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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.






Fishers of Men

The entity known as Briar Gray may or may not be human. Our files only show that they reside somewhere on the Korean peninsula, and tend to generate weird fiction in the form of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. We have been tracking their movements at @BriarGray5 on twitter. Behavior patterns indicate a high probability of more stories to come and subject should be monitored closely for further activity.

"Say you had a time machine." Marcus was waving his hands around like a madman.
"It's a time machine?" Agent Cal Rosen asked, sitting up in his chair.
"What? Christ. No. Just listen a second, would you?"
Cal sat back, disappointed.
"Say you had a time machine and went back to the stone age and gave a caveman instructions to build a convertible."
"He wouldn't have the materials."
Marcus pointed a finger at Cal's face. "What if you could teach him how to get those, too?"
"I'm not sure where this is going. Lot of variables here." Cal looked around the engineer's wreck of an office and pretended he wasn't disgusted.
"He wouldn't even know what he was building, right? You could show him every step, but until he was finished he wouldn't even know what he had. And it would be so alien to him, he wouldn't know what to do with it anyway. Well, that's what it was like for us."
"The problem would be one of motivation." Said Cal. "Why would your cave man cooperate?"
Marcus sipped from his coffee thermos, pulled it back, closed one eye, looked inside the empty container, frowned.
"Well that wasn't much of a problem for us."
"Human curiosity?" asked Cal.
"Well, yes. And this." Marcus shoved a manila envelope across the desk. Cal picked it up.
Marcus added, "That's a protected document by the way."
Cal paused and nodded. He flipped the envelope over, scraped away a thin layer of paint revealing a small copper wire, and twisted it off with his fingernails. Now it wouldn't ignite into flames when he opened it. Inside was a collection of aerial photographs.
"They were taken by a--"
"U-2 reconnaissance aircraft." Cal interrupted. "I used to work with them."
The photos showed a complex of buildings surrounding an open field. In the center was a shape familiar to a sparse few, except the two men in this room and maybe a dozen others. "You already field tested the reproduction?"
"This isn't us." said Markus. "These were taken over what was reported to be a prison labor camp in southern Lithuania."
"In the Soviet bloc." said Cal. "Christ. Was there a leak?"
"I assume that's why you're here. If not, it means someone higher up knows something they aren't saying."
"Like what?"
"Like, that there was a second crash. Somewhere in Soviet territory. That concerns me, Agent Rosen. It concerns me a great deal. You know some of the papers reported we pulled bodies out of the thing when we found it on that farm. We fed the press that story. Sometimes it's better to make your lie bigger than to make it more believable. All we found when we opened it up was a box. We call it Pandora's Box. Inside was roll after roll of microfilm."
"Instructions, right? Instructions for how to construct the space craft sitting in our hanger?"
"Sure. That was there. Among other things. Weapons. Medicine. Communications technology. Whoever sent this just pushed us ahead fifty years. Maybe a hundred. Most of the time we don't even know what we're building till we finish it. You asked about motivation? That's simple. First, you give the tribe living in the cave down the river a convertible. The Soviet's have one. We have to have one too. That's just the way it is."
"It makes sense now. Marcus, I was sent here to ask about a new test pilot. They want to push forward."
"I was hoping they'd shut us down after what happened."
Cal sighed. "I heard there was an accident, I'm very sorry."
Markus shook his head. "That was no accident. We picked Lt.Price because he was the best. Test pilot for a decade, Navy man to the core. Flying colors on every exam, perfect mental and physical health."
"What happened in the cockpit test?"
"At first nothing. We thought it was a dud. Then he broke through on com. He was crying, Cal."
"Crying?"
"Not like a man cries when his mom passes away. Lt.Price sounded exactly like a newborn baby. The whole ship runs on a bio-feedback system. A culture of spores are released into the cockpit. They let you communicate with the ship's controls. Something wasn't right. We aborted, forced the cockpit open. Lt.Price jumped the medical tech and started swinging, still crying like an infant. If it wasn't for the hazmat suit, the medic wouldn't have teeth anymore. We pulled Lt.Price off, and he turned his attention onto himself, started trying to gouge his own eyes out."
"My God. Where is Lt.Price now?"
"In a padded cell. Four floors down from here."
"What went wrong?"
"The spore culture is perfect. We checked it a dozen times against Pandora's Box. The problem was Lt. Price. The machine doesn't want him. It was built for someone in particular. We just don't know who. What concerns me is, everything in Pandora's Box was written in English. If I had to guess, the one in the USSR is in Cyrillic. The machines want to show someone something. It already knows which of us it wants inside. But that person is not Lt.Price."
"Than who?" Cal asked.
"That's our job now. To find out. We have developed some blood sample reaction tests. The microfilm taught us how to map the genome. We know what to look for. We have feelers out everywhere. But God help whoever that monster wants to cozy up to."
In a stretch of town decorated with broken glass and used needles, a young woman is pushed rudely aside by a careless stranger. It's been three weeks since she slept on anything but concrete. She stares hungrily at the dinner across the street, and then back to the front of the line, and a dirty glass window. A hand-painted sign says, "Cash For Plasma."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 10th, 2022
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