Author : Andi Dobek
The instrument panel flickered longer than I’d have liked before its glow intensified, and the loud knocking finally quieted as the machine entered standby mode. I focused on the snugness of the harness around my chest, rather than what was about to happen.
I didn’t have the credits to buy one of the top of the line, government-sanctioned time reversers, the ones that came with a “money and time back” guarantee. If you weren’t completely satisfied with your trip to the past, your credits would never leave your bank account, and security would stop you at the door. They’d hand you a card that read “We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy your trip” with a list of reasons you gave in a survey, filled out before they’d even unstrapped you. The QR code on the card provided a link to FAQs, so you could figure out how you didn’t enjoy a trip you’d never taken.
Ones sold illegally were built in basements, chop shops and abandoned warehouses. You used them at your own risk, and all of them had the same flaw: they couldn’t monitor your activities like government ones did, and therefore could not guarantee your safe return. These were one-way tickets, banned nearly everywhere.
Mine was one of the “newer” models, in that it provided such luxuries as a cupholder and charging port for devices that still required them. It tracked my heartrate (spiking at the moment), brain waves, and lung capacity. The latter had been steadily depleting, but smoking two packs a day will do that, and my desire to quit had long since abated.
I wiped my thumb on my pants and held it to the thermal scanner. I had to wipe it a second time before the screen was able to scan accurately. Once my identity was verified as the purchaser and sole user of the machine, a backlit keypad slid out of the dash.
I could choose any moment in my life, from as little as 60 seconds prior to the jump, to as far back as the day I was born. It had taken me months to work up the nerve to make the highly illegal purchase, and another half a year before I could even bring myself to sit in it. But I had known since August 12, 2181, what date I would revisit.
I entered February 9th, 2170. The default time was 00:00, just when the day was beginning.
I thumbed the scanner to confirm. The knocking started again, and I felt its vibrations in my seat.
[Date confirmed. Have a nice day.]
As the knocking swelled to a roar, I tried to picture my wife’s face one last time. I had memorized the day we met, knew exactly where I needed to be in order to meet her for the first time, and fall in love with her all over again. And what I needed to do to ensure that didn’t happen.
I closed my eyes, trying to hold on to her smile, the way her eyes crinkled above blushing cheeks, because in a moment, I was going to ensure we never met. She’d marry someone far richer, someone who could afford the life-saving treatments I couldn’t.
I gripped the armrests of my seat. My teeth rattled. Scenes from our life played back in reverse, and my breath hitched as I watched her grow healthy again, then younger and younger in my memories. As an afterthought, I reached to thumb my wedding ring, one last time, but it was already gone.
Author : Robert Lafosse
I love this house. It is full of memories. The kids were brought up here. The family had its best times here. There are marks on the wall that map the growth of the children. The scars and scraps are a testament to the love and happiness that reined. It is sad that it has to be sold. The kids are gone and the place just feels empty. The estate agents have come and gone. People have tromped through, poked into cupboards and flushed the toilets. Someone liked it and made an offer. It was accepted. So now we go through the final steps. The movers have taken away the furniture; the pictures are off the walls. Soon a team of painters will go through to erase the spoors of our life here. It was a condition of sale.
There is a great pain in my heart as I realize what is about to happen. A new place has been found, but it will not be the same. It will not have the provenance of this place. It will not have the spaghetti stain at the top of the stairs that Anna made and I could never get out. It will not have the gouges in the bannister that Nathan made when he was foolishly given a pocket knife for his 13th birthday. It will not have the secret hiding places the kids used. We let them have these places. Children need their fantasies.
The doorbell rang. I answered it.
Two men wearing General Automatic’s coveralls were there. They each had a case.
“We are here to do the final retuning of the house for…”, the shorter one with no hair pulled out his tablet “Mr. Sorento. Can we come in?”
I let them in, I had no choice, it was part of the condition of sale.
“Where is the house control system?” The tall one asked.
“In the basement on the left. You can’t miss it.” I said. I opened the basement door for them and turned on the light.
They trotted down the stairs.
“Over here Bill”, the short bald one said.
“Wow this is old – must me one of the first on the market” They were looking at the grey metal box that held the house management system.
Bill was rummaging in his bag and pulled out a universal interface cable. He plugged into one of the free ports on the side of the box. “Doesn’t matter, they haven’t changed the maintenance passwords since the beginning of time.” On his tablet the familiar login screen popped into view. He let it scan his retina then put in the maintenance password.
“Holy shit – this has never been patched – not for… 22 years”.
“Really… never seen that before. I think we just wipe it and put in the latest firmware. Be faster than applying all the patches.”
“Yea, I agree. Can you imagine? I have never seen a house system so out of date.”
“These early versions had too much empathy. Proved to be a real problem. They got really attached to the owners and would start to glitch up if the family had any problems. This one is showing no major issues though.”
He opened the main maintenance page on the home system. At the firmware update page, he pressed the ‘reset to factory’ icon. This would effectively erase everything in the house’s memory.
I watched as he pushed the button and the scroll bar popped up. My memory faded as the scroll bar inched forward.
Author : Tony Sandy
The shout rooted Martello to the spot.
‘If you step forward, you’ll regret it.’
‘But it’s only a puddle surely?’
‘You’re new here aren’t you?’
‘You mean this planet?’
‘Yes, this planet.’
‘That puddle isn’t a puddle.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s a portal to another dimension.’
‘How do you know?’
‘My people have observed this phenomena for many years. We have seen rocks, animals, people fall in and never come out again. We have also had to put up with what came through from the other side.’
‘Things’ He gave a shudder.
After a few seconds he went on again.
‘Once a horrible, black slug like creature got into our world. We eventually killed it but not before it had killed and eaten many of our people. We didn’t realize it was there for a start because it hid from the harsh light and heat of the day. There have been other, similar monsters too. Then there was the invasion. People like us but organized into a relentless and ruthless army. We capped that hole after fighting them off but who knows if they’ll come back and where? Maybe next time we won’t be so lucky and they’ll chose a remote location or come through several portals at once.’
‘Does nobody who has fallen through return?’
‘Sometimes bits of of people or animals reappear but they are not a pretty sight. We always assume one of those slug like creatures or worse got them.’
‘Why don’t you fill in the holes?’
‘Because they are bottomless. we cap them but even then it can be counter-productive as cutting off the light seems to make them grow because they swallow whatever is put on top of them.’
‘What about digging underneath them?’
The alien looked at Martello in a world-weary kind of way, like an old man talking to a child.
‘My people did dig below one. What they found was that it was like looking through a hole in the ground, up into the sky but deadly.’
‘Yes. One guy tried to put his hand through and his whole arm disappeared.’
‘He was none to pleased!’ The old man gave a grim chuckle.
‘Snyppe, what have you been telling our off-world guest?’ A smart suited person, interrupted the conservation.
‘About the holes.’
The new alien turned to Martello.
‘You didn’t believe a word that old joker said, did you? He plays tricks on all visitors like you. Nasty psychological fun, according to him’
The old man shrugged his shoulders.
‘You can step into the puddle with no worries – it is just water after all.’
Martello did just that, laughing at having been taken in and instantly vanished without a trace.
‘I told you before old man – this is our business. Don’t betray our secrets to off-worlders or next time I might put you down that goddam hole too!’ The secret policeman walked off and Snyppe finished his drink, before heading home from the cantina.
‘Politeness.’ Was all he said before disappearing down the dusty road.
Author : Beck Dacus
Mars. Before terraformation, it was a cold, dry, airless wasteland, all because it lost its magnetic field so many billions of years ago. Its core cooled down too far, and the dynamo at its center died, allowing the sun to strip its atmosphere and dessicate it. Some of the earliest astronauts were struck with grief at the thought, and the earliest people to enjoy the New Earth rejoiced in its return.
Now it is happening again.
Some years ago, the G-class planet Eroprota was found orbiting its host star 300 lightyears away. Two years later, a mission was sent to conduct an analysis. What they found was heart-wrenching. Eroprota is in an orbit very similar to modern Mars’, receiving less than half of Earth’s light. It’s slightly larger than Mars, but only by a few percent. The greatest difference is that it is one billion years younger– but it is still dying.
The magnetic field is almost too weak to speak of. Because of this, air pressure on the surface is down to half that of Earth’s. In such cold temperatures, the water in the surface has remained liquid, but that may be about to change. Even with such small amounts of water evaporating, the saltiness of the oceans has gone up by a full half-percent. Ecosystems are being wiped out every couple million years; fossils of extinct species litter the underground, with none of their offspring to mourn them.
You can help.
A donation of just 100 curr will be enough to pay crews to ship one ton of magnesium diboride, a superconductor, to Eroprota, which will be used to make the rings around the planet that generate a magnetic field. The same amount will send over two-and-one-half tons of volatile ices to replenish what this world has lost. Enter the URL at the top of the screen into your ansible and you will gain access to our servers, letting you make the payment *right now*. Eroprota needs your help. Please, instead of buying that new fusion reactor model or space in a Matrioshka virtual reality for yourself in case of body death, please give to the Save-A-World foundation and bring this planet back to what it once was. All the species there will thank you.
(This announcement was paid for by Tipler FTL, providing you with trips around the galaxy in a timely manner since 2281. Environmental systems on Eroprota not entirely understood, the company does not guarantee the reversal of Eroprota’s climate. 8% of money donated will go towards the Save-A-World foundation. Payment process does not support refunds. Tipler FTL is not responsible for hacking of currency transfer and theft of funds, currency lost in transfer hack will not be counted in your name. If project is abandoned for feasibility, cost, timescale-related, or any other reasons, funds not used in Save-A-World program will be held by Tipler FTL for its own purposes.)
Author : Bryan Pastor
It had been there longer than Keen realized, but once it caught his ear, the sound drove him insane. The incessant tapping was foreign, yet familiar. He had heard it before, maybe back in his years on Earth, but in relation to the last ten years, this noise was as alien as the soil they walked on.
Keen first checked his lab, fearing that one of his experiments might have gone haywire. His nursery full of seedlings, thriving in their grow rooms, sat happy and content. The other tests, the unsanctioned ones, those too showed no sign of disturbance.
Bolting into the hall, he closed his eyes and allowed the sound to guide him. Keen moved by feel alone, the tips of his fingers brushing the icy sides of the narrow metal corridor. The noise came from everywhere, making it hard to follow to its source.
Keen stopped, his fingertips no longer felt the wall. He knew where he was before he opened his eyes. The masks of his eye lids let through a comforting glow of natural light. He was in the crew’s mess. There he found them, all of them, marveling as rain streaked down the tall glass walls that separated them from the outside.
“I guess this means we need a weather station.” Keen heard one of the engineer’s joke. Someone laughed half-heartedly.
Beyond the streaks of precipitation was a vast expanse of green, a decades’ worth of effort.
“I’m going out,” Keen announced, “I want to feel the rain on my face.”
The group collectively turned and stared.
“You want to go out without your gear?” A woman asked. Nedra, he though her name was.
“Yes,” Keen replied, “If the plants have put enough evaporate into the air to create clouds, then they must have created plenty of oxygen for us to breath.”
“No.” A tall, thin man with grey hair simply stated.
“I am going out and you can’t stop me.”
Keen ran from the room toward the airlock.
There was a moment of hesitation in the room. Then Nedra shrugged her shoulders as if saying, “I guess I will be the one to stop him.”
By the time she had made it to the prep room, Keen had already managed to seal the inner door and begin the process to exit the airlock. Nedra hurriedly donned her suit. As she fastened the last strap, a claxon blared, the airlock was open. Rushing to the door, she watched Keen step through the opening, he turned and faced her, water already matting his hair. He had a look of triumph upon his face, then it began turning red toward purple and the outer door slid closed.
It took several moments for Nedra and the others to override the system and pull Keen back inside.
A group stood over him, sure he was dead.
“Do you want to pronounce doctor?” Asked the engineer who had joked about the weather station.
Keen gasped back to life. Coughing, he found it hard to suck enough oxygen into his system to make his lungs stop aching.
“Was it worth it?” Someone asked.
“Yes.” Keen replied hoarsely.
“What was it like?” Another asked curiously.
“Like being home.”