Author : R. S. Alexander
v1: Derek Taylor was sipping coffee in a Los Angeles restaurant when a recruiter from XygmaCorp walked past his table, accidentally brushing against his shoulder.
57,143 down votes
Top-rated comment: “Wait, this is happening in a world with drinkable water in the midddle of the freakin desert? Where’s the world building?”
v2: Derek Taylor was sipping coffee in a Los Angeles restaurant. Though LA was a desert, the heroic work of engineers a century earlier meant that not only could millions of people like Derek live there, they could even drink a beverage whose production involved discarding damp coffee grounds that were still rich in moisture. As he savored the slightly bitter flavor of his dark beverage, a recruiter from XygmaCorp happened to walk by his table and brush against his shoulder.
30,420 down votes
Top-rated comment: “WTF? Main characters in North America and drinking a Ethiopian drink? Un. Real. Istic.”
v3: Derek Taylor sat sipping coffee in a restaurant in Los Angeles. Though he lived in a desert, technology treated him to luxuries from distant places. Aqueducts, constructed a century earlier from the designs of heroic engineers, carried an embarrassment of water riches sufficient to hydrate millions of souls, while massive container ships carried coffee beans from afar to the port in Long Beach. As he savored the flavor of this rich harvest of technology, a recruiter from XygmaCorp happened to walk by his table and brush against his shoulder.
21,703 down votes
Top-rated comment: “You just plop a guy with Anglo name into a frmr Spanish colony? Without any backstory? Needs in-world explanation!”
v4: Derek Taylor sat sipping coffee in a Los Angeles café. Though once a province of Spain and then Mexico, war had brought Alta California into the United States a hundred and seventy years earlier, and pasty Anglos like Derek now lived in this desert under the hot California sun. Technology, though, ensured that they would not thirst in the arid climate, with aqueducts carrying an embarrassment of water riches sufficient to hydrate millions of thirsty people. Container ships, meanwhile, brought coffee beans and numerous other delicacies from afar to the port in Long Beach. As he savored his dark beverage, the bounteous rewards of a technological society, a recruiter from XygmaCorp happened to walk by his table and brush against his shoulder.
3,469 down votes
Top-rated comment: “The digits on the down votes don’t match Zipf’s statistical pattern. It’s obvious that somebody’s just making this up.”
“As you can see from the data on the previous slides, our machine learning algorithms generate bots that realistically emulate fandom, and we can now engage in fully computerized production of authentic and fan-pleasing ‘hard’ sci-fi stories through an iterative process,” said Fiona Ivanek, addressing the Machine Intelligence Industry Association. The audience applauded, and she smiled graciously in appreciation. In a moment, however, her team would relay via earpiece a summary of the online response. She prepared herself for the worst.
Author : Rab Ferguson
Here at the end, there’s the last of everything. The last boiling kettle, the last ringing of guitar strings, the last letting go of hands. This is the last writing.
It’s hard to know what to say. I could make something from the end of us. Draw some blood and irony out of man finally falling to his own devices. We gave it plenty of foreshadowing. Printable diseases, drones that assassinate from the sky, scattered shadows across Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like Antony, man fell on his own sword. We were Hamlet. We were Romeo. We were Lady Macbeth. Yet there’s little point in irony and Shakespeare references, with no-one left to understand.
Maybe what’s needed is a tribute. I should sing a song of us. Tell a tale of all we were and all we did. Born without wings, we built planes and flew. Without gills, we dove to the bottom of the ocean and searched the seafloor. We went to the Moon, and almost to Mars. We sung, acted and danced. We even loved sometimes. Every art gallery in this world gone blind, every mile of film reel that won’t be spun, every hard drive of silent music, is a monument to humanity. The gods died with us. Our cathedrals, mosques and temples no longer stand for them, but as testament to what we could build with our little hands. An eulogy would be nothing more than grain of sand added to the beach.
I and we will not be remembered. The skyscrapers serve as gravestones, but there’ll be no flowers left at their bases. The patterns of roads across the land are the flicks and curls of our handwriting, but no-one will recognise our hearts and minds in the shapes we left behind. The landfills, the whiskey and wine distilleries, and the leaking petrol stations bear our scent like the clothes we once wore. They’ll never be lifted to a tear-streaked nose, to bring us back for a moment.
I say we and us. There’s only I. These words are trappings for my thoughts on the page, never sparking and crackling in your mind. They’re a message in a bottle, in a language that’s no longer read. They’re a lighthouse flashing out signals to a sea bereft of ships. They’re a phone call to the answering machine of a long passed-away lover. Without you reader, the words are half-alive. They’re an obsolete relic. A tool with no purpose in the modern age, which tells us something about how the world was when it was needed. As the last writer, in the act of the last writing, there’s only one dedication that’s fitting. Reader, I miss you. It was good when it meant something.
Author : David Henson
“So, the Missus qualifies for a full body refresh, but you don’t,” Georgie says solemnly, looking first at Beverly then Michael. “Too much HoverGolf, not enough volunteer work?”
“Something like that,” Michael says. “I should’ve changed my ways when they first started talking about the parts shortage. And with this body about to expire, I’m –”
“Not to worry. We’re here to help,” Georgie says. “In fact, you’re in luck. Let me tell you about our limited time special…”
“I’ll give you a few minutes alone to think about it,” Georgie says after finishing. “But we’ve only a few places left. In fact, I’ve got some other folks in the next room. No pressure.” Georgie gets up, tucks his gold chain back inside his collar, and leaves.
“What do you think?” Michael says. In the corner of the small room, life-size holograms of men and women laugh and dance on a beach, soft marimba music playing in the background.
“I still don’t see how their prices could be so low,” Beverly says.
“That bothers me, too. But you know we can’t afford any of the others.”
“I know. I know.” Beverly reaches across the table and squeezes her husband’s hand. “This is all happening so fast. I still say if you’re going to be streamed to simulation, I’m going with you.”
“We’ve been over this.” Michael says. “You have to stay here and start your refreshed life. Beverly pulls her hand away, but Michael takes it back. “Beverly, you’ve earned it. I’m sure my consciousness will be OK in, what do they call it?” Michael picks up a brochure from the table. *QuantumLand, Simulation of the Stars.* I don’t get it. Are they saying they have famous people there or stars like in space?”
Beverly shakes her head. “And how would I know you’re OK? Their package doesn’t even provide for communication with loved ones back here in physical reality.”
“Honey, with me in there, you out here, it’d be pointless to keep …” Michael’s voice trails off.
“I just wish we could afford a more reputable simulator,” Beverly says, looking at the frolicking holograms.
Michael floats his chair next to Beverly, and they sit together quietly. After a few minutes, Georgie comes back into the room. He dances briefly with a holo woman in the corner then makes his way to Michael and Beverly. He sits and folds his hands, his large pinky ring clacking against the table. “Well folks, what’s it going to be? Turns out I’ve two places left. For now.”
“Are you sure your simulation is up to standard with the others?” Beverly says. “Michael’s not going to get in there and be a dog or something is he?”
Georgie laughs. “Wouldn’t be so bad would it? A dog’s life? Just kidding. I guarantee our tech is right up there with that of the big boys.”
“But how can you charge so much less?” Beverly says.
“I told you,” Georgie says. “Volume. Basic econ.”
“We’ve made our decision, Georgie,” Michael says. “I’ll be in first thing tomorrow. Just me,” He puts his finger to Beverly’s lips.
“Fine,” Georgie says. “Half now. The rest in the morning.” Georgie presses a button on the side of the table, and a numeric light pad appears in the air.
As Michael enters his payment, Georgie turns toward Beverly. “A dog? You think we’d do something like that?” he says, then mouths “Call me” with a wink and makes a phone with his hand.
Author : Peter Merani
I like to watch it all go dark. To see if the world knows from up here how the evening folds in half. I used to think each individual sunset was its own glorious diamond. I would run to the top of the hill with Chawa as the sun flared up and flickered vibrant magentas and dark blues glowing as if they were alive. In a vacuum you think a lot about gapping absences.
To me, it is color.
But from up here, standing in a starship I know that the mystical spectacles are mere axis rotation of the planet. That my once great view from a top a tall hill is nowhere near as perfect as my view from the window of The Gladium.
“You’ve got a view of the play from the backside of the curtain,” said the captain. “How do you feel about that?”
Floating in space is different than I expected. I spend my nights wide-awake, tossing and counting and noting every single variation from how I thought it would be. Do views ever get old, is the question I ask myself before I sleep.
Standing before the captain, I’m inclined to say yes, but then I watch that view, the most incredible, most minimizing spin of our little blue ball, and I can feel all the people who see it down on the hill. The grounders. The sky whispers. The captain is an older man who has terribly bright green eyes and they glow like traffic lights on a road in the night.
Green is between blue and yellow on the color spectrum, but I notice that there has never been a green sunset and probably there never will be. I’ve learned to live with that. From down on the hill, once night has claimed its domain, it’s easy to forget that on the other side of the world the sun is flooding the sky.
Author : Desmond White
It was maybe the smell – the stench of it – which wafted from its corridor invisibly, or on a bad morning very visible, a blushing mist. The cloying reek, like a bouquet of rich, rotting flowers, congealed on windshields and the grease on fingertips and even between teeth. (Because of this, most citizens of Ohm wore facemasks which supposedly screened 99.98% of fume exposure.) It definitely had every opportunity to enter the nostril, so maybe it was small particles in the air – some combination of pheromones, the vine-fragrance of Nepenthes rafflesiana, ectoplasma, and sin.
It might have been the temptation itself – some intangible thing started by the early string of suicides and fetishized by the 24/hour news cycle. Maybe it was something psychic and spiritual – the citizens of Ohm unknowingly bombarded with madness and Biblical lusts. Maybe it was all ‘in the mind,’ a psychological conjuring trick, as disorienting and spellbinding as an optical illusion.
The fact was – metaphysical or not – the people of the city of Ohm lived on the edge of a great circling canyon of flesh which dipped down nearly cylindrical, like an organic ribbed condom, or the meaty circles of Dante’s Inferno, or an inverted and elongated areola.
They were a people who had to think carefully, quickly, and quietly. The days, each waking moment really (and some of the sleeping ones), were spent focusing away from, or in distraction of, that temptation they all felt to surrender the Self, trudge to the city’s throat (that great muscled garbage disposal) and onward, to disappear forever – never to be unearthed. The Pink preyed on the weak, the meek, the persuadable, the biodegradable, and what was left of the sociopaths, psychopaths, all the paths, leading to its mouth.
The Pink had appeared mysteriously but there were three leading theories on its origins. Theory One was that a mosquito had bled some cosmic horror and, now carrying some unimaginable eldritch virus, had bit a math theater at Saint Ohmias High – the Pink growing from a scar on her thigh. Theory Two was that some furtive project to drill into the Underworld had succeeded. From the fissure had sprouted this – a pathogen on the devil’s cuticle, or maybe the eternal digestive tract of a diabolic wurm, or a thousand theologians’ had been proven right – Satan’s bellybutton is an innie. Tax dollars at work.
There was certainly a taint of religion in those two theories. Theory Three was a Secular Reason, and so was constantly mocked by other theorists (although mocked only in writing, as laughter was a symptom of a future spelunker). In this Theory, the city of Ohm had been subject to a biological attack from a neighboring nation-state. These theorists refused to “let the terrorists win” and went about their errands with heads down as if facing a strong gust. They had sayings like: “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you as you climb into its gullet.” Another: “Keep your head down. But don’t keep heading down.” This entrenched Will, so confident in practicality, kept them alive the longest.
All theorists agreed there were some positive effects from the intrusion. The homeless problem was eradicated. Employment rose – there was also a shortage of employees. Real estate was abundant, and cheaper. Hand-washing was strictly enforced any time a citizen ventured the streets, preventing the spread of influenza. And there was no denying that the affected who walked the pink mile had the most euphoric expressions on their faces, one last bliss before the fall.
The Government had once waged a war against it; once fought for its constituents. The Big G had tried poison, only to discover the creature’s response to be intolerable. Tremors. Crushed buildings. 392 dead. Government officials then commissioned a hundred helicopters to pull the slug out from its hole, only to find the Pink well-rooted by underground crevices. Teams had been sent through the sewers to cut its tenders and roots, only for them to discover it’d entered the Public Water Supply as well. The Thing had been touching their minds more deeply than they’d anticipated. A succession of chemical tests meant to exterminate, if only contract, the beast did little to nullify its effects, and only made its breath more toxic. The project ended when one day, the laborers, contractors, and all the officials, lawyers, and scientists, plus the mayor, met together at the edge and walked down into the slime. The tractors and crates remain as monuments, as cautionary tales.
He maketh me to lie down in pink pastures.
The Thing remains. The Thing remains.