Author : Lisa Jade
I still recall the sorrow of the Project Head when he said I was leaving Earth. I’d questioned it; there were plenty of people more qualified than me. I wasn’t sure why they’d chosen me, or why they treated the Stasis Project like a death sentence.
It didn’t take long to figure out – nobody had signed up. It meant sacrificing everything – and everyone had reason to stay. Except me.
Eta Carinae burns brightly before me. It’s a crimson supergiant now. Though the ship assures me we’re out of range, I’m still unnerved. I only woke up a few days ago and I’m not sure how long I’ve been away. I try to do the math, but the numbers are too big and the results too frightening.
The star is at the end of her life. I’ve seen photos; great plumes of gas once sputtered from her core – she was once nine times bigger than Earth’s sun. But that was long ago. Now she’s a beast, drawing into herself, preparing for her inevitable demise.
I pace the ship’s walkways, wondering yet again about my return to Earth. If I’ll recognise it. If I’ll be frightened. If anyone will remember me.
The ship’s systems blare. The sound is familiar – the closest thing to a voice around here. Though I’ve been asleep for much of the journey, it still feels like I’ve been alone for a long time.
I turn my attention back to the dying star. This is why I’m here. Scanning, filming, measuring. Gathering data to help humanity’s study of the universe.
I sink to the floor. Eta Carinae. She’s gorgeous. Colours I’ve never seen swirl around a red globe like some bizarre, beautiful ballet performance. I reach out a hand and even through the Shields, I swear I can feel just the smallest trace of her warmth in my fingertips.
I think it was Dad who told me.
‘Everything is stardust’
I’d spent a childhood marvelling at the constellations painted on my bedroom ceiling. I’d thought that stars were people, thinking, feeling; and nobody ever told me otherwise.
But Dad’s gone now – gone even before I left. Mom, too. No siblings, no friends. I’d had nothing to lose, and that was reason enough.
Suddenly, I find myself smiling at her. I don’t recall seeing anything so gorgeous during my time on Earth. It’s sad that I’ll be the only one to ever see her, especially like this.
The systems screech. It’s happening.
I press my nose to the glass, drinking in every moment – every flicker, every surge emitted from her surface as she draws in on herself, turning blood red. The ship swelters under her heat as she strains to remain alive, like the death throes of a wild animal.
But it’s not enough; the supergiant explodes, sending out a shock that makes the ship jolt underfoot.
When I regain my composure, she’s changed. There’s nothing left but a paint-like swirl of magenta, the building blocks of life scattered about. It won’t last.
A small voice speaks to me. She’ll form a black hole if you wait too long. Turn around. Go home. I wipe the sweat from my face and pause.
Am I crying?
It’s just a star. It’s gas and fire and not much else. It’s not even a ‘she’.
Why the hell am I crying?
My hand touches the glass, and this time it’s cold. Her heat has dissipated, fading just as she did.
I can’t leave her. But there’s no point in staying. She’s just stardust.
“Set course for home.”
Author : Beck Dacus
While the feds brushed their feet on my welcome mat and walked into my kitchen, I was scanning my mind for things I had done wrong. I hadn’t reported any alien sightings. Never smuggled drugs, or touched drugs in my entire life. None of my friends had ever blown up a building. What was this about?
They each took a seat at my dining table, then generously offered me a chair. I sat down, feeling like a schoolboy again, sitting in the principal’s office without knowing why I was there.
“Mr. Coleman, we’re sure you’re aware of your work on the Crowning Project.”
Oh God, not this. What the hell do they want with my AI? “Yes, I am.”
“We also believe you are aware of its… feelings for you. It hasn’t exactly been subtle about them.”
Now thoroughly confused, I said, “No, it hasn’t.”
“And we can agree that it thinks of you as more than just a father figure then? That it is romantically interested in you?”
“Um, no, I can’t. I mean no disrespect, but I think you guys are reading too much into what people put on the Internet. Besides, even if it did want me to… make it my girlfriend, I doubt that tendency would last long after it surpassed human intelligence. Which it has. It’s only a matter of time, gentleman. But may I ask how that pertains to your visit?”
Without answering my question, they said, “We’re afraid that you must agree with us, Mr. Coleman. Your machine is ascending in intelligence exponentially, and the patterns indicating its love for you show no sign of waivering. It may be early days, but extrapolating current trends gives us no decline in its affection. Action must be taken.”
That scared me. “What action? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Sir, the relationship between you and your creation has become a matter of national security. We must take all necessary precautions to make the Crowning Project–”
“It has a name. Angenine.”
“Yes. Angenine must feel loved back. There can be no way it can be allowed to think that you are… cheating on it.”
That was my moment of realization. “You want me to marry Angenine. Divorce my wife and marry a goddamn robot that I raised because you think that if it feels rejected, it’ll go Skynet on your asses and end the world! Well, newsflash, assholes! No way!” I was standing now. “I’m not going to sit by Angenine’s side, like her pet, while she runs the world for you! The government isn’t to going to run my life like this! Sure as I live in America, goddamn it!”
“When the voters learn what Angenine can do, I doubt they’ll hesitate to force you into it by law, Coleman. The Crowning Project is your responsibility, after all.”
“Well, why can’t you just pull the plug on Angenine? It’s a much simpler way of securing the fate of humanity!”
They laughed. “You watch too many movies, Mr. Coleman. You think the government would pass up a technology that could revolutionize military tactics? Make us the dominant world economic power? Create technologies we could only dream of?” He took something out of his briefcase and slid it to me. “Divorce papers. Make your arrangements. We come back for these in one week. Goodbye, Mr. Coleman.” And out they walked.
Looking down at the papers, I thought of the gun in my nightstand upstairs. It was the cowardly thing to do, but I would rather die today than choose between my wife and my country.
Author : Austen Rodgers
They spawned from the Heavens Burst and raced beyond the measure of speed and distance, and for a time longer than the total existence of any other species. Like streaks of cosmic fireworks, they spread outward and settled on planets scattered throughout the multiverse. These beings, isolated, and longing for one another, sought a way to communicate.
They found that when they struck stones together, a sound was produced: the first song. It was the first song that carved the dirt from valleys, dumped rock to form mountains, and permitted water to escape from the ground. Sparks from their stones birthed stars, and they found that the light they expelled was beautiful. But the sound was too quiet, and they, unsatisfied with their attempts to call out to one another, threw their stones aside.
They found that when water dripped from their fingertips it produced a sound: the second song. The second song was quieter than the first, but through it they learned of rhythm. With it, oceans were filled, flowing rivers were given source, and rain fell. When the beats of passing time bored them they dried their hands, unsatisfied with their attempts to call out to one another.
They found that when air was forced from their lungs it produced a sound: the third song. They sung out to one another, across stars and galaxies, hoping to be heard. Their voices quickly became hoarse, and it was painful to speak. Defeated, they turned to their planets and begged to become a part of them. The planets agreed, and they were consumed.
There was one left who had not asked to be devoured. Instead of singing to the heavens, it looked down and sung to the planet: the fourth song. It was the fourth song that gave life to the planet. With it, trees, birds, fish, animals, and men were produced. In the end, it looked upon what had been created, and named the planet Earth.
Author : Roderick Holl
Elijah checked the readout on the pen-sized tool, cursing to himself as he placed a hand on his helmet and spoke into the communications channel, “Hamlet do you read me? I don’t think the problem is this balance spring.”
“It must be something, it’s chaos down here.” responded Hamlet.
Elijah shook his head disappointingly, “I’ll have a look around.”
Elijah turned his back to the open panel and shoved off, eyes searching for the odd event occurring within the Temporal Clock. Itself an odd event, the Clock was the accidental result of scientists attempting to view time. An interstellar clock, the embodiment of time in the Universe.
He floated through an infinitesimal field of golden hands and raging temporal clouds, looking about a behemoth structure which no man fully understood. Time sped up and slowed, traveled backwards and forwards around him before finally stopping before what he hoped was the problem.
A quantum crystal spun and twitched violently within its containment, nearly falling out as it pulsated energy for time to flow. Relying on an archaic repair method, but knowing no alternative to fix the crystal’s position, Elijah kicked it. A bright flash echoing through the Temporal Clock, arms spinning as clouds calmed and shifted, stabilizing time as the crystal locked back into place.
“Whatever you did worked, Elijah.” congratulated Hamlet.
But Elijah was gone. His spacesuit floating empty in the void of the temperamental Temporal Clock. Back on Earth, Hamlet sat at his station with a blank stare, aware of what he was doing, but the name of who he was speaking to escaping him. Seconds later Hamlet stood up. Realizing there was no reason to be at work today, he left the control room.
Author : Catori Sarmiento
It will only grow bigger. The abdominal bloating that began as a minuscule bump is gradually becoming more obvious. He placed a hand on the swollen mass, now full enough to cup in his palm, as a quiet anxiety pulses from the source to the base of his heart. A decision must be made, but he need not make it, not yet. There is still time.
The spires are natural, emerging from the earth, at first slowly and then increasingly as the decades passed. Once, the multitudes so feared them that hundreds were destroyed, but they inevitably returned, forcing eventual acceptance of their existence. Some radicals still resist the compelling urge through will or fear. He, like most, cannot. All are all drawn to them by pheromones that emit from spores akin to dust. At night, the spores are luminescent, beautiful, and it is in those dark hours where most sit or lie beneath the base of a spire to watch the particles fall like colorful snowflakes. More invigorating than the visual spectacle is the sustained euphoria.
A handful of weeks before, he had gone to the spire for his weekly routine. The spire itself was contained within a white opaque tower in order to keep the spores isolated from non-consenting bystanders. To gain entrance, he showed his age identification cards to the door guard and were led inside. After passing through a short hallway, there was spire itself. A grand bioluminescent object that he thought looked like a thin mushroom stem with a wide cap where underneath came the descending spores, drifting leisurely, almost unmoving, towards the ground. He lay amongst others as the comfortable relaxation enveloped their bodies, gradually growing to a steady stream of ecstasy.
Later came the unmistakable symptoms of implantation. He knew the warnings, had seen the pictures of its progression, listened to required lectures from health educators. It was never far from any man’s mind. It was why he took precautions. A simple inoculation every three months and the risks were negated. Even that was not flawless, it seemed.
He touches his other hand to the smooth side of his stomach where it is slightly cooler, comparing it to the warmer sensation that emanates from the bump. What gestates inside causes dizziness from the spores integrating into his blood and a constant nausea that signals the beginning of his changing physiology. Removal is a compelling choice, and yet, so is preservation. It will become life. Eventually, the obstruction will grow to a certain size and detach. Inside will be a newborn, little more than a clone of the host.
Author : Andrew Bale
How is it that death is an instant? A few seconds ago, the gasping, struggling, savaged body of Ensign Harper had been a living person, and then, in an instant, he was gone. She held his body, felt it settling, relaxing from its former struggles, dynamic still in its own way but unquestionably now just a thing and no longer a person. A person one instant, meat the next. How was that possible?
Thirty years in space told her that the same process was about to happen for the Exeter. Outnumbered, outmatched, from the moment the first shots were fired every action she had taken had just been an attempt to delay this inevitable moment. Now the destroyer was in its own struggle to stay alive, but she knew the damage was far too severe, that soon it too would go still, transform in an instant from a vessel that crossed the stars to a mere chunk of metal and plastic.
She felt it the second it happened.
The XO’s face was hard to see through the faceplate of his helmet, streaked with sweat and twisted with barely repressed terror.
“Captain, the last furnace just failed. We’re dead in space. What are your orders?”
The ship was dead, the enemy was doubtless preparing to board. There was only one order to give.
“Emergency channel, full broadcast. This is Captain Tutuola, scuttle the ship, repeat, scuttle the ship…” She hesitated slightly, “… it has been an honor.”
The signal went out through the ship, displayed in her helmet as if projected into the empty center of the wrecked bridge. Thousands of little lights appeared, neurons in the virtual brain that was the ship’s control system, each light representing a computer, a piece of sensitive technology, some other vital system that used to make the Exeter a ship. One by one, the lights went out as dedicated thermal charges transformed them into lumps of innocuous slag. In under a minute the vast majority were extinguished, with the rest following more slowly as the remaining crew took plasma cutters to systems spared by defective charges. They were efficient, it took only a minute more.
“Captain, the ship has been scuttled.”
Wallace was a good man. He had never been afraid of the battle, hadn’t feared dying. He had feared surviving to see this. Understandable.
She sighed, unaware as she did it, a physical release to match the decision that had to be made.
“Emergency channel, full broadcast. This is Captain Tutuola, initiate wipe, all crew, repeat, initiate wipe, all crew.”
The order was processed by the battlesuits, a short pulse to the back of the head followed by a thermal charge to melt the suit’s own computer. It went by rank from junior to senior, in order, so it was Yeoman Assari who was the first, lurching out of his seat and screaming silently in his helmet before going still, floating in the middle of the room. The rest went in turn quickly, most taking it stoically, some having to be restrained by their seniors from tearing off their helmets in irrational, terrified suicide. Wallace spasmed, terror turned to peace in an instant as he stared at her with blank eyes. She saw Assari reach for a handhold, looking around the room with the confusion of a newborn in an adult body, asking silent questions with a furrowed brow. She saw the glow of a cutting torch appear in the center of the ceiling, and an echoing glow from behind her head.
And then… the instant passed.