Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Adult Honorable Mentions
Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Youth Honorable Mention
"100 seconds from the Century of Martian Wars" by Leonid Korogodski
A flash of light within the walls-alarm! The enemy has broken into the castle or has been secretly admitted in.
And suddenly the Nanny is behind her. And suddenly, she's lifted in her arms. A second-long, eternity-worth hug-and she is passed along, into a soldier's arms. They plunge into the transport tubes-a snake of ferrofluid armor, flying at a breakneck speed. And she is passed from arms to arms inside the flying column-"crowdsurfing" forward-faster, faster!
She has forgotten how to breathe. She doesn't need to yet. Between two breaths, she's coming out at the other end into a spaceport vault, and-
Their escape shuttle explodes in its docking sheath. A gust of air, pulling-but the breach seals shut. Magnetorheological material streams out, freezing solid in the emergency magnetic field. A breath of air brings a sweetish taste into her mouth. A voice inside her head, You're underwater! An osmosis mask forms out of her collar, covering her face. She doesn't know yet that tiny nanobots are busy cleansing blood of paralytic gas.
Too late. Above them, knights in shining armor are already flying out of the upper passages, in an attack formation-like a cobra poised with hood spread out. It strikes. Defenders rise to meet them in the air, the ferrofluid dark against the multi-speckled shine of diamond nanorods-their flexible emergency protection suits matched up against full battle armor.
Plasma jets crisscross the vault, but the defensive weaponry in the walls is conspicuously silent. Someone explodes in a fireball. The shock wave slams the girl against a wall. She hunkers down, sucking on her broken tooth.
A flock of crows in a thunderstorm above her head-dark crows armed with Dragonclaws. Her Nanny in the air, every finger wearing a waveguide tube of weapon-grade laser-a deadly harness over each hand. She dances in her flight with all her body, with her hands, her mudras drawing curtains of invisible sharp light. She cuts the space around her in foliations, flips and rolls in complicated curves-topologist of death, computing Hamiltonian potentials of evasion. She is good.
Not good enough.
A stream of plasma gushes out of the transport tube they came through, spewing bodies out-their rearguard, still flying through the tube. More enemies come out after them, overwhelming the girl's bodyguards with high precision fire. Not a single hair has been singed on the girl's head.
The enemy is closing, unstoppable. It's obvious they want the girl alive.
And now, she is really afraid.
With a terrifying elegance, her mental link is snapped; she hears other voices in her head-brain hackers. She is totally cut off. The color black is leaching from the air, precipitating on the floor-in broken, mangled bodies, covered with diamond dust.
It's so hard to reach for someone in this whirlwind.
Nanny turns. Their eyes meet in a stroboscopic contact. A moment's hesitation. Then, one killer glove moves gently, like to brush her hair.
"100 seconds from the Century of Martian Wars" has to be first place. An exciting, terrifying rush of words, deftly combining hard science and poetic imagery. I don't know whether "magnetorheological" is a word. If not, it should be!
"The Powers of Singing" by Richard Roe
The first time we heard her sing "Caro Nome" in Verdi's Rigoletto, we fell in love forever. Her fame spread from local stages to national and international opera houses, her voice dominating the air waves. Millions demanded recordings of her favorite arias and complete operas. One blue planet could not contain her. Astronauts carried her music into space. When new atmospheres were established at orbiting stations and nearby planets, pioneers demanded the sound of her voice, "a voice created by God," said the critics. Millions built their lives around her, creating monuments in her name. Rumors spread of animal sacrifices at altars beneath brazen images of her face.
"Blasphemy," cried the preachers, and the Voice That No One Knows began to speak in tongues. Storms frequented the blue planet and power went out in space colonies. The blue planet reversed its poles, wobbled erratically in its orbit. Sunspots grew like metastasized malignancies. Yet her voice rang with Puccini's Mio Babino, and Purcell's When I am Laid in Earth. The Voice That Could Not Be Named hissed like a thousand geysers followed by a great suction. The entire planetary structure flew out of kilter. Blackness devoured the solar system and the One Who Cannot Be Known roared. A last planetoid escaped the dark hole and her voice orbited into the Clouds of Magellan, while the Voice of Him Without a Name is lost, swallowed in the sounds of galactic winds.
"The Powers of Singing" gives new meaning to the term "space opera." A beautifully rendered conceit.
"The Apple and the Tyrannosaur" by Robert Borski
"A vegetarian Tyrannosaurus rex frolicked alongside human beings only a few thousand years ago in the Garden of Eden until Eve decided to munch on that apple, according to the Creation Museum." -Times Online
It is of its own kind alone, perfectly unique amongst the other fruit in the tree: sun-ripened, ambrosial, incarnadine, with a swollen gravid shape that mimics the world's great bolus of dirt and root beneath; the most enticing pippin this side of Mister G's own personal orchard (how his trees shimmer in the night sky, scintillant with starshine and dew).
In the dim flyspeck corners of the "tyrannical" lizard's brain (haha, his moniker's a joke, akin to calling the giraffe "Shorty" or mammoth "Tiny"), he can almost taste the tart crisp flesh, the apple-white meal crunching between his teeth, the sweet-sour juice laving his tongue in a rivulet of winesap.
Since time began (or yesterday), when he first discovered the aleph tree, he has been guarding it from the pestilential birds, dreaming of the day/year (there are a million minutes in each, according to the sager creatures of Day 5) he will engage the singular fruit with his mouth, dining on its perfection and hoping that some of it, like grace, will transfer and transform.
Then again, why not today?-a celebratory moment of sorts, Day 6 having finally arrived. Only when he turns back (those annoying birds again with their twee song and dribs of airborne guano providing distraction) does he sees the new arrival, the she-ape clambering down from the tree, with the pearly imprint of her teeth already marring the apple's perfect skin.
His despair almost too much to bear, how the tyrannosaur roars with anguish, flailing his tiny arms about! And yet, because it is said nothing happens here, in the primordial garden, without the Master's consent, instantly he feels shame.
Crestfallen, he now notices a rotting apple on the ground. It is asprawl with flies and cankered with hieroglyphs. To punish himself contritely, and pray that his hubris will be forgiven, he noses the semi-deliquescent lump forward, then gulps it down.
Much to his surprise, the worms add a welcome texture, with the flies a pleasant bosky, raisinous note.
Could it be his aversion to meat has been misguided all along?
A bird flying by provides the first hint-though ticklish in his throat, even its feathers are delicious.
"The Apple and the Tyrannosaur" is a delightful goof. Although questionable, perhaps, in both theology and science, it's a hoot to read.
"Equilibrium" by Annelyse Gelman
I buried my nose in soft soil that afternoon, and I became the grass. Crows swept down to peck at my fingertips. My toes, wind-worn pebbles, my legs, leaning pine, understood that nothing lasts forever-that in preserving the moment, we lose it. We. It was so easy to forget my solitude. Alone, not lonely. Not like now.
They came without warning, not from the deep shadows beneath the redwoods, but from daylight. I didn't struggle, even as they sealed my skin from the sun to preserve the earth's fingerprints upon my forehead, slicing open my thumb to confirm human DNA. No negotiation, no discussion; these are the rules the Founders laid down centuries ago. Every child since the new millennium had committed them to memory as affirmations, anthems. Code XII, Section IV: Rescue is mandatory. Rescue from what, we'd never been told.
For a week, drifting through space, arms folded around my waist in a forced embrace, I slept. For another, I tongued Thorazine, Seroquel, Seconal, Klonopin-expired conveniences of the past. All the old posters were peeling, even at a dehumidified 21C. Make your flight to the future a pleasant one! Pleasant? Pleasant were the grass-stains on my elbows, the dirt beneath my fingernails. Pleasure is not the absence of pain. Pleasure is not-
Again, they came without warning, pecking at my pulse with sharp silver beaks. Shutting my eyes against the halogen glare, I could almost hear the sound of wings. A steel arm of exposed wires scanned my half-closed eyelids-measuring pupil dilation, though I didn't know it then. In that moment, I was only dimly aware of my final memories of Earth, slipping into stasis under the ship's equipoise lamp, my own personal sun.
Science fiction is of course difficult, given these constraints and I appreciate seeing some. It actually reads like the prologue to a story about the voyage itself, but under the circumstances that's not a real problem, as the preparation is a mini-story in itself.
"Dream, Real" by Kimberly Tsan
There was a rumor saying that she was cursed. Two weeks later she was dead. The day after she died, every single person at school had the same dream about her.
The last time I saw her, I expected her to tell me how lovely my outfit was, but she did not even notice me. I thought it was extremely unlike her, because normally she wouldn't miss any chance to humiliate someone. She was on her cell-phone, and presumably updating and exchanging the current rumors and gossips from her extensive network of big-mouths and back-talkers.
Some TV drama does exist in real life.
The strange thing was, she never got off the phone, and she never talked into it.
This was the dream that everyone had. She was alone in an impenetrable darkness with a pale, doll face. The phone had grown into her skin, like a parasite, a living organism, a little alien creature.
On the back of the phone appeared a mouth with black sharp teeth, stinking and shining like a rotten nebula. The mouth turned inside out and engulfed the entire cell-phone, and it began to chew towards her ear with unbearable crunching sounds as its teeth broke her jaw and bit down her face.
She was completely silent, and still.
Blood streamed down like a crimson curtain, slowly, slowly, along with the thunderous applause. She was expressionless.
Perhaps everyone would be at peace with her absence, but then I realized she had a family that loved her dearly and unconditionally. It was almost impossible to feel sympathy for her after what she had done for years, but I felt that she deserved a second chance.
I could hear those words now. It was her words, her voice. All of a sudden she began a piercing scream, even when her skull was already crushed into a bloody nothing by that black evil mouth. Her limbs jerked violently, slapping onto the ground and splashing the pool of blood beneath her.
Her pain, I could hear, so intense that it twisted the air around me.
I forgive you.
That day when I went to school, everyone was saying they had the strangest dream ever, and that it was stranger when they discussed about it, because no matter how they described it, they were describing the same dream.
Somehow I wasn't surprised.
The next day nobody remembered the dream, as if it never happened, as if her death never happened. Maybe it never did, because she was sitting beside me in English class today. She gave me a nervous smile, and I knew the nightmare had been real.
"I never knew it was you," she whispered with a quivering voice. "And why."
We were both silent for a while.
"You two," the teacher pointed at us, his eyebrow raised. Seeing us together, having a conversation seemed unusual. "Paying attention?"
We nodded and chuckled as he continued to teach.
The first sentence is a good narrative hook; the first paragraph sets up an intriguing situation that the reader wants to pursue. The image of the phone-turned-mouth is truly horrifying, yet funny in a grotesque way. The description of the horror is excellent, using lots of senses other than sight.
"The Melody of Life" by Lin Wang
Story removed at author's request.
A skillful distillation of a life of searching, first in the imagination, then in the "real" world, and back again. A good prose poem.