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An Empire of Shattered Glass by Gunnar de Winter

September 25, 2017 Science Fiction, Speculative 5 Comments
An Empire of Shattered Glass by Gunnar de Winter

An Empire of Shattered Glass
by Gunnar De Winter

George begins his walk through the crystal mind.

A direct brain-to-AI interface allows him to saunter through the vast mind of a powerful artificial intelligence. In this case, the AI has chosen a visualization that looks like an enormous glass palace. Turns out that human beings are much better at handling and interpreting data if it’s provided in a 3D spatial rendering.

“Like a memory palace,” George mutters, “just bigger and more complex. Those ancient Greeks were on to something, I guess.”

He squints, trying to find his way in the maze of semi-transparent glass. Above, below, to the sides – everywhere he looks – he sees layer upon layer of not-quite-see-through glass. Like being stuck in an angular soap bubble, embedded in the middle of a bubble bath. As with all AI minds, it takes some getting used to.

Rapid footsteps echo behind him. George turns just in time to see a large golden-haired baboon come to a grinding halt.

“Greetings, human.”

“A good day to you too. And call me George. I suppose you know why I’m here?”

“Naturally,” the AI’s avatar replies. “And you are, of course, most welcome. However, I can assure you that it’s nothing to worry about. Just a glitch. It is being taken care of as we speak.”

“Great. I’d still like to have a look, though.”

“Of course. Follow me, please.” The big baboon turns on his heels, drops to all fours and, long tail forming a smooth downward curve, walks past George. Accompanied by the muffled sound of their footsteps, they pass a couple of turns until they reach the beginning of a long hallway, the walls of which are less transparent than most others George has seen so far. The primate avatar stops in front of a nondescript cloudy door. George puts the edge of his hand against it and tries to peer through. No luck.

“Shall we?,” the baboon asks, extending a lengthy, muscular arm. “After you, good sir.”

Silently, the door slides open. As George enters the room, the jumble of glass structures is replaced by a quickly coalescing manifestation of an old, Victorian library. *** Read on! ***

Far From Regis Station by Ilan Lerman

Far From Regis Station by Ilan Lerman

Far From Regis Station
by Ilan Lerman

It’s so peaceful at Regis Station. The only sounds are the wind whipping across the tundra and my own breathing.

I didn’t think I’d like it out here. The solitude. The lack of stimulus. Some people have to have another person around to keep them straight. For me, it’s another extreme experience, like bungy-jumping in Queenstown, or skydiving over Monterey Bay. Instead of the adrenaline rush of freefall, it’s an opportunity to confront the unknown.

Larry dropped me off here in the ATV three hours ago. He should be over halfway back to McKinlay Station by now. He was the only one of the Grise Fjord Inuit who would drive me out here. Not one of the McKinlay scientists would do it. Bloody cowards.

Larry’s a jovial sort. Always smiling with those splintered, yellow teeth of his. He likes to crack jokes and tell stories about his family, but he didn’t say a word for the entire three-hour drive out to Regis Station.

“Bye, Chris,” was all he managed after he helped lug the crate of supplies in and refuelled. Then he was gone, the rumble of his ATV quickly swallowed by the vast, mountainous landscape of Ellesmere Island. See you in a week, Larry.

As research stations go, Regis is pretty basic. They designed it for two, but I’m glad I’m on my own as the bunks are crammed together and the wash facilities are rudimentary. There is enough workbench space to carry out some simple research, but it was only ever meant to be a short-stay camp to visit the Regis-Bell locality. A low, meandering river cuts down from the plateau behind me through extensive patches of purple saxifrage.

The generator didn’t take long to fire up, considering the length of time since it was last used. There’s plenty of spare fuel, a rifle and my radio in case of emergencies. Pascal gave me the drill on polar bears for the third time before I left. Never startle a bear. No shit, Pascal.

There’s nothing to be afraid of. Bears are incredibly rare this far inland and, according to Pascal and the others, are the least of my worries. Despite having the licences sorted and the time booked far in advance, I practically had to beg to be allowed out here on my own. Pascal wouldn’t have it on his conscience, not after the history of this place. Nothing scares me, though. No amount of campfire ghost-story tactics are going to come between me and completing my damn PHD thesis. *** Read on! ***

What We Were by Gregory Leunig

What We Were by Gregory Leunig

What We Were
by Gregory Leunig

When the last ship vanished into the sky, afterburners flickering briefly in the dense black cloud ceiling that shrouded our world, there were fires. There were more of us then, and we poured angry through the streets, a human pyroclastic flow, burning indiscriminately. There were Molotov-on-car fires, one or two apartment buildings set fire, dumpster fires. One guy, someone’s kid brother, set fire to himself in the streets like that Buddhist monk so many years ago. The monk, if you believe the writers from back then, never made a sound while he burned. The kid brother screamed, long and loud.

It was a time of fires, when they left us, but there was never a fire like this.

We don’t know who began building the pyre. One day, one of us noticed an olive green sofa, the kind you buy because you know the color will conceal the mold when it eventually grows moldy. This one had journeyed well past that phase of its existence; it stank of ancient urine and beer. We found it in a field facing the city. Some of us sat in it and watched as the generators gradually died and the lights in the buildings that comprised our meager skyline went out by sections. The reality show of us, live broadcast.

Not too long after, there was an expensive-looking leather recliner, piled on top of the sofa, and a jug of gasoline sitting nearby. We found John, who always wore suit jackets and ties even after the last ship left, standing there and looking through the sofa and chair. His black blazer too clean for the end of the world, his arms folded, five years of beard growth obscuring his face and spilling over onto his tie. We never asked, but we knew the recliner was his, and the gasoline. *** Read on! ***

Denmark by Mitch Edgeworth

August 29, 2014 Science Fiction 6 Comments
Denmark by Mitch Edgeworth

by Mitch Edgeworth

After Lisa died I left the city. Had to get out. Just sat in my car and drove. I was going to York where my mother and stepfather lived, almost subconsciously, but I realised just as I was clearing the outer suburbs that I’d only find more death and silence and that I didn’t really want to go to York at all. So I turned out on a side road and drove through the forest and the national park and found myself at Mundaring Weir. A caravan park, chalets and cottages scattered across a grassy slope leading down to the water where black swans waddled through the reeds. I’ve been here ever since. A roof over my head, plenty of drinking water, the Coles at Kalamunda not too far away for food. The basic needs of a human being are really very simple.

The view from the verandah is nice. The sweeping crescent of the lake, the gum trees pressing in on it from all sides, the purity and silence of the hills. There’s a swinging lawn chair on the verandah where I can sit and look out over the water. There were bodies in some of the chalets but I dragged them out and burned them in a pile. This one was empty so this is the one where I sleep.

In the first few weeks there were other people, or signs of people at least. A plane, a Lear jet, glinting in the sunlight as it banked out of the airport and flew east. A four-wheel drive on the road running past the lake. A sedan not long after. Nobody came out here.

Every single day I look at the knives in the kitchen drawer or the pills in the pharmacy next to Coles and I think about it. I would have done it by now if I was going to but I still can’t get it out of my head.

All of the cars have died as well – flat batteries, expired fuel – but I have a bicycle with a little trailer. It belonged to a Swiss couple in one of the other chalets who were cycling around Australia. I know that because I looked at their passports and flicked through her journal before putting their bodies on the pyre. They flew in to Perth from Dubai and were going to go counter-clockwise around the country. Barely even got started. I burned the journal along with their bodies. I can’t put millions of bodies to rest but I wasn’t going to let these ones sit around rotting next door to me.

I never went back for Lisa’s body. I can’t anymore obviously. *** Read on! ***

Red Letter Day by Tim Reed

Red Letter Day by Tim Reed

Red Letter Day
by Tim Reed

Today will be a Red Letter day. After writing the title, John smiled grimly and added the following sentence: And that is a deliberate term—red denotes blood and we all know the power of letters, when put into words.

“And what dreadful words will bring on the apocalypse?” He chuckled—a touch madly—and looked at his surroundings, half-expecting a horror to enter at any moment. But he was alone in his shack, hiding in the darkness, back to the kitchen wall.

On his lap lay his diary. The diary—intended to document the past, present and possible future to anyone sane enough to find it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of anything positive to write—in other words, no lies—so he began with the truth, knowing time was running out on his Red Letter day. An hour or two and the tatters of the world would be fed to the wolves.

“And what awful wolves we have summoned.” John shuddered, cursing being privy to knowledge best left in the distant past. Now that the dim time was returning, coming full circle through the sludge of human achievement, part of him welcomed it—it would be a fitting end to humanity’s ignominious reign.

But first, his mind sought the past.

Throughout the twentieth century, and in the early years of the twenty-first, humans craved war…

John broke off, thinking he heard a noise from the study. Cautiously, he rose, holding his breath, but a peek through the door showed that he was alone. Or was he? *** Read on! ***

Baby Bird by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

September 3, 2012 Humor, Science Fiction 13 Comments
Baby Bird by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

Baby Bird
by Suzanne Conboy-Hill

I keep thinking we should have left it to die, you know, rather than do what we did. Seal it back up, let it go wherever it was going, let someone else find it, not us. What wouldn’t I give for it not to have been us. But there we were, limping back from a SNAFU’d mission that had almost bankrupted the government, when up pops ET in a leaky can that needs fixing. From global embarrassments to galactic heroes in one go; we could see the ticker tape and the medals, the books, the films of the books… oh yes, we thought there was a God that day—and that was before we’d even gotten the damn thing out!

Jack and me, we suited up and shimmied over on lines. I remember glancing back to check that Shaz had us covered in case it leapt out and tried to blast us with something. God knows what; the pod was little bigger than a coffin and we hadn’t detected any weaponry but then, what did we know? This thing could have been crammed with homicidal aliens the size of gnats, all tooled up with deadly devices. We chuckled about wrapping the whole thing up in a bin bag and squirting insecticide in there and Shaz mimed thrashing around with a fly swat—Whup! Wallop! Thwack!

But it wasn’t gnats. I got to the pod first, clipped on, braced for Jack’s impact. When he hit, I slid sideways and grabbed at a couple of small protrusions; instinct, you know? Well, it’s a good thing I was tethered, I can tell you, because I let go again pretty damn fast. Right up close to my visor was a viewing plate, and right up close to that was a face. Who knows what it was supposed to look like but it didn’t look good. Its mouth was open and twitching ever so slightly, there were skinny-looking fingers plucking at its throat, and its eyes kept flickering—three eyelids; top, bottom, and one inside the corners, like a cat. I couldn’t see teeth. It looked like it maybe ought to be kinda pink, but it was actually more kinda grey.

I yelled at Jack ‘Get over here!’

‘Oh Sweet Jeez!’ he said. *** Read on! ***

Flat Pack by Patrick Whittaker

Flat Pack by Patrick Whittaker

Flat Pack
by Patrick Whittaker

On the morning of April 30th, Mr. Dwight T. Cooper of 19 Acacia Avenue unexpectedly received a large package. Why he signed for it without asking what it was or where it had come from is anyone’s guess. The most likely reason is that he had just gotten out of bed and wasn’t thinking straight.

The package was taller than Mr. Cooper and as wide as it was tall. Clearly it wasn’t going to fit through the front door, so he asked the deliverymen to put it in the garage. They both refused on the grounds that once a consignment had been signed for it was no longer their responsibility. Rather than demean himself by resorting to pleas and threats, Mr. Cooper offered them a bribe, which was accepted with ill grace.

It took two minutes, a lot of grunting and a stream of obscenities for the men to manhandle the box into the garage. As they drove off in their van, they left Mr. Cooper with the words ‘capitalist exploiter of the masses’ ringing in his ears.

Mr. Cooper did not take umbrage. Being manager of the local supermarket, he felt there might be some truth in the charge.

Dressed in slippers, blue pyjamas and a dressing gown that had found its way into his suitcase during a stay at the Manchester Hilton, Mr. Cooper stared in bemusement at the package. There was nothing written on it other than the words ‘FLAT PACK. HANDLE WITH CARE.’

At length, he opened the envelope the deliverymen had given him. Inside were three instruction sheets. One was in Japanese. The second was in German. Discarding these, he scanned the third, which was written in something vaguely resembling English.

To give a flavour of what Mr. Cooper was up against, here’s the fourth paragraph in full: The person of the place develops “A” on the smooth surface to prevent gratuitous vibration (you can use the box to which it has visited). Whole woman the union agrees on the glue as shown in fig. 2. The lowering shifts “D” in the position, flattening how in fig. 2A/2B with the openings which are in the structure of the person afterwards. Stick the union rabbit like in fig. 3A. Agree on the union and on the group of the side.

Mr. Cooper opened the box. Inside was a mish-mash of plywood panels, aluminium whatnots, screws, nuts, bolts, plastic thingamajigs, copper washers, electronic gizmos, some silvery gewgaws that had accidentally fallen in during packing and an alum key.

Despite not having ordered the package, despite not knowing what the end-result would be, despite not having the foggiest idea what he was doing, Mr. Cooper set about assembling the parts. He figured that by skipping breakfast he could have the job done within an hour, which would allow time for a quick shower before dashing off to work.

It took him nearly an hour and a half to get all the items out of the box and sorted into neat piles. Another half hour and he’d connected his first gizmo to a thingamajig using one of the gewgaws that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. By now he was sweating and slightly manic. *** Read on! ***

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