Author : R. S. Alexander
v1: Derek Taylor was sipping coffee in a Los Angeles restaurant when a recruiter from XygmaCorp walked past his table, accidentally brushing against his shoulder.
57,143 down votes
Top-rated comment: “Wait, this is happening in a world with drinkable water in the midddle of the freakin desert? Where’s the world building?”
v2: Derek Taylor was sipping coffee in a Los Angeles restaurant. Though LA was a desert, the heroic work of engineers a century earlier meant that not only could millions of people like Derek live there, they could even drink a beverage whose production involved discarding damp coffee grounds that were still rich in moisture. As he savored the slightly bitter flavor of his dark beverage, a recruiter from XygmaCorp happened to walk by his table and brush against his shoulder.
30,420 down votes
Top-rated comment: “WTF? Main characters in North America and drinking a Ethiopian drink? Un. Real. Istic.”
v3: Derek Taylor sat sipping coffee in a restaurant in Los Angeles. Though he lived in a desert, technology treated him to luxuries from distant places. Aqueducts, constructed a century earlier from the designs of heroic engineers, carried an embarrassment of water riches sufficient to hydrate millions of souls, while massive container ships carried coffee beans from afar to the port in Long Beach. As he savored the flavor of this rich harvest of technology, a recruiter from XygmaCorp happened to walk by his table and brush against his shoulder.
21,703 down votes
Top-rated comment: “You just plop a guy with Anglo name into a frmr Spanish colony? Without any backstory? Needs in-world explanation!”
v4: Derek Taylor sat sipping coffee in a Los Angeles café. Though once a province of Spain and then Mexico, war had brought Alta California into the United States a hundred and seventy years earlier, and pasty Anglos like Derek now lived in this desert under the hot California sun. Technology, though, ensured that they would not thirst in the arid climate, with aqueducts carrying an embarrassment of water riches sufficient to hydrate millions of thirsty people. Container ships, meanwhile, brought coffee beans and numerous other delicacies from afar to the port in Long Beach. As he savored his dark beverage, the bounteous rewards of a technological society, a recruiter from XygmaCorp happened to walk by his table and brush against his shoulder.
3,469 down votes
Top-rated comment: “The digits on the down votes don’t match Zipf’s statistical pattern. It’s obvious that somebody’s just making this up.”
“As you can see from the data on the previous slides, our machine learning algorithms generate bots that realistically emulate fandom, and we can now engage in fully computerized production of authentic and fan-pleasing ‘hard’ sci-fi stories through an iterative process,” said Fiona Ivanek, addressing the Machine Intelligence Industry Association. The audience applauded, and she smiled graciously in appreciation. In a moment, however, her team would relay via earpiece a summary of the online response. She prepared herself for the worst.
Author : Rab Ferguson
Here at the end, there’s the last of everything. The last boiling kettle, the last ringing of guitar strings, the last letting go of hands. This is the last writing.
It’s hard to know what to say. I could make something from the end of us. Draw some blood and irony out of man finally falling to his own devices. We gave it plenty of foreshadowing. Printable diseases, drones that assassinate from the sky, scattered shadows across Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like Antony, man fell on his own sword. We were Hamlet. We were Romeo. We were Lady Macbeth. Yet there’s little point in irony and Shakespeare references, with no-one left to understand.
Maybe what’s needed is a tribute. I should sing a song of us. Tell a tale of all we were and all we did. Born without wings, we built planes and flew. Without gills, we dove to the bottom of the ocean and searched the seafloor. We went to the Moon, and almost to Mars. We sung, acted and danced. We even loved sometimes. Every art gallery in this world gone blind, every mile of film reel that won’t be spun, every hard drive of silent music, is a monument to humanity. The gods died with us. Our cathedrals, mosques and temples no longer stand for them, but as testament to what we could build with our little hands. An eulogy would be nothing more than grain of sand added to the beach.
I and we will not be remembered. The skyscrapers serve as gravestones, but there’ll be no flowers left at their bases. The patterns of roads across the land are the flicks and curls of our handwriting, but no-one will recognise our hearts and minds in the shapes we left behind. The landfills, the whiskey and wine distilleries, and the leaking petrol stations bear our scent like the clothes we once wore. They’ll never be lifted to a tear-streaked nose, to bring us back for a moment.
I say we and us. There’s only I. These words are trappings for my thoughts on the page, never sparking and crackling in your mind. They’re a message in a bottle, in a language that’s no longer read. They’re a lighthouse flashing out signals to a sea bereft of ships. They’re a phone call to the answering machine of a long passed-away lover. Without you reader, the words are half-alive. They’re an obsolete relic. A tool with no purpose in the modern age, which tells us something about how the world was when it was needed. As the last writer, in the act of the last writing, there’s only one dedication that’s fitting. Reader, I miss you. It was good when it meant something.
Author : David Henson
“So, the Missus qualifies for a full body refresh, but you don’t,” Georgie says solemnly, looking first at Beverly then Michael. “Too much HoverGolf, not enough volunteer work?”
“Something like that,” Michael says. “I should’ve changed my ways when they first started talking about the parts shortage. And with this body about to expire, I’m –”
“Not to worry. We’re here to help,” Georgie says. “In fact, you’re in luck. Let me tell you about our limited time special…”
“I’ll give you a few minutes alone to think about it,” Georgie says after finishing. “But we’ve only a few places left. In fact, I’ve got some other folks in the next room. No pressure.” Georgie gets up, tucks his gold chain back inside his collar, and leaves.
“What do you think?” Michael says. In the corner of the small room, life-size holograms of men and women laugh and dance on a beach, soft marimba music playing in the background.
“I still don’t see how their prices could be so low,” Beverly says.
“That bothers me, too. But you know we can’t afford any of the others.”
“I know. I know.” Beverly reaches across the table and squeezes her husband’s hand. “This is all happening so fast. I still say if you’re going to be streamed to simulation, I’m going with you.”
“We’ve been over this.” Michael says. “You have to stay here and start your refreshed life. Beverly pulls her hand away, but Michael takes it back. “Beverly, you’ve earned it. I’m sure my consciousness will be OK in, what do they call it?” Michael picks up a brochure from the table. *QuantumLand, Simulation of the Stars.* I don’t get it. Are they saying they have famous people there or stars like in space?”
Beverly shakes her head. “And how would I know you’re OK? Their package doesn’t even provide for communication with loved ones back here in physical reality.”
“Honey, with me in there, you out here, it’d be pointless to keep …” Michael’s voice trails off.
“I just wish we could afford a more reputable simulator,” Beverly says, looking at the frolicking holograms.
Michael floats his chair next to Beverly, and they sit together quietly. After a few minutes, Georgie comes back into the room. He dances briefly with a holo woman in the corner then makes his way to Michael and Beverly. He sits and folds his hands, his large pinky ring clacking against the table. “Well folks, what’s it going to be? Turns out I’ve two places left. For now.”
“Are you sure your simulation is up to standard with the others?” Beverly says. “Michael’s not going to get in there and be a dog or something is he?”
Georgie laughs. “Wouldn’t be so bad would it? A dog’s life? Just kidding. I guarantee our tech is right up there with that of the big boys.”
“But how can you charge so much less?” Beverly says.
“I told you,” Georgie says. “Volume. Basic econ.”
“We’ve made our decision, Georgie,” Michael says. “I’ll be in first thing tomorrow. Just me,” He puts his finger to Beverly’s lips.
“Fine,” Georgie says. “Half now. The rest in the morning.” Georgie presses a button on the side of the table, and a numeric light pad appears in the air.
As Michael enters his payment, Georgie turns toward Beverly. “A dog? You think we’d do something like that?” he says, then mouths “Call me” with a wink and makes a phone with his hand.
Author : Peter Merani
I like to watch it all go dark. To see if the world knows from up here how the evening folds in half. I used to think each individual sunset was its own glorious diamond. I would run to the top of the hill with Chawa as the sun flared up and flickered vibrant magentas and dark blues glowing as if they were alive. In a vacuum you think a lot about gapping absences.
To me, it is color.
But from up here, standing in a starship I know that the mystical spectacles are mere axis rotation of the planet. That my once great view from a top a tall hill is nowhere near as perfect as my view from the window of The Gladium.
“You’ve got a view of the play from the backside of the curtain,” said the captain. “How do you feel about that?”
Floating in space is different than I expected. I spend my nights wide-awake, tossing and counting and noting every single variation from how I thought it would be. Do views ever get old, is the question I ask myself before I sleep.
Standing before the captain, I’m inclined to say yes, but then I watch that view, the most incredible, most minimizing spin of our little blue ball, and I can feel all the people who see it down on the hill. The grounders. The sky whispers. The captain is an older man who has terribly bright green eyes and they glow like traffic lights on a road in the night.
Green is between blue and yellow on the color spectrum, but I notice that there has never been a green sunset and probably there never will be. I’ve learned to live with that. From down on the hill, once night has claimed its domain, it’s easy to forget that on the other side of the world the sun is flooding the sky.
Author : Bob Newbell
Dalynn sighed as the space elevator approached Depot #4 of the Ring Around The World. He had had some trepidation from the moment he’d stepped onto the elevator in Pontianak, Indonesia. He’d been invited to come to high lunar orbit by his friend, Edrun.
Dalynn had met Edrun online five years ago. They had discovered that they shared quite a few interests and a friendship had developed. In time, Dalynn discovered that despite their common affinities, Edrun had more than a few idiosyncrasies. To say Edrun was obsessed with the turn of the third millennium was an understatement. While the century or two before and after the year 2000 had no shortage of aficionados, the era was Edrun’s religion. Dalynn was quickly losing interest in Edrun wanting to include him in his borderline pathological fixation on a time nearly a thousand years in the past.
After a half-day’s shuttle ride to high lunar orbit, Dalynn disembarked in a spacesuit and flew via rocketpack to the coordinates Edrun had provided. Within the span of thirty minutes, Dalynn was face to face with Edrun’s latest indulgence.
“Come on in!” said a voice over the speakers in Dalynn’s helmet.
Dalynn was soon awkwardly walking the corridors of the odd spacecraft.
“Welcome aboard!” said Edrun with a smile.
Dalynn ignored his greeting. “Why isn’t this thing spinning?” he asked.
“It’s not supposed to spin,” said Edrun. “The layout is planar. It’s supposed to have artificial gravity.”
“There’s no such thing,” replied Dalynn. “Mass, linear acceleration, or centrifugal force. Those are the only options. What you’ve done here is…” Dalynn took a few steps. He had to pull up forcefully to take his foot off the deck of the ship. When he lowered it again, it slapped down against the floor with a clank.”
“Electromagnets under the deck plating,” admitted Edrun. “That’s as close as I could get. Let me show you around.”
The ship was large and empty. Dalynn and Edrun were the only people on board. As Edrun conducted his tour, Dalynn noted how the strange vessel’s design was unlike any spacecraft he’d ever been on. There was something fake about the ship. Dalynn tried to search for a word to describe his impression of the blue-grey rooms and corridors. Theatrical. That was the word. The vehicle seemed less a real spaceship and more of a stage set for a spaceship.
“Try the chair,” commanded Edrun when they’d reached top deck of the ship.
Dalynn seated himself and found that the black leather-like material of the chair was mildly adhesive. He almost forgot he was weightless as he examined the brightly colored buttons on the chair’s armrests. The viewscreen showed a realtime picture of the Moon below them.
“Shall I set a course for Alpha Centauri, Captain?” joked Edrun taking a seat at what Dalynn took to be the pilot’s station. “We can be there in a few hours.”
“Surely this thing can’t travel outside the solar system,” said Dalynn. “And it takes a minimum of 60 years to get to Alpha–”
“The engines distort spacetime!” insisted Edrun. “I mean, that’s what they’re supposed to do.”
“There’s no such propulsion system.”
“I know,” Edrun sighed.
Dalynn soon found himself heading back to rendezvous with the shuttle. He watched the absurd faux-spaceship with its elongated barrel projecting a saucer from one end and twin outboard tubular engines from the other fade into the distance. Had he seen it before in some historical record? It seemed vaguely familiar, he thought, as he trekked back to Earth.
Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer
“Papa Six, touchdown.”
Inside the wall, the grounds are laid out formally, in concentric rings. Each ring of growth is separated from the next by a ring of lawn. Big trees, then little trees with flowers on, then brambles and blackthorn, then shrubs and roses, and so on down to the neat plots of daisies growing around the various ponds and swimming pools that ring the house.
“Team Papa, strike clockwise.”
That includes me. Team Baby will be going the other way. Much as we don’t want it to, the densely planted foliage restricts us to the paths if we want to remain quiet. The only good thing is that attack fauna, even xenoforms, would also be hindered by having to thrash their way through the plant life.
“Movement. West balcony. Baby Three, put ‘em to sleep.”
The house is a sprawling affair, like someone wanted a mansion but refused to go higher than a bungalow. Its owner is a collector of rare gems. While the centrepieces of the collection are secured by methods only a fool would challenge, the ‘lesser’ items are scattered about the place as ornaments. We’re after a selection from for the guest quarters, as they lie nearest the wall.
“Baby Three. Respond.”
That call freezes us. I see my fellow shadowy figures crouch low, so I slip up onto the plinth of a big gargoyle statue, then lie along its back, peering over its misshapen head.
“Baby Four? Damn. Team Baby, sound off.”
Something has gone badly wrong. Team Baby are the true veterans in our little foray. That something took them out without a sound gives me chills.
I’m contemplating what could have gone wrong when I see Papa Four slump sideways. As he does so, something skitters out of the way of his body. I run the magnification up on my goggles and a perfectly grass-patterned dinosaur looms into view. Suppressing a squeak of surprise, I zoom out and engage the fauna identifier on my tactical ‘puter.
It’s a Hashichura. Or Hashichuras, as they never come in pack sizes of less than a dozen. Natives of Corbellyon, they resemble the monitor lizards of Earth, but are the reason why their planet is a tropical paradise where humans still sleep under domes. Nocturnal, semi-sentient and possessing a bite that is poisonous, in varying degrees, to pretty much everything. Even Hashichuras are not immune to their own venom, reserving it for when they think lethal force is needed: mating duels, defending territories, etcetera. These gardens are obviously their territory. Which means I’m the sole survivor of the nastiest security system I’ve ever encountered.
They lair at dawn. My escape depends on the time between their leaving the ground behind me and the last of them making it home, allowing the daytime guard systems to activate.
I spend a bitter night on a cold statue, watching for signs of camouflaged predators in the long grass. As predawn lightens the sky, I see several ripples of movement, all heading away.
No time to calculate. I slide off the statue and sprint for the wall. I manage to leap two rings of flora, but have to use the path through the rings of trees. The last lawn I sprint across, using the speed to help my depleted jump rig get me over the wall.
Clearing the wall with millimetres to spare, I drop onto the roof of the fake security van. Moments later, I’m heading for a trip offworld. There are too many bodies back there with links to me.