Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI

One of the Birds bursts out of the flaming house, right through a fresh trail of flame Brick is laying down on the place, then tears off into the sky above, screeching and squawking like all hell. It’s a horrible thing, all gangly bones and green skin and that giant bony bill lined with razor-sharp teeth. Brick just caught it with the last coming out of his ‘thrower, and I can see through the mask of my suit the thing’s on fire now too, singeing from darkish green to black. It squawks and squawks and flaps its enormous wings; Brick’s throwing more up fire its way but the damn thing’s just out of reach. I hear the rest of the team screaming and hollering, then the sound of automatic fire as they let all hell loose its way.

“Burn it to the ground!” I heard Brick yelling over the din. “No survivors! Can’t let the infection spread!”

The family are running out of the house now, all on fire too: the father’s clothes are nearly burned away and the skin I can see coming through is all black; the mother’s hair is mostly gone and covered in soot and smouldering; and the small child being lead out between them is crying and looks like she crawled through a chimney a damn mile long.

The Bird’s flapping every which way, in its dying throes, slowly falling to earth; Brick finally catches it with a burst of fire and then the horrible creature’s fully ablaze. I look over and he looks back at me before letting another burst go. “What are you waiting for Sphinx, burn ’em! Burn ’em before they get away!”

The father is almost on top of me now and I can see his scared eyes grow wider as I pull the trigger. Flame engulfs him totally and he screams and the sound is horrible and higher pitched than thought it would be. The blast engulfs the woman and child too, and I can see them flailing within it, trying to run; arms, legs, faces, all turning black, skin melting away to charred muscle then bone beneath.

And then for a moment the bright light of them reminds me of my first day, of sitting in what seemed like an ordinary conference room in an ordinary office tower with a group of other ordinary people ready to join a completely ordinary company to work an ordinary 9-to-5 at an ordinary job, and me looking up into the flickering bright light of fluorescent tubes overhead.

A pretty black-haired girl with a short skirt had come in to us waiting expectantly. “Welcome to BigFuture™ BSI,” she’d said. “I am so excited to have all of you here joining us, and to tell you that for each of you, for all of you: your Big Future is a bright one.”

Beasts

We burst through the upper atmosphere, our dead ship falling to earth like a steel stone, klaxons blaring loud and all the lights red and flashing inside, blinding all sensation. The hull glowed angry red and flames and smoke of rage trailed from the vessel. It must have been a beautiful sight from the ground.

Only McGrady, Whittle and I survived. The Captain took the joystick right through the ribcage like the spear of an angry native.

It was black, black as pitch, and the jungle of the planet we’d crashed into awaited outside the mangled steel door of the ship. Noises, from outside. Insects. And animals.

McGrady had the blaster. The only other thing we could scrounge up was a handful of flares. Everything else was gone, jettisoned with the cargo.

I lit the first flare and it exploded into an unreal red flame. I saw Whittle’s pudgy white face glow beneath it. We tramped through the humid underbrush, scarcely able to see anything, not knowing where we were going.

As we hiked the noises got worse, deep growls. Roars. Sounds that made us think of mouths full of sharp teeth and vicious hungry claws and scaly backs and eyes that saw us in the dark.

When the first flare went out I reached to light the second. That was all it took. Something pounced and I heard Whittle scream and all was blackness and fighting. I heard McGrady fire the blaster. When the red flame finally came alive I saw Whittle’s terrified face as he was dragged off into the brush. Then there was only his screams and wet, snapping sounds and growls and the sound of him being devoured.

McGrady’s blaster shook in his hand. They kept their distance from the flare. Until it ran out again and they got him. The soldier’s screams were even worse than those of Whittle’s had been. I heard the things tear him in half with a wet crackling snap and then all was silent. There was two of them now.

I’m crouched on a log now, huddled down. I think there’s a third, I can hear them all circling.

The flare is burning low. I know it will only last so long.

In the Saloon

The neon lights inside the saloon were bright and glaring. The marshal’s eyes stung from their harshness as he made his way down the diamond plate stairs leading toward the bar. Creatures of all shapes, sizes and colours sat and stood around it: a group of purple lizardmen from Solaris 7, soldiers, flicking out their long pink tongues as they spoken their hissed language amongst themselves; a hairy beast, a smuggler from the jungles of the Outer Rim, drinking beer from a large stein; tentacled beings with squishy orbs set on the end of long thin eyestalks; humans; silarians; drust; and, of course, city guards, always watching, black machine pistols hanging conspicuously in holsters at their sides.

The Marshal approached the bar and its tender, a burly green thing with six eyes set in a fleshy blob of a face, barked at him: “Whaddya want?”

“I’m looking,” said the other calmly, eyes turned down, “for an Arduinian.”

“Ya what?” The saloon owner grunted roughly. Patrons sitting close by turned to look. A bot squawked.

“I’m looking,” The Marshal said again, his voice growing cold and steely. “for an Arduinian. Has one come through here?”

He felt the focus of the place turn to him, felt the eyes – so many eyes of every different possible shape and description – stare in his direction. The Arduinian had been through here. Oh yes, it had. And within the alien cornucopia of bar patrons those who knew it weren’t happy about him walking in and asking questions.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” The bartender grunted and spat. “Arduinians are forbidden in this system, everyone knows that. Now I suggest you either keep your questions to yourself” – he furrowed his six brows – “or come back out the way ya came.” The disgusting creature bobbed its head back toward the door from where The Marshal had entered.

“I’m looking for an Arduinian,” The Marshal said, raising his voice. “And I’m not going to leave I until I get some answers.” The saloon was quiet now. Everyone in the place quietly watching the confrontation between the owner and this strange lawman who had wandered in, waiting for its resolution.

One of the drust sitting at the bar stood. The guards next to him turned and watched.

“I don’t think you heard the man,” it said. “We don’t like humans like you coming ’round here and asking questions. Best be on your way, fleshbag.” The drust grinned an evil grin full of giant sharp teeth. Its segmented eyes glinted in the light. The lawman saw it hover its smooth gray hand above the gun at its side.

The Marshal looked up. “I’m not looking for no trouble,” he said. He touched his hat with his hand. “Just some answers. But I tell you if you draw on me I’ll put you down faster than what’s what.” The marshal’s voice was cool and low. “And that’s a promise.”

“Get out, human!” The drust said. “Get out now!”

“I’m looking…”

The drust reached for the gun at his side but was too slow. The Marshal’s brass revolver was out, the barrel blazing, hammer slamming rapidly against the spinning chambers as its owner fanned six bullets into the gray thing standing opposite him.

The bar erupted into pandemonium. Someone screamed. Glasses shattered. Feet rushed for the stairwell and exits.

The Marshal holstered his weapon and looked down at the smoking bloody chest cavity of the dead drust. He closed his eyes and shook his head. He looked up and addressed the terrified bartender.

“Where’s the Arduinian?”

In Plain Sight

I used to work in central intelligence. I only mention it as it’s something that sets me apart from everyone else: my ability to notice small details, in even times of disorder or panic. It is because of this that only I know the truth.

Stirring my coffee with a dirty spoon, I looked up to see a ratty, disheveled man in a dirty brown coat at the far end of the diner. I watched him stand and it was then I noticed his mouth was bleeding. The other patrons took notice and started to stare as well as he bent over and began to grunt and groan and mutter.

And then his coat exploded in a splatter of gore, and long green tentacles writhed from his back. They shot out in all directions, grabbing the other customers, twisting up their bodies in slippery slick coils and lifting them from the ground.

Pandemonium ensued. Tables were overturned. Silverware spilled out on the checkerboard tile of the diner floor and glasses shattered. I was caught up in the fleeing mob, but as I glanced back over my shoulder I saw the man’s back had transformed into a gaping maw with fearsome giant teeth and was devouring the victims the tentacles pulled in.

We stampeded out onto the sidewalk and the creature followed. Our panic spread to the crowds in the street. The brown man gave pursuit, carving a path of mayhem and destruction. Bodies were eviscerated and devoured. Cars overturned. Hydro poles splintered like matchsticks.

But the details, oh, the details.

The boy behind the counter in the diner wasn’t among us. When I’d glanced over my shoulder I saw him still slowly wiping down the bar in the erupting chaos, as if nothing at all was happening. The man on the street corner smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper hadn’t joined the fleeing mob; I saw him calmly turn a page while the brown man devoured a banker in a business suit, briefcase and all. The old vendor of the hotdog stand kept shaking his head in time to the music of his cheap radio as I fled past him. I saw him flip a sizzling sausage like he had so hundreds of times before, unshaken.

This isn’t an isolated incident. And it isn’t an invasion either. They’ve been here among us all along, just waiting for the right moment.

This is only the beginning.

Inertia

It’s funny how the tiniest little mistake can have the most catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

The Mars Orbiter fell, burning a fiery streak down through the atmosphere and crashing into the red dust, all because the Americans and Europeans didn’t realize they’d written their code in different units. The Mariner 1 exploded into a fireball of tragedy and crushed dreams a mere 294.5 seconds after lift-off because of a missing minus sign. And no one can forget what happened to all the colonists of Rigel 7, all for the want of a spare fuse.

I am an astronaut. They teach you, over and over again, until it’s absolutely drilled into your mind, into your very bones, that if you let go of something on a walk to immediately forget about it. It’s gone. Don’t ever try to reach for something in space that’s floating away. Newton’s First means no second chances.

Because in space there is zero air resistance. There is zero room for error. There is only inertia.

Now I just wish someone would reach for me. I’m so alone.

Goodbye.

Vampyres

We came out of the drop and into complete and utter chaos. They were on us before our chutes even hit the ground. Out of the woods into the clearing they came, faces stretched taut in rage, their jaws mashing, their horrible bloodshot eyes burning.

I had my rifle out and was firing before I even got my footing. Brick was already on the ground next to me, screaming, going full auto.

We were overwhelmed.

They overtook Parsons and his rifle fell back with him, the muzzle flashing up into the sky, and I heard him scream as they bit into his flesh. Brick turned and unloaded everything he had into the group they fell like the sacks of meat they were. Still shooting I glanced back over my shoulder and saw all the new recruits had landed further south. It looked like they were being overrun.

I fired at the last one running toward me from the trees but it was too fast. Almost on top of me, lightning fast I bayoneted the fucker. It spat blue blood in my face, then its eyes rolled back. It was already starting to swell when it fell off the end of the blade.

Somehow, against all odds, we took them out. None of the juniors survived. Green, Oslo and Backtrack didn’t make it either. At the end there was only me, Brick and that quiet kid I’d never spoken with, Blohjek. Just us and all those pale swelling bodies, tumescent bags of flesh turning white in the grass of the clearing, surrounded by shell casings.

“He’s gone,” said Brick, and kicked the ballooning corpse of Parsons. “He’s swelling up just like them.” Most of the skin was still there but the puncture wounds were everywhere.

“Come on,” I said, “the rendezvous point’s at the top of the hill.”

We walked and we walked and we walked, on high alert the whole time, but we saw no more of them. Finally we reached the top and set all the gear down. Brick sat on one of the bags and took off his helmet. The kid lit a fag and the cherry glowed in the day’s dying light.

“What the hell is that…?” he said, pointing to the horizon, back from where we came.

Streaks of fire shot up in the sky, long burning pillars of orange light rising from the ground and up into the dull blue-grey of twilight. I picked up the binocs and looked.

It was them. I saw their bodies within the fire, rising up to back from where they came, their swelling shrinking within the flames, the death falling off them and burning away. I saw our guys in there too. They were burning up and becoming part of the cycle just like the rest.

I remember the horrible weight sinking in my stomach, and the glassy reflection of those pillars of fire in Brick’s watering eyes.

“They are reborn,” he said.

Look to the Skies

I walked down the darkened street and all around the coldness of night crept into my bones. As I rounded the corner from 35th to 2nd Avenue, a homeless man got up from his pile of bric-a-brac and stood to face me.

“Money for the poor? I’m so hungry,” he said pitifully. His hands were shaking in the cold and I could see the tips of his fingers, showing through his cutoff gloves, were old and wrinkled.

“Sorry man,” I replied without courtesy.

“Do you know it’s coming?” he said. His begging for alms had left him now and his eyes took on a wild light. The black orbs stared deep into mine with a fire that both surprised and frightened me. “It’s coming. Today is the day, the sky will burn.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, old timer?” I replied with indignation.

“Look to the skies, my boy,” he damn near hollered with enthusiasm. “Look to the skies! The end of days! The end of days is upon us! The Antichrist shall walk among the Sons of Man and the Horseman shall not be far behind. Look to the skies!”

I gathered my coat around me and glared at him with disgust. “Crazy bastard.”

I thought nothing of the vagrant’s warnings all during my walk home, and through my supper and my ritual of evening television. But when I went upstairs that evening it birthed itself fresh in my mind.

The sun was setting on the horizon and I was exhausted from the weary days before. I tore off my shirt, and went over to the rolling blind to lower it for the evening’s sleep. I stared out onto the burning horizon to see the giant saucer, a monstrous disc of illuminated, glowing metal from another world lower itself down from the sky above, hovering above Manhattan. I saw the burning trails of fire burst forth from its metal chassis and rain destruction down upon mankind. I watched the buildings explode and crumble in the distance as the hellfire reigned down upon them, and I thought of the man’s warning, to look to the skies.

The Obliteration Room

Colonel F. J. Jefferson walked into the cold steel room and surveyed the panels of blinking instruments. Scientists clad in white lab coats scurried about, flicking switches, twisting knobs, pulling levers. The air buzzed with a ferocious intensity.

“This is it,” Dr. Wodehouse said proudly. He and Jefferson faced to turn the one-way glass. “Behind this glass and that steel door lies the greatest weapon we have ever produced. It will be the weapon that will turn the tide of the war.”

“A room?” Jefferson said quizzically. “How is a room a weapon?”

“We call it The Obliteration Room.” Wodehouse took a drag from his cigarette. The smoke curled upward into the stale air of the observation room. “Right now our technology is just confined to the fields we can generate inside, but once we extend the coils to be able to be applied anywhere we’ll be unstoppable.”

Wodehouse flicked a switch on the instrument panel opposite the glass and leaned down to speak into the grille of the microphone above it. His cigarette dangled in his mouth as he spoke. “Bring in the test subject.”

A pale emaciated man in an orange jumpsuit was lead into the room in front of them by a guard. He was chained at the wrists and ankles. The guard deposited the prisoner in the center of the chamber, then exited and closed the steel door behind him. The wheel in the door spun, hermetically sealing off The Obliteration Room from the surrounding passages of the bunker.

“Fire the weapon,” Wodehouse said, his voice tinny and garbled in the microphone, his expression unmoving.

The scientists in the room flipped switches and chattered excitedly. Then there came a low humming. The humming rose to a drone, then a grinding, then a deep throbbing that seemed to shake the whole facility, one that resonated in the forms of all in the observation room, and seemed to shake Jefferson’s very bones within his old frame.

The walls of The Obliteration Room wavered like a mirage in a desert. The prisoner craned his necked upward toward the ceiling and screamed. His face melted into a liquid, pouring down his cheekbones and exposing the red muscle of his face beneath. His eyeballs swelled and bulged from their sockets. He screamed in agony and the scream was drown out beneath the droning of the machine. He flailed his limbs wildly at his sides, as the men in the observation chamber watched in horror, and then they exploded into clouds of red blood and muscle and splintered bone.

The prisoner fell to floor, writhing, melting, screaming, crying for mercy and disintegrating into a pile of gore.

“Shut it off! Shut it off!” The Colonel screamed. Wodehouse watched impassively.

Finally, the drone died down and all was quiet again. The men in the observation chamber stared blankly into The Obliteration Room, at the steaming puddle of red ooze and shattered bones that had once been a man.

Jefferson looked down at the instrument panel.

“God help us,” he muttered. “We shall never use this weapon.”

Wodehouse smiled. “Follow me,” he said coolly.

“To where?” Jefferson asked, still shaken.

“To the others.” Wodehouse flicked his cigarette. “This is only the first.”