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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.

Recent Stories

by Yorgo Lee Douramacos
********Editor's Note: Adult language********* A dosckside bar in Liverpool, 1970-something. A steel worker named Osbourne has come from Birmingham looking for work and steps in for a pint. He sits next to a soused dock hand by name of Lennon. No words are shared but they do stop to hurl abuse at the performer on stage peddling clever pop tunes that lilt and sway but have no punch. "Fuckin' McCartney..." Lennon says. Osbourne piles on, but he secretly loves the twee little ditties the bearded troubadour on stage is playing. He and Lennon dicker between hostility and sullen camaraderie. A half full glass is thrown and McCartney leaves by the back door. Osbourne hums one of the tunes to himself as he gets up to leave. He walks past two unseen forms hovering near the door. The angel smiles at Little Richard and says, "This is what would've happened if you'd never been born."
Published on Sep 15, 2021
by Rich Larson
**********Editor's Note: Crude, adult language in this story************ I'm poking the moose carcass with a branch when Masha's call blinks onto my eyeQ. "Hey, sexy," I say, undoing my breath mask. "How's work?" "Why are you in the woods?" Her voice is terse. "Your map's all wonky. You're in the woods, right?" "Went for a run. Stopped to check in on the moose trap." Her shudder gets transmitted as a puking emoticon. She doesn't like me calling it the moose trap. See, the last family who owned the acreage had this rusty old metal swing-set, set up halfway along the trail through the woods. We didn't want to bother with it during the winter, so we left it. This sweltering spring we found a moose, a young bull who'd gotten his antlers tangled up in the chains of the swing and either starved or frozen to death there. Coyotes had already come by and stripped most of the flesh off. The rest was a rotting buzzing mess. Masha really did puke then, all over her new runners. "It's so fucking morbid," she says now. "You checking in on it. Let it decompose in peace." Normally I'd defend myself, say how interesting it is. But her voice is brittle, almost breaking. Something is wrong. "How's work?" I repeat. "How are the little buggers?" By little buggers I mean water bears, and by water bears I mean tardigrades, the indestructible microorganisms everyone was jizzing themselves over a few years back. I don't think they're even that cute. But Masha's gotten a job out of it, studying the applications of an effectively immortal animal for failsafe data storage. People are more and more into that idea as the power shortages hit, as the storms get worse, as the water creeps towards libraries. They're trying to code stuff right into the junk DNA. Although Masha says there's no such thing as junk DNA, just misunderstood DNA. "I shouldn't even be calling you," Masha says. "You shouldn't," I say. "I'm very busy. I have to pick the tomatoes and do a crossword soon." She gives a trembly laugh, which becomes an eerie and inaccurate crying-with-laughter emoticon. "The biological time capsule thing. Someone beat us to it." "Those motherfuckers at Amazon?" I demand. "No. Like, a pre-Anthropocene industrial civilization." I drop the stick. "It's not a joke," she says. "I'm not joking. We found something in their DNA. A code that decrypts itself when exposed to intense radiation." "That doesn't make any fucking sense," I say. "There aren't actual letters in DNA. I failed Biochem, but I know that much." "We aren't seeing letters. It's..." She trails off. "It's an image file. That's the only way I can explain it. The molecules move in a pre-arranged pattern to form a microscopic series of images. I don't know how they did it, but it's there. We've all seen it. We've all agreed." "What's the image?" I ask. Masha takes a rattling breath. "It's a light going out. This little flame getting extinguished. Then a wisp of smoke. Then black." I sink down to my haunches. The moose's skull is right across from me, its skin all shriveled and pulled back from its big grinding teeth. Flies are still buzzing in and out of the nostrils. "Okay," I say. "This isn't you reminding me about your birthday, is it? I know your birthday isn't until March." "Jen." "This is crazy," I say. "This is so fucking crazy. Silurians, right? Jesus Christ. What do you think it means?" But I already know what she thinks. There's been enough late wine-soaked nights where she goes on her furious tirades about our joke of a carbon policy and the extended hurricane season and the displaced droves starving in hot places that got hotter. There's a reason she won't let me have a kid. "I think it's an extinction clock." Masha's voice is so quiet I can barely hear it. "I think it means, if you can read this, it's almost over." The sunshine coming through the branches isn't warm anymore. My whole back is cold and slimy with sweat. "Masha. You don't know that." "This is a message from someone who went extinct a million years ago, and they're giving their condolences." Her voice is tired, not bitter. "A flame getting snuffed out. If they had genetic engineering, if they had any technology at all, they had the same starting point we did. Fire. They know what happens when the fire goes out." "We've got zero shared culture, so we can't go projecting human, you know, human shit onto it," I say. "It could be a name. It could be a genetic graffiti artist leaving her tag behind. Maybe they were nocturnal. Maybe it means lights out, party time." A long pause. There are no birds chirping. There used to be so many birds. "I'm coming home," she says. "This thing is already leaked. It's going to be fucking chaos here in a couple hours. Message in a bottle from a pre-human civilization. I mean, come on." "We can do the crossword together, then," I say. "Yeah," she says. "Yes. I love you, Jen." "Love you too," I say, and blink her off my eyeQ. Then it's just me and the moose carcass, and suddenly all I can think about is that long winter, stumbling into machinery it could never understand, enraged and confused and struggling and struggling and finally dying. I wonder if at any point it knew it was over, and just tried to enjoy the peace and quiet.
Published on Sep 14, 2021
by Aimee Ogden
When he was three, Jacob got his first skinned knee. I was in the backyard, trimming the raspberry bushes, while Derek moved wood chips in the front and Jacob rode his scooter up and down the sidewalk. Then a high-pitched squall cut through the podcast in my earbuds and I went running. The wheelbarrow had tipped on one side in Derek's haste to collect Jacob. He sat on the sidewalk with my poor baby between his knees, hugging him and trying to make him laugh. Jacob only paused in between sobs to look up at me. "Mama kiss it?" "Oh, baby, of course." I bent down, but stopped before I could deliver the promise treatment. His denim pants had soaked up the blood: not a dark red stain, but pure black. Not blood at all, but ink. As I stared, the dark lines wicked into readable words: I EATED THE LAST COOKIE BUT I TOLD MAMA TILLY EATED IT. I TOUCHED THE SHARP KNIFE. I HATE MRS SCOTT'S BAD DOG. "Mama?" "Yes, baby. Sorry." I dropped a quick peck on his shin, just below the ink lines, then struggled back to my feet. I couldn't see to meet Derek's eyes. "There are Band-Aids in the kitchen cupboard." "I know. Honey, are you--?" But I was already inside the house, the garage door slamming behind me. In the bathroom, I washed my hands and my face. Hot water and soap failed to wash away my puffy eyes. I sat on the toilet lid and leaned my head against the cool, daffodil-colored wallpaper. Deep breaths. Deep breaths, until you can say what's wrong. What was all that therapy about, all that rehearsal, if everything fell apart at showtime? A sad, lonely square of toilet paper clung to the roll; I poked it listlessly. I'd known all along there was a fifty-fifty chance, but actually seeing it-- My pocket buzzed; I dug out my phone. U ok Jess? It should've been easy enough to just type it out. Instead I swiped my fingers a few times: im fine My phone let me know Derek had read my message, but he didn't answer. His voice issued from the kitchen, on the other side of the bathroom wall. Too deep for me to make out what he was saying, and Jacob filled the silences in between with a jumble-tumble of squeaky three-year-old lisping. I closed my eyes, but even the darkness was overlaid with a wild kaleidoscope of lines and colors from how hard I'd rubbed them. A knock at the bathroom door. "…Come in." I jumped up and grabbed the towel off the rack, saving it from its wadded-up state with a vigorous refolding. "Just tidying up a bit." Derek opened the door and sat on the counter. "You can tell me if you're mad at me. I should have been keeping a closer eye on him." My reflection had gotten less puffy-eyed. I wiped a tiny fingerprint off the corner of the mirror. "Little kids get scraped knees. It's no big deal." "And yet I feel like it might be a nonzero amount of big deal. What's going on?" "I said nothing." I pulled open the drawer under the sink and took out a new roll of toilet paper to replace the old one. "I know you said nothing, but--" "I said nothing!" I slammed the drawer--too fast, too hard. The bottom of the cupboard sheared the skin off the back of two fingers. Pain sidled up a moment later, only after I saw what I'd done. I stuck the fingers in my mouth. Not fast enough. Black blood had already dribbled onto the stacked rolls of bath tissue, leaving lines in a tidy cursive: I JUST DIDN'T WANT HIM TO BE LIKE ME. The bathroom doorknob jiggled. I wrapped my fingers in the hem of my shirt. They stung, with the sweat soaked in. "Get him a snack or something. Please. I'm fine." "Renee--" But Jacob hadn't gotten his patience from Derek, either. The door cracked ajar and he peeked in, clutching a half-eaten cookie. He took in the black-stained toilet paper, my hidden hand, my face. He pursed his lips. "I kiss it, Mama?" I couldn't say no. I couldn't say anything. He shoved the rest of the cookie in his mouth to leave both hands free, and pressed his lips to my bloodied knuckles. "Mwah!" I wiped ink and cookie crumbs from his chin, and pulled him onto my lap, rocking us both back and forth.
Published on Sep 13, 2021
by Anastasia Gammon
This has been the most difficult commission of my career. I've been to corners of the dark web I didn't know existed and talked to people running identity protection software that messed up my system for days. But I did it. I found the only licensed digital reproduction of Van Gogh's The Starry Night on the entire Virtual Reality Network and I sold it to Victor for an eye-watering price that I definitely earned. "It probably would have been easier to find the real thing, hey?" he jokes as our avatars stand next to each other in his digital apartment, admiring the bunch of pixels I've spent the last two months of my life tracking down. I laugh. "Yeah," I tell him. "Probably." He transfers my fee and we make awkward small talk while I wait for the number in my account to update. Then we say goodbye and I log off, thinking if I never see his avatar again it'll be too soon. I do enjoy the surprise on his animated face in the second before I go offline though. Most people never bother these days, so it must be a novelty for him to watch my avatar wink out of existence. I tell people the walls of my digital house are so sparse because I sell all the good art to other people. The truth is, it's because I'm old fashioned. I still like to spend my cryptocurrency in the real world. I have filled my real home with things only I will ever see. And Victor was right, the real thing was so much easier to find.
Published on Sep 12, 2021
by A.C. Wise
Find yourself desperate for a child. Find yourself willing to do whatever it takes, including and especially, lie to your spouse. Know, in your heart, in the place where your heart will be once you hold your child in your arms for the first time, that achieving this desire will fill the aching hole inside you. Find yourself in a place where all conventional methods have failed. Traditional medicine. Homeopathy. Wishing on falling stars. Extramarital affairs. You even contemplated kidnapping your sister’s firstborn, but family members are always prime suspects and you’d only end up arrested, empty-handed, estranged. Find your way into the woods. Find yourself a bird. For best results it should be a turtle or mourning dove. Stick to the path. This part is important: do not stray. Be bold. Be bold as you can. Pluck every feather until the bird's skin is pale and smooth as a newborn child's. Break the bird's wings--every single fragile bone one by one. Children come into this world helpless, after all. You may choose to blunt the beak, or remove it entirely. That part is up to you. Remember--this is a fairy tale, choices have consequences. Find yourself a shovel or a small spade. Silver is best, but iron will do. Find yourself on a clear night digging a hole at the foot of an ancient oak tree with a crown spread to hold up the sky and a trunk wider around than you can stretch your arms. Place your broken-winged, featherless bird into the hole, and bury it standing, up to its neck. Water it with your blood. Water it with your tears. Wait three days. Brush the dirt gently from its cold skin. Swaddle it in the softest blanket you can find. Pink for a boy, blue for a girl. Realize that color has no effect on sex, and gender is a construct anyway. Swaddle your child however you choose. Find yourself the perfect spot to hide the precious treasure you smuggle home. Remember, your spouse must not know. May we suggest behind the third brick up on the left side of your chimney? Or the very back of your sock drawer? Feed your child only sweet things. Honey by the thimbleful. Drops of morning dew. Petals candied in sugar and slices of new apple. The sound of your voice singing lullabies and all your favorite pop songs. Find clothes suitable for a fairy tale child. Stitch them from frost and leaves. Procure the skin of a donkey, or a barrel driven with rusty nails. If your child would be clothed in silver and gold, they will need to wish beneath a tree grown from your murdered bones. Plan accordingly. Find the strength to wait. Be patient while your child grows. Find the courage to bear up under repeated questions--where in the world did you find a child, how could you do this without talking to me, why won't it speak, what's wrong with its eyes, why is its skin so cold? Am I not enough for you? The child or me? Choose. Find yourself a good source of daycare. It's difficult raising a child alone, especially when you have to work two jobs, three, to keep food on the table. Your growing child hungry all the time. Find a suitable spot to bury the bodies. One babysitter might be a tragic accident, but two? And the kindergarten teacher? And the nice elderly couple next door who you begged to take your child for just one hour, please, so you could get a few minutes rest? A small respite from the blackness of your child’s eyes, full with the memory of stolen feathers and shattered wings. Remember, a fall down the stairs is easy enough to explain, but bitemarks less so. Particularly when the marks aren’t bites at all, but left by something sharp and triangular, stabbed into the flesh over and over in neat, terrible rows. Perhaps you should have blunted the beak after all. Find yourself at the end of your rope. It was bound to happen. We warned you not to stray from the path, but never said why. It’s so much better to watch the story play out to the end, and so disappointing when parents turn back while they still can. Find yourself re-reading the stories that led you here. Tales of magic, wishes granted, impossible children built from flower petals and drops of blood on the snow. Ask yourself where you went wrong. Was your heart not pure enough? Did you offend an old woman by refusing her a drink, or help carrying a burden? Realize that you don’t fucking care; you just want it to be done. Find yourself contemplating ways to kill such an uncanny child. An apple spiked with poison? A locked tower where they will drown under the weight of their own hair? Will you string barbed traps for every mouse and bluebird just in case they are the helpful kind good at sorting lentils and peas? Will you murder the hunters and woodcutters and banish them from your realm? Cut the tongue from every horse lest it reveal your treason, even dead? Is your child destined for the stewpot? Will you grind their bones to make your bread? Or will it be something quicker, more expedient? Perhaps a gun? Find yourself contemplating the hollow, aching space inside your chest. Probe its edges. Are they delicate as feather-edged frost, or hard and jagged like teeth cracked beneath a fist? Instead of filling it, has your child caused that space to grow? Find out what you are you willing to do. Will you dance in shoes of iron? Allow your eyes to be plucked out by birds? Find yourself doing whatever it takes. It is easy enough to find yourself in a fairy tale, but remember--you will not always find yourself its hero.
Published on Sep 9, 2021
by Filip Wiltgren
The bravest thing my dad ever did for me was wave to me from the kitchen window. As a child, I didn't realize the courage it took for that heavy brown curtain to be pulled back, for that pale hand to wave even though the sun was already in the sky. If anything, I was annoyed by the flashes of fire when a stray ray of sunlight burrowed into my father's skin. Once, a car passed in the street, its flat windows reflecting the rising sun into our kitchen. There was a burst of light from our house that day and when I came home there smoke stains on the ceiling. Dad had tried to scrub them away with his red and blistered hands, but they hung there like a shameful reminder of how strange we were. It got worse when I became a teenager. Everything dad did was wrong. Mostly, I feared meeting my father when he was with his neighborhood watch buddies, feared my friends' snickers as they laughed at his orange day-glow vest and the seriousness on his pale face as he walked the empty street at the tail end of a group of senior citizens feeling brave by scaring away cats, dogs, and pranksters. I'd scream at him, cursing him for a blood-sucker, telling him to get the hell out of my life. Saying that I hated him, that he didn't understand what it was like to be alive. And then I'd slam the door to my bedroom ignoring the red trails of his tears as they flowed down his cheeks. Maybe it is the way with humans, that we do not appreciate what we have until we lose it. I know that I felt only relief when I finally moved away from home to study comparative religion at college. In the beginning, dad would call every night, asking about my classes, my professors, wanting to know if the food in the cafeteria was good, or if I'd found some boy or a girl that I liked. I'd give curt answers, then turn off the phone, glancing around furtively to see if anyone had heard. Still, I couldn't cut my bonds to him entirely. He was my father, the man who had raised me. I would come home for holidays and summer vacations, holding down summer jobs in the grocery store or the nursing home down the street. Ironically enough, I'd only get the graveyard shift, spending my nights calming the elderly who had lost their minds and their memories and were only alive because they were feared to die. Dad would wait for me those nights, to talk me through the difficult times when someone had yelled at me, or died on my shift. It helped, I think. We'd spend the mornings chatting over a cup of coffee and milk, about the frailty of life, about the willingness to survive at all costs and about what might come after. And I grew to appreciate him, to appreciate those heavy brown curtains moving as he would wait up for me past sunrise to so he could look for me and give me a hug after I shut the door. And we would talk a bit before we each went to our separate rest. I was coming home one day, my ears plugged by my headphones, oblivious to the world around me, and the car heading down the street. It's flat windows catching the sunlight, blinding the driver. Dad was waiting for me at the kitchen window, peeking past those heavy brown curtains. I didn't know he was there, didn't see the car until dad suddenly burst through the kitchen door, already on fire, the sunlight turning him into a magnesium flare that knocked me aside, inches from the car's fender. We landed in a heap, and by the time I fully realized what was happening, there was nothing left of him but a blackened skeleton, and the only thing truly his own were the fangs that slowly turned to dust in my arms. And sometimes, I wonder whether he knew that I'd come to appreciate his courage as a parent, and I look at the dark smudge left on the ceiling that I refuse to paint over, and I think that maybe he did.
Published on Sep 8, 2021
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