turned one last time and reached the edge of the forest. Marcus looked up, eager to see Castelmare. “You can rest now. It’s done. We’re home.”


Andrew sweated as he picked a path through the brambles up the steep slope of the hill. There was no wind, not even a slight breeze and only the sound of his own breathing and the whirring of insects for company. Despite his steady pace he breathed hard and his legs began to ache.

    “Almost there,” he said to himself.

    Scrambling up the last few feet of rocks, he reached the peak at last. He turned around and surveyed the way he had come. The land below stretched out for miles before rising again and was broken only by the dark green ribbon of well-watered grass that suggested the presence of a stream when it rained. He turned around and leaned against a tree, a scraggly pine. The ground dropped off in front of him and tumbled hundreds of feet down a rock face so sheer nothing could find a foothold on it. Stepping up to the edge he close his eyes, exhaled, and leaned forward.

    “Now why would you want to do a thing like that?” said a voice like rustling leaves.

    Andrew’s eyes snapped open and he whirled his arms, fighting to regain his balance. He felt something grab his shirt and pull, making him tumble backward to the ground. Looking up he stared into an upside down face. It was kindly but wore a stern expression on a face so heavily lined it resembled tree bark. Andrew blinked. It was tree bark. Andrew jumped to his feet and stared. The man’s face, for it was shaped like a man’s, was aged but vigorous and his head was topped with leafy green hair. He had a wiry, muscular body that, like his face, seemed to be covered in thick, grooved bark.

    “What are you?” Andrew asked, shaken by the man’s appearance.

    “Why do you want to die?” The man said as if he hadn’t heard the question. “Seems a shame to waste a life.”

    “None of your business.”

    “Oh, but it is. I do not want my home tainted by such a death.”

    “Your home?”

    “Indeed, I live here. Is that such a surprise?”

    Andrew looked around as if he had somehow missed seeing a hovel or hole somewhere that he might sleep.

    “What do you mean? Where?”

    The man gestured to the tree. Andrew inspected it, half expecting to find it hollow.

    “In the branches?”

    “Not quite,” he said as he walked over to the pine tree standing nearby. Andrew stared open-mouthed as the tree man became translucent and then dissipated like fog. Shocked, Andrew stepped back and his heel struck a rock. In an instant, the tree man grabbed his hand, pulling him back from the edge.

    “That is twice now.”

    Andrew glared. “Leave me alone.”

    “Why do you want to die?”

    “I don’t.”

    “You were going to jump when you got here.”

    “I don’t know who or what you are. Just stay the fuck away from me. Why do you care anyways?”

    “I do not. I am simply curious. You see, for me, life is a joy and death merely a necessity, eventually. But I do not seek death nor shun life, as you do. What can be so terrible about living that would make you end your life?”

    Andrew sat down with a sigh, “That’s just it. I have a great life. Family, friends, work. It’s great. But I walk around feeling like I have this thing in my head. It’s black and it has tentacles that wrap around the base of my brain. And it won’t let go.”

    The tree man smiled, “Here, take my hand.”


    “I will give you what you seek. And it will be much better than jumping off a cliff.”

    “You’re going to kill me?” Andrew asked as he took the tree man’s hand.

    “In a manner of speaking. You will have oblivion.”

    Suddenly, Andrew felt his hand grow cold and the chill spread to the rest of his body.

    “What are you doing?” Andrew asked through chilled lips.

    The tree man smiled, an icy smile like the surface of a frozen lake glinting in the sun. He closed his eyes.

    Andrew could feel himself fading, not in strength but in substance; disappearing like a dream, once vivid but slowly forgotten. Looking down, he saw roots bursting from his shoes and leaves sprouting from his fingertips. There was no pain, just a dull pressure at the edges of his awareness. He felt his body becoming rigid, his nerves extending into the branches emerging from his shoulders, tearing his shirt. Panic gripped him as he tried to move but found himself unable to. He felt like he might fall but the roots that were now his feet had anchored him to the ground. He screamed. Nothing came out. He had no mouth. The world blurred, the sky and the ground becoming a haze of blue and green and brown. Silence enveloped him. His mind began to grow dim and foggy, like his consciousness itself was barely holding on to reality.

    Suddenly, a spark flared in his mind, one word forming in the dark: “No.”

    His eyes snapped open and his vision filled with the surprised look on the tree man’s face. Andrew jerked his body backward, snapping the now-dead roots from his feet. The tree man snarled and lunged at Andrew, but too late. Andrew tumbled over the edge of the cliff.

    Looking down at his hands, he saw they were hands once again. He smiled and closed his eyes.