506 Kelvin

Author : S. Clough

Five hundred and six degrees Kelvin is the temperature our burners need to reach. The tech boys designed them to burn at one thousand and seventy three. The operating temperature keeps going up and up: they seem to see it as a challenge. Anyway. We were heading back along the ninth princeway when it happened. The truck stopped, and swerved off the road, accelerating. Control had jacked our truck from the meat driver and some damn kid was joyriding us as fast as possible towards a presumably important assignment.

Well, the bit about the kid might be an exaggeration. But that’s what it feels like – that sort of reckless abandon you see kids play their games with. Not minding about the odd dent or the rough jump because they won’t feel it, and the damage will be gone by the next round. We buckled down and rode it out. We figured we arrived at our destination when the truck did a screeching right hand turn, nearly rolling, before pulling to a halt. We barrelled out of the back, burners readied. We had pulled up outside a pair of buildings: a farmhouse and a barn. People were streaming out of the barn, some towards us, and some away.

Liz and Patrick broke away to the right, quickly catching up with, and knocking down any of the escapees that were carrying boxes. They were the prize, not the people. They let the rest of them run away. The few who had approached us were obviously belligerent in their attitudes. Most were waving cudgels, although one or two had illegal firearms in their hands. Acts of aggression against Civil Protection troops is treason anyways, so we got rid of them all. Frank’s right burner misfired, though, so he ended up just punching one of them until he stopped trying to attack. Poor sod will probably have to repair it out of his own paycheck.

We collected all the contraband around the houses. Lee knocked one of the walls of the farmhouse in, just for good measure. He said he thought that there might be a secret compartment, although I reckon that was just for the benefit of the tape. That boy likes destruction a little too much. But he is in the right line of work to get plenty of it.

We had collected all the cases in the centre of the barn, and since I was Duty, I was about to put fire to them.

This was Lee’s first real hit. And in a flagrant breach of all our protocol, he stepped in front of me, and opened one of the cases. He picked up one of the objects from inside, tore off the opaque plastic which covered it, and stared. He tried to open the book with his heavily gloved hands, but just managed to tear the cover and the first few pages off.

“Wha…?” he mouthed.

Frank heaved him out of the way, and I put fire to the pile.

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Scentsation

Author : Michelle Pitman

Candice didn’t quite know where to put the thing in her hand.

It was small and light, delicate beyond belief and it sat in her hand quietly still and inscrutable. She didn’t really want to put it down because it was so cute and pretty.

After some deliberation, she decided that it was probably best to put it on the mantel over the firescreen in the corner. From there she would be able to see it from nearly every angle in the room, watch it and amuse her self in the watching it.

It didn’t have a name…yet. It was still in beta testing. She was on the TechWatch Committee listings for these sorts of things anyway so she often had new things come to her out of the blue. This thing had arrived quite unexpectedly in her mail box that morning –zapped into her mail console just like that – whilst she had been concentrating on synthesising some pure Papuan New Guinean coffee beans. It had given her quite a start.

She had known for sometime that this thing was in development but hadn’t expected that she would be privileged enough to actually own one for a month or two during the beta testing period.

She eyed the tiny contraption on the mantel curiously. As she stared, she breathed lightly onto the object and imagined a scene in her mind from her past. The accompanying notes had explained that this was important. Nothing happened for a moment and she was almost disappointed when all of a sudden she felt shivering waves of memory sweep over her.

The smell! Was it the sweet smell of coffee perhaps? No – that was the beans in her kitchen!

A rush of emotion zapped through her. She remembered sitting on the lawn, as a young woman; sitting back and breathing in the heady cologne of him beside her. She had loved him so much, but he was distant, rational and ever so un-romantic. But, she had loved him all the same.

It was his cologne! She could smell it as clearly as on that day! But there was more! She could smell the background scents of new mown grass, of sweaty teenagers playing ball on the holo-court near where they sat. She could smell the subtle distant synth-blended perfumes of other girls who sat in small cliques around them. And him! She could smell him. The memories and emotions ripped through her like lightening rods. She had virtually forgotten this scene from her past until now. The shock of it made her gasp out aloud.

“Holy Shit!” she whispered. “It works!”

She quickly went to the low table in front of the fire-screen and grabbed a tap-pad, itching to make some notes before the moment passed.

‘First test for object number ZXY-4653: Made an eye-level trigger stare on object for approx. 30 seconds. Subject breathed over object as explained in user notes. Experienced strong olfactory sensation and subsequent emotional memory recall. Subject is astonished at clarity of recall due to very accurate scent reconstruction.’

She smiled. This was going to be a whole lot of fun. The little pretty object just sat inscrutably on her mantel oblivious to its potential

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Ice Rustlers

Author : Patricia Stewart

The annoying throb of the proximity klaxon woke the two security guards (aka, Comet Cowboys) from their mid day rest period. They drifted into the control room and floated above the sensor-generated hologram of the “herd.” The “herd” consisted of approximately 3,000 mountain-sized blocks of ice that once were comet 2P/Encke. In the early twenty third century, The Mars Water and Mineral (MWM) Company bought the rights to the comet and spent years breaking it up into manageable fragments. Then, every 3.3 years (when its orbit brought it nearer to Mars) they would “corral” a few blocks and sell the water to the farming conglomerates on Mars, at a substantial profit of course. However, the conglomerates considered the markup so unreasonable that they revolted. They hired ice rustlers to raid the herd and steal large fragments of the comet; thus starting the Great Ice War of 2279. Eventually, the United Worlds stepped in and negotiated a peace, but there were still some bands of freelance rustlers who would occasionally try to steal a block or two to sell on the black market.

Roy Cody surveyed the hologram and spotted the intruder. “Just one ship,” he said pointing the sole flashing red light amongst the 3,000+ drifting white dots. “They must really be stupid to think they could slip under our sensor grid. I’ll handle this one myself.”

“Fine,” said his partner. “But remember the treaty. You can’t blow them up unless they fire first. But feel free to disable their engines, or cut their grapple line.”

When Cody arrived at the designated location, he discovered a dilapidated one person skiff, which was at least 100 years old, and it was struggling to flee the herd with a comet fragment the size of a small house. Roger pressed the ship-to-ship communications button. “This is security. Unknown ship, please identify yourself.”

“Cody, is that you? It’s Buck, Buck Cassidy. How did you know I was out here?”

Buck was one of the original “cowboys.” He had worked the herd during the war, and had trained Roy when he became a guard in ‘98. Buck had retired a decade ago, and didn’t know about the security upgrades.”

“Yeah, Buck, it’s me. Where you goin’ with the cube old friend?”

“I’m desperate, son,” he replied. “They stopped delivering water to Demos. They’re trying to drive me planetside. I’ve lived on Demos all my life. I’ll never survive Mars’ gravity. Look, Roy, this block won’t survive perihelion anyway, and it will last me the rest of my life. Can’t you cut me a break?”

Cody knew Buck was right; they don’t shield these little chunks. It would probably evaporate next time it passes the sun. What the hell. “All right, Buck, get moving. And, listen, don’t shoot back.” As Buck continued to limp away, Roger fired two shots across his bow. “Base, this is Ranger One. It was just some teenagers on a joy ride. I ran them off. I’m heading back to the barn.”

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Missing Persons, Case T324.93

Author : J. S. Kachelries

I hate androids. Especially these high tech laboratory assistants. They’re good observers, but they can be instructed to lie. Worst of all, they can’t be intimidated or frightened into making a confession. I’ll take a human witness (or ‘suspect’ for that matter) anytime. “OK, bud, what’s your name, serial number, and date of sentiency?”

“I am called Daishin. My serial number is LAM34987650998-5. I became sentient on March 1, 2055. How can I be of assistance, Detective?”

I resisted the urge to send him/it for coffee. “Well, Daaheecheen, you can start by telling me where Dr. Hopkins is. He’s been missing for three days, and you were the last one to see him alive.”

“I am sorry, Detective. I do not know ‘where’ Dr. Hopkins is. I was assisting him with his time dilation experiments when he vanished. Technically, it is a matter of when.”

“What? Time travel, you say? But that’s impossible.” I happened to know it was impossible because of a holovision documentary I watched last week, where they made fun of 20th century television shows such as ‘Star Trak’ (or something like that) which created ridiculous timeline paradoxes in their storylines.

The titanium irises in Daishin’s photo-optic cells contracted to pinpoints. “It is true, Detective, that it is currently impossible to travel backward in time. But, it has been known for over 150 years that you can relativistically move forward in time simply by traveling at, or near, the velocity of light. That is the nature of Dr. Hopkins’ experiments. His temporal dilation chamber, there in the corner, can be used to move forward in-”

Just then, a red light above the whatamacallit chamber began flashing, followed by an irritating pulsating buzzer. Then, some idiot (who I assume was Dr. Hopkins) came running out of the chamber, grabbed the android by the lapels of his lab coat, and began shaking him. “Daishin, Daishin, how much time has elapsed since we activated the chamber?”

The android cocked his head and replied, “My internal chronometer indicates that you were gone for 75 hours, 18 minutes, and 17 seconds.”

Dr. Hopkins pulled a watch from his breast pocket and studied it. “According to my stop watch, I was only in the chamber for 67 seconds. This is fantastic. Come, Daishin, we need to perform a full molecular scan of my blah, blah, blah…” He continued to mumble something or other as he headed down a hallway. Before entering another lab, he paused and yelled back, “Hurry along, Daishin. And tell your friend there that we don’t need any of whatever it is he’s selling.”

Daishin straightened out his lab coat and said, “I see Dr. Hopkins has returned, and appears to be functioning normally. I believe, Detective, that your missing person problem is now resolved. If you do not need me anymore, I will tend to Dr. Hopkins.” He turned and headed down the hallway.

I changed my mind. I hate androids and mad scientists.

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The Last Experiment

Author : Adam Zabell

We did it, eventually. We learned everything, knew everything, understood everything. Our computers could calculate any answer to within its smallest probability at the speed of thought. Our machines could produce any object we wanted; tools to examine, manipulate, create, change and destroy. Our philosophers had become scientists, then engineers, then technicians, then laborers, then redundant.

The unimaginative worried about privacy, or freedom, or boredom. They hadn’t believed, or didn’t trust, that a necessary contribution to learning the intimate workings of the universe would require that we become comfortable with our differences, accepting of our fellows, and capable of caring for ourselves. Resolving that doubt was one of the last things we learned, and became our greatest day of celebration.

We hated the title of “god” but there wasn’t any other word that fit. What else could we call a race of omniscients whose omnipotence was as obvious as the photon, the periodic table and the chirality of space? We reinvented the universe in countless ways for curiosity and whim. Gave gravity a color, made light a particle-wave duality, disconnected electricity from magnetism, and everything else that came to mind. And everything else did.

At the last, we took our everything and went the only place we could go. Back to the beginning, back to where we could watch and advise and thrill in the discoveries of a young race doing it for the first time. And we couldn’t help ourselves to leave this, the one and only obvious marker of our passing and our presence. You have come so far to get here, and yet there’s so much more that you don’t even know to look for.

Welcome to your future and your past. Live it, love it, and rejoice!

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