Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
The micropathology suit allowed her to shrink her electron walls by a factor of twenty, effectively accordioning her body down to a millimeter high.
This heart had caverns. Each ventricle was the size of a cathedral. The ceiling of the aorta curved above Dr. Johans like the dome of a blood-coated football stadium. Her twin spotlights shone out of the darkness, picking out platelet details here and there.
She was ankle deep in the spongy mass of the arterial wall. It had taken ten minutes to get here from the wound. She crawled over drifts of non-moving blood cells the size of hula hoops. They were becoming crusted from their exposure to the outside world.
She’d rappelled down from the starfish entry wound, spelunking into a damp and musky canyon. She had seen the ragged edges of rib-bones like broken overpasses after an earthquake poking through. They had pointed towards her as she slid down her rope, surrounding her as she entered through where the sternum used to be.
Their whiteness had made her think for a second that she was being eaten. The ribs looked like huge, ragged teeth rammed into the maw of some unimaginably huge leviathan.
She had checked her safety harness, wiped condensation off of her faceplate, and kept on descending.
It was just scale playing with her.
She had slight agoraphobia. She had expected to be suited to this specialty of pathology. It was odd that becoming as small as this to examine the bodies just made her fearful sometimes on the same level as when she was regular height. It was enough to handle, though, and she kept at it.
All around her, the platelets were crunching like thick snow under her feet. They had the consistency of frost-covered leaf piles. They were hardening now, scabbing over. The sponge she was wading through was slowly turning to mud. Soon it was be too hard to walk through and she’d have to expand a little bit just to get out.
Best not let it get to that point. She thumbed her mic.
“Hey Al. Nothing to report down here. No nano, no bios, no germfacs or rogue xenocells. All clear. Scanners and V.I.S. report normal. Death confirmed as basic trauma.” She said.
“Okay, Dr. Johans,” came the reply. “Get back to the polywire. We’ll pull you up.”
With a last look around the cool heart of the murder victim, Dr. Johan started the trek towards the dangling safety rope that would take her back to the surface. Once back in the lab, she could enlarge to full size and write her report.
Author : George R. Shirer
The cities float, a mile above earth and water, drifting across the surface of the world. Their positions remain constant to each other and so they form a kind of artificial archipelago. They are home to thousands of people, the best and brightest humanity has to offer.
The rest of us live in their shadow. At the last estimate, Earth’s population was almost twenty-three billion. We crossed the tipping point some time around mid-century, straining the environment to the breaking point and then shattering it.
The environment collapsed. Famine led to war, disease, deaths. By then it was too late, the world was too broken to be repaired.
So, the cities were built. Thirteen of them, mounted on enormous antigravity platforms. Self-contained artificial environments. After their construction, the builders went among the world’s choking masses and picked the residents. Their criteria were complex, their recruitment methods sometimes ruthless. They chose the smartest, the ones who had survived the worst the world could throw at them. These people were given the gift of the future. The rest of us were left to rot.
Is it any wonder that we hate the cities? That we scavenge the garbage-continents and shanty towns for weapons that can bring them down? The cities and their privileged residents have done what saints and peacemakers down through the ages have failed to do, they have united humanity under one cause.
Hate, it seems, is a more powerful motivator than peace.
We’ve built our weapons, out nuclear ballistae, in secret. It took years, cost lots of lives, but it has been done. Our marksmen man them, waiting for the signal, for the moment when the cities drift across the horizon. Waiting for the order to fire, to unleash hell and bring the privileged future crashing down to earth.
And afterwards? What will we do once we have crashed the cities? Once our hate is spent?
I don’t know. No one does.
Maybe we’ll just sit down and wait to die. Or maybe we’ll build new cities, cities of our own, grounded in the earth and not drifting among the clouds.
Their cities are drifting above the horizon now. Our people are ready, waiting for the order to fire, to kill their future and claim our own.
The signal comes. We fire. Nuclear arrows stream across the gray sky from a dozen concealed locations, one per city.
They strike true.
The cities blaze and burn but do not fall. We watch as they drift across the sky, thirteen colossal funeral pyres, trailing fire, silent as the grave. They drift overhead, blackened and battered, silent and, I suspect, long abandoned.
I remember that the builders picked the smartest and the toughest. People who would never make themselves targets.
Shaking my head, I marvel at their cleverness. Watching their empty cities drift away, I wonder where they went and what happened to them? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know and that’s probably a good thing.
I admit that begrudgingly, even now, even if it’s only to myself. Because wherever they went, wherever they are, it means that humanity still has a chance.
Author : Bob Newbell
Captain “Jet” Connors of the Planetary Alliance and his sidekick, Cadet Lackey, burst into the secret base of operations of their archenemy, Dr. Sinistral. The evil madman barked German-accented orders at the robots who flanked him. “Destroy them, my mechanical minions! Destroy Jet Connors and Lackey!”
The lumbering automatons' advance toward the trim, muscular heroes in their form-fitting spacesuits was cut short when Jet and Lackey leveled their atomic disintegrator pistols at the machine men and fired. The robots collapsed to the floor, the vacuum tubes visible through the transparent bubbles in their heads went dim. Dr. Sinistral was too stunned by the quick defeat of his guards to put up much of a fight. Jet felled him with a single punch.
“Lackey, contact Commander Gernsback and let him know we've secured Sinistral's base. I'm going to look around.”
After informing the Commander of the Rocket Patrol of the situation, Lackey joined Jet in Sinistral's lab. Along one wall were several recharging alcoves designed for the mad scientist's robots. Lackey thought it curious that there were no robots in any of the alcoves. He was struck by the enormity of the odd chamber at the center of the room. “Jumpin' Jupiter, Captain, what is that?”
“That, Lackey, is a time machine. I found the blueprints for it on that desk. And look at that chalkboard over in the corner of the room.”
Lackey walked over and examined the chalkboard. On it were parallel horizontal lines, the top line marked “Prime Timeline” and the bottom one “Altered Timeline”.
“Captain, what does it all mean?”
“Lackey, Sinistral's plan was to destroy the Planetary Alliance by changing the past.”
“Roarin' Rockets, Captain, how?”
“By sending his robot henchmen back in time to destroy certain inventors and technologies so there'd be no solar system-wide Planetary Alliance. Look at that chalkboard again. Atomic rockets, flying cars, ray guns, space colonization. He was going to erase them all from history. He was even planning to have his robots self-destruct after they'd completed their missions in the past so no one could use their advanced technology to get history back on track.”
Lackey rested his hand on his semi-automatic pistol in its holster. “Good thing we stopped him,” he said. “Just imagine a world with no Moon base and no space stations.”
“Yep,” replied Connors. “If we'd gotten here just a minute or so later, Project Apollo would have been deleted from the history books.”
Connors and Lackey exchanged glances. “How did we get talking about the old space program?” asked Officer Lackey.
Connors looked around the room. Trash and drug paraphernalia were everywhere. The chatter from a mindless daytime talk show played loudly on the TV. The house smelled of pot and urine. Connors shook his head. “I don't know,” he said.
A siren screamed in the distance. Two police cars joined their own cruiser parked out in front of the house.
“Well,” said Connors, “let's get the paperwork knocked out on this.”
Lackey sighed. He looked at the three disheveled suspects sitting handcuffed on the floor. He looked at the squalid, filthy room. Another day, another meth bust, he thought. “Let's grab some lunch when we're done here,” said Lackey.
“Not fast food,” said Connors who looked down at his large belly. “Doc's been after me about my weight. Blood pressure and cholesterol are up, too. Sometimes I wish we just had food pills like in those old sci fi stories.”
Author : Jim O'Loughlin
It’s like flying a kite, Sheila thought. In a way she was right. Just a thin strand of carbon nanotube stretched out of the launch pad, rising into the sky, and continuing out of sight. She accepted that the cord reached through and beyond the atmosphere, where it eventually attached to the space station in low orbit. But that had always seemed an abstract fact, like the knowledge that the earth revolved around the sun or that dinosaurs once ruled the earth.
Yet, now she was going to board the shuttle for a 100,000-kilometer trip up this flimsy looking strand, and there was nothing abstract about that. But it was important that she kept her cool, because her husband was starting to lose it. Palik stood next to her, his face flushed and his hands trembling, and they hadn’t even boarded the space elevator yet.
“Hold it together, bloke,” Sheila said.
“I’m not afraid of heights and I’m not afraid of small places,” Palik said. “But I’m not sure I can do the two together. What would that be, acroclaustrophobia?”
“I think I’m suffering from fear of bullshit. Does that have a name? Here, take this. It’s a special new anti-anxiety pill. Just don’t tell anyone I gave it to you.”
“Where’d you get this?”
“I know people.”
Palik swallowed the pill and looked relieved. It was only a sugar pill, but Sheila wouldn’t tell him that. She appreciated the power of suggestion more than most. It was one of the ways she had risen from rural Aussie schoolgirl to doctor in a semi-illegal clinic to Governor of this island. And it’s how she had been able to talk her way onto the space elevator for one of the first trips open to civilians.
She knew that despite his complaints, this trip meant everything to Palik. Of course, Sheila was excited to go into space, too. Who wouldn’t be? But for Palik, getting up the cord meant something more. She tried to fully appreciate what it had been like for him, growing up on the island where the economy, the culture and the schools all revolved around the cord, even though so few people ever got to go up to the space station. His whole life he had been staring at this sky-bound string, knowing it went somewhere he couldn’t go. It had left a core of bitterness in a man who was otherwise caring and decent.
Palik craned his head up the length of the cord.
“It’s a long way to go,” he said.
“About five days, they told me.”
“No, you and me. It’s a long way to go. I never thought we’d end up here.” Palik placed his arms around Sheila’s waist. “I’m ready to fly, and I can’t imagine what happens next.”
Sheila smiled. He was right. He couldn’t imagine what he was in for. She hadn’t told him the half of it yet.
“Enjoy the view. It’ll be a while before we see this again.”
Author : Townsend Wright
When the mostly human crew of the starship Bastar VII found a derelict ion-powered eco-ship in the middle of deep space, they were surprised. When they found that the ship was heavy with life signs, they were shocked. When the ship contacted them in two distinctly odd accents of an ancient dialect of modern standard, they were stupefied. And when a visual contact was established and the crew saw the side-by-side faces of what appeared to be a very roughly humanoid cat and dog, you could have built a small cottage out of the bricks they all shat.
“Greeeeaaatingsssss, oolde oneesssssss,” said the cat-like-thing in a sing-songy, meowing voice. “Weeee haaveee beeen exssspecting your returrrrrrrrrrn.”
“Res,” added the dog in a concise syllable “We, wer be-ge-nin to won-da iff da stah-res wer tru.”
The captain promptly made a signal for one of the AIs to cut the transmission. As the screen went dark she asked her co-captain “What the Hell was that?!”
“That was a cat and a dog, sir,” he replied.
“I get that much, but why were we just talking to them in old English?!”
“Well, sir, one of the AIs has identified the craft as the first ship to leave the Sol system heading for the Inocci system, or Alpha Centauri as it was known at the time. It left the Sol system in approximately 46 B1C. It was lost shortly after.”
“Early Technological Earth, fits the language. But are we supposed to believe that in just 44,000 revolutions the people on that ship evolved into cats and dogs?”
“No, sir, the people on that ship died. Ten years into the thirty-year journey, one of the crew went mad and murdered every human there. The ship went off course and no one has heard from it until now.”
“Then who were they?!”
“Cats and Dogs, sir.”
“We’ve been over this, sir.”
“No, sir, they are in fact the descendants of the cats and dogs that the people brought onto the ship.”
“That much evolution in just 44,000 years is impossible.”
“Not necessarily, sir. With all humans gone, domestic animals, which relied heavily on humans, would be forced to rapidly adapt. Those with the intelligence and the dexterity to access the food and help humans would have given them would be more likely to survive. The ship was designed with an ecosystem and technology meant to last a long time without maintenance. Eventually the two species developed the anatomy to work the human devices, the intelligence to understand them, and the lingual skills needed to interact with the ship’s primitive AI, which is where they learned English.”
“So…What do we do now?”
“Official policy is to contact any and all intelligent life forms and introduce them into galactic society. This should be fairly simple in this case, given these races’ close similarities to an already established race.”
“Alright, but first, Mr. Fjoyk,” the Captain turned to the scanner technician, a trilaterally symmetrical reptilian. “I don’t know if you can detect this from here, but…They can pick up their own shit by now can they not?”