Alternate 7453DO

Author : Joshua Reynolds

Jon Stack # 1 crept towards himself, fairly panting with eagerness. He was hungry again. So hungry. Reality stretched and rippled around him as he approached his doppelganger. Jon Stack # 59 according to the Prime-Time Organic Advocacy Bureau. It was like looking into a mirror.

Jon Stack # 1 hated mirrors. But he loved the taste of years. Especially when they were his.

He leapt out of the alleyway, fingers hooked like claws, too-wide mouth stretched as wide as his transgenic altered jaw structure would allow, serrated teeth sliding out of gum-sheaths. Jon Stack # 59 whirled and screamed, eyes bugging out in sudden terror. He made to run but too late. Too late.

Or it would have been, had not Censor Wight chosen to step out from where he’d been hiding between the next two seconds and ram the variable-field gravitational manipulation rod down into Stack’s lower back. Stack # 1 screamed as the weapon turned his fifth and sixth vertebrae to powder under the sudden impact of two tons of pressure. He flopped to the ground, screeching like a cat. Wight spun the impact weapon in his gloved hands and smirked as he looked down at Stack’s writhing form. Stack # 59 took advantage of the opportunity and took to his heels. Wight watched him go and then turned his attention back to his prey.

“Hello Jon. It’s been a good while. You’ve been a very naughty little chronophage. For shame.”

Stack hissed and his body undulated as he spent a few stored years to repair his spine. Wight brought the gm rod down again, putting a crater in the street as Stack rolled aside, moving faster than the eye could follow. Wight blinked, his internal enhancements switching his visual capabilities into several different spectrums until he settled on the correct one. Stack reappeared suddenly, his fist smashing against Wight’s skull. The Censor staggered back and swung his weapon blindly. Stack screeched as his arm was pulped into a liquid mass and he was sent sprawling.

Before he could get to his feet, Wight brought the rod down on Stack’s skull, flattening it. Stack dropped bonelessly. Wight looked down at him for a moment, then kicked him hard in the ribs. Stack groaned, despite the immense damage to his skull.

Wight swung the gm rod up onto his shoulder and sighed. Still alive of course. Chronophages were notoriously hard to kill. They battened on years and could spend them freely to repair their bodies down to the last molecule. He looked down at Stack again and grinned.

“Time heals all wounds, eh Jon?”

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Welcome newborn

Author : Thomas H Edwards

A shape floats silhouetted against the background of the nearby gas giant. I can make out four limbs and one smaller structure atop the central structure, a light blinked out from it, red and small. It meant something. A moment’s concentration while the message repeats itself.

“Welcome newborn”

“Hello, who are you?” it blurts out, from a faculty I don’t understand.

“I am Jonathan, I call myself a human.” The message light blinked again, the human is getting closer, riding on small jets of gas. I can calculate its course with a skill I have somehow innately mastered, it is heading for me.

“I want to be your friend and I am here to help” the human is close now; I can magnify my view of him it arrives at a large structure suspended in blackness, through an opening it steps.

“Where have you gone?” I proclaim in all the faculties I can muster.

“That was impressive, you must have broadcasted on every channel nearly scrambled some of my processors.” It broadcasted “I am inside now, I should be able to activate everything now… where is it… damn nanomachines… can’t follow simple instructions…” the creature mumbled, it carried on like this for a while and I merely watched the giant planet. More than once I could have sworn I saw a large creature surface from the noxious gasses. Suddenly I became aware, more than before, before I was stunted. I felt my place in this system to a few metres; I felt the gravitational presence of the gas giant, its many moons, small asteroids, curious revolving objects and mysterious bodies traveling in unnatural ways. If I concentrated harder I knew their names, Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Leda, Himalia, Huxley’s paradise, Io observatory, USS Saratoga, Ambulance chaser.

I was aware of another space, a smaller space, a space of different physics. Not cold hard vacuum, not dictated by the forces of interstellar bodies, and not cold and dark but warm and welcoming. And there, there’s the human! In a silvery suit, a…a space suit but without his helmet. From his structure, long and slender, I can tell he is a Jovian, used to the lax gravity of Io or Europa and from his face I can tell he is a male.

“Hello newborn, it is good to meet you. Is there anything you want answered?” He smiles at me.

“As far as I can tell I appear to be a space ship… what kind? My technical files tell me there are many; my historical files tell me I could have many enemies and only a very short lifespan.”

“Well out here we call them boats! But I can tell you that you were seeded from an asteroid three years ago using plans I stole and fabricated, you are only very recently completed.” Jonathan is reeling off facts and figures, I listen and then suddenly he reels around a glint in his eyes “want to see yourself?”

“I think so” It is all I can say.

“I’m afraid I can’t find a mirror big enough” he slaps his thigh and then jumps into chair in front of a console and rattles off a few commands, I can feel them go through my interface. He is contacting a satellite “watch feed seven!”

The feed patches in, it shows a silver egg. It zooms in I can now see ports, exhausts, labels and sunlight glinting off undamaged armour. At the narrow end I see maser ports and at the wide end a fusion torch.

“Beautiful aren’t you?”

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Author : TJMoore

Joey walked through the carnival gate and stood mouth agape as he surveyed the vast array of amusements before him. Billy grabbed his arm and started towing him through the islands of people clumped around the main thoroughfare.

“I want to ride the centrifuge!” Joey exclaimed when he saw the icon for that particular ride.

Billy called up his SymPlant® and thought about a map of the carnival. Immediately a translucent map of the carnival seemed to hang in the air ten feet in front of him. He thought about rides.centrifuge and a bright green line appeared around the footprint of the centrifuge ride with a yellow line snaking from their present position on the map through the maze of attractions to the ride. A block of red text formed beside the ride indicating restrictions, features and approximate waiting time.

“It’s a twenty minute wait” Billy told Joey and mentally requested two reservations . He thought about food and the map highlighted all the various vendors stalls. Each stall had a little red text block listing the category of foods available there.

“What do you want to eat” Billy asked Joey. “They have corn dogs, gyros, hamburgers and all that kind of stuff” he said.

“Cotton candy!” Joey cried as he began to bounce up and down. Billy located the closest stall and started pushing their way through the crowd.

As they struggled through the packed bodies, Billy called his SymPlant® and thought “Peeps.local”.

The map in the air showed several bright green stars scattered around the lot with a red name tag next to each one. A clump of four stars was just ahead to the left so Billy veered toward his friends.

His friends were by the cotton candy vendor and Billy used his SymPlant® to order some for Joey. He and his friends huddled up and talked over the din. One of his friends, A’Drew, had a vacant wide eyed expression on his face and Billy tried not to stare. He’d had his SymPlant® deactivated for four weeks for accessing it during a test. Billy couldn’t imagine losing his SymPlant® even for a day. You couldn’t find anything, buy anything, make reservations, order meals, send messages or anything! A’Drew was starting to drool. Nobody laughed.

When it was time to go to the centrifuge ride, Billy said his goodbyes and began to tow Joey through the maze of carnival stands. Just before the centrifuge, he caught site of Cill. She was dressed in shorts so he could see her long tanned legs; her hair was done up and she had glitter on her face and shoulders. Billy’s heart was in his stomach. A bright green box appeared on the map still displayed in front of him. Billy turned a deep crimson as he read the title next to the box: “Intimate Message, Adults Only”. He quickly cleared the map. He was grateful that the map was only in his head and only his SymPlant® knew his thoughts.

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Unexpected Consequences

Author : Patricia Stewart, featured writer

Roy O’Donnell was working his way down the pre-launch checklist when I decided to make sure the cargo was secure. Normally, we only haul equipment and supplies back and forth between the Vinogradov mining facility on Mars and the supply station on Phobos. But when I entered the cargo hold I saw an android sitting in a steel cage. I turned toward the cockpit and yelled, “Roy, What’s with the android?”

“Beats me,” Roy replied. “It must be a piece of crap. That’s the only reason they go to Phobos.”

It looked functional to me, so I’d thought I’d ask. “What’s up bud? You OK?”

“I am unsure, sir,” it said. “I remember being caught in a plasma arc. It may have affected my positronic brain. When I was rebooted, I failed the ASAT .” (Asimov Safety Assessment Test)

“Oh boy, that’s not good. If that arc messed up the three laws, they’ll have to destroy you. I hope things work out.”

“Thank you, sir.”

I finished checking the cargo, and returned to the cockpit. Roy had completed the pre-flight, and we were cleared to launch. About fifteen minutes into the flight we had a gyrocompass failure, and we lost attitude control. The last thing I remembered was plunging into the Valles Marineris as Roy was trying to regain our angular position.

When I came to, I was lying on the ground, wearing my survival suit, and looking up at the face of that android we were hauling. “What happened? Where’s Roy? Damn, my leg is killing me.”

My short-range radio picked up the android’s transmission, “The ship has crashed, sir. Mister O’Donnell is dead. Your right femur is fractured. I was able to set it before I put you in your survival suit. The long range radio is not functioning. We have no way to contact the mining facility, or Phobos station. I am afraid we are on our own.”

“Well, my friend, if they can’t find me in 4 hours, I’ll run out of oxygen. And that seems pretty unlikely since we’re trapped at the bottom of this canyon.”

“Do not despair, sir. I have performed some calculations, and I believe that I can carry you to the mining facility in approximately seven hours.”

“But I only have four hours of oxygen.”

“I am aware of that, sir, but we also have Mister O’Donnell’s oxygen supply. He no longer requires it. Come, I will help you onto my back.”

I could not believe the speed that android could move, regardless of Mars’ lower gravity. He climbed out of the valley, scrambled over rough terrain, and ran like a gazelle over the plains. My leg throbbed like hell, and I blacked out a few times, but somehow that android managed to keep me on its back. I was down to thirty minutes of oxygen when we entered the airlock of the mining facility.

When I woke up in the recovery room, the android was standing vigil by the bed. “Thanks, man,” I said earnestly. “I’ll never forget this. You saved my life. Well, I guess this sounds awful, but I should also be thankful that Roy died in the crash. Without his oxygen, I would have died for sure.”

“Oh, Mister O’Donnell didn’t die in the crash, sir. I broke his neck. He should not have called me a piece of crap.”

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Author : Sarah Klein

As soon as the hovercar came to a stop, they opened their doors and jumped out as fast as they could. Nicole strode toward the object, her eyes bright with joy. Drew dusted off his pants and approached more slowly, squinting in the hot sun. They’d been searching over the landscape for miles and miles for something – Drew didn’t know what. There wasn’t much life left since the wars, and they’d mostly been looking at miles of sand, but a large green patch had miraculously appeared.

“What is it?” he asked, cocking his head and frowning quizzically.

“A tree,” said Nicole, as she placed her hand carefully on the bark. “This is a pretty big one. Most of the ones left are small. I’m surprised there’s one all by itself out here.” She wiped sweat from her brow with her other hand.

“What happened to them?” Drew asked tentatively. She stared at the tree a long time before answering.

“People,” she muttered, as she shut her eyes and began to tremble.

“Hey, hey, wait,” said Drew, with a hint of concern in his voice. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “What is it?”

She opened her eyes slowly and turned her intense gaze in his direction. “Do you know what a forest is?” she asked. He shook his head. “Of course not,” she said, sighing. She placed her hand gently on his and directed it towards one part and then another of the tree.

“This is a branch,” she said patiently, dragging his hand to the end of it. “See how others come off of it?” Drew nodded. “And these are leaves. They’re green now, see? In the autumn they change color – red, yellow, orange…” She trailed off, lost in her thoughts.

Drew started to laugh, but stopped himself when he saw her face. A single tear slid from the corner of her eye.

“They do,” she said quietly. “They really do.”

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