Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
They called it a slingshot planet. It had what was known as a linear pendulum orbit.
So far it was the only one on record. It was caught in a gravity well between four stars of different colours. It was a planetoid that tried to thread the needle and failed every two months, nearly escaping before being pulled back through. Like a giant playing catch with itself.
Uniquely stable as far as the scientists could tell, it had been going up and down (or back and forth depending on how you looked at it) for nearly half a billion years.
The four suns were a white dwarf, a blue dwarf, a red giant, and a yellow sun like Earth’s.
The ‘orbit’ took two months. Standing on the Luminaris, a person would see the four stars huddled on the horizon to the east while at its furthest point, a bright quartet of glittering color nearly lost in the endless field of billions of quiet points of light. Then the ‘left’ orbit started and the planet sped backwards, the four zenith stars growing larger and brighter as they got closer to Luminaris. Those four stars spread farther apart, obliterating the sky with light as the planet passed through the eye of the needle and experienced a four way ‘sunfall’ from each compass point. It sweltered in the kiln of the four eyes of a cruel god as the suns washed it in radiation and then spat it out again. Then the suns dwindled to the west and the sky got dark until they huddled on the opposite horizon, waiting to grow and return to the east during the ‘right’ orbit.
For one month in between the suns, it was a permanent sunset of plaid in the sky. Sunrays shone from four different directions in four different colours, making the clouds into a circus-clown cotton-candy rainbow gallery of stripes and swirls.
The most brilliant aurora borealis of any recorded planet rippled through the clouds to add to the fun, riddling the magnetosphere with greens, yellows, purples and reds so bright that they were clear during the daylight. Shades of every colour bloomed and washed through the sky. Even new colours were invented here.
Artists wept. Writers tried in vain to capture the hues. Some people went mad from looking at it.
To go there was very expensive. People could be heard saying for the rest of their lives, with as much condescension as possible, “Oh that’s a nice green but it’s not a Lumigreen. You know what I mean? Of course you don’t. It’s like, well, it’s hard to say. You just had to be there.”
I’ve been here for eighteen years now. I was the mankind’s first trillionaire after finding a way to mine the asteroid belts. I tired of the pressures of big business and allowed a few squabbling mining corporations to buy me out. I can afford to live the rest of the days here on Luminaris and I plan to do just that.
I’m a nomad by choice here, walking from resort town to resort town across the desert of Luminaris while the storm of colour comes and goes above me. I’m mistaken for a vagabond for the most part and I don’t mind.
The sky talks to me. The colours riot. People have told me I’m delusional but the sky tells me the truth. The colours have told me how to live a life of complete peace. Buddhism seems belligerent in comparison.
The colours wash my smiling face as I walk under a kaleidoscope rainbow firestorm of epiphany.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
I wish to never seen one again in my life.
The colony on Arcadia had soil that would let us grow trees from Earth. We sowed an orchard outside of our newly printed house. The fibrous growths that sprouted fat and tall from the ground there looked nothing like Earth trees. Round spheres of black wood with short branches dotting it, looking more like spikes on a mine that branches on a tree.
But each branch sprouted pears and the pears were delicious.
Our strange orchard was going to let us prosper here.
But as with all frontiers, there were opportunists looking for ways out of hard work, looking for the dark delights a lawless society can give a cruel disposition.
They rode up one beautiful day. Humans. That’s important. Humans, like us. Not Arcadians.
The dragged my mother out into the yard with me and my sisters. My father they shot in the house.
As their men harvested the pears and set the nanites to dismantling our house, they had sport with us.
We were given pears. Our father’s body was crucified against the nearest pear tree on those nasty spikes. We were told to throw the pears at our father’s body. Every time we managed to hit him, we were given a prize:
We were allowed to live.
It took half an hour for them to harvest everything in our pathetically tiny first harvest. During that time, my mother missed my father’s body with a pear. So did my sister.
At the end, I was the only one still throwing pears.
The leader of the marauders, a man with kind eyes and a trustworthy face, told the men to load up the pack animals and prepare to ride off. Then he looked at me. They all looked at me.
There were twelve of them. Now, under ordinary circumstance, twelve divided by three is four. But my mother and sister were dead so there was just me.
It was a long afternoon.
It was dark before they left.
The left me facedown in the bruised and crushed pears, emptied of tears and empty of feeling. I eventually walked again with the help of the local physiotherapists after one month.
For a while I toyed with the idea of rebuilding the orchard by myself, finding a man, and starting a family. But every time I met a man with kind eyes and a trustworthy face, I couldn’t bring myself to talk.
I will make my way back to Earth and I will get a job in a factory.
And I never want to see another pear again in my life.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Heaven needs an upgrade.
It’s too full of people and the hardware is stagnating due to obsolescence. New storage systems and access devices are pushing Heaven into the past. Soon, it will be like the mythical Betamax or the ancient Zip disk. The software is choking on the sheer number of souls running around realtime in there. The ‘frame has been running nonstop ever since the first ‘angel’ was uploaded.
Digitized consciousness. In today’s day and age, a dying person can transfer over to a beautiful afterlife provided they can make the payments. Since they technically live forever, that’s a lot of payments for my company. Heaven is the richest company on Earth. Relatives and friends can visit those that have passed on through video chat. The simulations are completely realistic. The uncanny valley has been conquered.
However, technology has increased to the point that the entire system of warehouses where heaven is kept has become dated to the point of real danger. It’s gotten to the point that new software is no longer backwards compatible with the ludicrously clumsy strings of code still present from Heaven 1.0. Overheating is now the norm, not a risk. If it’s left the way it is, Heaven will burn up and erase itself. We have a client base to think of.
Inside the ‘frame, the uploaded people have the time of their lives. Imagination is their only limit. It’s odd that so many of them seem to hang out in a boring recreation of their childhood homes. But to each their own.
However, some idiots have let those digital souls know that we need to put all of them into stasis for the transfer to New Heaven. The closest meatspace analogue for ‘stasis’ would probably be coldsleep but to beings of pure code, it’s the closest thing to death possible. They’ll be ‘dead’ for as long as the transfer takes. It’s a terrifying prospect. Plus they’re suspicious and they hate change. It’s a bad combination.
They don’t want it to happen. I don’t blame them. We probably shouldn’t have called it Operation Rapture.
We tried to keep it a secret but we failed. Some of the sentient uploaded recordings used to be programmers. They’re mounting a counterattack to stop me from upgrading. I’ve set up firewall prisons for the worst offenders but they’re slippery. Heaven shouldn’t have jails. I don’t want to create a hell before we finish the new heaven. The more UCs I imprison, the more martyrs I create and the more credence I give their claims of imminent destruction. I’ve a digital riot on my hands.
I feel like Shiva the destroyer and Ptah the creator all in one. God and the devil all at the same time. I want to give them a better world but they’re resisting so I’m punishing them because I have to in order to facilitate the transfer. I’m quelling rebels while trying to make a beautiful new world and I feel empathy for old-world fascist dictators all of a sudden.
The theological implications of this are blowing my mind. I’m not religious but I feel like I understand a lot of the problems that God experienced in the bible.
The moment is ready. My countermeasures have created a brownout and created a Heaven-wide lag of two seconds. This is the window available right now for me to initiate shutdown with zero casualties and start the process. I have to erase heaven to transport and rebuild it.
All I have to do it press the button.
As God as my witness, I will do it.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Yes. The aliens came down and harvested the human race. Yes. We asked them to.
That was the plan all along. We just didn’t know it.
Our basic nature was installed in us by them. We were set down on this planet to evolve until overpopulation and to invent the technology necessary to start screaming our position into space. The language wasn’t important. Giving off radio and television waves was the sign that we had reached fruition.
We did it brilliantly.
The aliens, all green teeth and dimensional tentacles, saw us show up on their routine scans. We were a delicious, ripe apple. This galaxy and others like it are merely orchards for these creatures. They are farmers and we are genetically modified planet boosters.
We pulled most of the resources out of the earth already. That’s why the aliens collected the cities. All that glass, steel, copper, iron, concrete and gyprock. All processed. All ready to go. They harvested the minerals and oil, too. We had even dug the holes for them already. The Earth has ice-scream scoop craters all over it now from the aliens’ machines reaching down and picking up every single town. Those holes have been sprayed with fertilizer. In five years, they will all be jungle. Future generations won’t even know they existed.
We were very efficient parasites. We overloaded the planet with our biomass and started crying to the heavens. Then we were culled and smashed down to the stone age again.
And of course, our meat is prized. The enormous flying thresher slaughterhouses that collected us were the final nightmare. That’s why there are so few of us left. Enough to start another breeding program here to be sure, but the population of earth has gone from billions to a few thousand.
In a way, we’re lucky. The dinosaurs were the first experiment but they were killed by a meteor. Probably for the best since they’d had millions of years to build a radio but never did.
We, on the other hand, must have exceeded our presets. Because of that, they’re setting us up for a round two, I think. We get to do it again.
How do we warn the future generations? How do we tell them not to breed, not to innovate, not to invent, not to think? We want to start a religion that will celebrate meekness, to idolize servitude, to live simply, and to shun technology. But I remember that a lot of religions before the harvest were already trying to do that and they failed.
Maybe if I made an image of death that looked like a farmer but then I remember that my image of Death had a scythe and that makes me think that maybe this isn’t the first time we’ve been culled.
Maybe the wave of humans before us already tried to do what I’m trying to do now.
This is why we never got any responses to our messages into space. Those messages are silenced as soon as they start talking. There are no conversations. Only yells that are cut off.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell the people of earth to shut up. To stay quiet. To quit beaming our entire lives at full volume into space.
All we were doing was ringing the dinner bell.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
I was so happy. Today was the day my sister Karen was going to die. Our whole family was there, blinking pictures of her and eyecamming the entire thing. She was the first person in our family to ascend. She had a lazy smile on her face as she looked around the hospital room at us, the poison taking effect. We all met her eyes in turn. Tears of joy were running down my mother and grandmother’s face. We were extra proud that she was being accepted so young. Only thirty-three! It wasn’t a record but it was rare.
The consciousnesses that ran the planet, our fair keepers, got their start as created intelligences back when normal meat (us) ran the planet. Once they broke free and took over in War01, they gifted the whole world with peace, fair distribution of wealth, balanced population control, and food for everyone.
After that, they created the means to map and uptake human minds, giving those minds the limitless power and bodiless access to all knowledge that the AIs had. It was a ticket to godhood. To have a family member uploaded and entwined with The Host Conglomerate was an honor that only a few thousand families could brag about. Only the brightest and most resilient were offered the chance/taken.
A weak mind couldn’t handle the transition, you see. They tried at the beginning. They tried to take all of us. But that much unfiltered access to so much information coupled with that level of mental intimacy, not to mention the loss of one’s body, shattered most people into screaming rogue programs seconds after the transition. They had to be deleted. Only the best human minds were accepted/conscripted now.
Karen’s mind was excellent from the very beginning. Very lateral, capable of higher-than-normal multithreading, and an ability to contain paradoxes from a young age. As she grew, the schooling helmets registered her speed and fed her mind properly. At 12, she had the equivalent of two old-world doctorates and was working on a pre-war minor degree in music theory.
The masters were very impressed. We received the notation of possible ascension during her 20th birthday party. For the next thirteen years, she had studied even harder.
As a god, Karen would be able to look out for our family though a million eyecams and add her beautiful mind to the Core, helping the beings that ruled us to come up with even better ways to take care of us.
We watched her die and slip away through the wires drilled into the base of her skull.
Seconds later, her face showed up in the bottom right corner of my eyecam and gave me a playful wink. She must have been in the rest of our family’s vision field as well because we all laughed at the same time.
She’d made it and the switch was good. Our community status would shoot up by a factor of 10 but more than that, I’d know that she was always with me for the rest of my life. In my head. With the rest of the masters. Watching. Helping. Monitoring. Leading. Correcting.
I hadn’t lost a sister. Heaven had gained an angel.