flash fiction by Aaron Rosenberg
* * *
“Third squadron, prepare for launch.”
“Third squadron, ready on platform,” Vilnase replied, his words as precise as ever. He glanced around—his men were aligned in their rows, facet-suits gleaming, helmets secured, mouth-fans secured but inactive. His tight nod was the only sign of his great pride. His squadron. Hand-picked, personally trained, the finest in the legion. The best of the best.
Facing front once more, Vilnase reached up to his shoulder-comm. But before his gauntleted fingers could tap the button, a figure burst onto the platform.
“Sir! Sir, wait!” It was Cadet Hiller, who stumbled to a stop just shy of Vilnase’s boots, gasping for breath. “You can’t go!”
“You do not belong here, cadet!” Vilnase snapped, his eyes searing into the young man’s own. “No one except flight crew on the platform!”
“I know, sir,” Hiller wheezed, “but I had to stop you! It’s too dangerous!”
“What are you talking about, cadet?”
“The launch, sir!” Hiller blurted out, straightening into his best semblance of military posture. Which was still pathetic—the boy had a long way to go. Still, he had promise, which was why Vilnase had requested Hiller be assigned to his squadron. And that promise meant Vilnase should consider the young man’s obvious terror seriously.
“What is wrong with the launch, cadet?” he asked, softening his tone slightly.
“The coordinates are flawed, sir!” Hiller spoke quickly, the words rushing out of him as if he barely dared say them. “The refractive indices are too high!”
Vilnase frowned. Launch coordinates were double-checked, triple-checked by the finest minds in the legion. Even the slightest miscalculation could doom an entire squadron, so they had to be precise. And the refractive indices? Those were barely even noted anymore—they’d been a concern early on, but with the newer facet-suits they weren’t an issue. He said as much, but Hiller shook his head.
“I know, sir, and normally that would be true,” the cadet admitted. “But something about this launch—I was studying the coordinates, sir, and something didn’t seem right. So I ran the numbers myself. And the indices—they’re above eighty percent, sir! It’s unprecedented!”
That made Vilnase pause. Eighty percent? He’d never heard of an index above forty, and even that was rare. What would eighty percent do to his men—and to him? Perhaps Hiller was right—perhaps it was too dangerous.
“Third squadron, you are go for launch on your mark,” Launch Control informed him. The remark snapped Vilnase back to reality, hardened reflexes taking command.
“Third squadron, understood,” he acknowledged at once. “Stand by for mark.”
“But sir—” Hiller protested.
“Not now, son.” Vilnase pushed him to the edge of the platform, though not ungently. “We can discuss this later. Do a full breakdown on the coordinates, and we’ll go over them after I return.” He studied the cadet for a second. “Your concern is noted, cadet, as is your attention to detail. But this is an authorized launch. I haven’t missed one in four years, and I’m not about to start now.”
Stepping back to the center of the platform, Vilnase hit his comm again. “Third squadron, stand by for launch on my mark,” he commanded, and his men snapped to attention, checking seals and activating mouth-fans. “Three, two, one—launch!”
The facet-suits whirred to life, carving men into slivers of light and shadow. Vilnase felt the familiar fission as he was splintered into dozens of pieces, each cascading off the next, and those pieces sliced through time and space to dance across the void toward their destination—
—only something was wrong.
He felt it at once. The cascade slid across the galaxies, as always, but it didn’t end. It wrapped back around itself instead, in a never-ending cycle. There was no destination point, and the facets reflected one another into infinity.
Hiller had been right, Vilnase realized even as he felt his mind splinter beyond coherent thought. The refractive indices were too high. He and his men would be reflecting through space—forever.
flash fiction by Jason Allard
* * *
Malik had spent the last week watching the house. Nobody had seen the Japanese wizard in over a week, and the wards that had been protecting his house had faded into nothingness. He’d entered through the back door. After cutting and taping the glass, he’d knocked out a small portion of the pane, leaving a hole he reached through to unlock the door.
The egg-sized ruby hadn’t been in a safe or even in a glass case. It had just been sitting in a small golden stand on the mantle. He’d simply picked it up, and slipped it into his pocket. It had been heavier than he’d expected. It had also been warm.
Malik managed to get out of the house, only pausing a moment to grab a couple of grimoires from the bookcase. He hurried the two blocks to his car, and got in. He managed to get as far as starting the engine before he could no longer resist the siren call of his prize.
He pulled the ruby from his pants and held it up to the light. It glinted and sparkled under the arc-sodium streetlamp. He turned it back and forth, watching as the light danced over the hundreds of tiny facets. The jewel almost seemed to glow of its own.
Malik shook his head and put the stone down on the seat next to him. He put the car in gear and headed north.
At every stoplight, Malik found himself staring at the stone on the seat. He already had enough money to get out of the country and set himself up somewhere for a while. Did he really need the rest of it? He could just keep the stone for himself.
At another light, waiting for an old lady with a walker to navigate the crosswalk in front of his bumper, Malik picked up the stone. He rolled it around in his palm. He lifted it up and stared into it, looking at the light filtering through it delicately carved surface.
Deep inside, Malik could see faces swimming towards him. They were unlike anything else he’d before. They didn’t look natural, or even organic. They looked like mechanical, stylized skulls. They floated in the jewel, hovering just behind the facets. He couldn’t tell if they were grinning or grimacing, but they terrified him.
The light changed to green, and Malik discovered that he couldn’t move. He trembled, fighting to take his hands from the stone, to look away, to breathe. Suddenly, Malik felt himself falling towards the grinning skulls.
There was a flash of ice as he passed through the outside of the stone. There was an instant of warmth, then nothing but pain as the skulls began to feed.