Lonely Planet

Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer

I wander the jungle alone as always. Ducking beneath thick vines and scrambling over massive fallen logs, some stories high. I do as always. I explore and I record.
Earlier today a beast of which I have no file approached me. It was tiger-sized and with three mouths full of multi-barbed fangs. It came right up and seemed to sniff me, and then it moved on.
Now as I descend into a valley, of which I am quite familiar, one of the huge three-headed snakelike beings springs up and turns its tail to me. I can see by its markings that this is an individual whose path I have not yet crossed. Some of its brethren have become used to me in this area, but this creature wastes no time. It is aggressive.
I am already at a full sprint, my legs a blur as I quickly cross the swampy ground. But alas I have not been fast enough. As the tip of its whip-like tail connects with my lower back I hear the thunder-crack noise roll off through the jungle. It is a common sound in this region where the snake beasts hunt.
I provide it no threat, and my body certainly does not offer any sort of meal, yet still I course through the air, a hundred-kilo missile toppling through the tree branches. I finally land in a heap with a plume of dust. I know the snake beast will not follow. They don’t venture here into the dry thicket.
Sitting up I am in familiar surroundings. This is the place we landed all those years ago. This is where we set up our outpost. This is where the alien virus attacked and killed the crew. I make my way into camp. The six suits are still lined up in their sitting positions against the bulkhead of the lander. There had been nothing I could do. One by one they slipped away, and one by one I lined them up in their final resting places.
Unbelievably the emergency beacon still pulses. It has been five centuries. We were too small of an asset, carrying a payload of far too little value. Our power leak and eventual crash here were of no concern to those who gambled trillions. No rescue ship will ever come.
I walk over to the row of suits, and crouch down in front of the one furthest aft. Commander Gardner, she had been the last to die. She had once had rosy cheeks. Now I stare in at her skeleton, and at my own reflection in her helmet’s visor.
Suddenly I stop, reaching up to touch my cheek. There is a glint of silver there. I focus closer on my reflection, my eye lenses zooming in, and for the first time ever I see a piece of my alloy skull. The durable faux-skin has finally given way, torn by a sharp branch in my headlong flight.
I turn and thump down onto the dirt beside Commander Gardner. I am the last in the line of figures propped up there against the hull of the long-dead lander. What is the point of exploring anymore? These creatures only live to hunt and eat one another. There is no intelligence here, no one with which to share ideas or converse. I wonder how many thousands of years it will take for my faux-skin to eventually deteriorate so that I may one day resemble the six skeletons beside me. I lower my head onto my knees, close my eyes, and give my batteries a long needed rest.

 

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Caveat Ereptor

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

As far as pirates went, Jack Hoorn was not the brightest star in the constellation. To be sure, what he lacked in reason and forethought, he made up for with guile and spontaneity. Even as he presented his stolen security clearance to the guards at the Telsela Research Station orbiting Proxima Centauri, he had no real plan. All he knew was there were valuable things there, and he aimed to steal a few. He moved though the corridors with an air of entitlement, pausing at all intersections hoping to overhear a conversation between some careless individuals. He hit the motherload when he spotted two laboratory technicians guiding a lev-sled toward him. One man was berating the other because he had almost toppled the one meter in diameter sphere they were transporting. Hoorn almost had an organism when he heard the man say, “Dammit Ed, that prototype cost over one billion credits”. If someone paid a billion to make something, he reasoned, they’d spend millions to get it back. He pulled out his phaser and stunned the two technicians. Then he grabbed the sled controls and started racing down the corridor with his booty. As he hefted the sphere onto his ship, the station’s intruder alarm sounded. “Too late, losers,” he boasted as he took the pilot’s seat and fired up the impulse engines.

His speedy little ship streaked away from the station, but was quickly pursued by a dozen security craft. Hoorn smiled at the large scale pursuit. It meant his prize was definitely valuable. He set a course for Sirius and punched her into warp. In mid-course he reprogrammed the ship to divert to Tau Ceti. After traveling a few more light years, he set a new course to the crab nebula. He was confident that no security ship could follow him through three jumps, and if they did, he could duck into the ionized mass ejecta of the onetime supernova and become invisible to their sensors. After returning to normal space, he piloted his ship into the Helium-rich torus cloud, and shut down everything but his passive sensors and life support. To his surprise, six ships, flying in a tight delta formation, arrived seconds later. Damn, he realized, the Varangian Rangers. He may have underestimated this foe. He shut everything down, including his stolen antique electronic watch.

“Spread out into a reverse diamond arrangement,” ordered the wing commander. “Establish a perimeter of half a billion klicks.”

“I have him on sensors, sir,” announced a seasoned sharpshooter. “Give the word, and he’s toast.”

“Negative, Lieutenant. He’s already toast. There’s no way that moron knows that he stole a star buster. That radiation cloud he thinks he’s hiding in has probably already activated the automated detonation sequence. At this very moment, the device is probably flooding his ship with fusion juice. Just set your recorders on maximum resolution. Let’s at least get the lab boys some useful data.”

Back in his ship, Hoorn was sweating profusely, so he partially unzipped his flightsuit. That’s when he noticed that the sphere was humming. He stood up to investigate, but was overcome with a wave of intense nausea. He collapsed to his knees and began to vomit. The cockpit began to spin as he crumbled to the deck. Even with his eyes closed tight, the light was blinding. The hum became a roar.

“There she goes boys. Pull back at point five cee. Keep recording. This will be quite a show.”

 

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Wake-up Call

Author : Desmond Hussey, featured writer

I hate psychologists with a passion, but when I saw the ad requesting lucid dreamers for research into the origin of dreams, I couldn’t resist. Besides, they’re offering stipends and I need the cash.
I stub out my cigarette and suck back their crappy coffee from a tiny styrofoam cup. At least it’s free.
“How long have you been a lucid dreamer?” the black chick asks. She isn’t half-bad looking for a shrink, but she’s still a pompous brain jockey.
“All my life.” I respond. I pull out another smoke.
“How much control do you have?” the other one asks. What a dweeb! I mean, come on, who uses pocket protectors anymore?
“I can do whatever I want.” I light up, inhale and wink at the hottie, then exhale my smoke at the dweeb. “I go wherever I want, whenever I want. I can fly, make it rain, say what I want, make love to – ”
“We’re not interested in your sexual fantasies,” the dweeb cuts in. “Just your range of control.”
“Whatever.” I sulk.
Brown Sugar takes over and asks the strangest thing. “If you were given specific questions, would you be able to ask them in your dream?”
“Ask who?”
“We’ll get to that. Just answer the question.” The nerdy guy is getting testy. I don’t think he likes me. Whatever.
“Yeah. As long as it wasn’t a bunch of whack, nerd lingo, sure.” They share some significant eye contact. Stupid skull fuckers. “So, what’s this study for anyway?”
Hotstuff gets a twinkle in her eye and starts yammering about how they’ve made some breakthrough concerning the origin of dreams. They’ve worked out that dreams are actually the brain’s response to an external stimulus, but they don’t know what the source of that stimulus is. Why? Get this – because it appears to be everywhere, all the time. Whatever this thing is manifests in each dreamer differently depending on their psychology. Some people respond with fear because they’re phobic, some experience joy and great sex because they’re “well adjusted”. I had to laugh at that part. Nobody’s ever suspected an external influence, except maybe native shamans who interpreted dreams as messages from Christ knows where. It all sounds pretty fucked up to me and I tell them so.
“Look,” Brainiac snaps. ”All we ask is that you allow us to take you into REM sleep. When you’ve established control all you need to do is ask some questions and remember the answers. It’s that simple.”
“What do you say?” Dr. Sex-bomb smiles. I think she’s warming up to me.
“Sure. What the hell.”

It’s a recurring dream. I’m in my mother’s house where I grew up, but my mother isn’t there. I’m alone. I search every room, but all I find is piles of junk. I open a door and I’m crushed by an avalanche of garbage. For some reason, I know it’s my garbage; hamburger wrappers, beer cans, cigarette butts, porn mags, televisions, DVD’s, ballcaps – everything I’ve ever owned fills the house to the brim. I’m drowning in it.
I look at my hands. Six fingers. Concentrate. Five. Good. I’m getting control.
I will myself outside and float toward a lime green sky.
“Can you hear me?” I ask.
“Yes.” The clouds respond.
“Where are you?”
“I am everywhere.” The air vibrates.
“What are you?”
“I am your Mother. Sky. Water. Soil. Home. I am Earth. I am death. I am life. I am dying. I am dying. You are killing me.”
“What do you want?”
“I need you to listen carefully…”

 

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Adaptation

Author : Bob Newbell

“This time we’re done for. This is finally the end, I think,” said Triana. Of course, she didn’t really “say” anything. She communicated her thoughts to her husband, Loret, by modulating the zero-point energy that comprised her being.

“You say that every time something like this comes up. ‘This is it. This is the end,'” replied Loret. “We’ve been through worse than this. Remember posthumanism?”

“Posthumanism was nothing. That never worried me,” she responded with a submodulation of annoyance.

“That’s not how I remember it. You were concerned we wouldn’t really be the same people. Our consciousnesses transferred to organic metaprocessors. Synthesized bodies. You thought it would be two impostors waking up from the procedure with our memories. But, no, it was still us.”

“That didn’t bother me that much. The transition to full machine-beings was a little worrisome,” she said.

“I thought you’d liked being a machine,” replied Loret. “You used to love exploring the galaxy. Ah, those were the days, weren’t they? Spend a few years exploring a solar system, hibernate on the journey between stars, wake up a few subjective minutes later and explore another system.”

“We were little more than kids then. Less than 10,000 years old. When you’re that young it’s easy to think you’re immortal and indestructible,” said Triana. “But now…”

“There you go again, the eternal pessimist. You haven’t been this worried since the Plasma Revolution,” said Loret.

“We lost quite a few people going from machine to plasmatic beings,” said Triana. “It took them a few thousand years to get it right. Swapping your mind between brain tissue and metaprocessor tissue and molecular computer blocks is one thing. Mapping a personality and a hundred thousand years of memories into a plasma and keeping it stable is something else entirely. If more people had been concerned, maybe we would have lost fewer…”

Loret was no longer listening. He’d have rolled his eyes if he still had them. After several trillion years of marriage, you’d think I’d have learned not to have this argument, he thought to himself.

“Well,” Loret said, “here it comes. Get ready.”

“I’m scared,” said Triana. “A vacuum metastability event isn’t like anything we’ve ever encountered. The laws of physics themselves will be different once the false vacuum collapses. Life in any form might not even be possible.”

“If it’s not, we’ve had a good, long life. If it is, we’ll adapt as we always have.”

Loret modulated his zero-point energy field in synchronization with hers — the rough analog of an embrace for their current state — as they awaited the end of the universe.

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The Things We Do for Love

Author : Ian Florida

Jack was grateful he had never been human. He was thankful that he’d skipped out on that entire sliver of Earth’s history. He knew humans: pink bundles of flesh with more emotional baggage then a type IV psychic could ever hope to unravel. That he didn’t want to be human wasn’t strange at all, what was surprising, however; was that he kept falling so madly in love with them.
He kissed her. Her breath tasted like wine and chocolate. Pulling away he looked into her eyes which shone as brightly as Andromeda’s galactic core. “Will you upgrade?”
“I’m already H+, I’ll live forever if that’s what you’re worried about, my little Metal Man.
They’d had the conversation before, and part of him didn’t want to bring it up again. He knew it’d be painful. But if he could only make her understand… “But we can’t interface.”
She caressed his bare chest.“I thought we just did?” She cooed.
He tapped his soft polymer head. “I mean up here.”
“You mean you can’t read my mind. You don’t trust me?”
“No, it’s about intimacy.”
“You don’t love me as much as you’d love another robot.”
He tried to kiss her again hoping she’d forget it. But she wasn’t interested in a truce. Her long aquamarine hair slapped him in the face as she turned her head.
He hissed. “Don’t be like that.”
Her eyes were hard and cold. “I-Should-be-more-ro-bot-ic,” she mocked the way he spoke.
“I don’t like that word. I’m an AI, I don’t sit on a line riveting space ships.”
Her tone was smooth but still not quite as warm as right before the kiss. “Is that robot racism?”
“All I’m saying is if you were to upgrade, just to Cyber, not even full body, we’d be able to Link.”
She spat. “Like you and Aurora.”
Jack groaned. “Don’t bring her into this.”
“Why do you keep winding up with women if what you really want is another bot?”
“I hate that word.”
Her slender fingers wrapped around the control disk on the wall. “Fine, bodied AI.” I’m going out for a bite, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to see anything so crude so you can stay here.”
“Stay, please. Let’s talk about this. You know you don’t need to eat.”
“And you don’t need to Link. But they’re both a part of who we are, and if you can’t love me for what I am….”
She slammed the door. Humans loved slamming things, but her especially. She’d even found a way to slam the automatic ones.
She was always partly right. He attributed it to her being such an advanced Bio, reorganized at the genetic level. She wasn’t natural, any more than he was really. But Bio’s and Metals had two different ways of thinking about things. Maybe I just love the conflict. He mused. He closed down his physical inputs and plugged into the Global Link.

Kate’s gentle voice whispered into his ear. “Wake up.”
His eyes came back online. He glanced out the window, it was light outside. She had let him “sleep,” all night. She was nowhere in sight. “Did you sleep well?” She asked.
His eyes darted around the room. “Where are you?”
She cooed. “Next door.”
He stepped into the bedroom. A wave of ecstasy washed over his mind, at that moment he realized it was not her voice he was hearing.
She was spread out naked on the bed. Her amber body glowed with the light of early dawn. On the surface she looked exactly the same. But he could feel her thoughts washing over him, like a shower, warm and comforting. He could see all her past and all her fears. He crawled into bed beside her and took her into his arms.
“I love you so much,” he whispered.
“I didn’t get a full conversion, it’s just the wireless.”
“But we can still Link, that’s all that matters.”
“I did it for you Jack, and now you’ll have to do something for me.”
“He grinned as she pressed her warm body against his.”
“I want you to learn Salsa Dancing,” she cooed as sent him the image of a man in a sombrero.
Their lips pressed together. He linked directly to her mind, the sensation overpowered him. Made his whole body tremble. Their mouths pressed tight his words danced out directly from his mind to hers. “The things we do for love…”

 

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Cerebral Mechanics

Author : Desmond Hussey, Featured Writer

“Good evening honored representatives of the World Coalition,” Dr. Dretch drones standing near an unconscious patient strapped to an inclined table. The top of the patient’s skull has been removed, revealing grey brain matter. A neural net, made of fine filament is stretched across the moist tissue, relaying relevant data from various lobes to several sleek, crystalline monitors surrounding the Doctor. His audience, the Cabal, observe from some unseen gallery.

“I have dedicated my entire life to realizing the World Coalition’s glorious vision; ‘The unification of all global citizens under one supreme authority.’ To this end, I have perfected Cerebral Mechanics, the science of mind control.

“With Cerebral Mechanics I’m able to manipulate every system in the body, effectively playing it like an intricate musical instrument. Most importantly, like any instrument, it can be re-tuned, simply and effectively.

“Cerebral Mechanics will reshape the way the modern mind thinks, ending the anarchy of rebellion currently plaguing the World Coalition. With your permission, I shall demonstrate.”

Dretch beams proudly. After a tense silence, a voice speaks. American. “We’re aware of your alleged success, Doctor, however, the reason you’re here today is to demonstrate the unexpected side effect of Cerebral Mechanics mentioned in your report. Meta-Consciousness. The OMEGA Complex.”

A sheen of moisture appears on Dretch’s forehead. Thin tributaries of sweat form quickly within the deep contours of his face, bending around the multi-optics monocle implanted in his right eye to finally drip off his pudgy chin.

“Deliberately initiate OMEGA Complex? That would not be advisable.”

“You’re a Cerebral Mechanic, Doctor, not an advisor.” Asian female. “Can you, or can you not duplicate OMEGA Complex? We wish to observe this phenomenon.”

“I’ll begin immediately.” Dretch adjusts his neural wand anxiously. “I must caution, however, the identity I’m about to manifest poses a very dangerous threat. Furthermore, Cerebral Mechanics will no longer be a viable tool for control once the patient has gone OMEGA.”

“We’ll consider ourselves sufficiently warned. Proceed.” German.

Reluctantly, Dretch initiates the complicated procedure, his neural wand targeting strategic cerebral algorithms. After several minutes of intricate, synaptic adjustments, he steps nervously away from the table. The patient’s mouth has curved into a disturbing, beatific smile.

“OMEGA complex initiated. Request permission to leave Operating Gallery.”

“Denied. Commence the interview.”

Dretch turns nervously toward the patient, whose febrile eyes are fixed on him, latent power glowing within.

“Do I unnerve you, Doc?”

“I’ll ask the questions,” Dretch snaps, struggling to maintain control.

“Ask away.”

“Who are you?”

“You’d be more interested in what I am.”

“What are you then?”

It sings, note perfect, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Lyrics from a long black-listed song of the previous century.

“Nonsense.”

“What was once divided has been remade. I am Omega-Mind, perceiving the beginning and ending of all things.”

“Will you serve the Coalition?” Dretch’s voice trembles with false courage.

“How little you understand. There are no servants. There’s nothing to serve.”

The patient’s restraints clatter to the floor. Lights flicker as he levitates from the chair, wreathed in blue auroral flames.

“Destroy them,” someone commands.

“You kill your prophets, now witness! Your house is left desolate!” His eyes ignite – twin suns of rage within a living dynamo. Bolts of electricity lash the room. “The Universe beckons!”

Vents blast the Operation Gallery with broiling clouds of poisonous gas. When the smoke clears only Dretch’s electrified corpse remains. The patient is gone. There is no sign of egress.

“We must harness this power.” The American.

In Chinese, “Perhaps we’re not meant to.”

 

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