Lightspeed Magazine is taking submissions for its special issue: Queers Destroy Science Fiction!
I’m going to submit my 1900 word short story “Operation: Future.” Give it a read and tell me what you think.
Douglas glanced through the rain-frosted window. It was midnight, but she could see the shadowy forms of government officials stalk across the blighted landscape. Douglas, the chief scientist, allowed herself a brief moment of fear. It flashed across her golden features and was gone. Then she straightened and appeared like a stone obelisk. She hurried through the hallways of the National Laboratory of Biosciences.
The cryopreservation room loomed ahead. Outside the room, she punched in her ID with shaking fingers, messed up twice, and finally the door irised open.
“It’s just me, but we don’t have a lot of time!” said Douglas.
The room was cramped and cold. Rodriguez and Nguyen stood by ten vats of liquid nitrogen. The blackly glimmering tanks reflected what little light was in the room. Together, the three scientists rolled the tanks, one by one, into a waiting cart.
“It’s now up to you two,” whispered Douglas. Rodriguez began to cry–fat tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Pull it together!” snapped Douglas. “The others are waiting for you to get these,” she patted a nearby vat, “to the rendezvous point.”
Nguyen nodded, but Rodriguez was immobile.
“We knew this was going to happen!” she hissed. “We planned for it! We cannot fail–too much depends on you,” she stabbed Rodriguez’s chest with a stubby finger, “and Nguyen getting the tanks to the others!”
“How the hell do you expect us to get out of here? They’ve probably got the place surrounded!”
At that moment, they heard the rattling of boots. Rodriguez’s tears renewed.
“Nguyen,” Douglas snapped. “You remember the plan?”
“You’ll have to leave now,” Douglas continued.
“But what about all the others?” Nguyen swung xer hand in an arc, signifying all the other vats.
“As long as we get at least one out of here our efforts will be rewarded.”
Douglas put her ear to the door. The officials were breaking open every window, busting down every door. It would only be a matter of minutes before they came to this small room.
“All of our equipment,” muttered Rodriguez, “our years of secret research–”
“–Will be in vain if you stay a moment longer!”
Nguyen covered the vats with a black weatherproof tarp. Rodriguez helped xem move boxes. Some contained equipment. But most were empty–just for hiding the wall behind them. They kicked them away, lifted the heavy ones. The wall was blank brick–at least to the untrained eye.
“Hurry,” snapped Douglas.
Nguyen found the single brick that had no mortar around it. Xe pulled it out. Behind it was an LCD screen, glowing dull green. Douglas slapped her hand across, and it scanned her fingerprints.
The green light went out. The door popped open–just a small gap where the cement wall met the floor. Rodriguez stooped to slide it up. Darkness was on the other side. Nguyen pushed the cart forward. Rodriguez followed xer then turned around to say, “You could come with us, you know.”
“That’s not the plan.”
“Don’t be a martyr. They’ll never know–”
“Someone has to stay behind to make sure you get the tanks to the others.”
She shoved Rodriguez behind the brick wall, then slammed it down without another word.
Of the ten officials that hovered at the threshold, one stepped forward. The smoke parted before him. He wore the crimson uniform of the Imperial Guards, one of the country’s finest military forces.
“Where are the other two?” he said.
“Probably at home if they have any sense.”
“We will find them just as we found you. But you are the main one we want. You masterminded this whole thing.”
“So here I am.”
He glanced around the cramped room. His eyes alighted on the seven tanks. He kicked one. Douglas flinched.
“How could you give your life for this…? Come with us and perhaps the Congress will have mercy on you.”
Douglas grinned mirthlessly. She thought of her dead son. She reached for her belt.
“Gun!” cried one of the soldiers, weapon suddenly drawn, squeezed the trigger.
The Imperial Guard screamed, “No!” but it was too late.
Douglas fired, and at that moment the soldier’s blue laser pierced her heart. But Douglas’s aim was true–it exploded the nearest vat.
Stainless steel shards and -196 degree pressurized liquid fanned across the room. The other six tanks exploded from the force of the shrapnel. Poisonous cryoprotectant gas seeped out.
The dark tunnel came to an end.
“Here’s hoping Litman kept his promise,” muttered Nguyen. Rodriguez made a stirrup with her hands and lifted Nguyen. Xe tapped lightly at the trapdoor. When xe heard a response, xe lifted the door and slipped out. A rope ladder tumbled down after xer.
Litman—head scientist from an adjacent lab, the National Laboratory for Military Research–helped Rodriguez heft the three vats and the cart out of the tunnel. They emerged in the shadow of the laboratory complex, near the bubbling pits of chemical runoff it was notorious for. No one ever came here–it was too dangerous. The smell burned their lungs.
Nguyen turned to Litman. “Is your part taken care of?”
“Of course,” he said.
“What about Mkimbu, did she–”
“Yes, yes, it’s all done. We have two minutes in between shift changes. One of the guards is on our side, but which one I don‘t know.”
Litman and the cart disappeared in the shadows surrounding the platform. Nguyen grabbed Rodriguez’s hand and the two of them shot off down the hallway; their part of the plan required them to wait.
Litman bided outside on the platform. Nguyen and Rodriguez watched from the safety of a groundkeeper’s closet.
“Look at him,” snapped Nguyen. “Litman will never get passed him.”
Rodriguez stymied a sob. The lone guard, padded in protective gear, looked like a double-jointed action figure as he paced back and forth.
“There’s got to be more than just him,” muttered Rodriguez. Nguyen creased xer brow.
“Maybe that’s our guard,” said Rodriguez.
“Ha, yeah right. Look how he keeps talking into his radio.”
They watched him pause in his pacing. He exchanged a dirty joke with the person on the other end.
“What if they changed their minds and there is no shipment of supplies to the space station tonight?”
Rodriguez bit her lip. When she finally spoke, desperation cracked her voice: “M-Mkimbu, she would have seen it being rescheduled when she hacked their systems, right?”
Litman waited impatiently as the lone guard faded back inside to await his replacement.
“It’s show time!” Litman muttered. He scurried into the dark, dodging the orange light of the platform. Suddenly he felt someone else’s presence behind him.
The guard rushed towards him, shouting, “Hey, wait! You need to check in with me before you put anything on the ship!”
Litman stepped forward, blocking the vats. “I come out here every month to deliver supplies to the space station. You know who I am.”
“Yeah, well, my commander just informed me that some rogue scientists are up to no good. Besides, where’s the rest of your team? You never come out here alone!” He shoved Litman aside. “So get out of the way. Let me see underneath.” He grabbed the tarp, prepared to tear it off—
The shot came from behind him. He didn’t have a chance to react; his brains splattered across the tarmac. Another guard dashed toward them. She lowered her rifle and snapped, “We don‘t have much time.”
“O’Malley, thank god!”
The new guard, O’Malley, scanned the platform. She checked her watch. “We only have seventy-five seconds!”
“All right,” said Litman. “Let’s get on with it! Douglas trusted us with this.”
They hurried to the security perimeter surrounding the ship.
“You better have the codes,” said O’Malley.
“Of course I do,” snapped Litman. He flattened his hand against the screen for a biometric scan. Then he tapped in the code with trembling fingers. The screen flashed red: INCORRECT ACCESS CODE.
“Goddamn it!” snapped O’Malley. “Come on, Litman!”
He wiped the sweat from his brow and tried again. This time the lock popped open and they stumbled inside the gate.
The ship rose up from the platform like a chrome and ceramic idol.
“I hear something,” said O’Malley. “I think it’s—”
“The Imperial Guards.” Litman cursed. “I can hold them off–”
“No,” said O’Malley, “let me.”
From their sanctuary, Rodriguez and Nguyen saw O’Malley speak with one of the red-armored Guards. Nguyen thought she heard, “…they‘re not here…” but O’Malley was forced aside and the group of Guards marched towards the platform.
“Will you stop moving and pay attention?” snapped Nguyen. “Once we get the signal, we need to punch in the launch codes.”
The signal came sooner than they anticipated. Litman stumbled out of the security perimeter, hands above his head.
“Now!” said Nguyen. They ran back into the dark lab.
One of the Guards stepped forward and said, “Bring me the cargo.”
“I don’t know what you’re–” said Litman.
She punched him. Her gloved hand came away bloody.
“Do you think I’m an idiot? Explain the dead guard!” She glanced at the still-warm corpse haloed in the orange light. “I know you have the cargo.”
“We never received it!”
She knocked him to the ground. His glasses shattered around his eyes. She stomped a heavy boot on the side of his face, then drew her pulse pistol.
“Answer me or I’ll kill you limb by limb.”
It no longer mattered.
They could hear—no, they could feel—the deep rumbling as the ship prepared to lift off. The Guard screamed into a radio, “The weapons array! Arm the weapons array!”
“Ma’am, we can’t. Our systems are down! We’ve been hacked—!”
The ship appeared as a dart in the starless sky.
One Hundred Years Later
They crowded around the flickering image.
A golden-skinned older woman appeared in the haze. She said, “My name is Doctor Sarah Douglas. If you are watching this it means the mission was successful. In a way I guess you are my children. The regime killed my son. They wanted me to stop the project. But of course I could not. I don’t know how many of you managed to escape, but we had ten tanks full of frozen embryos. If Nguyen and Rodriguez managed to get just one into space, then all is well.” Suddenly the image panned over the open window behind her. The sight made the assembled children gasp.
“Yes,” said Douglas, “that was once the Earth. And that is why we risked everything to send you into space. Wars, official corruption, spreading poverty, nuclear proliferation–it all worked to make our homeworld…well, unlivable.” She shook her head. “But don’t worry. They can never find you now. I wish I could see you. You represent all the beauty that was once Earth–all the goodness, all the diversity. We took the frozen genetic samples that were already in our lab to create you. The samples were from every known ethnic group–Lhoba, Tatar, Inuit, Ovimbundu, and so many more.
“Many people helped with this operation. Were it not for their prudence, the Congress could have sussed out the whole thing much sooner. Those individuals sacrificed much for your survival. I’m sure all of us will be captured eventually. Then we will be executed. But we will die knowing that we did all we could to safeguard the future of humanity.
“So go forth, my children. The world is brighter for your existence.”
Sarah Douglas faded away.