Author : Bruce Meyer
It could have been the simplest of conquests. One properly-placed shot and the rebel city would be nothing but ocean.
“I’ll sink ‘em all,” Lam said, his red face was projected as an image ahead of Enoch’s cockpit window. “I’ll blast the monsters to the sky. Give the word!”
Two spider-shaped fighters were dispatched to the floating metropolis. Lam’s hovered just off Enoch’s flank, powering low over a remote region of the Thalassinus Ocean. The target’s sleek and slender spires gleamed in the sunlight.
“Denied,” Enoch said. “Hold your fire. Survey the city first. I want to locate all inhabitants.”
“What?” Lam’s red deepened. “What will a survey do? We know right where they are. Those things are diseased! Dark energy has destroyed them. I vote we make them ocean garbage.”
“Prepare the survey,” Enoch said. “They may be diseased, but they’re still human beings.”
Although Lam argued, he eventually complied. After a time, he completed the survey. “Nobody’s down there. The place is deserted.”
“Yes,” Enoch said slowly. Even with Enoch’s years of experience, the readouts were unfamiliar. There were no life forms indicated, but the energy readings were off the scale. “We’ll search the city on foot.”
Lam argued all the while they lowered their vessels to the streets of the city. When Enoch secured the landing and opened the hatch, Lam was already there ahead of him.
“Commander, the towers, do you see them?”
Enoch saw houses and apartments. Then he followed Lam’s gaze to the slender structures rising miles into the air.
“They’re not buildings,” Lam said. “I think they’re particle accelerators, tearing the fabric of spacetime. The buggers are manufacturing dark energy, would ya believe it? Commander, we have to get out of here. We’re at risk-”
“Commander Enoch Frangin,” said a metallic voice from behind.
Enoch whirled around. Behind him stood the most gruesome creature. Its skin was like boiling mud, and its eyes glowed like two red lasers. Despite the terrible disfigurement, Enoch recognized the face of Dr. Carter Frangin, the lead rebel.
The monster reached out with his molten arm and touched his son’s shoulder. Repulsed, Enoch jumped back.
“Father, what have you become?” Enoch realized why their instruments hadn’t picked up anybody. They weren’t human anymore. “What has dark energy done to you?”
“Dark energy?” The monster’s speech resembled machines grinding without any oil. He held out his bubbling hand to his son. “It’s only by dying to your humanity that you can live. Give up your human weakness and be reborn in energy.”
Lam looked around at the multitude of creatures that had joined Dr. Frangin. He grabbed Enoch’s arm and pulled him away. “Commander, to the ships!”
But tears streamed down Enoch’s face. “I will never become like you-”
Dr. Frangin extended his arm to his son once more. “You already are, son, it just doesn’t show yet. You’re already infected.”
Enoch and Lam never made it to their ship. The eyes were the first to change, turning bloodshot and then fluorescent red. Splotches appeared on their faces and arms, spreading like insects burrowing into their bodies. Enoch and Lam joined the rebel ranks of the dark energy beasts.
Author : Nathan Martin
Jev killed a cop. Technically, he pushed an undercover narcotics agent into an airlock and blew the outer hatch. Technically, it was the loss of pressure and lack of oxygen that killed the cop. Jev just pushed the button. Would’ve gotten away with it too, if the sun-burned corpse hadn’t made half a stable lap around the earth before smacking into Orbital Main station. Some luck.
He reached out and tapped a button on the console. The image on the main screen of Earth, slowly passing below him, blanked out. He was sick of looking at it. Six days since the launch, and still he sat there in his little ship, not quite ready to jet off. “Execution, or space mining,” they told him. It was an easy choice. Still, he missed the drugs.
He closed his eyes and stretched, unable to avoid brushing some portion of the ship’s interior no matter what angle he chose. When he was finished, he tightened his seat mesh to restrain his floating. He looked down at one of the screens; several windows were open, none of which were the tutorials he was to spend the next six months of flight time studying. A pop-up was on the screen, an override from Orbital Control. They were becoming more frequent, now that he was closer to overstaying his welcome. The latest pop-up informed him that he had, “12 hours 37 minutes 32 seconds to vacate Earth orbit or be terminated.” This one was bright red. He closed it and unhooked his seat mesh, floating free.
Grasping the overhead wall rungs, he moved hand over hand to the small cold box at the back of the cabin. He pulled out his last beer bulb, bit the tab off, and put the nipple in his mouth. He wondered if he was the first to drink the whole supply before leaving orbit. It was nice and dim in the cabin with the main screen off.
“Why am I still here?” He thought. “What the hell am I doing? I can’t go back down. There’s no way. I’d be dead as soon as I set the course.” He scratched the new tattoo on his wrist that marked him as a convict-miner. It itched. “I could say, ‘fuck asteroid mining, I’m going to Mars.’” He finished the beer bulb in two more gulps, and realized that he was speaking aloud; he hadn’t noticed the transition from thought. He continued. “They wouldn’t take me there, either.” The ships transponder was hardwired from the outside, marking him for what he now was.
He handed himself back over to the seat before the screen. There was only one thing left to do. He tapped a button and turned the screen back on. Earth burst over him, and he found himself missing it for the first time. Ice cream. Couscous with tomato sauce. Gravity.
“Fuck it,” he said. He tapped into the navigation system and activated the presets. The engine behind him began to roar, and he barely remembered to re-hook the seat mesh before he was tossed back into the cushions. Earth dropped out of view and was replaced by a slur of stars, drawing him away.
Author : Robert White
“Wait. I don’t get it. I thought transit was supposed to be instant”
“It was. It is.” The scientists are always so snarky. “We did all the tests, sent animals and clocks back to the beyond and everything was instant. So this here cannot be happening.”
“Look, I may be a glorified janitor on this ship, but I know ‘happening’ when it happens.”
“No you don’t. This isn’t technically happening. We are experiencing it, sure, but time isn’t really passing. We are experiencing the passage through space as if time is passing.”
“Okay, Scientist Guy, if you are so smart, how long will this not be happening?”
“About three hundred and seventy light years.”
Scientists never answer simple questions simply. “How long will that take? I still see earth like we haven’t left orbit and it’s been like a month already.”
“Every Planck distance is taking up one Planck time.”
“Translation, forever, am I right?”
“More or less.”
“And the things?”
“These ‘things’ as you call them are hallucinations made manifest. Our perceptions are dictating the configurations of mater, but it’s all transient. When the ship arrives it will all disappear. It has to do with the plasticity of distance and perceptions when delta-t is zero.”
“Yea, okay, sounds like you don’t really know.”
“Well there is no control here for proper experimentation.”
“Okay, you said something about a ‘spatial distortion wave’. What’s that again?”
“The projector compresses space around the ship and then the ship coasts through the distortion.”
“How big is this distortion?”
“I takes up zero distance, It’s a threshold. So essentially the front of the ship is already there while the back of the ship is still where we started.”
“But we’re moving around on the ship.”
“And the livestock isn’t here, and didn’t have the problem because…?”
“Animals don’t really experience time the same way we do. They don’t understand the idea of ‘now’ being a different thing than ‘before now’ and ‘after now’. They just have ‘now’.”
“Even though my cat remembers me?”
“So your solution is…?”
“Well we aren’t really aging, so we just wait it out.”
“I think I’d go mad.”
“Probably we both will.”
Stress, they say, is what happens when the body resists its natural desire to beat the hell out of someone who really deserves it. I hate stress. I cold-cock Mr. Scientist and he drops like a rock to the deck.
“You people make everything so damn hard.” I haul his behind straight to forward observation. “Here is what’s really going to happen. I am going to look out that window and see the target buoy. See! There it is. And that means that that window and that part of the ship is already ‘there’.
“So I figure I’m gonna draw a line across the deck, and wait a second for me to really see that everything on that other side of the line is already ‘there’.
“Then I am going to throw your dead weight over the line.
“And now, since you are ‘there’ and I know exactly where the bunched up space is, I am going to take a running jump…
“And here we are.”
The translation engines spin down immediately as space expands behind us.
I look down at Mr. Scientist and his bloody face. “I may just be the glorified janitor on this ship, but you know what? You people think way to hard to ever really get anywhere.”
Author : David Barber
“Welcome back to the Stirling Surprise Show, with me, Haydon Stirling. Later, we’ll be talking to fash sensation, Jess Marlboro, but first, They Stole My Soul.”
His earpiece murmured and Stirling turned smoothly to camera three.
“Yes, my next guest, John Beck, claims the jirt have stolen his soul.”
“You said you wouldn’t use that…”
Stirling smiled his blandest.
“…it’s our consciousness they’re stealing. Copying, I mean, and…”
“Isn’t that just what natives said when they saw photographs, John?”
Keep the stiffs off balance. And that Marlboro slit was in for a surprise when her nasty habit got a mention.
“It’s not a picture of you, it is you.”
“And you know this how?”
“Well, the jirt said. They go tourist sometimes, right? I was out cycling and I’d done about 10k…”
The Floor Manager began doing the speed up signal.
“…anyway, this jirt asked if it could take a snap of me and the bike. I guess they don’t have them. And afterwards, I asked for a look. It fiddled with its box of tricks, you know, that they talk through?”
Edit this bit, Stirling thought, his face bright with interest.
“And there I was, I mean, I was there, staring at myself. He wanted to know who the hell I was, and I said…”
Stirling gave the studio audience Look Number 2 and the stiff faltered at the laughs.
“Anyway,” he ended lamely. “There’s a copy of me trapped somewhere.”
Sometimes Stirling pumped up the crowd beforehand, or sat the crazies at the front. It had seemed a natural, this jirt conspiracy thing, but the atmosphere was flat.
And there wasn’t the usual whoop his catchphrase got. The crowd froze. Up close, jirt loomed, and they smelt of damp and rot. Organs fluttered inside its transparent body. Still, there’d not been a jirt on TV since they arrived. Big coup.
“Greetings, Haydon Stirling.”
But before Sterling could read the autocue, the stiff butted in and the director went with it. Stirling saw his own camera light die.
The stiff’s hands were shaking as he pointed. “Do you deny there’s a copy of me somewhere?”
Its box of tricks made the jirt sound like a voice over. Stirling wondered if an actor somewhere was getting royalties.
The jirt explained the technology was minor, trivial. Was trivial the right word? Just a recording of reality, a bit like a camera, but the simulation allowed interaction.
Stirling nodded. Nods were useful for editing.
“But I spoke to myself.” The stiff appealed to Stirling. “How would you feel knowing there was a copy of yourself somewhere?”
“My agent would want double his fee.”
Laughter. A genuine ad lib, like the old days.
“True, our technology copies brain states as part of the simulation, but dopplers are not real.” The jirt sounded genuinely puzzled. “Since they retain no memory, they have no legal standing. Is there some religious taboo?”
“Well, John here thinks you’re stealing our souls.”
“You don’t have a soul, Haydon Sterling.”
“I’ll do the…”
The audience gasped and Stirling saw himself walk on-set.
“Amazingly lifelike,” the copy said, gazing around. “And you’re me?”
“I’m interacting with the snap taken during the show.” His other self announced, and turned to the jirt. “So, are you real?”
“I shall remember nothing of this if reactivated. So, I am not real, though it seems like it now.”
“Wait,” protested Stirling feebly.
“Told you,” complained the stiff.
“Though God knows how we edit this into the show.”
“Wait,” said Stirling, as they switched him off.
Author : Alex Grover
He breathes in with speckled time undivided, and he breathes out with golden dust. His body is bulbous, a multicolored neon affair, reds and greens and blacks all in lines like that of a heated circuit board, charred from overuse. His beard is human flaw grown down past his chest, and his eyes are weary. His hands are frozen jelly on the levers, yet his arms still move according to the sun. Every second requires a quartz twitch, as his veins are plugged into the machine’s juices, the golden orb’s halves soldered together around Gamberol a long time ago. The face outside reads 34:25 to the 70-hour day.
When a rapping comes from beyond the golden hull, he doesn’t halt his work. His eyes glance to his right, but his hands, fused with the levers, continue to move. As he continues his work, a fiery light—light Gamberol hasn’t seen in eons—races along the half-line of the orb. It runs to the side, sparking fission fireflies as he twitches the clock along. As soon as the alien grasp sinks in on that fault line, the orb collapses in two directions. Gamberol is alone, exposed to a world he hasn’t seen in years.
The two engineers, scaly lizard men that are more hunched shadows than people, quickly run behind a platoon of other lizards, who are their superiors. They’re much taller, covered in sleek white armor, sporting gun-like weapons the size of their massive forearms. The engineers wait. The lizard at the forefront, possibly a captain, moves towards Gamberol, who watches in a blank stare. The captain edges closer, seeing the smoldering fires of the human city in his periphery.
He speaks in a strange tongue, and he knows this. However, he doesn’t know if Gamberol can hear the sounds of his life anymore. Making a clicking sound with his free hand—nails very, incredibly sharp—the captain confirms Gamberol’s deafness. He clicks once in Gamberol’s face, and the old and weary human blinks. He can see. The captain looks to his platoon, then looks back. Gamberol wears a multicolored jumpsuit with an armband, which bears the symbol on the fallen city’s banners. They’d crumbled easily, those who followed the banners.
The captain gestures Gamberol out of the clock and onto the war-torn pavement, to leave the clock, his fingers outstretched as if saying, “You’re free. You’re no longer your race’s slave. We’ve liberated you. Live life in freedom.”
But Gamberol doesn’t move. He looks around, seeing the city he once knew, maybe realizing that he’d lived there once before, maybe forgetting he’d been imprisoned for an arbitrary fault. Something inside halts his motion, if there were any drive within at all, and he remains in his clock.
It lasts for minutes. The platoon stands at command as the captain mediates with Gamberol boldfaced. Inside he sees Gamberol and he knows pity. But he can’t show pity. He can only show efficiency. He’s the captain. So he shrugs and shoots Gamberol. The old human slumps to the ground, the needles pulling from his arms, his body cradled in the one of the half-orb platings. The captain never looks back. His platoon follows him, and the subservient, whipped engineers look to each other, hunched over, backs sore, wondering much about Earth.
Author : Clint Wilson, Staff Writer
For a person thrust into such bleak and hopeless beginnings David had done well for himself.
His parents, murdered by a slum gang when he was but a boy of five, and he himself taken into slavery, he had spent over a decade in their chains, toiling under their whips.
But remaining subservient he had persevered, secretly teaching himself to read at night by starlight, in the crumbling ruined library that served as both stable and slave quarters. Sometimes his eyes would tire and he would climb the east wall, right to the end of his neck chain, and from there stare up at the stars, and beneath them the distant blaze of lights that was the city of the privileged. There he dreamt of a life where children were educated about the wonders of the universe, and people achieved many great things.
It had taken him more than ten years of careful watching, before one night under the cover of cloud he finally managed to slip his chains and steal away. The walk to the city had taken longer than he had expected, as he slithered along alleyways and crept through shadows, but eventually he had found his way.
Then after scaling the high wall avoiding spotlights all the while, and landing feet first on a bustling sidewalk, it had not taken him long to find sympathetic ears amongst the citizenry and so quickly he was taken in, cleaned up, and fed well by the educated and technologically advanced people.
* * *
After eventual cyberintegration and a full two-year acclimatization and education program, he was given his own spacious apartment with all the latest amenities, and placed where he wanted to be most, the scientific workforce. He received employment as an intern at Starcorp’s interstellar exploration program where he assisted developers in the creation of, of all things, a new revolutionary spacesuit.
Apparently astronauts would now be able to float through vacuum, bask in deadly radiation; collide with meteors even, naked as jaybirds if they wished. Protected by the fractalchip-generated warp bubble and fed life support via tiny wormhole tendrils, it was believed that one might even dive beneath the surface of a star unscathed, although admittedly this had yet to be tested.
All of the workers in David’s division were extremely proud of their technological wonder that would certainly soon greatly advance manned space exploration. So no one, except perhaps the yet to be discovered missing new intern of humble beginnings, could understand why or how the prototype had been stolen from the lab that night.
* * *
As the morning sun rose over the heart of the slum the slave keeper, en route to inspect his herd, was greeted by two of his guards, dead with their skulls smashed in. He barely heard a whisper as David dropped on him from the top of the east wall, his old stargazing perch.
The slaver tried to fight back but it was of no use. Suddenly he looked into the face of the strange intruder with the shimmering colorful skin, and he remembered the escaped teen of years gone by. “You…” he managed as a shimmering fist came down and shattered his face. As his vision wavered he saw another one of his guards run up behind the escaped slave wielding an axe. Without hesitation the weapon swung down and there was a flash at the back of the interloper’s head accompanied by the sound of the blade chipping.
David laughed and turned on his new assailant. There would be much blood spilled today, much blood indeed.