Author : Art Klein

I know there are more of them than before. Why have they stayed so long and why have even more of them arrived?

“What’s going through your head now, Jack?”

I looked at Tom across the table in a bar we frequent, and realized that I had once again fallen into that mood I had been trying to shake for…I don’t remember how long.

“Just thinking, Tom.”

“Those same thoughts about ‘Them,’ Jack?”

“’fraid so. I can’t seem to get them out of my head. And I do mean ‘Them’.”

“How much do you remember? Do you still have those vague spots you’ve told me about?”

“Yeah. They’re still there. And I don’t know how to fill them in,” I replied. “Maybe I’m getting worse. There are more signs in their language than in ours. Or am I just imagining that, too?”

“No, Tom. What you’re seeing is there: ‘Them’ and lots of signs in their language. How far back can you remember?”

“I remember the war. Not all of it, but more than enough of it to make my skin crawl. The radioactive, chemical, and biological sprays in building heating and air conditioning ducts, subways, sports arenas; any enclosed place where there were lots of people. Later on, crops shriveling and dying as they started attacking outdoor targets. The water turning that foul-smelling milky white.”

“Can you remember where you were when the war ended?”

I tried to answer Tom’s question, but the only thing I could come up with was one of those vague spots he had asked me about.

“Sorry, Tom. But I’m drawing another blank.”

Tom considered what I had recalled, and said, “That’s pretty much what happened. Do you remember when the UnifiedTerror teams broke into the big stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons here and in Russia and China?”

I had to dig for that one. “I think I remember some of it,” I replied.

“Do you remember when we received the first message about help being on the way?”

“Yes. That transmission was said to come from some planet located above the plane of our solar system. If I remember correctly, they, whoever ‘they’ are, said they were on the way to help us. Are ‘they’ my ‘Them’?”

Tom nodded his head slowly and said, “Not any more, Jack. They did help us. It didn’t take them long to finish off the UnifiedTerror movement. But even as quickly as that was accomplished, too much damage had been done for us to survive there. You were still unconscious when the wars ended. They took our side’s survivors home with them.

“Jack, here on their planet, we’re ‘Them.’ ”


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What I Wasn't

Author : Tony Bertauski

It started with a flash.

Like the Big Bang, an explosion that swallowed everything. The pain sunk deep into my head, and then was replaced with blurry colors. There were no edges to the blobs floating before a background of gray. The pinks and the browns and the silvers and the blues shifted in silence that was so deep and perfect, like floating in a pristine ocean.

And then the silence was gone, obliterated by the sounds of a tapping keyboard and a young man talking. His name was Ben. He just broke up with his girlfriend, said he was ready to spread his wings. You know, fly a little.

“What’s wrong with her left eye?” Madeline asked.

She was the one making the keyboard rattle. A colorful blob merged into my line of sight and then—SNICK—my left eyelid slid up. More colors.

“Hand me the drops,” Ben said.

The drops were cold and slippery. They burned my eyes. I blinked the world into focus. Ben’s hair hung over his ears and he hadn’t shaved in days. His eyes were green, like the green of new growth. The white collar of his lab coat was pulled up.

He flashed a bright light in my left eye. “How’s that?” he asked. “Can you see me?”

He spoke like I was deaf or old. I was neither.

“Give me something. Sing a song, belch…something.”

“Stop badgering her,” Madeline said. “She’s not ready to talk.”

An argument ensued. I was left staring at a gray ceiling with an attached rail that encircled us with a heavy plastic curtain. I realized, not until that moment, that I couldn’t move. My body was like wet metal shavings, the table hard and cold. Madeline made the keyboard dance while Ben fiddled with a tray of medical tools.

That’s when the memories came.

I remembered Christmas and my dog and the time Simon brought flowers to work and sang and I blushed. I remembered all the little good things and the little bad things, how they hurt and how they pleased. That’s when I smiled.

“There,” Madeline said. “Give her the mirror.”

Ben stuck something in my hand. He lifted my naked arm, wrapping his hand around my dead fingers. I saw my red hair spread over my shoulders. My skin was fair and my eyes were green, like emeralds.

“Heather.” I watched my lips move. That was my name.

Madeline kept tapping the keyboard. Ben danced around the table and rubbed my hands and legs. The feeling came back with pins and needles. The sensations came in dense waves, as if my body had fallen asleep. Ben massaged my arms and shoulders and feet. I sank into the incoming tide of memories to escape the discomfort, each one a jewel that reminded me who I was.

There was sledding and the time I learned to drive and a funeral and my first kiss. I remembered my life.

Ben was rushing to the other side when he slipped. Falling, he grabbed the curtain. The metal rings pinged as the plastic ripped away. We weren’t in a small room, not like I thought. I let my head roll to the side. I saw more tables like the one beneath me. On them were nude women with red hair spilled over their shoulders and fair skin. Their eyes were closed, but I knew they were green.

“Damn it, Ben.” The keyboard clattered at high speed.

And those sweet, sweet memories went away.

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Man vs Nature

Author : Desmond Hussey, Staff Writer

I call it World War Bee. Perhaps not an apt label for what’s really going on, but it gets the buzz out.

Sorry, bad joke. Levity is the only thing keeping me sane these days.

In all fairness, the war wasn’t the bee’s fault, but it did start with them. Now, the war is all around us, in the rocks and soil, in the trees, in the animals, carried by the wind. Bacteria, pathogens, spontaneous mutations, those are the weapons of the enemy. We fight back with nano-tech, combat drones and chemicals.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll explain. The sudden widespread death of bee colonies at the beginning of the 21st century triggered a worldwide famine.

Remember starving? That was why.

Turns out bees were responsible for nearly a third of our food supply as they pollinated our crops. It was determined that the excessive use of neonicotinoids in fertilizers, as well as the cocktail of herbicides and pesticides regularly sprayed on fields, were responsible. So, rather than changing our agricultural practices, which was deemed too costly, someone came up with the novel idea of creating our own bee which would carry out the business of pollination for us.

That someone was me.

I invented the BeeBot and it did exactly what it was designed to do, industriously buzzing through orchards and fields with their little pollen collectors, fertilizing crops as well as, if not better than, ordinary bees, since we could control when and where they were put to use.

Pure, unadulterated hubris.

Then the worms disappeared. So I helped engineer our own; little, red, plastic-coated wrigglers that aerated the soil and broke down organic waste. Then a multitude of bacteria and other organisms, insects, etc, vanished – mainly those responsible for breaking down larger organics. Food waste, wood and grasses ceased to rot and corpses would lie around for months as the decomposition process was retarded.

Once again, I came up with radical solutions; specially designed Nanotech and chemical vats to break down organic matter, but for every ingenious solution I came up with, Nature would trump me elsewhere. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, like the human race was under deliberate attack from Mother Nature herself, but those who made such claims were ridiculed into silence.

People like me.

Then the mutations started. Creatures spontaneously evolved that could counter my engineered facsimiles; strange birds attacked BeeBot populations, new bacteria appeared in the soil which broke down the plastic casings of the WormBots, previously unknown fungi wreaked havoc with the nano-tech and mysterious air-born pathogens began wiping out human populations within days.

It was undeniable. We were at war and Mother Nature proved to be a real bitch when backed into a corner. She fought like a rabid banshee and could adapt, and adapt quickly, to anything we threw at her.

Thirty years later, the surface is a hostile, unrecognizable war-zone. Those not directly involved in the war effort simply hunker down in man-made bunkers or deep caves waiting until it all blows over, if it blows over. Every year there are growing reports of new aggressive plants, weird beasts and diseases that stalk the land, corrupt water supplies, and pollute the air. Every year we release our counter-measures – combat drones, vaccines and updated filtration systems.

We’ve been evicted from the Garden of Eden; expelled from the circle of life. Mother doesn’t want us anymore. Most days, I can’t say I blame her. I’m beginning to wonder if this is one war we shouldn’t win.

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The Missing Element

Author : C.T. Jackman

There was no flash of light. There was no puff of smoke. Such a waste of energy would have been unacceptable during the teleportation, and so Dr. Mueller was very happy to have missed the flower and its pot disappear when he blinked.

His colleagues on the other side of the room let out a cheer. “It worked!” Dr. Hendricks exclaimed, “Come look, the scans say that the flower has been reassembled in its entirety: a full one-hundred percent!”

Mueller looked over the results himself, and then at the daffodil, which was sitting in a class case under the second teleportation module in the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mueller said to the half-dozen scientists in the room, “we are the first to have successfully teleported life.” His associates broke into applause, and many handshakes and pats on the back were exchanged.

They had spent years reworking their calculations and technology to reach that day, and many different objects had to have been disassembled on the atomic level and then rebuilt at in another point in space before they finally reached a level of one-hundred percent matter transference. At that point, Mueller declared that it was time to begin the tests on basic life-forms.

It had worked. He had just witnessed the very first subject recreated successfully, and that made him confident that when the time came for human testing, they would be no error involved.

Muller turned to Dr. Hendricks and said, “Take the plant into the lab for further analysis. Then bring in another.”

Different flowers and plants were teleported with the same results every time: one-hundred percent transference. His assistants monitored every step, and while there were still many more hours of dissecting the data, Mueller began to grow more and more confident that they had perfected the process.

Just as the final teleportation of the day was about to be performed, Mueller told his assistant, “Bring in a lab rat instead.”

Hendricks blinked at him. “Already?” she asked.

“I think we’ve waited enough, don’t you?”

Hendricks smiled and left to fetch their next subject. A few minutes later, a white rat was sitting under the first teleportation module. Mueller watched it sniff the glass as scanners traced its position, and then the computer beeped and the rat was gone.

The other side of the room was silent.

Mueller pushed through the crowd of scientists and saw the rat lying motionless in the receiving end of the teleporter. It was dead.

The computers couldn’t identify the cause of death. There was no brain activity, and its heart sat motionless between two lungs filled with air.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong. Everything was teleported successfully- a full one-hundred percent transference,” Dr. Fredrick said, analyzing several screens at once. “Everything is there.”

“Maybe its body just couldn’t handle the stress,” someone suggested.

Mueller shook his head. “We’ll find out tomorrow. Don’t forget that we’ve accomplished a miracle here today; this is only a minor setback. Everybody go home and get some rest. We’ll continue the tests after we see what the data tells us,” he said to everybody, and they filtered out of the room. After they were gone, his smile drooped.

He collected the dead rat and brought it into the lab where the plants had been taken following their teleportations. All of the flowers were tagged and sitting on a lab table, but Mueller noticed something was wrong: they had already begun to wilt.

The leaves drooped at his touch, and one petal fell off as he grazed it. “I don’t understand,” Dr. Mueller said. “Everything is there…”

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Who Wants to Live Forever?

Author : John Raymond Wilson

My mother was hesitant because of the burden it would put on my wife and I. She didn’t want to be a bother. But she also didn’t want to die, so when she relented and asked us if we would take care of her while she was an infant, we were prepared. We knew she would make the same decision as my dad and my wife’s parents. She decided to eat the jellyfish and live forever.

A century ago, a scientist discovered a jellyfish that didn’t die. It aged backwards, returned to a polyp state, was reborn, and repeated the process. The scientist spent the better part of his life, fortune, and other people’s fortunes trying to find the secret of the jellyfish. When his dog got smaller and cuter and generally friskier, the scientist suspected that the dog had eaten one of the jellyfish and somehow metabolized it. To this day, the dog has lived ten lives.

So my Mom ate the jellyfish and decided to live forever. For her, the process of reversal started when she was eighty four and I was fifty. The physical changes were astonishing. She hadn’t walked in years and now she was exercising every day. We were briefly the same age at sixty seven. Having a mother who was younger than me was odd. My reversal started at eighty three, so she was thirty three the next time I was sixty seven. We were both the same age again at seventeen.

The tragedy hit each family the same way. My wife and I spent our second forties and thirties taking care of our parents who were now toddlers and infants. It was when the oldest parent regenerated and was around three when we realized that memories didn’t survive the reversal process. When the aging process reached the moment of conception, all memory was wiped clean. We had the bodies of young adults, the wisdom of one hundred and thirty years, and four helpless children who thought of us as their parents. And every day they got older, we got younger. They did not remember each other and thought they were brothers and sisters, not lifelong partners. Their genes would live forever, but their former lives were effectively over.

My regenerated mother and regenerated father looked exactly like their former selves, but they thought and acted differently. They thought of themselves as siblings and that it would be taboo to be together romantically. We showed them pictures of when they had been together in their past lives, but it was as if they were looking at strangers. We showed them pictures from the day they met. It was one hundred and sixty six years ago. They both fell in love with other people and have started their own families of children who are technically my step-siblings.

My wife and I enjoyed our second childhoods. It might have even been the best part of our lives, but there was still a sadness looming over us. We thought we had been promised more than individual immortality. We had been promised that nothing would change. We had been promised that we would have eternity together. It was okay to think that one day we would die because we could be together in the next life. But now there was no eternity together. Now eternity is a cycle of lives, growing old and young and old again over and over forever. No relationship can last the reversal process. Two lifetimes is not enough. Eternity took forever away from us.

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Infantem Gradus

Author : J.P. Flarity

We were too busy planting flags and making speeches those first times our planet’s inhabitants touched the moon. But eventually, hidden in the crevasses on Luna’s dark side, we found it.

The first Tablet.

Made from a tungsten superalloy of impossible purity, it stands a meter tall, two meters wide, and only ten millimeters thick. Three words are somehow etched onto its surface, written in a fine, cursive Latin. They read:

Servare in ingressus.

There are many translations…to keep going round, to keep on entering. The most popular one?

Keep going.

How did it get there? Encouraging aliens? A humorous God? Or the most likely explanation–a monumentally expensive prank?

There were no footsteps or landing marks around it, as if a divine hand had wedged it gently into the dust, and its presence awakened mass hysteria. After years of suicide bombings by religious cults, censorship by scientific cults, and unbridled madness by alien cults, our society eventually stabilized, and heeded the tablet’s message.

We missed it on the first trips to Mars, and began to comb the planet’s surface with focused tenacity. Finally, in the crater on the peak of Olympus Mons, we found the next Tablet.

It was identical to the first, but with different words:

Modicum longius.

A short amount further. A little bit more distance.

A bit farther.

This caused the cultists to grow quiet with studious speculation, and aliens took the lead as the most likely explanation for its origin. We began to dream…

There was an age where satellite dishes grew like weeds from our planet’s surface, as attempts to communicate with the theorized aliens consumed us. But the universe was silent.

Only with cooperation on a global scale, we were able to successfully design a detector to locate the tungsten superalloy. Our ships got faster, and more efficient. But the area to search was massive.

Then, the breakthrough.

On Jupiter’s moon, Callisto, in the center of the Valhalla impact ring crater, we found the third Tablet. How long had it been there?

It reads:

Fere ibi.

About thereupon. In general therewith.

Nearly there.

And our attitude changed. We lost our optimism, experiencing ennui on a global scale. What were we, children? Why must they torment us in such a demeaning way? Were we so beneath them? After all, we were not a young race anymore.

At least we thought so.

Disdain for the supposed aliens grew into anger, and we forgot to search for many years. We do not heed the Tablet’s message. There was brooding for generations, until we remembered.

Hundreds of moons were meticulously probed until we found the last Tablet. Not on Pluto, but on the dwarf planet Eris.

It was a huge strain on our resources to travel so far away from home, but we finally arrived. Thank goodness somebody remembered Latin…it’s been so long. Would they have changed the language for us?

Now I stand with my crew on the planet’s icy surface, a glorious forty degrees above absolute zero. The Tablet reads:

BENE. Ingrediamur unum centum perfecta. Sepelivit est lumen celeritate machinam. Te ad proxima stella.

Our crew decides on this translation:

Good job! Step one of one hundred complete. Buried here is a light speed engine. See you at the closest star.

Our species celebrates its first birthday. They even got us a present. How thoughtful.

If we’d only brought a shovel.

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