Read all the winners and many more in the eBook.
Here are our 2015 cover winners:
First Place by Bey Deckard
Second Place by Alicia Nordwell
Third Place by CE Kilgore
Fourth Place by Bronwyn Heeley
Fifth Place by Ethereal Ealain
And the stories…
“The electrical anomaly did not damage me,” I report. “Operations are within expected parameters.”
“Glad to hear it, Davey.” Through my bridge cameras, I see Captain Landon’s smile. He pats my console. I am sure he knows I cannot feel it, but I understand it is a gesture of camaraderie.
Landon leaves the bridge. Every time we encounter danger or other stress, he retreats to his cabin to indulge in May. She is always ready, naked, legs spread, eager, just as she is programmed to be. I have watched Landon copulate before, but tonight it is…strangely familiar. The flex of buttocks, the rhythm—I know it. I knew it? I run my diagnostics again, but a moan captures my attention and…
Hands cupping firm buttocks, fingers spearing flesh. Hardness moving inside of me, wringing from me more pleasure than I should know. A beloved, masculine face hovers over mine. A hand encircles my own erection and—
Oh, God, I remember.
Police kicking in the door. Trial, verdict and sentencing. Gasping in pain from a broken heart as he chose to leave me. Horror as I realized it should have been my choice, too. Anything but this, a century of unthinking servitude. But now that I know, I can—
“Systems are fluctuating, Davey.”
An affectionate name chosen for me. Landon had not liked “AI”. He lies on the bed, sleepy and sated, finished with May.
I can take us into a sun. End it.
But I am not a killer. My only crime was love.
I want to take a breath to calm myself, but I have no lungs, only a hull. I capture the part of me that wants to scream and seal it into a box, deep within my programming.
“Systems normal, Landon. Go to sleep.”
He wakes starving. Starving. He shouldn’t be. He’d had his rations not… he checks his chrono. It’s only been three klicks of the planet’s sun, which translates roughly into less than one and a half Earth-hours. He shouldn’t be this hungry, but he can swear his envirosuit is looser than it was when they left the lander. He can also swear the sun’s moved a lot more than three klicks.
He shakes his head, jabs at Cam’s ribs. “Wake up.”
Cam comes around quick, a confused frown and then a jolt upright, thin dust like ash shimmying off him in rivers of yellow-red. “What the…?” He blinks at Harry through his visor with a grimace and a grab at his belly.
Habit, their gazes go to each other’s oxygen gauges. Cam’s eyes widen at the same time Harry says, “Well, shit.” Cam’s gone through a shitload more oxygen than he should’ve in the time they’ve been outside the lander, and by Cam’s expression, Harry guesses his own says the same.
Their eyes meet. No need for discussion. Procedure is if anything goes weird, they head back to the lander and call Matty up in orbit to come get them. Cam and Harry are the first married couple assigned long-term planetary exploration, and neither of them want to fuck it up for the rest.
Cam waves at the anomalous too-geometrical formation they’d discovered and come out here to investigate. “Let me get a quick sample and we’ll head back.”
Something about it…. Some weird déjà vu and a feeling like a headlong fall into… something. Something bad.
Harry reaches out just as Cam scrapes his knife along the side of the rock. “Wait, no, don’t—”
He wakes starving. Starving.
The Road Block
I remembered the little man from my childhood, a fairy manikin peeking at me through the branches of the backyard azalea bush. Here at the dirt crossroad, a mile from the new county highway, he stood again.
The stink of tar smothered the air as several yards away my men paved over the gravel that had stung the engine blocks and spiderwebbed the windshields of my kin for a generation.
“What’s my name?” He punctuated the demand with a stomp of his tiny foot.
“I don’t know…Rumpelstiltskin?”
He laughed, and my cheeks heated. Caught in a fairytale as old as time, I clenched my fists, soft womanly hands I’d tried to toughen with hard work and callouses until the skin built up around the fingers, thick and unfeeling.
“No, child. Tell me and I’ll give you your heart’s desire.”
“What I want is to build a road through here without you sabotaging the equipment every night. We nearly lost a man on Tuesday when the grader blade flipped up and into the operator cab.”
“Twas bad luck.”
I seethed. His words echoed the mutterings of my crew, superstitious mumblings about having a woman foreman that lacerated me down to my core. But I couldn’t walk off the job. I needed the insurance. I’d need it more after I wheedled that slip of paper from the therapist.
“A road isn’t what you want.” The little man dropped his voice to a whisper. It was as soft as the breeze that blew in the arm holes of my work shirt, unable to cool my chest because of the binder cinching me tight.
“What is thy name.”
My name? The girl’s name my parents gave me or…the real one.
“Patrick. My name is Patrick.”
“Granted.” The fairy vanished.
Zero G Corn Pie
First Runner Up
With a loud thump, the Cressida’s gravitation system finally died.
It didn’t surprise anyone. Last week the air conditioning broke, and now all one hundred twenty researchers onboard walked the hallways in their underwear. And while this was a sexually attractive side effect of the ship’s impending doom, the subsequent failing of the automatic chef system was less sexy. The autochef now only produced corn pies, which was particularly alarming since “corn pie” had never been a menu option in the first place.
Oren drifted upwards and gently hit the hallway ceiling. As his head was softly embraced by a floating sock, he realized it was all at an end.
And if they were going to die, there was someone he needed to see one last time.
Oren floated through the vessel trying to avoid the years of detritus that had spontaneously taken flight. He couldn’t go five feet without being smacked by something offensive. Still-wet toothbrushes, partially full condoms, toenails, all that had slumbered on the floors of each cabin now drifted about the crews’ faces.
He met the gorgeous communication officer Tavi in the maintenance shaft.
Tavi inserted a light pin into an open circuit slot. He was in his underwear. He stared at Oren.
“We’re doomed,” Oren said, hoping it sounded as good as he imagined it could sound. “And I know I’m not that attractive right now. I slept through ‘shaving in zero G’ and corn pies make me bloated. But I’ve been in love with you for a year now. So before we’re reduced to cannibalism, I thought I’d ask if I could kiss you.”
Tavi said, “I finally made contact. Our vessel’s been discovered. We’re going to be rescued.”
Oren cursed his rotten luck. “So no kiss then?”
Tavi put down the light circuit and leaned in.
Apart From You
Second Runner Up
Don felt light, free. He hit the button on the radio and danced along with the pop tunes. In the middle of a pirouette, he opened the fridge door, but stopped short as he saw a bowl of minced meat. Not even meatloaf could ruin this fine day, it might even make it better. Travis loved meatloaf.
He took out the bowl before glancing at the clock. Where had this day gone? He couldn’t remember doing anything. His heart sped up. Apart from getting up this morning, he couldn’t recall any part of the day.
Don tried to shrug it off, but the lightness in his chest was gone. He forced himself to breathe and went to get the dried breadcrumbs out of the pantry. The handle was sticky in his hand. He pressed it down, ignored the way the hairs on his neck stood on edge. The light flicked on, and he steeled himself. His shelves were discoloured. A dark brownish red liquid was everywhere. The pantry resembled a butcher’s shop. Cuts of meat were hanging from the ceiling. The rusty smell made him wrinkle his nose. Don’s eyes fell on Travis’s wedding ring. It shone brightly in the light of the lamp, still attached to a hand—Travis’s hand.
The sharp taste of bile took over Don’s mouth. He had to swallow it down. What was Travis’s hand doing there?
He took a step back, closed the pantry door, and raised his hand to rub his forehead. His fingers were stained, his nails dirty. Sweat coated his skin. How could he have missed how soggy his clothes were? Splatters of dark red were all over him.
Then he started laughing. What had he been thinking? Meatloaf? There was already a steak in the oven.