Plugs

Trent Walters, poetry editor at A&A, has a chapbook, Learning the Ropes, from Morpo Press.

Jonathan Wood’s story “Notes on the Dissection of an Imaginary Beetle” from Electric Velocipede 15/16 is available online.

Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “The Devonshire Arms” is available online at Clarkesworld.

Sara Genge’s story “Godtouched” may be found in Strange Horizons.

The Ghost Key

by Trent Walters

A leaden skeleton key lay locked in his head. Arthur could feel its heft when he shifted in his acceleration couch. He traced the lumps of his skull like a phrenologist divining the contents–lumps received by attempting to retrieve the key the hard way.

The key to unlock his head was locked in his head, so Arthur was baffled how he might retrieve it. Even if he did, it remained to be seen whether it would fit all the locks that needed opening: his Babbage Engine of Analysis, an empty chest of drawers (he’d been living out of his space suit for weeks as though the ship might spring a leak any second–his fishbowl helmet was flecked with toothpaste), and a medicine cabinet stocked with the essential toiletries.

The color of the key he could not see, it being on the inside, his eyes on the out. But he felt it. The once machined-smoothed edges had corroded down to brittle sharps that broke apart and cut if he stood too quickly from his acceleration couch to stare out the bay projection window into the starry night–the stars aswirl in golden flames. The impression of the grooves–that the key slipped into–still hung in the convoluted knots of his gray matter, like that image of a child that remains after he’s fallen backwards into a snowbank, flailing his arms.

Arthur had fallen back into the acceleration couch, just smelling the rusty tang of impossibility. The key’s teeth must have bitten into his olfactory. A drop of blood leaked from his nose. He held the bridge of his nose between thumb and index finger, recovering. A bridge. That’s what he needed–the kind Einstein and Rosen might construct.

But he needed the right equations to plug into. The equations lay in his engine of analysis. The key opened his engine. His fingers drummed the couch’s leather armrest. He tapped something hard.

A keypad! If he could visualize the equations and escape coordinates, freedom might once again be his. His fingers tapped the keys, then again–harder. He pounded them with his fist.

They didn’t respond. They were frozen.

The ship was losing heat rapidly, becoming a cryogenic freezer. Or a coffin. Depending on whether rescuers spotted his ship in the vast expanse of space. He’d wait quietly. Not hope. Hope disappointed. Instead, he’d drift: down passageways, haunting them as if still alive.

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