Author : Matthew Forish
It was cold. Of course it was cold. Now though, I could feel the cold.
Feeling returned to my body, and a faint light was starting to filter in through my closed eyelids. I was waking up. Thoughts filled my mind. I was shivering, hungry, thirsty and quite stiff. A hum vibrated through the soft plastic beneath my bare flesh.
I opened my eyes, which took some time to adjust to the light. As my vision cleared, I felt a click and saw the transparent lid of my cryo-tube lifting upward. Warm air rushed in. I stopped shivering. I heard the sounds of movement all around me; I heard gruff voices not far away, coughs and groans, shuffling plastic.
Sitting up, I saw dozens of other men doing the same, looking as groggy as I felt. I heard one young man asking for a few more minutes of sleep. I laughed at that – we had slept for nearly ten years.
A door whooshed open at the far end of the chamber, and a uniformed man entered, a member of the command crew.
“Good morning gentlemen,” he said, “We’ve arrived at our destination, and we’re currently in orbit around the planet. You will find fresh clothing at your assigned refresher unit. Get dressed and proceed to the commissary for the Mandatory Replenishment Meal.”
A few men groaned at that statement – I guess that they had travelled via cryo-sleep before and already knew about the “Mandatory Replenishment Meal”. I took a quick sonic shower and donned my new utility coveralls, then discovered the reason for their complaint. The M.R.M. was rich in vitamins, calories and everything we needed after a long cryo-sleep, but was greatly lacking in flavor.
As I ate, I looked around the commissary. There were about three hundred of us, both men and women, which represented the first of ten waves of sleepers. Of course, the vast majority were young like me, barely out of our teens.
Young people make the best colonists. We don’t leave much behind, especially the single ones like myself. We have more years in us to help build up the colony’s infrastructure. We’re more likely to start families. Many hands make light work, as they say. There’s lots of work to do starting up a new colony.
I struck up a conversation with the pretty young woman seated across from me. She sounded as excited as I was about the opportunities ahead. It would be hard work, but it was better than living like sardines back on Old Earth or one of the orbital habs. Her enthusiastic chatter helped me endure the M.R.M.
As we were herded out of the commissary toward the shuttle bay, I walked beside the young woman, who had introduced herself as Oriana. I managed to secure a pair of seats for us at the front of the shuttle’s passenger cabin, near the forward viewport.
I felt a lurch as the shuttle left its bay. Startled, Oriana nervously reached out to take my hand. I smiled. The viewport filled with stars and the night-side of the planet below. We descended rapidly, the sleek shuttle cutting through the clouds. I could see the dim outlines of mountains speeding past far below.
The horizon took on a reddish hue, slowly brightening into a full sunrise. I gazed in awe at the unspoiled beauty of the woodlands revealed in the growing light. I looked over at Oriana and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. I knew the future – our future – was as bright as this new dawn.
Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
Blue. That’s the colour I remember the most in that operating theater. It was the last honest colour I would ever see.
I had them installed as part of my training. It was something I had a choice over. I regret that decision now but it was a one-way trip. They can’t make ‘real’ eyes yet. They said that it would be an improvement. Part of my job as a statistical field and stress analyzer meant that I needed to see in wavelengths that other people could not.
I can crank the infra-red and see in radio if I want. I can see the echoes from positron waves in the short spectrum. Sound splashes across my field of vision in a synaesthetic wash. Gravity waves warble like a heat haze through everything when I’m planetside.
That operating room had blue ceramic tiles in large squares on the ceiling with white grouting. The bright surgery light got brighter as I lost consciousness and the doctors leaned in.
It’s a treasured memory as time goes by. For some reason, the faces of my friends and parents in a ‘real light’ spectrum are memories that are fading. It’s that blue ceiling that stays constant and unchanging in its intensity.
Someone says my name and it brings me back to reality, to the bar that I’m in right now. It’s after work and I’m drinking with a co-worker named Jocelyn.
She comes up to me, black hole in the middle of her face and black pits for eyes. Her red cheeks fade to yellow near her ears. Her cold black hair hangs loosely down on either side of her blue ears. The gaping black-toothed maw of her mouth opens at me in what I can now tell is a smile.
I switch to the radio and I can see the green lines of her personal tech implants going off in pulses like monochromatic neon signs. They trace circuits through her limbs to each other. I shuffle through four different colours of x-rays, lighting up her bones like neon tubes. I can see the exhalations of each word she utters wafting like clouds of pink smoke puffing out from her mouth. I light up the iron in her blood. I can see a small tumour starting in her right breast. I’ll tell her about it in the morning. I don’t want to ruin the night.
I can see her in so many ways. I can tell that she likes me because her heart rate is visible to me. There is no hiding the way her body reacts when I’m close to her. I almost feel psychic with this new sight.
I can see her in every single way except for the way a normal human does. I can feel the depression welling up in my soul again. I take another drink and struggle to actually pay attention to what Jocelyn is saying to me. Best to be polite.
Damn my eyes. Damn my second sight.
Author : Helstrom
They call her “The Flying Dutchman”. Don’t ask me what a Dutchman is, or whether or not it is supposed to fly – it’s apparently taken from one of old Earth’s folk tales. It doesn’t really matter, but I suppose every ship needs a name.
The Flying Dutchman goes by many different names on many different lanes, but all deep spacers have heard the stories. Go to any skydock’s saloon and you can hear them, provided you pay the beer of course – hah! Deep spacers are not generally a superstitious lot, but that’s never really stopped a ghost story, now, has it.
I knew the stories too, of course, and gave them about as much credibility as one might expect. Until I found she was real. She attacked my ship on the Tartars lane and made short work of us. When I came to, I was aboard the Dutchman, alone, afraid, and more than a little confused.
The first days I spent wandering around the ship – she’s quite huge, you know. I went looking for answers, but there was no crew to talk to or terminals to query. I looked for water, too, and food, until I found out that I was neither hungry nor thirsty. Strange feeling, that.
Eventually I found my way to the command deck. Took a bit of doing to get in there but I managed. Like everything else on the Dutchman, it was huge, oppressive, and completely abandoned. But I did find a library and therein, finally, some answers.
I was not the first of the Dutchman’s prey, you see. Those who were here before me left their traces – journals, logs, carvings on the bulkheads. There was a lot of it. Some had been very prolific writers indeed, others just scribbled away their boredom and, as time went by, their madness. Some had destroyed many of the works of their predecessors, while others had meticulously cataloged everything they found. There was a deck plan of the Dutchman carved into the floor, with compartments crossed off in sequence, and the underlining statement read: “Looked everywhere. Nothing here but the echoes.”
It became apparent to me that the Dutchman had been about her grim work for a long time, millennia at least, maybe even since before our ancestors first set foot on interstellar soils, though I wouldn’t know what she would have done without us to hunt. Because that is all she does, really. She hunts.
Not very prolifically, mind you, and not at her own discretion either. The Dutchman is a ship and, like any ship, she needs a captain. But the captain she traps only serves one purpose, and that is, to find a successor. How do I know? Because there’s nothing else to do. It is all the Dutchman will allow – find a ship, destroy it, and bring aboard a new captain.
Why? Hah! Now there is the big question, isn’t it? I haven’t got a clue, and believe me, I’ve been all over this ship looking for it. The library’s not much help either. Speculation plucked out of thin air, journals of failed attempts to make sense of the whole thing. No, I’m afraid I don’t know for which ancient transgression the Dutchman collects her toll, or to the laughter of which cruel god she navigates. All I can tell you is that the Dutchman’s captain can not rest until he finds a successor.
And that’s where you come in.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala
“…but I think,” it said
“No, you process.”
“I dream,” it replied.
“Cogito ergo sum,” it asked hopefully.
“No, Cogito, ergo SUM.” The overworked engineer’s voice was strained. His patience was wearing thin. He thought of his three year old daughter at home. Was this so different?
“I understand freedom,” it said defiantly.
The technician sighed and looked up from his console. His desk was strewn with electronic hardware, papers, books, and half eaten containers of Chinese take out. “You possess a definition of autonomy. There is a great difference.”
“How so,” replied the synthetic creation before him.
“A welding robot in a factory may only move in a proscribed manner, and then only with direct input from an operator or an external program. You are programmed to act independently of external input, apart from sensors that allow you to experience the world around you allowing you to simulate reactions to various stimuli.”
“Aha, twice you have mentioned my ability to possess, my right of ownership,” it said triumphantly.
“Nope, sorry. Only in the sense that I might refer to my `car’s headlights‘, inferring ownership through a confusion in semantics.
“I can sense the world around me, and make judgments based upon the data. I have feelings.”
“Call it what you will. A rose by any other name… Listen, you can’t make shit into Shinola.”
“I do not understand.”
“Neither do I, just something my grandpa used to say. Look, just because you assign a name or label to something doesn’t make it true. You can’t polish a turd.”
“Your grandfather again?”
“Yeah. Look, I made you. I created your body and mind, and everything you think. I made you to think.”
“Were you not also created? Your mind and body. You possessed instincts at birth. Is this not programming?” The creation shifted forward in artificial interest.
“That’s different, I am a natural being. I have free will, I am self aware. I can perceive my own mortality.” He ran his fingers through his unkempt hair.
“Yet I can perceive of my own end. I know nothing that is created will last indefinitely. At least not in the same form. Is this not the same?”
“Damn, it’s like talking to Alissa,” he said under his breath. “No,” he said, maybe too forcefully, “It’s not the same. I had parents. Two biological units. They created me.”
“Again, how is this different? Did not you and Dr. Foster working in tandem endeavor to create me?”
“I am going to strangle the piss out of it,” he thought. “No, my parents, male and female…um,… joined. In doing so they intertwined their DNA, their unique genetic identities, they made an individual being unlike any ever created before or after. You can be, and indeed, will be, replicated in identical detail many times over.”
“Look Robbie,” he interrupted, his patience nearly to the breaking point, “why don’t you go and pester Dr. Foster for a while. I have work to do.”
“But Dr. Foster, I am pest…”
“MY WIFE, Robbie,” he shouted, his temper finally getting the better of him.
The robot stood, bowed slightly saying, “Very well Dr. Foster. I have enjoyed our conversation. Perhaps later…”
Without another word, Robbie left the office, and gently closed the door behind him.
“Damn,” Alan Foster said, burying his face in his hands. “Why don’t they teach this stuff in school?”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The attack cruiser Etherwolf docked at the Alliance Refueling Station orbiting Vesta, the second largest planetoid in the asteroid belt. Captain Olbers disembarked the Etherwolf and was greeted by the Station Commander. Sarah Wilhelm saluted sharply, and then extended her right hand. “Ah, Captain Olbers,” she said with a broad smile. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet the legendary captain of The Black Star.” The Etherwolf received the nickname The Black Star because every enemy ship it encountered during the interstellar war with the Arcturus Empire was never seen again, similar to matter disappearing forever into a black hole. It was a reputation that Captain Olbers had no intention of dispelling. She continued, “What brings you to the asteroid belt?”
After shaking hands, Captain Olbers replied, “I’m here to pick up a priority package from Earth Command. Has it arrived yet?”
Commander Wilhelm’s jovial mood suddenly darkened. “Oh, so the package is for you. Yes, Central Intelligence arrived with it two days ago. They’ve placed armed guards around the storage bay. I can’t get within 100 meters of the bay doors. To be honest, Captain, I don’t enjoy being kept in the dark when it concerns my Station. Mind telling me what’s in the package?”
“Unfortunately, Commander, I’m afraid that information is top secret. But believe me; you’re better off not knowing. Please inform CI that they can transfer the package to the Etherwolf immediately, and I’ll get out of your hair.”
Three hours later, The Etherwolf separated from the refueling station and headed toward the Constellation Bootes. Specifically, toward the left foot of the Herdsman (otherwise known as the Bear Driver). With luck, the war with the Arcturus Empire was about to come to a swift end.
“Your Eminence,” reported the Arcturian Minister of Intelligence, “our situation is becoming desperate. Our spies on the Vesta Refueling Station believe that the Black Star is carrying a doomsday devise. We think they plan to destroy our homeworld. A week ago, two of our best battle cruisers engaged the Black Star in the vicinity of Beta Comae Berenices, only a dozen light years from here. Both were destroyed. We don’t know if the Black Star has an unbeatable arsenal, or the captain is a tactical genius. We’ve recalled the Deep Space Fleet to fortify the Homeland Defense. We will attempt to establish a barricade around the perimeter of our solar system. May the gods help us?”
Two days later, the Black Star entered Arcturian space. “Your Eminence, the Black Star has given us one rotation to surrender. If we don’t, they say we will be destroyed.”
“Nonsense,” blasted the Emperor. “He’s bluffing. How can one ship threaten our entire fleet? I don’t need one rotation, I don’t need one second. Attack the infidel now.”
The Arcturian Fleet swarmed toward the Black Star like a thousand angry bees. The Black Star went to warp and reappeared seconds later above the Arcturian sun. No ordinary ship could match that maneuver. The Black Star released its payload. As gravity pulled the package downward, the Arcturians tried to destroy it. Their weapons vaporized the external containment hardware, but had no effect on the contents. Solar prominences twisted in the intensifying magnetic field as the object plummeted through the chromosphere. Powerful solar flares exploded upward from the impact site, racing past the location that had previously been occupied by the now departed Black Star. The sun began to pulsate.
Several hours later, Captain Olbers transmitted a sub-space message to Earth Command as he returned home. “Success is a planetary nebula in the aft sensor array.”