Heavens Burst

Author : Austen Rodgers

They spawned from the Heavens Burst and raced beyond the measure of speed and distance, and for a time longer than the total existence of any other species. Like streaks of cosmic fireworks, they spread outward and settled on planets scattered throughout the multiverse. These beings, isolated, and longing for one another, sought a way to communicate.

They found that when they struck stones together, a sound was produced: the first song. It was the first song that carved the dirt from valleys, dumped rock to form mountains, and permitted water to escape from the ground. Sparks from their stones birthed stars, and they found that the light they expelled was beautiful. But the sound was too quiet, and they, unsatisfied with their attempts to call out to one another, threw their stones aside.

They found that when water dripped from their fingertips it produced a sound: the second song. The second song was quieter than the first, but through it they learned of rhythm. With it, oceans were filled, flowing rivers were given source, and rain fell. When the beats of passing time bored them they dried their hands, unsatisfied with their attempts to call out to one another.

They found that when air was forced from their lungs it produced a sound: the third song. They sung out to one another, across stars and galaxies, hoping to be heard. Their voices quickly became hoarse, and it was painful to speak. Defeated, they turned to their planets and begged to become a part of them. The planets agreed, and they were consumed.

There was one left who had not asked to be devoured. Instead of singing to the heavens, it looked down and sung to the planet: the fourth song. It was the fourth song that gave life to the planet. With it, trees, birds, fish, animals, and men were produced. In the end, it looked upon what had been created, and named the planet Earth.

Temporal Clock

Author : Roderick Holl

Elijah checked the readout on the pen-sized tool, cursing to himself as he placed a hand on his helmet and spoke into the communications channel, “Hamlet do you read me? I don’t think the problem is this balance spring.”

“It must be something, it’s chaos down here.” responded Hamlet.

Elijah shook his head disappointingly, “I’ll have a look around.”

Elijah turned his back to the open panel and shoved off, eyes searching for the odd event occurring within the Temporal Clock. Itself an odd event, the Clock was the accidental result of scientists attempting to view time. An interstellar clock, the embodiment of time in the Universe.

He floated through an infinitesimal field of golden hands and raging temporal clouds, looking about a behemoth structure which no man fully understood. Time sped up and slowed, traveled backwards and forwards around him before finally stopping before what he hoped was the problem.

A quantum crystal spun and twitched violently within its containment, nearly falling out as it pulsated energy for time to flow. Relying on an archaic repair method, but knowing no alternative to fix the crystal’s position, Elijah kicked it. A bright flash echoing through the Temporal Clock, arms spinning as clouds calmed and shifted, stabilizing time as the crystal locked back into place.

“Whatever you did worked, Elijah.” congratulated Hamlet.

But Elijah was gone. His spacesuit floating empty in the void of the temperamental Temporal Clock. Back on Earth, Hamlet sat at his station with a blank stare, aware of what he was doing, but the name of who he was speaking to escaping him. Seconds later Hamlet stood up. Realizing there was no reason to be at work today, he left the control room.

Spire

Author : Catori Sarmiento

It will only grow bigger. The abdominal bloating that began as a minuscule bump is gradually becoming more obvious. He placed a hand on the swollen mass, now full enough to cup in his palm, as a quiet anxiety pulses from the source to the base of his heart. A decision must be made, but he need not make it, not yet. There is still time.

The spires are natural, emerging from the earth, at first slowly and then increasingly as the decades passed. Once, the multitudes so feared them that hundreds were destroyed, but they inevitably returned, forcing eventual acceptance of their existence. Some radicals still resist the compelling urge through will or fear. He, like most, cannot. All are all drawn to them by pheromones that emit from spores akin to dust. At night, the spores are luminescent, beautiful, and it is in those dark hours where most sit or lie beneath the base of a spire to watch the particles fall like colorful snowflakes. More invigorating than the visual spectacle is the sustained euphoria.

A handful of weeks before, he had gone to the spire for his weekly routine. The spire itself was contained within a white opaque tower in order to keep the spores isolated from non-consenting bystanders. To gain entrance, he showed his age identification cards to the door guard and were led inside. After passing through a short hallway, there was spire itself. A grand bioluminescent object that he thought looked like a thin mushroom stem with a wide cap where underneath came the descending spores, drifting leisurely, almost unmoving, towards the ground. He lay amongst others as the comfortable relaxation enveloped their bodies, gradually growing to a steady stream of ecstasy.

Later came the unmistakable symptoms of implantation. He knew the warnings, had seen the pictures of its progression, listened to required lectures from health educators. It was never far from any man’s mind. It was why he took precautions. A simple inoculation every three months and the risks were negated. Even that was not flawless, it seemed.

He touches his other hand to the smooth side of his stomach where it is slightly cooler, comparing it to the warmer sensation that emanates from the bump. What gestates inside causes dizziness from the spores integrating into his blood and a constant nausea that signals the beginning of his changing physiology. Removal is a compelling choice, and yet, so is preservation. It will become life. Eventually, the obstruction will grow to a certain size and detach. Inside will be a newborn, little more than a clone of the host.

The Instant

Author : Andrew Bale

How is it that death is an instant? A few seconds ago, the gasping, struggling, savaged body of Ensign Harper had been a living person, and then, in an instant, he was gone. She held his body, felt it settling, relaxing from its former struggles, dynamic still in its own way but unquestionably now just a thing and no longer a person. A person one instant, meat the next. How was that possible?

Thirty years in space told her that the same process was about to happen for the Exeter. Outnumbered, outmatched, from the moment the first shots were fired every action she had taken had just been an attempt to delay this inevitable moment. Now the destroyer was in its own struggle to stay alive, but she knew the damage was far too severe, that soon it too would go still, transform in an instant from a vessel that crossed the stars to a mere chunk of metal and plastic.

She felt it the second it happened.

“Captain!”

The XO’s face was hard to see through the faceplate of his helmet, streaked with sweat and twisted with barely repressed terror.

“Captain, the last furnace just failed. We’re dead in space. What are your orders?”

The ship was dead, the enemy was doubtless preparing to board. There was only one order to give.

“Emergency channel, full broadcast. This is Captain Tutuola, scuttle the ship, repeat, scuttle the ship…” She hesitated slightly, “… it has been an honor.”

The signal went out through the ship, displayed in her helmet as if projected into the empty center of the wrecked bridge. Thousands of little lights appeared, neurons in the virtual brain that was the ship’s control system, each light representing a computer, a piece of sensitive technology, some other vital system that used to make the Exeter a ship. One by one, the lights went out as dedicated thermal charges transformed them into lumps of innocuous slag. In under a minute the vast majority were extinguished, with the rest following more slowly as the remaining crew took plasma cutters to systems spared by defective charges. They were efficient, it took only a minute more.

“Captain, the ship has been scuttled.”

Wallace was a good man. He had never been afraid of the battle, hadn’t feared dying. He had feared surviving to see this. Understandable.

She sighed, unaware as she did it, a physical release to match the decision that had to be made.

“Emergency channel, full broadcast. This is Captain Tutuola, initiate wipe, all crew, repeat, initiate wipe, all crew.”

The order was processed by the battlesuits, a short pulse to the back of the head followed by a thermal charge to melt the suit’s own computer. It went by rank from junior to senior, in order, so it was Yeoman Assari who was the first, lurching out of his seat and screaming silently in his helmet before going still, floating in the middle of the room. The rest went in turn quickly, most taking it stoically, some having to be restrained by their seniors from tearing off their helmets in irrational, terrified suicide. Wallace spasmed, terror turned to peace in an instant as he stared at her with blank eyes. She saw Assari reach for a handhold, looking around the room with the confusion of a newborn in an adult body, asking silent questions with a furrowed brow. She saw the glow of a cutting torch appear in the center of the ceiling, and an echoing glow from behind her head.

And then… the instant passed.

End Game

Author : Leanne A. Styles

I skip down the corridor, swinging my gun in delight. Even above the wail of the alarms, Ben’s screams carry, amplified by the lofty glass walls.

As I enter the stairwell, I contemplate why, out of everybody in the office, I’ve spared him.

Perhaps it’s that smile ‒ the way his lips move when he talks, and the things I imagine him doing to me with them. Or maybe it’s because he looked so pathetic, cowering under his desk, begging me not to blow his perfect head off.

Reaching the fifth floor, I’m met by a swarm of hysterical workers. I quickly conceal my gun and mimic them, screaming and panicking as if I’m another innocent among the crowd. I needn’t bother. They barely notice me.

Boring little Lydia. The quiet one who rides that archaic pushbike to work and eats her lunch alone.

In the chaos I manage to slip past the guards and out the door onto the street.

But the police are waiting for me.

Ben. Why didn’t I just end him when I had the chance?

“End simulation,” I say as the officers raise their weapons.

The scene freezes and I take off my headset.

The reference grid that maps the virtual reality disappears and the intelligent interface that controls the holo-suite transpires. Anya, the face of the system, appears.

“Lydia, you have made it further on the workplace massacre simulation than ever before, but you have failed to escape the scene without being apprehended. Would you like to know what went wrong?”

“I already know. I left that snivelling rat Ben alive.”

“Correct. He seems to be a weakness for you. I wonder why this is.”

“He’s cute, even if he is a narcissistic moron. You’ve done a really good job with replicating him from that photo I gave you ‒ too good. Is there any way I can leave him alive and get out the building without being caught or killed.”

She pauses, calculating the probability. “The chances of this outcome are less than twenty percent.”

“Ben must die.”

“Correct.”

The next day, as I’ve done for the last two weeks, I spend my lunch hour at the holo-centre. This time I don’t hesitate in killing Ben. I take the same route out, merging with the crowd again, and escape in plain sight onto the street.

I see police, but they aren’t here for me.

“Congratulations,” Anya says. “You have successfully completed the workplace massacre. You have shown great aptitude in the art of killing and deception.”

“Correct,” I say, removing my headset and hanging it on its bracket.

“Lydia, I must warn you that my intuitive algorithms have flagged you as a possible risk to yourself and others. If you continue to play out this scenario, I will be forced to report my findings to the moderators of the centre.”

I laugh. “Oh, Anya. As fun as it’s been, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve decided to end my membership here at the holo-centre.”

“There are many other fantastic scenarios you have yet to experience. What about the mermaid kingdom or warrior princess programmes? They are particularly popular with women of your age group.”

“I’ll pass. After all, this is just a jumped-up computer game. And the problem with computer games ‒ however advanced they become ‒ is that they can’t compete with the next level.”

“I’m sorry, but I do not understand this reference,” she says. “The next level?”

I walk out the door without answering, shut it gently behind me, and grin, before whispering, “Reality. Nothing beats reality.”