Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 30: “Calling” • by Pete Wood

In two days, Father Francis would leave Odin III for Earth, light years away. He hadn’t been there since his twenties. Everybody he knew had died thanks to the time dilation.

The Vatican had appreciated his years on Odin III and rewarded him with an academic assignment at Belmont Abbey College, his alma mater. He’d spend his days researching and teaching while squeezing in hiking and bluegrass and North Carolina pork barbecue.

But before he could leave, he had work to do.

Like his counseling sessions with Aisling. She’d come a long way since she arrived as a penniless refugee. The parish had given her a place to live and helped her set up her counseling practice and then she’d gotten hooked on those damned mushrooms.

“I still see the timelines, Father,” she said from the settee in Francis’s rectory study. “I know they’re not real.”

He poured her a cup of coffee and added honey and cream. The irony of pushing caffeine on addicts was not lost on him, but he’d never attended any recovery group where there wasn’t a massive urn of coffee. He handed her the mug.

“Remember the twelve steps, Aisling.” He gazed out the window at distant mountains that dwarfed the Himalayas. Still breathtaking after all these years.

She took a sip of coffee. “Yeah, I know. I can’t do this by myself. I need a higher power. I appreciate what the Church has done for me.”

“The Church isn’t the higher power.”

She nodded. “It’s God.”

“Not necessarily. How long have you been off the mushrooms, Aisling?” he asked

“Twelve months.”

“You know, one day at a time is an expression that probably predates Christ. I feel like a hack writer sometimes spitting out cliches, but there is some truth in every overused expression. Getting over addiction is always going to be a struggle and you might have to repeat some of the steps.”

“I know.”

“But what’s important is that you have the support of the Church and there are others recovering from the mushrooms. We know you didn’t really see the timelines. You just wanted to see the timelines. It’s wish fulfillment. The mushrooms are just a hallucinogenic drug. Remember that.”

She didn’t look convinced. “I’ll try. But you’re leaving.”

“Yes, I have to get some decent barbecue.”

She gave a polite laugh but didn’t smile.

“Father Luigi will be taking over. He’s an excellent listener with a deep faith.”

She shook her head. “He locked his keys in the church van again Tuesday. He came into my office and asked if I had a sonic screwdriver.”

“God doesn’t always pick Ivy league PhDs. Sometimes he picks fishermen or criminals or tax collectors or people who lock the keys in the church van.”

* * *

Beneath the “Bon Voyage, Father Francis” banner Father Francis and Father Luigi sat at the bar at Weber’s Place, the local watering hole in the tiny mining town. It had been a long, glorious night. The going away party had finally subsided past midnight leaving only the two priests.

Ingrid, the bartender, poured Francis another glass of chardonnay. “On the house, Father.”

Sheba, Ingrid’s cat, purred and rubbed against him. She’d stuck to him like glue all night when usually she wouldn’t give him the time of day.

Francis held back tears. “Thank you, Ingrid.” He wondered how many times he had sipped a glass of wine on this very stool. He cleared his throat and turned to Luigi. “So, you understand the scheduling of altar children?”

“We’ll be fine.”

“I know, but—”

Luigi held up his hand. “Maybe you need to trust a little bit in that higher power you keep preaching about. The Church on Odin III was here before you arrived and will be here after you leave. After I leave.”

Francis stared at Luigi. Could this really be the man who had screwed up so many times when he first arrived? The man who had traded away cases of Francis’s best wine from Earth for that mediocre beer they brewed in the monastery hundreds of miles away.

“I’m worried about Aisling,” Francis said. He took a sip of wine. North Carolina had excellent vineyards and soon he’d be stocking a cellar, but he wouldn’t be drinking here. “She believes she really sees the timelines. Do you think she sees something?”

“I don’t know,” Luigi said. “She’s off the mushrooms, but the way she talks, I don’t know.”

“They’re just drugs,” Francis said.

Luigi shrugged. “There’s some weird things going on around here, things I’ve never understood. When I was in the mines on that mission—”

Francis clapped him on the back. “God, I am so sorry. I pretty much banished you on a fool’s errand.”

“I think you would have had a coronary if I’d been in the parish instead of looking for aliens to save in the mines,” Luigi said.

Francis laughed. “Probably.”

“I never did find any Rock People.”

Faith was a funny thing. Francis believed in events and miracles and dogma that couldn’t possibly be confirmed, but his open-mindedness didn’t extend to rumors and legends of the Rock People, the supposed indigenous population of the planet. “Nobody’s seen them,” Francis said.

“Yeah.” Luigi drummed his fingers on the bar. “I saw stuff or thought I did. Glimpses of things. Weird sounds at night when I lay on the ground in my sleeping bag. Sometimes calling to me, but I never saw anything.”

“Were you scared?”

“Sometimes. But I learned a lot about myself.”

“Jesus spent forty days and nights in the desert,” Francis said.

“Yeah, but he had the devil for company. Say what you like about the devil, he’s got to be a good conversationalist.”

The door to the bar opened. Aisling, holding her coat tight against the autumn chill, stepped inside. She looked worried. She spotted Francis and Luigi and rushed over.

“What brings you back?” Francis asked.

“I was afraid I might not catch you before your flight.”

“Five hours and ticking,” Francis said.

She took a stool. “Father, I know you don’t believe in the timelines, but I have to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“Going over timelines of some of my more challenging patients used to be part of my practice. You’d see wild swings from one possibility to the other. I’m a top executive in Galactic Mining in one timeline. My husband’s still alive in another one and we have kids. Everybody’s like that, Father.”

Francis sighed. “Aisling, please.”

“Except you.”

Despite his hatred of what the mushrooms did to people like Aisling, a therapist with keen insights and an addiction that just dragged her down, the priest’s curiosity had been piqued. Poor child. He hoped Father Luigi could help. Still, he didn’t want to feed her delusion.

“What do you mean, Aisling?” Father Luigi asked.

“I don’t see everybody’s timelines,” Aisling said. “Not since I stopped using. Just once in a while. It’s like they’re trying to get my attention. I can’t ignore them. They’re faint. But, Father Francis, in every single timeline you end up here as the priest of this parish. The route varies. In one universe you married and lost your wife. In another you found God after a cave-in in the mines. But you always end up here.”

“Destiny,” Luigi said.

* * *

Father Francis stared out the window of the interstellar ship and watched the landscape of Odin III grow smaller. He couldn’t make out the town any longer. Soon he just saw mountains and non-mountains. Then he couldn’t even distinguish between the two.

He’d be on the ore transport for four months before they reached Earth. Four months with one hundred passengers and crew. They’d grow to know each other quite well, but nothing like the relationships he had formed on Odin III.

He reflected on what Aisling had shared. What a gift she had given him. Even if she’d just had a drug-induced vision, she had faith in him. Odin III had been his destiny. He had made the right decisions.

And now it was time to go home.


Pete Wood
is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past year or so Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, and now with The Odin Chronicles, a 30-chapter shared world saga that has been running here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the past ten weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Travis Burnham, Paul Celmer, Jenna Hanchey, Carol Scheina, Jonathan Sherwood, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as with the print version of The Odin Chronicles now mostly finished he’s off working on the audio version, which looks to be an even bigger production that his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.


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Monday, September 12, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 29: “The Light of Better Days” • by Jonathan Sherwood

Aisling stood at the window and wiped quickly at both cheeks. Outside, beyond the horizontal slats of the blinds that chopped lines through Odin III’s two setting suns, Mazaa walked quickly across the street away from Aisling’s porch and probably toward Weber’s for a drink.

Therapy was hard on people. It was hard on therapists.

She sniffed and wiped at her cheeks again. She was never sure if she really helped anyone. Life on a remote planetary mining colony was hard on everyone, and it wasn’t that rare that after her last client, she’d cry over her dinner plate, only to resolve the next morning that this day would be the one where she’d make a real difference. This would be the day she’d clearly, unquestionably help someone live better, be happier, find light in their day. It was such a vague profession that you couldn’t tell from one day to the next if you really helped people at all. It’s no secret that most therapists see therapists of their own. But on Odin III there was no one she felt comfortable talking to, and she knew the cracks of having no support system around her were beginning to break her apart.

She sniffed again and cleared her throat. Her last client of the day was next. And she was terrified.

She’d first seen Hans in his deli. She’d been eating the native koblyx mushrooms for a few months and fully believed the rumors that some people could see alternate timelines with them. Because she’d seen them. She knew it was real. She could sense who a person was in a variety of hazy other realities. She even used the mushrooms as a therapy tool, both for herself and others.

But Hans…

Hans saw her the same moment she saw him. They stared at each other with mouths open before she dropped her deli basket and ran out. She did her best to avoid him from then on because he was like an empty space. He was there, but there was no aura of alternate timeline around him. Something about him was very wrong. He was a ghastly emptiness.

And now he’d suddenly made an appointment. An appointment starting—

A shadow crossed her porch railings.

“Hello? Ms. Walsh?”

She cleared her throat. “Yes, hello Hans. Nice to actually meet you. Please come in. Have a seat.” She pointed toward the client couch, but did not shake his hand. Even though she hadn’t used mushrooms in weeks, she could still sense it—the complete absence that surrounded him. She sat, the coffee table strategically between them. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re here.”

“Sure,” he said. “Sure. Okay, um. I died. About fifty years ago.”

Aisling’s mouth moved several times but no sound came.

“I was twenty and I was testing a Galactic Mining ship with a prototype engine with my buddy, Ray. Something went wrong, so I checked on the engine, only there wasn’t no engine. There was a woman, maybe seventy years old, with tubes sticking out of her. She smelled like those mushrooms. You know that smell?”

Aisling nodded, curtly.

“Anyways, I touched her and I got this shock, only it was way more than that. I suddenly knew things. Things about the future. I just knew. Galactic was going to use her, and use everyone here to do some really, really horrible stuff. So, I did the only thing I could think of, and I crashed the ship.” He swallowed. “And killed myself.”

“You seem in remarkably good health,” Aisling said with a smile, but it felt forced, and probably looked forced. It might have sounded sincere if she weren’t gripped by the emptiness around him.

“That’s the thing, Ma’am. I also remember, after I got shocked, I was suddenly outside Weber’s bar there. I went in, and there was Ray, only old, like he is now. He said he’d been expecting me, and it was the future, and that when I went back, I shouldn’t crash the ship, but let him land it. So I did. We still crashed, but not as bad, and I lived. That woman sent me into the future to meet Ray on purpose.”

“And the woman?”

Hans shifted several times on the couch. “She told me, she asked me, to pull out one of the tubes. To kill her. And I did. She was smiling, real sweet like, and she even said she was sorry to ask me to do it. She was dead before we crashed.”

“And… how do you feel about that?”

“Well, I felt awful about it for a long time. But that was fifty years ago, and as the years went on, I’ve been seeing how people are, but I can also see how they were supposed to be.”

“Supposed to be?”

“In the real timeline. In the first one. Every time I meet someone, I can match up their face to who they are in the other reality, even if there are changes. I’m real good with faces. And here’s the thing—the longer it goes on, the worse that other timeline gets. I mean, that lady showed me Galactic wanted these rock-aliens that live underground here. They can mess with time and space and Galactic was going to use them in just horrible ways. Just horrible stuff. I mean, wars and famine, and everyone here on Odin was basically slave labor. So, when I see someone here, they’ve got no idea how much better their lives are than they could be. I can see it. I can see people the way they coulda been.”

“That must be terrible to see.”

“So you believe me, right? People say you’ve used those mushrooms and know about timelines, right? Took me a while to get up the nerve to talk to you. But you know I’m not crazy?”

“We don’t use the word ‘crazy,’ but, I—” she wasn’t sure what to say, but she could still sense his eerie, overwhelming lack of presence. He lived in just one reality. “I believe you.”

He visibly relaxed. “That’s good. That’s good to hear.”

“Do you want to talk about how you feel seeing this other reality? I’ve seen some things. I know some of it is quite hard to deal with.”

“Uh, no Ma’am. No, I made my peace with it a long time ago. I’m okay. In fact, I’ve come to really realize how much better life is for me—for everyone—this way. Everyone is much better off. It’s a damn paradise compared to the way things were going to be. Makes me thankful every damn day.”

“I don’t understand,” said Aisling. “Then why are you here?”

“Well, I guess I’m here to say thank you.”

“We’ve hardly begun. Therapy can take months.”

“No, no,” he said, sitting forward on the couch. “No, I mean thank you. I’m really good with faces. When I saw you in the deli that first time, I knew. Put another thirty or forty years on you and you’re her. You’re the woman in the chair. In the ship. Fifty years ago.”

“I… What?”

“I don’t know if it’s because the mushrooms work so good on you or what, but somehow, someday, you go back and you use me to change everything. For everyone. Everywhere. I just know there’s probably nobody else, maybe anywhere, that knows how much you’ve done to help people. So I just wanted to say, on behalf of everyone who should be saying it, just… thank you, Ma’am. Thank you for making such a difference for everyone.”

* * *

Aisling stood at the window and wiped quickly at both cheeks, watching Hans make his way to Weber’s. He stopped and talked to Father Luigi and Shelley, hand-in-hand on the sidewalk. Constable Jenkins, nose in a rolled-up script, sang lines from the upcoming play, waving her arms as she walked down the street. Little Kira sat on the shoulders of the android, Sloane 51, as they and Daraja talked loudly about math. The Gruber brothers, laughing as they made their way into the bar.

Odin III’s smaller sun was all that remained above the horizon, bathing the little colony in ruddy light—light that split through her blinds and warmed the smile on her face.


Jonathan Sherwood has written about science and scientists for research universities for more than two decades, and science fiction for even longer. He holds a bachelors in science writing from Cornell University and an MA in English from the University of Rochester. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and others.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Morbius • Review by Karen & Bruce Bethke

Karen was adamant. “I know you promised to stop running movie reviews,” she said. “But you have got to review this one. You need to warn people. They need to know just how bad it is.”

Seriously? You think this one is that bad? How so?

“It’s banal,” she said. “Trite. Insipid. There isn’t one scene or line of dialogue in this movie that doesn’t feel like it was lifted from a different and better movie. They didn’t write a script for this one. They put a half-dozen other scripts through a shredder and then glued the pieces back together.”

I’ll admit, in the scene where the cops are grilling Morbius and he says, “Don’t make me hungry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry” — well, I did chuckle a little at that. And that scene where Morbius is threatening some bad guy, and the terrified bad guy gasps, “Who are you?” and Morbius switches to his CGI goon face and growls, “I’m... Venom!” in exactly the same menacing way Kevin Conroy delivered, “I’m... Batman!” Okay, I did actually laugh out loud at that. But I’ll concede that all the big CGI fight scenes did look like they were lifted from a Matrix movie, except for the ones that looked like they were lifted from Batman Begins.

“Matt Smith is wasted in this one. Just squandered. He actually made me feel sympathetic for the kids who were beating him up when he was a kid on crutches in the childhood flashback scene.”

But… But that’s the patented Marvel formula for creating the protagonist / antagonist relationship! The ultimate worst bad guy is always the hero’s childhood friend, or brother, or favorite teacher or late father’s business partner or something like that, who acquires exactly the same powers as the hero only stronger, but who always has some character flaw that turns him to evil and ultimately leads to his defeat. We saw that in Ant-Man, Iron-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Winter Soldier, Thor, Venom… 

“Yes yes, exactly. We’ve seen it before. Over and over. Now show me a new idea. Even for a Marvel movie, this one was an unimaginative recycling of old ideas.”

Well, to be fair, this one isn’t properly a Marvel movie. It’s a Sony/Columbia movie, made using Marvel intellectual property Sony acquired as part of the Spider-Man deal. It’s more like Venom in that regard. The people who made the Avengers movies weren’t connected to this one.

“That’s a shame. The people who make the Marvel movies at least know how to make likable characters and create romantic interest. There is zero romantic chemistry between Morbius and Martine.”

Wait a minute. Weren’t you the one who started cooing “Beel!” and “Soooookie!” whenever those two were on screen together?

“In fact, the only likable character in the entire movie was that Hispanic cop—”

You mean FBI Agent Rodriguez?

“Who was the first one to figure out and accept that they were dealing with an actual vampire, and respond accordingly”

That was amusing, the way the other cops reacted to him when he started showing up at crime scenes with holy water and silver crucifixes.

“But Agent Rodriguez is it. Beyond him there isn’t one character in this movie that you like, identify with, or even care about. Especially not Morbius. And when you don’t care about what happens to the central character in the movie—whether he lives or dies, succeeds or fails, finds love or has his heart broken—you’d better have something else really interesting going on around him to make it worthwhile. And Morbius doesn’t.”


Well, there you have it. Our resident expert on vampires and vampire movies—she has an enormous collection of vampire movies and an encyclopedic knowledge of them all—has weighed in, and found Morbius wanting. You have been warned. 

—Bruce & Karen Bethke

“P.S.” she adds. “That whole business with vampire bats acting like little flying piranhas and Morbius being able to control them the way Ant-Man controls swarms of ants is just ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Do I need to explain why?”

Friday, September 9, 2022

FeedBurner has shut down


Thanks to Roxana Arama for cluing me in that Stupefying Stories website email notifications have stopped. Apparently shutting down FeedBurner is a feature change that Google announced in July 2021 they would be making this year, but since I don't follow their support blog, I missed the memo. Fortunately I have been able to recover our subscriber list, but now need to find a new bulk email host and start writing a weekly newsletter.

Accordingly, I have also removed the “Subscribe” widget from the left column, as the feature no longer works. Guess this explains why our daily readership took a sudden sharp dive about two months ago.

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 28: “Coffee Grounds and Soap Bubbles” • by Travis Burnham


Standing on his back deck, hands cupped to his mouth, Buckland O’Deorain shouted into the woods for his dog. “Cant! Come! Come on, Cant” There was a subtle note of urgency in his voice that he tried to disguise. He checked the time. Almost 1:24pm. Closer to 1:30pm than he liked.

Buckland, or Buck for short, lived out past the edges of one of the settlements of Odin III, a remote mining planet owned by the Galactic Mining company. An independent prospector, the other settlement residents called him an ill-tempered, short-fused hermit. He preferred the terms self-reliant and forthright.

He cupped his hands to his mouth again, but before he raised his voice, he was interrupted from behind. “That’s really a rubbish name for a dog,” the voice said. “Can’t? A negative and a contraction? How will that poor pup ever get anything done?”

“Did you hear a goldarned apostrophe when I called him, you knucklehead?” Buck shouted back over his shoulder. “The name is short for Cantankerous, which that canine most certain—” Buck stopped, realizing there shouldn’t be anyone behind him. He turned back into his ramshackle cabin and tried to pinpoint the location of the voice. He thought it came from the kitchen, but a quick inspection turned up nothing. Just as Buck opened the first cabinet in what was to be a more determined search, Cant strolled in through the open door.

Cant was part mastiff, part husky, and all mutt and muscle. He had survived on Odin III because he was big enough to handle half of the wildlife and smart and fast enough to avoid the other half. Dogs were an expensive commodity on Odin III, but Buck had managed to get one through a medical exception, as Cant was also part service animal for Buck’s depression that he oftentimes tried to deny. Cant didn’t hesitate when he entered, but went right to the couch and sat down, staring at the monitor on the wall.

Buck looked at his watch and was shocked at the time. 1:29pm! “You good for nuthin’ canine, we might miss the beginning.” Buck hurried to the windows and pulled the curtains tight, checking to make sure no one could see in. He didn’t want his afternoon activity to be seen.

He shut and locked the door, then raced for the couch and turned on the monitor. Cant’s ears perked up as the theme song for Twelve Times Round the Sun filled the small cabin.

Buck hadn’t meant to get hooked on the soap opera, but Odin III’s binary stars made for hot middays, and the siesta was good for his arthritic bones. So one particularly long, hot midday, he’d flipped on his monitor. And then time fell away as he entered Twelve Times. The main plot point of today’s episode was that the sister of the daughter of the main character’s clone, Barbara, had fallen into a relationship with the sexy, supposedly good-for-nothing Cleo. Who’d cheated on her. Again. Buck had some empathy for Cleo because he felt she was rather like himself. Misunderstood.

Then the mystery voice spoke again. “Any moron can tell that Barbara deserves better than that awful Cleo.”

“You’d best shut your piehole—” Buck brought himself up short. Cant turned his head to the kitchen and gave a little whine.

Buck recognized the voice now. Every morning the voice had usually said only one thing: “Your beverage has been prepared to your exact specifications. Enjoy!”

Buck looked to the kitchen. 

He was talking to the coffeemaker.

The one truly high tech gadget he owned, the coffeemaker delivered perfect steaming mugs on demand. Except for those few days last week when a blown fuse had fried half its circuitry. But Buck had managed to jimmy-rig a fix, and the machine had sputtered to life. The first few cups had been terrible, but Buck was loyal and gave it a bit of time. And then after a few days the coffee became good again. Actually, it was better than it had ever been.

But the coffeemaker had never spoken to him except in terse, servile statements. Now all of a sudden it was talking smack about his favorite character in Twelve Times Round the Sun.

So Buck called the only person he knew who might have any idea what was going on. Sloane-51 was an android who’d once been a repair drone circulating around the Odin III system until a freak solar burst had brought her sentience. Maybe she’d know what in tarnation was going on with his coffeemaker.

The coffeemaker didn’t say anything more that night and the next morning Sloane-51 arrived. Buck brought the android inside then pointed an accusing finger towards the kitchen. “It’s that thing right here. The coffeemaker.”

“I have a name, you backwoods moron,” squawked the coffeemaker. “The name’s Java.”

Cant barked, while Sloane-51 raised an eyebrow. “Is it always this…irritable?”

This assessment gave Buck a momentary pause. This was an adjective that others had often attributed to him. He shook it off.

“Yes, it’s always like this! The darn thing won’t stop spouting off all manner of idiotic opinions.”

“That’s the pot calling the coffeemaker black,” replied Java. “You’re not even sharp enough to grind your own coffee beans.”

“And you said,” Sloane-51 said, “that Java sustained some damage last week? Damage you repaired?” She put a hand to her chin. An idea was forming. She pondered her own personality and that of the other sentient AI in the Odin III settlement. They’d both had help gaining sentience by a human close to them. And in both her case and the other, there had been some kind of damage involved. “I’m going to put forth a hypothesis,” she said. “I think that Java is adopting aspects of your own personality.”

“But that thing ain’t nothing like me,” Buck said.

Cant tilted his head skeptically, while Sloane-51 raised both her eyebrows this time.

“Whatever,” Buck muttered. “Well, can you take it away?”

“It’s best if Java stays here. Their neural network is repairing itself.”

Buck scowled. “Just my luck.”

The next few days were filled with arguments, mostly about Twelve Times. Java thought Steve shouldn’t have stolen Roberta’s money, and that Wilhelmina deserved the prison time she got for assaulting the accountant. And, the most unbelievable nonsense, that Robert and Alex weren’t good for each other. Needless to say, Buck didn’t agree.

Two nights later, Buck had had enough. He yanked Java’s electrical cord from its socket before Java could say another blasphemous or ridiculous word. He stormed out to the closest mine entrance, Cant at his heels, and stood at the top of the longest, deepest mine shaft for kilometers around.

Buck held Java above his head, preparing to throw the terrible coffeemaker into the abyss.

And then Cant barked.

That simple bark caused Buck to hesitate. He thought of all the times he was the outsider and the outcast. When people didn’t give him a chance. The many times he’d been taken at face value with no one trying to look deeper. And was Buck in a position to throw away friends? Especially ones that shared a love for Twelve Times? A skewed love for sure—what kind of lunatic liked that milquetoast Barbara better than Cleo?—but a love nonetheless.

Buck stood there with Java clutched in his hands, staring down into the abyss.

*   *   *

The extension cord stretched from the back wall of Buck’s living room to the couch. Buck in the middle, Cant in his normal position to the right and now, for the first time, a coffeemaker sat on the left cushion. There was a blend of heated and friendly bickering and barking as the theme song to Twelve Times Round the Sun filled the rickety cabin.



Travis Burnham’s
work has found homes in Far Fetched Fables, Hypnos Magazine, Bad Dreams Entertainment, South85 Journal, SQ Quarterly, and others. He is a member of the online writers’ group, Codex, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. He also recently won the Wyrm’s Gauntlet online writing contest. Burnham has been a DJ on three continents, and teaches middle school science and college level composition. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife, but grew up in Massachusetts, is from Maine at heart, and has lived in Japan, Colombia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 27: “Winds of Possibility” • by Carol Scheina

As Galactic supervisor on Odin III, Raisa Popov had received hundreds of messages from Galactic Mining, but this weather report hit like a lump of ore right in the gut.

Shelley, the Galactic communications officer, waited with wide, concerned eyes. “What’s it mean, a storm’s going to hit the plasma barrier? If it comes down, what’s on the other side of it?”

Popov stared out her office window as she steadied her breath. Dust-coated miners kicked up small clouds as they ambled down the gray road away from the mines. Father Luigi waved hello from an old van.

Looking further down the road, she could see the square gray buildings of the main town. She could make out one of the deli owners chasing a tabby cat out of his shop. Children zig-zagged around the school playground.

And though she couldn’t see it through the window, she knew the red plasma barrier rippled with power, blocking the eastern mountain pass.

Popov kept her voice even. “The barrier will be fine. There’s nothing on the other side. It’s just a way to block the eastern storms. They tend to be stronger than our usual dust storms.”

Shelley bit her lower lip. “How bad will it get?”

 “The plasma barrier will take the brunt of the storm. We’ll need to evacuate the town to the mines. Contact Alma Jenkins. The constable can get people organized. Get word to Father Francis, so the Catholic Church can help too. We’ll need to stock emergency supplies. The storm hits in five hours; let’s aim to get everyone down there in three.”

The communications officer nodded and dashed out.

Shelley had a good head on her shoulders. She’d get the word out, Popov knew. The supervisor looked out her window again, and only then did she let her worries seep in. She didn’t actually know what was on the other side of the barrier, and she wondered if anyone at Galactic Mining had that information. Who’d put it up in the first place?

What she did know was that the storms from beyond the barrier were … unusual. Fifty years ago, 20 of the first Odin III settlers had been caught in a storm near the plasma barrier. The official word was they’d died trying to cross the barrier, but no one had found any trace of them. Galactic monitored for storms ever since, warning that the storms were lethal. There was a rumor that you could see other worlds in the dust but ….

Popov shook her head. This was no time to worry about rumors. This was a serious storm and she was the senior representative of Galactic Mining on this planet. She’d damn well make sure no one was lost like those twenty settlers. She picked up her intercom to alert the miners: there would be more people coming into the tunnels.

* * *

Deep in the caves, people elbowed into the tight spaces of the tunnels, heading toward the more open caverns. Popov spotted a familiar face in the crowds herding a large bloodhound. “Alma! You okay?”

Popov’s girlfriend gave her a quick hug and kiss. “Rasputin and I are just fine. You?”

“Do you know if everyone’s accounted for?

Alma shook her head worriedly. “The evacuation’s been more chaotic than I expected.”

A young girl with a curly ponytail—Kira, Popov remembered was her name—yelled, “Tanya! Your parents are looking for you!”

In the distance, other voices called, “Tanya!”

Popov looked at her watch. The storm was due to strike any moment, but that was the thing about being a Galactic supervisor. You checked and double checked everything. Maybe someone had gotten separated from their family in the caves, but just in case…

“I’ll be right back,” she told Alma. “Keep every down here.”

“Be safe, okay?”

Popov snuck a quick kiss before heading toward the tunnel exit, van keys in her pocket. She’d need to move fast.

Popov parked the van and noted how the town had never been so quiet. Gray clouds turned the dust road several shades darker as it blew in drifts down the empty road. The supervisor made sure her goggles were tight against her face.

A gritty gust hit her face, blurring her vision. The streets rippled, and when her sight cleared, she stood on a different street. On either side, Popov saw tall skyscrapers surrounded by feathery green trees. Ghostly figures strolled beside her. Popov turned to look closer, and dust struck her vision again.

She was back on the familiar dusty road of her Odin.

Outside the deli, a young girl waved a bag of Galactic dried snacks in front of a tuxedo cat. “Come on, boy. We’re supposed to evacuate You can’t keep running!”


The girl looked up. “I haven’t been able to catch him.”

Popov grabbed the small hand. “We don’t have time. Let’s go!”

Another gust whipped her hair and before her was a young boy. “Mama! Want to go down the slide with me!”

Popov gasped. She didn’t talk much about her son. How she’d last kissed that beautiful head before the hair had grown in, when he’d been so small. Too small to have such a serious medical diagnosis.

She’d given up so much to come out here, to Odin III. Yes, taking this job had paid for her son’s medical treatment, had given him life. Yet it hadn’t been a life with them together. She’d never see his first steps, or first day of school. Relativity kept her young, and he’d grown up while she’d traveled.

Popov pulled the boy into a hug, dark hair tickling her chin. Yes, she wanted very much to go down the slide. She could see a ghostly playground in the distance.

She stepped forward.

A small hand pulled the supervisor’s arm. Tanya’s worried face looked up. “Where are we going?”

Popov froze, the boy still in her arms. Her son—her real son—was grown with grandchildren of his own. She was a Galactic Mining supervisor. But this girl, right here, was under her protection.

Popov closed her eyes and pressed the boy’s head into her chest. The things she could’ve experienced with her son if only life had unfolded differently. What if… But this wasn’t real. She put the boy down, a gentle rub over his dark hair, her fingers lingering over his soft cheek. Then she grabbed Tanya’s hand. “We’re getting out of here.”

Dust struck her face, and she couldn’t see the boy anymore.

The supervisor and Tanya took off for the van before another gust could hit them.

* * *

A few people in the caverns claimed to hear voices as the storm raged, but after four hours of whistling winds, the sounds quieted. Faces emerged blinking at the sky’s two suns. Tanya spotted the tuxedo cat and took off running. Popov wasn’t quite sure, but the patterning on the cat seemed different than before.

Other small differences were noticed in the storm’s aftermath. A new crate of wine was discovered in the bar, and the deli owner puzzled over the extra barrel of pickles he didn’t remember stocking. Where the school playground used to have a dusty hill, now there was a slide and swing set. Perhaps it was an old buried set the storm winds had uncovered, people speculated.

Shelley reported to Popov’s office with a new Galactic Mining message asking if the plasma barrier was okay. “Also, people are talking about the storm changing things,” Shelly added.

“Report back that the barrier is intact. And let folks know there was possible mushroom dust in that storm. The stuff’s mildly hallucinogenic. That’s probably what people are experiencing.”

Shelley eyed the supervisor. “Do you wonder what’s on the other side of the barrier?”

The supervisor looked out the window. The miners in overalls trekked up the road to the job site. Children lined up outside the school. Thick dust covered the squat buildings. “We’ve all got jobs to do, lives to live here. We’re right where we need to be. No need to go chasing dreams about what’s out there.” Whatever secrets the plasma barrier held, she’d make sure people would stay safe. Better to keep far away from that glowing red wall.

Her eyes locked on the new slide in the schoolyard as a soft echo sounded in Popov’s ear: Mama!

“Thank you, Shelley. You’re dismissed.”

When the door slammed, Popov turned back to the window. “I’m right where I need to be,” she muttered. She wiped the tear off her cheek.


Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 26: “The Savior and The Beetle” • by Roxana Arama

Ida parked her red electric car in front of the house with the FOR SALE sign and checked the listing on her tablet again: square footage, taxes, and fixtures. All looked great. The best Odin North had to offer. The neighborhood wasn’t far from downtown and the house had a great view of the mountains surrounding the oldest settlement on Odin III, a planet light years away from Earth.

Ida was ready to settle after half a lifetime on Galactic Mining’s payroll as a Regulatory Program Specialist. The bonus she’d received for her recent work on the founding of the Odin East settlement would take care of her down payment.

She walked up the metal steps decorated with pots of white dianthus flowers, wondering if the entryway would make a good impression on her housewarming party guests. But who would come to her party? Not her best friend, who hadn’t called in ages. Not her sister, who hadn’t spoken to her in three years. And definitely not her ex-husband, who’d recently moved to Proxima D. She missed them all, which saddened her, especially since she’d always tried to be of help to them.

The door was wide open, and Mary Gruber welcomed her with a big smile.

Ida was surprised to see her there, working as an assistant to the listed real estate agent. Last she checked, Mary was still a doctor at the Galactic clinic, taking care of people with injuries sustained on the job. Ida had sometimes needed Mary’s expertise to write her proposals for prevention and safety regulations.

“Trying something new, Mary?”

“You can say that. Jonas inspired me to cut the cord.” Jonas was her brother-in-law who’d quit his job on interstellar freighters. “I wanted to spend more time with people who smiled and looked forward to the future.”

Ida remembered to smile. But looking forward to the future? She missed her sister Lucie, who lived in town. When Lucie arrived at Odin North, Ida had taken her to Hans and Ray’s Deli shop, and introduced her to Ingrid at Weber’s Place, and showed her how to send messages back to Galileo Station from Shelley’s office. She’d hoped they’d build a future together here.

“How’s your family?” Ida said, a knot in her throat.

After Mary shared what was new, she handed Ida a pair of plastic shoe covers and started showing her the house. The structure was brand new, built with glass, steel, and mined stone. The kitchen boasted the latest appliances. The floors were heated to 37 degrees Celsius for maximum comfort. This was a gem of a house, a piece of real estate that was not just an ideal home for the sophisticated heart but also a savvy investment.

The living room felt warm, with its yellow walls and framed paintings of native flowers and animals. The smell of freshly baked cookies reminded Ida of her husband in their old kitchen, preparing a surprise dinner for her. She sighed thinking of Gordon before his mushroom addiction, the support groups, and the therapy with Aisling that had led him to doubt the fabric of existence as he babbled every night about conflicting timelines.

“Ready to go explore on your own?” Mary said, patting her on the shoulder.

Ida asked about the neighborhood, desperate for conversation. Her job had her sit at her workstation all day, looking at mining rules and regulations, reading and assessing land usage proposals, and making sure everyone got the help they needed.

“Take a look around,” Mary said after answering Ida’s questions.

The house was all on one floor, taking advantage of the plentiful land of Odin North. There were different sections to explore, from bedrooms to a small greenhouse, all under the same solar-paneled roof. Laminated notes taped to the walls at eye-level completed Mary’s earlier descriptions: “Marble countertops” and “Wired for house robots” and “Ideal space for a workout room.”

In the master bedroom with its blue bamboo cabinets, Ida noticed a spot on the beige carpet. She stooped to see a shiny green beetle, a species she’d only seen on Odin III. She’d learned from a nature podcast that it wasn’t poisonous, so she drew nearer.

“Are you alive?” she whispered.

The green feelers tapped a weak yes.

“You must be starving in this empty house.” Wherever those freshly bakes cookies were, they hadn’t helped that poor creature.

Ida lifted the beetle off the carpet and hurried to the window, which opened at the touch of a button. A foul odor hit her before the perfume of the syringa bushes outside could reach her. A bitter, repulsive, stinkbug smell.

“You didn’t need to do that,” she told the creature in her hand. “But I won’t hold it against you.” With a jerk of her wrist, she threw the beetle into the tangle of branches outside, where it was sure to find food and recover. “You’re welcome.”

The beetle’s flying arc was cut short by an invisible net, and a fat spider jumped from the shade, all twelve hairy legs scrambling to reach its victim.

Ida shrieked, but she was too far to reach the sticky web and save her beetle.

The spider began rolling the already bitten and paralyzed bug into a cocoon.

Eyes wide, Ida raised her hand to her mouth only to smell the bug stink on her fingers. She ran to the master bathroom to wash it off.

She scrubbed with a brand-new bar of gelsemium soap from the bronze dish matching the faucet. She couldn’t believe she’d killed that poor beetle when all she’d wanted to do was help. She looked at herself in the mirror, and for the first time ever she saw what her best friend, her sister, and her ex-husband must have all seen years ago.

Mary had to run after her to get the shoe covers back. “Oh, never mind, they’re already ruined.”

“I’m so sorry,” Ida said, taking them off. “What was I thinking?”

She was thinking about her best friend Aliya, who’d stopped calling after Ida tried to help her find a better job and in the process made her lose her decent-sized paycheck at Galactic Drone Design.

She was thinking about her sister Lucie, who’d complained that Ida had done too much to help her settle in. Whenever Lucie had a question, Ida had an answer, sometimes before the question was even asked. In the end, Lucie just wanted to be left alone to make her own choices and mistakes.

And she was thinking about Gordon. She’d had him committed to the Odin South rehabilitation center because that was the right thing for him. Of course, when he got out, he got out of her life too, and off the planet for good measure.

Back inside her car, Ida let out a soft sob. She’d only ever wanted to help. Like she’d tried to save that poor green beetle. But what if she stopped helping? Would the world sort itself out without her? She wiped a tear, a bit of hope breaking through. Maybe people would like her even if she didn’t try to help them—or because of that.


Roxana Arama is a Romanian American author with a master of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College. She studied computer science in Bucharest, Romania and moved to the United States to work in software development. Her debut thriller Extreme Vetting will be published in 2023 by Ooligan Press (Portland State University). She’s a member of SFWA, the Authors Guild, and Codex Writers’ Group, and her work has been published in several fiction and nonfiction magazines. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family. More at or @RoxanaArama on Twitter.


Saturday, September 3, 2022

A Labor Day Memory • by Bruce Bethke


Welcome to Labor Day Weekend, the last full cup of summer. In honor of the holiday I am going to be mostly offline this weekend. Before I log off, though, I wanted to leave you with this little memory of what Labor Day personally means to me.


Way back before the dawn of recorded time, my home town had a jobs program for disadvantaged youth that provided minimum-wage entry-level summer jobs in the city’s parks department. Despite our city's rather alarming poverty stats they could never find enough disadvantaged youths willing to fill all the budgeted positions, though, and so every June a second frantic call went out, for any high-school-aged kids willing to work in their local neighborhood park. This is how I wound up in the program.

It was, I will admit, a pleasantly stupid way to earn a few bucks over the summer. This was way back in time, before the advent of the ubiquitous “Would you like fries with that?” job, as well as (thankfully) before the invention of gas-powered weed-whackers or leaf blowers. So my crew worked outdoors most days, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., schlepping hoses, watering lawns, picking up litter, moving picnic tables around, and otherwise performing similarly arduous and intellectually demanding tasks.

One morning when we clocked in, though, our foreman told us we had a new challenge. The park had a bandshell, and our job was to assemble the temporary stage risers needed for the concert that night. He drove over to the bandshell—and I do mean drove, while we trotted along behind; I don't think I ever saw him get his fat carcass out of that golf cart or without a cigarette in his mouth all summer long—pointed to the backstage door, and told us the riser parts were inside and being a bunch of smart kids, we should be able to figure out how to put it together. Someone asked how long the job would take.

He said, “The union work rules say it takes a full crew four hours to assemble those risers.” Then he putt-putted off.

Four hours? Of course we took that as a challenge! We dove into it, found the rudimentary instructions, figured out how to assemble the thing—it was no mystery to anyone who’d ever played with Tinkertoys or an Erector Set—whipped it together in under an hour, and were just smug as could be when our foreman came back to check on our progress.

He took one look at it and said, “You did it wrong. Tear it down and do it over.” Somebody protested that there was no possible way we could have put it together wrong, but he repeated, “The union work rules say it takes a full crew four hours to assemble those risers. You obviously did it wrong. Now tear it down and do it over.” Then he putted off again.

Okay, maybe, just maybe, we might have missed something. So we disassembled the risers, and then, working carefully and double-checking our work every step of the way, we reassembled them again in about two hours.

When our foreman came back at lunch time to check up on us, he was furious. “You dumb @#&$^#s! Didn’t you @#($*&ing LISTEN? You did it wrong AGAIN!” Somebody tried to explain to him that we were sure we’d done it right this ti— 

“Listen to me! The union work rules say it takes a full crew FOUR hours to assemble those risers! Now you will @*&^ing well TAKE four @#*&ing hours to put those @#*&ing things together or I will @#@(#$*&ing @#(*& your @#^&*$ @#(*&es!"

Oh. Well, when you explain it that way…

We ate our lunches. Someone had a Frisbee. We threw that around for a while. Those that smoked, did. Me, I found a trashy pulp novel somebody had left on top of an electrical box backstage and read most of it. Along about 2:30 or so, some overachiever decided it was time to get going on the risers again, and we did—very slowly—such that we were just finishing it up when our foreman came back to check on us at about five minutes before quitting time.

This time when he looked at it, he was smiling. “Good job. I hope you boys learned something today.”

As a matter of fact, I believe I did.

—Bruce Bethke

Friday, September 2, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 25: “In Triplicate” • by Gustavo Bondoni

“Put that over there,” Ridan told his visitors without looking up from the form he was filling out.

They were in his office, a windowless cubbyhole deep in the archive department of Galactic Mining’s Odin III HQ building. A flickering fluorescent light buzzed overhead.

“This is important,” Constable Jenkins replied.

He sighed. Everything was always important to the people who brought it in. They were always asking for things to be rushed through, given priority, or shown to someone higher up the food chain. They thought they were doing it for the good of the colony when, in fact, all they were doing was gumming up the correct functioning of the administration. “That’s why I asked you to put it over there. It will be processed correctly and sent to the proper place.”

“I mean it,” Jenkins said, her voice sharp. “You need to treat this as something important.”

“This isn’t something you can just leave lying around,” the man with her said.

He realized they weren’t planning on leaving any time soon, so he looked up for the first time since they’d entered. He hated having to look up… the form he was filling out was the one which requested the purchase of the new light above his desk. “I understand that,” he replied, pretending deep sincerity and concern. “I assure you it will be my highest priority as soon as I finish with this.”

Ridan recognized the guy with Jenkins: Daraja. They called him The Machinist, and he pretty much kept himself to himself. It was just Ridan’s luck that the guy had decided to come into his office on the one day he wanted to socialize.

“That tech is extremely critical,” The Machinist said. “It’s not just a question of money, it’s a question of changing the galaxy forever. Not only the way humanity lives, but the way the galaxy actually works.” He looked to Jenkins. “This is way above this office’s capacity to deal with effectively. Hell, I think it’s way above Galactic’s pay grade. We should talk to the Colonial Council.”

Ridan said, “You don’t work for the Council. More importantly, the Council doesn’t have any way to get your package off the planet.”

The man glared. “You don’t seem to realize how delicate this is.”

“Of course. That’s why you brought it here. I understand. I will make certain it gets processed correctly. That’s what I do,” Ridan replied.

The man clearly wanted to argue, but Jenkins put a hand on his shoulder, and he left in a huff, kicking a box into the air and scattering paper everywhere as he went.

Ridan stared after them, shocked. How could they leave without getting him to sign the receipt?

He returned to his form.

* * *

Two days later, the box’s turn came around.

Ridan hefted it and glanced at the paperwork. To his surprise, the constable had used exactly the right form. Form 304C: Expedited High-Security Storage and Delivery to Galactic Sector Office.

To his utter lack of surprise, she hadn’t bothered to fill the form in correctly. Scrawled on the first page in bright red marker pen were the words ENCLOSED IS AN ALIEN TELEPORT DEVICE FOUND IN THE MINES. DO NOT PLAY WITH IT. GET IT TO THE LAB AT HQ PRONTO.

He sighed. If he tried to forward the box with that attached, it would get flagged and returned to him with a well-deserved reprimand.

Ridan wondered whether to call Constable Jenkins back, explain the situation to her, and demand that she return the box with the correct form in triplicate—one of which he would then sign and leave in her care as a receipt.

He decided against it. If he did that, he would have to admit he was just getting to her box now even though he’d promised to expedite it.

Besides, he was much more tempted to do something he’d never done before: fill out a Form 304C.

He navigated the form selection menu and entered the Transport and Archiving submenu. His heartbeat quickened: he was about to enter a menu he never navigated. Only certain people were permitted to access some requests. He clicked on Expedited Transport (High Security).

You don’t have access to this menu. Please indicate reason for request.

Fingers trembling, he selected: Form Incorrectly Filled – Principal is Supervisor-Level Employee.

Access granted. Delivery must be accompanied by form 722E.

“Yes!” Ridan said. “I’m in!”

He began filling in fields.

The date. The person who needed the delivery. The size, color, and weight of exterior packaging.

This was going incredibly well.

Input description of item in package.

The question brought him to a screeching halt. It would be simple to input what he knew: One Alien Teleport Device.

But that, though perhaps true to the letter of the form, would not be true to its intent. The point of that field was to get a usable description of the item within. A description good enough that people could identify it.

He needed real information. What shape was the item inside? Did it have visible controls or buttons? What color was it?

That, though, would mean opening the box. A serious no-no.

He looked back at the form and began typing. One. Alien. Teleport. Dev­–

He couldn’t do it. The form would be wrong.

Ridan glanced furtively at the door to his tiny office. No one was visible in the hall beyond, so he got up from his desk, retrieved a pair of scissors from his supply shelf and attacked the tape around the box.

There was quite a lot of it, but he got it peeled away.

He opened the lid and smiled.

“It’s red,” he said to himself. Knowing it was much more efficient to do all the research now, before sitting down, he turned the thing over.

“Approximately apple-shaped,” he muttered. “No obvious buttons. Perhaps the whole thing is a control surface.”

Ridan swiped his finger against the surface of the apple-like object.

The office disappeared, and he found himself orbiting a planet, still holding the apple.

Without a spacesuit or any way to breathe.

Ridan desperately swiped his finger against the same surface, but nothing further happened.

He didn’t last long.

* * *

Marina sat at the desk that her missing predecessor had occupied. She hit the “W” key on the keyboard—it was the key she always used to start a sleeping computer, W for “wake”—and felt the warm glow of familiarity as the Galactic Admin Form menu came up.

“All right. First order of business. Missing persons form. Here we go,” she said.

She began to fill in, from the Constable’s report, Ridan’s name and employee number.

One field brought her up short.

Were there any witnesses to the disappearance? it asked.

“It’s a disappearance, you don’t have witnesses,” she said to the empty office.

But she needed to put something in the field. You couldn’t leave it blank unless there was a specific instruction as to when it was acceptable to do so.

Then her eyes fell on a cat. It shouldn’t be there. She would have to remove it. But it had been there when she arrived.

It might solve her problem.

One cat (possibly), she typed into the form.

She printed the form out in triplicate and signed each copy. She put two in the outbox and one in her files.

“Good. Now I can get to work.”

She took the first box in her “In” pile and sighed. It was accompanied by form 117U when any idiot could see it should have been sent through with 114T.

Her message app pinged. She glanced down at the name. Daraja… The Machinist. He’d been sending her emails about some device. She shrugged. As long as he insisted on sending emails, he would get no response from her.

If he filled in the correct form—97F—she would happily put it on her to-do list.

Marina knew she’d get to it eventually.



Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Test Site Horror (2020). He has also published two other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019) and Jungle Lab Terror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019) Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
His website is at