Author: Rick Tobin
“Nobody makes choices carelessly about losing one of their senses, but you know the risk of blowing your neural nets outweighs keeping all your Earthly capacities.” Paloma Derth leaned towards her reluctant client. Behind her were rolling holographic images of her diplomas from medical schools throughout the solar system.
Erli August pushed his taught, strong form back against Derth’s floating visitor’s chair. It expanded and contracted to give him continued maximum comfort. “I never considered this in my dreams at the academy. This is a sacrifice they didn’t cover with plebes.”
“Surely not, Mr. August. We weren’t traveling that deep when you entered ten years ago. With technologies we found abandoned on Phobos, we are going beyond what we now call the Ring Pass Not. No one realized how protected we were until those poor souls on the Cambia were driven mad and ran their ship into asteroids. The rescue crews suffered the same fate, but now we know that electromagnetic fields outside our solar system’s protective barrier overwhelm humans with all five senses.”
“I realize. I’ve met my new crew members. It was quite an adjustment to work on board alongside blind and deaf people. Did they all have to make these choices?” August clenched his teeth as he considered how the Earth’s best could be disabled to fulfill dreams of deep-space missions.
“No, it was discovered early on that academy graduates could not adjust effectively with a sudden major removal of sight or sound and still be competent aboard. I still lose sleep over candidates we harmed needlessly. I later helped develop screening to find our best hopes in special needs communities. It was a pleasant surprise to find so many competent engineers and scientists were interested and available. Adjustments to your ship’s internal systems were not that difficult to support them, as well as sighted and hearing-capable staff. Trust me, you’ll find your crew highly qualified, but you still have to make your choice. With advancements in our medical skills we can now offer a less intrusive selection with fewer impacts: choose taste or smell.”
“Easy for you, Doc, but I’m still not happy about this. I realize we have to fly end of this week. I’ve delayed this as long as possible. So, if you want to help me take this next step, are you willing to help me for just a few minutes to make my selection?” August leaned forward, putting his hand over the advisor’s cupped hands on her desk.
“I’m not sure what you have in mind, Captain…but are you suggesting something inappropriate?”
“Hardly, Doc, but if you would humor me just this once…considering what I have to do. Either I’ll never taste food again or I’ll never smell a flower for eternity. That’s asking a lot.”
A light flush came over Paloma’s face. She did not move from her chair as August approached her from her right side. August stroked his hand lightly over the nape of her neck and then bent down as he lifted her thick hair to his face, bathing in her shampoo and perfume with one deep inhalation. She jolted back as the Captain’s large hands circled the back of her neck as he turned her face toward his. Looking deeply into her green eyes, he kissed her softly and then deeply, holding his lips completely over hers. She finally pushed him away.
“Captain August, I…that was unexpected. Why?”
He smiled, slowly. “I’ve made my decision. Now if you don’t mind, as you cut my wires, play ‘Crazy,’ by Patsy Cline in the background. Thanks.”
Author: C.R. Caison
The laser round exploded in a flash of light by Yuri’s head. He jumped and rolled to the side before a second shot struck the wall where he’d been standing. The blast weakened the wall and it collapsed into a heap of fragments. The crowd roared above him, billions of virtual eyes, nameless spectators, eagerly awaited the outcome of this final match.
Yuri sprinted down the corridor and rounded the turn. Instinctively, he raised his weapon and fired, catching the assailant in the side. The other player fell to the ground and shattered into polygons. Above the arena, the floating numbers keeping count of active players decreased by one. His fans cheered. There were only two players left: Yuri and the reigning champion. The game mode was simple, the last player left standing wins the match. The victor would have their name immortalized as this season’s winner, written into the game’s memory forever, and Yuri wanted glory.
The music in the arena changed tempo. Its beat increased, pounding like war drums in his head. Cautiously, he stalked his opponent. Yuri had studied the champ’s streams, took note of his moves, learned his pattern. Yuri holstered his weapon and with a quick jump, leaped up and kicked off the wall to propel himself high enough to grab the ledge. With a heave, he swung a leg on top and pulled himself up. He perched on the wall, looking across the maze that carved up the arena. The crowd roared at his brazen move. Yuri jogged along, jumping from wall to wall, looking for his opponent. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement.
He focused his mind, drew his weapon, and scanned to make the final shot. The champion darted through the corridor below. Had Yuri blinked, he would have missed him. Yuri launched himself forward, firing the boosters attached to his feet, letting the momentum carry him along the far wall as his weapon barked lasers at the champ. His shots missed, dissipating on the arena floor. His opponent turned and leaped at him, trying to catch Yuri off guard.
Had it been any other player, the tactic might have worked. Yuri smiled. He had prepared for this moment. They always have a pattern, he thought. He kicked forward, knocking the champ’s weapon to the side and colliding into him with his knee. The two landed with Yuri on top. The arena gasped and for a moment there was no noise. Yuri pulled the trigger, sending a bolt into his opponent’s chest. The blast shattered his opponent’s avatar. The arena quaked from the spectators’ screams. Yuri had won.
Overhead, the counter clicked to one then faded away as orange and blue polygon fireworks exploded in the void above. Sparkling embers rained down and the maze walls recessed into the arena floor. The floor beneath him raised up into the air and he stood on a pedestal. Yuri’s name flashed overhead and congratulatory streams, in countless languages, washed over him. He watched as his name was entered into the records as this season’s champion. A feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment ran through him.
The words “Game Over” floated above him. Within minutes, the victory music faded and the world around him dissolved. Yuri felt the weight of his real body return and he pulled off his headset. The dirty walls of his one room apartment replaced the virtual world where he spent most of his waking hours. He wiped his purple ringed eyes, scratched his head, his hair matted from the sweat, and sat alone in the quiet.
Author: Philip Berry
Reciprocation minus 90 minutes: Rebecca Fenton tapped in the melt codes, but the circle of light that had appeared briefly on her curved monitor persisted as a dense shadow in her visual field. It was geometrically perfect, except for a notch in the 2 o’clock position. The door opened behind her.
“Early finish?” said her supervisor, Arthur Kopf. He glanced over her shoulder at the workstation as it powered down.
“A lecture, at the Ethnographic Institute.”
“You and your history!”
Rebecca laughed half-heartedly and gathered up her small rucksack. Arthur knew what it contained. Before he came to trust her fully, he had unfastened the top and peered inside. Just old books, besides the usual clutter and feminine mysteries.
“We’ll meet tomorrow, go over the week’s findings,” stated Arthur, in professional mode. “There have been some shifts in the quaternary echo-line.” Rebecca slipped past him into the corridor.
Reciprocation minus 45 minutes: Rebecca waited in the Institute’s lobby until the wave of applause subsided and the audience began to leave. Then she wove her way against the flow towards the stage. Rebecca’s presence alarmed the speaker, Professor Sheila Innis, who pointed to an area backstage where they could speak privately.
“It came through,” said Rebecca.
“When does the response go out?”
“Forty-five minutes from now. Enough time to give the impression there has been a discussion, and a consensus. I disabled the mainframe, it can’t be reversed.”
“As we agreed. Well done Rebecca.”
Reciprocation minus 85 minutes: Arthur Kopf’s palm rested on the monitor. He had noticed a fading shape in the layer of liquid crystal; a circle. And with the eye of faith, a notch in the predicted position. The universal greeting. A life’s work. But when he tried to power up the system there was no response. His head dropped.
Reciprocation plus 28 years: Arthur Kopf, 81 years old, hung back after a session that Rebecca Fenton, chair of the Global Committee on Elemental Resourcing, had facilitated with customary panache. Looking out over the audience as it dispersed, Rebecca recognized her aged, ex-supervisor. He walked up to the platform and faced her.
“None of this was necessary, you know,” he said, without introduction. “They would have shared their resources.”
“No Arthur, they would have taken them.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“It is universal nature. Loyalty to one’s own.”
“So parochial Rebecca, your philosophy. All your kind, all the Innis-cult.” A pause. Then, quietly, under a brow that displayed the hurt of treachery that could not be forgotten, he asked, “Was it you, Rebecca? Were you the first to see the signal?”
Rebecca, severe behind the thick-rimmed, assertive spectacles that she had acquired in public office, replied, “Would it make you feel more complete Arthur, if I said yes? For you to know the signal was detected by your lab first?”
“I saw it, Rebecca. The circle hadn’t faded. But of course, you had already entered the melt code.”
Rebecca could not look him in the eye.
“Fortunately, for Earth, I was able to halt the melt code. I wrote it, after all.”
“How long until…”
“Forty-seven years. You’ll see it; I won’t.”
Reciprocation minus 7 minutes: The mainframe was back online. The monitor glowed. The notched circle burned brightly in the dark of the laboratory. Arthur adjusted the angle of the notch and bounced the signal back: ‘We will welcome you. But wait. Seventy-five Earth years. When we are scraping the mines and asteroids for precious minerals, and the naysayers have been proven wrong, then come to us. We will welcome you.’
Author: Rebecca Field
Each time I go to the morgue, I expect to find him. And then each time I leave, I wish that I could fall asleep and not wake up again. Become one of them. Lined up in death, all the colours of the rainbow coursing through their cold flesh, their waxy stares fixing on nothingness. Sometimes it is obvious how they died, sometimes not. Since the robots came, we die in many ways.
I can’t keep doing this, I tell myself as I push through the heavy wooden doors. The anticipation, the shock, the disgust. The smell hits first and I pull my scarf over my nose and mouth. This building used to be a theatre, before. Filled with music, songs, and laughter. The heavy curtains are still here, by what used to be the stage. The gold paintwork on the balustrades glimmers in the flickering light of the oil lamps. It must have looked wonderful lit up for a show. I never had the money to come here then. Now we all come. It’s the only way to reconnect with those we have lost.
I pass along the rows, head bowed. I’ve seen some of these bodies before. Those unclaimed will be burned in the mass funeral pyres on the outskirts of the city soon. At least their worries are over. I envy them that.
As I approach the children’s section, I take a deep breath and quickly scan the faces. It feels disrespectful, not to stop and mourn each little life. But I need to know he isn’t here, that maybe he is still out there somewhere.
When I am satisfied, I take a breath, knowing I’ll be back soon. I’ll keep returning until I join the ranks of the lined up dead myself. Who will come to claim me then? When none of us remain, the robots will not mourn.
The outpost supply ship Reliant exploded this morning at 09:00 earth time. All 62 crew members died instantly. The Nicene anti-expansionists claimed the attack as one of their own. It is the first time they have targeted a non-military vessel, which may herald a worrying new trend in interstellar terrorism.
Excerpt from recorded film as part of the last will and testament of JB Reiser:
Hey Bro, if you’re watching this, the unthinkable has happened – I’ve just met my sticky end in the inky vastness of space (laugh). I’ve been updating this message every year or so and this time is really important. Cass found out she was pregnant just days before I was due to head off on this six-month supply tour.
Jesus, I really hope you aren’t listening to this because that means I never got the chance to meet the new person growing inside Cass’ belly.
Cass is well provided for – this job has good health and pension cover. I’m directing this message at you because I don’t want mum taking over. She’ll do it with the best intentions, but then she’ll railroad Cass completely. I need you to watch out for Cass, help her stand her ground and do what she thinks is right for the baby. We were planning to join the new settlement scheme and maybe move to some obscure part of the galaxy where life is less programmed, more of a surprise. If Cass still wants that, you’ll have to fight mum over it.
I’ve instructed that you be told first if something happens to me. I want you to be the one to break the news to Cass. I know you’re more of a words man, Bruce, but she won’t need your words, they won’t help her. You need to hold her as tight as you can. I know you’re cringing there (laugh), but it’s hugs that she’ll need.
Tell her I love her more than anything. It sounds clichéd but I really mean it. Tell her I’ll miss her dancing to merengue while she cooks or laughing at whatever she’s reading, the mean back massages she knows how to give me, how she looked on our wedding day in red because it’s her favourite colour (and white just makes her look ill), and the silly debates we always have over coffee in the mornings when I’m on home leave. Tell her I would never have left her by choice.
Tell her, too, that I want our baby to grow up knowing who I was but I want them to know the real me, no turning me into a hero. No naming them after me, not even as a middle name; they deserve to be their own person.
And the next bit of this message is for you because you are much more to me than just my messenger…
Annual meeting of the non-animal-protein development committee:
The meeting was interrupted when the chair, Cassandra Reiser, was called out to speak to a relative bringing urgent news. Those present were not able to hear what was said through the sound-proof glass, but they observed Ms. Reiser collapsing against a tall, thin man, wearing glasses (unthinkable in this day and age of corrective eye treatment). It was clear she was sobbing, wailing even, and the young man was holding her very, very tight.
Excerpt of passenger manifest for the Aurora settlement ship traveling to Kairos:
Bruce Reiser (28), traveling with wife
Cassandra Reiser (26) and child
Aria Reiser (2)