A Man Most Imperiled by Dan Malakin

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Zircon is unlike any man you’ve ever met. And when his home is threatened, he reacts like no man you’ve ever met. Dan Malakin presents a zany tale of mad science, bureaucracy, and more mad science.

A Man Most Imperiled

by Dan Malakin

I am Zircon. My father, the illustrious Professor Zircon, created me by bombarding his own DNA with neutrons from Neptunium 237. He grew me first in a Petri dish, then in a test tube, and finally in an artificial womb made from silicone, which remains on a bed of dried rose petals in my lab, and which I affectionately call Mother.

For ten years since the death of my father I have lived a solitary existence, away from the Herd, away from the radio mouths of modern society shouting their empty words; I do not wish to be told for what to wish; I do not need to be told how to be. It is in originality, in invention, in creation, that we stride the path of self-understanding. The Herd promotes consumers, not creators. They do not make or do; they lust or want. It is a lonely life, my life, but in the twenty-five years since I first took air in my lungs I have known no other—and how can you miss something you never had?

But alas, a hand-delivered letter arrived this morning from a body called WTP Developments that threatens my status quo. They claim to have purchased all the land in the area, including where my cottage sits, which they say has never been registered with The Land Registry and hence does not legally exist. I have two days to leave my home. Continue reading…

Nobody Puts Baby in a Chamber by Alexis A. Hunter

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It’s a damn shame that appliances don’t talk to us in such soothing tones as SF has led us to believe they will someday. I guess the closest we have is Siri, but she’s programmed with snark. Which can be fun at times, and at other times you just want to be comforted. If Siri ate your baby, she’d probably just show you maps to grief counseling centers. Let’s hope she won’t go baby eating.

Nobody Puts Baby in a Chamber

by Alexis A. Hunter

Please stop screaming. [110dB—adult human is distraught.]

I am sorry. I did not intend to suck up your baby.

[Physical force—nonlethal, safety protocols prohibit self-defense.]

I assure you your offspring is just fine. It appears to be entertained by the dust “bunnies” in my holding tank. Oh—please stop screaming—it has found those plastic keys I sucked up last week. See, all will be fine.

Please remain calm.

[Cessation of physical force—reassurance remains necessary.]

It is imperative that you do not use my emergency power-off. I am continuously running gentle suction in order to pipe oxygen in for your baby. Continue reading…

You, an Accidental Astronaut, by Sonja Natasha

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You may not have left your girlfriend, and you may not have traveled to space, but in a thousand words Sonja Natasha paints a gorgeous picture of you doing just that.

You, an Accidental Astronaut

by Sonja Natasha

You leave Earth like you leave your girlfriend: tripping over your shoelaces because you hurried too much to tie them right. You need to be gone before she wakes up, before you have to fumble an awkward goodbye. So you hitch a ride on a rocket ship with your legs curled against your chest and with the stars shooting by, thinking about the things and people you’d left behind: the diner with the all-you-can-eat waffles every Sunday morning, the temple across the way with a smooth paved lot so good for rollerblading, and your mom who always baked her own bread, who always gave you the first steaming slice glazed with sugar and dusted with cinnamon, but who never liked your girlfriend, the same girl you left, remember, without even saying see you later.

She’ll get over you just like you’ll get over her. She’ll find another nice girl. You’ll find someone on a planet somewhere over there after the engines harness a sun flare, tearing holes in space and time to where everything’s gonna be just fine.

You fall asleep and wake up to an event horizon of faces peering down at you and asking why you aren’t back home because you’re not supposed to be here. It’s too late to turn back and you’ve bet your life there’s nothing they can do to ground you.

They put an astronaut’s fish-globe helmet over your head. They don’t offer you anything to eat because they’re too busy exonerating themselves for leaving you behind in their exhaust fumes. You’ll be okay, they tell you. It’ll be just like falling asleep, and you’ll wake up in a better place.

Continue reading…

The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell, by Carlie St. George

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The great thing about reading for Mothership Zeta is the stories are fun. So fun! Often very funny! Sometimes you’re having an absolutely wretched day, and you dive into slush and discover a ridiculous screwball zom-rom-com that lifts your entire mood, with snappy banter, pop culture references a-plenty, and an affecting relationship at the center of its undead heart. We hope Carlie St. George’s mash-up of mad science, zombies, and Girl Scouts brightens your day as it’s brightened ours.

The Elixir of the Not-So-Disgusting Death Smell

by Carlie St. George

My boyfriend Brandon had been dead two days. He smelled like he’d been embalmed in lavender.

Lavender wasn’t our first choice. Originally, I’d picked out Warm Vanilla Sugar. That had been a bad call: Warm Vanilla Sugar made Brandon hungry. But Sweet Pea faded too quickly, and anything strawberry gave me hives. Sea Island only made Brandon smell like rotting fish.

So I went to Bath & Body Works on a lavender shopping extravaganza, buying every vaguely purple product I could find. I left with lavender hand soap, massage oil, body lotion, shampoo.

Brandon wasn’t impressed.

“It has to be written down somewhere. It’s gotta be a rule.” He’d already said this three times, so I ignored him and worked the conditioner into his ridiculous Goku hair. We were sitting in the upstairs bathroom, in a tub deep enough to drown a Newfoundland, were it actually filled. It wasn’t filled because I suspected that soaking my sort-of dead boyfriend in bubble bath would be counterproductive. It shouldn’t have made a difference—Brandon wasn’t actually decomposing, not anymore, and yet? The charming smell of early putrefaction remained. Thus the lavender and a glaring lack of bubbles.

I filled a cup of water and carefully rinsed out Brandon’s dark hair. He tickled my toes absently with his pale spider fingers.

“Stop it,” I said.

Brandon didn’t stop it. He was the kind of guy who couldn’t stop tickling someone until she kicked him in the nuts. “The dead,” he said, “should not smell like little old women. Seriously, that’s a rule, right? Some zombie commandment?”

I didn’t want to hear about zombie commandments. I wanted him to appreciate how thrifty I’d been. Shit like this didn’t come cheap, and while I came from money—old, ridiculous money, the kind where you could just give your daughter a house because you still owned five other vacation homes to choose from—my parents weren’t paying for anything that might lead to awkward questions. Like, “Why do you need all that lavender?” or “Rachel, you don’t know who stole Brandon’s body, do you?”

Mom and Dad were already disappointed I wasn’t someone’s trophy wife. Corpse thief and mad scientist might have broken them.

Continue reading…

Fire in the Belly, by Rachael Acks

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Meet Henrietta, your new favorite preteen space Western thief. She’s all alone on a brand new planet, and she’s about to have a life-changing adventure. Rachael Acks weaves together a few genres in this rip-roaring tale, hopefully not the last we’ll see of this spunky young firebrand!

Fire in the Belly

by Rachael Acks

Henrietta squinted up at the rift ship Phoenix, a skyscraper of blinding metal and until recently the only home she’d ever known, as it lumbered into the sky. Choking clouds of dust turned the sun blood red, but she refused to duck her head or cover her eyes until the ship had become no more than a shining point of light. The wind died down, raining dust onto the landing field, but she kept her pointy chin high and blinked her blue-gray eyes against the sting.

“So this is what bein’ free tastes like,” she murmured, then wiped a swath of dust from her cheek and licked it from her finger. Taste the dirt and know the world, she’d heard the spacers say, and she focused on that instead of the shrill of fear waiting to become full-blown panic in the back of her head. She hadn’t had much of a choice about jumping ship, not if she wanted to keep her skin in one piece. The security boss on the Phoenix had made that abundantly clear with his fist. And so she stood here, wherever that was. “Don’t tell me what this place is called, though.”

Had to make the best of it. Had to keep moving.

A shadow fell over her as she bent to pick up the bundle of clothes at her feet, and someone kicked the back of her knee. She fell on her meager luggage, but came up swinging. “The hell was that for?”

The culprit was a man dressed in a blue suit, the special shade all TransRift employees wore, black tie pencil thin and tacked with a gold four-leaf clover. He wore sunglasses, but she felt him staring all the same, his lip curling up. That was her warning to grab her bundle and scoot. Half a second later, a glob of brown tobacco spit landed where she’d been. “Show some respect, trash muffin.”

She made a rude gesture, dodged another wad of spit. “Ain’t like you’re showin’ any. Got to give to get!”

The man sneered. “Fine words from a damn pocket picker.” He drew his jacket aside, reaching for the smooth black handle of a baton, spring-loaded to break bones. She swallowed back a whimper at the familiar sight. “Get off my landing field before you stink it up.”

Continue reading…

The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie, by A. Merc Rustad

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We are fans of robots and we are fans of dinosaurs. Who isn’t, really. So how could we resist a charming post-apocalyptic tale featuring a robot and dinosaurs? We should warn you that we asked A. Merc Rustad to add extra FEELS to this story. And they did. Boy, did they ever.

The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie

by A. Merc Rustad

The world explodes.

#

Unit EX-702 comes back online when UV wavelengths activate its solar plating. Its optics are crusted with red dust; a low-powered system scan concludes that though its left arm is missing and there is excessive oxidation damage along its chassis and helmet, as well as a web spun from several arachnids (Nephila clavipes) now embedded in its servo stump, EX-702 is functional. Its operational protocols are intact.

This unit is programmed for the support of life and sapience.

Its databanks are semi-corrupted beyond basic functions and archived footage and base knowledge dumps. Attempts to access the ‘Net and reboot from a mobile hub fail with a repeated NO CONNECTION AVAILABLE alert. EX-702 lifts its remaining arm and scrapes dust away from its optics.

Operational Function 413: this unit will maintain self-preservation operations, including but not limited to the access of immediately available data to determine procedure, when it does not conflict with the preservation of homo sapiens’ survival.

EX-702 sits in the crater of what had been Newtonian Genetech Incorporated laboratories and HQ facility. Debris from the lab cakes the thick concrete and rusted iron walls. Its scanner matrix glitches with static-filled readouts and partially deteriorated unprocessed updates from microseconds before it was shut down.

Scientist voices agitated and unmodulated without appropriate safety masks. [STATIC] “—find survivors! Protect yourself!” [SHUT DOWN]

Something crackles against EX-702’s knee joints. Fibers, synthetic and organic—old HAZMAT suits shredded and woven around broken plywood and stripped copper wiring—shaped in a non-geometric design. Inside the structure sit three maroon and heather-brown eggs thirteen centimeters in length and six in diameter.

Processing…

The eggs do not match any current avian, insectoid, reptilian, mammalian, or amphibian entries in its database. EX-702 examines the nest, which has intersected its knees. A ripped arm from the hazmat suit is tucked between its clawed toes. EX-702 is a humanoid bipedal digitigrade design with backward jointed knees and toe digits designed to grip uneven surfaces and manipulate hostile terrain. Its hand is fully articulated to mimic the human opposable thumb and fingers. EX-702 is not designed to be a nest for unknown biological organisms.

One of the eggs twitches and a small chirrup escapes the cracked calcium carbonate structure.

Continue reading…

Bargain, by Sarah Gailey

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People have been making bargains with demons for centuries (in fiction, and possibly also in real life). But this time Malachai, Devourer of Miscreants and Usurper of Souls, is going to get more than he, uh, bargained for. “Bargain” is Sarah Gailey’s first pro sale, and we’re confident it won’t be the last.

Bargain

by Sarah Gailey

Malachai loved his work. He loved wandering among the trappings of enormous wealth and influence, seeing the baubles that humans excreted to express their status. He especially loved watching those wealthy, influential mortals tremble before the might of his inescapable superiority.

Malachai worked exclusively with those humans who had found themselves at the limit of how much power they could possess. They called him to bend the rules of time and space around their whims, so that they might be even more feared and loved by the other mortals. Their desires were predictable—money, knowledge, talent, authority. These were the kinds of people who hunted down ancient parchments with the Words of Invocation inscribed upon them. These were the kinds of people who did not concern their consciences with the compensation Malachai required for his services.

They appreciated a bit of theatrical flair.

So when he received the summons from dispatch, he responded with appropriate formality. Curling smoke, crackling lightning, the wailing of damned souls—a standard business-casual entrance. He waited for his cue, which was usually the sound of a man discovering terror for the first time in his comfortable life. Once that terror had peaked, Malachai would announce himself. Any sooner, and the human would get swept up in proceedings before their fear really set the tone. Thus, on this and all assignments, Malachai waited to hear the panic and the wailing and the what-have-I-wrought’s. Continue reading…

Panic Twice, Spin, by Malon Edwards

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Earlier this year in Shimmer’s “The Half-Dark Promise,” Malon Edwards wrote about a snake girl fighting tentacled shadow creatures. Here he writes about another strange girl fighting fantastical creatures. You may never look at Dance Dance Revolution the same way again.

Panic Twice, Spin

by Malon Edwards

You first noticed the miniature black hole in the corner of the playroom halfway into book one of the Cyber Sakura Seven series.

Your little sister, Mahina, was playing Panic Twice, Spin. Nintendo’s warning about cosmic repercussions was in big, bold red letters on the back of the game case, but you had thought nothing of it when you bought it with your allowance for Mahina’s re-up day. It was a game about fighting zombie-ninjas, for goodness’ sake. Besides, you used to play it all the time before Mahina died.

You had just gotten to the part of your book where Sakura’s cyber-suit is fused to her skin when you heard an odd sound in the corner of the playroom, left of the holo-vision. “That sounds like God flushing His toilet,” you thought. “But far, far away.”

Mahina, of course, heard nothing. And for good reason. Continue reading…

Imma Gonna Finish You Off, by Marina J. Lostetter

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In a future where everyone’s immortal, murders are easy to solve after the victim wakes up. But when dead bodies stay dead, unending life gets complicated for Detective Harry Sordido. We here at Mothership Zeta very much enjoyed Marina J. Lostetter’s future reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide and hope you do too. “Imma Gonna Finish You Off” was first published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine, January 2014 and aired in Escape Pod episode 501, narrated by Alasdair Stuart, on July 28, 2015.

Imma Gonna Finish You Off

by Marina J. Lostetter

On the examining table lounged a body. It was an unremarkable body–rather wrinkly, with an inordinate amount of hair in all the wrong places and too few clothes for most people’s liking, but otherwise nothing to write your congressman about. The only thing special about the body was that it was dead–a problem that Detective Harry Sordido hoped would resolve itself quite soon.

“Will he just get on with the coming back to life already?” Harry huffed, checking the glowing numbers embedded in his left wrist. With his right hand, he patted his ample, middle-aged girth. “He’s not the only victim I’ve got to question today.”

“I’m not sure what’s the matter with him,” said the medical examiner, lifting the dead man’s wrist between two thin fingers. “He should have let out a nice scream-of-life by now.” He let the limb flop back to the sanitary paper.

“What do you think it was?” asked the detective, “Accidental? Experimental? Purposeful? What do you think he died of?”

“You’ll have to ask him to be sure. He was found out on the sidewalk. No indications of violence or a struggle, but he does look a tad flaccid.”

“Ah, disgruntled lover, then.”

“No, I mean on the whole. Like he’s been wrung out.”

They both stared at the body for a long while.

“You don’t think he’s really–?” began Detective Sordido.

“It is starting to seem a bit permanent.”

“That’s impossible! No one’s really died for damned near a millennium.”

The examiner shrugged. “There’s a first time for every eventuality.”

Continue reading…

Sleeping with Spirits, by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

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This story is not safe for work, children, or jealous lovers.

You could say Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s story has sex but is not erotic. You could say it’s not safe for work but it’s not naughty. You could say a lot of things about this tale of love, intimacy, and then hangups lovers have over each other’s pasts. But what we loved about this fantasy story is that it shows you sex and love as they happen in real life. Awkward. Emotional. Tender. Confused. It feels so real – except for the spirits, naturally.

Don’t miss our nonfiction Story Doctor article by James Patrick Kelly that analyzes this story!

Sleeping with Spirits

by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Nolan had just dozed off when the first spirit arrived. His girlfriend Wendi screamed. “The fuck is it?” he yelled, bolting upright. The covers fell from him. A blue-tinted body floated above the mattress. It was naked. “The fuck is that?”

The spirit looked like every jock in the movies. Broad shoulders, a strip of white across the nose, brown helmet hair. Beefy, not like the ghosts Nolan read about in cheap horror novels, although the spirit’s circumcised penis hung limp. And when this spirit spoke, there was no echo in his voice. All in all, they’d lucked out as far as spooks were concerned. It was difficult to be frightened by a naked man.

“Long time no see, huh, Wendi?” the spirit said.

Nolan looked over at his silent girlfriend. She’d scurried out of the blankets when she’d woken. Now she held her legs to her chest. Her modesty surprised him. He’d known Wendi to strip to her underwear and wade into pools at their friends’ parties.

“Who is this guy?” Nolan asked.

“I should ask the same question. Who’s this bean pole?” The spirit looked Nolan up and down.

“Fuck off,” Wendi said. “What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since freshman year of high school.”

“Was that a while ago?” The spirit scratched his head. Flakes of transparent blue dandruff fell into the bed. Nolan realized that the spirit hovered right above the wet spot. After making love Nolan had offered to sleep on it, but he’d rolled off and away from Wendi as the urge to sleep dry took over. Now the spirit’s ghostly body seemed to rise from it. Nolan felt a combination of pity and pride.

“Yeah, it was a while ago. Shit, dude, what’s this all about?” Wendi said.

“How long?” the spirit asked.

“Five years ago?”

“How do you guys know each other?” Nolan asked.

“We used to date,” the spirit said.

“Trace was my first. We only slept together twice.”

Right, Nolan thought, his stomach twisting. Now he remembered: Trace. Trace had been popular, a junior when Wendi was a freshman, and Wendi lost it to him in the back of some car. She had wanted, she told Nolan, to lose it fast, without much thought or consequence, and she thought Trace would do it and leave her alone. But he wanted to do it again and again, even when his friends wondered what he was doing with a crazy freshman art girl.

When Wendi told Nolan that story, he knew what Trace’s friends didn’t: that Wendi was something special, the bravest person Nolan had ever met. She made you feel at home around her, like you’d been friends since you were born. You could hear her confidence in her voice. Always lilting upward, as if on the verge of laughter. Except now, with the spirit of Trace between them.

“But you’re alive. I’ve seen you on Facebook.”

Continue reading…