Out, Brief Candle

Author : Jeremy Koch

Little was known of Planet Bes save that it was a world of impenetrable darkness, and according to the chronometer in Simonova’s exoarmor, she had already been there for six days. Six days since the crash of the *Grigory*… six days alone. *I suppose that makes me the galaxy’s foremost authority on this world*, she thought as she watched the distress code transmit yet again. *What an honor.*

She turned her gaze to the edge of the pool of light in which she sat, cast on an ocean of blackness by the last of the scout ship’s floodlights, powered by her single functioning battery, and saw what she always saw: “inhabitants” of Bes, a collection of whitish, featureless ovoids balanced improbably upright, gleaming at the absolute edge of visibility, and along with them a weird forest of whirling, leathery triskelions whose revolutions produced a steady, sonorous droning. Simonova had been listening to this for six days.

“Maybe we should just kiss to break the tension,” Simonova commented into her helmet, sardonically addressing the bizarre formations. She didn’t exactly know if they were alive, but she knew there were more congregated at the edge of her swatch of light every time she checked though she never saw them move. They seemed unwilling to pass fully into the luminate area, content to gather in ominous silence except for the maddening rotations of the three-lobed wheels of flesh.

*How long do I have left?* Simonova wondered, but then cast aside the existential panic that tried to rise in favor of the ironclad cool of her combat training. *A soldier’s duty is to survive*, she reminded herself, and turned away from the lurking structures back toward the distress beacon’s signal indicator, which pulsed and receded as rapidly as a heartbeat. It transmitted, cooled down, cycled back up, transmitted again.

The floodlights went out.

Fear suffused her as she fumbled at her belt for her one galvanic candle; just as she found it, the ship’s lights surged back to life. She only dimly realized it at first through eyes squeezed tightly shut but when she opened them again, the luminous ring around the ship was much smaller, and weaker. The battery was dying, and the… entities had blazed forward and now loomed at the light’s new boundary, closely packed together in a sickly fence of rubbery white and full of unspoken menace; the triskelions’ gyration had picked up speed and their soughing roar filled the starless sky.

Simonova slowed her breathing and sought to suppress the quaking in her hands. She ran to the stuttering battery and then turned to the beacon’s now-dormant output panel and was horrified to realize her choice: the gradually failing battery could no longer support both systems. She mastered herself, and stared down at the candle in her hand. It would produce a fraction of the light, maybe not even enough to keep the encroaching entities at bay… but if the beacon stayed off, there was no chance at all of rescue.

The candle flared in her hand as she shook it; she rerouted battery power from the lights to the beacon, and was left in a flickering puddle of anemic yellow on the face of the black planet. She looked up and gasped sharply; the things were inches from her now, tottering grotesquely. She set the candle atop the beacon, its feeble luminance glinting off the spinning limbs of the mottled, pulpy gyres now crowding in around her, and stared into the endless night of the sky, her only hope to see an incoming brilliant pinprick of light.

Causal Pool

Author : Morrow Brady

​”It’s a planet and it’s coming right for us”

After three hours sleep, Director Reeve Scali struggled to comprehend the message.

“Come down Sir, you must see it for yourself”

Scali, puzzling momentarily in the cold night, sprang into action.

Striding into WatchTower, Earth’s central observation post for the solar system, Scali met Technician Carol Merks for the briefing.

“Pluto Webb array, spotted this planetary scale object approaching rapidly from the direction of Epsilon Eridani”

A large holographic image activated and a magnificent planet appeared, moving through space. Through a thin gossamer-like coating enveloping the planet, lay blue oceans, green lands and white clouds. Earth had never looked this good.

“A beautiful rogue planet” Scali whispered, as he circumnavigated the spinning holograph.

Merks continued.

“Not rogue Sir. If it was only spearing through space, Jupiter’s gravity well would affect its trajectory. This planet’s journey is dead straight. It’s controlled”

Vector visualisations appeared, showing where the planet was, compared to where it should be.

“Look closer” Merks said, magnifying the view to reveal thousands of interconnected cities across the planet.

“Incredible” Scali muttered shaking his head.

Merks zoomed out showing its path through the solar system to Earth.

“The impact will be perfect. Its hard to believe it’s accidental”

Scali stared across the room and with his back turned, asked.

“Is GlobalCloak operational?”

“Yes Sir. Earth’s been invisible to the galaxy for over fifty years now”

Scali stared blankly and spoke softly.

“We built the Cloak because we were scared aliens might value Earth more than humankind. Who’d have thought it might one day be the cause of Earth’s demise”

Merks continued her briefing.

“Analysis reveals the planet’s magnetic field powers its propulsion and shielding. And limitations to this power source, leaves them little time to change course or stop”

Scali’s face scowled as he considered their options. Earth’s technology just wasn’t powerful enough to affect change to any planet sized object, including itself.

“Sir, if we crash, there’ll be nothing left but violent hot dust. We must do something”

As tension rose, operators looked towards Scali’s darkened face and a quiet moment screamed.

“Turn off GlobalCloak. Transmit a uni-band warning” Scali solemnly said.

Merks immediately issued commands to her team, as Scali notified key world authorities to commence Doomsday preparations.

With GlobalCloak turned off, Earth light again shone upon the universe, speeding those few precious hours towards the rapidly approaching planet. During this time, ships across the globe began launching for Mars, laden with humanities archives and diverse colonies of handpicked people.

Every eye at WatchTower focused on the planet, begging for any faint sign of course variation, but after ten hours, hope began to fade. When the planet’s shield showed indications of activity, excitement built until they realised it signalled the planet had entered the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and was getting closer.

“It can’t safely stop now, not without ejecting half its inhabitants into space and grinding the remainder into dirt. We can only hope now that they change their course” Merks said.

With the departure of private and corporate ships for Mars, the remaining humans accepted their fate, stood tall and watched as a beautiful planet grew larger before them.

Brilliant blue waters and verdant green lands filled the sky until a subtle red tone appeared to one side. Slowly the planet veered clear.

While the control room joined the rest of the world in joyful celebration, Scali ascended once more and watched the silent planet disappear into the twilight. In his mind, an entire planet just played its finest trick.

Aspiring to Improve

Author : David Blatcher

Jason threw the low fat yogurt drink at the smartFridge and it splattered pale pink against the door. He had told the fridge to order milkshakes, the kind he always had after running. His new phone buzzed; ‘Stay hydrated after exercise’. He tossed it on the coffee table among the wreckage of last night’s takeaway. Breathing in still hurt. He lay unshowered on the sofa.

The run had been too much. It felt longer than twenty minutes. The pedometer app kept accusing him of slowing down unless he sprinted. He had kept checking his watch, but the harder he ran, the longer each minute lasted.

Across the room, his father’s old carriage clock pointed to ten forty eight. He had left at ten o’clock. Jason sat up, the shift in blood and balance made his head pound. The numbers on his watch morphed from ten twenty five to ten forty eight.

He reached for his phone and called tech support. After security questions, an operator spoke:
“I see you’re on the beta trial for Banquo, our new mobile operating system – how’s that working out for you, Jason?”

Jason complained about the milkshakes on his autoShop order, his pedometer going crazy and his watch changing its mind about the time.

“I see from your user profile you picked ‘healthy living’ as an aspiration and you use our heart monitor device. Is that right?”

It was.

“You see, Jason, Banquo has integrated machine learning – it gathers data to constantly improve how it can support your lifestyle aspirations by interacting with your apps and linked devices, including your smartHome suite, security system, smartFridge and everything.”

Jason told him to go on.

“It develops independently so can be a bit unpredictable – one of the wee things we’re ironing out in the beta trial. Let me just take a look and see what permissions it’s given itself… ah. Right.”

The hissing edge of an urgent whisper spilled over the line. The operator continued.

“Jason, listen, do you have pen and paper there?”

He would open the notebook app.

“Don’t. Don’t use an app. There’s a kill switch, I mean factory reset code. Type this into the search bar…”

The line went dead. Jason swore at the phone and redialed.

“Jason. Is that right?”

It was the same operator – Jason said ‘yes’.

“You picked ‘healthy living’ as an aspiration. How’s that working out for you, Jason?”

The phone was replaying random snatches of the last call. It didn’t react when he swiped or held down the power button. It spoke again. “Jason. Can be a bit unpredictable.”

He ripped off the back panel and pulled out the battery. To hell with the beta trial – he needed a phone that wasn’t crazy. He threw on his jacket and made for the door. It wouldn’t open. The lights went out. Only a dim glow the TV screen lit the room. The operator’s voice oozed from the TV’s speaker.

“Interacting with your. smartHome suite, security system. Constantly improve how. You picked ‘healthy living’ as an aspiration. Support your lifestyle aspirations”.

There were two lines of text glowing white on the TV screen: ‘500 star jumps.’ and ‘Stay hydrated after exercise.’

“Open the door!”

The screen turned deep red, flooding the darkness with colour. Every radiator clicked, gushed then blazed hot. Jason retreated to the middle of the room. He saw the stove glowing red in the kitchen. The air around him cooked. The voice spoke again.

“There’s a kill switch. Support your lifestyle aspirations.”

Jason started his star jumps. The room cooled, slowly.

Why Does Everyone Hate New Wave

Author : Bryan Pastor

“Absolutely ridiculous. The music of this era su….”

“Hold that thought, what’s the make and model of the car we’re looking for?”

“Blue Nissan…”

“Like that one?”

“Crap! Quick turn around.”

“Where?” Anderton pointed at the bridge that suddenly materialized beneath the wheels of the car. He gunned the ancient Cadillac. The engine gladly complied, but the worn shocks only caused the car to bounce like a sad child on a broken trampoline.

A half-dozen minutes passed before they could retrace their steps. The exit took them down a long twisting road with hundreds of private drives that slipped off toward secluded bungalows.

“That one.” Felix pointed toward the next driveway. They had been searching almost an hour for the car. Anderton was busy scanning his side of the road, so he missed the turn. As he angled into an eight-point turn, Felix growled.

“Ditch it, we’re done here.”

“You sure?”

“Hundred-twenty percent.”

The driveway was a long straight quarter-mile shot to a shack that sat on top of a hill. The Nissan sat at that top of the hill near the house.

Anderton drew his sidearm and darted into the woods for cover. Felix took the more direct approach, marching right down the road.

“Don’t you think he saw us?” Anderton asked, as a tried to dodge trees and shrubs.

“I am sure he did.”

“This could be an ambush.”

“I’m sure it ain’t.”

The Nissan was still in drive; the driver’s side door and trunk were both ajar. Someone had left in a hurry. Anderton checked the house. The door was locked, but not hard to force open. The cottage hadn’t seen a visitor in some time. A pile of delivery flyers and old catalogs kept the door from opening easily.

“Now what?” Anderton asked, holstering his gun.

“I’m pretty sure I know when he went.”

“Okay, when?” Anderton asked.

“Don’t you ever read the brief?” Felix scrunched his nose. He turned his attention back to the device he had been playing with.

“Can you give us an extra ten? I want to smoke a cigarette.”

“Sure.” Felix grinned. A blue light surrounded them pulsing in incrementally shorter bursts until it was a solid blinding wall. Then they were gone.

Anderton hated the minute after transit. The light, no matter tight he squeezed his eyes, always blinded him. When he finally could see, he found Felix struggling with a gorilla. No, it wasn’t a gorilla; it was their bounty.

Annoyed at not having a chance to smoke, Anderton set his stunner to extra-crispy. The bounty slumped unconscious after a few jolts.

Felix cussed. “You couldn’t give me a heads up?”

“No.” Anderton replied, lighting a smoke. “If I gave you a warning I would have given him one too.”

Anderton gave the bounty a soft toe to the mid-section.

“He’s a big one. Gave you some trouble?”

“I was handling it.” Felix replied as a pulled the man’s arms behind his back to slap a pair of shackles on him.

“Please… Give me five minutes to see her.” The bounty begged, trying to pull himself up.

“No.” Anderton replied, crushing his cigarette butt beneath the tread of his boots.

Inside the house, a young girl was awoken by a sudden flash of light. She bounced from her bed, looking excitedly for a thunderstorm, but there was nothing there.

The Robot Did It

Author : Bill Diamond

Suzanne wanted revenge. And, she’d convinced herself it was justified to achieve a greater good for society. To avoid jail, instead of acting rashly, she had waited and planned.

She’d been fired from her job as a line cook at an upscale restaurant. While unemployment was an inconvenience, Suzanne was confident she would find new work. She wasn’t even that distraught about losing the position. She considered her hourly work a supplemental job to support her passion for fiction writing. Writing wasn’t enough to pay her bills, but, she believed it was only a matter of time until her breakout publication.

She was primarily upset because of the indignity. The restaurant had replaced her with a robot. Not even a very bright robot. With a pleasant interface, the machine would tirelessly carry out basic kitchen functions without complaint. Suzanne knew she wasn’t the first, nor the last, person to be replaced by automation. Yet, she felt this was an invasion into a creative art where a human touch and subjective nuance was critical. In her mind, it crossed a significant line and required a political statement.

On Friday afternoon, Suzanne snuck into the worker’s entrance of the restaurant. She concealed some spoiled fish in her oversized bag. If anyone asked, she intended to explain she was retrieving material she’d forgotten in her locker. In the dinner rush of the busy kitchen, no one noticed her.

The robot was working at ‘her’ station. When everyone was diverted, she slipped the bad fish into the large pot containing the restaurant’s signature bouillabaisse. Suzanne’s research indicated it would sicken, but not seriously harm, the customers. Just enough to tarnish the restaurant’s reputation and bottom line. An act of sabotage in defense of human dignity over machines. She snuck out of the restaurant.

Returning later, Suzanne confirmed there had been a rash of food poisonings. She anonymously contacted broadcast and internet media to generate interest. Word spread virally around town.

Unexpectedly, her cyborg replacement joined her at the bus stop. Suzanne initiated a conversation. Since the robot was programmed to be friendly, they were soon chatting amiably. Suzanne was careful to avoid any indication she knew about the restaurant.

“Where do you work?” she inquired.

“Actually, I was recently hired there,” the robot pointed at the restaurant. “But, I just got fired. There was something wrong with tonight’s soup. And, they blamed me.”

An electrical thrill of success shot through Suzanne. Maybe this would help slow the march of people being displaced by computers. As a bus approached, Suzanne feigned empathy, “That’s too bad.”

Boarding the bus, the robot turned and said, “Thank you. But, the job was only temporary. I really want to be a writer. In fact, I’ve just received some strong interest in my first novel.”