It sounds harder than it actually was. Hannah helped me make it. Her dark, sad eyes so serious and focused behind the wire-rimmed glasses she always wore, her slender fingers tracing the passages from the Bible. A long time ago, God gave instructions on how to build a tabernacle for him to inhabit. That story made us wonder: if the infinite can be confined to a building or a tent or a room, then why not a box?
Coffee and Cornbread
By Alicia Cole
It’s a universal law: the customer wants the one item they can’t afford.
I’ve been working at this diner for three years now. On
the edge of Saturn’s farthest ring, I watch the rock shards tumble
past our containment shields. The sun is so far away.
“Serve me up some hash and grits, Sally.”
Cletus hangs on the counter’s edge, his work sleeves
rolled up. If we needed fresh ham, those forearms would do.
Shipments from the terrestrial planets come in real slow.
Before we open, the lights are off. Spaceships navigate
around the safety beacons, drivers on long haul hustling in, waiting
for their morning coffee.
Saul’s in back, heating up the grille.
I polish the front case. The apple pie is fresh, the
peach – eat at your own risk. Somebody’s going to want a slice; if I
put cream on it, you won’t be able to tell anyway.
It’s a two-person show, this diner. No money for a third.
Sometimes, before we kick the sign on and open for the day, we take
bets. Who’s going to ask for a job today? If it’s a kid, I may give
them a free cup of coffee.
We never take bets on the egg.
Bottom line, Saul’s order: the egg is only for sale at the
I’ve lent the egg before. Saul was pissed at me. Cletus
borrowed it for a freighter captain he was courting. They took a spin
around Jupiter together, got into a tangle with some speed enforcers
before she took off for the edge of the solar system. The next day,
Cletus returned the egg.
I made it up to Saul with coffee and cornbread.
“You ever wanted to go to the surface?”
I’m polishing the egg when Cletus asks me, its apex gleaming.
“Not much for a pressure suit.”
That, and I’m not keen on floating through layers of
gaseous atmosphere. Saul claims it’s beautiful; the thought of
tumbling through those clouds makes me shudder.
“I’ve been down to the core of Venus. Shine a flare on
it, pure metal like Saul’s frying pan.”
“Pressure suits, Cletus,” I remind him, shaking my head.
They make me queasy.
I punch the combination into the computer. The lights of
Phoebe’s Diner flare, both inside and out. The waiting ships connect
their jet bridges to the port doors on the sealed loading ramp. Saul
punches the latch on the door. Business is open.
It’s hash and toast the first few hours each day, then
they’re asking for grilled cheese and more coffee.
One captain eyes the egg speculatively.
“What’s it for?”
“What do you mean what’s it for?”
After polishing the counter, I serve up some peach pie for a young
know-nothing just in from Jupiter.
The captain’s face sours at the wrinkled fruit as I ladle
cream on top.
“Can you eat it?”
Saul pokes his head into the kitchen window and bellows,
“Of course you can eat it!”
The egg is very large, for an egg.
“I wouldn’t eat it, if I were you,” Cletus comments. “The
women seem to like that egg.”
As junior bites into his days-old peach pie, the captain
gives a better-him-than-me shrug. Cletus earns a scowl.
“That’s the price?!”
He jabs a finger at the sign board underneath the egg. As
usual, it’s resting in the display case on a yellow egg cup.
“If you want the egg, you have to pay for the egg.” I
finish polishing the counter.
“Too rich for my blood.”
I refresh the man’s coffee. The egg seems vaguely disappointed.
The captain’s back a week later, still eyeing the egg.
“Can I put a down payment on that thing?”
The words are halfway out of his mouth and Saul’s already
The captain leaves without drinking his coffee.
Saul’s arms are crossed on the counter. Closed for the
day, he’s pouring some whiskey into a coffee mug. He fills mine up
“Where’d that egg come from again?”
“Shawnee,” he begins, the name sounding in his throat like
a chime of choir bells. My own throat tightens on my whiskey.
“She was storm-surfing on the planet. Said it came out of
nowhere, a great cut of cloud like a bird’s wing.”
Saul’s looking all wistful, which has never happened
before; I’m beginning to really hate Shawnee.
“And then. Surprise! A big old egg,” I finish, curtly.
Saul’s eyes narrow at me. “Yeah, pretty much. Tumbled
out of the cloud and she caught it.”
“Do you think we’re asking too much for it?”
“It’s the only fucking egg its kind this side of
Mars-base, maybe even the whole solar system. Somebody wants
something that rare, they’ll pay for it.”
I’m still sore at Shawnee the next day we open. Saul’s
always been sweet on me. Part of the deal, working a diner together
this far out.
Dried up from too much whiskey, I’m a spitfire when the
customers pour in. No joking, no flirting, just serve up that food
and get them on their way. A few of them tip more, seem to enjoy me
That captain hustles in a third time. Cletus is sleeping
at the counter, sick of trying to cheer me up.
“I’ve come to buy that egg,” he tells me.
Saul’s got the grille up high, sizzling. He doesn’t hear.
“But you’re asking too much. Three hundred rothgars?
I’ll give you one-hundred-and-fifty.”
He’s not much to look at this captain, but he’s grinning
that particular way as he slams down a stack of rothgars.
I make a quick count. All there.
“Hold on a second.”
I smooth my hair behind my ears and duck my head back into
the kitchen. “Saul?”
He doesn’t bellow, knows I’m moody.
“What you need, Sally?”
“That captain’s back for the egg. Put down
one-hundred-and-fifty rothgars just now.”
Saul raises an eyebrow, wipes the sweat from his brow with
a gloved hand.
I’m half expecting him to scream about the price, but this
morning he shrugs, gets a glint in his eye. “Told Shawnee I’d buy her
something nice if that thing ever sold, but she ain’t coming back.
You want some new stockings?”
My eyes widen, but he’s grinning like he’s serious and I’m
not so sore on Shawnee now. She can’t have my new stockings, even if
she comes back around these parts.
“It’s a deal,” I tell the captain, hustling to refill his
coffee. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I was thinking of seeing if it’ll hatch.”
He pauses, dead-pan, then starts laughing. “Naw, honey, I
haven’t had a fried egg since I left Earth five years ago. Get that
chef to cook this baby up for me.”
The yolk is purple and pools around the captain’s plate
while he sops it up with a bit of toast.
“It tastes like … well, I don’t quite know. Like
blueberry jam, molasses and egg white.” His forehead is furrowed.
“Not like any proper egg at all.”
The rothgars are already safely in the till; I’m backing
away just in case.
Then, the captain breaks into a beatific smile. “Best
fried egg I ever tasted.”
In a few weeks, I’ve two new pairs of stockings and Saul’s
bought a better bottle of whiskey. Business is booming.
That captain’s still feeling lucky. His trade route’s
going well. Some tufts of feather are sprouting at his ears.
Looks sort-of distinguished.
Still, I tell you, if I was a freight captain out on long
haul, I’d order up some coffee and cornbread and leave the alien eggs
By D.K. Thompson
I didn’t kill God; we should clear that up right away. I just captured
him and put him in a little box.
It sounds harder than it actually was. Hannah helped me make it. Her
dark, sad eyes so serious and focused behind the wire-rimmed glasses
she always wore, her slender fingers tracing the passages from the
Bible. A long time ago, God gave instructions on how to build a
tabernacle for him to inhabit. That story made us wonder: if the
infinite can be confined to a building or a tent or a room, then why
not a box?
Together, we scaled it down so the temple-box could fit in my palm. It
looked like one of those buildings in a snow-globe you’d buy at an
airport, just without the shell.
God went easy, without any kind of struggle. That’s the strangest
part, really. A lot of people ask: Why didn’t God fight? Why did he
let us do it to him? To be honest, I’m really not sure. All I know is
that we put him in the box and he never tried to stop us.
How? We just asked him. We had a little help: prayer amplifiers that
played recordings of other people begging for God to come, the signal
directed at the box. Hannah and I prayed, too. It was the first time
I’d prayed since our son Adam died. I even closed my eyes. When I let
go of Hannah’s hand and looked at the box, it glowed, pulsing light,
like we’d captured a sun.
I almost touched the box but Hannah stopped me, reminded me how God
killed a man just for touching the Ark of the Covenant to keep it from
falling into the mud. So after that, we carried the box around in a
glass-case, completing the snow-globe effect.
One time, before he got sick, my son told me he was going to draw a
picture of God. Can you believe I discouraged him? There was something
else he was supposed to be working on so I suggested he come back to
the picture later. That’s one of my biggest regrets in life, never
seeing that picture, never getting a chance to know what my
five-year-old thought God looked like.
Another is never actually seeing God myself when we captured him. I
don’t even know if he was a he or a she. I would’ve liked to have
ended that debate, to have seen with my own eyes. But blessed are
those who have not seen and believe.
The day after we captured him I called a press conference. No one
believed us, of course, not at first. Some doubted and tried to
discredit us but after a few years nobody paid them any mind. The rest
of the world caught on pretty soon. People didn’t stop believing
exactly. But more people, churches, and religions expressed a feeling
of disconnect, a void in their belief system they hadn’t experienced
before. Not just Christians, either. The Buddhists gave up on Nirvana.
Muslims stopped making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Pretty soon, no one
went to church, temple, or wherever they practiced anymore.
Some people kept praying even after they found out we’d stolen their prayers.
The next step was obvious – it was the reason we’d gone through with
all this in the first place. We asked God to bring our son back. He’d
done this before – why couldn’t he do it for us? But God refused.
Actually, he didn’t even respond. I wanted to throw that stupid box
against the wall.
We’d expected this. We were made in God’s image and we’d overthrown
him, become like gods ourselves. So it was time to make things the way
we wanted, in _our_ image.
Hannah asked other questions. He never answered but he did react. We
studied and recorded the situations and tried to figure out how he
worked. We ran tests and experiments, always careful to never touch
the box itself. We observed how prayers interfaced with God, we
measured how they affected him. Sometimes the glow faded. I liked to
think he was sleeping then, that we’d tired God out. Other times the
box shook and the light inside flashed, but nothing ever changed. We
learned a lot. We grew in knowledge and stature and wisdom and
understanding and nearly became omnipotent.
After a few months, we transferred half the prayers directed to God
and harnessed them ourselves. Since we couldn’t make him do what we
wanted to, we tried to duplicate the infinite inside the box and put
it into ourselves.
We almost got it right.
We withdrew Adam’s body from the cryo-storage facility, thawed him
out, and plugged him into a monitoring and life-support system, one
that would jump-start his body and keep it running. All we needed was
to get his brain functioning.
We took all the power directed at God, rerouted it through our prayer
harnesses and sent it to our son’s brain and nervous system. Sometimes
Adam’s little body would twitch on the table. Once, the shock of it
even opened up his eyes. But no matter what we did, we couldn’t bring
It devastated us. Hannah sobbed and sobbed, staring at him and
screaming at the box. She and I fought over everything from scientific
methods to what dinner we should microwave.
Hannah had the breakthrough: realized the emotions were getting in our
way. So we built wireless spinal-tap interfaces and tapped into our
brains, rearranged our neurons and chemical balance. The first thing
we did away with was pain, replacing it with happiness. That made
things with Adam easier. Next we changed our immune systems, made them
stronger, almost destroyed death, extending our lives just shy of
Then we gave it away to everyone in the world.
For a while it was bliss. Wars stopped because no one wanted to fight
anymore. Sicknesses were cured. The crime rate dropped and the economy
boomed. It was a new era of peace and prosperity. And every night,
people went to bed happy, knowing the world would be there when they
We didn’t pay the rest of the world much attention, though. We just
kept trying to bring Adam back. And kept failing. It would’ve been
frustrating if we hadn’t been so happy. But we stayed happy; we knew
we’d figure it out eventually. Sometimes I thought I saw Hannah’s
smile falter when she looked at Adam but when I asked her about it,
she just smiled and shook her head and we’d bury ourselves in our
Then one morning I got out of bed and realized Hannah wasn’t there. I
walked into the lab where we kept the God-shaped box and saw that the
glass case had been removed. On the ground lay Hannah. Her skin was
cold and she didn’t breathe but she had a smile on her face. Clutched
to her chest was a picture of our son; her other arm outstretched
toward the box.
All I felt looking at her face was happiness.
I tried and tried to feel something different but I couldn’t stop
smiling. I didn’t like it at all.
I stared at the box and didn’t do anything for what felt like a long
time. I opened it, hoping to let God out. I don’t know if it was to
free him or scream at him or commit suicide. It doesn’t really matter
because he wasn’t there.
There was nothing inside. The box was empty, God had disappeared. And
all I felt was happiness.
Then I realized the box wasn’t glowing. Maybe it had stopped when
Hannah had touched it.
I disconnected myself from the prayer harness but left Hannah online.
Maybe the prayers would do her some good wherever she was. I briefly
wondered what happened to heaven and hell while we kept God occupied.
Then I accessed my chemical balance and tried to do away with the
happiness. That lasted for only a few seconds. The sadness and
melancholy that hit me was so overwhelming, I cried for days, even
after I restored my happiness levels. In the end, I could only tone
the down a little.
Ever since then, I’ve been looking for God, traveling all over the
world trying to find him. Sometimes while I’m searching, the happiness
fades a little bit and a longing replaces it. I like that sense of
longing better, I think.
I don’t know why God stayed in the box for as long as he did but I’m
not so arrogant to believe we fooled him. I think he went into the box
because he wanted to, not because we made him do it. I don’t pretend
to understand why.
I still haven’t found God but I hope I find him again one day. I’ll
keep looking until I do.
Trimming the Fat
By Katherine West
In the interests of economy, Dr. Palmer scheduled Callie’s liposuction
as the first procedure of the day, judging her extraneous bulk more
than adequate material for the bust enhancements and lip augmentations
to follow, which would all have taken place on time, were it not for
the appearance of strawberries in the suction tube.
Maureen, the tech, thought the burst of red pulp meant the doctor had
hit some fleshy tissue by mistake and signaled him to twitch the probe
to another roll of flab, but the continued presence of seeds in the
filter convinced her they should reevaluate the situation.
When the doctor scoped the incision, the images on the screen were
indisputable; Callie’s paunch consisted of raspberries, strawberries,
and the occasional ripe mango. They left a drain in place, the largest
piece of tubing they had, and it steadily dribbled fruit into the
basin as they wheeled Callie to recovery.
Dr. Palmer visited the waiting room to talk things over with Callie’s
husband, Charles. “Have you noticed anything odd about your wife
lately?” he asked, then, seeing the confusion on Charles’ face, “Does
she often produce food?”
“Breakfast, usually. Not real good at it. Seventeen years, still burns
the toast. We do takeout for dinner.” He got another cup of mediocre
coffee from the waiting room machine, wincing as his ulcer tensed in
Callie awoke to see Charles and the doctor sitting beside her, one on
either side of the bed. Maureen stood at the foot, monitoring the
output. They’d draped the incision and drain, but there was no
disguising the steady “ping” of berries, and now the random walnut,
hitting the basin on the floor.
It looked like the more expensive kind of holiday basket. Maureen had
already emptied it once, absent-mindedly popping a bite into her
mouth. It tasted juicy and sweet, unusually blood-red though, even for
a strawberry, though—when she thought about it—the whole setup was
Charles hung his head in concentration, elbows on his knees. “She
nursed the kids for a bit. She’d have been making milk then, yes?”
“I suppose,” said the doctor. “Although…”
“And don’t women have eggs?” said Charles, excited, thinking he’d
finally gotten a grip on the subject. “Does that count?”
“But you don’t eat them,” snapped Maureen, as though he’d offered her
an ovary with a bit of chopped onion.
“Does it matter?” asked Charles. “I mean, isn’t something a food if
something could eat it? Even if nothing does, I mean?”
Everybody looked at Charles. Something plonked loudly into the basin.
“It’s an egg,” said the doctor, glancing over. “Hardboiled.”
“Do you think it could have anything to do with that genitally
modified food?” asked Callie, the anesthetic producing a sultry slur.
“I keep telling Charles we should be eating more organic. If they been
doing that splicing thing with—what—tuna and tomatoes—god only knows
how we been changed. Probably got my system all screwed up.”
“Genetically modified…,” started the doctor, interrupted by Callie
coughing up a perfect rainbow trout—on the small side, admittedly–but
making a fine show as it flopped in the tissue.
“Open your mouth,” said Dr. Palmer. Her palate was a lettuce leaf and
her tongue a slab of lox. “How did I miss that?”
“Not been helping with prep,” said Maureen. “I been telling you.”
The doctor contemplated her. “She is a tree of life unto them,” he mused.
No one seemed sure of whom Palmer was speaking—of Callie, or
ripe-breasted Maureen with the peaches in her cheeks.
“I don’t know about all that,” said Charles. “I’m just here because
Callie said she shouldn’t drive herself home.”
“I’m not sure we’re going to get Callie home,” said the doctor,
admiring the stream of peas and pearl onions trickling through the
They found a place for Callie in the clinic’s solarium, growing fatter
by the day, a human cornucopia overflowing with luscious staff
lunches, snacks, and cocoa on nippy mornings. To repay her for her
services, since reducing her girth appears impractical, the doctor has
performed a dozen or so operations on her face—her nose, her jaw, her
She looks like a young Audrey Hepburn from the shoulders up, enormous
Callie in her caftan and hammock, drowsing in the sunlight, but the
doctor keeps thinking of clever ways to make her features even more
delicate, shaving a micrometer from her brow, her winsome little chin.
(He has discovered her bones taste like truffles.)