Author : Adam Mac
Wanna see a modern-day miracle, kid?
Well, just sit tight.
Sure. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.
Here, take the binoculars. See that old guy on the bridge? Orange raincoat, red baseball cap, using a cane? Over there, to the left of the first tower. Can’t miss him.
Well, that guy’s got demons.
What are you talking about?
Just pay attention. He’s possessed—probably doesn’t even know it—and I’m gonna release him.
Demons? What, like the Exorcist? That’s crazy.
Think so? Watch this. I’ll send him a wireless message. If he starts and jumps around or falls down or something bizarre like that, we’ll know for sure.
That he’s got demons and must be—
How? He’s gotta be a half-mile away.
Easy. Remote control. I can make him hop onto the railing then fling himself off the bridge.
Why would you do that? He could be killed.
Nobody’s gonna die today. There’s a net. All I’m gonna do is send the old guy over the edge.
What if the net doesn’t—?
So what’s the miracle?
Ever hear the story of Legion … the Gadarene devils … the herd of swine run off the cliff into the sea?
Didn’t your parents send you to Sunday school?
My adopted parents are— Hey! Look! The old man’s falling. There’s another … and another. There are two together, a man and a woman, holding hands.
All possessed … obviously.
Oh God, look! They’re hitting the water. But you said—
That’s impossible! There IS a net. I saw it.
You gotta call 9-1-1! You can’t leave those people. They might still be alive.
OK, OK. Relax.
Hello. Yes, this is an emergency. I just witnessed four—no, five—people jump off the bridge. The suicide net— It’s NOT a suicide net. Painting and repairs!? Oh shit! No, I’m too far away and it happened so fast. My name? Sorry (static) losing (static)–
Why did do that?
That static stuff.
Cause they don’t really need my name. Besides we’re leaving now.
In the car. Now! Let’s go!
Do you really think all those people have demons?
Don’t be stupid. Demons are fictions. These people had unsecure devices in their bodies.
What do you mean ‘unsecure devices?’
Pacemakers, retinal implants, neural implants, cochlear implants—all kinds of medical implants, and all accessible wirelessly—
You can hack into them? Is that what you did? You hacked into that old man’s pacemaker?
You’re pretty quick, kid. Now just lie down in the backseat and keep— That a smartwatch … with GPS?
Author : Bob Newbell
Lieutenant Jvora shuffled down the corridor considerably slower than his four legs normally carried him. He was not looking forward to his meeting with Commander Skal. Jvora entered the commander’s office and raised a pincer in salute. Skal returned the gesture.
“Lieutenant, any word on the Lindell simulacrum?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Jvora. “We’ve gotten several reports back from the probes we sent to the Lindell system. And I believe we’ve pieced together what happened.”
Skal gestured to Jvora to continue.
“The simulacrum,” said Jvora, “successfully landed on Lindell III. It reconfigured itself into the likeness of the native intelligent species and established a base of operations in the planet’s north polar region. It then deployed billions of nanoprobes.”
“So,” interrupted Skal, “the simulacrum got at least as far as the initial reconnaissance and threat assessment protocol.”
“Yes, sir. It could have told you whether any given sentient on the planet was asleep or awake, if asked. But immediately thereafter the simulacrum appears to have sustained damage to its primary neuroprocessor. We suspect a virus native to Lindell III was the culprit.”
“So, the simulacrum became inoperable at that point?”
Jvora replied nervously, “No, sir. It began…rendering moral judgements against the natives.”
“What?! Moral judgements?”
“Yes, sir. Somehow its threat assessment wetware became corrupted. Instead of determining which natives might pose a threat to our colonization of the planet, it instead began categorizing them into good and bad subpopulations.”
“You mean to tell me that an advanced scout simulacrum has been just sitting in an arctic wasteland on Lindell III making abstract and meaningless moral assessments of that world’s population?”
Jvora had to fight the urge to withdraw completely into his exoskeleton and seal it shut. “Not exactly, Commander. The simulacrum has also been…making toys.”
Skal stared at his subordinate for what seemed like an eternity. “Making…toys?”
“Sir, the wetware mutation set off a metacognitive cascade failure. The matter compiler that was sent along with the simulacrum that would have been used to replicate weapons, vehicles, and other supplies the colonization force might have needed on arrival was instead repurposed to manufacture and distribute toys to those whom the simulacrum deemed morally worthy. These latter appear to be predominantly the young of the planet’s dominant species.”
Skal cradled his head in his pincers. “You’re telling me the simulacrum has spent all this time on Lindell III not preparing the–” Skal looked at the datapad for the demonym of the planet’s inhabitants “–the humans for their world to be colonized, but has instead been giving presents to children it judges to be good?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” said Jvora. “It’s been doing this for so long that an entire mythology has arisen around the simulacrum’s persona. It has become part of the planet’s culture.”
Skal clambered down from his platform and paced the room. “Lieutenant, we have no choice but to abort any attempt at colonizing Lindell III. Moreover, we have to make sure no other simulacra have been similarly compromised. Perhaps it was a microbial pathogen unique to that world, but we can’t afford to take any chances. We’ll need to dispatch recon probes to check on all simulacra that were assigned to that part of the galaxy. See to it, Jvora.”
“Yes, sir,” said the Lieutenant. “I’ll make a list of all the simulacra we need to investigate.”
“Do so. And Jvora?”
“Check that list twice!”
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
The thing about sleeping in zero g is that I have a lot of dreams about being in my mother’s womb except that in my dreams, my mother is sleeping in zero g as well. That’s impossible because my mother never went to space. She was sixty before the alien diplomats came down to Earth, one in every major city and no two aliens the same. Glittering ships that defied all reason touching down like inverted chandeliers before discharging creatures trained to field questions in English through their translators. The one in my home down of Phoenix Arizona was a tall insect that looked like a violet, leafless tree that walked around on crab-leg roots with a tight line of softly-glowing blue eyes down its trunk.
I was twenty-five years old at the time but still, when I saw that creature, I felt like a six-year-old who knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Your calling can come at any time, I guess.
I wake up smiling at the memory and uncurl, the light slowly branding up to daylight in my quarters. I turn on the gravity and look out the window. Through the porthole, I can see a cadmium cue-ball planet with scudding blue clouds and a double meridian of shadow from its two suns. It’s beautiful. I’ll be briefed about its name in a second but for now I just drink in the view and once again swim deep in the wonder and pride I have at my job.
And then I look in the mirror.
I had alopecia when I was thirteen which means my body hair grows in patches now. I also have a dark wine birthmark that splashes across half of my face and most of my right arm. One of my eyes has too much eyelid and is higher than the other while my wide, thick lips hang like deflated inner tubes over the ragged jut of my huge, uneven teeth. My chin pushes forth like the prow of a ship. My nose is more like a beak and would probably come down to nearly touch my shelf of a chin if it hadn’t been broken in a youthful bicycle accident. It’s like a shark fin shaped into a child’s drawing of a lightning bolt in the middle of my face.
My point is that by human standards, I’m ugly. Hideously ugly. Almost comically ugly.
And the aliens don’t care. Because of that, I smile again like I do every day here. I don’t care if I ever see Earth again.
I take a morning sip from the protein udder on the wall and zip up into my jumpsuit. As I leave my quarters and join the flow of traffic to the main hall, I bump into a krinotaur. I think it’s beautiful. It flows past me like a wave settling next to the shore.
Maybe it took the job for the same reason I did. Maybe its eye cluster is too bulbous. Maybe its leg-stalks are too short. Maybe its communication mandibles have a noticeable stutter or lisp equivalent that’s erased by the translators.
I would have no idea.
Everyone’s earned the right to be here. We’re diplomats and we’re intelligent representatives. I know that the other life forms have tests and training just as stringent as my own that brought them here. We’re good at what we do; useful to our homeworlds.
I head to the briefing room to learn about the white planet below us and what city I’ll be assigned to welcome them into the galactic council.
Author : Dominic Daley
Sometimes, as I let the knowledge packets bleach out my old preconceptions and dull misapprehensions, I’d ponder, considering how sluggishly my brain operated whenever I indulged in this arthritic retail therapy, how boring it must have been to have had to read this junk. “Introduction to Modern Conflict”. “British Military History”. “World Empires 101”. All fluidly installable, straight into your memory banks, for two grand a pop. Progress.
You could get anything, within reason. It had to be offered by a licensed university – no third-party crap (if, for whatever absurd reason, you wanted it). I knew people who had submerged themselves in Hardy, Keats, Hugo, Blake and Larkin, but who could also speak fluent Mandarin, repair a Cessna engine in minutes and confidently multiply a dozen prime numbers off the tops of their heads. My own ambitions, however, were a little more specialised.
I had bought the cartridge from a code-rinser in Solihull, for ten thousand pounds. I don’t know if he knew what it was he was selling but he seemed happy to be rid of it, which at least told me he knew it was hot.
‘It’s totally clean,’ he had said. ‘Not a malicious line left.’
I had raised my eyebrows, impressed. ‘You’re sure? Nothing spring-loaded that you might have missed?’
He had assured me that he had been very thorough and had then hurried me out of his pigsty of a den. I had taken the cartridge back home and prepared it, hooking it up to my terminal, readying the sleek neural plugs for connection. Now, I massaged my temple socket with moisturising gel, to take the edge off the transfer burns.
Dead modules aren’t really dead, but they’re hardly ever retrievable. Usually, specialists will riddle them with fail safes; corrupt them to the point of unintelligibility, or program footprint traps to track down new users, or, in exceptional circumstances, tack on viruses that induce comas, or brain death, or worse. After all, they’re dead for a reason.
Mine was written by a mad genius, Professor William Cyrus Hanks. The campus eccentric (back when they still had campuses) who had built a module in secret and in so doing had made an artefact out of contemporary war. His students had started the first Psy-age, nearly half a century ago. They had come close to bringing the western hemisphere completely under their control, twelve brilliant people, devastating any who opposed them, willing their enemies into ash, tricking them to death in visions and smoke, piecing apart their very infrastructure like pulling off a spider’s legs. Only the Philistines had been enough to stop them, they with their brute manoeuvres and their raw, archaic tactics. But the Philistines were all gone. Dead in defiance of the future’s warm embrace. So, “Advanced Conquest: Manual for Surrender” was worth its weight.
The console light flickered green, ready for upload. I closed my eyes and dreamed about my empire.
It was the smoothest installation I’ve ever had.
Isn’t education grand?
Author : Suzanne Borchers
Maybe in a dozen years I’ll forget you. Maybe I’ll forget your face and your feet and your fur, but not tomorrow or next week or next year. My nerve ends from optic to tactile quiver when I remember you.
I loved you.
Was it only last summer that I lay on the warm grass musing about life as I gazed with rapture at the stars, drawing imaginary lines? This one is a picture of a two-headed goat (see the horns?) butting his heads into Mighty Mouse’s butt–one per cheek. That one is a large muscular cat arching his back…
You stood over me looking down into my face, bending close enough to tickle my nose with your whiskers, your long black whiskers. I smiled a toothy smile at your bright yellow eyes, so wide with wonder. Your silver suit glistened like the Milky Way.
“I assume you have never seen a being like me before,” you purred through a device. “I know I have never seen one like you.”
“And never again,” I growled before I sunk my canines into your neck, leaping up to shake you like a rag doll.
Oh, you were delicious. Better than kibbles.
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
“Xachnore you shouldn’t play with that it’s dangerous!”
“Not to worry Tzhamlaa. I’ve got it pointed into the light matter zone. Nothing lives there.”
“And just how do you know that Mr. smarty sheath? There are some academics who would disagree with you. Who gives you the right to decide if life resides in other dimensions or not?”
“Come now Tzhamlaa, aren’t you the slightest bit curious to see if it will work?”
“No Xachnore, I am not.”
“But it’s a bicarbonite reverse quark splitting ray with an extra turbo vacuum splicer! There’s nothing like it!”
She was still unimpressed and so she swirled away, taking all of her undulating teeth-whiskers with her and, with a harrumph, jelly-morphed through the wall and out into the mainstream.
Xachnore shrugged his eight shoulders and bubbled, “Ah, who needs her? I’ll have all the fun to myself.” And with that he released the micro switches in quick sequence, and unleashed a plume of vacuum as big as the three ribbon-moons combined. “Yes!” he yelled. “It works!”
September 24th, 2022: As the world goes about its business, eight billion people, eating, shopping, driving, sleeping, bathing, loving, dying, simultaneously experience a split instant of the brightest white light anyone has ever imagined, as our galaxy implodes with a pop and disappears forever. The resulting shockwave cuts Andromeda in half.