Edge

My motorcycle hung, thirty feet up the side of a brick wall, suspended only by luck and willpower – which is about how I managed to hold onto the katana, too.

Motorcycles are different from cars. Cars, by their nature, want to stay upright. If you leave a car alone, it’ll stay upright. If a sudden gust of wind hits it, it’ll stay up. If you lose your balance while driving, it won’t fall. If you hit a slick spot in the road, you might lose control – but the car won’t topple over. A car has four wheels under it – four fat, wonderful, stabilizing, traction grabbing wheels. Cars are nice that way.

A motorcycle, by its nature, want to fall. They say their are two kinds of motorcyclists – those who have lain down their bikes and those who will lay down their bike. Motorcycles throw away two of those wheels under the theory that stability is optional. They’re held upright by a freakish combination of gyroscopic physics and balance. The former only works if you’re going fast. The latter depends entirely on the rider. And all of it can fall apart in a heartbeat if you hit a slick spot, a sudden gust of wind, or a redhead that makes you do a double take.

Let me tell you, a motorcycle suspended three stories off the ground wants to fall in the worst kind of way.

But maybe I should back up a bit, because you’re probably wondering how I got up there. And if you know me a little bit, you’re probably also wondering what damn fool idea got me on one of those two wheeled monstrosities in the first place. To be honest, I’m still not sure why I did it. But I can at least tell you how it happened.

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Soul Food

Not the synthetic kind. As Joel surveyed the window of the airport chocolatier, his grandmother’s words echoed in his mind. “Please,” she had begged, “please, Joey. Before I die, I want to taste chocolate again.” He had reached for his backpack, where he kept nutri-bars for snacks. She shook her head, raised a trembling hand in protest. “Not the synthetic kind, Joey. Real chocolate, that grew from the earth. Cocoa plants. There should still be some.” Her eyes had watered. “They used to mix it with sugar and cream.” She smiled softly, looking up at her grandson. “Promise me, Joey. Bring me chocolate before I die.”

Joel sighed as he turned away from the display; airport chocolate wouldn’t do. Research had shown him a history that wasn’t taught in school. Decades ago, world governments had decided their citizens didn’t need chocolate. Humanity required sustenance, nutrition, health. As soon as it was clear the Great Famine wouldn’t end without intervention, the Committee for World Nutrition commandeered so-called recreational farms to plant broccoli, beans, beets and other nutrient-rich vegetables. Artificial texture and flavor meant that Joel’s generation grew up believing non-essential foods had always come from the lab. Now, authentic chocolate was grown on micro-farms, processed in secret, and jealously guarded by the confectioners and restaurateurs that served the extremely wealthy. Joel had never tasted it. He had not known it existed until his grandmother asked for some.

In vain, he had called the fanciest restaurants in America, Europe, and Asia. The few that replied emphasized the legality of their sources and refused to send him samples. They claimed it was too expensive, that the chocolate would melt. One even recommended a brand of laboratory chocolate for him to try.

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Major Hunter

Darkness gives way to flashes of red, blurred forms. The throbbing pain in his head increases. He closes his eyes again. Major Trace Hunter remains motionless hoping the sick feeling in his gut will soon subside. The smell of smoke and ozone from the burned circuits fills his nostrils. The memory of what happened escapes him. He wonders; ‘How much can I move? Should I move?’ He opens his eyes and tries to focus them to no avail. Slowly, he rotates his foot and then the other. ‘So far, so good. Legs? No pain.’ He raises an arm. “AAH!” A stabbing pain rips through his upper chest and shoulders. Pushing back into the seat, he braces himself. His head reels as flashes of light dance in his head. While sucking air through his teeth in an effort to deal with the pain, a burning sensation fills his lungs. A coughing fit brings about dizziness that overtakes him. He closes his eyes once more. His line of thought drifts into disarray.

A familiar voice over his earpiece jolts Hunter awake. Trying to focus his foggy mind, he is not certain what was said. ‘What time is it? Where in blue blazes am I?’ Looking out the cockpit windows, he is greeted with a starless, dark void. A flashing red indicator light on his dashboard illuminates a broken dial. His head and shoulders still hurt, but at least the nausea is gone.

“Blue-7, this is Rescue-2. Do you read?”

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Szary

For the first time since they had chosen him as a child, he was thinking. Ever since he had been taken to the temple and given a tiny underground room and a copy of religious texts, his only thoughts had been of what they had told him. All he believed had been what they had taught him, what he had read by candlelight for hours every night. For many, many years, he and the others of his order had stayed in their abbey within the temple, studying and praying and honing their battle skills. And when their leader had come and said that their country was finally in need of them, to bring the word and slay the heretics of the neighboring, backwards country of Kazimer, they could hardly believe their ears. It had been a hundred years since the Wojciech had been called to fight. Most of the surrounding regions were nominally followers of the sacrificed prophet, he whom they did not name except to call him Prophet or Zhertvu, the sacrificed. Had some demon or some pagan religion overrun what progress had been made in the outer countries?

In his home country of Teodor, many of the state’s actions revolved around serving the sacrificed and undying prophet by taking his word to all corners of the earth. They were on the precipice of creating a mighty empire driven by their technical prowess and their religion. The smaller countries to the west had already pledged their devotion to the Prophet, and joined with Teodor. Now there was Kazimer to the east, Selig to the southeast, Borya to the west of the other coalition countries, and Anshel to the south, and the entire continent would be theirs.

So the elite force of Wojciech legionnaires had set out for Kazimer, filled with righteous fervor to help the poor miners and farmers, and drive out any other beliefs that might damage the souls of the Kazimeri.

But the reality when they had arrived in the country, which Teodor’s budding empire had been warring with for three years, was far different than they thought. To the more perceptive of them, they had become yet another weapon to force Kazimer into submission. But their entire lives, they had been taught to follow orders. Would their prophet allow them to be co-opted for something evil? Perhaps there was still evil for them to fight. But it was getting harder for them to see it. And yet, years and years of training and conditioning made it hard for them to rebel. Many of them blinded themselves to what was really happening, unable to deal with their deep faith and upbringing being manipulated in such a way. Others rationalized it, or some whose eyes were clear but lacked mental strength spent their evenings praying for forgiveness.

Now as he, Arkady Brendon, sat by himself in a Zhertvu temple in Kazimer, he was unsure about what he had been ordered to do.

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The Fourth Fleet

You haven’t felt fear until you’ve been left to die in a giant tin can, one point two billion kilometers from home. The last thing we heard from the pirates was their laughter as they slammed the hatch shut. Then we watched out the tiny windows in terror as they flew away.

We did a thorough inventory of everything they’d left us. It wasn’t much. Our batteries would last us a day or two – and we could probably extend that to a week if we powered down everything non-essential. But they hadn’t left us any fuel to get anywhere, and they’d taken most of the oxygen, too. We weren’t sure yet how much they’d left us. Our harvest – hydrogen and helium rich gases we’d mined out of Neptune’s upper atmosphere – was by far the most valuable thing we’d had on board. They’d taken it first.

They hadn’t left much beyond that, either. Not that we’d had a whole lot to start with. Every ounce of weight was extra money. Lots of extra money, when you shipped it all the way out to Neptunian space. Our little gas mining vessel didn’t have a lot of extra niceties. Just enough to keep me and my two brothers alive for our two year contract.

We had about a day’s worth of food in the crew stores. My brother John had a handful of meal bars that he’d brought on at our last resupply. We’d mocked him at the time for spending most of his per diem trying to put back on all the weight that a tightly rationed space diet had finally helped him shed. Now we wished he’d bought more. A couple of flashlights, the clothes on our backs, two rolls of spacer tape, and a smattering of random tools that hadn’t been properly put away fleshed out our meager belongings.

We did what we could anyway. We powered down most of our systems, instituted emergency food rationing, and limited our activity to preserve the little water and air we had left. We even deployed the solar panels for extra juice, although they wouldn’t do us very much good this far into the outer solar system. We’d take anything we could get. But we didn’t really have any hope. Without any propulsion, we weren’t going anywhere.

Everything changed when Simon tried to power down the harvester.

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