Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

We are on a planet whose proper name is unpronounceable by us according to the aliens who left us here. We call the planet Here, Prison, Earth2, Re-earth, Zooplanet and many others names. We haven’t been here long enough for one single name to stick.

It looks kind of like what I remember Africa looking like when I saw it on television back on Earth. Lots of arid land with occasional fields of tall grass and little tiny lakes scattered around, lots of sun.

We’ve got three suns and sixteen moons. The suns are weaker so we don’t cook. They add up to a constant summer. The moons make for a much brighter night. Both days and nights are twice as long here but we’ve adjusted.

We sleep half the day and then half the night. The protective atmosphere here is not flawed. We tan here with no burning and no skin cancer.

Over a year ago, the aliens came down to Earth and left a puzzle for us floating in the middle of the Pacific; a giant geodesic dome bobbing in international waters. They made a lot of noise leaving it there. Our weapons had no effect. We watched the ship leave and turned our attention to the artifact.

One by one, the countries sailed out, surrounded it and stared. For once, the UN came in handy and volunteered to be first to go into it.

Inside the dome were a series of simple puzzles that became progressively harder. The puzzles were relayed back. The world got busy.

The first six were completed in days. Prime number sequences, geometric and logic proofs, a couple of theoretical physics equations. Then they got hard.

We made it up to question twenty. Hawking died trying to figure it out.

After no more puzzles had been solved for sixteen months and a few of them had been answered incorrectly, the aliens came back.

Twenty-three million of us were collected at random. We simply woke up in the cargo hold of the arkship floating around our former home, a mathematically fair cross-section of ages, races, nationalities and gender. Family ties were not taken into consideration.

As the Earth grew smaller, we saw it flash a number of colours.

We were told later that the Earth had been sterilized and cleaned for its new tenants. That meant that every human not on board the ship was dead.

I missed my parents. We all still had nightmares. Some of the women have given birth, though, and a new generation has been born here.

There was initial fury, insanity and sadness after we left the arkship. Factions developed, readying themselves to attack the aliens if they returned and trying to rally others. The aliens have not come back and those factions are being listened to less and less.

There are still some that see us as victims rounded up and put on some sort of a reservation. Their numbers are dwindling. The grief-stricken are starting to rejoin conversations and laugh sometimes.

The silent surroundings and lack of predators are calming. You can’t die from exposure to the elements here. It’s always good weather. The plants and food and game animals are plentiful and none of it seems to be poisonous.

There’s no money here. The unemployment rate is 100%. The air is clean and so far, the weather’s been a flat and uneventful paradise compared to the growing superstorms on Earth.

The fact is that most of us have taken to thinking that technically, we’ve been rescued.

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Divinity Rescinded

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I create gods.

So far I’ve created sixty­eight.

If one puts an all­powerful deity in the middle of a primitive society, one can get a lot accomplished. It’s essentially a victimless crime except for the centuries of religious squabbles that can follow on some planets. And the slavery. And the persecution of the losing sects. But I digress.

Honder is the latest. Nine feet tall, golden skinned, shining eyes and a long beard. His mouthbeaks are glossy and his lowlimbs are tremorless. Appearance wise, he is the ideal for his race. Not only does he have a body in peak condition, he has the wisdom of a universal library tapped into his cranium. Every situation has happened, they say. With the library in his mind acting as a teleprompter, all answers are his to give. He is philosopher, cajoler, and truth teller. A puppet master doing the impossible as proof of a divine entity.

Quantum space storage folders and nanocomp mattermakers tucked up each of his four sleeves make miracles possible with a thought. Loaves, fishes, cures, plagues, and even local weather patterns are all his to give and change in order to manipulate his followers.

All of it, his appearance and his implants, is on loan from me. And the loan comes with strings.

I tell Honder from the comlink that it’s time to set the populace to work mining the minerals.

In this scenario, I’ve decided to have him tell the populace that he’s my little brother. I’ve had local Upgrades play as my son or daughter before as well. Whatever works. He knows the truth. That is, that I’m an alien and that this ‘magic’ is just all tech beyond his primitive understanding. That this is a partnership and we’re duping his people. He’s still filled with awe and drunk on the power, though. They always are.

The populace gets to work mining. I should have my quota before too long.

But as usually happens, the local Upgrade starts believing in his own myths and wants to rebel. Honder says “You have gone too far. The conditions in the mines are not good. You are damaging my people.”

I look at my databanks. My mineral quota will be filled in one year.

“Just one more year, Honder. Remember, if you co­operate, you get to keep the gear and do whatever you want with it.” I say

“No.” says Honder. “I will fight you.”

“How?” I ask with a chuckle. This is textbook scenario 3. I press the ‘rescind’ button, reducing Honder’s gear to fancy bracelets and ending his connection to the library. He’ll have to tell the people the first thing that comes into his mind now. And he’s not smart.

Honder reels in fear. “Give me the god power back.” He says meekly.

“Only if you comply.” I say, steel in my voice.

“Honder will comply. Honder happy to comply. Honder want power back.” already his IQ is spiraling down the ladder to the local norm.

I reinstate his power. I should have my mineral banks full on schedule.

Poor Honder. It’s the created messiah I feel the worst for, not the slaves.

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Ark of Mirrors

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

One ingredient can change so much.

In this case, it caused a genocide that’s lasting my entire life.

It’s my birthday today. Me and my siblings. Well, I call them my siblings but they’re just hundreds of variations on a theme. Millibicentadodecaheptuplets, technically. One thousand, two hundred and 19 of us. All hatched on February 20th, 2352.

The fact that we still use dates out here based on the orbit of a planet a few thousand light years away makes me laugh. That we use month and day names based on rulers, gods, and religions of that planet makes me laugh even harder. The further away we get, the more arbitrary the names seem.

I wonder if we all would have died on the same day. I mean, those of us that haven’t killed themselves already.

We were supposed to be the first generation of a ship that would reach a fertile planet and populate it with little baby humans. It was to happen on our 25th birthday. Such will not be the case.

An intense wave of EM radiation knocked out the genetic blueprint downloads. The computer was left with one useable sample instead of the thousands that had been saved. Such an event wasn’t foreseen by the creators. A loss of up to 80% of the information was planned for but just one surviving blueprint was not predicted as a possibility.

At the appointed time, the ship did what it was supposed to do with limited information; it made a lot of people. Or, to precise, it made a lot of one person

Today we are all 22. We were awakened by the nurse AI at a physical age of 13 so technically we’re 35 but we don’t count those years we slept in the dream schools learning our specialities.

Genetically, we should have been diverse enough to make gloriously different children in wild combinations, creating a stable population base resistant to disease and illness. But being so similar, we cannot impregnate each other. No babies take hold. There is no purchase in our womb walls. Our sperm don’t recognize their targets.

That didn’t stop us from trying at first. They didn’t need us until puberty, you see. That was the plan. Keep us asleep in our incubeds and educate us through thoughtfeeds until we could start the party. Then wake us up and get half of us good and knocked up so that we’d land on the planet with a bunch of twelve-year-olds a few years away from starting another party of their own on the ground.

It’s all automated. The ship is going to arrive at the planetoid dubbed Sisyphus II in three years to the day. The plan was to head out, build buildings, and take stock of what wildlife is edible.

We won’t build schools or nurseries.

We stopped celebrating our birthdays here on the ship. We don’t keep a lot of eye contact and we don’t talk much. It’s like looking into a mirror but your reflection is a different gender or has a different haircut than you.

The one surviving genetic blueprint we’re all modeled on was a donation specimen from Earth labeled Jacob (Jake) Peterson. If we’re like him, it’s apparent that he was a sad person who would rather end his own life rather than face extreme hardship. Not that big a deal if he was only one person amongst a thousand. But a thousand people prone to sadness?

The ship is dark. This ship is silent. We only cry in our quarters but we cry a lot. I honestly can’t tell you if anyone will be left alive when the ship touches down.

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Plant Life

Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

Frouda Jeffries touched down on the soil of Binauer 4, smart boots neutralizing any toxins and spreading defoliant footsteps as she walked up to the leader of the plants.

‘His’ name was a gust of pheromones. They just called him Windy. Giant, bulbous appendages hung over ivy tentacles as he shuddered a rustling, fearful welcome to Frouda. The bleached footprints leading back to the blast crater underneath their landing craft spelled out how diplomatic they were prepared to be. They took it safe and kind with challengers to their authority but when a race was found to be an easy conquest, the masks came off.

They were here to make the kind of deal that involved little negotiation and a lot of ‘yes’ from the plant life whether they liked it or not.

“Human”, his grassreed, recently-grown vocal cords hummed. It was like talking to a harp.

“Hey there Windy.” Frouda responded. “Good to see you again. Did you consider our offer?”

“Yess” said Windy. His thousands of leaves rustled and a slight breeze rolled over him.

The thing about the plants is that their brains grew on the outside. The smarter the plant, the bigger and more numerous the brains. They grew more mindpods as they needed them to solve problems.

The thing about these mindpods is that they were delicious. Delicious meant money. They humans were here to harvest.

“You want to take our minds to eat them. And you want to keep coming back. You want to lobotomize our planet every season. And our reward for this is that you will not annihilate us. In the hopes that the fad will pass and we will no longer provide you with profit. After that point, we will be left alone to continue our evolutionary path.” Windy’s musical words drifted across to Frouda.

“Yeah. Hey, you just managed to distill a three-hundred page contract into a few sentences. I’m impressed.” Frouda said.

“We reject your offer.” Said Windy, “But we may be able to help each other.”

Frouda looked up from her wrist com at the cluster of fronds in front of her.

“As you saw, we were able to grow eyes to read your contracts. Our family grew different minds to understand your language. We grew these vocal cords to speak with you.” He said.

“Uh, yeah. So?” Frouda retorted. This was not following the script.

“We can grow humans now.” Windy said.

Frouda took a step back and bumped into something. With a startled yip, she whirled around. And saw herself staring back with a small grin.

“The fidelity to your original is accurate. It will be enough to fool your ship mates. It will tell them that the deal is off. This is the most peaceful solution.” Windy rustled.

Frouda stared slack-jawed at the vegetable copy of her. They’d even copied the suit. It was fascinating and completely believable. “Gotta give you credit, Windy,” Frouda whispered through terrified lips. “You really nailed it.”

As she brought her wrist com up to her mouth to signal the ship for help, the spores in her breathing apparatus activated, swelling up to tennis balls and blocking her intake valves. Aerosol seed flocks immolated themselves in her electronics, coating the ciruits with nectar. A mess of thorns ravaged through the fabric of her suit as shoots poured in through the holes. They grew into branches and then flowered inside of Frouda. She didn’t know plants could move so fast. Her last thought was that she smelled strawberries, not knowing if it was a gift from Windy or if the killer plants just smelled like that.

Frouda’s body disintegrated into fertilizer.

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Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer

I’m 43. A year on Carroway is fifty-six earth years long. Its long, lazy, almost-circular orbit kept it temperate for that whole time but the ecosystem had evolved to create 126 distinct ‘seasons’. I’d read of Earth’s four seasons of summer, winter, spring and fall repeating every twelve months. Sounded monotonous.

I’ve lived my whole life here on Carroway and I haven’t seen a single season twice. They’ve all been recorded so it’s possible to read up and prepare for them as they happen but I’ve been faced with challenge after challenge.

There’s crystal season when the mineral deposits go through a growth spurt and push up out of the earth like translucent horns. There’s a season of trees that grow up into the lower atmosphere. They stand with smooth bark, silent and ominous until they start humming. Their vibrating roots fissure open the ground and release the grass fog season. Then the trees themselves flower, blotting out the sun. Then there is a pollenfall season as the skyscraper trees die and the sun returns, shining down through their now-nude branch clusters.

The trees become soft and unstable, sinking back down to the ground like wilted celery. It’s a dangerous time. Luckily the trees bow slowly.

There aren’t many animals here except for the season when the kangabears come out of hibernation for six months and gorge themselves on the fallen skyscraper trees before going back to sleep for another fifty-six years.

There’s a season where the planet hums. The theory is that a deep-earth tectonic shift happens, making the core rub the mantle harder than usual. Like a planet headache. You get used to it until the earthquake stops it. After that, the planet feels too silent for a while.

The magnetosphere and dust particles cause shifts in the sky colour depending on what season just happened. I’ve seen eighteen different hues up there. There’s ashfall here after the post-humming eruptions. Then pigments in the ash-eating bacteria turn it all into a blue slime that dissipates until the pink grass shows up to eat the slime, turning itself blue in the process.

There’s a red snow season. There’s a season of thorned tumbleweeds. There’s a season of long, thin raindrops that hang down from the clouds like hair. Soon the season of ivy migration begins. And then the flowerworks seed pod explosion festival.

There’s a plant based war happening here that’s been going on for millions of year. It’s found a cycle. Each victor dying and feeding the next. Each challenger inadvertently existing as part of a larger circle.

Some people can’t handle the variety here but I love it.

Thirteen more years and I’ll have seen all the seasons Carroway has to offer. Not too many people in the universe can claim that, especially a human like myself with a relatively short life span. I wear that badge with honour.

Every Carroway meal I’ve had has only been for a few months, never to be seen again. I think back to the pink pricklepears I had when I was six. The thick leafsteaks I had when I was ten. The delicious brandyberries that showed up on my twenty-second birthday. So many tastes.

I’ve recorded them all here in my books. I’m the first human to keep a firsthand record of all the seasons here on Carroway.

Some cycles don’t seem like cycles because they last such a long time.

I’m looking forward to the end of the ‘year’.

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