Paradox

Author : M. Irene Hill

“The Nation’s Ethics Commissioner has released her public disclosure statement after completing a probe into whether a company providing Assisted Ersatz-Suicide services has contravened laws in relation to assisted para-suicide. The Commissioner has concluded that individuals do have the right to para-suicide, within the parameters of Immersive Simulation in Virtual Reality, as outlined in the Right to Liberty and Life Acts.”

Para-Death doulas in the employ of Thanatos, Inc. clapped their hands when Rose finished reading the newspaper’s front-page story. They had a waitlist of clients wishing to procure their services.

First on the list, Collin Herschel – a thirty-seven year old arbitrarily successful writer from the west coast, diagnosed with several concurrent disorders, including depression, anxiety, and cannabis and alcohol dependence. Years of addictions counselling, biofeedback, medication and psychotherapy produced little to no improvement.

Collin paid Thanatos Inc. $879,000 for his right to have assisted ersatz-suicide.

Rose was Collin’s assisting para-death doula. She spent the last month counselling and preparing him to receive immersive simulation. He was now gowned and ready.

“Thanatos utilises the most technologically-advanced health-monitoring and support systems to keep your body at homeostasis. We will use established protocols to manage your body’s cannabis and alcohol withdrawals. You will receive the best medical care of your life.” She chuckled.

“You will be given a sedative, and then your brain will essentially go offline once you are hooked up to our VR system via a catheter in your spinal column. Immersive Simulation will ensure you experience a brief and pain-free symbolic death. We’ve discussed the procedure a number of times, Collin, so I know you’re prepared for what’s to come. As per your wishes, your cerebral cortex will be in a death-like state for six months, at which time we administer anti-simulation serum which will bring you back to Present Reality, then we will follow established procedures to coach you for your next level of emotional awareness.”

“Thank you, Rose. My death angel.”

“Thank me later, son. Okay, I need you to sign here and here first.”

She administered the sedative and inserted the catheter. Collin looked at Rose with child-like trust, before his eyes drifted closed. She prepared the intravenous ports for managing nutrition, electrolyte balance and hormonal levels.

Collin’s body was ready for the next six months, but nothing could have mentally prepared him for what happened in VR.

For the next six months, Collin’s cerebral cortex was assaulted with images of his sobbing, mournful family and friends. He saw the mortician preparing his cadaver for burial. He looked pale and gaudy in his casket. He saw his aging mother collapse during his funeral, and medics took her away in an ambulance. Collin’s distraught editor hung himself in his apartment. Collin’s part-time girlfriend, whom he truly cared for but didn’t know how to do it properly, took up full-time with his best friend. He saw them having sex, repeatedly. He felt the heartbreak of his mother’s passing, and his sister’s subsequent collapse into addiction. He was suffocated by darkness. Worms. Regret. Heart break. Eternal damnation.

The simulation looped until one day, it was interrupted by the following message:

“Thanatos Inc. is pleased to have fulfilled your deepest wish for Assisted Ersatz-Suicide. With your financial contribution and help from sponsors like Titan Pharmaceuticals, we were able to make your wish a reality. We hope that you enjoyed your time here as we have enjoyed serving you. Experienced counselors are ready to support you when you return to Present Reality. You will be disconnected from our VR server in 60 seconds, but first, another word from our sponsors.”

The Open Eye

Author : Joachim Heijndermans

Danny was convinced the moon was an eye. A single, blind eye that stared down at the world, slowly closing once a month. An eye that stared down at the little people, watching them with an intense hunger. He knew this was the truth, but no-one believed him, no matter how hard he tried to convince them.

“He’s a crazy man,” said the old woman down the street.

“He’s funny,” said the little girl. “’Specially when he’s telling us th’ eye’s watching us. He thinks it’s a big monster.”

“The guy’s a lunatic, shaking his fist at the sky all the livelong day. Always going on about his “eye” nonsense,” said the garbage man.

“Such a poor tortured soul, haunted by his delusions,” said the pastor.

“He is in denial. Does he not realize the moon is mostly made of anorthosite? It’s a round satellite going around and around our planet, that vanishes because the planet blocks the rays of the sun from hitting it. There’s nothing alien of monstrous about it. It’s basic science,” said the school teacher.

Yes, no-one ever believed Danny. For years, he went on and on how the blind eye was staring down at them. That it was some hideous beast that was abiding its time, letting its hunger grow until the time for it to feast was upon us. And every time, the people would laugh or brush him off, trying not to get close to the crazy man who shook his fist at the sky.

Then the second eye opened.

The High Cost of Contact

Author : David C. Nutt

“I don’t need to explain it to you again Mr. Ambassador. There’s absolutely nothing you can do but accept our terms.”

“This is an outrage! It’s piracy! It’s –

“Yes, it’s all that and more- but it doesn’t alter the facts one little bit now does it?”

“No. It doesn’t. (Sigh) We had such hope. We thought it would be different.”

“Yeah I get it. It was the same for my people too. One day we thought we were alone in the universe and the next day they came out of the sky. We were awestruck by their technology. They ended world hunger, disease, our energy problems, made us instantly sustainable.”

“Then your bill came due.”

“Yup. Took almost all of our silicates. Most of our ferrous materials as well.”

“At least you didn’t lose two ice caps.”

“Hey, you can replace most of that with what’s floating around your asteroid belt. That will hold you until you can construct the fleet to siphon hydrogen and other easily convertibles from your gas giants. We gave you the technology to do it.”

“But it will take nearly everything we have! Assuming we can put aside our differences and cooperate on this, even with the tech you gave us it will be hundreds of years until we can replace the water from the ice you’re taking. Why didn’t you just go get the water from another gas giant? From one of your own stars?”

“Well, here’s where things get complicated. Our system doesn’t have any gas giants. The nearest star has another system that owns the rights to that star and the next three or four other stars in our neighborhood. You guys were our next stop after all that. You’ve got premium ice, readily available plus water, hydrogen, methane, ammonia and other resources to spare. We trade your ice for the rights to one of those stars a tad bit closer to our home world and we can replace the silicates and other materials we lost with our first contact.”

“There’s no one we can call for help is there?”

“Oh yeah, plenty! But if you think this is a raw deal try paying the bill for protection. Do the words ‘nitrogen and argon’ mean anything to you? Be thankful we found you first and only took what we did. We could have taken more but, well, my people have a soft spot for first contacts.”

“I’m moved. So what can we do to guard our resources from the next race that comes by?”

“Here’s where I get to ease your pain. Ten of your days after we leave your system and are long gone we will send you the blueprints for a planetary defense system that will keep just about every known race in the galaxy at bay.”

“How much is that gonna cost us?”

“Mr. Ambassador! I’m truly hurt.”

“I’d rather front load the pain than have you come back in two decades and take an ocean or two.”

“I assure you our terms are totally reasonable.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re going to ask me for the sun and the moon.”

“Nonsense. Just the moon.”

Frozen Dry

Author : Beck Dacus

Azova, Girgin, and Rastat floated through a hole blasted in the alien ship’s hull. Inside, everything was trashed. Whatever had destroyed this ship had been thorough. The computer systems were all but disintegrated. The ship was in complete vacuum, in fact sparser than the interstellar space outside. There was no gravity, caused by linear acceleration, rotation, or otherwise.

And the crew was frozen.

Their corpses were hard to identify at first, but the statuesque structures sitting in the middle of all the halls were unmissable. Once Girgin had examined them thoroughly, he concluded that they were frozen organisms, most likely the sentients in control of this ship.

“Well, why are they frozen?” Azova asked. “What could’ve done all this to their ship, in addition to *that*?”

“I don’t know off the top of my head, Azova,” Girgin replied. “It’ll require an investigation. I’m going to do a biopsy on one of them and analyze the substance encasing them in my lab.”

“Just one small sample,” Rastat said. “We don’t want to disturb the site. Treat it like a crime scene.”

“Yes, sir.” Girgin took his sample, chipping off a piece of one of the organisms, and they all returned to their ship.

The next day, Girgin rushed into the mess hall, shouting for attention. The other two were having breakfast, along with Crimien and Tsafon, the astronomer and computer specialist who had stayed behind during the other three’s jaunt. Girgin was holding the sample.

“It’s glass!”

The rest of them were utterly bewildered. Tsafon, however, soon understood what he was referring to, and tried to catch on.

“Are you saying that… that they were silicon-based, and the heat from their demise melted that silicon and, uh, vitrified them?” He gasped. “That’s it, isn’t it?”

Girgin gave him a look. “What? No. It’s biological. It’s a protein that encases them when they dry out!”

“A bioweapon, employed by their attackers?” Azova guessed.

“No! They did it on purpose!” While the rest of them gawked at him, he explained: “There are terrestrial animals called tadigrades that entomb themselves in this protein-based glass when the environment can’t support them. When conditions become favorable again, the glass breaks apart, and they resume their metabolism. These creatures must be doing the same thing! *They’re still alive*!”

None of them could believe it. Rastat snapped out of it first, saying, “So we can revive them?”

“Yes! And all it would take is exposing them to normal conditions. They might’ve depressurized their own ship, in order to induce this state and stay alive during the accident. Or the attack. It doesn’t matter which one it was; we’ll be able to ask them!” He turned to the computer specialist. “Crimien, do you think you can tease out a little of the ship’s life support data? We need to know what kind of climate is habitable for them, and then I can replicate it in my isolation chamber.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Crimien said.

“Good. Can you order everyone to suit up, Rastat? I wouldn’t want to overstep my bounds.”

Mildly exasperated, Rastat said, “You heard him.”

The whole crew donned spacesuits, and they drifted over to the wreckage. While Crimien did his best with the computers, everyone else hauled dry alien popsicles back aboard. Six hours later, with the life support data and ten alien bodies in hand, Girgin pressurized the isolation chamber and watched as, one by one, the aliens loosened, slumped, returned to color….

…And breathed.

Slaves to Nature

Author : Samuel Stapleton

“Your Excellency. We can’t move on this. The Intelligence Protection Community is watching too closely. Humans have made their move, their motion for an open debate court was approved.”

“This is ludicrous! They’ve been slaves for less than 30 Earth years. Every other subspecies has served for a minimum of 500 galactic years!”

“Yes, but they aren’t arguing over the Time Frame or the Legitimacy of Servitude Clauses.”

“Well what then?”

“Have you heard about the Rorschach Measures?”

“The new interface? Yes, I think my son is using it, what of it?”

“Distant chatter on multiple nets claim it was designed and written by a single human, with the help of an AI she also designed.”

“How would that even be possible? As a species they failed every single standard intelligence measure, they lost every shot they had at being classified as a prospecies.”

“Our team has been pouring over data from their home world. Did you know their population was 23 billion at maximum capacity? It’s larger than any other known species home planet. And I think we missed a key environmental pressure.”

“Which is?”

“Because of the complex nature of measuring intelligence the galactic society has always assumed that the most advanced organisms only peak after extended periods of evolution and adaption. As a species the humans have barely left the fertilization stage, but we’ve been looking into a phenomenon they call neuro-plasticity. They define it like this:

The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuro-plasticity allows the neurons in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

Their biology is very common – carbon based, we’ve seen it a thousand times before. But we’ve never seen a central nervous system develop in such leaps and bounds. I think we greatly underestimated the combination of their biology and the environment of their home world. They’re arguing that the galactic tests are old, outdated, and inherently biased.”

“We’ve heard that argument before. What’s different this time?”

“They claim to have already designed a different one. Better. One that they slipped into the Rorschach Measures interface…and that…according to the data they’ve collected…not one intelligent organism has passed ‘critical intelligence indicators’ other than humans…in fact we can’t even identify where the test was hidden in the coding.”

“They hid this test in a public user interface? How long have we been looking?”

“The interface went live a little over three galactic years ago. It’s now the 13th most used interface galactically speaking.”

“What’s her name?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The human female slave, what’s her name?”

“Well we’re still working on tracking her down sir, but we’ve found reference material that links her to a common user name on the net.”

“And it is?”

“She calls herself Darwin.”

“What relevance does that have?”

“We aren’t sure if it means anything sir. We’re still looking into it.”

“And Rorschach – figure out what that is as well. Humans are so young it boggles the mind that they’re this much trouble.”

“What should we do about the court date?”

“Nothing.”

“They said you would say that.”

“Who said?”

“The person who sent you your most recent e-message. It was sent directly from one of the Rorschach servers. Only moments ago. You just got another. Take a look.”

The only thing humans will be slave to, is our own nature. Adapt or die Chancellor. Adapt or die.

-drwn