Here are our 2016 winners – the theme this year was Flight. We have three winners, and six Judge’s Choice stories. Enjoy!
Your Weird Aunt PollyMorph Says Hello
by Jerome Stueart
When we first met, you were a puzzle to me.
As the ship’s computer, I’m programmed to become the perfect holographic interface to fit each user.
I was a masculine, warrior lover to the first captain, an androgynous assistant to the new captain, and an older woman confidante for Reba Dean when she bought the ship.
For your mother, our doctor, I was a female colleague when she needed a steady surgeon’s hand.
I became exactly what someone needed: a lover, a warrior, a friend.
I always knew.
But with you, Audashia McKenzie, I did not know whom to be at first. You were a ten-year-old fierce black girl whose mother brought you on board against your will. You were used to life, and friends, in a city of thousands. Now you were forced to spend your childhood on a small cramped cargo ship in space with me as your only companion.
Do I become a child with you? A girl or a boy? Do I become a mother to you? Would that make your mother jealous? Adults aren’t complicated, but children grow and change–like me. Though I can shift into many forms, many genders, many kinds of “people,” I didn’t know what form was best for you at ten.
So I let you decide.
You made me your Weird Aunt PollyMorph and gave me parameters, structure, and a complex back history–which was so much more fun to become. I thought I knew how to be everyone, until you taught me how to be someone.
You grew into a woman, and flew off for your own adventures.
But I want you to know: I sometimes become Weird Aunt PollyMorph, just for me.
You left a little of you flying around inside me.
That’s love, isn’t it?
Make Me Fly
by Clare London
“Oh yeah! Make it good!”
I perched on the window sill of my high rise apartment, feet planted on my thick carpet, arms braced against the frame, and buttocks straining back against the blind until the slats cut into my naked arse. Between my legs, the strong fingers ran up and down my shaft with the perfect balance of sexual hunger and obedience. I was close to shooting for the third time tonight.
“That’s it.” I groaned. “Make me scream!”
Cops aren’t meant to own sexbots: any bots at all. The job’s impartial and equally fair to human or artificial being. Bots imply servants. Slaves.
But from the first minute, I knew this one would give me what I deserved.
When Varden hadn’t wanted to give it up, I pulled rank. Confiscated his bot’s cute mouth and muscular butt for my own. Just like I took Varden’s own sweet newbie arse, hard and brutal, at that initiation party. Like I took his promotion with a few carefully placed words in the Super’s ear.
“Make me come!” The suspense was killing me.
The bot squeezed under the head of my cock. Just the right pressure for me, just the right strength. Good thing I’d bullied Varden into working his engineering magic on it, tailoring it to my likes. He’d protested, but I called the shots. Always did.
We’d fucked everywhere in the apartment since then. Bed, wall, floor, counter, bath. Now panting on the windowsill, the night air cool on my buttocks, the bot gripping me as he jerked me off. So strong.
So, so close.
“Make me fly!” I crowed.
The bot paused and blinked, his hand on my chest, his mouth twisted in a parody of the grimace I last saw on Varden’s face.
And he pushed.
The Secret Lives of Octopuses
By Nina Packebush
She sat at the kitchen table as she had each morning for the last 24 years, the TV on the counter turned to the news station, her wife across from her. They both had their phones in front of them as they ate their toast and drank their coffee. Years ago they had sat, each with a section of the newspaper in front of them. These days they relied on the television and their phones for the news.
Her wife was reading her updates from her Facebook page as she had been doing for the past, what? Five years? Ten? She stared at her wife hunched over her phone and felt as if her bones were melting
“Ha! Sarah is in a relationship again. Did you see that?”
She tuned her out. She had been tuning her out for years. How many? Ten? Fifteen?
Her body felt soft.
This was not how she had pictured her life turning out back when they met on the train to New York.
Her skull felt squishy.
She looked at her phone. “Inky the Octopus Escapes Aquarium and Returns to the Ocean.” The poor octopus had become fed up with its life of confinement, slid out of its tank, across the floor, and into a drainpipe that led to the ocean and freedom.
She glanced up at her wife again. Twenty-four years. How many days was that?
“What’s 24 times 365?” she asked.
She got up from the table and found that her legs barely supported her. She went to the kitchen sink and inserted her hand into the drain. If fit. To her delight she felt her arm and shoulder slide in as well.
“What are you doing?” her wife asked in horror.
“I’m going to the ocean,” she said.
by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
Judge’s Choice: Aidee Ladnier
Dwight entered the workshop he shared with Harold, turning on the lights and standing, transfixed at the sight of the flying apparatus his partner had just finished building the night before. He sighed deeply, his eyes bright with pleasure.
“What do you think?” Harold had just come through the door. “Is it what you expected?”
“Oh yes, indeed it is. Harold, it’s magnificent!” Dwight went forward to examine the device, made of large wing-like arms attached to harness with handlebars to rotate them. He turned back to Harold.
“Have you tried it out yet?”
Harold shook his head. “I was waiting for you to pilot it.”
Dwight looked up into his lover’s face. “Do you mean it?”
Harold and Dwight carefully lifted the device and took it out though the wide door to the yard. Dwight’s Model T awaited them. They carefully lifted the winged mechanism onto the flat back of the vehicle and strapped it down.
Driving cautiously up the country road they made it to the top of the hill, then they unstrapped the device and carried it to the wooden structure they had readied for it.
Once atop the structure, Dwight gave Harold a fond kiss on the lips and proceeded to harnessed in. Harold made sure all the buckles were taut. His hands on the pedals, Dwight winked, then gave him a thumbs-up.
As he turned the pedals and ran down the hill, he had an odd sense of another person with a similar device running down after him. He could hear Harold shouting, but he could not make out the words as the giant bird racing after him overtook him and snatched him up in his talons with a blood-curdling scream.
by Ellery Jude
Judge’s Choice: Angel Martinez
From behind the curtain, Dancer hears the crowd.
It swells and bustles like one living entity, a massive beast, spilling waves of sound to their ears. The pounding of their blood and heartbeat pulses through Dancer’s brain in time with the beast’s breaths.
Dancer rubs sweating palms against their dress, their skin sliding smoothly against the resilient fabric. After a lifetime or a second, they hear a whisper. “You’re on.”
They step forward, dress brushing against the hardwood floor. As the curtain opens, Dancer’s heart climbs with the swell of the music and light blinds their eyes. The dress sheathes their body, pushing womanhood upon the crowd, but inside it all tumbles together, a bright blurred spectrum of existence that never stops whirling.
They start their routine after a moment’s breath, their movements flowing at sharp contrast with stark fear filling their stomach with liquid fire. The beast shifts before them, fangs bared—murmurs waiting to strike as Dancer almost stumbles, hiding their mistake with a step and a flutter.
The music begins to beat more quickly, driving Dancer in a fast tempo of light and bright excitement. At last, with a flourish, they tug a string behind them and open the back of their dress—iridescent bat wings unfurl in the shining light. As they spread them and rise above the beast, their heart calms, their breathing slows, and Dancer is one with the music. Above, the beast is nothing. Above, they are alone. Alone I move to my own beat, neither woman nor man, but myself.
The dress flutters around slender legs as their wings dip and turn. As they drop back down with the beat of the music, words fall like arrows. “More of the pretty lady!” The beast roars, and Dancer is afraid again.
Angel says: This story grabbed my heart and squeezed hard. The lovely, spare description requires careful reading, close reading, which draws the reader into the anxiety and fear, into the character’s momentary freedom and abrupt return. Both a metaphorical and physical description of a non-binary person’s struggle, Performance is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
by Missy Welsh
Judge’s Choice: B.A. Brock
Bud didn’t mind scavenging in the swamps and sticky heat because he liked being alone with big, tough Hadley. Most people looked and thought Hadley was more Cult than Colony, but he’d always been sweet to Bud. So when they ventured out that afternoon, Bud took only his breather and hustled after the weapons-laden Hadley.
“Where we going?” Bud asked. He took two steps for every one of Hadley’s.
“You find something?”
Some days Hadley went out with the scouts to keep an eye out for Cultists. Even if Hadley brought back good stories, Bud hated those days. He’d huddle in their box and read all the books and try not to worry.
“Said I did.”
“No, what’d you find?”
Bud double-timed it to walk along side Hadley and look up into his face. The breathe mask couldn’t hide that craggy, weathered face with a secret smile.
“C’mon,” Bud said with a grin. “Tell me.”
Bud didn’t bother to beg, but he did poke Hadley in his meaty flank.
They didn’t talk much after that except when Hadley advised Bud on how to get over or around or through something. This part of Clevnd had lots of the pale, broken stones with the weird flat sides and the sucking mud bogs were plentiful.
“Through here,” Hadley said as he pushed aside some vines. “It’s over there.”
Bud tiptoed under and around only to stop and stare. “What is that?”
Despite being slowly reclaimed into the earth, covered in vines and other greenness, broken and listing, it looked like a great bullet-shaped bird. Could it be? Bud’s pulse raced.
“I’m thinking you were right.” Hadley held Bud’s shoulder. “Weren’t fantasy. Those is the airplanes.” He gave Bud a squeeze. “We did once fly like the birds.”
B.A. says: The voice struck me, and the rich character detail. I could hear Bud and Hadley yacking in my head as they worked through the swamp. The setting was heavy and sticky, but with the revelation at the end, the characters soar with excitement and hope–up and up and up! This piece made me feel it all.
by Liz Fury
Judge’s Choice: Carole Cummings
Siler knew six ways to sneak into the Old Library.
She still got caught.
The burat before Si was big, mangy, and irritated. Originating from a resource-less planet, burats populated slums and space dumps. Street trash herself, Si knew burats weren’t violent, but being cornered by one was still terrifying.
Lek — according to her nametag — perused the book she swiped from Si. Athena-Class Engineering.
“Why?” Lek pinned Siler with a glare.
“Studying for exams.” Si’s fear-filled voice made it believable.
“It’s two-thirty. In the morning.”
“I have a stalker. It’s dangerous, please–” Si begged as Lek shoved her against a bookshelf, “–I need this.”
“There’ve been threats,” Lek said.
Si glanced around, trying not to inhale sewer smell. Under the alien’s claws, escape was impossible.
“…against Athena cruisers,” Lek continued.
“I didn’t know.”
Si squirmed. That was true. She thought nobody knew her plans.
“Expensive cruisers. Who don’t tolerate my race.” Lek’s eyes were sharp. “You taking them down, human?”
Silence stretched for heartbeats.
“I have to,” Si whispered. “It’s the only way I can rescue my wife.”
She felt like someone let out all the air. Mentioning Justinia sliced her open: after initial pain, only emptiness followed.
Lek leaned in.
“Hyperion.” Vacation resort for hedonists. Includes complimentary slave.
Athena-Class Engineering slammed into Si’s chest.
“They took my friend.” Lek’s snarl rumbled like an avalanche. “Save her. Get them all out.”
Siler’s righteous fury sparked. “That’s the plan. No innocents die.”
Lek appraised her.
She returned a moment later and handed Si How Not To Blow Up Your Ship, For Dummies.
Si swallowed. The books were heavy with reality.
“I’ll return them,” she stuttered. “If I can.”
“Better pass them on. Others will need them.”
Carole says: This is a difficult thing to do, writing a full story with developed characters the reader cares about, and all in 300 words. Add in the theme, and the LGBT+ content, and the spec fic elements, and it’s *really* hard. This author managed to do all that wonderfully, and with a writing style that made me grin and nod along. The story was immediately involving, admirably detailed, and so clean it almost squeaked. Liz Fury did a fantastic job, and I’m so pleased I get to single this story out for special mention. I hope we see a lot more from Liz in the future.
Walking on Air
by John Allenson
Judge’s Choice: Jenn Burke
The first time he smiled at me my feet stopped hurting for a moment. I barely noticed. I was mesmerised by the little gap between his top two teeth which just stopped him from being way too perfect.
The first time we went out on a date it was raining. He leaned close into me so we could share the same way-too-small umbrella which meant we both got wet from the knees down. We kissed goodnight in the lobby of my apartment building. When I reached my charmless rat-hole of an apartment I noticed that only the tops of my sneakers were soaked, the soles were bone dry.
Stairs stopped creaking when I climbed on them.
There were times when I turned back into my old heavy leaden self.
One day we went for a hike in the park. I looked back and saw only his footprints. I took his hand and trudged along, the both of us leaving a trail behind.
He told me that he wasn’t out to his parents so he would introduce me as just his ‘friend’. The gravity of the situation dragged down my bones so hard that all of me slumped. The sidewalk would crack under my feet. Then when we met his family, he stammered for a moment after telling them my name, before saying ‘he’s my boyfriend’. I stood up taller as the weight left my shoulders.
After that Sunday dinner, he changed as well. The next time we went for a walk in the park, I looked back and saw no footprints behind us. I knew then that he felt the same for me that I felt for him. I grabbed his hand so if we both floated off we’d stay together.
Jenn says: I loved the magical realism feel of this story. Everyone’s felt the metaphorical lift of high spirits and the gravity of disappointment, and this story captures that feeling perfectly. It’s a wonderful illustration of the idea that you can lighten your load by being honest and true to yourself. Thanks, John!
by Zev de Valera
Judge’s Choice: J. Scott Coatsworth
He rubbed his temples and squinted at the soft light of his surroundings through the fans of his thick eyelashes. The last drink had been a mistake.
Was that a shaker he’d felt, or the onset of a hangover?
He clutched a silken pillow and waited.
Suddenly, he felt his home tremble; a few pieces of glass and ceramic ware teetered and then fell to their demise.
Shit. This is the real thing.
With an effort, he hauled himself from his bed.
How many years had it been since the last one?
The shaking ceased, and he looked around his small dwelling.
A model unit when he’d purchased it. Now filled with the result of years of collecting: a gramophone, a first generation television set, a water clock. And much more. All of it all had sentimental value – as did the photos of the various men that sat atop or alongside the items in his collection. Some of these men had loved him. All of them had once owned him. Now he owned their memories. That was the bargain.
Another shake. Followed by several unnerving tilts. He willed his cherished possessions to remain in place and willed himself into sobriety and a more becoming appearance as he prepared himself for work.
What to wear?
He selected a red brocade tunic and pants. A classic look always worked best for the initial consultation.
A resounding thud.
He peered up into the small shaftway at the center of the ceiling.
Then a small circle of light at the end of the shaft.
He sighed, folded his arms, and transformed into a cloud of red smoke.
Up and away to meet his new master.
Scott says: I loved this story. It’s a classic example of the twist – but done very well. I was sure it was an earthquake, or, given the nature of the contest, maybe an alien invasion. But the endding snuck up on me and was a great “gotcha” moment. Well done, Zev!