The Collated Shore

Author : John K. Webb

This was not South Carolinian white sand beach. He’d instructed Jacobson—the spherical little Dispensation Drone with its twitching antennae and the prying, bulging crystalline eye—to direct them to a nearby exoplanet with a white sand beach. Corporal Weyer had nicknamed Jacobson “Jacobson” one day prior because he’d found it amusing; apparently, this minor betrayal was the drone’s version of a comeback.

“You are not satisfied with Exoplanet-Arlington-XC57C? My scanners indicate that your blood pressure has risen to one-twenty-seven over eighty-two, which while being within normal parameters—“

“I’m sure you find this funny,” said Corporal Weyer, folding the pre-deployed polycarbonate surfboard under his armpit.

“Exoplanet-Arlington-XC57C is the closest approximation to what you described, sir.”

“The sand is black andesite, you can barely call it sand—“

“Blood pressure has increased to one-thirty-five over eighty-six—“

“—and you think it’s funny, don’t you?”

The drone fluttered in circles around his head, humming a tuneless song in its tinny voice that served as response, and with that they began walking down shore, Weyer’s footsteps disappearing almost instantaneously in the hot, rubbery black “sand.” Then, looking on the horizon, he noticed something.

“I haven’t seen one wave, Jacobson.”

It was true: the planet’s ocean, large enough to swallow all of Earth’s landmass, stretched as an infinite sea of mint colored glass, the light green color owing to sprawling colonies of undisturbed deep-sea algae that’d originally been confused with methane gas emissions, from the orbital imaging.

“The planet’s wave articulation—“

“My only day off and you take me to a planet with no waves?”

“—occurs once every three hours. The next wave is due in fifteen minutes.”

“Care to tell me my blood pressure?” Said Corporal Weyer, stepping into the water. It felt like a river bottom, layered moss-slick stones that if not for his boots would have been quite painful to walk on.

“Blood pressure is—“

“Shut up, I was joking.”

“May I remind you that the re-appropriation of TEDI material for the purposes of constructing a surfboard is a gross misuse of company material?”

“You just did.”

They went about a hundred yards out before Weyer activated his surfboard, the object no larger than a briefcase unfolding into a twelve foot long solid piece of polyurethane. The Corporal lay flat on his belly, the board unmoving atop the featureless expanse of alien ocean. Like antarctic whiteout: a shimmering flat Nothing. Jacobson hovered overhead, providing a measure of shade, scanning with that great, bulging eye.

“No lifeforms detected,” it said helpfully.

Weyer grunted.

Charleston was his home—at least, it had been, before he’d entered the Deep Sleep and drifted several million miles away. For the first time in his career he allowed himself to wonder if the city still even physically existed, or like every other memory simply lived on in collation and correlation: water is water, beach is beach, whatever the chemical components. Cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless.

“You know what paradise is, Jacobson?”

“An existential conceptualization—“

“This is it, this is paradise. Nothing but ocean and beach, oldest thing there is.”

A bump appeared on the horizon, what the orbital images showed as a solid wall of water rising hundreds of feet high, straddling the planet, the result of unstable tectonic activity. The wave was finally coming.

“I take it all back. This is perfect. Jacobson, thank you.”

The drone hummed merrily, “I wouldn’t trick you.”

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Author : Rick Tobin

“Major, Allen’s alive. He got through Iraq. He didn’t disappear in a Nevada training mission.” Reed Winston leaned over the small table in a cramped conference room filled with file boxes, copy machines and a coffee mess. Burned coffee aromas perforated Reed’s attention as the thin, pasty Major Cordoni stared back with penetrating dark eyes and a quizzical expression.

“What a wild-ass concoction. Why don’t you take your cockamamie ideas to the media? I don’t have time.” A smirk rolled across the Major’s face as he leaned back, sneering at the haggard intruder, now handcuffed, and waiting for Oakland police.

“He disappeared in a Sierra cloud bank, but no plane was recovered? How can you believe that? I was a Marine pilot for eight years. You don’t…”
“Don’t what? Lose planes in the Sierras? It took a year to find Fossett. A year! So why are you sure about Colonel Winston?”

“We’re twins. We sometimes see through each other’s eyes. I know Allen’s still flying, but it’s somewhere he hates and the things he’s facing are…well…not on Earth.” Reed hesitated as the Major broke into deep laughter, slamming a manila file folder onto the table.

“Nice fantasy, but I’ve got stuff to do here today. I read your sleeve. You were topnotch with the Harriers for the Marines… even got a DSC. I’ll humor you out of respect, Captain, but there’s no basis to alien abductions. Martians didn’t eat your brother.”

“It’s not food they want. They want soldiers…the best, now. They keep us at war constantly to develop improved fighters for their extraterrestrial wars and invasions. Military disappearances occur continuously. A Persian army of fifty thousand disappeared in a sandstorm in 525 B.C. The armadas from Spain to England, and China to Japan, disappeared with tens of thousands in horrific storms. 1915 in Gallipoli, an entire regiment of Brits walked into a mist on the battlefield and vanished. We’ve lost planes and ships in the Devil’s Triangle clouds. Aliens manipulate the weather to hide thefts. We’ve got thousands of MIAs still unaccounted for since World War II, on every battlefield. You can’t deny those facts!”

Major Cordoni waggled his head, sighing deeply, as Staff Sergeant Prentiss entered, interrupting to whisper to his superior, “I checked with HQ. They put a restraining order on him for all the bases but they forgot about recruitment centers. All we can do is have Oakland hold him for questioning. We need you at the front, too, for a minute, sir.”

“Captain, I have to attend to something else momentarily. I’ll get back with you in a few.” Cordoni followed the overweight sergeant to the center’s glass doors facing west toward San Francisco. The skyline was gone under rolling fog.

“That’s the problem, Major,” Prentiss said, pointing outside. “It came up sudden over Ballena Bay and Crab Cove. You can’t even see the cars on Central Avenue.”

“Shut it down, Sergeant, and lock the doors. We’re closed.”

“Yes, sir, Major, but what about the team that flew in from Las Cruces last night? We’ve got ten top drone pilots from Holloman waiting to brief hundreds of prospective engineering students from Berkeley, Stanford and Cal Poly. TAAC will raise hell if we put these USOVF nerds on ice here.”

“Not to worry. Close it up. I’ve got my quota to meet. Looks like it will be eleven instead of ten.”

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Of Stars and Disposition

Author : Sevanaka

It is an unnatural sensation. A man is meant to act; meant to take measured, deliberate steps after rational thought. Oh, for the keen, decisive edge of ideology, or the white-hot flurry of passion to drive thought from mind to hands. Instead there is only the unknown – the great, big, Outside – beckoning to him with the pirouetting lights of the tangled slipstream of subspace.

He had imagined it would have been silent: dark, cold, and uninviting, like some of the older films suggested. Yet here, in the slip, there was something he could only relate to a kind of music. An orchestra; a synesthetic orgasm that tore at his mind in a way that the holosims back home never could. A wild, pulsating and writhing symphony; a polyphonic ensemble of greater proportion than what might have been gleaned from the tutorials, or the guides, or the training. Here, this journey out of known space – just shy of six months out – was rapidly coming to a middle.

There had been little left of the excitement of exploration – of adventure! – left in the eyes of the crew. Their glazed-over expressions seemed to reveal a strange mixture of fascination and dull acceptance. Already, the constellations he grew up with were gone, or at least that’s what the navigation console would have told him. Already, the light from home would be a microscopic speck, or so the spectrometer might have read. But for right now he, like the others, was lost in the swirl.

It reminded him of dancing. Despite two left feet, and an absolute lack of rhythm, his mind wandered to the melody that had once carried his body across the floor. He thought of the tinkering laughter that made the waltz seem simplistic, natural. He lingered on the distinctly tactile memory of twisting limbs and searching lips, as the night wore onward towards morning. He recalled the joyous whispers, the rustle of silk, the profession of love. But his eyes were dazzled by the whirling lights; alas, he could not seem to picture the smile from the wrinkled image that faded, forgotten, at arm’s length.

To him, it felt surreal. There was nothing left of the wit and will of the crew around him; each standing dumbfounded and drooling. Slowly… slowly, the man tore himself away from the mesmerizing spectacle and glanced instead at the instruments. Alarming lights, harsh even against the cacophony of the stars, demanded attention and he gaped at the incoming reports.

The ship was screaming, the reports told him. Posts: abandoned, by men wholly lost to the blankness of space. Airlocks: left gaping, by crew wanting nothing but to swim in the stream of colors just outside. He considered it, briefly, but out of the corner of his eye, her face beamed up at him, chiding him with blissful ignorance.

And in that moment, he knew with a certainty that drowned even the starlight: he must act.

He must return.

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The Perfect Match

Author : Bhavin Siri

After an hour, Jason realized that he did not like his “perfect match” very much.

Everything was supposed to be in order. He had turned eighteen, and he was meeting his chosen partner for the first time through “Match Made in Heaven”, a service that you entered as soon as you were born.

Emma was still jabbering away, while he listened and tried to act interested. The Heaven service did really well in the appearances department. Emma’s long brown hair, slightly curved face, round cute eyes, they were gorgeous. She was not too skinny, just like the way he preferred, and the evening dress accented her curves.

All of this was possible through the services provided by Heaven. If you register in their database (and who doesn’t), they will monitor you for your preferences and pick out your perfect match. No more looking around, then getting dumped, then looking for more fish in the sea. Get it right the first time.

On the surface, Emma was the perfect match, but after listening to her for a while, Jason was beginning to doubt. The way she spoke got on his nerves. She was into heavy rock music, which the classical pianist in him hated. She loved trivial gossips about her friends, none of which were even remotely interesting. They just didn’t click.

“I don’t feel well tonight. Would you mind if I left early?” Jason said, cutting into one of her monologues.

“Sure. So when shall we meet again? I can’t wait to discuss the wedding plans with you,” Emma said with a smile.

“I’ll contact you later.”

He paid, and left without even a wave. Emma blew him a kiss on his way out.

Jason flopped down on his bed when he got back. Was this kind of thing supposed to happen? Everyone he knew just simply met their match and got married. If not Emma, then how was he going to find another partner? He gripped his phone until his hands were sweaty. He wanted to call her, but he didn’t know what to say.

Emma picked up the phone at the first ring.

“Jason?” He could tell that she was trying to keep her voice steady.

Then she broke down, and he tried to piece the story together between her sobbing.

For her, Jason was the perfect match. But she could tell that something was wrong, and his silence and inattention were too obvious.

Her crying felt like knives in his chest. “Let me make it up to you. If you could go there now, right this minute, where do you want to go?”
“Well, I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, …”
“I’ve never been to Japan either. Pack your stuff and I’ll arrange the trip.”

On the flight, Jason shared Emma’s earphones and found a few pieces of rock music that he enjoyed, to his surprise. He also got used to her unique way of speaking, and noticed that Emma talked about people around her because she really cared about them. They both gave a squeal of delight when they found that they shared the same favorite author, and then they couldn’t stop trading their favorite quotes from the books. Jason was holding her hand when they got off, and he wished he never had to let go.

Two weeks later, at their wedding ceremony, Jason looked into Emma’s eyes and knew that he had found his perfect match. And the Heaven database had another successful data point for its algorithms.

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Author : Morrow Brady

As long as it was bug-free, they didn’t care how the code was written.

That is why I built the interface.

The interface subdivided the programming work into tiny code packages and globally farmed it out using Layman’s code. Before long, I was earth’s biggest employer.

CodeMe began as a simple profitable hobby. Everyone already had the implants. All I did was offer a reward to use the processing power of the implant along with any residual brainwave activity. It seemed to fit society perfectly and soon became part of the norm.

CodeMe’s – as they came to be known – would profit from mentally coding through their daily thought-free moments. Coding waiting for an elevator, coding during lunch, coding during a long download or coding while waiting for a traffic light. There are lots of wasted moments in people’s everyday lives. CodeMe increased the efficiency of living. It turned the fat of our lives into profit. With little effort other than a spare thought, people started to pay off debt. Squeezing in that extra line of code meant being able to afford dessert or extending that holiday.

The interface distributed the code snippets randomly, so no-one could determine what its purpose was. Not that anyone cared. They each earned their penny for their penny’s worth of code. Even up at mid-level, I wasn’t privy to the code’s purpose. Only they knew – the ones responsible for assembling it all together like some monstrous scrabble board. I had read enough of it to see military and aeronautic applications but would never have believed that they had a grander scheme in mind.

Interface informed me that after 24 days, coding project Core4884 was finally bug free and ready for submission.

Core4884 had been far more complex than our normal contracts. To finish in time, interface needed a black market upgrade to evolve from plug-in hardware to a biological mush-ware neural net. Known among the cool kids as an Einstein wet brain, its processing capacity was unmatched. I sat looking at it’s hay bale sized, black mesh cage and thought of the pink womb inside now umbilically interfacing with the world. It was almost godly.

With Core4884 completed in record time, I encrypted, compressed and clouded it. Pay day was here and it would be a handsome one indeed.

They contacted me one hour later, very pleased with the fast bug-free work and followed up with an immediate payment transfer. They then proceeded to offer me another project, this one larger and more profitable than the last.

Smiling, I entered the project data into interface and set it underway. It had been a long day and I was exhausted. Interface would interrogate their project data brief, and globally distribute the job into millions of momentary time filling tasks.

I awoke the next day to the chilling sound of screams echoing up through the white tiled light-well of my apartment. Emergency broadcasts had activated my monitors with the same news transmitting on all channels.

The first global death wave killed over 2 billion people. The Government was quick to assemble a committee of experts who each spouted numerous theories from solar radiation to wind-borne nanotech contagion. As soon as I realised that they didn’t have a clue, it immediately became obvious who did.

Wherever the sun was shining, people with free time were dying at water coolers, frothing outside elevators and collapsed over their steering wheels at traffic lights. I raised my hand, cupping the bumpy shell of the sub-dermal implant behind my right ear. No time to spare, no free time.

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