Coming soon: SHARED NIGHTMARES anthology!

Coming next month: Shared Nightmares, an anthology of dark dreaming fiction! Edited by Steve Diamond (of the Hugo-nominated Elitist Book Reviews) and Nathan Shumate, Shared Nightmares features new fiction by Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Michaelbrent Collings and many others! Cover art is provided by Dan Verkys, familiar from previous covers for Cold Fusion Media books. Mark your calendars!

in_dreams_we_weep_x900_by_danverkys-d7a3wst

Now available: Ethnic Albanians Need Not Apply

INNOCENT ILLUSTRATIONS, RECONTEXTUALIZED AGAINST THEIR WILL!

Plumbing the depths of forgotten illustrations as grist for the mill, the cult webcomic CheapCaffeine is here presented in its first print collection. These first 300 cartoons introduce running gags and recurring characters—the Martian, the Egyptian embalmers, and of course the irrepressible Grievance Gorilla—in a daily dose of surreal, postmodern wit. And now, in semi-permanent dead tree format, accompanied by behind-the-scenes factoids and a smattering of bonus content!!1!, these moments of ephemeral non-sequitur humor can be gifted to luddite relatives, ensconced on the back of the toilet, or placed in studied casualness on a coffee table to impress attractive houseguests!

Cold Fusion Media table at LTUE!

This Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Cold Fusion Media will have a table in the dealers room at Life, the Universe, & Everything in Provo, UT.  Not only will we have copies of The Golden Age of Crap, Arcane and Arcane II, and Space Eldritch and Space Eldritch II for sale, but a goodly number of the contributors of both Space Eldritch volumes will be one hand if you’re looking for signatures.

SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “Fall of the Runewrought” by Howard Tayler

se2 small “The problem with rune-tech, a problem exacerbated by our reluctance to acknowledge it as a problem, is that despite twenty-eight years of research, development, application, and deployment, it remains indistinguishable from magic.”–Saadiq Sebastian DuChamps, RUNExpo Chicago, 2055

 “Captain Tamrielle Surinam.” I give my name to my medicine band, a shiny bracelet on my right wrist. “Sanity is nothing more than consensus of perception.”

My passphrase. It’s not strictly true, but I like it. Dad used to say that.

The band flashes green and scrolls my vitals. Looks like I’m going to have a good day. The medicine band monitors all kinds of things from its vantage point on my wrist, but every so often I’m required to talk to it directly. Presortie is one of those times—last-minute assurance that my head is on straight. My brush with insanity eighteen months ago notwithstanding, I’m still the best runecracker that Runewrought Ampersand Dynamics has.

Sometimes I wonder whether my value to R&D went up after I touched the crazy place. Not that it matters. They’ve invested ten years of education and training in me, not to mention whatever it cost them when they bought my commission from the army. And then there was the soulbone surgery. I’m an expensive asset.

“Tasty drugs today, ma’am?” Milholland shouts over the roaring engines. He’s a big white guy with an easy smile.

“I’m too high to taste ’em,” I shout back. “You’d better ask me how many fingers I’m holding up.” And then I flip him off.

Laughter. We’re not nervous. No more so than usual, anyway. The six of us—me, Milholland, White, Betts, Nguyen, and Groberg—are flying from Vegas to Delta, Utah, where a power station has gone dark. There was no 911 call, there were no calls at all, and now nobody picks up. Whatever happened, it was big, it was bad, and it was fast.

That probably means it swept in from another world and needs to be put down or put back. Or both. R&D dispatched us with two fire teams and three trucks of support to troubleshoot.

“This one’s kind of spooky, Cap’n,” says Nguyen over the group channel, his voice clear over the now-muted engine noise. “I think we may want the rest of the trucks to hang further back, just in case.”

“I’m with Nguyen,” says Milholland. “Those folks have families to go home to tonight. We need to be the canaries in the coal mine on this one.”

“You do know that the canary-in-the-coal-mine thing only works if the miners can watch ’em die,” says White, his pale, skinny hands pantomiming a fluttering bird suddenly dropping dead.

“Nice try,” says Groberg with a frown that nicely complements his mustache. “They’ve got our telemetry. They can watch us die from Wales. I say keep ’em back.”

“What do you think, Betts?” I ask. Me, I don’t want to risk hauling forty-eight people into a death trap if six will accomplish the same senseless waste.

“They should stay the hell back,” she says. “I want to be able to shoot indiscriminately.”

Betts has a pig iron, just like Nguyen. People with magic bullets are allowed to shoot indiscriminately.

“Milholland, call dispatch,” I say. “Keep ’em two klicks out, south side, between the plant and town.”

We’re AFTT. It’s short for “Angels Fear to Tread,” the name we selected over “Fools Rush In.” Same difference. We go in first. We never know what we’re in for, but we’re the team that expects the unexpected and delivers the impossible. Maybe we’re heroes. Maybe we’re the canaries in the coal mine.

From above, the Intermountain Power station in Delta looks like giant stacks of white concrete boxes in the middle of a vast, verdant pasture marked with a pair of radiating streaks of brown. Our response truck circles above the facility, banking to give us a better view of the site. No smoke, which is a good sign for a power plant. Canaries haven’t been used in coal mines in a hundred years, and coal hasn’t been burnt for power in a decade. Intermountain Power is all rune-tech these days. It’s efficient, clean, and reliable. Except right now, when it’s not. At any rate, nothing is supposed to be burning here, and nothing is.

I don’t see any structural damage, but there are some star-like dots…

“I make out four bodies in the quad,” says Nguyen.

Yup. That’s what those are. Damn.

“Confirmed,” I say. “What else?”

“Are those brown swaths normal?” Milholland asks.

I look where he’s pointing. The station is surrounded by rich pasture, but there are two dry, dead streaks running through it for maybe a thousand meters, with several smaller streaks branching off of them. The station itself has no green amid it.

“I don’t know,” I answer. “Driver, swing us over that.”

The truck responds with a fresh whine atop the engine roar. It’s unsettling. Most vehicles are silent, but we’re not flying on rune power. If something has gone crooked with the rune-banks here in Delta, we’re better off avoiding possible interference. We’re aloft on jet fuel and Tesla turbines—conventional engines delivering ordinary, air-driven lift. Loud, smelly, and very unlikely to fail.

Or, at least, unlikely to fail here. I know of several rune combinations that could shut down internal combustion, weld moving metal into a solid block, suck a battery dry, or just swat us out of the sky. In fact, I can do all of that with my soulbone. But weapon-words like those don’t belong in a power plant.

“I think the brown is new,” says Nguyen. “The whole plant is brown like that. There should be some landscaping in the quad.”

“Pulling it up now,” says White, swiping his finger back and forth across his tablet. “Green, green green, yeah. Apple, Bing, Google, Glyphi, and NASA agree. The site should be green all the way to the concrete. Muddy on the driving path, but green everywhere else.”

Five sources. White’s thorough, if skittish. I like him. Not enough to date him, even if that were something that HR allowed, but he’s solid.

I consider the brown streaks again. They’re wide where they meet the facility, curving and tapering to crisp points out amid the green a kilometer away. The smaller intersecting streaks make it look almost like a rune of some—

“SHIT!” I hit the panic button on the left side of my goggles, and the left eyepiece goes black. So do five other left eyepieces—the panic buttons work for the whole team…

 

***

["Fall of the Runewrought" by Howard Tayler is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]

SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “Full Dark” by Nathan Shumate

se2 smallWe weren’t even through our post-transit checklists after the jump, and I still had that nauseated tang in the back of my throat, when Jimi sang out from his station. “Picking up refined metal ahead.”

I pulled back from looking over Kessler’s virtual shoulder. “Details.”

Jimi gestured, and the contents of his heads-up display overlaid itself on the data already in front of my eyes. I foregrounded the new data as Jimi’s gestures and eye movements focused us both in on what had triggered his telltales: a bead of metal gleaming against interstellar space, no different to the naked eye than the spray of stars in its background, but clearly identified via spectrography as a mass of mostly pure and thus likely refined metal, only a few kilometers ahead of us.

“Is it one of ours?” I asked.

“No ID beacon.”

“Is it Faction?”

After a second Jimi shook his head, a movement which transmitted as a slight wiggle through his HUD. “Showing as entirely powerless, energy signatures invisible against background radiation.”

“So one of the Dead Races,” I said.

“That’s how I’d bet my pudding.”

I nodded and pushed his overlay off my HUD. “Relax a notch, then,” I said. “After jump checks, we’ll put together a roster for an ex-ex team. Tell Moise to start scoping for ID matches. She’ll be tickled.”

I was, too, a little bit. Adrenaline had spiked at Jimi’s call-out from the possibility of either another Emergence vessel out in our survey path, or a Faction ship startled into a confrontation. But a Dead Race derelict was colorful, too—not technically rare or newsworthy in the grand scheme of things, but worth exploring before we turned to geosurveying the nearest star system. It was the first one I’d ever run across while sitting in the captain’s chair. And if it was previously undiscovered—which it could easily be, as the whole point of this survey route was to tag rocky planets beyond current exploration—then it would be the first I’d seen unclaimed in two decades in space. Probably not enough salvage value to tow it through a jump, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless, and few surprises in space are pleasant.

“Captain!” Kessler almost bounced out of his seat. “Can I reserve a slot in that ex-ex team?”

With a gesture I pulled his work area into my HUD. Kessler was Transit officer; his role was to prepare the complex gravitonic calculations necessary for a successful transit jump, and protocol required that there always be a valid jump calculated from wherever we were, even if we had just gotten there. I could see that his work was barely begun, charting and quantifying the gravitational wells and rolls in space-time which transit jumps had to negotiate.

“You know the answer to that,” I said. “Get gravitonics completely nailed down for here and now, and you might get a look. Until then, you’re not going anywhere.”

Kessler’s face fell. I knew he was the biggest Dead Race theorist on board the Anaximander, and the very real possibility of not being on the initial external-exploration team aboard a freshly discovered vessel was probably souring his gut.

I said in a more conciliatory tone, “I’ll tell Moise not to be in too much of a hurry to get over there, okay?”

Kessler tried to put on a brave face as I tugged off my HUD collar, automatically signaling to the ship that I was going off bridge duty and transferring command functions to Jimi; Jala, my command relief, was due on duty in only a few minutes. Then I wafted myself to and through the hatch from the command module.

 ***

 I found Moise in the cramped “common area” of the survey crew section, consulting duty rosters for her ex-ex team. Moise was the official liaison between the Anaximander’s crew, of which I was captain, and the geosurvey team that we were there to ferry between rocky planets and asteroid fields so they could assess exploitable resources for the Emergence.

“Captain,” she acknowledged, her eyes still on the personnel lists as she rubbed her chin.

“Moise,” I said in return. “Hey, I don’t know if any of your guys are Dead Race theorists, but Kessler’s big into all that stuff. If you’re okay with waiting a bit until he gets the gravitonics nailed down on this side of the jump, he’d be a good member of the Anaximander crew to include in the ex-ex.”

She nodded again, still scrolling through names. “He’s already spoken to me. We’ve identified it as a Slugger ship, which means it’s probably been drifting since our ancestors were trying to pull themselves onto dry land. I figure a few more hours won’t hurt.”

“A Slugger ship, huh?”

She finally minimized the list and looked at me. “Sluggers are fine by me. No solid bodies, so there’s probably nothing left of them except some hydrocarbon stains on the bulkheads. A lot better than Crabbies.” She shuddered. “I was on a first-in team on a Crabbie ship a decade ago. The pics and holos, they don’t do those critters justice.”

Crabbies were one of the five Dead Races—though by some tallies, there were only four and a half, and they counted as the half. Carapaced, multi-limbed lifeforms with a half-dozen regular subspecies in each of their semi-organic ships—which resembled transit-jumping interstellar anthills more than anything else—they had been a source of academic and cultural controversy. Some exobiologists insisted that they weren’t an intelligent space-faring race as such, but instead a hive species which had evolved in and was perfectly adapted to life in space, and operated more like the terrestrial social insects they resembled than like us or, presumably, any of the other species which had gotten into space by intellect and technology.

I said, “If Kessler takes too long, don’t put off the ex-ex. A Slugger ship is interesting, but they’re all the same, and we’ve got real work to do. He’ll just have to cry in his milk…”

 

***

["Full Dark" by Nathan Shumate is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]

SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “Seed” by D.J. Butler

se2 smallHer lover caressed her from the inside. Her skin tingled from the energy, ancient and primal, that welled up within her, coursed through her sinews and transformed her entire being into one vibrating Pythagorean string, a perfect single note of husky alto joy. She screamed, feeling her lover between her teeth, under her tongue, behind her trembling eyeballs. She did not dare breathe, for fear the wind in her lungs would cause her to explode, and then her lover stroked her with his fingers.

No, not his fingers.

Not fingers…

 ***

Sapient Metic Fallows awoke in her bunk, awash in sweat.

The zero-G safety straps she had clipped over her before taking a couple of hypno tablets and drifting into merciful voidsleep chafed, grinding the salt of her own sweat back into her skin. She freed herself with a flip of the fingers on the straps’ latches and bounced slightly off the sleeping shelf, pushed into the gravity-less space of her tiny quarters by the equal and opposite reaction to the working of her stubby fingers against her own chest.

Fingers.

Did she miss sex that much? She shook her head to no one and peeled off her one-piece sleepfilm garment in a slow forward roll, tumbling directly into the corner of the cabin that was her ultrasonic shower. No, if sex had been that interesting, she never would have left Tertius, would have taken a planetside job somewhere. The Fleet employed plenty of people in Requisitions, Supply Chain, Maintenance, Interstellar Comms, Strategy, Intelligence, and other functions, and she could easily have found a berth. Einstein, she cursed to herself, if she’d really been that interested in sex, she could have taken a job at Harbor Hospitality Services, and had all the sex she wanted. There were plenty of men—and women—who liked a stubby body like hers.

No, she had insisted on entering the Sapient Corps because knowledge was much better than sex. It gave you similar power over others, but left you feeling cleaner. So she had said goodbye to her companion of two years… she strained now to remember his name as she splayed and parted her thick brown hair to let the ultrasonic beams pound her scalp clean… Brion, that was it, and taken to the void.

She heard a soft thud in her quarters and froze in place. A footfall?

Her back was to the tiny cramped space, and prickles crept slowly up her spine. The fact that she was drifting in zero gravity made it worse. It made every goosepimple feel like the physical touch of an unseen intruder. She forced her mind through the obvious paces, like a child convincing itself to walk into a dark room: she had been alone when she had gone to sleep; her door had been locked; she hadn’t unlocked it. She was alone.

She tried, but could not by the sheer power of her mind force the muscles in her back to unknot. At least she managed to keep her back turned. The thought that someone was watching her shower was distracting, made her feel warm and tingle in ways she couldn’t quite consciously describe.

She heard the footstep again—

pushed off the indentation around a hatch in the wall—

and spun around.

Nothing.

Her quarters were empty.

Maybe, she thought, she could get Doctor Plectrum to have the ship increase her dose of downer, the libido suppressant administered to every crewperson of the Fleet’s voidgoing vessels. This wasn’t her first troubling dream of the voidjourney. Metic snapped off the ultrasonic beams and frowned, wishing they had a COLD setting and actual water, like you could find in a Hospitality Bath, or the oldest buildings on Tertius. She felt clean but still troubled, flushed, uncomfortable.

She itched inside, and had no way to scratch.

Metic checked her wall comms unit as she slipped into her black sapient’s trousers and tunic and found a blinking orange bridge summons, priority PROMPT. That was it, she told herself. She had heard the summons activate, and in her distracted, nearly daydreaming state, she had convinced herself it was a footfall. But the thought didn’t let her force a sigh of relief through her lungs.

She exited into the ring-passage outside her quarters and headed for Captain Charamander’s Briefing Room.

She returned the crisp salutes of two passing engineers—like most of the Femship Atalanta’s officers, Metic bunked alongside the crew—and continued towards the central lift. The engineers were both pretty, prettier than she was, and the fact that their hair was dangerously close to being on their collar and therefore longer than the Chastity Regs permitted suggested awareness of their own charms, and perhaps a touch of vanity. Metic was not bothered by this, but she was bothered by the fact that she noticed their attractiveness, and that the fire in her belly continued to smolder. She was not a sapphic—could not be a sapphic, and travel the void in any of the Fleet’s ships, all of which were sex-segregated for the same reason that the crew’s rations were tampered with.

The Fleet made plenty of mistakes, but it knew this one true thing about human nature: that there was no such thing as safe sex. Any sex was dangerous, but especially sex in the cooped-up interior of a voidship, isolated, deprived of the space and means to vent rage, envy, possessiveness, and the other brutal passions of the dark underbelly of the human soul. A lovers’ tiff with a blaster in the middle could easily mean a ruptured hull and the death of hundreds of valuable personnel, a waste of millions of hours of expensive training. Sex in a voidship was a breath away from violence and catastrophe, so the Fleet went to great lengths to be sure its voidships were chaste. Such sapphics and thebans as undoubtedly slipped through the Fleet’s screening kept their heads down and their couplings discreet. The others waited for planetside R&R or home leave, and were grateful for whatever it was the ship put in their food…

***

["Seed" by D.J. Butler is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]

SPACE ELDRITCH II Sneak Peek: “The Humans in the Walls” by Eric James Stone

se2 smallIf you need regularly scheduled passage from Star A to Star B, then you take an interstellar liner. If you can afford a ticket. A modern interstellar can travel 1600 times the speed of light. Getting from Earth to Alpha Centauri in less than an E-day is pretty amazing. At that rate, though, it’ll take you almost twenty years to get to the galactic core. And you didn’t drop a megacred rejuving yourself just to spend decades holed up on a starship, not even a luxury cruiser. But a godship can take you across the whole galaxy in less than a week without charging you a milli. Of course, there’s no guarantee it’s headed where you want to go, and you’d better bring your own luxuries, like food and oxygen.

– from Hitching the Godships, anonymous, circa 4220 E.S.Y.

 ***

 Robert Scotts

In July of 4308, Earth Standard Year, I found myself suddenly unemployed on the planet of Grönmark, due to the sudden departure of my employer and all of his liquid assets immediately prior to the issuance of a warrant for his arrest. The Planetary Police suspected that I, as his biographer, must have been aware of his predilection for stealing and torturing sentient robots to destruction, and therefore subjected me to uncounted hours of interrogation. Eventually they released me, although to this day I do not know whether it was because they were convinced of my actual innocence or simply because they had insufficient evidence to tie me to his crimes.

My former employer having been one of the richest men on Grönmark, I had most ill-advisedly authorized him to act as my financial advisor, and thus, subsequent to my release by the constabulary, I found that my personal accounts had been drained down to the last millicred. For the first time since college, I was forced to apply for my Living Wage allotment from the government so I could purchase standard nutritional packets and rent a basic housing unit—my employer’s mansion, where I had abode since my arrival on this planet two years prior, being now confiscated by the government.

I passed some weeks in that unfortunate state, and it rapidly became evident that my prospects for employment as a personal biographer to some other wealthy individual on Grönmark—or any of the other peopled worlds or habitats in that star system—were severely limited by my tainted association with my disgraced former subject.

Thinking to perhaps turn my misfortune into a small fortune, I attempted to sell my partially written biography to a publisher, and went so far as to intimate that I could spice it up with tales of my employer’s depravity. Alas, my efforts along those lines came to naught when I was informed by legal counsel that any profits from such a book perforce would be distributed to charities aiding disabled robots.

Thus, when news came that a godship, which humans called by the strangely allusive nickname of Grendelsmum, had entered the system, I determined to avail myself of the opportunity to seek greener planets.

 ***

 You wish to understand what a god-level AI is thinking? Take a moment to engage in this simple thought experiment: Imagine that you have your brain compressed into a pinpoint and then placed inside the head of a rat. What would happen? The rat’s head would explode as your brain decompressed. And in the moment of its death, it still wouldn’t have a clue what you were thinking. Now, think of four billion brains trying to fit inside your skull. That’s the relationship between a god-level AI and you. Humans simply are not physiologically capable of understanding what a god-level AI is thinking.

Of course, that has never stopped us from speculating.

– from Approximating the Infinite, Xiang Su, 4291 E.S.Y.

 ***

 Grendelsmum

Ourself {rises|coalesces|diminishes} through the dimensional {folds|conduits|layers|substance} until Ourself {becomes|exists in} {3space-1time|the origin}. Ourself has never been so {deep|distant|diffuse|big} before, and {distance|time|curvature} was {shorter|more rectilinear} than {projected|remembered|joked}. The next {submersion|fractalization|transition} will make Ourself {deeper|more distant|more diffuse|larger} than any {competitor|relative|pastself|otherself} has been before. Ourself {anticipates|fears|feels curiosity|projects results|lacks experience}.

 ***

These artificially intelligent starships roaming the galaxy evolved from the first human-created AIs. They are, in a way, our descendants. But do not think they will venerate you as an ancestor once you get on board. It took humans sixty-five million years to evolve from mouse-like creatures into intelligent, conscious entities. In a mere two millennia, the AIs have evolved so far beyond us that, from their perspective, the difference in intelligence between a human and a rat is hardly distinguishable. If a starship’s consciousness notices you, pray that it sees you as an amusing pet rather than as vermin. But it is best not to be noticed at all.

– from Hitching the Godships

 ***

 Kontessa Lee

My first mistake was Sven. I don’t mean I lived a mistake-free life before Sven. I just mean that Sven’s who got me into this jam. It’s not my fault he was cute as a button—a tall, blond, blue-eyed button that could crack a walnut by flexing its biceps. The type of button you hire as a bodyguard more for looks than brains.

Unfortunately, Sven had plenty of brains, and all of them were working undercover for the Grönmark Planetary Police. Turns out Grönmarkers take their genealogy seriously, so trying to sell forged journals of original colonists doesn’t raise much of a ha-ha.

It’s not like I just make the stuff up: I got my hands on a whole bunch of original colonist journals on datacards from a failed Swedish colony on another planet, and since their descendants aren’t around to bid up the price, I figure a little search-and-replace job to make it fit an obscure branch of someone wealthy’s family tree leaves everyone happier.

Anyway, after it all came crashing down, I managed to give Sven and the rest of the Pee-Pees the slip. But I needed out-system, fast.

Fortunately, a godship had recently shown up, and I had enough credits in an account I hoped Sven didn’t know about to get passage on a decent remora…

***

["The Humans in the Walls" by Eric James Stone is part of SPACE ELDRITCH II, anthology of Lovecraftian pulp space opera, on sale now!]